March 14, 2009

Does your sales proposition: Provoke, Persuade and Compel?

Tired of using the same old sales presentation slides, brochures and pitches many sales people are looking for ways to make their sales collateral and marketing message more effective. In this post we discuss how this can be done.

We review hundreds of sales presentations, marketing brochures and web sites every year. According to buyers most of them fall short of the mark. That is they make the buyers decision harder, not easier.

On one level these often quite glossy materials don’t give buyers the information they need. But more importantly, they fail to; provoke attention / awareness of the need, persuade buyers about the benefits, or compel the customer to take action. The following are the reasons why:

1. Most marketing is bland. The fact is brochures, web sites and sales pitches deliver long lists of benefits and features to confused and disbelieving customers. They should talk about the business impact of the solution, or service. That is the tangible impact on key business variables, such as costs, revenues, margins, etc.

2. Most marketing does not stand out. It is as if all of the competitor's brochures and web sites were written by the same people. Buyers struggle to tell them apart. That is often because suppliers try to appeal to the broadest possible market available. They position themselves for universal popularity across all markets and segments, as well as the industry leaders on all key features/functions. It is much better to tailor your proposition and its unique selling points to appeal to the specific needs of different niches and segments as opposed to trying to 'be all things to all people.' Strategic Focus is key.

3. Most marketing is unconvincing. It is written by the seller and packed with adjectives of self praise, to which buyers react with a 'what else would you say?' Sellers don't leverage the stories of how their customers have benefited. They don't provide the third party validation that buyers seek.

4. Many marketing pitches contain thinly veiled insults. For example; 'IT asset inventories in most organisations are out by 20%...'. You are wrong and here is what Gartner, Frost & Sullivan or some other analyst says in order to prove it. Instead of saying IT managers are getting it wrong, say that they are being frustrated in their efforts by factors outside their control, for example that they don't have the tools, or resources they need.

5. Most sales presentations are too sweeping in their claims. For example 'we provide the total back-office, front-office and middle office solution that integrates easily with all existing technologies'. What a relief for buyers when salespeople present more modest, credible and verifiable claims. The lessons is don't tell the buyer you can do everything, or that everybody needs your solution. Tell him/her you do the things that are important to him/her very well, but don't be afraid to say 'this solution is not necessarily for everybody, it is specifically for organisations that face this problem/opportunity.'

6. Most statistics used in sales presentations and collateral don't work. For most buyers they are; labored, irrelevant, or just not credible. Firstly, he/or she thinks 'my business is different - I don't care about everybody else, I am only concerned with what happens in my company'. Secondly, most percentages used appear to buyers as exaggerated – after all isn't a 3%, 5%, or 10% cost reduction more believable than a 75% figure? Added to this, is the growing suspicion that analysts and research reports will say whatever they are paid to say.

7. Most sales cycles don't explicitly recognize that buyers have alternatives. The elephant in the room for most sales people is that customers have alternatives, they could implement a different technology, select an alternative supplier, or they could simply do nothing. Not recognizing all of these viable customer alternatives doesn't make sense. The best salespeople help their customers make the best buying decisions, that means enabling them to evaluate their solutions in the context of all the other options available.

A Checklist:

- Does your marketing material provoke – generating awareness and attention. Or could it be bland?
- Put your sales collateral alongside that of your competitors? Does it stand out?
- How credible is your sales message? Is it convincing?
- Do the things you are saying make the buyer look and feel good? Is the buyer's organisation; skills or past success being called into question?
- Are the claims you are making modest, or at least credible?
- Are the statistics used in your sales presentations credible? Could they be over the top?
- Are you fully aware of the alternatives buyers are considering?
- Has your message been 'CEO proofed' (i.e. will it appeal to the CEO)?

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