Building Your Brand Message: Salespeople as "Brand Mascots"

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Customer Strategy
Marketing
We see numerous cartoon animals and celebrity headshots scattered across the shelves as we browse the supermarket, yet when it comes to the B2B market, we rarely have a face to put with the company name. The reason, according to Tim Riesterer, chief strategy and marketing officer at Corporate Visions, is that B2B companies don't have just one mascot, but an array of brand ambassadors typically known as sales representatives. These salespeople serve as the voice of the company, fostering relationships and facilitating the conversations that build customer loyalty.

We see numerous cartoon animals and celebrity headshots scattered across the shelves as we browse the supermarket, yet when it comes to the B2B market, we rarely have a face to put with the company name. The reason, according to Tim Riesterer, chief strategy and marketing officer at Corporate Visions, is that B2B companies don't have just one mascot, but an array of brand ambassadors typically known as sales representatives. These salespeople serve as the voice of the company, fostering relationships and facilitating the conversations that build customer loyalty.Below, Riesterer discusses how consumer brand mascots differ from B2B salespeople and what B2B companies can do to cultivate the concept behind brand mascots to empower and improve their current sales team:

Q: Why do brand mascots work well in the consumer arena, but not in the B2B market?

A: In the consumer arena, you're always trying to reach a mass audience who then makes a purchase decision, typically without the aid or intervention of any kind of salesperson. They're going to make a decision going down the aisle of a supermarket or electronics store, and if they use a sales clerk, it's really just to get them in the right direction. At the end of the day, the brand mascot in the consumer arena is like the surrogate salesperson. They start to create that sense that somebody or something represents this brand, whether it's a cartoon character or a celebrity pitchperson. Brands are trying to fill the void that happens when you go in and shop and you have unaided access to numerous brands.

In the B2B arena, people buy major, considered-purchase items typically with the aid of an identified salesperson. Somebody representing the company plays that intermediary role and represents the brand and its products and services. The idea of why you create a mascot, to create that credibility around your brand, is really assumed by field representation. According to the Corporate Executive Board's research on how B2B buyers and decision makers chose one brand over another and how they decide whether to stay loyal or not, 53 percent said their interaction with field salespeople was the biggest differentiator.

Brands create mascots to provide surrogate sales representation where consumers typically make their own impulse or self-service decisions, and that role is assumed by the salesperson in a B2B market. Now, as companies think about their brand and realize that their brand mascot or agent is their salesperson, they've got to think about how they enable that person to be a brand ambassador as if they were trying to pump up the image of the brand mascot.

Q: What characteristics must these salespeople have in order to build the same sort of trust consumers associate with distinct brand mascots, such as Tony the Tiger or Ronald McDonald?

A: Salespeople, in order to build trust, have to bring some value to the relationship with the B2B buyer. It used to be where it was just about having a relationship: being known, being there to respond to needs, and solving any problems that came up. But what we've discovered is that the salesperson, as a relationship builder, isn't working as well because customers need more now. Then there was the movement where salespeople had to be product experts, but now that era of salesperson adding value has been eclipsed because of the Web. Customers can go online and do tons of research and learn just about everything they need to know about your products and services.

The next value that salespeople can bring is being referred to as intelligence, or insight and ideas. Based on the collective experience that companies have solving problems and seeing what's happening in a given marketplace, salespeople must be able to provide value by giving prospective customers ideas and insights on how they may be able to move forward. They should be able to see and hear things going on within the market, then collect that information and share it as useful insight, making the customer smarter by educating them. But most companies are still trying to make their salespeople product experts and they're doing product training, basically equipping salespeople to go out and talk about the same exact stuff customers could've gotten on their own on the website. They are unwittingly putting their salespeople in a place where they are stuck trying to add any value.

Q: What steps should a company take when trying to develop an effective brand message?

A: The first step companies need to take when they develop their brand messages is that they need to stop making their brand messages about themselves and about why they believe what they do is so great. Brand messages are usually about the company, how great their service is, and how great their products are. The problem with most messages is that the salesperson's job is to make the story relevant to the story the customer is living in, but most brand messages are relevant to the story the company is in. That translation process becomes really hard.

Companies should be thinking about how they can completely invert their brand message to be about the customer experience and share that insight with the customer so they may base their solutions around this insight, giving customers the sense that things are more meaningful to them. This would be the translation from "we" and "why us?" brand messaging to "you" and "why change?" brand messaging. The customer lives in a world of "me" which comes in direct conflict with the "we" and "why you should buy from us" messaging. The customer isn't even sure they need to buy from anybody. The biggest question for the customer is should they do anything differently? Why change? Most brand messaging does not facilitate that, missing the mark of where most customer conversations, lead by salespeople, need to start.

Q: What are some tips you have for companies looking to train their salespeople in a way that differentiates their "brand mascots" from the competition?

A: They have to train their salespeople how to loosen the customer status quo, as opposed to promoting the company's products first. How do they believe the customer needs to change? They also need to equip salespeople with insight so they may deliver ideas on what customers can do better. Right now, the technique for loosening the status quo is to go out and ask 20 questions, and customers do not have the patience to sit through this. Customers are really looking for salespeople to tell them something they didn't already know--a problem they didn't know they had. You have to equip your salespeople with the ability to deliver a distinct point of view to add value.

Do not pass the status quo and start talking about yourself. Instead, equip them with a distinct point of view that sparks conversation and brings some value to the dialogue. Then, help salespeople do that in a memorable, remarkable way. For instance, instead of using PowerPoint, replace it with the ability to scratch out an idea or story on a flipchart, whiteboard, or notepad because this idea of being a PowerPoint jockey simply says you're able to use a company-created PowerPoint. But if you can actually facilitate a conversation with a customer using flipcharts, whiteboards, or notepads, you own that information. You are seen as adding value. Companies want their salespeople to be trusted advisors, more consultative, so they should use more consultative techniques, visuals, and interactions.

Q: What are some primary examples of things companies should not do when developing their brand message?

A: Test your brand message to determine whom the hero is in your go-to-market story. Is the hero the customer, and what are you going to enable them to do? Or are you the hero? We believe companies should be seen by their customers as mentors, not the hero. The only hero in the story is the customer who's going to be the change agent, who's going to take the risk and bring you in and push and champion the project inside that organization and create all the necessary agreement and alliances needed to make something successful. Your role is to guide and mentor that entire process. But the big mistake people make with their brand is they want to be the hero, because the test they use to determine whether they like their brand message or not is whether it makes them feel good. Don't be the hero. The customer is the hero in the story. You are the mentor. Make sure that your brand story sounds like that.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION