During a planning meeting last week for a wholesale carrier client, I was pleasantly surprised when the VP of sales kicked-off the call noting how our PR efforts in 2016 helped the company broaden awareness but more importantly got them into customer deals because of coverage their prospective customers read. The CMO and marketing director reiterated how valuable our PR efforts were in helping the client realizing their business and sales goals. I should note that I wasn’t surprised that the coverage we’d help generate was driving leads just that we were getting credit for it publicly at a forum. PR is about helping a company achieve its business and market objectives and growing market share, shortening sales cycles and turning interest into action for prospects is a role that PR is well suited to play.
As a result of our success from 2016, we’re investing more time with the client’s sales team and creating campaigns that we believe will have a further impact on the client’s business. Despite this acknowledgment about the role in PR in supporting sales, I’m still surprised to learn through conversations with CMOs and marketing executives how disconnected their PR programs are from their sales processes.
It’s not that most CMOs don’t consider PR to be an important tool for sales, they do, but they limit the PR function to generating press releases. Generating releases is one of many PR tactics; sales people often leverage articles and releases for communications purposes or as proof points to help increase their chances of making a successful sale. However, many companies stop short at this point, and most PR firms don’t think to dig further and truly understand how PR can better complement and drive sales. Of course, not all clients want this, but more and more companies that we’re speaking with now want to know how their investment in PR is going to help with the bottom line.
Not only should a PR program map back to a client’s business goal and/or sales, but PR teams should be communicating with the companies’ VP of sales regularly to understand the clients’ pain points, competitive threats and ultimately, why their customers buy their services or products rather than their competitors’. The concept may be pretty basic, but it requires a PR team to have deep experience in—and an understanding of—the client’s market, target customers and competitors.
Talking the Language of Sales
I’ve found that it’s so important to be able to have an intelligent and thoughtful conversation with sales about their target and current customers, who they compete with in the market and why they win and lose a deal in the first start. It gives me background and a starting point on what we need to do from a PR perspective. Sales people shouldn’t have to spend a lot of time educating their PR rep about their challenges and opportunities, which for a sales person is a waste of time. For the telecom client that I referenced above, while we report into the CMO, we also regularly speak with their VP of sales to understand the challenges and opportunities he sees. One of the challenges the client was up against was that they had no visibility or credibility in the North America market, despite their network footprint. We drove a plan that had a balance of ongoing press releases highlighting their network expansion in different markets and new network routes, outreach to the industry analysts and driving educational trend stories through interviews and contributed articles that started to position the client as a thought leader on topics that are top of mind with the media including IoT, Gigabit services and Virtual Reality. The regular drumbeat of coverage generated by the company’s news and on key trend stories had a more significant impact on driving traffic to the site. While PR can’t close the deal, we learned that in fact our client was called upon by several customers, who would have otherwise not been familiar with the operator.
A PR team should have strong writers who can quickly produce a drumbeat of collateral, including case studies, contributed articles, social media content, blogs, white papers and of course press releases. Writing case studies gives us direct access to customers who may not be willing to do press releases or talk to the media, but who will support the company’s sales efforts. We’re able to capture why these customers buy and use our client’s offerings in the company’s messaging and for pitching broader trend stories. All of this is good fodder and is useful not only for the direct sales process, but also provides consistent visibility and mind share that helps attract customers that may not have been aware of the client.
Building a story that reaches the C-level executive and has staying power
It is true that a high-level story in a trade or business press outlet is valuable in getting the attention of C-level buyers. While every company wants to be profiled in a business press outlet, those opportunities are limited for most companies.
This is where aligning a smart PR team and your sales team is beneficial to find that unique trend story—what we regularly call at Witz the adjacent story. It’s that story that demonstrates thought leadership and creates multiple points of pull from the marketplace so that prospects and partners want to learn more about your company, service and may be your next prospect. Most companies have multiple adjacent stories, ones that speak to a variety of topics that reach different verticals such as healthcare, the environment education and finance among others. Building and driving these stories creates multiple opportunities for clients to be a resource with the media and to insert themselves into a variety of trend stories. For this particular client, one of the many adjacent stories that resonated with the San Jose Mercury News was the “love fest” between Hollywood and the Silicon Valley and how technology was facilitating that affair.
A PR agency must leverage the insights it gains from the client’s sales team to develop multiple stories, have relationships with the media that matter and understand how to tie the client’s stories to the trends covered by the business press. Again, this approach requires a focused PR team with strong collective knowledge and experience with developing and pitching stories to the media. At Witz Communications, we’ve had numerous successes with clients who give us access to their teams and trust our process. From there can quickly develop and execute on strong coverage that drives strong awareness for the company.
These types of stories, by the way, have a long shelf life and can lead customer deals well beyond when the story ran. That was the case with another client where a story that ran over three years ago resulted in a recent inbound inquiry from a prospect that quickly became a customer win for that client.
Understanding Analyst Relations
A PR team should also know the right industry analysts. Time and time again, I hear how critical industry analysts are to getting invited to an RFP or to the final selection process. But not every analyst is the right fit for your company. PR can help align sales with the industry analysts to make sure they can help with the company’s long- and short-term goals. A PR agency that is focused, like Witz Communications, will have the right relationships and know the right approaches to bringing together the right industry analysts in the event the company’s products or services straddle multiple markets. Witz’s teams are well versed dealing with this problem because of its vast experience in bringing new companies and technologies to the market.
If your PR program is not aligned with sales, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate your PR process.
Jeannette has directed hundreds of successful PR campaigns and corporate initiatives through significant shifts in the economy, the technology sector, and the media. Her knack for connecting clients with the right influencers, combined with her extensive knowledge of PR strategy, drives companies to reach their highest potential.
Jeannette has been instrumental in launching and raising the visibility of Silicon Valley companies that have changed the technology landscape. By partnering with clients, she helps them realize their vision and achieve new levels of market, product, or financial success. Jeannette builds long-term relationships and establishes mindshare with the media, analysts, and other influencers, enabling clients to garner coverage and build thought leadership.