What's the point of going to conferences?

We have a £2,000 annual training budget at Red Badger that can be used however we like. Most people use it to travel to attend a conference in the US, Asia-Pacific or somewhere equally exciting. Training is really specific to your job role and expanding / honing your skills though, so sometimes the most relevant conference is... at the London ExCel. On 12th May, I took myself out to deepest, darkest docklands (admittedly in my MX5 with the roof down as it was a super sunny day) and wandered around hall S6 for 7 hours. Amongst the stuff I wanted to hear about was why buyer journeys are all wrong and how to speak to big prospects whilst still sounding like a human being.

At Red Badger, it's really important to us that we talk sense, both in terms of what we do and how we tell you about it. I was keen to hear how other people did it, and what the audience thought about it. One of the things I love about how we build new business here is that we don't have a sales team. It means that we find new business based on our reputation, the need of the client and our suitability to do the job, not because someone wants to meet their target and get their bonus. Many agencies do use that model and it leads to division internally; projects teams hate the sales team because they just throw projects over the fence and don't care about how it's been sold. The clients are almost always disappointed too; they end up having their projects de-scoped to make them possible in the time or for the price they've been promised.

wednesday

We don't work like that at Red Badger. Ever. We are one team from pre-sale conversations to support; you're always talking to people who know and respect each other's working practices and understand how and why something has been designed or built that way. As a marketer, it is a joy to work with.

The speaker in the "Maximising your Business Relationships" session talked about how he felt the same disillusionment with that model, and set out to prove that large projects could be sold and managed without resorting to sales speak. This actually makes life a lot easier for both the seller and buyer. The pressure to talk in acronyms and business language can make it really hard to know what the other party means or wants. It's a lot easier to say "I'm going to provide you with some recommendations to help get everyone on board" than saying "we realise this is going to be a c-suite decision, and I will provide you with a formal RfP response via procurement". You have the same obligations to meet due diligence but everyone feels like they are dealing with another human person. There were murmurs of uncertainty in the room; "but how will we sound important and knowledgable without using all those buzzwords?" - and frankly that is exactly the problem. If you don't know how to sell your product without being plain and transparent, it's probably not the sales process that is flawed.

It's a lot like the Agile/ Lean process itself - cut the waste, cooperate constantly, deliver fast. Endless documentation (e.g. large proposal documents) doesn't get anything done faster, and may well add to losing sight of the end goal. Just like when you propose Agile, lots of people in the room looked worried. It's hard to let go of the models you've been using for years. But that's exactly why you should do - they are obsolete. Just like the monolithic agency giants - they no longer provide the best solution.

It tied in with the buyer journeys talk I'd heard earlier in the day. If you are using the 'traditional' sales funnel, you're going to be disappointed with your conversions.

sales funnel

This is just not how it works anymore. Most of your prospects simply aren't interested in hearing about how your solution is going to do something X times better and Y times cheaper than your competitors over 40 pages of sales documentation. They want to know what it's going to be like to work with you and how that is going to get the result they need delivered. They want to know why they should work with your teams, specifically, to achieve their aims. The old sales funnel model focuses too much on saying the right thing to the prospect to get them 'down the funnel', when you should be focusing on how to solve their issues.

Going to conferences isn't always about learning new skills, sometimes it's about being given the confidence to let go of old habits. Knowing that sales-speak isn't necessary, that doing the right thing is more important than saying the buzzwords and being bold in your decisions will mean that you don't make the same mistakes as before, and get a different, better result.

So, thanks B2B Marketing Expo! You reminded me that doing my job well is often about simply treating people as human beings.