The thought of being unexpectedly naked in public is almost universally terrifying. From nightmares of birthday-suit-clad high school classes, to tales of Adam and Eve covering themselves up with fig leaves as soon as they became aware of their nakedness, it’s shocking to be exposed.

Precisely because it can take such a shocking revelation to break sales habits that hinder marketing performance, however, I would like to introduce the concept of the “Fig Leaf Test.”

The Fig Leaf Test itself is pretty simple. Take a look at a sales person’s email to a prospect, or listen to a talk track or voice mail message a sales person might use on the phone, and categorize it one of two ways. Either the communication is clothed in context, relevance, and value to the recipient – e.g., there’s a fig leaf – or it’s nakedly promotional of a product or service.

Hopefully, your sales people won’t want to feel like they’re selling naked; thus, failure on the Fig Leaf Test can prompt real and positive change.

Failing the Test

To make the point a little clearer, let’s look at a few common examples of standard, yet failing, sales communications.

Thanks for downloading our latest whitepaper. As a follow up, I’d like to arrange a 15-minute call to tell you more about [Brand X]…

On the surface, this seems somewhat relevant. The prospect downloaded marketing content. The sales person responded to that action, and even highlighted it in the copy. So, why does this fail the Fig Leaf Test?

The recipient only sees a push to scheduling a call. There’s no validation as to why downloading the whitepaper connects to the prospect’s need for Brand X. There’s also no context as to why the call would be helpful to the prospect.

This failure is kind of like the high-school nudity nightmare – there’s no reason for why or how it’s happening, but it’s happening, and it’s awkward.

Dear John Doe,
I’m excited to share Brand X’s latest announcement of [a new thing-a-ma-jig] that is set to produce a paradigm shift in the market. As a result, I’m offering you a limited promotional deal for [something that is presumably awesome and glorious at no-to-low cost]…

Translation: “Hey, something new happened. Here’s a deal. Wanna talk?” There’s little more to such messages, hence an “F” on the Fig Leaf Test.

Hi, Again, John,
Did you get that last thing I sent you? I just want to make sure…

This is basically a naked email follow-up to a naked email – like an inception nightmare-within-a-nightmare of unexpected exposure.

[On a call] Hey there, I’d love to book 15 minutes of your time so I can show you a demo. Call me…

No, just no… It should go without saying that offering to show demos or product specs without any form of consent is just as perverse as showing…other things. Nope, nope, nope. Hide your shame sales people!

Passing the Test

So, what does an effective, Fig Leaf Test-passing sales communication look like? Here are two examples.

Hi Jane Doe,
Please correct me if I’m off the mark, but my organization generally enables [Chief Awesomeness Officers] like you to achieve [for the sake of argument, let’s call it, “revenue nirvana”], and I believe I may be able to help you as well.

I’d like to arrange a call to discuss your current needs in more detail and explore how my organization may be of assistance.

This email has more than a fig leaf; it’s wearing layers of clothes!

In the first sentence, there’s a kind of undergarment holding up implied actions: “Please tell me if I’m off the mark.” As marketers, we don’t want our sales people reaching out to the wrong people, but if they do, we want to know it. Even if the email doesn’t pan out, there’s value there.

Then, in describing how the organization helps people like the recipient, the message paints a clear value proposition for the recipient. Finally, there’s the “ask” for a call, but as a consultative offer, not a push to product. No indecent sales exposure here!

For a voice mail, you might also want to hear something like this:

Hi Jane Doe, I’m calling in response to your inquiry about [perpetual motion machines] from a week or so ago. My name is Delia Klose, and as a specialist in this topic for my organization, I’d like to be a resource to you should you like to learn more. Please call me at… or email me if you’d prefer via…

Because time is short on a call, everything has to be pretty concise and to the point. This message is aligned to the recipient’s interests.

It also signals that it comes after the recipient has had sufficient time to process information such as a whitepaper on perpetual motion. Finally, the caller clearly states who she is and why the recipient might find value in speaking with her.

In other words, the focus is on fully-clothed consultation, not full-frontal selling.

Grow a Fig Leaf

Overall, the key to passing the Fig Leaf Test is ensuring that all customer-facing communication is clothed in layers of relevance and value. Sales and marketing aren’t about showing what you’ve got; they are about presenting tailored messages in eye-catching, value-added fashion.

For more useful marketing and sales tips beyond the Fig Leaf Test, we recommend the following Aberdeen Group studies:

Modern Sales Workflow: How Best-in-Class Enterprises Maximize the Buyer’s Journey (February 2016)
Data-Driven Sales Learning: How the Best-in-Class Train Smarter and Sell More (February 2016)
The Subtleties of Supporting Sales Enablement with Content Marketing (October 2015)

Image Source (Creative Commons): zeevveez.

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