The More You Tell, the More You Sell
By Robert W. Bly

My colleague David Meerman Scott recently wrote a second edition of his best-selling book The New Rules of Marketing & PR.

In an e-mail, I asked David what are the top 3 new rules of marketing and PR today. His answer:

1-Nobody cares about your products and services. What they are about care themselves and solving their problems.

2-All organizations need to be real-time publishers. A brand journalism approach of creating blogs, videos, podcasts, photos, and the like drives action.

3-Have fun. People do business with those they like.

Thinking back over my 30-plus years of business-to-business marketing, I would say that in the old days, we followed a couple of these rules only lightly, and violated the spirit of most of them most of the time - as many marketers continue to do today.

Let's start with #1: Nobody cares about your products and services. What they care about are themselves and solving their problems. Everybody gives lip service to this truism, but how many companies stick with it in their communications? Precious few. Most people are me-oriented and most companies seem us-oriented. For instance, in its annual report, one software company featured the same image every year: a nice picture of its building.

As David says, the prospect cares about his needs, wants, fears, and desires. He cares about your product only insofar as it can address those needs. Remember the old saying: don't tell the prospect about your grass seed; tell him about his lawn.

Let's skip over #2 and come back to it in a minute. Point #3 says: Have fun. People do business with those they like. Virtually all successful salespeople know the importance of building a relationship with the customer and making him like you. In his book The Likability Factor (Crown Publishers), Tim Sanders writes: When people like the source of a message, they tend to trust the message or, at least, try to find a way to believe it.

As for Have fun, to me it's less clear that having fun is a core component of the new marketing Scott talks about. Yes, people who are having fun are generally more pleasant to be around, which in turn raises their likeability and therefore their effectiveness in selling. But I've seen no major study that says companies where employees have lots of fun outperform those with more somber workplaces.

Now, let's circle back to David Meerman Scott's point #2: All organizations need to be real-time publishers. A brand journalism approach of creating blogs, videos, podcasts, photos, and the like drives action.

To me this is the sea change affecting business-to-business marketing today: the relentless pressure to turn out a never-ending stream of valuable content to establish your company as the authoritative provider in its niche.

In the good old days, marketing communications departments would create a product ad highlighting features and benefits. They would then insert it into a few trade publications. The creation and scheduling of promotions was simple and straightforward, at an undemanding pace.

Today instead of one big central medium (the trade publications) there are dozens if not hundreds of little media, each giving us an opportunity to promote, however modestly, our businesses to an often surprisingly large audience. The creation of content for these different media - blogs, videos, audios, podcasts, postings on LinkedIn and Facebook, tweets - is real-time and time-consuming.

Content is king

The major trend in B2B marcom today is to market with useful information - information of the problem-solving, how-to variety - rather than product benefits, features, facts, and specs.

No one, it seems to me, has a handle on how much content you must publish, and at what frequency, to gain visibility and credibility among your core audience. But it sometimes seems as if the need to churn out fresh content for your readership is unceasing. As blogger Robert Scoble says, Your output is what people follow.

Some of the more traditional methods of content dissemination include:

Each of these is still around but varies in importance. White papers are still actively used, but they must present real and valuable content, not just thinly disguised sales puffery. The number and size of brochures has shrunk dramatically as more marketers put product information on the web instead.

When I started in corporate marcom in the late 1970s, sales and marketing were not equal. The salesperson was king, because he was the one who made the sale. All we communicators supposedly did was help out with lead generation and support materials. Our stuff was nice to look at, but the salesperson always got the credit when a new account was landed. And perhaps he deserved it.

The Internet has ended the supremacy of the salesperson. Buyers don't need salespeople today to get the product information they seek; they can find virtually any information they want on the Internet in general and your company's web site in particular. And who controls the content and design of the web site? Why, marketing, of course. So the tables are somewhat turned.

Some of the new methods of content dissemination, which seemed to be preferred by today's buyers, especially the younger ones, include:

My old colleague Jim Hansberger once told me, Everyone has to be a salesperson at least part of the time. Today, every business-to-business marketer has to be a publisher/content provider at least part of the time.

One of the objections to a content-based marketing strategy is we don't have specialized knowledge; everyone in our industry knows what we know. To which I answer: you would be surprised. You in fact possess knowledge of your product, technology, or application that very few people know and which would be valuable to them. Strategic dissemination of that knowledge positions you as an expert and creates demand for your advice, products, and services.

The other objection to content-based marketing is the fear that the marketer will risk giving away proprietary knowledge which their competitors will get their hands on. I have news for you: the salesperson who left you this summer has already given all your secrets to your competitor that hired him. Don't worry about bean spilling. The old saying in direct mail is just as true in content marketing: the more you tell, the more you sell.

About the author:
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 75 books including The White Paper Marketing Handbook (Racom). You can find him on the Web at, or e-mail him at, or phone 201-385-1220.