Twenty-five years ago, I was in my first year as a young, institutional bond trader. My aspiration? Make the big bucks like many of the firm’s elders around me were doing. Like it or not, it was the purpose of being in the business, and what I thought I was supposed to do way back then.

That year, I had a steep learning curve. I had to figure out the various fixed income instruments (i.e. products); the different types of institutions that may be interested in them for their investment portfolios (i.e. targeted audiences) and lastly, how to persuade them to buy from me (i.e. communications).

On the surface, learning the products was simple. I nailed the ins and outs of treasuries, corporates, munis, mortgage backs, etc. I knew how each worked and could talk the talk – “double A, 10-year corporate at par with a 10% yield and 3-year call at 5%.”

The second and third weren’t so easy. I had to understand what banks or insurance companies needed compared to investment firms and money managers. And, once I did, I needed to motivate them to pull the trigger.

Selling, Then and Now

I left that world 22 years ago, but selling is still at the core of what I do today. As B2B marketers and communicators, we’re trying to convince our audiences to take a course of action. We seek to inspire our customers and prospects to buy our products or services; employees to execute our organization’s vision and business strategies; media to tell our company’s stories; investors to invest in our business and more.

I’m not a salesperson. It’s why I got out of the cutthroat bond business. But, I continue to try and learn how to hone my sales skills and apply it to my trade. Here’s what I am focused on today.

1. Identifying the Reasons of Pain

As marketers, we must understand our audiences. Beyond basic demographic profiles, we seek to create personas that provide guidance on their attitudes, values and behaviors. It’s vital to our strategies.

Recently, I have been participating in the Sandler sales training. I highly recommend it. Sandler stresses that often:

The problem a prospect brings you is never the real problem.

As a result, you have to discover the full scope of your audiences’ pain. Below the surface of their challenges, there are reasons why those challenges exist that your solution really needs to solve. For example, if your company sold a marketing automation product, one may assume that your potential buyers’ pain is a lack of qualified leads. But, if you dig deeper, it could be for a host of reasons, such as inaccurate targeting, messaging that misses the mark, or even the ability to measure and prove ROI. As a result, our marketing needs to solve these root causes.

2. Understanding the Cost of Pain

Sandler reminds us that “people buy emotionally; they make decisions intellectually.”  So, once you understand the reasons for their challenges, you need to discover how it makes them feel (e.g. worried, concerned) before you can communicate how your solution will alleviate the pain. Asking the right questions using a process, will help you identify their intangible pain points. Sandler’s Pain Funnel is an excellent tool.

3. Connecting to their Pain

I communicated white noise when I sold bonds. I fell into the trap of selling the specs: “double A, 10-year corporate, blah, blah, blah.” (Maybe it was because of the Dale Carnegie training they had me take back then where I was taught to lead with features and bridge to benefits.)

Too often I see B2B marketing in this vice-like grip – where communications turns into a game of one-upmanship against the competition of white noise features. Instead, our communications should demonstrate a clear understanding of our audiences’ three levels of pain (surface, reasons, impact) and why our products and services can make them go away.

Sandler says, “No pain; no sale!” As B2B marketers, we want the sale as much as a young bond trader. Having a different mindset and approach to our trade may help us overcome our own pain points.