Ep. 11
How to Lead with a Theme versus Stuff with Bruce Scheer, A. Lee Judge, and Dontaye Carter

The Sales Conversation

Episode Overview

This episode features yours truly, Bruce Scheer, being interviewed by A. Lee Judge and Dontaye Carter from Atlanta. They have a great show called the Business of Content Podcast. In this episode we will talk about the major pitfall sellers and marketers fall into – how they are leading with their “stuff” and their “all about me” content as opposed to leading with a “theme” – a point of view that addresses their target customers’ big problem and offers a big idea theme that resonates!

The Big Idea Theme Precedes Sales and Marketing Content

A main point that’s made in this episode is before you jam on a ton of content for marketing and account-based selling activities, you should back up and think of a big idea theme – a central idea that will help you break through the noise surrounding your prospects. You can carry the central idea throughout the conversations and various digital touchpoints across the buyer’s journey. Then you can generate marketing content and train reps on how to speak to the big idea theme. In this way, your prospects aren’t getting disjointed and non-aligned messaging and content as they engage with your firm. This is very different from how most sellers show up and sell today – pushing product-centric messaging and content that’s devoid of content around the customer problems and challenges. They are missing a big idea theme that resonates with the prospect.

What Specifically is a Big Idea Theme?

To compare the difference between selling a theme or stuff, let’s look at a fun B2C example. It has to do with an Uber ride I took out in Boulder Colorado earlier this year. One morning, I get up and I’m heading out to see a client in Boulder. My Uber driver shows up at my hotel, and I walk out to a minivan. And I’m like, oh my goodness, this is interesting. It’s not the BMW or a black SUV. It’s a minivan, not my normal first choice! I had a suitcase with me with a bunch of facilitation gear within. He opens up the back, and of course, there’s a stroller and some kid stuff in there that we have to move around so we can get my stuff in there. And then I get in the back of the minivan and we take off. We start a conversation, with me curiously asking him what going on in his life. He looks like he’s in his late 30s, well groomed, and having many mouths to feed. He tells me he’s just dropped his kids off at school and is now giving some rides in between his other daily activities. I asked him about his background and current focus, and if he’s just driving Uber for now. He mentioned he’s in transition and has an entrepreneurial bent. He was most recently a marketing manager and a Minister and was currently a Founder in a new food court concept in Boulder. He further explained his food court concept – a wonderful food court with 57 food trucks on rotation with a fire pit, live band stage, yard games, and a few beer stations. He strongly encouraged me to come to check it out. He then asked me what I do, and I mentioned I focus in the area of sales and marketing and am focused on helping sellers have conversations with their buyers that inspire change. I then spoke about the idea I was shaping around selling a theme or stuff, and as a former marketer I asked him what that meant to him. He was silent for a while and then responded that he thought he was selling a theme and could share it with me. I immediately responded “I don’t think so!” and mentioned he had just sold me a bunch of stuff – 57 food trucks on rotation, a fire pit, beer stations, live band stage, etc. He laughed a bit and said what he’s really designing and trying to sell people on is the theme of a backyard party – a place where people can go with their good friends or a place where they can make new friends. He further offered how this party had great food with 57 food trucks on rotation, a huge metal fireplace throwing out huge flames, a stage with a live band, and plenty of yard games for more fun and activity as part of the backyard party. Now he had me with his big idea theme, and I committed to dropping by at the end of the day to check it out. I showed up that evening after my client gig at about 6pm. The place was full and continued to become packed with no place to sit by the time I left at 8:30pm – and this was on a weeknight! Obviously this was a great concept!

Who’s Leading with a Big Idea Theme in B2B?
Very few in the B2B world get this right. They focus on selling the features, functions and benefits of their stuff as opposed to a big idea theme – a “backyard party” if you will. In this episode, we review a few B2B companies that understand the need for a theme and illustrate what good big idea themes look like with IBM, Alcatel-Lucent, and McKesson. We then offer some thinking on how to tease out a big idea theme for your organization.

Episode Timestamps

[1:53] Bruce Intro and Why a Theme is Important

  • Chief Conversation Officer for SalesConversation.com:
    • A firm that helps people with their selling conversations.
      • Message strategy, digitial tools and sales enablement.
  • “Big idea” theme.
  • When you have sellers in the field, they need to have a good understanding of the company’s theme.
    • The marketing site needs to convey the theme.
    • Stories need to portray the theme.
  • There are more times than not a major lack of alignment in the central story/idea:
    • How people carry the story/idea throughout the buyer’s journey.

[3:44] The Disconnect Between Marketing, Sales, and Content Distribution

  • Most sellers and marketers structure their website around who they are, what they do, how they do things, what makes them different– all about them type of content.
  • Are you selling stuff or a theme?
  • Uber driver story and the notion of the Backyard Party.

[10:30] How Have You Consulted Clients on Using Themes?

  • What is the central idea/theme?
    • After establishing this, you can then start to build stories and content.
  • Story of Alcatel-Lucent:
    • Simplify the message and portfolio.
    • Summed it up in a theme for their target audience.
  • Major point – don’t confuse your customer.

[15:23] What is a Theme?

  • The subject matter of a conversation or discussion.
    • The subject matter.
    • The focal element.
  • A unifying idea that’s a recurrent element in literary or artistic work.
  • What is lacking is the subject.

[16:13] How Would You Apply This Model to Content?

  • All the content is the “wood” behind the “tip of the arrow”.
  • People are punching out content without a purposeful theme.

[18:21] Who Needs to “Get It” in Order to Get an Organization in line Selling with a Theme?

  • Normally start with the leadership team.
    • Helping business leaders get their story straight.

[20:46] IBM Story

  • Was in a state of transition with the question of ‘what is the next big idea theme’?
  • Big idea theme:
    • Different from a purpose statement.
  • The theme of “Out-think”.
  • Difference between a theme and a story.
  • Organizations typically have a couple choices:
    • They can try to transform and grow organically.


  • The organization can out-think the particular issue

[27:04] Things That an Organization Can Do to Start Mapping Out Their Theme

  • Market scan:
    • Who’s in the competitive domain?
    • What’s the market chatter/noise?
    • What are the themes and ideas that are already out there?
  • Identify your organization’s uniqueness and value that you are trying to create and convey?
  • What are you building towards?
    • What’s the Big Idea theme?

Additional Resources

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Sound editing and show notes produced by – ChirpSound