August 14, 2007

Where's the Content?

Remember the old ad for Wendy's hamburgers where Clara Peller would lift the bun, squint at what she saw, and then bellow, "Where's the beef?"

Great ad. Good question. It's one that senior executives often ask themselves when they see canned presentations or boilerplate proposals from sales people. But unlike Clara, they typically react by dismissing the sales person or tuning out of the presentation.

So here it is: A definition of the exact kind of content you need to provide to make a senior executive feel they're getting some substance.


A study conducted by the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler School of Business interviewed hundreds of CEOs, Presidents, and General Managers to find out what it takes for them to give a sales person a hearing.

The most common answer: "Demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of my business."

This matches well with the advice Mack Hanan gave to professional sales people more than a decade ago. Hanan, one of the earliest proponents of selling solutions instead of products, said that to gain your customer's trust, their long-term loyalty, and a willingness on their part to pay you a higher margin than your competitors ask for, you must demonstrate three kinds of knowledge:

First, you have to know all about your own stuff. You need to come across as an expert in the things you're selling. That makes sense, of course. People don't want to listen to somebody who's unprepared or ill informed.

Second, you have to know a lot about the customer's business, what they make or provide, how they operate, what their goals and objectives are, what they value, how they are approaching the market, and anything else you can uncover. That matches up pretty well with what UNC's survey revealed.

The third thing you need to know? How your customer interacts with their customers. The relationship between your customer and their customers is the nexus of value. That's where profits are generated. If you can pinpoint ways to improve that interaction, you're delivering content that can translate directly to the bottom line.

So that's what content is all about. It's not enough to just provide information about your products and services. You really have to leverage that information into "working knowledge"--insight that creates value.

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