Using Public Relations to Leverage the Hidden Code
Embedded in Your Successful Sales

by Jeffrey Geibel

"The purpose of a business is to create a customer" was the famous quote by Theodore Levitt of the Harvard Business School. Not surprisingly, a large percentage of any company's sales and marketing budget is consumed in attempting to determine just who their best prospects are, and reaching them with both a message and offer that will help persuade them to become a customer.

Traditional indirect techniques such as focus groups, industry 'perception' studies, competitive strategy sessions and management 'retreats' are undertaken to find the holy grail of sales and marketing: that unique message and 'compelling business offer' that will turn a prospect into a customer. Unfortunately, in today's fast-moving business climate (especially in high-tech) these indirect methodologies will often provide you with yesterday's answer to tomorrow's problem.

What is often completely overlooked in this pursuit is that the hidden code of that successful product or service offer is embedded in the company's successful sales. Everything takes place when a prospect becomes a customer. It's not necessary to use indirect investigative tools (focus groups, perception studies, etc.) when the information from a direct source (new customer) is there for the asking.

Your industry credibility, competitive positioning, perceived benefit value, attraction of your features and options, pricing strategy and ability to deliver on your promises both today and tomorrow all come to a conclusion when a customer signs up. Although each customer is unique, when you evaluate several customers across several industries, what emerges is a similar buying logic and rationale which comprise the 'hidden code' of your successful sales. Not surprisingly, if you uncover this hidden buying code and use it as a basis of your sales and marketing communications, it will serve to attract prospects who have the same business problems that your customers were struggling with (and that you helped them to solve.) The most powerful sales and marketing message you can deliver is how your product or services help your customers (and by implication, qualified prospects) solve their business problems. This is the exactly the answer a potential customer is looking for, yet they often have to wade through a tremendous amount of irrelevant information and introverted jargon in conventional marketing programs to get the answer to "what will it do for me?"

Once you have discovered the hidden code in your successful sales, the next issue is getting this message out to the market, such that it is available when a prospective customer decides to enter the buying cycle. In other words, this is a question of both the timing and availability of your sales and marketing message. Only 5% of any given prospect base in the buying cycle at any one point in time. But the 5% changes with time. How can you reach that ever-changing 5%?

Public relations, when focused on this challenge, is the most effective tool for reaching both your prospects and those who will become tomorrow's prospects. Many executives mistakenly assume that public relations is effective only for the short-term, such as a product or current business announcement. What they completely overlook is that the Internet has changed how business buyers get information to make buying decisions. Yesterday's techniques for information gathering, such as trade shows and 'seminar selling' are rapidly falling off in both attendance and effectiveness. Also, recent studies have shown that business buyers will often consult three sources in sequence for information when making a buying decision - the first being trade journals, then the trade journals' web sites (e.g., archives) and then the vendor's (e.g., your) web site. 'Archiving' merely means that the information is available for Internet retrieval - and this can be as recent as the current issue of the publication. In fact, some publications have switched to entirely on-line versions (such as Datamation.)

Knowing this pre-purchase information gathering pattern, the challenge is to have continuous exposure in the trade and business press, and to have that exposure archived for Internet access. Only a public relations program can obtain those results. Advertising can't accomplish this since it is not archived. Neither is your direct mail or telemarketing - they are all aimed exclusively at today's (e.g., those in or near the buying cycle) immediate buyer. If you want both today's buyer and tomorrow's Internet-using business buyer - you need to be where they will look for information.

The second challenge is to develop a public relations program that has continuous appeal, not just a one-shot splash. Any public relations message that is of the 'announcement' (or 'news') variety, such as new product, new company, or venture capital financing is only of temporary interest. The only aspect of your company that can be fashioned into a continuous program is the business cases of how your customers use your products to solve their business problems. Although the business cases will all have the unifying theme of your 'hidden code' of sales success, each customer and their application of your technology will be unique, and distinctive to their industry. As the competitive environment and technology change, the nature of the business problem that you are helping to solve will also subtly change - presenting and ever-changing series of business cases. Also, these business cases can be used in both the business press, and in vertical trade publications - giving you a double shot of exposure and a double-archived message for the Internet-searching business buyer.

Discovering the hidden code in your sales success will help you improve your current sales effectiveness, but using that hidden code as the basis for your public relations effort will help you to reach both today's customers and prospects, and those prospects will become tomorrow's customers. To paraphrase Theodore Levitt - "The purpose of your public relations program is to help you create a customer."

1998, Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

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