Long sales cycles make it hard to structure your message and address the right questions. The key is to instead structure a series of messages that answer the right question at the right time. A message format that your organization probably uses is focused on how. In fact, it’s common for ALL of your messaging to be focused on how: the features and benefits of your product or service. The problem is that How is only useful to address once the audience when your audience gets to What Now.
Instead, you need to answer the question of “Why do I need this in the first place?” The “Challenger” sales messaging approach suggests focusing your messaging on defining a problem that your audience didn’t realize that they had. That makes the pain of the status quo exceed the pain of the change. But you can’t use that message all the time.
What’s important to remember for a long sales cycle is that each message format contains its own Red Thread. So the second message should use the first message’s Change as its Goal. And that second message’s Change should be the third message’s Goal.
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– One of the hardest things to figure out when it comes to marketing or sales messaging is what do you say to people when? Because sometimes the buying cycle takes a long time, particularly in B2B situations. So how do we solve for that? Well, the answer lies in tying Red Threads together. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com, and that’s what we’re talking about this week on Find the Red Thread.
If you think it’s hard to structure your messaging over a long sales cycle, you’re right. And a lot of times it’s made even harder. That’s because we’re trying to use the same materials and the same messages from the beginning of the sales cycle until the end. Now that does a couple of things. First of all, you as the marketer get totally bored with it. Because you’re like, “What else can I say about this thing?” And second, we run the risk of not actually answering the questions that our audience has.
Now we’ve talked about this before, but there really are three fundamental questions that people need to have answered before they will make a change. And it’s not just in their comprehension, it’s are they getting the right information they need? Now those three types of messages are Why, What Now, and How that match to those same three fundamental questions.
Why am I not getting this thing that I want? Why am I struggling to achieve my goal? Why is there a problem that is getting in my way? That’s Why.
Now in the middle is something that I shortened to What Now. You can think of it as what needs to be true now, what has to be true now. So it’s additional pieces of information that make the problem of the Why impossible to ignore. They also set up the change that the answer to How represents. Which brings us to How. If I agree with the problem, and I understand why, and I agree with what we need to do now or what needs to be true now, then I am myself going to move to the question, how do you do that? What does that actually look like?
And that’s where the Change and the Actions, or in the case of branding and sales messaging. What do the products, services, steps in a process actually look like? Now if we’ve got these three questions, then we also have messages and message types that match.
But if we use the wrong message type in the wrong place, then people don’t get the answers that they need. And if they don’t get those answers, they’re not going to move forward. So what we need to do instead is structure a series of messages. That way we answer the right question at the right time across a long sales cycle.
Now the good news is that you already have two formats to look at for what we’re talking about. Both of them are probably in fairly active use in your organization already. The first format is the most common one that I see with clients. All of their messages, all of their marketing materials are focused on How. Things that are focused on here’s the product, here’s how it works, here’s the features and benefits.
So first lesson here is you can’t use those How things too early. That’s because they’re not answering that question of why do I need this in the first place. Now to answer the question of why we need this in the first place, there are a number of approaches out there. But they’re best captured with what’s called the “Challenger” sales messaging approach. In order to answer that question, they recommend that you spend a lot of time on defining a problem. Particularly, a problem that your customer or client didn’t realize they had.
Now that’s incredibly important because we need to, as Challenger says, make the pain of the status quo exceed the pain of change. We have to make it uncomfortable for them to stay while still answering that question of Why. But we can’t keep using that approach all the way through the sales cycle. Because eventually, people are like, “Yeah, yeah, I get it. Can you just tell me how the product works?”
So that’s why we need to make sure that those two formats are separate. Now, what do you do in the middle? But that’s where the Red Thread can help you. Because whether or not you’re using a product focus sheet or a problem-focused format with Challenger, underneath all of it still lies a Goal, a Problem, a Truth, a Change, and an Action. Because each type of message always has all the pieces.
So when you’re trying to figure out, okay I’ve got my early Why type message. It’s meant to get people to think about the problem this way. The way you start that What Now is with the goal of how do I solve the problem this way? And then through the Problem, the Truth, the Change, and the Action, you’re going to get them somewhere new. They’ll say, “Oh, we need to use this approach to solve that kind of problem.”
Great, then your How sheets, your product focus sheets now say, here’s how we solve that problem. They also use the Problem, Truth, Change, and Action. So by using the Red Thread to structure series, you can make it super simple to figure out what that is. The next message in the series always has a Goal that was the Change of the previous message.
Let’s say you have message one that has a Goal that leads to a Change. Message two should use the first message’s Change as its Goal. And that presents a second Change within that second message. And that second Change becomes the Goal of the third message in the chain. And there you go, all along the line, as long as you need to until you’ve moved somebody forward.
Now you might say, “Do I have to make sure that somebody goes through each message?” No, but if you have all those messages set up, then the buyer themselves will move when they need to. So they may start with the Why and then ask you for the product sheets. That tells you that they have already made that connection.
But when somebody needs to go slower or they need to get a lot of people to buy in, you need more time. You need more information. You need a structure that helps you make sure that you’ve got the right information in the right order for the people you’re talking to. And that’s where the Red Thread in a series comes in. You just tie the Red Threads of each individual message together by linking the Goal to the Change, and the Change to the Goal.
That’s this week’s episode of Find the Red Thread. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com. If you need help within your company, either in understanding a new way to think about messaging or in figuring out what your messages can and should be, reach out and look at what I do at tamsenwebster.com/consulting.