Meet A New Layer In The Sales Channel: The Genius

Credit: Jayme Soulati; Santa Monica Apple Store

Credit: Jayme Soulati; Santa Monica Apple Store

BMW went on a date with Apple and the former liked the latter’s “genius model” so well that it swiped the concept flat out.  That’s OK; it’s allowed.

In 2014, BMW dealerships across the U.S. will roll out “BMW Genius Everywhere,” the program that puts IT-savvy youngsters complete with iPad in hand on dealership sales floors to interact with customers.

Just like Apple’s genius program where (mostly) 20-something men (have you ever seen a female wearing Apple genius shirt in store?) patrol Apple retail stores to help customers, BMW is doing the very same…taking a page from a successful Apple marketing and sales playbook.

As more vehicles go high tech with bells and whistles only IT-savvy dudes can figure out, BMW is helping its sales team by intercepting the customer  with a barrage of cool information about vehicle tech features inside the car.

This new talent will stop short of selling vehicles, and they will be on salary and not commission. The program is set to coincide with the 2014 rollout of BMW’s i3 electric car. Cadillac and Lexus already have similar programs in the U.S.

Thinking About Customers

I love this marketing program.

  • It’s a steel bridge from the prospect to sales  with the girder being a genius aka college upstart hungry to work with nothing but geek to share.
  • It finally puts marketing and sales on the same team; marketing gets to help disseminate information to prospects about vehicle features and pave the way for the sale.
  • Marketing gets to LISTEN directly to the customer with face-to-face interaction the likes of which only happens in a focus group session behind mirrored glass.
  • Young students can work nights and weekends without interfering with studies during the day.
  • Sales people are passed a hotter lead from the genius who can share more features and functionality about a vehicle than the sales person would know (e.g. how the USB port works and whether there’s a way to make the car a hot spot when driving).
  • As for customers, interacting first with a genius means no pressure to buy.  Someone can listen to the good stuff, walk away and phone back and ask for a sales person.
  • The program is already doing well in the U.K. and will roll out across Europe.

Your Brand
Let’s think a moment about how this impacts your brand, and it doesn’t have to be a luxury brand to think about how to engage customers and prospects on a different level.

Your company should already be engaging customers via social media channels; however, is there also room for a 1:1 program where your team is on the frontline with prospects?

Let’s talk about what that program looks like…creativity is the name of the game to cut through the chatter.

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The Sales Lion Inspiration: Business Confidence

Oh, man. I’m hot for this topic today. Thanks to Marcus Sheridan who deserves ALL the credit for what’s just below. Combing my reader to find some inspiration, I landed on The Sales Lion just this moment. And. Read. The. Whole. Post. With. Relish.

Marcus shares that he is the subject of a documentary and whilst filming he turned down a major inbound query that could’ve been a sale for his swimming pool company. The cameraman was befuddled, and Marcus shares that he was less than interested because he is not all things to all people. That caller needed a concrete company and not The Sales Lion (I don’t know if his pool company is called that or not).

Then Marcus takes it one notch further and asks his community to “promote yourself…come on…tell me about you as a blogger; do you know yourself; can you turn down a sale that’s not right for you?”

Marcus’s insight for the cameraman is that “you don’t know yourself or what you represent to be able to turn away business.”

Do you know yourself as a blogger?

Marcus is asking all of us to fess up to this question — if we can’t define who we are and what service we offer and to whom, then we will fail in business and in blogging. I love this hard knock question. Let me try, Marcus, to answer it here instead of in your comments section as you’ve invited. I encourage everyone to visit your house and try to do the same:

My business is public relations at its core. As I review the sphere, I see that I’m not traditional or typical. I cross boundaries squarely into marketing; in fact, I’m a chief marketing officer for one client and a marketing brand manager for another. That blend also includes new media which I’m challenged by every day to keep abreast of what’s new.

As a service business, I need to know my capabilities and expertise. There are few if any products I offer and when I do attempt to sell message mapping to clients for added value (and this is so critical), clients don’t understand the need or the worth.

That’s the other thing — knowing that what I offer is a specialty business and showing clients that value. New media has altered the perception of public relations, and many clients think they know how to DIY PR. Not so, and it’s a fine line to prove to clients they need my services.

Have I ever turned down business? Not really, but what I did do was turn down money.

Recently, I took on a client who wanted to pay me $20,000 monthly on retainer. They had no idea. I suggested something more palatable like $7,500 a month, and then I looked more closely at the business and knew I would reduce that retainer even further to a manageable and not over- promised, high-expectation budget. So, I knocked off another $4,000 and am proving that my team is worth more money at the end of the initial three-month engagement.

That example is as much a lesson as what Marcus shares in his blog post — are you confident enough in your talents to either turn away a valid sales lead or suggest a reduction in retainer until everyone is in sync?

Thank you, Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion, for this automatic inspiration!


Pull Sales to Push Social Media

The July 12, 2010 Advertising Age features an interview with LG’s CMO Kwan Sup Lee. He is formerly of P&G and also worked pizza in Korea. LG owns a broad portfolio of consumer electronics products including microwaves and TVs. It is branding itself as a lifestyle company.

The more I study the influence of social media on sales, the more I realize the missing link IS sales. Just like public relations has yet to influence sales directly (we’re on peripheral vision), social media is not touching frontline sales, either.

The story listed five marketing challenges LG faces:

1. Focus on creating great products and then let marketing showcase them.

2. Forget about “one upmanship game” of tech features.

3. Use a broad product portfolio as a strength.

4. …understand your business, your consumers and your brand.

5. Don’t be intimidated by the competition.

Pretty basic and areas of concern by all companies, right? What’s blatantly missing is any mention of sales. The first challenge above is where I paused longest. How I’d like to edit #1 is:

Create great products supported by even greater marketing strategy and arm frontline sales with marketing tools and education about public relations and social media to influence a buy.

Public relations strategy provides a conduit to the customer, and social media channels allow direct, outside-in customer communication. The sales team, however, is WITH the customer face-t0-face whether B2B or B2C!

This strength of position by sales can help influence consumers to:

1. “Like” a Facebook page and subscribe to RSS feeds.

2.  Comment on a blog post or YouTube video with positive product feedback.

3. Ask for a Yelp comment.

4. Eliminate the blasted surveys with evey transaction we make and instead drive traffic to social media networks.

A flexible and nimble sales and management culture can make this happen and positively influence consumers’ buys. What do you think? Does this resonate with your thinking about what’s possible?

The Last PR Frontier — Sales

There’s not too many departments within an org chart that public relations hasn’t already touched. Methinks sales is the last frontier for public relations to influence, and it’s going to take some serious work.

My day-to-day with several clients is as a strategically aligned member of the marketing team where I blend public relations squarely into the marketing mix. The offering is much like content development, event strategy, creative brainstorming to influence lead generation and, in turn, the support of sales teams who bring in the bacon.

While logically explained, there’s no simple logic behind this mash up (PR and sales). In essence, public relations has swung so far from the sales team that we’re essentially non-existent to frontline sales. Here’s how:

  • PR has no standing among sales.
  • Sales depends on marketing.
  • Marketing beats to its leadership drum.
  • PR aligns communications strategy to business goals (which are sales goals, too).

In a perfect world, here’s what I envision a highly successful business model to look like:

  • Public relations and marketing form a cohesive team with PR feeding program strategy, content, event strategy, social media, media relations, and sales collateral into the team.
  • This marketing/PR team meets regularly with sales, and PR gets a chance to educate sales about its contribution to ROI, results.
  • Public relations attends sales meetings and even conducts trainings on what PR needs from sales to do its job.
  • Sales slowly begins to understand how PR works, and when marketing asks for customers to interview, sales will open InterAction CRM and allow PR to speak with customers for a story.
  • Sales is equipped with a message map completed by public relations so everyone says the same thing to key audiences.
  • Public relations is regarded as high value to the integrated team, and everyone wins.

Is this reality or un-reality to you?

Spanning the Divide: 10 Tips for Public Relations/Sales Synergy

I’m still absolutely appalled at the lackluster effort by the two sales people at Toyota and Ford dealerships within the last two weeks. If you’ve been following me on occasion, you will know that I’ve been recording the steps by a consumer (me) to purchase a vehicle.

With all the chaos in the automotive industry in the last 18 months, I had assumed/expected better effort by the sales people (one female, one a senior citizen) to earn my business.

The last frontier for public relations must be SALES. I cannot speak for all industries. The TV salesman at H.H. Gregg over the weekend in Indianapolis convinced my aunt to purchase several luxury items; he did a great job. Is it just auto sales we’re talking about, then?

Here are a few tips for public relations practitioners to infiltrate some expertise into the sales mechanism of any company:

1. Messaging. Marketing typically provides product background to sales, but is there a message map developed for the sales team? Message maps are valuable for any spokesperson on the frontlines; sales teams are tier one spokespeople for a company.

2. Training. With a completed message map in hand, train the sales team to use it. Role play and you be the potential customer. Let the sales team get comfortable with the map so everyone uses the same powerful and approved messages.

3. Secret shopping. There’s no better way than to ask a “spy”  to launch the buying process for a product and see how the sales team is performing. Take what’s gleaned from that experience and return to the salespeople with more tips on how to interact with customers.

4. Respect. Everyone in the organization must respect the sales team for its position and role for the company. Ask marketing and sales what tools can be created to assist with this effort.

5. Attend sales meetings. Salespeople have the pulse of the industry and customers at their fingertips. What a treasure of information for public relations. When a PR person attends (you need to get invited), you can identify case study prospects, news hooks, regional news fodder and develop a variety of communications as a result.

6. Sales communications. Treat sales as a tier one target audience. They need to know what’s happening within the company and when public relations learns critical industry information, sales should be informed. Write a newsletter, e-blast, intranet site for sales, or other non-tech method of communication (some salespeople don’t have access to the Internet).

7. Blend with marketing. As the marketing team is oriented to sales quotas, ROI and lead generation, listen to their needs and complement the mix with on-point public relations strategy.

8. Ask the sales team. Communicate. Be a team. Be inclusive. Regard sales as a critical component of the marketing public relations mix.

9. Build trust. For years, sales and public relations has been miles apart with marketing smack in the middle. Until results happen, sales will not regard public relations in the right light. In fact, public relations is likely to be little understood in the sales organization.

10. Try, try again. Try for what works. Synergy does not happen over night, but shame on sales and public relations for not putting forth a consistent effort to make it so.

What other thoughts can you offer?