The Marketing Brochure and the Peter Principle

by | Marketing ROI, Marketing Strategy

marketing brochures in professional services

When a prospect asks for a brochure, what is s/he really saying?

  1. “Wow! I really love what I am hearing. I want to share your brilliant solution with my colleagues. But, there is no way I could articulate your sales pitch as well as you. I need a brochure to do it for me.”
  1. “This is the solution I want. A brochure will help assure me that your solution has all the features I want and that I’m not missing anything in the ‘fine print.’”
  1. “If I ask for a brochure, I can get rid of this sales guy and then throw the brochure away.”

I suspect that if we were to do an empirical study of this topic, prospects would admit to acting on response #3 nine out of 10 times. My anecdotal research as a marketer indicates that there is an inverse correlation between a consultant’s request for a brochure and his ability to sell. The stronger the demand for brochures, the lower the sales ability. Weaker demand for brochures correlates to the higher sales. Brochures are crutches.

If you have been successful in professional services business development, you know that prospects do not want brochures.

As a recent study in the Harvard Business Review stated:  The top sales professionals ranked five different sales strategies based on their effectiveness. The top-ranked strategies were “Getting customers to emotionally connect with you” followed by “Tailoring your sales pitch to the customer’s needs” and then “Asking questions that show your expertise.” The two lowest ranked strategies were “Showing the value of your solution” and “Driving the topics of conversation.” 

Prospects want proven expertise, a trusted relationship and demonstrated results. Brochures deliver none of this.

Consultants show expertise by offering unique insights or POV on an industry, technical issue or regulation. It continues when they ask sharp, challenging questions that show that they understand their client’s industry, company and issues. Consultants must prove that they are knowledgeable about their products and services—and about their competitors.

Consultants demonstrate trust is by telling real stories and by providing relevant examples that resonate with prospects. Prospects want to know that “their” consultant is seasoned and has learned from experience. Being confident enough to say, “I don’t yet know what that means for you. Together, we need to learn more” builds trust.

Consultants reveal results by saying, “Here is an article/whitepaper on your issue, plus our thoughts on it.” They demonstrate expertise, trust and results by saying, “I have a client who wrestled with the same issue. Let me introduce you so you two can discuss the ways in which we addressed her problem.”

Take away

The Peter Principle states that a person will rise to his or her level of incompetence. That is, an individual will be promoted based on the skill that made him or her successful in a prior position, but he will fail if he does not develop the commensurate skills for the new position.

Consultants rise on technical competence. Sales and personal skills are often ancillary because other members of the client team can shoulder that burden. When a consultant/accountant/lawyer assumes sales responsibility, the tell tale sign of ignorance or fear of sales—or both—is the demand for a brochure. Marketing often enables this dysfunction by fulfilling the brochure order. The result is wasted resources and continual underachievement.

Marketing leaders must be strong enough to say, “I’m sorry but we will not produce a brochure for you. Instead, we will help you succeed by giving you what you really need.”

What is needed is tough love, new skills and the competence to keep rising.

Be prudent.

Jeff McKay is CEO of the marketing consultancy, Prudent Pedal, where he helps leadership teams set smart growth strategies in motion. His strategies have helped the world’s top professional services firms overcome the “messiness” of pro services and achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment and maximize brand value.  Jeff was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and he held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen.

About the Author

Jeff McKay
Founder & CEO
Prudent Pedal

As a strategist and fractional CMO, Jeff helps firms set smart growth strategies in motion. He was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen. Learn more.

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