You’re working hard to equip your sales force with a more compelling sales message. You’ve checked all the messaging boxes – leading with insight, speaking to pain points, casting a vision, backing it up with metrics … and stories. But your sales message still isn’t completely connecting with prospects. What else can you do? Here’s one really simple messaging hack that we’ve found to be surprisingly effective …
Name the villain.
Do what? Literally come up with a name for the one big problem your customers are facing. It’s a powerful little tool for sales messaging.
A critical role for every epic story
When you think about it, a memorable villain is one of the most critical ingredients in any great tale. (What would The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe be without the White Witch? Or Star Wars without Darth Vader?) Yet, when it comes to our own sales messages, we often leave the “villain” either too vague for the prospect to really put a finger on … or too complex for them to ever remember. Naming the villain gives your buyers a mental hook for why your solution is so important.
Here’s an example
Not long ago, we worked with a software services firm that was trying to stand out in a really crowded marketplace. This firm had seen tremendous success in helping their clients get stalled IT projects unstuck and out the door. So we turned this strength around and created a villain. To do this, we described the typical path that software development projects follow and where they get stuck. We named this villain “The Project Pit.” This opened up a whole new conversation with prospects about why it’s so hard to climb out of this pit – and how to bypass it altogether. We even illustrated The Project Pit with a simple whiteboard sketch to cement it in the minds of their prospects. It worked. This villain gave their sales team a fresh message that really resonated with prospects.
What happens when you name the villain?
- You force yourself to simplify the problem. It’s easy to present a laundry list of challenges that your solution solves. It’s a lot harder to boil it down to one big issue. Naming the villain makes you do just that.
- You show that you “get it.” By naming a villain that everyone can relate to, you automatically position yourself on the right side of this battle – the same side as your prospect. You’re here to fight a common enemy.
- You raise the cost of inaction for your prospect. Once you’ve identified the real villain and given it a sticky name, it can no longer be ignored. This makes it harder for your project or solution to get put on the back burner.
- You position yourself as a problem solver, rather than a product pusher. Your prospect doesn’t just remember you as the company that does software development but as the company that will help them avoid The Project Pit.
Once you’ve got a name for the villain, you can elaborate on it, illustrate it, and fill it with more meaning to really paint the picture of the problem that you solve. But it’s the name itself that makes all the difference, providing a concrete anchor for your sales message.
Complete your cast
If you find your messaging is missing something, it may be that you’ve left this all-important character out of your story. Give the villain a lead role in your next sales conversation, and watch what happens to your win rates.
Alan J. Boyd says
I was pleasantly surprised to see an email from PitchMaps in my inbox this week.
Even though I’d like to read more of your stuff, your posting frequency maintains that genuine quality which is so enjoyable.
Thank you for sharing your insights in this article, I will clearly outline the villains : )
I’m involved in running several hyper-niche internet marketing businesses and each one should have their own unique villain.
For example, in my content marketing SEO company, the biggest villains have catchy titles like ‘Publish and Pray’ (that traffic will come). etc.
I’ll be sure to weave them into my messaging. Talk soon.
Ben Reed says
Thanks for your comment. Glad the articles are helpful! I think that a business strategy of specialization can lead to some great villains – because the more you hone in on a specific niche, the easier it is to identify the single, specific problem that you solve. Love the alliteration in your example too – those kind of literary devices make a villain that much more memorable.
All the best!
Jeremy Baker says
Loving this Ben.
Naming the villain…
…hits dead center of the audience’s limbic system and therefore keeps them hooked.
…means the normal nine tennis balls thrown out to the audience in the hope they catch the single ball with your message is reduced to just one. Here, CATCH!
…allows the story to be easily retold and creates curiosity in those who hear only a small part.
Ben Reed says
Thanks so much, Jeremy. Appreciate the feedback. You raise a great point about creating curiosity. Isn’t that what good sales messaging is all about in the end?
All the best!
Yup, it’s the one emotion that trumps all others.
The equivalent of us two sat opposite each other in restaurant and I say (in whispered tones), “Whatever you do Ben, don’t look around you right now…!”
Ben Reed says