Better Messaging = Better Results: Thought Leadership with Michael Cannon

Modern Marketing


This next B2B Marketing Thought Leader Interview is with Michael Cannon, CEO of the Silver Bullet Group, the global leader in messaging effectiveness solutions. Michael is an internationally renowned sales and marketing effectiveness expert, and a best-selling author, most recently coauthoring with Jay Conrad Levinson (Guerrilla Marketing), et al., Marketing Strategies That Really Work! Promote Your Way to Millions.

How is it that you became interested in both Sales and Marketing?

By necessity, is the short answer. After three years of selling, I was promoted to sales management. In that role, a key area of focus was identifying and providing my teams with what they needed to win more deals. One of the things I quickly observed was that prospective customers were always asking us the same three basic questions, which were some versions of:

  • Why should I meet with you?
  • Why should I change-out my current solution for a new solution?
  • Why should I buy this new solution from your company instead of other competitors?

Another observation was that the training, collateral, and sales tools that were given to the sales teams did not provide persuasive answers to these basic buying questions.

That’s how I got into marketing. My night-and-weekend job was closing these gaps, meaning, I created or drove the creation of the messaging and tools that enabled the sales teams to more persuasively answer these buying questions. The reward was that a lot more of my teams went to President’s Clubs, and of course, the promotions that came with that.

Help me understand the connection between messaging and results.

If you agree that the business marketing definition of messaging is “the words you use, along with supporting visuals, to persuade a person to buy from you”, then the relationship is clear. The more persuasive your messaging, the more likely it is that people will buy from you.

When you think about it like this, the big “ah-ha” is that messaging is literally “the fuel” on which all your marketing and sales engines run. The effectiveness of your messaging has a big impact on the results, or lack of results, of all your marketing and sales investments.

What do you think is the problem with most messaging?

Objectively, the problem is that most companies are using corporate, market, and product messaging to answer the prospective customer’s key buying questions and it does not work. These categories of messaging are just too high-level and descriptive to be effective.

For example, take a look at this customer messaging map. As you see in the product messaging category, most of the messaging describes what the product does, what’s included, how it works, and some of the key benefits. It’s all the typical “content” in a product brochure.

What it does not provide is a persuasive answer to the prospective customer’s key buying questions. What’s missing, as you can see from the map, is an entire category of messaging called “sales messaging”. This new category is designed to provide highly persuasive answers to the prospective customer’s key buying questions. It enables the sales conversation that both Marketing and Sales need to have with customers.

Now, I’m not saying that corporate, market, or product messaging is not good or needed. Clearly, they fill a communication need. The takeaway here is that Marketing needs to create both descriptive messaging and persuasive sales messaging, if it wants to have more influence on the customer’s decision to buy.

It’s also interesting to note that the main reason for this gap is because, up until recently, Marketing has not had a framework to define the customer messaging required for market success.  They also lacked a methodology for creating great sales messaging and a truly objective set of criteria to evaluate messaging effectiveness, prior to market testing or launch.

How can I assess if my current messaging is effective or needs work?

Beyond the typical market research, such as A/B testing, you can use objective evaluation criteria.  For example, first determine the target buyer’s key buying question(s). In Marketo’s case, one of the buying questions is probably “Why should I select Marketo to automate my demand generation activities rather than other competitors?”. Now look at your messaging and ask yourself, “Is it a persuasive answer to this question? Is it persuasive enough to win an order?”. If the answer is “no” or “not really”, then you know your messaging needs work.

Another evaluation criterion is determining if you are answering the buying question from the product feature, product benefit, or customer business value perspective.  Are you selling the oil drill, the hole in the ground, or the oil? Clearly, the goal is the oil. The drill and the hole are just means to that end.

Take a look at this list of objective evaluation criteria and use them to test the effectiveness of your messaging. The more of these criteria you use, the more persuasive the messaging will be.

What is the best advice for companies looking to improve their messaging?

From a strategic perspective, the change we are talking about is a paradigm shift in the way companies go to market. Today, most sales messaging is created by the sales teams, one rep at a time, one deal at a time. This means that most of the cost occurs, and is hidden, in the salaries and time of the sales teams, plus lower win rates and market share. Take a look at this market research from many well-known market research analysts. It paints a vivid picture of just how much productivity and revenue companies are losing using their current business model.

To make this shift as an organization, asking Marketing to close the gap is necessary, but not enough. Marketing must also be given additional resources and learn a new skill. Conceptually, the business case is simple. What’s most efficient: The way we currently go to market or having a few marketing professionals also create great sales messaging, integrate it into all their marketing deliverables, and leverage that investment across the entire marketing and sales organizations, including inside sales, outside sales and channel partners? The right answer is pretty easy to see.

Below this, what I recommend is to start small and build up a series of wins. For example, select an existing product, refresh the existing collateral, sales tools, sales support training, and lead generation programs with high-quality sales messaging and see what happens.

When you give prospective customers a great answer to their buying questions, and enable Sales to do the same, typical results include increasing win rates by 15-30%.

How can sales messaging help us improve our content marketing and demand generation results?

Another one of the principles we teach is that, in order for your messaging to be effective, it must be organized into 3-5 key points. So if another of Marketo’s prospective customer’s key buying questions is something like “Why should I use software to automate my demand-generation activities?”, then the outline for your content should be organized around the 3-5 key reasons that this is a great business decision. You can have a separate piece of content for each reason, or sub-reason, and trickle them out over time, with a summary at the end that links back to each piece for more information.

Same goes for demand generation. Each reason, or sub-reason, can be its own campaign.

What this approach provides is a logical framework for ensuring that every communication is a silver bullet – a persuasive answer to the prospective customer’s key buying questions.