What the US Marines Can Teach Your B2B Firm about Marketing & Sales
March 6 2013 by Gordon G. Andrew
“Every Marine a Rifleman” is a basic tenet of the US Marine Corps. At boot camp, every marine receives training in marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat and teamwork. Regardless of how (s)he ends up serving in the Corps – as a mechanic, lawyer, clerk, pilot, dentist or pastry chef – every marine is prepared and expected to apply their combat training whenever it’s required. That rifleman commitment serves as a tactical cornerstone of the Marine Corps’ Semper Fi (Always Loyal) motto.
B2B companies – professional service firms in particular – can benefit by creating a culture similar to the Marine Corps; training all employees with basic marketing & sales skills that can help the firm to grow and succeed. “Every Employee a Sales Rep” should be fully ingrained across a company’s work force, from the front desk to the corner office.
Many B2B firms – in legal, accounting, financial services and consulting disciplines – employ at least one rainmaker, typically a founding member, who brings in the lion’s share of new business. But that “outside / inside guy” dynamic puts a company at risk, because rainmakers can depart unexpectedly (by choice or by ambulance), and the firm’s growth rate is always limited by their energy, motivation and availability. More importantly, this business model fails to leverage a firm’s “inside guys,” whose individual and collective business relationships, skills, experience and credibility should be harnessed to drive consistent revenue growth and to scale the operation.
Regardless of their title, job description or capacity to work the room at a social event, every B2B executive should be given training, tools and ongoing support that empowers them to:
- Manage Their Personal Brand – Clients hire individuals, rather than a firm, to help them. To showcase their credentials, every account practitioner should maintain a complete and up-to-date biographical profile on the company’s website and on LinkedIn. To expand their visibility, they should also participate in at least one activity unrelated to employment, whether that’s membership in the local chapter of a professional trade association, their daughter’s soccer team, or a fly fishing club.
- Articulate the Firm’s Value Proposition – Many employees, even at the senior level, do not have a clear understanding of what makes their firm different from the competition, and are at a loss to provide a compelling reason why someone should engage them. Like a good marine, every employee should know their firm’s “elevator pitch,” and be prepared to recite it whenever someone asks, “So…who do you work for?”
- Nurture Their Professional Network – Every practitioner has a network of current and former clients, associates in other disciplines, friends, relatives, neighbors and individuals they’ve met at conferences or social events. Business contacts are often included in the firm’s CRM system, and may receive quarterly newsletters or other communications issued by the company. But account practitioners should also maintain direct and regular contact with their entire personal network in order to nurture and expand those relationships, because referrals are driven by casting a wide net.
- Drive Top-of-Mind Awareness – The marketing challenge for most B2B firms is making the short list of candidates called in for an assignment. To increase their odds of getting that call, firms must constantly sow seeds with clients, prospects and referral sources, driving top-of-mind awareness regarding the firm’s capabilities and credentials. Every practitioner should play an active role in that process by generating relevant content – in the form of blog posts, bylined articles, case studies, industry updates, slide presentations, etc. – that can be merchandised by the firm to keep the firm in play.
- Sell Intrinsically – Because “inside guys” embody the firm’s intellectual capital and deliver its services and solutions, they are best prepared to demonstrate to prospects and clients the firm’s capacity to add value, which is its most powerful sales tactic. Intrinsic (or “consultative”) selling is what converts prospects to clients, and not including account practitioners in the sales presentation process can handicap a firm’s growth potential.
- Seek Cross-Selling Opportunities –The professional practitioner assigned to an account is the steward of that relationship. As a trusted advisor, the practitioner has an in-depth understanding of each client’s current needs, as well as insight into what additional services might be of value. Based on that 360° perspective, the account practitioner is in the strongest position to recommend new services or an expansion of existing work. But many practitioners fear this solicitation will compromise their professionalism, or put the client relationship at risk. Both of those obstacles to increasing account penetration can be addressed with proper tools and training.
- Ask for Referrals – This is a tough task for most account practitioners. However, if they’ve nurtured their network, gained confidence by learning how to cross-sell to existing clients, and have rehearsed the referral request process, then practitioners can make this a painless routine.
“Every Employee a Sales Rep” will not be achieved simply by establishing firm-wide mandates. The program must be driven by internal disciplines – consisting of written guidelines, worksheets and in-house training – that provide employees with proper guidance, support, feedback and motivation. Combined with a senior-level commitment to change the culture, and firm-wide acknowledgement that the transformation will be difficult, your B2B company can transform its sales and marketing capability. Semper Fi.
Gordon G. Andrew is managing partner of Princeton, NJ-based Highlander Consulting. He was vice president of marketing communications for Prudential Financial, head of corporate communications at Travelers Group (now Citigroup), CMO at Travelers Life & Annuity, and director of marketing services at The American Stock Exchange.