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!

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!

Why We Must Collaborate

Rugged individualism.  It is one of the least challenged cornerstones of the American story.  That a country full of self-reliant, hard working, risk taking people folk built the good old U.S.A.  Is there any truth to this hallowed notion?  Of course there is–but it simply cannot serve as the singular dominant motif  for the building of this great nation.  Along the way, a lot of people had to work together to get big things done, with or without the government playing a role in the process.  A rugged individualist never raised a barn by himself or harnessed the awesome power of the Colorado River to bring water and power to the desert.    Why is it important to put this perennial myth in its proper perspective?  Because there are those among us who honestly believe that it should be “every man for himself” at a time when such a notion is completely counterproductive for the challenges that we face.

In case you think I’m about to advocate big government as the cure for all our ills, not so fast.  While government certainly has an important role to play, I am advocating a spirit of collaboration that transcends both the public and private sector.  It’s a spirit that says “we can do this together.”  It’s about not just being your brother’s keeper, but being your brother’s team mate.  It’s about that barn raising, that bake sale, all those things we used to do as a matter of course for the common good.  I live in a part of the country where volunteer fire departments are still the norm–and the men and women who staff them do so for no compensation, other than the tremendous reward of working together to protect the homes and shops of their neighbors.

If you look carefully at the high tech revolution, you will see numerous companies that were built from the ground up through collaboration.  While Steve Jobs certainly led Apple, he openly admitted and proudly so, that he had the best collaborators in the business.  People who come together to achieve a common goal, working selflessly and passionately in the process.  We know that collaboration works, but how many of our so-called leaders reflect that in their own public behavior?  Would anyone be so bold as to say that Washington DC is engaged in collaboration?  Everywhere we turn, it looks as if folks are choosing up sides on one issue or another.  Didn’t the Civil War teach us anything?

Our problems are too big and too complex now for anyone to think that they can succeed on their own.  Everybody needs somebody.  We simply must work together, allowing our differences to exist, but not to paralyze us.  There’s simply too much at stake, and too many prior generations of collaborators that would be betrayed in the process.  Dr. King once said, “we may have come here in different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”  And it’s high time that we collaborate to keep this boat afloat and on course to that not so distant shore!