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Always Be Helping: Why Always Be Helping is the New Always Be Closing

“Always be helping is the new always be closing”. In 2009, I coined this phrase during some long-winded, long-forgotten webinar on how the internet was changing consumer behavior. It was a pithy attempt to explain how companies would need to adapt their sales and marketing efforts in a world where the buyer was clearly in control.

A recent search for the phrase “always be helping” shows that a number of really smart marketers have jumped on the bandwagon, using it as a battle cry for a new way to engage customers. It’s validation of a powerful concept, but thus far, always be helping (or ABH) has been just that – nothing more than a concept. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to explore how sales and marketing can put the concept of always be helping into practice.

Here are ten ways that you can put always be helping to work in your organization:

  1. Understand how you can help your customers
  2. Deliver what your customers want
  3. Be authentic in your efforts to help
  4. Make it part of your sales and marketing culture
  5. Don’t ask for too much in return
  6. Focus on delivering information and expertise
  7. Decouple always be helping from what you sell
  8. Create specific ABH programs and plays
  9. Provide employees with the training and tools they need to really help
  10. Tie your ABH efforts to business results

We’ll provide details on each of these tips later in the post, but for now, let’s focus on why ABH can have such a transformative effect on a business.

The history of always be closing

Before we can understand how transformative always be helping can be to a business, we need to understand the history of “always be closing” or “ABC”. Most sales people and marketers are familiar with the phrase always be closing. Up until a few years ago, ABC was one of the most common sayings in sales organizations.

The phrase is borrowed from the film version of David Mamet’s play, GlenGarry GlenRoss. The play is a scathing indictment of the struggle to survive in today’s professional world. It tells the story of a group of depraved real estate salesmen in Chicago hell bent on keeping their jobs and making a few bucks along the way. They attempt to do so by selling worthless land in Florida to unsuspecting consumers.

In the film, a manager named Blake, played by Alec Baldwin, visits the office to drum up enthusiasm for the latest sales promotion. Blake is the embodiment of the cutthroat salesperson, ruthlessly focused on closing business, condescending towards non-performing employees, and full of advice for all within earshot. He has some strong opinions on what he thinks it means to be a salesperson – close business or lose your job:

“A-B-C. A – Always, B – Be, C – Closing. Always be closing. ALWAYS BE CLOSING.”

“…we’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.“

Blake views customers as objects that are meant to be closed and nothing else. It’s an extreme view that most real-world sales and marketing professionals never subscribed to. Even so, ABC became a popular refrain due to the fact that it was to the point, formed a clever acronym, and captured the essence of what sales people were paid and told to do.

The rise of buyer power

The days of GlenGarry GlenRoss are, thankfully, coming to an end. The internet has made an abundance of information available to consumers that puts them in the driver’s seat. Ten years ago, buyers were dependent on marketers and sales people for most of the information they used to make buying decisions. If you wanted to buy a new car, you went to the dealership to do research. Now, you visit multiple websites that provide reviews, pricing, and negotiating tips. Similarly, if you wanted to buy a new relational database, you talked to the Oracle sales rep. Now, you communicate with existing Oracle customers on various message boards before talking to the sales rep.

Buyers have always wanted information that helps them better purchasing decisions. What’s changed is that they now no longer just have to depend on brands for this information. That’s because the internet has made it possible for lots of people to create lots of content at a really low cost. At the same time, the internet has made it possible for just about anyone to source and consume information from lots of different sources.

The internet supports three fundamental capabilities that, when taken together, give any customer with internet access and a computing device a real power. At virtually no cost to them, customers now find themselves able to: create various forms of content with ease; share that content with other people; and have a conversation about that content.

The change in how people create, distribute, and consume information has had a profound impact on people make buying decisions and truly shifted power from brand to buyer. Sales and marketing organizations need to adapt to survive in this new world and that adaption starts with a new mindset on how to deliver value to the customer.

The ten commandments of always be helping

There are some simple rules that can help guide your efforts to help your buyers. While you don’t have to follow each of to the letter of the law, bearing them in mind will only help your efforts.

1. Understand how you can help your customers

The first step to always be helping is to make sure that you know exactly how you can help your customers. A lot of sales and marketing professionals mistakenly assume that they can help buyers by selling them a product or service. Most people want to use your product to achieve a certain result. For example, imagine you work in marketing for a major airline. Do you help your customers by selling plane tickets or by helping them reach a destination they want to get to? The answer is the latter and it may involve a lot more than plane tickets.

2. Deliver what your customers want

ABH requires sales and marketing to deliver what the customer wants, when and where they want it. In many cases, this has nothing to do with the product or service you market and sell. For example, in the B2B technology market, most buyers need to understand the reasons they would buy a new technology before they even begin looking at a product. Technology vendors that invest in helping buyers understand the business dynamics that drive technology adoption are at a distinct advantage over those that don’t.

3. Be authentic in your efforts to help

No one likes a fake helper. From an organizational level down to every individual contributor, it’s important that you’re authentic in your efforts to help buyers. Ask yourself if you really are the buyer, independent of the product or service they buy from you. Better yet, ask your customers if you really are helping them. For example, if you’re a clothing retailer, did you really help your customers understand the latest fashion trends, independent of the specific items you carry in your store right now?

4. Make always be helping part of your sales and marketing culture

ABH is a mindset. If the sales and marketing teams don’t buy into it, there’s no way for you to really help your buyers. That’s why it’s essential to make ABH part of your culture. You should include ABH in training materials and if possible create a formal ABH initiative. Most importantly, make sure that company leadership is bought into the concept and that they are leading by example.

5. Don’t ask customers for too much in return

A big part of always be helping is to make sure that you not ask customers for too much in return. For example, in B2B marketing, it’s common to publish lengthy e-books that provide a lot of detailed information on specific business and technology issues. While a B2B marketer might ask a target buyer to share a lot of their personal information in order to gain access to the e-book, it’s usually better to ask for something simple like the prospect’s email address and name.

6. Focus on delivering information and expertise online

Most customers are looking for information when making a buying decision. They want information that will them make a better choice. You should focus your ABH efforts on the information you can provide to buyers if for no other reason than it’s what they expect. This also has a secondary benefit in that online information is usually the most cost effective form of help you can provide.

7. Decouple always be helping from what you sell

ABH isn’t just about helping customers by your product. It’s actually about helping your customers achieve a certain result or level of satisfaction. As such, it’s important to not tie your ABH efforts too closely to the product or service you sell. Try to couple you’re ABH programs with your buyers’ priorities. For example, a stay at home mom thinking about buying a new car may not really want a car – she may just want a really safe, cost effective way to transport her two kids around all day.

8. Create specific ABH programs and plays

One of the biggest problems we see with always be helping is that it’s treated as nothing more than a mantra. It’s critical that you put ABH into practice by creating specific sales and marketing plays that embody the ABH principle and deliver real value to customers. Content marketing is one such program that is commonly used today. Content marketing is, at its core, an effort to provide customers with content that provides a lot of value.

9. Provide employees with the training and tools they need to really help

To make always be helping more than just a motivational quote, you should train marketing and sales on what it means and how to put it into action. You should also provide customer-facing employees with the tools they need to truly help their clients. There is a cost to ABH – it’s the time and effort it takes to help customers. Tools and training that allow sales people and marketers to help in a more effective and efficient manner reduce these costs.

10. Tie your ABH efforts to business results

One question we often get when talking about ABH is how it relates to achieving business results like revenue targets. While it can be difficult to link specific results to specific ABH efforts, it is possible to the performance of sales and marketing before and after an overall ABH program is implemented.

The business benefits of always be helping

We’re not suggesting that traditional business metrics such as revenue and earnings should be thrown out the window. We’re also not suggesting that vendors shouldn’t act in their own best interests. What we are suggesting is that there is a symbiotic relationship between helping customers and achieving business results. We believe that, in the near future, the most successful companies will use always be helping as a fundamental tenet of engaging their customers. For more on this, check out our post on the psychology of customer engagement. These companies will able to demonstrate a link between always be helping and business results.

Companies need to find ways to explicitly align achieving business results with actually helping customers. Many sales and marketing executives claim that we are years away from being able to show this link. But there are actually many examples of ABH at work in the real world today. For example, Google AdWords uses click through rates to determine the placement of ads. The higher the click through the rate, the better the ad placement. The audience sees a higher quality ad, the advertiser receives more clicks, and Google makes more money.

More generally, much of the research done around net promoter scores shows that companies with higher NPS scores grow faster than ones with lower scores. They experience less customer churn and more referrals. While not a perfect proxy, the NPS does an adequate job of measuring how much a company is truly helping its customers.

If you can tie always be helping to real business results, you’ll not only survive the coming era of customer control, you’ll actually prosper. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

About the author:  Scott Albro is the CEO and founder of TOPO. TOPO is a research, advisory, and consulting firm that believes in a really simple, but powerful idea – that the most important thing in business is to deliver a great buying experience. By connecting everything we do back to this core idea, we help sales and marketing organizations exceed their revenue targets. You can connect with Scott on Twitter.



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