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Selling at c-level

By Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, Corporate Visions


According to IDC, 80 percent of all purchasing budgets will soon be controlled — and decisions justified — by companies’ senior-most decision makers, including the proverbial C-level executives.1 This means more deals at lower dollar amounts will receive higher-level scrutiny. How has this impacted your marketing messages, product positioning and sales training? Have you changed anything to make sure your sales teams are ready to talk the new talk with these executive buyers?

If you believe a Forrester study2 that revealed business buyers felt 88 percent of salespeople who call on them are knowledgeable about their products and services, but only 24 percent understand their business issues, the answer is probably “no.”

Combine that with some SiriusDecisions research that says executive buyers value business and industry insight up to four times more than traditional relationship and product knowledge from their salespeople,3 and you have a real challenge. Essentially, you have customer conversations that are four times less likely to focus on the content that is four times more desirable.

Business Acumen Gap

If you look at Figure 1, this research from Forrester and SiriusDecisions are paired together to reveal something I’m calling the “Business Acumen Gap” or BAG, if you will. Salespeople are literally “bagging” it when it comes to executive conversations. In one example, a prospective client of ours, a multibillion-dollar professional services company, recently examined its CRM system and discovered that less than 10 percent of the opportunities listed in the system had executive-level contacts attached.

One of the big barriers to salespeople being more effective with executives is them being aware of what they need to know to be relevant to this audience. After significant buyer-side research, we’ve identified five related but distinct core competencies that executives say are critical to getting value out of any sales conversation. They are:

•  Business knowledge

•  Customer insight

•  Financial consideration

•  Return on investment

•  Executive engagement

Over the last few years, we have assessed more than 35,000 sellers at Fortune 1000 companies to determine how competent they actually are in each of these five areas. What we’ve found is, on average, salespeople exhibit only 50 percent of the acumen desired by executive-level buyers.

Business-change messaging

So what does this mean for your messages and tools, and how you train for sales conversations?

Starting immediately, you must connect your story to the business issues that matter most to executives. At the risk of over-simplifying, I’d like to provide you with a basic template for re-configuring your messaging to sell a business change.

Current Situation: In the opening minutes of an executive conversation, decision-makers expect you to clearly identify a business issue at risk and describe the current situation that needs to change.

Business Change: Then, you must pivot quickly to describe how your company’s offering will change the way your prospects operate, enable them to do things differently and how that difference will be measured for business impact.


Best-in-class companies do it two times different recently compared the sales training emphasis between high-performing companies and average-performing companies. What it found is that average-performing companies are more likely to focus on traditional training, such as products and services training, significantly more than the high-performing companies.

Meanwhile, the high-performing companies focused on “executive selling skills” training, along with “business and financial acumen” training two times more than the average-performing companies.4

Best-in-class firms make twice the effort and investment in equipping salespeople for calling high and standing toe-to-toe with the CXO, while the average companies continue to push the status quo.

1.  IDC, Top 10 Predictions (2013)
2.  Forrester Research, Technology Buyer Insight Study: Are Salespeople Prepared for Executive Conversations (2010)
3.  SiriusDecisions, Changes in Buyer Behavior. Summit Keynote Presentation, John Neeson (2012)
4.  TrainingIndustry, Inc., Developing Exceptional Sales Professionals (2013)

As originally seen in the February 12, 2014 issue of Sales & Marketing Management.


Don’t be one of those lugers

Jim Ninivaggi, Service Director, Sales Enablement Strategies at SiriusDecisions recently blogged about the luge competition (You Win Some, You “Luge” Some) and how it’s analogous to closing a business deal.

IMG_19022014_164732“While I am no luge expert,” he says, “I do know this: You win or lose the luge race at the top of the course….Any mishap at the top is tough to make up at the bottom.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Luge and the business deal

If, as research shows, more than half of most companies’ qualified pipelines end up in No Decision, it’s not an end-of-the-sales-process problem that’s plaguing you, it’s a Why Change problem at the beginning. Like most companies, you’ve likely jumped right into the sled, explaining how you’re better and different, while your prospects are still standing at the top of the hill contemplating whether they really feel a need to go down the track at all.

Just like small missteps at the top of the luge will torpedo your time, not developing a distinct point of view and establishing the case for change at the beginning of the conversation will eventually kill the sale.

Don’t be one of those lugers.  Get off to a good start.


This is not a Valentine’s Day post

The Corporate Visions guide to winning spousal conversations

heart-12If you’re like us, you’ve gotten 10 emails in your inbox this week with cutesy Valentine’s Day marketing promotions. This isn’t one of them. This is about tomorrow, and every other day of the year…when the roses have wilted and the diamonds have lost their luster…and romance has given way to careful communication, compromise, and a healthy amount of tension.

We asked four of the brightest marketing and sales experts at Corporate Visions to share stories about how they’ve used our messaging and selling techniques to build happy, long-lasting relationships. Here’s what they said.

#1: Make demands
Melissa Hereford – Vice President of Products, Maximization Skills

A year after getting married, I joined a terrific, growing company that teaches sales people how to negotiate more effectively. Although the first years of marriage are rose-colored and dreamy, my husband and I both soon realized that many negotiation skills are useful in relationships.

One such skill is called “making demands.” This is a skill taught in Corporate Visions’ value maximization skills courses. Making demands is not about being demanding, but rather about being clear about what you want, need and expect when negotiating with your customers.

When I learned to make demands, I realized I needed to clearly articulate what I wanted, needed and expected to everyone in my life…including my new husband.

What I’d say when we were first married:
Honey, would you please do the dishes?

What my husband heard:
“Honey, would you please do the dishes…you know, whenever you feel like it?”

My statement after years of negotiation training:
“Honey, would you please do the dishes tonight before you turn in?”

Making this change has kept our marriage strong for 20 years this July.

#2: Embrace the tension
Paul Hennessey – Maximization Skills expert

At my wife’s request, I just refinished our kitchen table. It took a while. Probably too long. I procrastinated. After all, there were important games on TV, a guitar that needed playing, and YouTube videos to watch.

But my wife Susan used my own techniques against me. She “embraced the tension” (another skill taught in Corporate Visions’ Value Maximization Skills courses). Embracing tension means getting comfortable working with the natural pressure created by situations where differing motivations are at play – and using that tension to your advantage.

First, she made her demand in a clear and assertive way (“Paul, I need to you to refinish the table before the Smiths come over for dinner next week”). Then, instead of apologizing (“Please?? Just this once…”), she asked the question and went silent. As the seconds passed, the tension mounted…until I said, “Well, okay, let me start on it this afternoon after the game.”

My wife’s skills helped her achieve her goal, but it also made me feel better about the process a little tension (embraced, instead of avoided) created an action that cleared the way for a healthier and more productive relationship. I’m lucky to have married this wonderful woman 30 years ago. (And by the way, the table looks great!)


#3 Transfer ownership
Lisa Cummings – Vice President of Products, Stories and Differentiation Skills

“You phrasing” is a skill taught in Corporate Visions’ differentiation skills courses.  By using “you” instead of “we” when messaging to your customers, you make your customer the center of your story, and keep them engaged in the conversation.

It’s also an ongoing joke in my household. After talking about how much clearer it is to say “you,” rather than the false partnership of “we,” a common add-on phrase “and by we I mean you” was born. It goes like this:

We should plan our vacation before the calendar fills up…and by we I mean you.

We should find a better patio sofa to enjoy nights like these…and by we I mean you.

It cracks us up every time. Twenty years later we’re still learning to be better sweeties and “you phrasing” entertains us while bringing clearer communications.

(Corporate Visions side-note: Hopefully more “you phrasing” up front will result in less “I feel” statements being required down the road.)


BONUS: The bait-and-switch
Tim Riesterer – Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer

When I was courting my wife, I was knowingly allergic to dogs and cats. But, I loved her so much that I convinced her that I really did like her dog and was fine with him getting his fur all over me and licking  me and all that dog-stuff that I really can’t stand and sent me scratching and wheezing. I did a lot of hand-washing and inhalers on the side to keep it under wraps until after the wedding. I was trying to alter my value proposition to fit her stated needs, but it was truly false advertising…while it may have been important to her, it was completely untrue and certainly not defensible.

Once she married me, I had to come out of the allergy closet. I stayed away from the dog and we tried to manage the hair and dander. Even though the customer experience for her was a complete bait-and-switch from the sales process, we’ve been married for 21 wonderful years.


Demand-Generation Success: Awakening The Old Brain

by Tim Riesterer

The first person with the bright idea to create a demand-generation campaign using a whitepaper as a call to action must have been on to something. For the past 20 years, it seems as though everyone thinks they need to offer a whitepaper, analyst report, or some other text-heavy, written-word document as the call to action.

Unfortunately, you’re setting yourself up for failure by taking this approach. You see, there’s a big crinkly part of the brain called the neocortex, or the “new brain,” and it loves to analyze things−and it loves whitepapers. But this isn’t the part of the brain that makes decisions. Decision-making is the job of a completely different part of the brain known as the limbic system, or the “old brain.” The old brain is a basic system without the ability to process words or language. It’s designed to ensure your survival, and it’s the part of the brain that must be activated by demand generation programs if you want to move your prospects to a purchase decision.

To successfully generate demand, you must awaken the old brain and make sure your prospect knows that his or her status quo is no longer safe. (Come to think of it, I’m a little worried the words of this article aren’t waking your old brain. If you want to hear and see this message, watch this brief video for the rest of the story.)

This approach starts with the messaging you create, which must do four things:

  1. Be willing to challenge prospects’ assumptions about their existing approach.
  2. Show your prospects how their world is changing and create urgency to respond.
  3. Get prospects to see that their outcomes and objectives are at risk if they don’t do anything.
  4. Provide a clear contrasting alternative that moves prospects to a “new safe.”

Once you’ve built your message and awakened the old brain, you must tell your story visually. Be sure to use visual images that the old brain craves, including those that appeal to emotions and highlight contrast. Use images that bring your story to life, like pictures that clearly depict the problem and illuminate the pain and risk to your prospect’s business objectives. This should be followed by an image that resolves those challenges with a visually contrasting new way to solve them.

Demand For Video
You are taking a huge risk if you aren’t using video as the main component of your content and demand-generation strategy. The explosion of smartphones and tablets is driving demand for more mobile and video content. As a result, your prospects are going to expect that they can do their research while watching videos−not reading PDFs. If you add this shift to the old brain’s need for visual storytelling, then the imperative for you to embrace video is irrefutable.

Recently, a test was conducted to determine the effectiveness of video in demand generation programs. To promote a webcast, emails were sent and social media promotions were carried out that pushed prospects to a landing page with additional information and the opportunity to register for the online event.

Simultaneously, another group was sent emails and targeted through social media, but there was an additional step −a quick three-minute promotional video embedded in the email highlighting the big ideas contained in the webcast. Following the video, prospects were then directed to the same landing page as the first group.

Guess what? The second approach, the one with the video, drove three times more registrants than the more simple, one-step approach.

As the business landscape becomes increasingly mobile, salespeople and marketers can no longer ignore the brain science that supports visual storytelling and the use of video in demand-generation campaigns as a more effective way to reach prospects and help them make a purchase decision. Don’t believe me? I’d urge you to conduct a test of your own. You won’t regret it.

“This article originally appeared on To read more of Tim’s Marketing Messenger insights, visit”

Are You a Confuser or Clarifier?

question marks on a blackboard

A couple of quotes from really smart people crossed my desk recently. They highlight a core challenge sales and marketing people need to solve with the messages they create and deliver. Here they are:

“While our access to raw information has grown exponentially, our time to process this information has declined rapidly, which has placed an unprecedented premium on the act of meaning-making.” (George Dyson, Futurist)

“People are information-rich and theory-poor. If you can give them a way of organizing their experience, then their minds are wide open.” (Malcolm Gladwell, Author)

So, the question for you is… Are you a meaning-maker? Do you turn information into theory?

Test yourself, are you a confuser or a clarifier:

  • Confusers pile information on their prospects and customers assuming that more is better. Clarifiers cut through the clutter and make sense of the data to present usable insights.
  • Confusers use lots of industry jargon because they assume their prospects and customers like the lingo and it adds credibility. Clarifiers know better and instead use simple, concrete terms along with metaphors and analogies to make sure their audience understands.
  • Confusers ask lots of questions, expecting their prospects and customers to blurt profound pains and answers they are looking for. Clarifiers know their audience is wondering if they need to change and are looking for relevant, unique ideas on why they should do something different.
  • Confusers use lots of words in their campaigns, communications tools and presentations. Clarifiers tell engaging stories and use lots of visual support including hand drawings and infographics.

This is especially important for your marketing lead generation efforts. Brain science research proves that people respond better to emotional, visual and spoken-­word messaging, yet most B2B demand generation still relies heavily on volumes of written content like whitepapers. Talk about being a confuser. If you want to engage prospects and disrupt their current status quo you have to do better. Check out this video to learn about a new visual storytelling approach for your lead generation programs.

Do you have a confuser vs. clarifier example?
Share it with us and we’ll post it so others can test themselves and their messaging.