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  Value has been superseded by business impact and the need to credibly demonstrate quantifiable business results.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.


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