Spanx & Spanx for Men: Turn Sales Conversations into Marketing Content

Your company blog and social media stream basically sucks; you know it, customers know it, and anyone looking figures it out fast. It’s OK–that’s pretty normal. Or perhaps it’s actually quite good, but it’s not really helping you sell. So ‘good’ becomes relative. That’s normal too. You can FIX this.

Get Sales and Marketing Together

The most powerful and authentic conversations your company is having with prospective clients are probably the ones your SALES TEAM is having. It’s a simple premise, but counterintuitive. Some marketers will say it’s polluted–not pure–because sales conversations are all about persuading, while blogs and social media are about thought leadership. You hear the silo? Sales stand over there, marketing over here–and where does company’s revenue goal fit? Marketing is about conditioning the audience to WANT to buy, like the Air Force and Navy softening the beachhead and the ground, while Sales is like the Marines and the Army, going in as ground troops to do the one on one work. It’s true that blogs and social are about thought leadership, but also true that that’s what salespeople are DOING. They’re leading the discussion of your brand and product, shaping the conversation, and it’s a mistake not to capture what works from that and USE it.

Sales, if it’s not careful, can reinforce the silo. Salespeople sometimes disavow their role in contributing to marketing. “I’m not a writer. I don’t blog or do social. Marketing is not my thing.”  Let’s re-write that narrative – because ANYONE in the company can provide ideas for what moves people to buy, but Salespeople see it happening every day. And that’s important background material for an effective blog post or social media comment. Salesperson: you’re not a writer (OK), but you DO have conversations with leads and prospects and, if you’re an account executive, then clients too. You answer questions from leads by e-mail and advise prospects by phone. That important,  because conversation is all a blog post really is.

Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, was first a salesperson. She got a lot of doors slammed in her face until she started injecting humor into the conversation. She discovered that reticent buyers got interested when you made them grin. That reality, discovered in real-time in the sales process, led to marketing decisions like naming the brand Spanx and putting a tagline on the package: “We’ve got your but covered!” Their blog carries over this illuminating lesson from the sales front line–the blog is called “The Rear View”.

Proof that this straight-from-Sales-team discovery is contagious: The marketplace is getting into the act! Not only has SNL (Saturday Night Live) got a skit called Stanx, but BuzzFeed got into the game with the hilarious “Men Try on Spanx”. You might cringe, but none of this is bad for the brand. They’re eating up the profits as people turn a subject that used to be whispered about into comedic art, with Spanx’s emblem, even when distorted, all over it:

marketing_project_manager

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There are, of course, Spanx for men.

Humor is not Spanx’s only helpful takeaway, of course. But, by the time Oprah announced switching to Spanx, the company was laughing with us–all the way to the bank.

Capture Conversations in Real Time

Throughout the week, have Sales team members make notes on conversations they’ve have with leads, prospects, and clients. If there was a barrier of understanding, a misconception, a question, a point of confusion, even a reason they chose someone else that you know doesn’t hold water, or just something they need to know, learn, or have understanding about, capture it right away. You can use an online notebook like Evernote, to quickly capture ideas on your phone or ipad. Don’t wait – the longer you go, the less you’ll remember the point. Capture RICH notes. If you want, you can even give each situation or idea a working title, and a few bullets under it – one for each thing you noticed or each thought you have about it. Accumulate these mini-summaries in your “conversation summaries” notebook, so you’ll always have partially developed ideas to hand off to the Marketing team. Some of it is going to get rejected or not used. You’ve probably heard them say that a blog post isn’t a sales pitch, like an ad is. Right. But Marketing will need to go beyond that, and dig out the core value in those conversations, translating it into their own campaigns. If Marketing can’t support Sales, it can’t support the company as a whole.

Likewise, get marketers to listen to sales calls, or even ‘ride along’ on meetings with prospects. If sales occur over the phone, record those calls! The marketing team needs to understand the ‘pivot point’ in a sale. There’s a point in every successful sale where the other person is onboard emotionally, before they indicate it verbally. You want to learn from what causes that pivot point. What is the conversation around it? You want that to shape marketing campaigns. If there’s more than one, all the better.

Start With the Scene of the Crime

Help the Marketing team understand the immediate context of multiple prospects. What’s their situation? What problem are they trying to solve? Eg. “Susan is VP of Procurement at a company with 14 distribution centers. She’s got no eyes on her data, because each DC is acting rogue…” or “Bart is a wealth manager for high net worth individuals. He’s got his hands full, because they keep making random decisions that affect their entire portfolio…” You can do this by developing “buyer personas” in conjunction with the Product team (whoever develops your products and services). But very often those exercises end with some posters and charts we hang on the walls and don’t actually shape marketing campaigns. A brand must go farther; it must ensure we know how those people talk, what they respond to, what worries keep them up at night, and what gets them excited–what’s their ‘happy place’.


Spanx’s brand tone of fun and a little risqué is picked up and carried by outside reviewers.

Sales can help Marketers get the point by going beyond a one-time exercise. Provide continual examples in the form of sales notes, debriefings after big sales, and even strategy sessions before a sale. Marketing will thank you for it, and the main insights will probably be the lead-in ideas in the content. An engaging novel starts with “a bullet rang out in the night” – not the years a character spent growing up before the first shot was fired. Marketers are storytellers, getting at an audience’s aspirations, by transporting them to the center of the action. If a narrative is about solving a financial mess, they want to lead with the chaos. If it’s about charter fishing, they want to start with a tug on the line, or packing the boat with buddies (if that’s the point), or right in the middle of the fight (if that’s what your leads are saying jazzes them up).

Let’s Write Like We Talk

Every day we talk to people and suddenly, when it’s time to write something, the company becomes academic and cerebral – we information dump. We speak in a stilted, artificial language that gets recognized as “marketing-ese”. Instead of rolling our eyes at that, let’s help Marketing talk the way Sales does, so the content is aligned. Sales can never afford to lose track of the person standing right in front of us, whose hand we just shook. Help the company write like you talk. Marketers need to ‘ride along’ and hear those conversations, so they can keep in mind an amalgam–an authentic buyer persona when creating content.

If the Sales team is making hay being colloquial, down to earth, and personable, let’s ensure our marketing sounds like that. It’s our brand voice. Yes, Sales ultimately leads in determining brand voice, and Marketing learns the language, not the other way around. There are marketers everywhere cringing right now, but some who will be relieved to approach it like this. Go with the latter.

On a personal 1:1 level, other people respect and trust us when we are who we are, all the way through–a seamless, end to end experience. They respond to companies like that, too. We can’t afford to have Marketing put on airs. Act normal, talk normal–and normal is whatever is bringing in revenue through the Sales department.


Another cultural reference to Spanx via this Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) ad for Glamour.

Deliver on Your Promises Like Delivering on Work

If a story was titled “The Killer Escapes” and then turned out to be about the personal relationship of the killer with his sisters, or a factual piece about crime statistics, we’d be pissed. A Marketing, like a Salesperson, makes promises, so let’s keep our promises. Just like you can’t have a Support department telling the client “you can’t” and a Sales department saying “you can”, you can’t have Marketing making promises that Sales and Product can’t keep. The simplest way to ensure alignment is collaborate to use similar messages. When the same messages prevail throughout the organization, that end-to-end experience starts to inspire advocates for the brand.

How does Spanx do on living up to their promises? They’ve got a huge fan base that loves the idea and buys the product, but some want to work out the kinks 🙂 according to a Seattle Times review. Real life isn’t perfect, right?

MadPipe is your partner in aligning Sales, Marketing, and Product for seamless, unified messaging throughout an organization. If you’ve got silos, they don’t scare us. Don’t go it alone. Let’s get everyone aligned around your company’s goals for revenue and reach.

This post originally appeared July 15, 2014 and is making its reappearance with new remarks and insights.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides leadership in marketing, educational programs, and organizational transformation for brands that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, writes a Forbes column, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, and Success Magazine.

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About once/month, Corporate Storyteller and Digital Ecologist® Daniel DiGriz weaves together interesting stories around organizational transformation, education, and marketing.

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