Tasks crowd our working days. And as the pace of work accelerates, managers' expectations grow year after year. It's no wonder that people joke that the ultimate business technology would be a time machine.

While time travel would be neat and maybe even a little scary (as any science fiction fan would tell you), we’ve had time machines for years. They come in the form of the technologies that make us more productive and thus add time we can spend doing other things.

Breaking Through the Din 

Contact management software, CRM, lead management and alerting, and a host of other tools have bought more time for sales reps to work at selling. And marketer's bag of tricks includes marketing automation, analytics, and perhaps the greatest time machine of all, email.

So although it's a finite resource, we’ve succeeded at making more time. That our managers may have found ways to fill this new-found time with additional work doesn't mitigate the fact that technology has for years now incrementally added productive time to our days.

But there’s one resource that you can’t make more of, that you can’t win back with technology, that you can’t peel away with an improved process: You can’t add any more attention span to a person's day. It can’t be done. We all have a finite amount of attention to spend in a day, and how we utilize that attention determines the way we participate in the attention economy.

Look at it from this perspective: according to David Lamoureux, the founder of Fluid Drive Media, we see somewhere between 250 to 3000 marketing messages per day, depending on how you count them. Customers don’t stop and spend time with all of those messages -- there’s no way they could! Instead they quickly determine if a message holds any value for them.

Even with valued messages, customers have a finite amount of time, so they apply another layer of judgment to pick which messages they spend time with. How many times have you started reading something and set it aside because it took too long to get to the point? You weren’t being rude to the authors -- you assessed how much of your attention could be devoted to that content, and decided that you simply could not afford it.

This is what sales and marketing are up against. Your message competes against thousands of others to gain the attention of potential customers. That means that sales' skills, as useful as they are, need to be complemented with communications skills -- traditionally thought of as marketing's territory. For sales’ skills to get a chance, marketing needs to break through the din most customers experience every day.

It Comes Down to Providing Value

But there’s breaking through the din, and then there’s breaking through the din with the right message to set up sales for success. Getting that mix right requires sales and marketing to work together closely. It may seem like a cop-out to trot out the “sales/marketing alignment,” but this is another area where it’s critically important. Sales and marketing need to work from a common understanding of who they’re trying to reach and the message they’re trying to reach them with. That understanding provides the basis for marketing’s creative efforts to craft worthwhile marketing content.

Marketing’s skills at doing this are increasingly important. Poorly-done writing or video has always been a liability. A creative take on a subject can help your messages stand out. Get to the important part of the message early on so that the customer doesn’t give up and move to the next message. But standing out once with an artfully-crafted message should not be the goal. Aim to become a recurring part of your potential customers’ attention economies.

How do you do that? Ensure your messages provides value to your customers. In a B2B selling scenario, the customer should leave with some knowledge that will help him or her -- a concept about a process, a technology, an opportunity or something else that the customer can use. While your goal remains to move the customer towards a sale, customers will rapidly discard sales pitches. Don’t sell your product or service -- sell the ideas that underpin the things you sell. Those ideas should be useful even when people aren’t your customers -- although they’ll be a lot more useful after they buy from you.

Personalization adds value to your message -- but it’s much easier when you can verticalize that message and make it appeal to the specific circumstances of the person receiving the message. You won't grab attention only including a name to an email. You'll get my attention with an email with my name on it, combined with content that speaks to the issues I have that relate directly to the type of industry I work in.

A Merciless Marketplace

Just as a lack of value is an attention-killer, so is the failure to take into account the buyer’s time and circumstances. This means not sending a potential customer 6000-word white paper the first time they hear from your business.

Also, be aware that you’re not just sending out a communication to a potential customer -- you’re providing an invitation to a customer journey. A B2B journey may be a bit more straightforward than a B2C journey, but it’s still a journey -- and the customer decides what that journey looks like.

Most marketing communications include a call to action that leads a customer to a specific point -- a single URL, for example. To provide value and earn the customer's attention, give a few options in your call to action. Allow customers to feel like they are driving the journey -- because they are. This requires a deeper set of content than most companies are accustomed to creating, but it's an investment well worth making.

Finally, realize that the attention economy is a merciless marketplace. You need to get it right from the outset. If you make a hash out of your messages, the people whose attention you’re asking for will pay attention to you long enough to determine that you’re not worthy of their time. And no matter how great your future efforts are, that first impression will lead those buyers to ignore you in the future.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Thomas R. Stegelmann