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!