Message Tailoring in Sales: What It Is and How it Works

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What is message tailoring in sales? How can it help you become a better sales rep?

Message tailoring in sales is when you make your pitch or message specific to to buyer you’re talking to. Message tailoring is an important Challenger Sales skill, since it allows you to directly address the customer’s concerns and needs.

Message Tailoring for Resonance

The trend of complex sales or solutions selling has been accompanied by an increase in consensus buying—a company’s desire for consensus throughout its organization before going ahead with a purchase. Message tailoring can help you build this consensus with your customer.

As a result, being able to tailor your message to your audience (the second pillar of Challenger sales) to each stakeholder in order to build consensus is a necessary skill for reps. It’s a skill that “natural” Challengers understand and excel at.

CEB researchers found that widespread internal support for a supplier was the top thing decision-makers (senior executives and procurers) cared about when it came to the sales experience. They didn’t want reps making pitches to them without first having established consensus—they saw that as wasting their time. Price and customization were significantly less important.

This runs counter to traditional sales training that says reps should connect directly with the senior decision-maker (believing that person is key to closing the deal). Instead, research shows that reps need to earn the decision-maker’s support by building stakeholder support first.

Building Consensus

Since stakeholders play a strong role, it’s useful to look at the data on what drives their loyalty toward suppliers. Knowing this is key to enlisting their support.

Research shows that stakeholders look for the following in a sales rep:

  • Someone who’s professional
  • Someone they can believe and trust to deliver
  • A rep who will offer useful perspectives and educate the customer.

This means that the way to build consensus across an organization for your solution is to teach individual stakeholders something new and valuable. Yet many reps traditionally have done the opposite—rather than offering insights, they’ve sought to extract information or insight from stakeholders to help them persuade higher-level decision-makers to adopt their solution. This is where tailoring your message to your audience comes in.

To build support with stakeholders, reps need to focus on giving rather than getting info. And they need to have something compelling to share. In essence, this involves a Challenger Sale with each individual stakeholder.

Tailoring the Message

The requirement of consensus-building means reps have to talk to many more people than they did in the past to close a deal. In addition, they have to tailor their sales message to many different stakeholders so that it resonates with each.

Message tailoring involves four levels, starting with the customer’s industry, followed by company, role, and individual.

To start with, a supplier’s marketing experts can add significant value by helping to tailor the sales message to the industry and company levels. Numerous sources of information are available, many of them free. Marketing can determine:

  • What’s going on in the industry, including trends and current events?
  • Has there been a merger or has a major player recently failed?
  • Is the customer’s market share growing or shrinking?
  • Are any regulatory changes impacting the industry?
  • What do the company’s press releases and earnings statements indicate about its priorities?

The outer two layers (industry and company) of messaging are easiest to develop; when sales organizations tailor their messages, it’s usually at these levels. Messaging targeted to organizational role and individual (personal goals and objectives) is rarer.

Reducing Message Variability

It can be challenging for reps to tailor their messages for many different stakeholders in multiple organizations, but marketing and sales departments can help them. 

The good news is that customer outcomes—what stakeholders are trying to achieve in their jobs—are fairly consistent across organizations, so focusing on a handful of common outcomes can reduce the number of different sales pitches needed. For instance, a key outcome might be to decrease the number of clicks it takes for customers to find an answer on the company’s website.

Marketing departments can research typical outcomes for various positions and provide them to reps as a message tailoring tool.

This is easier to do than it might seem. From a marketing standpoint:

  • Customer outcomes are predictable—if you can figure out CIO outcomes for several companies, you can predict them for others.
  • Outcomes remain fairly stable across time and people—if a CIO gets promoted, her successor will probably have similar goals.
  • Outcomes are finite and scalable—you can develop a short list of the most important goals.

Tailoring in Action

Solae, a maker of soy-based food ingredients, was transitioning to selling complex solutions. In the past, reps began sales conversations by presenting product information and specs. To change this, the company’s marketing experts created a series of information cards to help reps tailor their messages. 

The cards explained what each stakeholder was trying to accomplish in their business—their “functional bias,” which is a combination of personal value drivers (things they might do to improve performance) and economic context. For instance, a “functional bias” card for a stakeholder in manufacturing included: decision criteria important to the person (like minimizing costs), their job focus, things they monitor to achieve outcomes, and their key concerns.

With this information, reps could build credibility by addressing concerns and frame the solution in terms of impact on the stakeholder’s areas of focus. The company also provided specifics to reps on how to position the company’s solutions to different people across the customer organization—that is, who they should pitch which solution to and how. This helped the reps learn to tailor their message to their audience.

Once a deal started taking shape, Solae’s account team created a project proposal with an objective, outcome, and proposed solution for each role or stakeholder. Each stakeholder could sign off on it, which documented the consensus for presentation to the final decision-maker. The proposal also served as a summary of how Solae would deliver its solution to meet individual and company expectations.

You can use message tailoring to help your customer see why you have an ideal product solution. Message tailoring can help build trust, start conversations, and make sales.

Message Tailoring in Sales: What It Is and How it Works

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  • Why the best salespeople take control of the sale and challenge the customer's thinking
  • How to package your company with a key insight to spark an "a-ha" moment
  • How to get the organizational support you need to maintain your sales edge

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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