B2B sales is all about thought leadership… how can YOU become a thought leader? – an interview with B2B sales expert Colleen Francis

Colleen Francis helps B2B companies accelerate revenue through proven sales strategies that deliver results.

Colleen Francis the Sales Leader at Engage Selling.

NXT: How is Engage Selling different than other sales coaches and agencies?

We take a holistic approach when we work with companies to help them accelerate growth.  We don’t just look at the sales team but the organization as a whole to ensure you are set up for customer success.

It’s all about: how can we help you attract AND retain the right customers?

Oftentimes, what the client perceives to be the problem isn’t the problem at all.  The first step is to always triage the situation and dig deep.

For example, the last thing I want is to start training in one area – prospecting, for example – only to find out that prospecting is not the problem at all!  Maybe there’s something broken with your systems or infrastructure instead.

NXT: Who are your ideal clients?

We work with B2B companies that have complex sales cycles and face highly competitive environments.

Many of our clients have a commoditized product and their challenge is to differentiate and sell effectively in order to maintain & grow customers without sacrificing margins.

NXT: What’s the best way for B2B companies to up their game?

Content marketing, brand building, and thought leadership.  Put new ideas out there on a consistent basis.  Videos, blog, podcasts, interviews, newsletters.

The key is to create inbound demand because cold calling doesn’t work.

NXT: But how can you put out consistently original and high-quality content?

It doesn’t all have to come from you.  Leverage your team’s experiences and expertise.  And then go outside your organization.  Identify thought leaders and experts you can partner with.

Who are your clients looking up to, who would they love to hear from or even meet in person?

For example, a company selling commodity agriculture products could stand out from the competition and add value to its clients by partnering with famous scientists or agronomists.

Interview them for your newsletter or podcast, sponsor an industry event and bring them along as part of your booth experience.

You have to be ubiquitous in the marketplace, and partnerships can amplify your brand and message very effectively.

NXT: How do people start working with you?

That’s a lesson for every business: make it super easy for people to get in touch with you.  If they have to jump through hoops or keep missing you the interest will fizzle.  Because there are so many distractions and things your clients have to deal with…

My clients can call me up directly, email me, or they can even live-chat through our website.  I also get lots of inquiries through LinkedIn.  My thought leadership is everywhere, and when it resonates with my clients they want to connect with me right then and there!

You have to be always “on” (yes, that’s 24/7!).  In fact, most of the best leads come in after hours because clients work during the day and research after hours for the solutions they need.

NXT: What are the keys to closing a deal and executing a successful engagement?

Here are 3 tips:

  1. Start with an open conversation about client objectives.
  2. Then, figure out how to measure success: what are the KPIs, and what does success look like?
  3. Finally, give the client a few different options on how to engage: maybe they prefer remote, or a consulting engagement, or an on-site project. The more flexible you are, the better your chances of closing the deal.

NXT: Can you share a couple of mini case studies from your work?

Here’s an example of investing in your channel partners to help them sell and grow with you.  We worked with a manufacturer in the agriculture business – they sell primarily fertilizer through retailers (a highly commoditized field).  They offered free training to retailers on how to sell a premium product in a commodity market.  And within a year, they were selling more than they could produce.

For a client in Asia selling to the shipping industry, we helped a division transform its sales team from ‘catalog’ to a real solution, value based supplier.  Their sales people used to show up at clients with a catalog and say “here’s our catalog of 100s of products, call us when you need something”.  And they transitioned to sales consultants who go in, work on understanding your true challenges, and present custom solutions.  In 1 year, that division went from last place in the company to the 1st place.

NXT: Can you share some insights and trends in B2B sales?  What’s changing or what are some missed opportunities?

Consumerization of B2B industry

A lot of the trends are coming out of the B2C market.  Consumers have dramatically changed the way they buy, and that’s starting to affect the B2B market.

That’s because they’re the same people: they’re used to buying their consumer products one way, and they’re starting to bring over that behavior to buying business solutions as well.

The best B2B companies are emulating B2C companies’ approaches, providing 24/7 resources so clients can do their own research.

Add value throughout sales lifecycle

Sellers also need to find ways to add value to the sales lifecycle.  Focus much more on thought leadership and training & educating your clients, instead of order-taking.

Transactional sales people are increasingly replaced by online ordering systems.  And sales people evolve into solutions consultants, true partners to their clients to help them achieve more with less and stand out from their competition.

NXT: It’s all about thought leadership… so how can a B2B company become a thought leader?

Publish your own blog and make sure you syndicate it on social media (LinkedIn, Medium, Twitter, etc) and promote it through partners & influencers.  If possible, publish a video series on YouTube and create your own podcast. Create new content daily, even if it’s only a small paragraph of content.

If you don’t have your own original content, the easy way to go about this is to interview industry experts.

Reach out to others and ask to get on their podcast and video series.

It’s all about creation, syndication, promotion, and leveraging others’ audiences to build your own.

Study the best thought leaders and copy what they do.  They’re all prolific.  Blogging on a daily basis, write books, sending 40-50 tweets, and they’re contrarian, they’re not just re-tweeting.  Challenge people, make predictions, throw new and different ideas out there.

Engage Selling


Founder of Board Studios Inc, an animation production agency that helps B2B companies simplify and communicate more effectively. Specializing in B2B makes a big difference because we know what information your clients need, what works and what doesn’t. B2B communications can be very different than B2C, so if you get your video explainer from a B2C agency you may not get the results you deserve.

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