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.

1 comment:

Jill Horwitz said...

Great post! It's so true that the voice of the customer trumps all others these days, the dawn of social media has given it a power like never before. If you treat you customers well they will return the favor by blogging and tweeting about you. If you are not focusing on giving them a positive experience then they will still blog and tweet about you - you just may not like what they have to say!