Category Archives: Business

Marketing is Just as Important as Sales (but you knew that, right?)

IMG_1264Here are 5 reasons why marketing is as important as sales.  I say that as someone whose professional focus is BOTH marketing and sales.

Of all the reasons listed in Sara MacQueen’s article, Marketing vs. Sales: Why Marketing is Just as Important As Sales, the one that resonates for me the most is this: we can’t assume that sales reps are the only path to the sale.

A good example is inbound marketing, which often plays a major role in moving a prospect down the sales funnel.  Thinking that lead generation is marketing’s job is one dimensional. It doesn’t really leverage all of what marketing brings to the table in a world where B2C customers research and buy directly from websites, and B2B customers research, learn, attend webinars, download content, and develop a short list of vendors before ever talking to a sales rep.

It is so past time to stop thinking about marketing and sales as two separate entities. What might this look like 10-15 years from now?

7 Steps to SMARTEN UP about Your Biggest Accounts

raising_handPlease raise your hand if you are a sales leader that has ever been blindsided by one of your biggest customers buying something from a competitor that your company offers, and you and your team had no idea they were even in the market for it.

You’re doing a good amount of business with this customer. So how come the account executive wasn’t on top of this?  Why didn’t we know? Why weren’t we considered or asked about it?  It’s one of our best accounts and we missed a great opportunity to open a new line of business with them.  Now the rest of the account may be in jeopardy!

If you’ve been there, let’s talk about how to keep it from happening again.  If it hasn’t happened yet – well, listen up because it’s highly likely you’ll find yourself there when you least expect it!

Being consultative, at its core, is about two things.  The first is about conducting “discovery” on the account on a regular basis.  The second is about developing a living account plan that includes a solid strategy, and not just random tactics.

Is this rocket science?  No.  Then why do we still have these challenges?  Because it takes a lot of both work and patience – and with our quarter by quarter mentality, we just keep executing tactics to drive short-term revenue. We’re insanely busy and we just don’t have time to be “strategic.”  Plus, we already did a pretty thorough discovery exercise on this account.

As we move into the second quarter of 2014 sales leaders are grappling with two challenges

  1. Our prospects and customers are asking us to be more “consultative.”
  2. Many of our sales people are transactional sellers and are leaving money on the table at our most important accounts.

Group of unidentifiable business peopleBoth of these needs boil down to a hard truth:  we simply don’t know enough about the accounts we are already engaged with, and our accounts know it.

Wait a minute – accounts that we already have?!  

Right – I’m talking about accounts that we already have sold to, and maybe have even done quite a bit of business with.  The good news is that we have them. The bad news is that we may either be assuming we know more than we do, OR the sales executive is comfortable with what he/she is generating, and doesn’t want to risk rocking the boat on that account by pushing for more.  But the reality is that you don’t have time NOT to be strategic; limiting yourself to one round of discovery is the reason you had no clue that other things were happening in that account.


So here are 7 Ways to SMARTEN UP about Your Largest Accounts

  1. Define The Buyer’s Journey
    To get from point A to point B, you can wing it, or you can get your hands on a map.  The landscape inside of big accounts is not simple, and it gets more complex every day.  Consider developing a Discovery Matrix that outlines the stages of how your account’s customers typically buy from them.  This is the horizontal access on your map. Then list all the business needs that their customers might have that your offerings could help the account deliver on. This is your vertical axis.  Have you noticed yet that this buyer’s journey is more account focused than “sales” focused?  Unless you are helping them through their own buyer’s journey, then you aren’t consulting to help their business grow – you’re just selling, like everyone else.
  2. Map What You Already Know
    Now do a brain dump on this map about everything you know for sure about this account.  In what areas of the buyers’ journey are you already contributing?  What do you know about other any other areas, which you haven’t broken into yet?  Is someone else in there? If so, what are they doing?  What business needs have you already addressed or are currently working on?  What new opportunities, challenges or goals do they have that you are aware of? Populate this matrix with everything you know or are aware of.
  3. Identify and Analyze the “White Space”            
    In the white space, the areas in the account for which you have no information, lives potential opportunity.  There may be entire areas where you could be creative with how your offerings can help.  There may be extensions from where you are now that link to new ways to help in other divisions or solutions or offerings.  Are there any patterns in your map that might help define a path for account growth?  Most importantly, this mapping of the account shows you clearly and visually the areas where you don’t know enough to really grow the account.
  4. Do Your Research – Even if You’ve Done It Already
    So it’s back to doing some more homework.  Discovery is never done.  Why?  Because your account is never at rest.  They are trying to grow and expand themselves, which means they are constantly changing.  And their customers are changing, as well.  So what you knew last year, or even last quarter, doesn’t mean you’re on top of things today.  AND if there are areas in the account that are untouched by your company, then I KNOW you need to do more research to learn what’s going on in there. Does it take time to do this?  Yes. Stop complaining and get on with it!  What you don’t know is keeping you from penetrating and expanding the account.
  5. Develop Your Discovery Questions
    Mapping? Check.  Research? Check.  Now you can start to make some strategic decisions on where you want to begin to move further in the account.  You need to prepare strong discovery questions around the “white spaces” to continue to learn, and to demonstrate you’ve done some homework.  This moves you to starting a much more consultative conversation than you may have had with them in the past.  But good questions aren’t random.  Give some thought to what you want to ask and why.  Be sure it’s about true discovery, and not rhetorical questions that can only be answered by your products or services.  You are not going to pitch in this conversation – you are going to learn.   (Repeat that sentence twice!)
  6. Conduct Discovery Conversation (and Shut Up!)
    A good discovery conversation happens when you sit down with a person high enough in the organization to have an idea of the bigger picture of the company’s goals and objectives.  Be sure you are not with someone who doesn’t have insight into that view.  Share that your organization has been able to deliver more value in several key areas with other customers, and you have some specific questions you’d like to ask to determine where that additional value might be gained.  At that meeting, ask the questions, and SHUT UP AND LISTEN!  You don’t need to respond to every point.  Just take it in, write it down, and plan on going back to the office to think about it, talk with others, and come up with some ideas that you will come back and discuss. This sets the stage for the second consultative conversation.
  7. Define Strategic Account Goal, Top 5 Objectives and Action Plans
    At this point, you should have a good handle on what the account is trying to achieve, and you will have discussed some ways to help them deliver.  Now you’re ready to define a meaningful account strategy, set an aggressive goal, and define the top 5 objectives to get you there.  This forms the account plan that will focus your tactical action plans in a clear and well defined direction.  Strategy first, then tactics.  Account expansion relies on this.  The obvious sales opportunities are never enough to really go deep and wide in an account, and build a solid partnership.

Being consultative with your best accounts means “being in the know.”  It’s up to your account team to stay on top of what’s happening and to ask smart questions that will inform as well as bolster the importance of this strategic account, and show how committed you are to helping them achieve their goals.

—  Lisa Dennis

Resistance: Let Me Count the Ways

At this moment, where ever you are, you are resisting doing something.  It may be something you “should” do, or “want” to do, or “need” to do.  Whether you are actively resisting and digging in your heels, or just nursing a vague push-back that keeps you from doing it, it’s there. 

This morning, I’m resisting writing a blog post – know I should do it, want to do it, need to do it.  But there you have it – RESISTANCE.    What to write?  I always have ideas when I’m not sitting down to do this.  But they evaporate when I sit down to do it.  So I started googling “ideas for blog posts” and came up with all sorts of things that ultimately will be helpful.


This morning, it’s the resistance that I am most thinking about.
I love to write.  I have been writing all my life – and it’s often a large part of what I do in my business practice.  But the resistance is there nonetheless.  I saw an interview about a month ago with Steven Pressfield, the author of The War of Art.  The premise here is resistance is the block to creating things, or outcomes – and it really resonated for me.  Here’s a partial list from the book that sets the stage:


The following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities, which most commonly elicit Resistance:

1) The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.woman on ball

2) The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.

3) Any diet or health regimen.

4) Any program of spiritual advancement.

5) Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals.


Number 5 made me laugh, but I found that all of the first 5 were pretty spot-on for me.  There are 5 characteristics of Resistance that outline what we’re up against.   Resistance is:  invisible, internal, insidious, implacable, and impersonal.  Oh, and it’s a major pain in the butt (that one is from me).   I’ll just share Pressfield’s comments on the first characteristic because it is the part that always gets me.


Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard or smelled. But it can be felt. It is experienced as a force field emanating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its intention is to shove the creator away, distract him, sap his energy, and incapacitate him.

If Resistance wins, the work doesn’t get written. 

That is the bottom line for sure.  Whether you are creating something, marketing something, selling something, the barriers are the same.  What are you resisting doing that will create opportunity for you personally, professionally, and organizationally?   I am focusing on mine – and now my blog post got written.  What are you resisting and how will you overcome it?

Picture This

If you had to draw an image of your company’s value proposition, what would it look like?   I just read an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review that connected the “pitch” with cartoons – which I think is really interesting.   In Draw Your Elevator Pitch, the authors make a key point which is that images resonate more quickly and longer than text does.   For marketers and sellers who really think about the words they will use to convey the value of their offerings, this can spell an interesting path to a clearer, more concise way to communicate the value proposition.  They recommend humor as well – which is another take, and may garner additional attention in a very creative way.  I worked with a client once who launched a product both internally and externally by developing a mini-comic book and an animated short video.  Some people loved it, some people thought it was making fun of the offering.  Either way – it garnered attention!

So think about it – what would your graphic look like for your value proposition?  An image that I use in many of my public speaking engagements is one that I think sums up what your graphic should do.

Think about your value proposition as if it were a:


Now answer this question:  

Whose face should be showing there when someone looks at your value proposition?  

mirror customer


Seem obvious?  Well, look at your existing value proposition and decide whose face is reflected back.  If the face your buyers see is really that of your own company, then you’ve got a problem.  Why?  Well, the fact is that most companies are too busy showing off what they can do, rather than articulating an honest understanding of customer needs.  Frankly, most of them are not that compelling and don’t clearly show their understanding of the buyer.  Buyers are interested in themselves – so harness that interest and get back to the drawing board on your value proposition!


— Lisa Dennis

The 5 Step Value Proposition Check-Up

Not sure that your value proposition is really delivering the message that you intend?  So many of us in marketing and sales are expected to create value propositions, but the majority of us have never received any kind of training on how to do it effectively.  Here’s a quick check-up that can help you identify points at which you can refine your value proposition so that it is truly ready for customer engagement.



Step 1 – What is it about?

Does the value proposition focus on your product or services, or is the focus on the potential customers’ need, challenge or pain?  Your targets are short on time and patience, so putting the focus on your own company, rather than their issues leaves them to figure out for themselves if you are relevant.  I’m sure you can guess which of the 2 choices above will be more attractive to them.

Step 2 – Who is it addressing?

Many value propositions try to cover multiple target audiences.  Yet, one-size-fits all usually fits no one. So if I was your prospect, could I easily tell by reading or hearing your value prop if it is addressed to me specifically?  If you are thinking that you have to have a broad one because you have multiple targets, think again.  Consider developing a core one, and then multiple targeted value propositions that speak to key players in the buying decision.

Step 3 – Is it Understandable?

Use of acronyms, technical language, internal jargon, and “marketing speak” can completely derail the clarity of the message you are trying to drive home.  This is a frequent issue that many value propositions fall prey to.  Keep it clear, crisp, and in customer language.  If your prospects have to translate it to understand – they won’t.

Step 4 – Is it Provable?

The very essence of a value proposition is about making a “claim” of value.  Given that the claim is coming from your company, most buyers will automatically be skeptical.  You’re trying to sell them something, after all.  So consider offering objective, third party (i.e. not YOU) proof that the value delivered is real.  Testimonials, case studies, survey results, research results, analyst reviews. No proof?  Get some or your value proposition will be just words on a page.

Step 5 – Is it Quantifiable?

Many value propositions include key attributes such as increased productivity, lowered costs, additional revenue, and the like.  There are a handful of key buyer imperatives that your prospects are typically looking for.  The sticking point is that if you include an imperative, you need to put a stake in the ground and tell me by how much.  The amount or % that your offer delivers is key to putting the oomph into your statement.  Afraid to actually use a number or %?  Then reconsider the inclusion of that imperative.  If you can’t make it specific and real, then it’s just a claim like millions of others.

By now, you should be getting a good idea on the strengths and weaknesses of your current value proposition.  Resist the urge to start over from scratch.  Instead really think through where you can make improvements that will speak directly to the customer.  The value proposition as a marketing and sales tool can be thought of, metaphorically, as a mirror.  When your prospect looks in that mirror – make sure it’s their face they see, and they will step forward.  Differentiate yourself as a vendor by making it all about them.

— Lisa Dennis

Sales VPs Have to Know How to Work with Their CEOs

thinkingI found this article the other day, and felt it was worth sharing with you.

It discusses a great guide for both new and existing sales leaders on how to build the right relationship with their CEO.  Thanks, Greg Alexander, of Benchmark Index for putting this out there.

If your CEO is from finance or operations – you need this guide!

Gaining the CEO’s Trust

Just read an interesting blog post on about why CEOs don’t trust marketing.

Netting it out, they trust sales and finance exponentially because they are measureable – and speak the language of CEOs.  Marketing needs to be able to do the same. business-metrics

So how does one go about that?  KISSmetrics offers 7 Keys to Success in 2014 that marketing can use to up the ante and deliver the information CEOs need to hear.  In particular, there are 3 keys that I think are really relevant to increase credibility and effectiveness in communicating with your CEO.

The 3 Keys that I really like are

#1 – Create a Plan that includes digital marketing,

#6 – Set and Maintain a Strategy, and

#3 – Set manageable objectives and KPIs (in that order).

Sales and finance have got it nailed when it comes down to developing, delivering and articulating a plan with relevant and timely updates.  We in marketing need to bake in that same approach to how we internally communicate with the CEO and the rest of the senior management team. I believe building a marketing operational framework that integrates with Sales’ approach, and ties into how finance reports revenue is key to increasing trust and credibility.

All 7 keys are good – but if you focus on these 3, I think you’ll make headway with your CEO in 2014.

— Lisa Dennis

The Bard of the Boardroom

Last week I attended a Vistage event in Boston, the annual All City event.  For those of you not familiar with the group, Vistage provides professionally facilitated, private advisory groups for CEOs, executives and business owners.  The event was held at The State Room (formerly the Bay Tower Room), a great venue with one of the best views in Boston.  One of the speakers was David Whyte , a poet, author, and organizational thinker.  He is the leader of the Institute for Conversational Leadership.

shakespeare_businessWhat is intriguing to me is that he is a poet, through and through.  And he has not only been successful at the craft, but he has been able to extend it into other things, and into the business world.  Mostly, I’m jealous – because what I wanted from a very early age was to be a poet.  I started writing in elementary school, and sent out my first poem to a publication when I was in 7th grade.  I was a poetry major in college, co-edited the college literary magazine, and wrote a volume of poetry for my college thesis.  I’m jealous because he took his poetry and extended it. I wasn’t confident enough, or clear enough, about what my life should be to keep the poetry front and center.  So I got a “real” job, got into marketing, went to business school, and basically wrote poetry behind all that for years and years and years.

I have heard hundreds of speakers, so it’s rare that I’m blown away by someone.  I had heard about Whyte many years ago, but had never had the opportunity to hear him speak.  He began his talk by reciting a piece of Shakespeare – and then he repeated it – beautifully, and powerfully delivered.  Then he broke it down sentence by sentence and provided the organizational context.  The room was full of CEOs, senior executives, and business owners – and you could hear a pin drop.  Everyone was riveted!  I love Shakespeare, so not an unnatural reaction for me.  But to see the entire room hang on his every word was incredible.   Poetry and business….really?  Yes.  Really.

A dynamic speaker, Whyte doesn’t lecture but recites dozens of stories and poems, including some of his own, to help bring to life the experience and emotion of change. Whyte says such poems help managers and other employees to rethink their daily habits and assumptions, thus stirring up some creative juices. One senior executive: “My first reaction was: What a waste of time,” he says. “I thought to myself, what could a poet possibly contribute?” But the executive now says that Whyte “helped us to think differently than we ever had before. We had to look inside ourselves.”

                                                                                            -Business Week

Check out this Harvard Business Review article, “A Larger Language for Business,” which is an interview that shares his approach and how poetry enlarges and simplifies the conversations we all need to have.  One of the things Whyte said during his talk was,Poetry is often the art of overhearing yourself say things you didn’t know you knew.”  That really resonated for the poet in me.

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There is nothing quite like that kind of discovery when you write. In a clear, honest, open, collaborative conversation the exact same thing can happen.  I think that’s the connection point between Whyte’s orientation and leadership.  And for the first time ever, I am envious of someone else’s career – in a good way.

— Lisa Dennis

“I’d Like to Add You to my Professional Network on LinkedIn”

sales handshake

Does that statement sound familiar?  I bet that you receive a number of these requests every month.   I got a handful of these this week – all using the exact same words and nothing more. The majority of requests were from people I did not know.  It’s great that they wanted to connect with me, but there is one major challenge with it.  I don’t know why.  I can look at their profile and decide if I want to be connected to that person or not – but I still don’t have any context for their request.

Let’s look at it another way.  Would you leave a voice mail message that simply stated “I’d like to add you to my professional network” and then just hang up?   Probably not!   So why do that using LinkedIn?

The highest and best use of LinkedIn is all about building professional relationships, not just playing a numbers game and collecting connections.  If I know you already, then just sending me the standard request is fine because we already have a relationship.  But if we don’t, then the standard request doesn’t deliver enough information to make an informed decision to connect.  The context of the request is actually very important.

So, let’s put our sales, or business development, or job seeker hat on and think about it from the point of view of the person you are trying to connect with.  What’s in it for them to connect to you?  If you let them answer that question by themselves, they could either guess or just dismiss it. Neither of  which is a great outcome.   If it isn’t important enough for you to spend a little time crafting a relevant request, it’s probably not important enough for them to try and figure out why you asked.

Here are some things to think about to craft a more engaging connection request:

  • Why specifically do you want to add me to your network?
  • What mutual interests might we have?
  • Have you read anything or heard anything about me that caused you to reach out?
  • Do you have any information, content, ideas, or referrals that might be of interest to me?
  • How would this connection benefit us both?

So before you send the standard request, step into the other person’s shoes. If they have to ask themselves why you want to connect, you’ve missed an opportunity to start a real conversation.

— Lisa Dennis

Business Models for Start-Ups Should be Grounded in Some Old School Principles

I read an interesting article the other day, about business models for start-ups.  While start-ups are not my typical client, I saw some ideas that I think could use a bit more fleshing out.  For instance, the article reads:

“The central area is the Value Proposition. In this section you must enter a value that you are determined to create and spread in the market, as well as the value you want to generate for your audience…”

I agree that the center of any new business model is a value proposition – but the reality is that there is a very mixed understanding of what that truly is.

valueIn particular, I’d like to suggest that figuring out what value you want to create FIRST, without identifying in advance the value needed/demanded from your audience is putting the cart before the horse.  Many a technology start-up has burned through their cash and shut their doors because they had a value proposition that spoke to the offer they wanted to sell, and not to what the buyer needed and was willing to buy. It’s the old “build it and they will come” theory which simply doesn’t work.

The value that the audience needs and desires comes before anything else in crafting a value proposition.  Then it should be translated into a modular platform that defines the value the audience is looking for, the specific offer(s) your organization delivers on the desired value, and finally, you need to define 1 or 2 rock solid differentiators that are quantifiable (with proof).   Smart start-ups will verticalize the value proposition into their different market segments as soon as possible so that it speaks in industry buyer language to specific industry issues, objectives, challenges.

So I agree that  business model  central area is the Value Proposition.  But it actually hinges on  a clear, well-articulated, customer-focused value proposition that is tailored by market and by audience.  Without it, the rest of the your business model canvas ends up being just busy work.

My best start-up advice is this:  start with customer, start with the customer, start with the customer.  Haven’t got a customer yet?  Vision who they should be – and work to define the value proposition they care enough to spend money on – then define/refine the offering.  Don’t waste your time and theirs on a cool idea that chases customers, rather than engages them up front.

So, what do you think is the rock that start-ups should be built upon?

— Lisa Dennis

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