September 28, 2009

Ready for Some 'Quick Win Marketing'

Called QUICK WIN MARKETING by Annmarie Hanlon and published by Oak Tree Press this book is packed with answers to almost every frequently questions on sales and marketing. That includes many questions you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask.

The book contains a menu of one hundred ideas and tips in respect of all aspects of sales and marketing. That includes the latest marketing buzz words – such as; bluecasting and Google alerts, as well as the latest technologies, such as Youtube and Facebook.

With some many ideas, it is probably not the type of book you want to read from cover to cover. As the ultimate in cheat sheets, just go to the menu and pick the topic, or idea you want and in two pages you will have as concise a summary, or guide as is available, together with some practical suggestions to get started..

Cleverly the books sets out the tools, ideas and questions into 3 parts – launch, grow and revitalize - depending on the stage of development of your business. So, there is something in there for everybody!

It has something for everyone. That in itself is a great achievement. However, I really do believe that just one, or two ideas put to work each week for just 6 months has the potential to revolutionize almost any business. Now, is that quick win enough for you?

As a matter of interest, I picked my top 5 (based on the questions we are asked)

  1. How to find new customers?
  2. How to increase my company’s web ranking so as to generate more business via the web?
  3. How do I use social networking sites (e.g. Linked in) in my business?
  4. How to handle a price renegotiation from my existing customers?
  5. How to hold on to my existing customers in the face of increased competition?

Of course, the answers to all these questions can be found in the book. As an aide however it is interesting to note that today’s top 5 issues is quite considerably different to that of 12, or 16 months ago and no doubt will be quite different in another 12 months time.

One trend that I would suggest is here to stay – the demand for increasingly sophisticated sales and marketing. That again is another reason to buy this book.

September 17, 2009

Revolutionary Ideas: Ask Fewer Questions In Your First Meetings

Question With Care!
Salespeople have been told to talk less and listen more. In this way they can gain a better understanding of the needs of their customers and prospects. That means salespeople are arming themselves with more and better questions aimed at qualifying the prospect, understanding his needs, eliciting information regarding the buying process, the budget, etc.

However, like any technique that is overused it can become ineffective, even dangerous. This is particularly the case where salespeople have an unrealistic expectation as to the number or type of questions they can ask at early stages of the relationship with the prospect.

To Ask or Not To Ask, That Is The Question!
Just how many questions can you answer on an initial call, either by phone, or face to face? To this question most sales people say.

Just how many questions can you ask in a:
Most sales people typically answer:
first meeting
telephone call

Are these numbers right? Well they seem fair, but perhaps talk of numbers misses the point. It is not just how many questions are asked, but what is asked, how it is asked, when it is asked, and most importantly why it is asked.

Why Buyers Are Weary of The Seller’s Questions.
One thing is certain buyers are increasingly weary of salesperson’s questions. That is a good place to start with a word of warning – when buyers hear questions they fear closing. So, salespeople must question carefully.

There is a reason why buyers sit back and let sales people do all the talking, that is because that way they feel more in control. When the salesperson stops talking, he generally starts asking questions that the buyer may not want to answer for any or all of the following reasons:
· Political, or other sensitivities (somebody’s nose will be out of joint, or I don’t want to look bad)
· Genuine information gaps (we don’t have that information)
· Issues of confidentiality (I don’t want our competitors finding out)
· Issues of trust (I don’t know you)
· Perceived relevance, or appropriateness (why are you asking that)
· Issues of competitive fairness (if I tell you I will have to tell all the others competing)
· Fear of being sold to (if I tell you, you will use that to sell to us)
· Don’t want to prejudice your response (we want to hear your suggestions, not just a regurgitation of our answers)

In particular buyers are weary of questions designed to: box them buyer in, to prequalify them, to uncover and accentuate pain, to hastily pin-point a solution, or create tension for change.

Buyers are right to be reticent in answering questions, after all information is power and by asking questions the salesperson is in effect looking to share the buyer’s power. Take for example, one sales methodology, employing what it describes as the ‘Progressive Questioning Control Technique’.

In the use of questions to control the buying process the salesperson must exercise great care. So question with care and ask questions that show that you care.

Timing is Everything.

Sales people must be careful about asking questions that are inappropriately; invasive, and undiplomatic, or direct. This is principally a factor of the timing. Just as in telling jokes, timing is essential to asking good questions. Even good questions asked in the wrong manner, or at the wrong time, can make a bad salesperson.

Why is this important? Well, inappropriate or simplistic questions highlight to the buyer a deficiency of knowledge, interest, empathy, or understanding on the part of the seller.

The questions depend on the stage you are at. Asking the wrong questions at the wrong time can present problems for both buyer and seller. With this in mind we here is a summary of some of the questions that are relevant at the different stages of the buying cycle (note we use the term buying cycle as opposed to sales cycle).

Business Case
Client Success
Should we be in contact?
Do they fit the profile?

What needs might they have?

What information do they find useful?

Should we meet?
Should we be talking?
Is this of interest?
What else might be of interest?
Should we engage (can we help)?
How to engage (help)?
Who else should we engage with?
What is the need? What is the ideal solution?
Who is the ideal supplier?
How and when will the decision be made?
Is there a budget allocated, etc?
What is the business case? Is it compelling?
What are the costs, benefits, risks and constraints?

How are we impacting on your business?
What are the metrics?

Will you recommend us to others?
Can we help you tell the story of your success?
How can we help you further?

Is there a Universal List of Questions? Well, no. just as there is no universal sales script, at least not an effective one. Anyhow it is less about the questions than the consultative process and that must be tailored to the client and his, or her specific situation.

The main point to be gleaned from this table is that there is no universal list of questions. The questions asked depends on the stage that you are at with the prospect. Thinking this way is very important. Let’s take an analogy.
Imagine asking how much a person earns on the first date? That is a question for the 5th, or 6th if even that. Not for the first time buyers are advising us as salespeople to slow down.

What is the objective of the questions?
Another word of caution, don’t spend precision time with the prospect gathering information (e.g. number of employees, product range, etc.) that can be gathered in other more efficient ways (such as the company’s web site).

Similarly, limit the time spent on form filling type questions, as opposed to build and demonstrate understanding, interest or empathy. That is the questions of a salesman, as opposed to a consultant, advisor, or expert.

Earning the Right to Ask Questions.
Remember the buyer owes you nothing, and that includes answers to your questions. The sales person has to earn the right to ask questions and build the trust that will enable buyers to answer freely and in detail. How to do this? Well, by focusing more on how you can help and in particular the information you can share, rather than the information that you want.

In other words the salesperson who shows up at a meeting with a standard product led sales pitch and a list of questions to determine needs and facilitate his, or her sales process prequalification will be seen by buyers as self serving and worthy of being left waiting in the hall. Clearly buyers have preference for dealing with the salesperson that has relevant insights, experiences and ideas to share.

At the early stage of the relationship, salespeople must place more emphasis on the information you give and less on the information you want.

Questions for Early Stage Meetings.
The greatest challenge salespeople seem to face is in respect of questions to be asked in early stage meetings. This stems from the fact that salespeople are trying to achieve too much in their initial customer encounter. They are aiming, somewhat unrealistically, for the one meeting qualification and even close.

However, the salesperson’s rush to elicit needs, propose a solution and prequalify the opportunity is not shared by the buyers. As we have said elsewhere salespeople are having to cut back on their expectations and slow down to the speed of the buyer.

The objective of the first meeting is to share some useful information with the buyer, that is an insight with respect to what his counterparts, or competitors are doing, the challenges they are facing and the results they are achieving. After all that is the most powerful way of communicating the benefits of your solution. Here is an example:

We have worked with a,b,c, to achieve x,y and z, and based on these projects we have… noticed an important trend… identified a range of key success factors… identified a number of factors that are often overlooked… employed a new way of… achieved some surprising results…

So, the questions you ask logically relate to that insight shared, to those challenges, benefits and trends discussed. For example:
Do you think this (insight) is relevant? Have you seen this trend yourself?
Who does it affect in your business? How does it affect them?
Is this something that you would be interested in exploring a little more? What aspects of it in particular?
How important do you think this could be? Do you think it could be a priority? For when?
Other companies have faced challenges in implementing (budget, time, other priorities, etc.) do you think these would apply here?
•  Has this issue been examined before?  If 'yes', What was the outcome?   If 'no', is there a reason why this issue has not be address before?
What would you like to do next? Is there anybody else that would be interested?

Getting Real About Prequalification.

Clearly, this is quite a leap from the traditional Budget, Authority, Need and Timing questions and prequalification that has traditionally been employed in a time of buoyant demand. We are not saying that these are no longer relevant, we are saying that by necessity they must be employed rigorously to real sales opportunities not to early stage conversations.

It is time to get real about prequalification. In a market with more supplier than buyers, it is the latter that is prequalifying the former and not the other way around. During the boom years salespeople had justification and indeed pressure not to waste time selling to those that did not have a budget. Today they don't have a choice. They have to sell to all those that could represent potential customers, regardless of whether they are ready to buy next quarter, or 3 quarters out.

Rather than being focused on prequalification – have they got a budget to spend? - the focus is on answering the question ‘Should we be talking?’ and ‘Is this of interest.’ Of course, when a potential sales opportunity emerges and the process of engagement begins then a very different set of questions are required.

Revolutionary Ideas: To Speed Up The Sale You Must Slow Down

Longer Buying Cycles Mean Sales People Must Slow Down.

Shortening sales cycles is something that managers dream about. But in most cases, it is just that – a dream. Yes, longer sales cycles have implications for meeting sales targets and sales costs, as well as for the overall level of visibility, predictability and control in respect of sales.

However, the reality is that regardless of lengthening sales cycles, a slower sale, is better than a lost sale. So here is another revolutionary idea - you need to speed up the sale, you may need to slow down.

To Speed Up, You May Need to Slow Down.

Salespeople often rush between appointments, skillfully avoiding the congestion bottlenecks and finding all the short cuts. They like to drive, talk and sell faster - it is all part of our genetic make-up! However, as buyers have put on the brakes salespeople who can’t, or won’t slow down to the new pace at which buyers are making buying decisions will look in the rear view mirror and find that the prospect is nowhere to be seen.

There was a time when you could prequalify over the phone and close in the first sales meeting. But no longer! It is going to take many calls and many meetings to get to the starting line, not to talk about the finishing point.

To improve win rates in a tough market, sellers have to revisit the timing on their sales pipeline and adjust the timing of their ‘conveyor-like’ sales processes. Specifically, they have to slow down in the following 10 ways:

1. Slowdown before you diagnose the solution – you have seen the situation 100s of times and can clearly see the problem, but slow down so as to ensure that you understand all the nuances, as well as the political and organizational context

2. Slow down before prequalifying – in a market of buoyant demand salespeople were eager to prequalify early so that they could spend their limited time with those who represented the greatest prospect of a sales. Market conditions have changed however and that means selling to those who have a budget is not enough. For every customer who is ready to buy, there are 8, or 9 that have the potential to buy but are not. They may not even be aware that they have a problem and so replacing prequalification that identifies those ready to buy, with marketing that nurtures those who can and perhaps should buy, but are not ready, is key.

3. Slow down in your first meeting – too many sales people are still aiming for the one meeting prequalification and even one meeting close. However, those salespeople are being increasingly boycotted by buyers who want to go at their own pace. That is because for buyers it feels too much like being sold to. Increasingly salespeople are realizing that you cannot understand a buyer, his needs, or his business in one meeting, just as you cannot build a relationship, or establish trust in that 45 minute time frame.

4. Slow down before proposing a solution – take time to understand the buyer’s full needs, to jointly explore solutions, to build rapport, etc.

5. Slow down before asking too many questions, particularly invasive ones – you have to earn the right to ask questions, especially sensitive ones. You have to be willing to share information with the buyer, before he, or she will return the favor.

6. Slow down before delivering a presentation - take the time to first understand the needs and interests of your audience, put the laptop and the presentation slides aside and have a conversation – see where it takes you.

7. Slow down before writing a proposal, the faster you write a proposal the more assumptions you are going to be making regarding the customer’s needs and wants. Getting the customer involved in writing the proposal with you may mean that you have to move the opportunity out by a quarter, but dramatically increases the likelihood of success.

8. Slow down before starting to negotiate – good negotiating cannot compensate for bad selling. Negotiating on price, for example, before the needs have been fully understood, the solution defined, or the business case demonstrated is meaningless and inadequate.

9. Slow down before moving on to your next customer – buyers often complain that the attention – sometimes excessive – that they have received during the sales process quickly diminished once the order is won.

10. Slow down when you see a red, or amber light - as salespeople focused on getting the deal across the line, we can be reluctant to express their concerns, or anxieties, regards an opportunity in play. We can be blind to warning signs, such as we cannot get access to the decision maker(s), we don't have all the information we need, the issue of price is arising too early, etc. However, they are to be neglected at our perril. Yellow and red flags are to be welcomed, this is particularly the case when they are indentified early in the sales cycle – that is in time for the underlying issues to be addressed, or for the salesperson to decide to walk away.

September 10, 2009

The Business Battlecard™: Helping companies grow

For all those charged with growing a company, the Business Battlecard™ recently published by Paul O’ Dea and Oak Tree Press is well worth reading.

The book has practical tools and techniques that are easily understood and free from all the jargon busting terms that other books on growth tend to have.
Some of the highlights I took from the book include:

  • Asking yourself what you want to be famous for, there is a great exercise suggested. Well worth considering for the next management team meeting.

  • Defining your sweet spot customer and using this definition to evaluate whether you should take on a left field revenue opportunity that emerges. The sweet spot will help tell you what is on and off strategy

  • The need to really look at the business discipline of your target customers, from my experience this is an area that people often forget, that Paul explains clearly

  • By measuring and proving value you have the potential to reduce the length of your sales cycle

  • Measuring value is something done with the customer, collaboration is key. If you don’t measure your results, does that mean you don’t care about them? Real food for thought for many companies out there

  • If you agree to a pilot, measure it, measuring will affect close rates and how buyers perceive you

  • Marketing needs to realise “savvy customers aren’t listening” they need to out themselves in the customers shoes

  • Growth companies juggle channels and don’t rely solely on one channel

  • Cracking the channel is tough but once done once it gets easier

  • You might be excited about a new channel partnership but the home truth is the channel partner many not be nearly as excited

  • Early adopters are not penny pinchers

  • Understand how buyers buy and how it will affect your channel approach

As I said this book is one to read, it is easy to walk through and doesn’t require a masters degree to understand. At the end of it you will have a strategy on one page that everyone can understand. This can only be good for everyone.
All I am left to say is well done Paul O’ Dea, a great book.
Please note the Business Battlecard™ is a trademark of select strategies

September 09, 2009

Is It Time to Revisit Your Target Customer Profile?

Key to the effectiveness of lead generation is a clear profile of your target customer. That is the type of company that you want to do business with and can successfully sell to.
Now, it sounds very obvious, that before you shoot your marketing or prospecting gun, you first need to identify at target and set your aim. However, it is often overlooked, with attention being placed on narrow prequalification criterion instead. Here we will provide your with some tips.
Some Considerations Before You Get Started:
There are two important considerations before you set your target customer profile, that is which customers are:
- The most attractive to your business (in terms of profitability, length of the sales cycle, etc.)
- The most ameniable, given the appeal of your solution (e.g. unique advantages), the level of competition, the willingness or ability of customers to change supplier, etc.
This is something that can, and probably should change over time. For example, you may be targeting companies in manufacturing today that have at least 50 employees, but in time want to be ideally positioned to sell to the more profitable pharmaceutical sector at the high end.
That is you may have a strategic ideal, but are realistic in settling for the lower hanging fruit for this quarter and next. It will also be dictated by which type of companies you have we have a track record, or reference sites suited to. In any respect the profile you create today, is likely to change over time.
Finding it Difficult to Create your Target Customer Profile?
Some company find it difficult to create a profile of their target customer. That is because there is not just one single profile, but many. Alternatively, the criteria may not yet be clear.
That is not a problem, in these cases develop as many profiles as you need. Then compare and contrast them, to determine in what proportions they should be represented in your target list for next quarters sales and marketing effort.
People often ask 'How selective should I be?' Well,that depends on how confident you are in being able to predict who will need your solution. It is good advice not to shorten your list too much at the start, you can do that as you progress. That is because every conversation has value, at the early stages in particular. More importantly, we find that in many cases some degree of experimentation is required before the ideal target customer is clear, indeed all science aside for many companes the sweet spot in terms of the ideal customer is often stumbled upon.
Creating the Profile – What to include:
So, how to define the profile of your ideal target customer for the next sales campaign? Well here are some ways you may want to profile who you should and should not be targeting:
Who are they?
Who (among our customers) are they like?
Who are they buying from now?
Who can introduce us?
Who are they influenced by?
What size?
What sector, subsector, or niche?
What is its ownership, or org. structure?
What do we want to sell?
What solutions are they presently using?
What solution do they need?
What priorities do they have?
What success have we had?
What references / examples are relevant?
Where are they located?
Where are they listed, advertising, attending, etc?
When is the need at its most (triggers, critical events, etc.)?
When is the best time to approach them?
Why do they need our solutions?
What problems, or opportunities do they are have?
How sophisticated are they?
How long are they in business?
How much can they spend?
How much competition is there for their business?
How have we got an edge?

Other means of profiling might be: What are its aspirations (e.g. high growth company)? What is its strategy (e.g. green energy)? Who are its customers (e.g. price sensitive retail chains)? What end of the market is it serving (luxury/prestige end)?
The Practical Aspects of Profiling Your Target Customers
By now you have figured it out that setting a profile is the easy part. Applying it to your target list is however going to take some work. However, every company profiled and researched ready for contact, or indeed marked as not relevant for contact, has a real value. In terms of building a high quality list, such an entry is probably worth anywhere between 30 and 40 euro. List building and profiling is an investment that will payback beyond any single sales campaign.
The practical value is even greater however – afterall what is the point in making 10 calls, including voicemails, call backs, etc. to be find out the company is not relevant because it is only a reseller, as opposed to a manufacturer, when that information could have been got via the web.
I have to express a word of caution at this point. It is easy to get carried away throughly researching those companies you are considering contacting. I have seen this happen often, with the result that lots of profiling gets done, but very little contact. The objective is to contact companies, as many as possible in fact, the profiling is simply a means of making it more effective, not of stalling, or hindering it. It is important not to make it an excuse for not getting started.
In particular it is going to require that you spend anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes per company to ascertain if they fit your criteria and deserve a telesales call, or a piece of direct mail for example. Again the upper limit here is important, a cut off point in terms of the amount of time you will spend researching and profiling any company before calling is very important.
Anyhow you have also probably figured out that you are not going to find answers to all the profiling questions on the company’s web site, through internet searches, or annual reports. You are unlikely to get them answered on a telesales call, or perhaps even in a first meeting, and indeed maybe you would want to use the limited time available in those instances for more needs related questions.
However, maintaining the composite of the ideal customer for your business is still important as it will inform your view of the potential for a sale right through the sales cycle. The trick with profiling is that it is ongoing, as opposed to once off.