Sell The Concept, Not Just The Data and Spec’s!

 

In the age of “big data”, it’s more than tempting to rely on “just spec’s” to try to make a sale.  The assumption is that statistical evidence is the most important factor in justifying a given value proposition.  And for better or worse, many buying decisions are now driven or even made by computers that can synthesize vast amounts of numbers at light speed.  Salespeople can’t compete with computers in that arena—the human advantage is the ability to sell the concept itself!

If you’re trying to sell “spec’s only”, you have already reduced your product/service to nothing more than a commodity.  By definition, the price of a commodity is determined by “what the market will bear”. Guess what? Computers really can figure that out, leaving no need for a salesperson to be an important part of the transaction.  If at all possible, don’t let that happen to you!

It’s time to become proficient at telling your story without relying on “just the spec’s”.  Here are some tips on perfecting that important skill…

Develop a value proposition that contains no spec’s whatsoever.  That’s no easy task, and quite often salespeople use their internal research resources as the basis of their pitch.  But nothing is easier for a buyer to challenge than a bunch of spec’s!  Would you rather argue about the validity of your spec’s or the importance of your product/service?  So the spec’s turn out to be an obstacle instead of an aid to making the sale.  Taking spec’s off the table will eliminate them from being used against you!

Harness the power of analogies.  The world’s best salespeople are masters of using parallel examples to make their point.  Compelling analogies use “common sense” scenarios to support a given value proposition. It’s easier to gain agreement on a given point or concept if the buyer can see it in the context of familiar circumstances.  Successful politicians of all stripes practice this with great effectiveness…salespeople should being doing the same!

Use “sizzle” to your advantage. If spec’s are the tangible factors that drive a sale, then “sizzle” covers all of the intangible ones.  Great salespeople know that conveying value in their intangibles can be the critical edge against whatever their competitors are offering.  Selling just the tangible factors is one dimensional—with no emotional connection between the buyer and what you have to sell.  Sizzle alone won’t make the sale, but trying to sell without it is simply a non-starter!

Introduce spec’s only after establishing a solid conceptual foundation.  They obviously have an important role in making a sale.  Bring them into the conversation later to provide tangible confirmation of what you’ve been offering.  Better yet, if a buyer asks for them, you may be even closer to a sale than you might assume.  Using spec’s in your closing argument is just the icing on the cake, but not the cake itself.  That’s an important difference!

Great story telling will always be more important than just the data.  That’s true on both a macro and micro scale.  Spec’s shouldn’t tell the story, but simply back it up.  Embracing that idea will help any salesperson to be more successful!

ENGAGEMENT: The New Competitive Edge

B2B selling in the “Digital Age” is a new ballgame!  Many of the older tried and true “rules of sales” won’t get the job done.  And given the never-ending march of technology, everyone needs to transform his or her game or get left behind!

Why???

The “monopoly” on proprietary information is a thing of the past.  In almost every B2B sales environment, the customer now has instant access to timely and accurate information about whatever is being sold.  The seller used to have some power based on the ability to “reveal” the product/service on his/her terms.  That’s simply no longer the case.  Most buyers are now required to “educate” themselves independently of their sellers in order to make a more “objective” assessment of whatever is being bought/sold.  Assuming that your prospect hasn’t done their homework on your product/service is simply a bad bet!

Transactions are moving at the speed of light!  Once again, digital technology has shortened the sales cycle, especially in enterprises that produce on a “just in time” basis.  And that reality extends to all of the suppliers of the companies that operate in that fashion.  Buying closer to the “need date” can also give the buyer leverage to drive down prices/rates if the seller is starting to panic about unsold inventory.  Tracking the length of your sales cycles with all of your clients is now a critical piece of data.

For many businesses, the margin of quality among potential suppliers is extremely thin.  Regardless of what unique claims you might want to make about your product/service, chances are that at least a handful of your competitors are either slightly ahead or slightly behind you on the subjective criteria we call “quality.”  And buyers really don’t want to hear about how superior yours is unless you can prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Very rarely is that the case, so making the “We’re #1” claim stick is tricky business.

If all of the above is even remotely true, then how do you gain that critical competitive edge?  By being more engaged with your customers than your competitors.  And not just on a superficial basis.  The winners in this new B2B selling environment are so engrained in their customers’ respective businesses that they are perceived as invaluable partners!  It takes a lot of work and dedication to get that immersed in someone else’s business, but it is absolutely critical for long-term success!

Here are some critical keys for effective and lasting customer engagement:

  • Assume that you can never learn enough about your customers’ businesses.
  • Dedicate yourself to conveying relevant and compelling ideas and information to your customers that they might not hear from anyone else.
  • Most importantly, learn to listen carefully to what your customers have to say about their businesses. Quite often, they will give you valuable insights that can allow you to become even more engaged in their enterprises than you already are.

Your customers place great value on having salespeople that are fully engaged in their businesses and tend to reward them accordingly over time.  Make sure you’re flying “First Class” and not just “Coach” with all of your customers by becoming and staying fully engaged!

Being Transparent Matters: Selling in the Information Age

Selling “black boxes” is now a thing of the past.  In the B2B space, prospective buyers have immediate and easy access to massive amounts of information about whatever is being sold to them.  If that’s the case, then it doesn’t make much sense to withhold pertinent information about what’s being sold!  Taking the “mystery” out of a sales proposition has become absolutely critical for success.

Here are some keys to accomplishing that crucial objective:

Refine your value proposition to one sentence.  This is your “elevator pitch.”  This exercise will force a seller to establish a clear description of what’s for sale.  This “statement of purpose” gives the recipient a basic idea of the opportunity and should prompt him/her to take the conversation to the next level.  Eliminate any potentially confusing points and make it as logical and straightforward as possible!

Acknowledge that your prospect has access to plenty of information and data about what you’re selling at their disposal.  This gesture signals that you respect the prospect’s professionalism and that you are an “open” person as opposed to a “closed” one.  There is power in being transparent.  Suggesting that there are unseen pieces or hidden motives merely invites suspicion from a prospective buyer and jeopardizes credibility.  No matter how compelling your product/service may be, the buyer is still “buying” into the seller first!

Provide objective and verifiable information about every claim that you make. Almost any statement that a salesperson makes about his her product/service can be quickly verified (or at least reviewed) by one or more third party sources.  Google or Wikipedia anyone? Given that relatively new “fact of life”, why would any salesperson take the risk of making unsubstantiated or “fictitious” claims?  To the contrary, the salesperson should offer third party verification of any claims that they make.  And always distinguish facts from opinions!

Walk your prospect through every step or component of your respective service or product.  B2B buyers will typically demand to see a “clear path” before getting serious about making a deal.  Rather than wait for that demand, a savvy seller will be proactive and take the buyer through a step-by-step explanation of what they are trying to sell.  Sellers often assume that the buyer can figure out some of the steps for themselves—a risky thing to do!  Leading a prospect through the process in a clear and concise fashion gets closer to a sale and screams “Integrity”!

Check for clarity with your prospect on a routine and periodic basis.  Much like an effective trial lawyer working with a jury, an effective salesperson will simply ask the buyer if he/she is clear on what’s being discussed.  It also displays respect and care for the buyer and his/her task.  100% mutual clarity also paves the way to a win/win deal where both the buyer and seller feel very comfortable with the final outcome.  Getting too far down the road and then finding out that the buyer has a misunderstanding of a critical point can kill a potential deal immediately!

Being a transparent seller may take a little more effort, but the payoff is significant.  To choose to be less than completely open is very risky in this new age of instant and abundant information.  So be clear and be successful!

How to Control your own Sales Process

In the realm of B2B selling every deal is different.  No two deals are quite the same.  Therefore why would we want our approach on every single deal to be exactly the same? Yes, the similarities may outweigh the differences but recognizing the nuances of every single potential deal is critical to success. Every deal you do needs to have its own game plan, its own the road map that makes it distinctly different compared to other deals you may be working. That’s a critical first step in terms of how you manage your business. Trying to manage your book of business with a one-size-fits-all template just doesn’t work. It may be convenient or simpler, but in the end you will lose more often than you win.

Let’s take a look at some of the essentials for making sure that every single piece of business has its own game plan.

What does a successful outcome look like? The answer to that question goes far beyond the dollars and cents to be gained. No doubt that your sales manager will expect that basic piece of information. Will this deal be a building block to getting a bigger deal or a deeper relationship with the client? Will this deal put you in a dominant position relative to your competitors? Most importantly, will this deal be perceived as a win/win with your customer? Every deal presents the opportunity to accomplish more than what’s obvious. Think carefully about what’s not readily visible before moving forward.

How compelling is your story?   As always, the value proposition is the cornerstone of your sales story. How are you supporting it? Does the story you’re offering have a logical flow to a reasonable conclusion? Make sure that you anticipate and address any significant objections in the fabric of your story. Leaving gaps or inconsistencies only invites negative feedback from the buyer. Human beings love a good story that is well told with a discernible beginning, middle and end. Make sure that yours does at all times!

What are the key steps that need to be taken to get there? Orchestrating your attack is incredibly powerful and effective. You may need to bring other team members into the process. Figure out who they are and what role you want them to play. Anticipate your buyer’s moves, and plan your countermoves. Any experience with chess comes in handy! Sales managers are always impressed to hear that his/her salesperson has taken the time to put together a game plan to close a deal. Feel free to get feedback on your plan from your respective manager. A good plan with well-defined steps will pave the way to making a solid deal.

What’s the timetable? The plan that you’ve put together needs to be time specific. Every step needs to have a real deadline for completion. It’s too easy to lose track of a deal if you don’t know where you are on the clock or calendar. Almost any decent CRM software will help keep you on track.   Holding yourself accountable for getting things done on a timely basis will also give you some peace of mind as the deal moves forward. And don’t forget to write down a date certain for closing the deal. That’s the most important deadline of all! Quite often, that date may change, but there always needs to be one.

Salespeople always feel more in control when they can define the “rhythm” of a deal. It reduces the sense of randomness, and builds more confidence in the process. Great salespeople never see themselves as just a “leaf in the wind.”   So take the time and make the effort to be in charge of any and every deal that you ever do!

Building a Better Feedback Loop

Making the presentation is only the beginning of the process! There are plenty of great presenters who also have serious difficulty actually closing the deal. Why? Because their feedback loops with their buyers need much improvement.

Too many salespeople spend a considerable amount of time on preparing to present their products/services but precious little time on building the feedback loop. Getting a deal done requires plenty of “after the pitch” information from the buyer. Trying to close without that is basically flying blind. Wishful thinking and making dreamy assumptions won’t make it happen! The question “Where do I stand?” should never have a vague answer.

The best test of a feedback loop is how close the final deal matches up with the salesperson’s expectations. Whether a deal comes in as a big surprise or a tough disappointment, the fact is that the salesperson was not as engaged as they should have been. A solid feedback loop with a buyer means that there is consistent and constructive communication between both parties as the deal materializes. In addition, it’s almost impossible to forecast accurately without a reliable feedback loop.

Here are some tips on building a feedback loop that works:

1. Try to establish the length of the deal cycle. At the end of the initial presentation meeting, simply ask the buyer when you can expect the deal to close. The buyer’s response will obviously tell you how much time you have to get a deal done or if the deal is merely speculative on the buyer’s part.

2. Never offer a client additional concessions simply to justify connecting with them after the initial presentation. Too often, salespeople get “nervous” if they haven’t heard from the buyer, and end up giving away something just for the sake of having a reason to call the buyer. If this becomes a habit, a buyer will simply wait for the salesperson to panic and thereby get concessions without even asking for them.

3. Maintain a sense of momentum by offering additional information, insights, etc. that keep the conversation going. This is both good customer service and a way to get valuable feedback about where the deal stands. Buyers simply hate “How’s it looking?” inquiries from sellers. Contacting them with fresh and valuable information, insights, suggestions is much more proactive and even welcome in many cases.

4. Probe on specific details of the deal without retreating from the original offer. This should only be done after offering that additional information. Focus on the deal points from the original presentation that the buyer may not have fully agreed with and see if they still have lingering concerns about them. This probing process should never come close to any discussion of the bottom line, but only the critical elements of the deal.

5. Follow through on any commitments made at the time of the presentation and remind the buyer that they are being delivered as promised. Quite often, sellers will be asked for more information during the initial presentation meeting. Providing it is another perfect opportunity to connect and then probe about the buyer’s take on specific components of a deal.

6. Telephone and live meetings should be utilized instead of emails whenever possible. Verbal clues and body language are incredibly important. Buyers also tend to be very cautious if and when they respond to emails. Emails should only be used to convey objective information and data. Selling is the ultimate “people business” and voice and/or personal contact will always be crucial for gauging where the seller stands on a given deal.

Closing a sale is much easier to accomplish with a solid feedback loop. All of the potential objections will have been addressed, and “asking for the order” becomes the next logical step. The best closers know that their feedback loop is more valuable than their initial presentation in making a sale. How’s yours?

How Disruptive is your Value Proposition?

Welcome to the age of massive disruption! “Business as usual” just isn’t–and being perceived as operating in that manner just isn’t good enough anymore. We should be offering value propositions that offer new approaches and solutions that will move our clients’ businesses forward. And if they win, we as salespeople win!

 

If you’re asking your clients to do the same old thing, then don’t expect any different results. To gain and maintain a healthy partnership with our clients, we should be thinking about what they’re thinking about–looking closely at their enterprises and figuring out how our products and services can bring positive and rewarding change to theirs. There’s nothing wrong with being “reliable” as long as we’re not being relied upon to be the same unimaginative “taker”–instead of an engaged and committed giver.

 

Being disruptive is not about being critical; it’s about helping to take our clients’ businesses to the next level. In our conversations, it’s “have you considered?” as opposed to “that sucks!” It’s being the consultant who has obviously done the necessary homework in order to put forth thoughtful and practical ideas that clients can incorporate into their operations. It’s the opportunity to become known as the person who always brings solid ideas and suggestions to every encounter with a given client. Smart and savvy business people welcome “positive disruptions” that will make them more efficient, productive and ultimately prosperous.

 

Clients want to do business with people who are looking forward not backward! There’s nothing worse than a sales call that rehashes past negative situations or makes apologies for lack of results. The client knew all that before we walked in the door! If problems have occurred, then we walk in with solutions that point the way forward. Each and every problem presents us with the opportunity to come up with a “disruptive” solution. If something didn’t work last time, is it really a good bet that it will work next time? Probably not…

 

Even though it may be your idea, make it theirs! Giving clients’ ownership of your offerings simply speeds up the journey to “Yes.” Once a client starts feeding back suggestions that you made in the first place, the potential for “conflict” has rapidly subsided. And don’t let your ego get in the way of making a sale–simply acknowledge the validity of the client’s point of view, and close the sale!

 

All of the above ought to be fun! If being disruptive sounds like a chore, then maybe you’re in the wrong line of work. Everyday, salespeople have the opportunity to be catalysts, fire starters, who put great ideas and solutions in motion. If you focus your energies on being that kind of salesperson, the world will beat a path to your door!

Special Delivery: Making your Value Propositions Stick!

A carefully crafted value proposition is of no value if the recipient doesn’t see the value! Far too often, we take the “Field of Dreams” approach that assumes that our prospective buyer will easily recognize the benefits of our proposal and act accordingly. This leads to a tendency to hold back when we present, for fear of insulting that person’s intelligence. “I’ve made this so obvious that they’re bound to get it, and make the desired commitment”—famous last words!

Think of your value proposition as the first draft of an agreement. If you can look at it that way, then it’s only natural to work toward getting buy-in on each and every aspect of your proposition. The only safe assumption is that your client doesn’t perceive what you’re proposing to be of compelling value. If you start from there, then the presentation becomes a process of building layer upon layer of agreement with your client about the contents of your value proposition.

The best way to find out if a client agrees with your proposition is to ask them! While that may sound incredibly simplistic, it’s absolutely true. For a variety of reasons, we as salespeople tend to “work around the edges” as opposed to asking direct questions about the validity of what we’re proposing. Not asking a direct question allows us to delude ourselves into thinking that the client is buying what we’re selling. That feels good, but can lead to a very uncomfortable outcome. Checking for understanding and agreement should be done in a tactful and professional manner—and by doing so we show that we salespeople really do care what our clients think!

A well-delivered value proposition stimulates a great conversation instead of a bad argument. The easiest way to avoid the latter is to not think about who’s “right” or who’s “wrong”. This is when the spirit of “give and take” should be top of mind. Sometimes we act like a defense attorney delivering his/her closing remarks in a jury trial, railing on and on about the rightness of our case. In sales, we can be absolutely “right” and have nothing material to show for it. Most sales managers are more concerned about how many orders we’ve written as opposed to how many arguments we’ve won…

Success happens when your value proposition becomes your client’s value proposition. The goal of your presentation is “transfer of ownership” of the proposal from you to your customer. There will be a discernible change in their choice of words when that “golden moment” occurs. Listen for it! As soon as you hear it, start talking about it, recognizing that the proposal has a new happy home! Now we begin to reinforce the idea that our buyer has made the right decision. And don’t be offended if your client makes it sounds as if your proposal was their idea—that really was the original goal, right?

Transmitting Value: Reduce the Noise, Turn up the Signal!

Great value propositions need to be transmitted as clearly as possible. How many times have our best pitches gotten lost in the process of being conveyed to the customer? To understand why that happens, we need to understand the difference between “signal” and “noise.” Everything that we convey is either one or the other–a zero sum game. Therefore, we can also establish “ratios” on signal to noise for every message that we send. Achieving a consistently high “signal to noise” ratio is the name of the game…

“Signal” is the pure essence of the message, “noise” is everything else. Far too often, we assume that the recipient can figure out which is which–big mistake. In a world where everyone is constantly bombarded with messages, and coping with “information overload”, it’s only natural for almost anyone to tune out as much noise as possible. Getting a clean signal through that environment is a task that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Customers get a lot of noise from a lot of sources on a regular basis.

A signal is relatively short, while noise is excessively long. That makes sense, right? But guess what? By definition, most of our messages are way too lengthy, thereby allowing them to be mistaken for noise. Think about how you react to a short voice mail as opposed to a long one. The same applies to emails. This is especially true when the sender is someone that we don’t know very well. Sometimes, we almost have a knee jerk reaction to lengthy messages…that puts them in the “noise file” without even listening or reading them.

A signal prompts someone to take specific action, while noise simply does not. Think about an NFL quarterback about to snap the ball. A fair amount of what you hear is “noise” just to distract the defense–but the teammates are listening for the actual signals that will define the upcoming play. We are all conditioned to listen and look for signals. It can be as simple as a traffic light or an oven timer or an alarm clock–all signals that we know and hopefully respect. Your value proposition should be transmitted in a “signal” fashion too.

If we don’t send a clear signal, we have no reason to be disappointed with the lack of desired results. As salespeople, we often blame our customers/clients for not taking the action or making the decision that seems “obvious” to us. Next time that happens to you, take a moment to ask your customer/client if he/she had a clear idea about what you were trying to convey. It’s a fair bet that you’ll find that there was some “confusion” that came into play. “Noise” causes confusion. If your customer/client says that they had a clear understanding of your message, and chose to do otherwise, then you can move on to having a dialogue about what terms and conditions still need to be addressed. So asking the question about the quality of your signal will give you useful information no matter what the response from your customer/client.

Work on enhancing your signals with your team members before you transmit them to your customers and clients. Those dry runs will help clarify and refine with no downside risk. Once you’re engaged in the actual process, there’s no second chance. So do whatever it takes to get that critical signal right the first time. You’ve worked hard on your value proposition, give it the launch that it rightly deserves!

Being Analog in a Digital World

It’s been said that anything that can be made digital will be or has been made digital.  For the most part, we agree and support that effort.  Reducing as many mundane tasks to a process of switching between one’s and zero’s is changing almost every aspect of life as we know it.  A funny thing happened on the way to our digital utopia though–we somehow assumed that “analog”, digital’s predecessor, was no longer relevant or needed.  We kicked analog to the curb.  LP records are the poster children of analog.  Almost overnight, those vinyl discs became “obsolete”.   The dirty little secret that any audiophile will gladly share with you, is the fact that LP (analog) records render greater fidelity than digital recordings of the same performance!  Perhaps a cautionary tale that should extend to our regard for other recent relics of the analog age.

The telephone (analog) is alive and well…sort of.  It’s still in the game until you get connected to a digital menu of  “choices” as opposed to a human being.  Something we now call a “phone tree”.  The branches on these trees seem endless–until you find a way to speak to a person or at least what you assume to be a person.  A “digitized” voice?  They work a lot cheaper and don’t take coffee breaks.  So it’s somewhat odd that the digital world tries to offer us facsimiles from the analog world.  See?  It’s almost like being there!  Other examples are obvious, but you get the point…

Analog tends to align with authenticity, and digital seems to match up better with efficiency.  Both authenticity and efficiency are important to us.  When you order off the menu, you expect to eat the entree as described and not to have to wait two hours to be served.  So both criteria go into defining your dining experience.  Which one is more important?  Who cares?  They both are.  What scares most people, and rightly so, is when they encounter situations that are driven completely by efficiency with no regard for any authenticity at the same time.  Railing against the machine.  Nothing new but certainly something far too commonplace now.

We should all take the pledge to be both digital and analog in our daily lives.  Never mistake one for the other, and never ignore one or the other.  A truly full life is defined by a commitment to both!

What Most of Us Believe…

You’ve probably noticed by now that there’s a Presidential campaign in full swing and that come November, we’ll either send Barack Obama back for a second term or give Mitt Romney his first one.  The experts think it will be a close one.  The experts think that most people have already made up their minds and that the undecided “middle” is shrinking by the day.  While that analysis may or may not be true, there are some truisms that both candidates ought to openly respect as they move toward the November finish line.  My guess is that the candidate who does this better than his opponent will be inaugurated next January,

  • Most of us believe in the virtue of hard work.
  • Most of us believe that teaching a man to fish is better than giving him a fish.
  • Most of us believe that our actions have consequences that match our actions.
  • Most of us believe that our children deserve a better world than the one we’re currently living in.
  • Most of us believe that with all of its flaws and failures,  the USA is still mankind’s best hope for freedom.

Those aren’t necessarily Democratic or Republican beliefs.  They are widely held beliefs.  For many of us they look and feel like common sense.  We don’t think that they need much explanation.  And we really get annoyed when politicians pander to these beliefs but fail to live up to them.  Yes, our two parties have competing political “philosophies”.  That’s the nature of the system.  That said, there still needs to be some glue that holds the whole thing together–I offer these widely held beliefs, which transcend political affiliations, as that adhesive.

We’re never going to have another Civil War.  Yet we are supposedly a nation divided.  Ordinary hard working citizens are being asked to choose sides.  Meanwhile, the average person’s quest for the American dream continues unabated.  We’re not ignorant people waiting for someone to tell us what to do or what to believe.  Most Americans of all colors, creeds, education levels, etc. have an amazing ability to think for themselves and reach their own conclusions.  This is not a country of either blue sheep or red sheep.  Typically, individuals have different positions on different issues that tend to blur any party affiliation.  I think that the filter that makes that happen is the beliefs listed in this blog.  Those are the “smell tests” that we tend to apply to any proposed program or legislation.  We really are smarter than many of our elected officials think we are.

So to any politician that may ever read this, take heed.  What most of us believe should matter to you more than what you may believe about us!