1. Jarkko Kurvinen: How to build thought leadership
Jarkko Kurvinen, Chief Marketing Officer and Content Strategist in marketing company Plutoni. Jarkko is a passionate marketing evangelist and advocate for content marketing, social businesses and digital revolution. He is working with varying small and medium-sized companies to meet their business objectives. To keep himself busy, Jarkko is also the author of the books Blogimarkkinointi, a book dealing with blog marketing, and Mielipidejohtaja, his newest piece about thought leadership.
Selling has changed. Today, it’s less about cold calling and hard closing and more about providing true value. Customers are doing the first two-thirds of their buying process online, and the Internet has equalized the information asymmetry between buyers and sellers.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the demand for selling has come crashing down. Actually, the opposite is true. As Daniel Pink put it: “In today’s world we’re all salespeople, selling is human.” Even if we’re not in a direct sales role, a big share of our work is persuading, influencing, and convincing others.
In this new transparent world, a vendor with genuine interest in helping customers, standing by them, and sharing insights will be successful. This is an excellent opportunity for engineers and subject matter experts to stand out.
Unfortunately, we still see selling as sleazy, cheesy, and slimy. Finland has superior engineers, but without sales and marketing, we will become an economy of subsidiaries. This is a well-understood fact: the last organization to come out with it was the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries.
But change doesn’t happen top down. It will start from the grassroots level by individuals who have adopted the new mindset and will lead the way. And as in many phenomena, the forerunners will get the best harvest.
That’s why I founded Sales Engineering Finland. It is a peer-to-peer networking group for engineers and subject matter experts in, or interested in, sharpening sales skills. There is no organization or hidden agenda behind the group, and everyone is welcome to participate.
There is no need for business to business salespeople anymore: “We let all our salespeople go and it didn’t affect our sales at all” is a story we hear more and more. And there are good reasons to think like this.
If customers have issues, they can do their own research online. The Internet is full of information that can help them understand problems and learn how others are solving them. Customers can attend webinars, download white papers, discuss their problems with other people, and collect opinions. In the best case, when customers have made their decision, they can finalize the deal online.
Thus, it is no surprise that it is getting harder and harder for salespeople to get customer meetings. In the experience of most customers, the typical salesperson doesn’t add any value to their decision-making process. Why should a customer meet with a self-interested salesperson who asks irrelevant questions, gives boring presentations, and provides minimal insights? Customers can get better service online.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. As a seller, you need to engage online so that you are visible in customers’ search queries, discussions and recommendations. Let customers do the first two-thirds of the buying process themselves and find you; when they do, be ready to serve them and provide value.
And this doesn’t mean that selling is not required anymore or that passive waiting can be considered as a strategy. You still need to be proactive in opening the dialogue and keeping it going. However, make sure that you provide value in every step of the process and expect customer to be generally well-informed.
Now we are getting to the inspiration for this blog post: Juuso Myllyrinne, with his excellent insights into the Finnish bias in regards to branding, reminded me of how attached we Finns are to the notion of the heroic salesperson’s role in the selling process. Instead of genuinely being interested in understanding and helping customers with their issues we still yearn to be, or hire, this epic figure who can open any door and close any deal for our product or service. And as Finns we think we are bad at this.
But that approach to sales is finished. We as Finns don’t have to excel at it anymore. The future of sales lies in customer focused service: adding value, communicating it and making buying easy. Finnish engineering culture provides an excellent basis for this approach to sales. We are competent and trustworthy. We just need to open up, engage, and focus on the customer.