Old school branding is dead. If strains of Roger Daltry screaming "Won't Get Fooled Again" won't stop playing in your head, count yourself in touch with the buying zeitgeist.

For marketers, the key to staying alive in 2003 is an ability to get closer to sales, the ability to demonstrate the financial effectiveness of their offering, and the credible positioning of your products and services in the right vertical segments.

We used to love sitting in meetings, sipping cappuccinos, and talking about "the brand," too. In 2003 it's time to jump into the trenches with the "great unwashed:" your sales people and your company's prospects.

No whining. While you're at it, you'd better brush up on the ol' finance and math chops too.

Getting Close to Sales

In 2003, marketers will get a full dose of "sales empathy." Do you know your company's prospects' biggest objection? Have you crafted responses to it? Are those responses easy to remember?

Do your sales people know how to demonstrate the validity of their response to the objection?

Ask to go to the next sales meeting and feel the burn. It's tough carrying a quota these days--especially when you know if you don't close, you don't eat. Put yourself on the front lines and you'll make yourself a better marketer.

Following that, in 2003 you're going on sales calls, sister. You're going to find out what your sales people need to succeed. For most organizations, that means a financial business case.

Don't let that scare you. It's your job to make that business case go down smoothly, and make it easy for your sales pros to communicate the value of your offering.

Also, take a look at your collateral and that concise 120 slide PowerPoint of yours. Did your agency write it? How much input did your sales staff have? Do they use it--does it help close business?

Of course most collateral ends up in the circular file, but it still needs to make your sales people more confident.

Making the Case: the New Decision Maker

We live in new times. Call it "the time of the CFO." You better get to know this guy. He's tough and he's cranky. He needs to see a return on everything his company does. He doesn't care about what you're selling, nor does he really care about your sales goals for this quarter.

He cares about his next financial report. How are you going to help your sales team make your prospect's financial report look better? Answer that and win--fail to, and you might as well grab a hair net.

How do you do it? How do you communicate value? Simple: Define specifically what your product/service does to your prospect's bottom line and communicate it in a way your sales people can demonstrate. Like many things in marketing in 2003, it's easy to say--tougher to do.

Speak Like a Native

Small and midsize enterprises are afraid to leave money on the table. Who can blame them? Times are tough. Therefore, they often try to be everything to everyone--the very thing they cannot.

In media, for example, successful programmers choose a demo. In 2003, successful companies will pick their verticals. You must decide what business you need to leave behind, in order to get more out of the business you do best.

Additionally, you'll need to communicate expertise in the vertical you target if you hope to gain market share next year.

Call it focus if you want, but you must do it to win. Narrowing your focus broadens your appeal, reduces the duration of the sales cycle, increases your closing ratio, and lowers your cost of sale. Good stuff.

To gain the credibility you and your sales people are going to need, better learn to speak your target verticals' vernacular (try saying that three times fast). That means you'll need to know the Three Letter Acronyms (TLAs) people in your chosen vertical use to make their business sound different than everyone else's.

You'll also need to learn the names of the key metrics that drive success in your newly chosen verticals. Those metrics tend to be unique to a given industry, like "homes passed" and "subscriber" numbers for telecom, "assets under management" for financial services, "capitation" for insurance, and "cume" for broadcast.

Industries use unique terms and TLA's like a code as a barrier to entry. In our example, words like "cume,” "capitation,” and "assets under management" are insider terms executives use to size up sales people.

It's this simple: if you don't know the language you're going to be shut out--period.

In 2003 marketers will need to develop a process for building intelligence on the companies and verticals their sales people are pitching. Research and re-craft the sales message so they can demonstrate they understand what needs to be accomplished and that your company cares not so much about the sale, but about the prospect's success.

You can do this if you are committed to having a positive financial impact on your prospect and convinced your offering will produce the desired result.

In other words, stop selling what you have, and start working to solve the prospect's pain. In 2003, even with all the hype surrounding ROI and Value Justification, relationships and credibility will drive sales. The sale will take care of itself once you've credibly established that you are there to improve the prospect's business--and not simply focused on making your cash register ring.

So we've done the easy part. We've told you what it will take to make you a success in 2003 and why you need to do it.

Here's how you'll make it work in '03:

Start by Asking the Big Questions

Who have you done a great job for in the past year? If you stall on this one, you are in trouble. Who did you deliver results for? Who is delighted and wants to talk about it?

If you can't document the story internally (most companies can't), hire someone to get this story down in the most credible of tones. Don't hype it--simply tell the truth.

Customer delight speaks a whisper that screams. It's all in the numbers. Remember it's the time of the CFO--speak to his (or her) needs.

What characteristics do your biggest successes share? Are they big companies or small, high tech or high value? Focus your prospecting process on companies where you can help fast.

Can you divide the sales process so more of your company's best people are involved in the area they know best? Again, in keeping with the value theme, use your people to HELP the prospect.

Don't fret too much about giving proprietary information away. Two things to keep in mind here: First, credibility comes when you give information away, and second, people's attention span is too short, and their interest in taking notes too small for them to retain anything of real value.

Just don't leave any compromising collateral behind. If you leave your process documents people will avail themselves of them. So be smart about what you give away and what you leave behind.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, find out where you failed and fix it.

The Star Treatment

In '03 you're going to make your sales people specialists, in as many categories as they need to be, giving them the means to credibly demonstrate the difference between your offering and your competitor's. Great sales people have "negative patience"--no time for anything except selling--and the great ones think they're stars (Guess what--they are).

Play to their weakness. Think of the president walking down the hall into a briefing with his aides at his side pumping him with relevant background information and data. If you're a marketer, do the same thing for your sales people. Give them the TLAs and make them understand how the prospect actually uses your products or services.

In short, position your sales force so they are able to sell the results of what they propose to implement so they can spend more time talking about the prospect's business and less time talking about their own.

That means getting to the key metrics that your offering impacts. Getting those metrics requires building trust between your prospect and your salesperson--relationships rule.

Gaining that trust can only come from a demonstration of value and empathy for the prospect's internal responsibilities. Only by becoming an expert in the vertical do you gain the credibility required to achieve agreement on metrics. Getting agreement on measures is the key to demonstrating value.

This year is going to be different. Less cold calling and blind prospecting--there is simply too much noise. You'll need to work closer to sales than you ever imagined. You'll learn to value their ability to manage relationships. They'll learn to value your ability to craft sales-focused messages, build financial business cases, solve real business problems, and grow real profits.

Have a great year.

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Tom Barnes is CEO of Mediathink (www.mediathink.com), a consultancy specializing in media and marketing strategy and implementation. Contact him at tom@mediathink.com.