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5 Ways to Create A Challenger Message & Win At the Top

by Doug Davidoff | Jul 24, 2014 4:00:00 PM


You may not have noticed, but there’s a lot of great content out there.  Whether you’re pursuing an Account-Based, Inbound or hybrid strategy, creating strong content is an imperative for three reasons:

  • First and foremost, content represents table stakes to play
  • It allows you to compete in the vital Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT)
  • Consistent content creation enables you to increase traffic, awareness and engagement

Your challenge in the content game is being heard. Unlike the proverbial tree falling in the empty forest, you’re competing in a marketplace that makes Times Square seem tranquil and quiet.  So, if you want to win this game, how do you compete?

As I shared in a post back in 2012, the key is to always be challenging.  If your content (and headlines) don’t challenge your prospect’s thinking, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be noticed, and even less likely you’ll generate engagement. As the landmark research done by the Sales Executive Council discovered, customers and prospects value selling organizations that challenge their thinking, provide unique insights into better performance and enable them to navigate unseen pitfalls.

A challenger message is crucial to win the attention and engagement of prospects at the top of funnel.  Don’t mistake a challenge message with the negative approach of selling fear.  A challenge message is rooted in knowledge and application, whereas fear relies on purporting misconceptions and lies.

When I share these insights with marketers, sellers and executives, it quickly resonates.  The question I’m then immediately asked, is, “Doug, how do we do that effectively?”

Having created hundreds of these types of messages, I’ve developed some themes that I rely on when working with clients. Here are my 5 favorites.

Focus on an industry problem

Whether it’s your industry or a vertical you’re focused on, it’s a pretty good bet that there’s a major issue that’s affecting the performance of your prospects.  The problem may not be getting very much attention because it’s considered insurmountable or a “cost of doing business.”

However, your approach may enable customers to make progress against the issue, or to even overcome it.  Focus your message and headlines on these topics.

Several years ago we worked with a company in the relocation services business.  The major problem we solved was filling critical empty positions.  We calculated that each “empty seat” cost a company between $40,000 and $100,000.  So we challenged the market with the question, “How many millions of dollars are you losing because of poor relocation programs and processes?” 

Identify the impact you’ve had on your best clients

As I often tell sellers, the only reason someone doesn’t buy from you is because they don’t see or understand the consequences. Highlighting and teaching those consequences leads to a very effective message.

We work with a company that competes in the highly commoditized world of sales tools and sample kits. When implementing a lead generation program we were constantly greeted with a lack of interest, or a, “We’ll call you when we need something,” response.

So we looked at the results that were created in their best relationships, and repositioned the message and content to, “Most companies using sales tools and sample kits are losing 33% of their impact because of ineffective design.”  The result was a complete change in posture on the part of prospects and the opportunity to assess their situation.

Take on a piece of common wisdom

If you want to quickly get someone’s attention, take on a scared cow.  Address something that isn’t even questioned by people because it’s just assumed to be true.  This approach is one that is often used by us at Lift is that take on the value.

Choose an enemy

As any great fiction writer will attest, you cannot have a powerful story without conflict or an enemy.  Who, or what, is your enemy?  Is it the status quo?  Is it a philosophy?

Marketing guru Seth Godin is a champion with this approach. His enemy?  Interruption marketing.  He’s written more than a dozen bestselling books, started several companies and earned millions speaking with a message that challenges people to defeat this enemy and experience the nirvana of permission (inbound) marketing.

Make an outright challenge

The last, though certainly not the least, of my favorite approaches is to simply challenge your prospects to do more, do better and do faster.  A great story doesn’t rely on data, it relies on belief.  So if you’re doing something that hasn’t been done before, don’t let the lack of proof stop you from challenging your market.

As Simon Sinek is famous for saying, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”  A company like HubSpot exploded because they simply challenged the world with a concept. Sure, today they have tons of data to support their proposition, but it all started out with challenging the world to find a better way.

If you want to see a challenge message in action, just watch HubSpot CEO Brian Halligans 2013 Inbound keynote speech.

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