I recently read The Willpower Instinct by Dr Kelly McGonigal. The book specifically deals with how to make a change in your personal life through training and applying willpower.

As I read it, I was thinking about the difficulty marketing teams have when making a change that affects their firms and their approach to customers.

It's quite a challenge to make a firm-wide change, especially for marketing managers. Once you have a consensus that change is needed and a vision for what that looks like, actually making that change often requires more energy and willpower than the firm can collectively muster. Much in the same way that a person knows they should quit bad habits and start positive ones but just can’t quite summon the willpower to make it stick.

So how can we put down the old habits

Dr McGonigal suggests the best way to train willpower is making small practical steps called “willpower experiments” to challenge habits and provide bite-sized, tangible pieces of progress.

What follows are 5 steps, designed to help make a change, put you closer to your customers and position your firm as the go-to experts.

1 - Listen

The first step to getting closer to customers is understanding them. Unfortunately, we can’t all be in the room with the customers every day - you’ll need to get what you need from your customer-facing teams. Pick a prospect your sales team is meeting now. Choose one with a strong commercial value and a sales team that wants your help. Call your colleagues after the meeting and simply ask them what the client’s problem is.

Do: ask about specifics, pick a good topic and drill down deep into not just what the problem is but why it is important and the consequences of solving it or doing nothing.

Don’t: take too long after the initial meeting to contact sales, call your team or have a quick stand up while the conversation is fresh. 

2 - Bring in the Experts

Helping your customers with their problem requires expertise. Ask someone internally who understands the area of the customer's problem to very simply write 5 bullet points that help explain the problem or its solution.

Do: be very brief, if you can find the right person, a simple handful of points will come easily for them and be much more useful than a long spiel for your audience.

Don’t: forget about the customer’s problem, you aren’t solving all the industry’s problems. Just address that one specific problem that matters to your prospect.

3 - Create

Put your insight into a digestible, useful form for the audience. Take those 5 bullet points and write a short post. Keep it simple and less than a few hundred words, don’t pitch your own product at all - focus on making your insight useful and digestible for the initial customer. Publish your insight publicly, on your website or Linkedin. Make sure that you reference and build the profile of your Expert.

Do: write your insight in full as soon as possible after getting that insight from your expert. As time goes on, you’ll second-guess yourself, try to add complication and find reasons not to write. Be ruthless, get it done.

Don’t: send your insight through a complicated approval process. Ask one sensible person if it makes sense and lacks any major mistakes.

4 - Drive Engagement

Now you need to make that insight useful. Send it to the sales team that is dealing with the client for them forward on to the customer. Give credit for the post to the expert and copy them in. Also, send the insight out to all your sales teams that deal with similar customers and share the post on your company’s social media.

Do: Position your insight as a way for the sales team to achieve their commercial aim with the client. Rather than saying “do this because I told you” make it a part of their next follow up, nudge or deal nurture.

Don’t: Be anxious about sending your content directly to the customer. This is information direct from the experts that helps your customer now. It’s not being bothersome or over sales to give them that knowledge.

Step 5 - Feeding Back & Building Habits

Building this as a habit requires you to show your colleagues it is working. Track your engagement online through Linkedin and send that back to the sales team and your expert. Any feedback or progress you get with your main account via email make sure the entire team knows about it.

Do: Appeal to the competitive side of your colleagues, leaderboards for engagement both for suggesters and writers help to make this an engaging and visible process. 

Don’t: Make yourself the “winner” in this process. This is not just your initiative, its a team effort and your experts and suggestions are important to keep onside.

Making firm-wide change long-term

This process might be difficult, but you are looking to build good habits, get closer to clients and produce more valuable insights to support commercial activities. It might not be perfect the first time, but the second time you do this will be easier and the third easier still.

Very quickly, you’ll be able to transition yourself out of this operation on a day to day basis and have the client facing teams request content directly from the experts, with you as marketing acting as a leader.

I’ve talked about content and the written word in this post, but the steps above can easily apply to podcasts, videos, design or any content form that involves a published idea. I've also talked about supporting existing known opportunities as it is the easiest place to start - but equally, you could listen to your customers online and work from there as a new opportunity.