Geoffrey James has interviewed me many times over the years and it was my pleasure to turn the tables by interviewing of him. Geoffrey is a journalist in love with the field of sales. From my experience that is rare. He has focused on sales issues for a decade and currently writes a column for Inc.com where he hosts the world’s most visited blog, with and impressive 2.9 million visitors in March. He communicates with hundreds and hundreds of salespeople and sales managers and is passionate in his views as to what’s hot and what’s not. He is also the author of How to Say It: Business to Business Selling (Prentice Hall, December, 2011).
The most frequently asked question he’s asked is, “ Why isn’t this prospecting email working?” Geoffrey attributes the problem with the emails that are sent to him in large part to the sales training many sale organizations provide to their sale teams. The growth in sales jobs, and therefore one would think, in sales training is in inside sales. Although there is a migration to inside selling, most sales training is based on the assumption that sales calls will be face to face. Based on all the questions he gets he knows most sales training has not caught up with this trend. Face to face selling is happening, of course, and will continue, but it is decreasing in frequency while phone and email contact is increasing even for complex sales. Salespeople need training in non face-to-face customer contact whether on-line or phone, in how to use the tools available to them including blogs.
Having written over 2000 blogs first for CBS and now for Inc.com. Geoffrey is an expert. For starters he feels salespeople are ideally cut out for blogging because they are strong communicators who know how to explain ideas simply. The one concern he expressed, based on the majority of examples of emails salespeople send to him for feedback, is that most salespeople don’t write the way they talk. Instead they abandon the simple, clear English they are so good at and default to bizblab. But with some encouragement and guidance salespeople have what it takes to become popular bloggers.
If you are not already blogging and your organization does not prohibit it, why should you blog? Geoffrey sees it first and foremost as a way “to turn yourself into the center of the discussion and establish you as an expert.” For example, if you are selling into the commercial air conditioning market and blogging on that subject, regularly updating it, pointing readers to articles, giving comments about what works or does not work, talking about industry trends etc., customers who buy from that industry will turn to your blog as a main interchange and central source for information. And even if you are not building huge traffic on your blog, you can point your prospects and customers to your audit stream and create the perception you are really plugged into the industry and can solve their business challenges.
In addition to this, a blog is a powerful prospecting tool because you can use it to build credibility prior to making your call to your prospect and differentiate yourself. It is only after traffic builds up on your blog and subscribers recommend it to others that your blog will help your attract new prospects. The main purpose of your blog is to establish you as someone who has the pulse of the industry and to differentiate you from the other salespeople who sell to your group of customers.
You can write a blog that creates a buzz by following Geoffrey’s Six Rules:
- Focus on the content your readers will be interested in, not on search engine optimization/ranking on Google. If your content is strong, your customers, prospects, and competitors will check you out and turn to you as the established expert. Learn as you go. For example, Geoffrey learned that salespeople aren’t interested in blogs on CRMs or 2.0 but become very involved with topics like bad sales managers or includes seemingly unrelated topics such as Yoda from Star Wars, or relevant list. Figure out what would excite customers or help them think about something in a new way.
- Write with somebody in mind. Visualize your target market and ask yourself of all the things that have come across your desk what will this customer be interested in. Include your opinion. Have a point of view and back it up.
- Make it easy for subscribers to register quickly to build up your mailing list. Keep your request for subscription information short and simple: only name, email, and company. Use the mailing list to send your blog posts. Constantly remind them about your RSS.
- Keep your blog short so it is very convenient for people to check in with you to see what is important over the other sources. Twitter is so popular because it is short. After 100 or so words you will start to losing interest. Add a link for readers to learn more.
- Write as you talk. Don’t write as you write. Eliminate bizblab and meaningless jargon.
- Spend no more than 30 to 45 minutes a day on your blog. Every few days check what is reported by the industry association, what competitors are doing or post things like job openings, etc.
To get started blogging you can use a blog site such as Blogger.com or even Facebook but Geoffrey recommends you buy a domain name based on your name or a variation of your name (if the obvious name is not available). There are many sites that offer both domain name purchasing and hosting, and most of them support blogging with popular and reasonably easy-to-use blogging tools like WordPress.
As a wrap-up I asked Geoffrey why he blogs. His first answer was honest and straightforward: he is journalist paid by Inc.com. But it left me silent for a few seconds and I asked why he chose to write about sales. He continued, “Sales is the heart and soul of business. It is more important than anything else in the company. Every organization, including top management, exists in order to provide a service to the sales function because if sales don’t take place a company does not exist. So why would I want to write about anything else? I would rather hang out with salespeople than anyone.”