Let's shatter two myths: First, brand does not belong to marketing. In fact, when leveraged well, brand is a powerful tool that can be used by sales to boost your company's performance and profits. Second, brand is as essential in the b-to-b setting as it is in the b-to-c arena.
Trade salespeople need to get comfortable with the success stories of your brand in the marketplace, and make those stories part of their selling arsenal. By articulating your brand story, salespeople will convey your company's impenetrable advantages, engage the customer and differentiate your product or service from those of competitors.
Studies have shown that the salesperson is the most vital link to the customer. A survey by Prophet Co., a management consultancy based in San Francisco, found that companies "ranked the sales force as their most effective brand-building tool, ahead of traditional tools such as advertising and marketing." The study went on to say that "what drives customer perceptions during the purchase cycle is traditionally managed by other parts of the company outside of marketing."
How can marketing professionals get their salespeople speaking brand language? Start by becoming a student of your brand. Learn from your customers how they perceive the brand and what words they would attach to it. Collect specific words from all of your end users and buyers through any reliable method: market research, user surveys, customer/supplier panels and so on. Your end users are closest to the product and have a keen sense of what the brand means to them. They can articulate it. Once you have created a brand language, get it to the lips of your salespeople. You'll be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Here are some ways your sales force will help b-to-b customers migrate to your brand using brand language and the acronym TIME :
T = Testimonials. Collect satisfied users' statements about your brand.
I = Investigation. Gather good evidence from buyers about their buying and business motives by asking brand questions. An example might be: "We have a strong commitment to service at our company. Based on that, how could we make your job easier with better delivery times?"
M = Motives. Find out the key reasons people buy from you in general and buy your brand more specifically.
E = Educate. Make your b-to-b customer knowledgeable about your brand, why it exists in the market, what it stands for, how most buyers experience it and so on.
You and your salespeople need to tell a brand story that is rich and has history, using brand language that is emotional, evocative and compelling. A great brand story will knit you and your b-to-b customers together as people with similar experiences and a similar heritage—just like a family.
If your b-to-b customers only knew this story, they would understand how your company thinks, who you are and why it makes sense to do business with you.
Dan Stiff is president of Leadership Performance Development. His new book is "Sell the Brand First: How to Sell Your Brand and Create Lasting Customer Loyalty"(McGraw-Hill Cos.). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.