One of the best lessons I learned about sales came when I worked at Google. Preparing for a pitch to one of the big banks, our sales executive said, “Look, if they were rational in their ad spend, they’d put it all in YouTube. But they aren’t, so we need to create a connection, tell a story.”
I think about that statement a lot. Since he said this almost a decade ago, where to put your ad spend isn’t as obvious. (Yes, of course, YouTube and Google are still some of the most popular bets.) But what I think about most is the last part. People aren’t rational, and connections mean more to us than metrics. In sales, if all products are equal, buyers are going to go with the one they like most. And more often than not, what they like means who they like.
We live in an age of authenticity. What people like, what they buy, what they consume feels authentic. Brené Brown makes millions guiding people on how to be their “more authentic selves”. Her recommendations involve lengthy emotional work and self-exploration. And while emotional labor is valuable, it doesn’t stop the quarter from ending and goals from being tabulated.
So if becoming our more authentic “self” can’t happen in time for year-end closing, how can we adapt the tools of authenticity to create a more effective sales strategy? (And maybe even become more authentic ourselves?)
1. Know your context
Cultural critic Marshall McLuhan is right: “the medium is the message.” By choosing one over the others, you are saying more than “Whaddup?”. Sending an email will receive less attention than a phone call, which receives less attention than talking to someone in person. And when you prospect by email, you know the harsh realities of low open rates. So then the solution becomes being authenticity in the message and the medium.
In our own email analysis, we’ve found that by adding “Sent from my iPhone” at the end, we receive almost 2X the responses than on emails that don’t have it. I have a hard time believing that our email recipients are such Apple fanboys that they’ll immediately respond to any fellow iPhone user. In reality, they are probably responding to the fact that we injected authenticity into the email by leveraging the authentic source of emails: the people sending them.
By knowing the context of how you’re communicating with your prospects, you’ll be able to adapt the message to match the medium and breathe more authenticity into it.
2. Know when to showcase authenticity
A 2015 study suggests that sharing secrets with acquaintances builds more meaningful relationships faster. At its core, authenticity is a blend of quote-unquote vulnerability. So if someone shares every minute detail of their life without regard to whomst (whomst?!) they’re talking, then everything they say won’t necessarily feel like a secret or something “vulnerable”.
And an easy way to judge what is considered “vulnerable” is by its frequency as a conversation topic in mixed company. The less you discuss the subject with a group of coworkers or acquaintances, the more sharing your experiences on that topic would be considered “vulnerable”.
3. Know what to be authentic about
Ultimately, as salespeople, marketers, company leaders, we want our pitches, branding, and products to come off as authentic. “Being authentic” is the final form of advertisements from shingles on rooftops to ads in newsprint to programmatic. With increasingly less attention from customers than ever, “authenticity” means the difference between a thumb flick and a thumb stop.
The quickest way to authenticity in a shingle-less, newsprint-declining moment is targeted messaging through select mediums. So the medium is the message, and the message is first and foremost, “we know your problem.” Users know their challenges.They’re thinking about those challenges constantly and will ignore whatever other “problem” they’re told exists.
Companies can be authentic when they focus their “vulnerability” on their expertise. Netflix and Spotify don’t message the inconvenience and expense of radio and cable respectively. They showcase their own proprietary data about their watchers and listeners. The same should be done for any SaaS business.
What makes this “vulnerability” even more successful is self-reporting: “we use our product and see [INSERT IMPRESSIVE STAT HERE].” For decision-makers looking for a solution, this kind of “vulnerability” reads as authentic. And since we don’t live in a world of robots who make rational decisions, we respond to authenticity, because it feels like more than an email blast from Hubspot.
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