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The C Word: What Marketing Should Be Giving Sales*

*Hint: It’s not more freakin’ content!

When I first went into marketing as a wet-behind-the-ears twenty-something, one thing that astonished me was the animosity between “us” and sales. In the intervening 30 years nothing much seems to have changed.

As Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, point out in The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation:

(T)here’s a thinly veiled antipathy across the sales/marketing divide. At worst, it’s outright hostility…80 percent of marketing collateral winds up in the trash, while 30 percent of sales time is spent reproducing the very collateral they just threw away.

Dixon and Adamson offer a solution to this impasse with their Commercial Teaching model, which sounds much like true thought leadership to me.  The idea being that certain compelling ideas or solutions are catalysts for the conversations that convert clients; no traditional selling required.

C is for Conversations 

Not clear on what thought leadership is? Here’s the guy who originally coined the term:

Thought leadership ought to deepen the conversation between the company and the client or customer…in a way that the client has never thought about before. It should cause a reaction like ‘I need to have a deeper, closer relationship to that firm because these guys are smart, they can really help me, have thought about my problem and how to solve it’.

~ Joel Kurtzman in Think You’re a Thought Leader? Think Again.

Two companies headquartered on opposite sides of the globe are achieving just such reactions.

Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM)

SKM’s Group Manager Marketing, Dale Bryce, is a leading proponent of taking insights to clients as what he calls “a social lubricant for engagement”. He provides employees of this global engineering projects firm with reasons for having conversations with clients about value-creating ideas or solutions that emerge from SKM’s research and deep understanding of its market.

One recent success story is the publication of Insight Trading: Collaborating to Transform the Infrastructure That Shapes Society, written by SKM’s Nick Fleming and Susanne Cooper.  The book is the catalyst with which SKM can initiate and lead conversations around ways to deliver smarter, cheaper, lower risk and more sustainable infrastructure. 

Says Dale:

Advance hard copies of the book have already created many opportunities for client engagement, with Nick and Susanne visiting senior executives across Australia, Chile, Peru and Malaysia. They got meetings with key C-suite clients that many people would kill for, and they are winning work as a result of these conversations–a classic piece of thought leadership in process.

 What Insight Trading is helping SKM do is to boldly position itself as a Thought Leading Visionary, shifting society’s beliefs and inspiring broader possibilities for the way we live. Armed with valuable collateral, SKM’s sales teams can engage clients and prospects in conversations that also serve to showcase the firm’s core capabilities.

As Dixon and Adamson point out in The Challenger Sale: 

Few but the very best of your reps could pull off this kind of teaching on their own consistently over time.

 This is how marketing provides real value to sales. Insight Trading is a form of content, certainly. But SKM is focused first and foremost on communicating insights that spark CONVERSATIONS.


Tellabs offers mobile backhaul, packet optical and services solutions to some of the biggest names in global communications today. Instead of taking a scattergun approach to content, the company aims to put out two well-researched studies a year.

For example, Tellabs released a study last February in which it predicted that mobile operators were likely to experience a “capacity crunch by 2017” because of a $9.2 billion shortfall in backhaul investment.

Fast forward to August 2013 when it breathed new life into the same study with information about a new technology, Software Defined Networking (SDN). That $9.2 billion shortfall? SDN could save mobile operators over $4 billion in capital expenses – savings that equate to almost half of the previously reported backhaul gap.

The even bigger news that Tellabs plans to release in February 2014 at the industry’s Mobile World Congress is how this new technology could save clients and prospects billions in operating expenses, not just capital costs.

One Study, Multiple Chapters

By staggering insights in stages, Tellabs’ VP Communications George Stenitzer hopes to secure a speech slot at the Mobile World Congress. Disclose everything in one go and it’s already old news.

Adds George: “By selecting big topics and issuing several chapters over a period of time, we keep people interested in the conversation as well as hinting at the solutions we provide.”


A report entitled The End of Profitability that Tellabs released in 2010 generated 30 highly qualified leads, including inquiries from a number of top global telecommunications services providers with whom Tellabs was not already doing business. The report continues to generate buzz three years on, demonstrating how the shelf life of true thought leadership is much longer than with most other content.

Tellabs succeeds at thought leadership because they commission proprietary studies that no one else has. They’re also smart in terms of how they help Sales. Adds George: “For the August study we freely shared an infographic, blog post, news release and executive summary. But to access the complete study you have to go through our sales people.”

Cue the Eye-rolls

As we state in our book #Thought Leadership Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign:

Thought leaders advance the marketplace of ideas by sharing actionable, commercially relevant, research-backed, new points of view. (Italics added for emphasis.)

Content may be king, but it is easily deposed when we forget that it is only a wrapper, not the whole enchilada! What in-depth research allows you to do is to offer insights that provoke the meaningful conversations Sales wants to have in order to convert self-selecting prospects into clients.

Once Marketing gets that, maybe Sales won’t need to roll their eyes and consign all that superficial ‘content’ to the trash! Maybe it will even lead to an end to hostilities.

In the meantime, it seems sales isn’t the only function with which marketing tends to experience issues. According to this offering by McKinsey, CMOs and CFOs are frequently at each others’ throats. And this topic came up during the Q&A of a recent webinar I co-presented with Source for Consulting.

Has this kind of thing been your experience? How do you “make friends” with other functions in your organization? What collaborative ideas have you executed successfully? Please contribute a comment!

Dr. Liz Alexander is a co-founder at Leading Thought  and co-author of #Thought Leadership Tweet. As consulting co-author, she collaborates with aspiring authors who desire to write thought leading books. She is available for speaking, teaching, consulting and coaching throughout the U.S., U.K., and India (which she visits once or twice a year). Recent webinars in which Liz has been featured include Thought Leadership or Thought Followership? and Thought Leadership: Cracking the Code with Dr. Tanvi Gautam. 

Catch her talking about one of her other favorite C words, “Curiosity,” by registering here (live event Thursday, February 13th, 2014).

Connect with Liz on LinkedIn. Follow her 140 character musings on Twitter: @LeadThought 
and @DrLizAlexander. 

About Dr. Liz Alexander

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