When thinking about marketing, it’s easy to become preoccupied with the technical skills and systems — from your sales processes to the proposition and more. But at the end of the day, there’s another crucial element to winning deals.
According to Hugo Macedo at Unbabel (whose tech provides seamless multilingual support by combining humans and AI):
“Actually the competition is for capacity of the customer to change. Your key Director or VP cannot do 100 changes a year, or even 10 depending on the size of the projects. So you’re competing for those 10 slots of change management in a year.”
Again, you might look to solve this with smarter systems and process. But Hugo argues you should be thinking more about representaing yourself with authenticity and encouragement. The latter of these meaning literally developing more courage in the equation.
“Sometimes there’s a connection on a different level where you feel: whatever exposure I have to this company, these guys are really interesting and I want to work with them.”
This is where the energy comes from. Call it chemistry, call it rapport — but it’s about your customer feeling like your collaboration with generate energy that leads to results, intead of sucking the oxygen out of the room and exhausting them.
Read on for this and more from Hugo Macedo at Unbabel:
Doing new things
One of the things we need to admit is that no one really knows how to do it. If you think about a particular context, there’s a company in a particular market in a particular year, right? That’s a completely different scenario than another company in another market five years ago.
There’s no recipe. There are some principles, but there’s no recipe. So you’re always trying to figure it out. The more different kinds of experience, exposures, ways of thinking and frameworks you can bring to the table, the more chance you have. So it’s kind of the opposite of: “Oh, I have a recipe that I’ve applied in the last 10 years in 10 companies and I’m here to apply the recipe.”
I think there’s principles and big things in each area but a lot of it is how are you able to find out what’s working and what’s not for this particular problem, at this particular stage.
One thing I value in experience is not really the technical experience, it’s more how you train your brain on the people and team aspects. Because people are people, they have the same set of behaviours, the seven deadly sins and all of that. I think that doesn’t change that much.
“Best practice” can’t lead to innovation
If you want someone who has already succeeded in an area — that will ensure you’re kind of okay. You’re on the average, right? You have people who know how to do what has been done until now. So “best in class” technical experience is always about what worked in the past. Anything that goes into best practice is already average.
If you’re looking for what is going to work in the next 2-5 years, with everything changing so fast, the marketing tactics of three years ago are not the same as today.
You just have to decide: do you want to have an average marketing plan? Fine, that’s your decision as a company. Maybe you want to have the most advanced AI but with the marketing you actually just make it uncontentious and do whatever we’re supposed to do.
It depends on the leaders, on the company’s ambition. I like to think of it like: Okay, you need to be the best in AI if you’re an AI company, but you also need to have amazing product people, amazing marketing people, amazing salespeople to level up.
If not, you will have a great technology, mediocre products with mediocre marketing and probably you won’t get there. I think every one of these key areas need to have the ambition of creating new things.
The real war for attention
Actually the competition is for capacity of the customer to change. Any B2B tech will create some kind of change in the customer. They will do things differently, more efficiently — but will create change.
Now, your key director or VP who will decide on that change has a finite capacity for change each year. They cannot do 100 changes a year, or even 10 depending on the size of the projects. So you’re competing for those 10 slots of change management in a year.
Emotion and chemistry in sales
There’s the basics: you need to show and prove the value you bring to the customer because other people will also try and prove their value.
But most of the time I think we forget the emotional part of it. You still have the rational, the value, the ROI and all that. The challenge is: what can you build on top?
When you meet someone at a networking event, there’s some chemistry in the conversation. Sometimes you feel: Oh, how do I get out of this? Other times there’s a connection on a different level where you feel this brand, this company, the people I meet — whatever exposure I have to this company, these guys are really interesting and I want to work with them. So when deciding which projects to do, it feels like “Oh, I would love to work with these guys.”
I think that’s the level not many brands reach in B2B — they usually focus on the rational things. When we talk about brands, we need to talk about how this relationship works at different level — the rational and emotional connection.
Trust comes from authenticity
Don’t pretend to be something you are not. I will not connect with people that look fake. So you don’t wear a suit and tie if you’re not that person. And equally, your website doesn’t have to wear a suit and a tie. Your communication doesn’t need to wear a suit and tie.
I think part of the issue is that we tend to use appearance as a proxy for trust: we think someone “serious” dresses seriously and you confuse serious with trust-worthy. I don’t know where this started and maybe it’s an interesting anthropological investigation: why do we connect “seriousness” with trustworthiness? Especially when a lot of people that are untrustworthy are very serious and scary.
Trust is key in B2B, especially if you’re a startup, because they’re betting their career, their performance review, their bonus on you.
Companies don’t speak. Companies don’t sign contracts. There’s a person on the other side presenting this recommendation to the board. There’s always people involved. So start with that mindset: you need to connect with people.
The need for courage
This is also a process of self selecting. So if someone doesn’t have a chemistry with what you’re saying maybe that’s fine. It was not meant to be. We have a hard time in business to accept losing deals but it’s part of doing business and the sooner you lose the deal, the better — the less expensive it is.
All of this requires a lot of courage. How do you say no to a customer? You need to have the courage — and courage also means, yes, having the financials to be able to do that, right? The sooner you start saying no to customers, the more you’re not wasting energy on things that are not going to work and can apply that energy elsewhere.
Sometimes the thing that’s difficult to measure is the cost of opportunity: I invested so much on that deal that didn’t work out. What if I had actually used that to nail down on things that we are really, really good at.
But because there’s a lot of uncertainty, it’s hard to measure all this. Anything you don’t measure that has a risk — you need courage.
Cultural differences in communication
I read this amazing book: The Culture Map. One thing that she explains is different kinds of thinking and ways of deciding from different parts of the world. So when I was talking about first principles, this is a very European way of thinking. Americans are much more based in experience and evidence. So the way they convince is usually based on examples, and past experience. While Europeans usually convince based on first principles, and I’ve seen that since I read the book.
So when I talk to an American and talk about first principles, he looks at it like “Oh, does this mean that you’ve never done this before…” And then the way I reply to them is along the lines of “okay, you’re just looking at the past — how do you want to create the future if you’re just looking at the past?”
This creates potential tension with people who become preoccupied with, for example “how Salesforce did that.” Salesforce is 20 years old! Like, come on! Yes, it was amazing — but it was a different time, with different tools and different people!