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How to Build a Sales Public Relations Program

[see also How's Your ROM (Return on Messaging)?]

Copyright Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

Reaching qualified prospects with your competitive message has never been more important - or more difficult. Here's a proven sales tool that most sales professionals overlook.

Ask most sales professionals what they think of public relations, and you'll probably either get a roll of the eyes, or some anecdotal story of how a single, small product announcement resulted in a major sale. Both responses indicate that the individual doesn't understand, or has never been exposed to, effective sales public relations.

What is sales public relations? It is public relations concepts applied to the sales environment - which is to:

1.) identify both your audience and the desired perception of you and your products, and then

2.) develop and drive out a message that communicates your sales message.

Wait a minute! Isn't that what your salespeople do every day? That's right - but you need to translate what they do as individual salespeople into a mass communications program. That's where traditional public relations methodologies apply.

So how do you translate your best sales peoples' practices into a sales public relations program?

First, every sales public relations program has to be based on referential selling concepts - which is the same technique that every top salesperson uses. They paint the picture in terms of how your products have solved problems for your customers, and helped them get to their goals. Obviously, you need satisfied customers for referential selling - but just as importantly - you have to stay focused on your sales message!

Many referential selling stories (also called success stories, case studies, etc.) read like data sheets - a boring recitation of facts and figures. Compare that to how your top salespeople use those same referential accounts - they tell a dramatic, interesting story - a story that has your competitive sales message embedded in it at every turn - that's how sales people leverage referential accounts to get a prospect to visualize themselves as a customer. Now read about those same referential accounts as a "success story" document - hard to believe they are both describing the same situation.

Most companies try to get around this disconnect by bringing in a traditional "PR" agency - that will allegedly use their ‘contacts' and ‘influence' get the business media to create those dramatic, interesting stories from the raw material of a referential account. However, that's easier said than done. Unlike your salespeople, the media isn't interested in presenting just your side of the story. They will often include your competition, sometimes with more exposure than you get in the story, yet you paid for the PR program!

Tip: If you want to find out if your public relations advisor is capable of developing a sales public relations program, ask them to describe some typical sales processes, then to describe to you what your sales process is. This exercise is always an eye-opener.

There is a better way to reach your sales prospects - by using your sales force and your web site as the primary ‘media' for your sales public relations program. A ‘media' is merely a conduit to reach your intended audience - and what media is better positioned to reach your sales prospects than your sales force and your website?

But your sales public relations program needs sales-oriented content - those sales-oriented referential accounts that can be used as sales collateral and posted directly to you web site.

This is the biggest problem faced by sales public relations programs - and one that is not easily solved. Conventional journalists and free-lance writers may put the words together correctly (from a grammatical perspective), but they lack the sales insights and the emotional context of the referential account. In short - they just don't understand the sales process. Their version almost always drifts "off message" and worse yet - is often written backwards from the sales prospect's (reader's) perspective - they start with a boring company history or cliches like "a leading provider of..." whereas a savvy sales person always leads a referential account story with a dramatic synopsis that sounds more like a ‘coming attraction' movie clip.

The way sales people get around this lack of effective documentation is to have prospects call the referential account - a time-consuming process that is fraught with the potential for a less-than-stellar reference. Let's face it, reference accounts have bad days, too - and their opinion of you and your company can be shaded by what's on their plate at the time of the call (like the audit notice they just got from the IRS!) That's why it is critical to capture a solid, one-time documentation of your company's stellar role when the reference is still ‘upbeat'.

Once the sales-oriented content is developed for the sales public relations program - the sky's the limit on how far and wide it is distributed. Remember, a web site is active 7x24, with worldwide reach.

The real payoff is with the responses to your sales public relations program - because the prospect is responding to your embedded, competitive message - and the questions are going to feed right into your sales process, and head the prospect right toward the sales close. What could be better?

© 2003, Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

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