May 31, 2009

BT Project Failure - Deals Another Blow to IT Vendor Credibility

Another high profile IT project has scrapped, dealing a blow to the confidence of IT buyers nationwide and making life just a little bit more difficult for those of us who sell IT.

Here We Go Again:
Last month the Guardian reported that the UK’s largest non-military computer project – a £13 billion NHS (National Health Service) project has run aground.  Two of contractors Accenture and Fujitsu have quit, while BT has announced a multi-million write down on the project.  Incidentally, this is something BT has had to do against against 15 of its biggest 17 contracts, according to the paper.

It is depressing news for anybody buying IT solutions and another black mark against those selling it.  The BT NHS experience offers buyers another reason to be cautious and cynical, making them much less likely to believe what you, or I have to say.   So, if you are meeting prospects next week I hope they have not been reading the press.  

The Implications For The Salesperson:

The BT story is further evidence that the way IT is bought, sold and delivered, like so many IT projects themselves, is broken.  Fixing it is an opportunity and a challenge facing sales professionals in the industry.

The savvy salesperson must leverage news of yet another high profile IT project disaster.  He or she must deal head on with very real project risks around delivery and cost.  The salesperson's job description has changed from selling technology, or software, to help prospects regain confidence and ultimately to maximizing the chances of project success.

Salespeople are remembered for their successes (i.e. the deals they have closed), while buyers are remember for their failures (i.e. the project, or supplier that failed) .   Buyer can have purchased millions, but will be remembered for the purchase decision and projects that went south.  It is not surprising therefore that they are cautious.

Looking For A Positive Dimension:

On a slightly more positive note, it is clear that IT project disasters are a great leveller.  In fact one could argue that a sales person working from a smaller competitor of BT may well have an edge given the turmoil affecting BT at serveral levels at present.

Incidentially, here are some observations from the NHS project that may offer a hint of the type of solutions that are required:
The bigger the project the bigger the risk
Big vendors have big problems too
Throwing money at problems is not a solution
The denial of problems in the early stages enables them to grow
Turning around a project in freefall is almost impossible
Little wonder that IT buyers are increasingly cynical and skeptical.  

Sales People Need To See What They Are Selling in 3 D

Too many salespeople limit their success by adopting a myopic view of how their solutions will be employed by customers.  In particular they fail to consider all those ingredients – particularly people and process - that are required to ensure their customer's success.

The Custmer Sees in 3 Dimensions:

The customer has a problem, which as part of your sales process, you have helped to first define and then resolve.  However, despite what your marketing brochures and sales pitches say, you don’t have the total solution.  

The reality is that your system, solution, or software, no matter how good it is, will only go part of the way to meeting the customer’s total needs.  But that is not a problem, in fact seeing things this way can actually provide you with a real sales advantage.

Savvy buyers know that there are 3 dimensions to their needs – that is a people, process and product, or service dimension.  Unfortunately, however sales people tend to focus on just the one – that is their product, or service. Where the product or service being sold involves technology this is a particular problem.

Many Sales People Only See in One Dimension:

As salespeople we know our product inside-out, that includes; benefits, features and technology. 
That is what they have been trained to sell and are most comfortable with.  However, the focus of salespeople on systems and technology alone, is akin to the machines without damnable human operators view of the word.  The two other key success factors of people and process are often overlooked.  That means we sell our technology with scant regard to how it is going to be used and who is going to use it.

New Technology Is Only Part of the Solution:

Let us take a example:  Buyers in life and pensions organisations, for example, need modern back office systems in order to achieve benefits such as straight through processing and improved administrative efficiency.  However, the new technology is only part of the solution, with people and process playing a major role in the achievement of success.  

A new system without changed organizational processes will simply make bad processes more efficient.  Similarly, new systems that are not embraced by users will fail to deliver on the results promised.

How To See in 3 D:
Ironically, if salespeople began to view their system, product, or service, as only a part of the customer’s total needs, they could greatly improve their sales success.  

This approach however requires a greater investment of time and effort by the vendor to first understand fully the customer’s business, and then to support user adoption and process reengineering. 

Considering the People and Process of the Sale:
Selling in the context of people and process also requires a greater understanding of how your solutions are implemented by customers and used by users.  So, think of the people and the process that are required to ensure the success of the solutions you are selling.  Think of how assisting in these areas can differentiate your offering and add value for your customers.

Needs Analysis: Be careful when you point out your prospect's problems

As salespeople we have been trained to sniff out our customers’ problems, including ones that the customer may not have been fully aware of. It is our job to digg them up and to parade them around in front of our prospects in order to build a desire for their resolution and tension for change. However, be careful because it can easily backfire.

Happy days, the prospect has a probem:
The logic is clear if our product, or service is a solution, then we need to find a matching problem and the bigger the problem the greater the potential for a sale.

Little wonder then that we focus so much on the problem, with the following being typical of the 'problem focused' openings of so many sales pitches:
  • ‘80% of IT projects are either behind schedule, over budget or about to be scrapped.’
  • ‘Up to 20% of hardware and software on most networks is hidden, resulting in unwelcome surprises in terms of costs, licensing and risks.’
  • ‘In the face of increasingly complex stock handing rules most warehouse systems are struggling to achieve 99.9% accuracy levels. ‘
Needs Analysis Can Help You Sell:
Here is traditionally how it worked: find the sore point, scratch it to make it hurt a little more and then when you present the prospect with your medicine he, or she will readily embrace you and your solution. Well, that is how it is supposed to work. The problem is that in the process of pointing people to their pains, sore points and inadequacies you could lose as many friends as you gain.

Managers often personally identify with their businesses, strategies and departments. So, when you criticise their strategy, their results, etc. you are criticising them. Nobody likes to have their weaknesses aired, or attention drawn to their failures. If you don’t exercise care in how you undercover the prospects needs, or problems (that is the needs analysis aspect of selling), then you run the risk of sabotaging the sale. You could be creating a wall of denial, defensiveness and resistance.

Needs Analysis Can Lose You Friends
Let us take the example of a software testing company whose sales pitch which started by stating that ‘80% of IT projects are in trouble’ (a statistic that was backed up by quoting a independent source). The danger is that this opening could be seen by many prospects as a thinly veiled insult.

While the message it strikes at the very heart of the problem, most IT Managers are likely to respond with a statement such as ‘are you suggesting that we, or I, cannot delivery successful IT projects?’ Only a minority – perhaps managers from other departments, are likely to react with a ‘yes you are absolutely right most of our projects are failing, we need your help.’

Put People Before Problems:
So, when you are focusing on the problem do not forget the people involved -those who are part of the problem as well as those that are affected by it. Taking our ‘80% of IT projects are behind schedule'' example, how can it be transformed so that it is less likely to encounter resistance?

Well, it could be reworded to ‘IT managers are often thwarted in their efforts to deliver key software projects on time and within budget…’ The difference is subtle, but significant saying that managers are being thwarted as opposed to failing. In this way it shifts the focus from the people to the problem and in particular to the processes and systems that are holding people back.

Exposing the Problem, While Protecting The People
The savvy salesperson knows that he must identify problems, while at the same time protecting people. He must, for example, get to the heart of problems in the warehouse without directly criticizing the warehouse manager. This is at the core of influencing people.

Tips On Using Problem Identification to Sell
So, how to uncover the needs and problems that will help you to sell your solution, while at the same time avoiding resistance on the part of the prospect? Well, here are 3 techniques to bear in mind:
  1. Tell stories to help customers understand their own situation. This enables you to couch comments and observations that may be relevant to the prospect’s business in a neutral 3rd party way.

  2. The savvy salesperson must also have a good sense of politics and timing. He must know the right time to speak out about problems and how loudly to do so. He must also earn the right to speak, by virtue of his/her demonstrated level of expertise, credibility and trust. He must not speak out until at least tacitly invited to do so.

  3. Ask questions, rather than making statements. Use them to steer the customer along the path of greater awareness and to help them arrive at their own definition of the problem. Focus your questions not just on the problems, but on the implications and the possible solutions. Probe behind the facts to understand how people feel about the situation, as well as to understand their hopes and fears. They are essential to the manner in which you couche your solutions.

  4. Listen and emphathise as a means of demonstrating commitment and building rapport. Encouraging the customer or prospect to open up about his or her problems and challenges is the supreme test of a salesperson's skill. The prospect has to feel that by opening up he, or she is not just simply providing the salesperson with amunition to be used in his/her salespitch.

  5. Focus on the positive, as opposed to the negative and on opportunities as opposed to challenges. In the warehousing example we mentioned earlier, it would be focusing not on the effect of more complex handing rules on accuracy levels, but on how successfully mastering complex handling rules can deliver a cost advantage.

  6. Compliment your customer. It is important to find out about the company’s successes, strengths, achievements, etc. and highlight these in your conversations and your proposals.

  7. Choose your language carefully. What one person sees as 'benchmarking' another may consider 'finger pointing'. When salespeople and consultants use words such as ‘review’, ‘assessment’, ‘audit’, clients and prospects may crudely translate these terms int ‘you think you know it all’,, or at least ’you think you are better than us’.

  8. Be careful when you are using analysts reports and statistics. They can be a blunt instrument, being used in most cases to infer a problem in the prospect's company, or industry and to deliver a negative message. They are no substitute for a full understanding of the customers business. In any respect, we find that buyers are increasingly weary and disbelieving of analyst data.

  9. Put yourself in your customer's shoes. There is a wise Spanish proverb that says ‘It is much easier to talk about bulls, than it is to step into the ring.’ This is an important point for sales people to bear in mind. Don’t judge a person, or a situation, until and unless you are in that situation yourself. For those directly confronted with a problem there is a level and complexity that the outsider cannot immediately appreciate.

May 28, 2009

Salespeople Have Got Talent, Right? Well, imagine Simon Cowell was your customer!

One in five Britons is watching ‘Britain Has Got Talent’. The format is simple – ordinary people line up to do ordinary and sometimes extraordinary things in front of a panel of 3 judges, led by the straight talking Simon Cowell. Now you may wonder why this is relevant to a B2B sales blog.

Well, as I watched the other night, it struck me that there are similarities between Britain Has Got Talent and the buying situation. OK, there is no red buzzer on the table but your talent, as well as that of your company, is on show and it is the buyer who decides if you get to the next round.  

Lessons from Britain Has Got Talent:
So, let us mix entertainment and popular culture with selling. I talked to a few people to draw some lessons for selling from Britain Has Got Talent.
  1. Preparation and preparation is everything. The judges will come down hard if it looks like you have not done the preparation that is required. Talent without practice and preparation won’t get a place in the finals.

  2. Appeal to people’s emotions – be likeable, be personable. That may mean you have to pucker up more of a smile than usual, it may also mean that you need to put your ego in your back pocket. Your objective is to show people your humanity.

  3. Enjoy it, put your heart into it. The harshest of the judges put a group through, not just because they were talented, but because in his words ‘they put their heart and soul into it’. The judges dropped another because he did not look like he enjoyed giving the performance, which in turn prevented the audience enjoying it. Intensity, commitment and enthusiasm on the part of the salesperson is also crucial.

  4. Be authentic – be you. Every performance involves a little acting, but you cannot keep that act up all the time. For this reason it is important to be authentic, to be yourself. The audience and the judges alike warm to people who in spite of the lights and cameras still come across as ordinary decent people.

  5. Be gracious, even in defeat. A performer only looks like a sore loser if he, or she cannot accept the advice of a judge. That does not mean they have to agree with it, but snapping back will undermine any support you did get and will not get your through to the next level. Welcome advice and even if it hurts say thank you, then you can make your own decision about whether you will personally accept it or not.

  6. Be interesting – spice it up a little. Some contestants wowed the audience on the first night, but made the mistake of delivering more of the same for their next performance. The novelty had gone and so had the judges praise. In selling is important to delivery something new, different and better each time, otherwise the customer will eventually buzz you off. 

  7. Don’t overpromise. It can be very useful to keep the element of surprise on your side. That may mean being careful not to overstate what you are going to deliver. One performer dressed to look like Marie Callas who promised beautiful music was quickly buzzed off the stage after starting to mime to an operatic recording. In selling it is important to always keep promises made. You must first manage the buyer’s expectations and then meet, or exceed them.

  8. You cannot separate the performer from the performance – no matter what the act is, what props are involved you cannot separate the singer from the song, or the comedian from the joke. This is true in selling, the buyer has to buy you before he, or she buys your products.

  9. The first 30 seconds is the most important. Judges are most likely to reach for the buzzer in the first thirty seconds of the performance. And so it is in sales - first impressions count. The buyer will decide if your pitch is of interest based on your suit and tie, your opening pitch and your first few slides. It is important to get off to a good start.

  10. Supporters are everything – most great acts owe at least part of their success to those waiting in the wings. Similarly, even though the sales person may be centre stage, his, or her success depends on the support of team – including pre sales, technical and account management. 

  11. Today’s stars are made in cyberspace – Competition forerunner Susan Doyle, the unassuming 47 Scottish woman, has demonstrated the power of online media – capitalizing on YouTube, Facebook and other sites to reach multiples of the TV audience.  Reaching buyers requires that you use these new media too.

  12. Don’t get too emotional – hold back the fear, the anger and the tears. Delivering at the top of your game depends on the ability to manage your emotions and your nerves.

May 19, 2009

Buyers want to talk about results and little else

Bye bye value proposition, hello compelling reason to buy.
Notice the vacant look on your prospects face as you talk about your value proposition and unique selling points.  As you move from the 'About Us' slide to the list of features and benefits the result is a yawn.  

What today's buyers are looking for is nothing short of a compelling reason to buy and in the present climate they are increasingly impatient and disinterested in anything else.  That means you have to ‘cut to the chase’ and explain how your solutions can improve the performance of the prospect’s business.  Once more you have to back this up with real stories about how other companies have benefited and then ask them if that is something that is relevant to their business.

The focus is on results not value.
As salespeople from around the world are telling us 'the only value buyers are interested in is immediate, quantifiable and business priority focused'. The only value that matters for today’s cash strapped buyers is measured in terms of the key metrics of their business and ultimately in terms of costs and revenues.  Value has been superseded by business impact and the need to credibly demonstrate quantifiable business results.

In today’s turbulent market conditions, the sellers who get straight to the point – and the point is the impact their solutions will have on the prospects business – are leaving their marketing slogan led counterparts in the shade.  They clearly demonstrate a compelling reason to buy.

There are no nice to have’s and intangible benefits (such as status, or emotional value) don’t count for as much anymore.  Solutions competing for scare funds, must directly address key business metrics, problems and priorities that are fundamentally different from  6, 10, or 12 months ago.  

That means they must impact on the business in terms of cutting costs, increasing efficiencies, and managing cash, as well as a leaner and more efficient approach to business all round.
For most buyers attention has turned to the tactical as opposed to strategic, with a focus on short term paybacks, the immediate resolution of problems and quantifiable results.  That does not mean that some are not concerned with driving revenue numbers, or launching new products, but clearly there has been a shift in emphasis for the greater majority of customers.

The need for a compelling reason to buy.
In this present climate it is time to turn the sales proposition inside out and start talking about a compelling reason to buy.  Having a compelling reason to buy is a stronger test than simply having a value proposition.  Ultimately it revolves around the 3 killer questions that every buyer is going to ask, specifically: 
Why should I buy? 
Why should I buy now (as opposed to delaying it till next quarter, or after the slowdown)?
Why should I buy from you (as opposed to your competitors)?

It starts with a compelling reason to enquire.
Of course, a compelling reason to buy is the ultimate aim of your sales process.  However, it evolves logically across the sales cycle, or buying process.  Click on the diagram below to expand. 

The starting point is a compelling reason to click on a web page link, to talk to a cold calling salesperson, or ring with an enquiry.    All going well, the next level is a compelling reason to listen, or to meet.  At that stage the buyer needs a compelling reason to meet again, or to explore buying the solution.  

Then bingo, securing the order requires that the customer has a compelling reason to buy (buy now and buy from you).  But it does not end there.  After the order, that compelling reason has to survive intact so as to justify the purchase decision and achieve a repeat order and a customer referral.  The value proposition of a supplier must evolve if the vaulted position and ultimate goal of becoming a strategic partner is to be achieved.

A potted history of the sales pitch.
I have studied philosophy, but I have never seen questions around the meaning of life, produce the same vacant response as questions around the  value proposition.  I have had the pleasure of working with eminent physicist and chemists, for whom Nobel Prize winning theories makes sense, but who struggle with the issue of why customers should buy from them and not their competitors.  In some ways that has not been helped by the tools that marketers have provided.

Marketers under the influence of mass marketing in the 1960s came up with the term positioning to describe how suppliers must stand for something in the customer’s mind, a decade later that gave way to the notion of a unique selling proposition when the focus turned to how that position needed to distinguish one company from its competitors.  

Then selling proposition gave way to value proposition in the past decade, with the notion that value must be the basis on which companies compete for buyers.  Now, that is the ladybird summary for those that are interested.  But along the way thousands of managers and customers too got lost.  The fundamental problem has been that the focus has been on the seller, not the buyer.   Thanks to the slowdown that has all changed and the task is a lot clearer for both buyer and seller - to present a compelling reason to buy.


Is the economic storm blowing you off course, or helping you set a new direction?

Some people see an upside to the downturn, can you?

I had a conversation yesterday with a director in one of Europe's most successful professional services companies. It is clear that in spite of the present sales related challenges being faced, the company’s management team can see an upside to the downturn.

There is a precedent, with the director pointing to a previous setback, that in hindsight propelled their business forward. The company clearly expects that this downturn will, in the fullness of time, represent another important turning point for its business.

A crisis can be a strategic turning point.

Like many companies, this client of ours has had day rates cut by 10-15% percent. However such is the state of the domestic market for its engineering related services that contracts can now only be won if they are discounted heavily, with many companies in the industry being prepared to price at a loss to stay in business. Much less so our client, which has a diverse international profile of clients – the result of internationalization drive that was fuelled by a previous shock. The director explains:

‘We lost a major contract a number of years ago, but that turned out to be as much a blessing as a curse. The contract was so large that it would have kept our entire organization busy for more than 3 years and would have kept us completely focused on delivery with no time for business development. In the end the project never happened, but its loss, in hindsight, was both a blessing and a curse. That is because it accelerated our search for new business internationally. Today we are in a much stronger position as a result.

Setbacks can propel you forward.

I can see this present setback as potentially having the same effect, in other words causing short term pain, but ultimately benefiting our organization. I do believe that most companies will be in a stronger position at the end of the present economic turmoil, that is if they can respond to the challenge and stay alive amidst the turmoil.

Pointing to a multi-million project just won in the Middle East and a full domestic order book for the next quarter, the director emphasized the downturn is causing pain but will benefit his business in the longer term. ‘It will accelerate our strategy for the future of our business – a global focus on higher value more profitable work and the use of strategic partners for the rest’.

The downturn illuminates where the value is.

‘We want to focus on where we have a unique competence, where we can add most value and where the money is to be made. That is the high level project scoping, conceptual work and overall project leadership'.

'What today is the bulk of our business – the day to day delivery and implementation and labour intensive, but less profitable elements of major projects will be delivered through strategic partners in the future’ he explained. That will require a shift in our focus, as well as our skills and perhaps in our team’ he concluded, but will represent the foundation for the next phase of our growth'.

Setting direction, or simply being blown off course?

Clearly some people see an upside to the downturn, can you? Could the global slowdown represent a strategic turning point for your business, pointing you on a new course that ultimately will ensure greater long term success?

Is the slowdown illuminating where your organization can add greatest value to its customers, or highlighting those most profitable and weatherproof areas of opportunity for your business?

Maybe the present economic storm is not blowing you off course, but helping you to set direction. In this respect the ancient saying holds true ‘tempests and storms make for great pilots’.

The Swiss Army Knife Paradox and it’s implications for your sales proposition

Lessons from rich and retired entrepreneurs
A client of ours turned for advice to some rich and retired entrepreneurs who had recently sold their business to one of the big vendors. How did they do it? What advice did they have for others? How to build a business that a vendor would ultimately want to buy? These were just some of the questions.

The Swiss Army Knife paradox
Now, the conversation threw out many nuggets of information, but there is one that I wanted to highlight in particular. It is called the Swiss Army Knife paradox – a clear way of explaining something that we have long held to be true. Let me explain.

A Swiss Army Knife has many uses –screwdriver, nail file, scissors and much more besides. If you are a MacGyver type who is struck in the wilderness the Swiss Army Knife is the ultimate penknife, combining 20 plus tools in one.

Now, the temptation for every company is to continually develop its product, or solution, in a similar fashion to the Swiss Army Knife – adding new functionality in an effort to make it do everything and serve everyone. That our rich and retired entrepreneurs emphasize is not a good idea. It will result in a product that is harder to sell to customers. Paradoxically the more your product does the less attractive, or certainly the more confusing it may be.

I will let them explain: ‘If your product does everything then that is just plain confusing – people like to pigeon-hole your company and your solution – clearly defining what it does and does not do. If you tell them it does everything for everyone you run the risk that they may not believe it, and in particular that they will continue to search for a specialized solution that is specific to what they see as their own special needs. ‘ When it comes to selling your company the same applies they explain.

'It does everything' is not a selling point.
From our point of view we continually hear buyers complain that salespeople stretch credibility because of their reluctance to say no to any question about product functionality, or scope. Does it do this ‘’yes’’ does it do that ‘’yes’’, oh and it is ‘full integrated’, ‘feature rich’ and does it incorporate ‘full reporting functionality’? Saying yes all the time may be one yes or one promise too many to convince the buyer that your solution does everything that you say.

Buyers want to hear what it will not do.
Buyers tell us they would prefer if salespeople would come clean and say what their solution does and does not do. They would much rather, for example, hear the salesperson say ‘our solution does not provide reporting, most of our customers prefer to use their existing reporting tools, what our solution focuses on doing better than others is on gathering the data in a way that is faster, more accurate and less bandwidth intensive…’

The Swiss Army Knife Sales Proposition.
Back to the Swiss army knife, if you need to tackle a screw then it cannot compete with a screwdriver, that is, if you have access to one. So the sales proposition and real value of the king of pocket knives is not that it contains 21 tools in one, but that it fits in the pocket and is great for situations where you don’t know what you may need, but like a good scout you want to be prepared for. Just like your solution, when you think about it, the knife cannot legitimately claim to do everything, unless off course there is no full toolbox in sight.

So avoid the Swiss Army Knife Paradox. Being explicitly clear on the unique value of your solution is key and putting limits on your claims as well as your product’s functionality makes sense.

May 18, 2009

14 Trends Eroding the Effectiveness of Your Sales Message and What Do About Them

Why Many Customers Have Stopped Listening.

Nothing switches a customer off quicker than the traditional sales blurb and marketing speak. Today’s buyers have heard it all before – promises of superior quality, technical sophistication and service excellence. 

Courted by an increasing array of suppliers, today’s buyer can be hard to reach and difficult to persuade. They are more cynical and sceptical too, capable of quickly consigning your marketing literature to the bin and your sales presentation to history.  Increasingly they are switching off and tuning out.

14 Trends You Need to Be Aware Of.

There are 14 trends that are making most sales messages and marketing material less effective. These trends have fundamental implications for the way you sell. Those who adapt will get closer to their customers and farther away from their competitors. Those that don’t, well they just won’t be heard. These trends relate to the audience, the message and the medium.

A. AUDIENCE related trends

1. From Mass Market to Customer and Segment Specific.

The advertising age is over, especially if you are in B2B sales. So, if you want to get a message to your customer contact him, or her directly. You’ve got the name, or can find it out, so send an email, make a phone call or better still secure a referral.

2. One message does not fit all.

Busy buyers are increasingly selective about what they read and who they will see. They are more adept at screening your emails and calls. So, how to get your message through? Well, make it specific to the particular interests of the customer.

If it’s a bank you are contacting, then tell how your solution has played a role in the success of other banks, quoting sources that they trust and using the language to which bankers can relate. Make your message specific and relevant to each different type of customer you are targeting, according to their size, industry, location, etc.

Don’t try to be everything to everyone. If you do the appeal of what you are offering will be universally diminished and you run the risk of being an ''also ran'' in the market place. Chances are you are going to have to alienate some customers if you want to appeal to those of most relevance to your company.

B. MESSAGE related trends

3. From Products to Solutions.

The era of products and services is drawing to a close. Customers have stopped looking for products and services, and are looking for solutions instead. So, forget about lists of features and specifications and start thinking solutions. What do your customers want to achieve and how can you help them to achieve it? Focus on the benefits your products will deliver to the customer and on how it will help them to solve problems and/or exploit opportunities. Talk to the customer in terms of the impact on his/her business.

For example, forget about selling your high volume document imaging solution, unless you can demonstrate how it is going to help the customer achieve quantifiable efficiencies and savings in administration. Similarly, don’t focus on the fact that your solution is SOA based, until you have first demonstrated how it will impact on the key metrics of the customers business, such as accelerating time to market for new products.

4. From Sales Proposition to Reason to Buy .
Want to put the buyer to sleep? Then talk endlessly about your company, drone on about when it was established, how many people it employs, where it is located and what equipment it has got. See how the buyers eyes have glazed over?

Saying it is about the buyer, not the seller, may sound like a statement of the obvious, but this point so often gets overlooked. That is why 7 out of 10 sales presentations start with opening slide labelled ‘about us’. Talk about getting off on the wrong foot! Most sales people waste the valuable time they have in front of customers by talking instead of listening.

The focus has to be on the buyer and helping him to buy, as opposed to on the seller and what it wants to sell. This is a slight change in wording, but a major change in mindset – one that has a major impact on the effectiveness of any salesperson. Do not spend your time search out your sales proposition, find instead a compelling reason for the customer to buy.

5. From marketing fluff to useful information.

If the buyer is going to give a salesperson 45 minutes of his precious time for an appointment, or invest 5 minutes in reading an email, brochure, or letter, then you had better reward him for it. That means telling him something useful that he either did not know, or needed to be reminded of.

We are increasingly bombarded with information, from an increasing variety of sources. In an attempt to be heard, marketers are continually vying for our limited attention by generating more ads, more emails, etc. But who is listening?

Busy managers are increasingly selective about what sales and marketing messages they will read, listen to or watch. It is going to get their attention it has to be relevant, interesting and new. You are going to have to tell them something that they did not know, or at least that they wanted to be reminded of.

6. Long Lists of Vague Benefits Give Way to Quantifiable Impact.

Buyers are tired of adjectives, they yawn when they hear terms such as big, major or significant used to describe the savings, or other benefits promised by yet another salesperson. The lesson is vague benefits and promises no longer have an impact.

The longest list of benefits does not win. If you want to get attention you have to tangabilise the benefits of your solution. That means quantifying the impact of your solution on key metrics of relevance to the customer (costs, revenues, etc.)

What is the most effective way to communicate the benefits of your solution? Well, it is to tell stories of how other similar companies have benefited from your solutions. There is no more powerful marketing than the tale of a satisfied customer.

So gather your case studies and customer references and share them with your customers at every opportunity. Replace your benefits lists and technical specification documents with customer recounting how they have benefited from your solution.

7. From Benefits to Business Impact.

Managers who have wrestled with the difference between a feature and a benefit, are now faced with an altogether new challenge. That is to go beyond the outdated features and benefits analysis to focus on what really matters - business impact. That is how their solutions impact on the key metrics and performance of the customer’s business, such as cutting costs, accelerating time to market, ensuring compliance, etc. Such a description of your solution is what is most meaningful to customers and prospects.

8. From ‘Me Too’ to A Clear Competitive Advantage.

With increased competition, standing out from the crowd is becoming increasingly difficult. Yet, there is an essential sameness to so many marketing messages, websites and brochures. Just how is a buyer to choose? Just what is it that makes you so special?

Here are some way to put a greater distance between your company and its competitors:
• Make your message specific – promising not just better service, or lower cost, but with quantified benefits.
• Tell customer success stories.
• Be a specialist catering for the specific needs of a specific industry, or vertical.
• Be an expert rather than a salesperson.

In order to avoid being an ‘also ran’ you need to clearly communicate a competitive advantage. That is some aspect of your solution, valued by customers, that is superior to competitors. But, let your customers, not your marketing people, tell you what it is.

9. From same old message to something new.
The shelf life of any marketing brochure, or the message it communicates has never been shorter. Last quarter’s message has to give way to a new more topical one, that tells new stories and reflects new priorities for customers and emerging marketplace trends. If you want to keep a channel of ongoing communication open with your customers then you need to find new and interesting things to say.

C. MEDIUM related trends

10. From Sellers Talking to Customers Talking.
Customers would rather hear what other customers think about your solutions and your company than what your sales people have to say. Now thanks to the blogosphere they can. Type in the name of one of the biggest IT vendors products into Google and yes you will find links to the company’s web site and press releases, but more prominently than that you will find links to comments posted independently by users and commentators. The web based marketing medium has been democratised and power has been placed in the hands of the customer. Get your customers to talk about you and your prospects will listen.

11. From Partisan to Verifiable Information.

Buyers have heard it all before – ‘we offer the highest quality’, ‘we are committed to service excellence’, ‘our solution is the market leader’ and so on. They have heard it so often that they don’t believe it anymore. After all, ‘what else would a salesperson say about their own product?’

The reality is that; as a sales professional you simply don’t have the credibility to claim that what you offer is the best available, because your competitor is making the same claim too. Buyers want to hear from customers and industry counterparts, not sales people. So, get your customer to speak for you and people will listen. Tell buyers what you have done for companies like theirs and they will listen.

They will also be interested in what acclaimed experts, independent studies and recognisable certifications have to say about your company and its solutions.

12. The new media age.
The age of expensive glossy brochures is over, now the Pdf and the blog is king. It is not just about putting your marketing blurb into an email attachment, its about sharing customer stories, business insights and useful information.

Communication used to be one way - from the seller to the buyer that is. In the mass media era, the seller spoke and the buyer listened. Not any more! Today’s buyers talk back and talk to each other.

Just Google any key supplier and you’ll find wikis, blog entries, etc. ahead of company web sites and company sponsored marketing messages. If you want to be heard, then shut up and let your customers and industry experts talk instead. Given them reasons to talk about your company and its solutions and watch how customers listen.

13. Don’t interrupt! From Unsolicited to Opt-in.

Another transformation taking place is that from interruption-based to permission based marketing. In other words it is better to have 10 customers who opt-in to receiving your message (advertising, email, etc.) than 1,000 or 10,000 who you send it too blindly and without their invitation, or permission. The former group are interested in hearing from you, the latter group probably isn’t.

Response rates to direct mail are abysmally low and to email marketing are even lower still. In order to make the numbers the temptation is to work with bigger lists and more regular mailings. This compounds the problem, with response rates sinking further. Turn this situation on its head with fewer mailouts, shorter lists and more useful content (generated with customers, experts and partners).

Give your customers a reason to want to hear from you and don’t take advantage of their openness by sending them anything that won’t be useful. Being a avid reader I was encouraged to sign-up for a loyalty card upon my last purchase with the promise of additional benefits if I provided an email address. Within 2 weeks I had received 10 emails from the book store chain and I quickly unsubscribed. The lesson is that you must screen your customers from unnecessary information ensuring that when you do send something it is welcomed as useful.

14. What we say versus who we are.

You have often heard it said ‘I cannot hear what you are saying because everything else about you is screaming so loudly at me!’ It is almost impossible to separate the message from the messenger. The age of marketing slogans and tag lines are over. Buyers look beyond them judging a company not by its marketing, but by its credibility in the marketplace, its reputation among customers and its behaviour.

Words do not mean a lot unless they are backed up by action and buyers are looking for consistency above all from suppliers in respect to their promises. The supplier who says ‘we build close relationships with our customers’, for example, will not be believed if the salesperson does not listen during the sales call, or stay in contact between orders.

Do You Dare To Stand Out From The Crowd?

Buyers are lost in a sea of sameness?

Standing out from the crowd is not easy. Well at least that is the conclusion that we have formed from a review of dozens of competitors across a multiplicity of sectors – ranging from aircraft inventory solutions to life and pensions policy administration platforms.

Over the past 24 months we have conducted competitor analysis for dozens of our clients – a important step in helping them to review their sales proposition. In search of the answer to that million dollar question ‘why should we buy from you and not your competitor’ we trawled competitor websites, downloaded brochures, viewed webinars, read analyst reports and much more besides.

For almost every industry we analyzed the result was sameness and boredom. It is very difficult in most industries to tell one competitor from another.

Why Is Everybody Making the Same Promises?

Let us take IT network inventory solutions as an example. Almost all the big vendors offer solutions to enable organisations to create an inventory of the hardware and software on their networks. But, how easy is it to choose between vendors and their solutions. Well, as it turns out – not easy at all.

We analysed the top 6 vendors in the space globally, the results were both surprising and disappointing. In fact, so much so that we could hardly tell one from another. Of the 13 variables used to compare the solutions of the different companies, only two of the criteria showed any differences between any of the supplier companies. In short all the vendors are making the same claims about their products, including reporting, detail level, speed, and so on. That is no doubt as confusing for buyers as it was for us.

Was our client disappointed by the lack of any clear difference between their offering and those of the competition? Well, no actually. The result triggered a lot of soul searching and consideration, and the discovery of 3 unique characteristics of its product previously not highlighted by the company. Its launched a new website and suite of sales material communicating these unique advantages.

Avoid Cloning Your Competitors

Imitation may be generally considered to be the sincerest form of flattery, but cloning a competitor makes no sense. As 6 of the key global competitors in the policy administration platform space have shown cloning happens across, even the most established industries.

All six vendors, many of whom are major multi-nationals, are promising the same benefits (time to market, cutting administration costs, etc.), as well as the same features (scalable, multi-language, etc.). In fact, the degree of sameness was such that it is almost as if all the websites and brochures for all 6 vendors were written by the same person, or people.

This is even a clearer example of the opportunities that exist in so many industries to stand out from competitors and to make it easier for competitors to choose. When and if you do find a company that says something different it is like a breath of fresh air.

Daring to Stand Out From the Crowd

Why are companies afraid to stand out from the crowd? Could it be that some are reluctant to risk alienating some customers by taking a position that is different to the rest of the market? Well, many dozens of competitors later, we make a plea. Stand out. Shout out. Be different.

Pick a point of difference that is important to a certain strand of the market and make your stand on it. The alternative is to be lost in a sea of sameness. Remember it is easier for the smaller company to adopt a more focused and nimble approach to how it positions itself in the minds of buyers.

More Encouragement For Those Who Want to Stand Out

Here are some other observations from our review of competitors across many industries. Again they are very heartening for the company that wants to stand apart:

· Most competitor marketing materials are boring – the standard of web sites, etc. is dull and drab, both in terms of the content and its presentation. That includes photo stock pictures that never seem to look like any business people we know, to the traditional adjective laden and fluffy marketing copy. So, if you want to stand out, bring your website to life. It does not have to be boring and obscure.

· The means of communication is still very much traditional, with the adoption of blogging, forums and other newer vehicles for communication only slowly being adopted in many industries. So, if you want to stand out - make sure your website has a blog.

· It can be hard to distinguish the proposition of many companies, it takes many clicks and much reading to determine exactly what promises they are making. Most are more comfortable presenting technical feature-rich information than talking about the results that their solutions deliver. So, if you want to stand out, tell prospects exactly what you can do for their business, using language that they understand and backing it up with stories and references for what you have achieved for others.

May 14, 2009

Sales Success: Are You A Road Warrior?

When it comes to selling is your organisation a road warrior, or simply just road weary? Well, to help you find out, we talked to one road warrior, the MD of an organisation that has come from the margins to the top of its industry in just 6 years.

Here are some of the road warrior attitudes and behaviours that has helped this organisation grow, so let us see if they characterise your company:

1. In the world of sales there are road warriors and desk junkies and we all know which ones a sales manager wants to have on his team. The difference between the two is a reflection of so many things, confidence, committment and ambition just to name a few. Getting out in to the market and keeping your company in front of customers and prospects may mean lots of air miles, hotel nights and worn shoe leather, but there is no other way.

2. Obsession and focus
- if you believe you have the right solution you need absolute determination to leave your mark on your industry. On a prospect by prospect basis you must be determined and never give up. If you do not, you leave the door open for another solution provider to come in and benefit from all your hard work.

3. You have to take the longer term view.
Would you continue selling and developing relationships in an account for over three years without a result, or would you walk away? Say, you lost the deal to a competitor, would you shun the lost prospect and move on? I have a feeling most of you reading this piece would say 'yes'. Well this highly successful company did not. They took rejection on the chin, keeping in contact, making the calls and maintaining the relationship. Yes, privately they complained of competitors playing dirty, but continued to make it easy for the customer to interact with their global teams. Finally, when there was a change of operations director in the account, the company seccured a lucrative and strategic piece of business. It took a long time, but it did pay-off.

4. Solving a problem often isn’t enough
- we are all told our solutions must have a strong value proposition, but for the road warrior that is sometimes just not enough. If you are going to sell successfully your solution must be absolutely compelling, solving an immediate problem for the customer. And the bigger and more immediate the problem, the better - one that affects your customer across multiple locations and geographies.

5. Me too solutions won’t work in a market that you are trying to penetrate for the first time. Your competitive advantage has to be more than marginal, because established local competition will need to be dislodged if you are to succeed. Road warriors believe in changing the game to win win, impacting on customers and their problems in a new and innovative way.

6. Hiring the right sales person – Road warriors want to hit the ground running and that means having the right people in place. However, we have all heard the dreaded stories of hiring sales people and then losing, or firing them months later. Who is to blame? The sales person, or the manager? Well the advice from our road warrior, a company which has grown a substantial sales force is – take your time, make sure you have confidence you can win and deliver business in the geography before putting an experienced sales person on the ground. Then when they are in place support them thoroughly. Their success and yours are the one.

7. CEO’s must sell
- If you are a CEO reading this piece, listen up, you must sell, you must make calls and position your company with new customers. You must also help your sales people open doors, advance sales cycles and win business.

You need to be a road warrior too!. You need to make sure your customers and prospects feel they can meet you anytime, if you have to get on a plane and travel half way around the world for a meeting at 12 hours notice you do it.

In the road warrior organisation, selling is not below the CEO, nor is it an affort to his/her ego. A team based approach characterises all successful sales organisations and the CEO has a particularly important role to play on that team. He, or she can talk CEO to CEO, and can often ask questions that sometimes a sales person just won’t get an answer to.

8. Being Top Dog. Everybody cannot win the customer's business, indeed with corporate customers reducing their number of suppliers being at the top of the pile is a requirement for the road warrior organisation. Supplier concentration is
a fact, not just a sales person’s excuse and it has implications for us all. It creates more pressure and adds more complexity to the sale, causing many smaller companies to complain about a Big vendor bias in many customer organisations. Again the road warrior mentality is essential if your company is going to compete in the same league as the big boys in terms of service and credibility.

9. Being local. Think globally act locally was a popular phrase a number of years ago. For the upstart competing against the global vendor it has a particulary important meaning. Lets take just one example, pointed out by our road warrior - proposal delivery. Some people are still emailing proposals to their customers, but not this company it d
elivers them in person, making sure your customer sees them as local even if the proposal has been developed at the company headquarters thousands of miles away.
These insights remind me of a quote from Don Juan in Carlos Castaneda’s a Separate Piece – “The difference between a warrior and an ordinary man is that a warrior sees everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man sees everything as a blessing or a curse”. You need your team to adopt a road warrior mentality.

How to make the PA your sales ally

Personal Assistant - friend or foe?
Anybody who is reaching out to prospects at C Level in large organisations knows that they are going to be talking to many more Personal Assistants and secretaries than senior executives. However, even very clever sales campaigns can fail to adequately take this into consideration.
I have spent hours and even days in campaign planning mode with clients, devising the message and the materials to make a C Level campaign effective, including carefully worded emails, Pdfs and conversation guides (or scripts as others call them).

The preparation means we are clear on the proposition to be communicated, the benefits to be highlighted and the objections we may encounter. The message has been tailored to the audience by vertical as well according to their job title, or functional area. The only problem is that in most cases that same message is going to be delivered by a third party, someone who very often does not get factored into the equation.

The key success factor in most sales campaigns is actually getting to talk to the people that we need to talk to. For those of us who need to sell to the top, as opposed to the middle, or the bottom of the organization, access to the right people depends on our success in communicating with an audience that our well chosen C Level message, or script was never written for – that is the PA.

Treat the PA as your friend and ally.
Here is the issue, we spend hours training a telemarketing person, or role playing a telesales script, all the time ensuring that the person making the calls has sufficient product knowledge and understanding to confidently engage the prospect in a conversation. However, our success so often depends on our message being communicated third hand by a PA and in a way that may be completely outside of our control.

Our sophisticated message may be reduced to a simple ‘Gavin called from ACME Ltd they sell software solutions, if he rings back will I put him through?’ That is unless we make it easy to communicate our message in the way that we want.

The PA is the gateway to C Level, the essential conduit for our message. That means its needs to be distilled so as to ensure that it can easily be passed on to the manager (whether by a full time PA or a temp) and still remain intact. By necessity it has to be a simpler and more pointed message, one that is not aimed at selling your proposition, but on selling the reason why the C Level manager should listen to you.

Tips on how to turn the PA into your sales ally :
  1. Respect the PAs position, ask her, or him what is the best way of getting information to the boss, ask when is a good time to call, ask her if she wouldn’t mind passing it on, ask perhaps if she knows whether he, or is actually the best person to receive it?

  2. Don’t pressurize and try not to sound like a sales person. Be friendly and polite. Get the person’s name, keep it and use it. Make a note of any conversations, together with how friendly the person was and comments they may have made (e.g. a reference to future holidays, etc.). When you call back refer to your previous conversation, so that you don’t seem as a stranger.

  3. Remember you are not trying to sell to her, or even to her boss. Your objective is simply to exchange some useful information (which in turn can lead you closer to selling).

  4. Provide a reason why she should pass on your message, or your email. Your objective is to communicate how what you have to say could be of benefit to the manager and to assure her that you are not going to be a nuisance (i.e. sales) call if you do get put through. So ask yourself how could the manager lose out if he, or she does not talk to you, or read your information.

  5. Respect the position of her boss too, saying for example ‘John is probably very busy, but I thought this information might be of value to him because…’

  6. Use your material as a crutch. If it has been crafted properly your material can communicate your proposition and why it is of relevance more effectively than the PAs third party interpretation of what you have said. The objective should be to ask the PA to put the item on the manager’s desk and see if he/she is interested. So, say you want to pass on some information and explain why it is useful. Of course, you are redistributing the weight of effort onto the email, or letter you are going to send, so it will take a lot of work and experimentation to get it right.

  7. Gentle persistence. You don’t earn the right to get put through on the first call, or maybe even the second. However, keeping in touch with the PA over time means that your name becomes recognizable and your contact will build up a head of steam.

  8. There are many other techniques, but in my opinion many of which are more trick than technique. Here is one that is legitimate however - if you are sending an email, or a letter, than it can be useful to put a note on its saying that you will call. That means you can legitimately say to the PA ‘I promised Mr X I would give him/her a call’ which may in turn distinguish it from a cold call. Others include calling early and late, as well as during standard holidays, times when the executive may be in but the PA is not.

  9. Experiment and try different things. If your particular message of the present does not resonate and deliver the success you need, then next quarters’ could have a different effect. That again reinforces the importance of adopting a keep in touch mindset.

  10. Engage in a little chit chat and be personable, this is the sure way to make sure that out of the many salespeople that the Personal Assistant talks to today, or this week, you will be the one remembered.

  11. If you really want to talk to the manager, then try calling slighly outside the normal office hours when the PA is not at his/her desk, for example calling at 8.40am as opposed to 9am, or 5.35pm as opposed to 4.30pm.

I asked for a view from North America on how to make the executive assistant your ally. What are successfull marketers doing there to tackle this issue. Pretty much the same thing, here is the advice of Steve Lightstone the President of C Level leads generator to many big name vendors, Corner Office Leads:

''Earn her trust instantly by setting her at ease, letting her control the process. Right away, let her know that you won’t go around her, you won’t approach her executive directly and you will work through her. Her primary role is to protect her executive from unsolicited outreaches from outsiders like you, but she also lets some through. When she knows her executive is protected she’ll become your Guide, not your Gatekeeper. Differentiate yourself from all the others by your approach.''

Good advice Steve, it sounds like the same sophisticated approach is required on a global basis.