Brain-food for a New Year

holly-sprigHere’s wishing you a happy and healthy festive break and a successful 2017.

As you will soon be thinking about winding down for a well-earned break at Christmas we thought we would provide some food for thought some of which might help you hit the ground running as soon as the new business year starts.

Following are a range of business tips, many focused on sales and marketing, which we hope might help you and your business.  Some are based on topics we have previously covered while others will be expanded in future newsletters throughout 2017.

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Most businesses are doing well these days but it is unusual to find one that doesn’t want to do even better.  If this is you, why not do something different or try doing the same thing differently?  Try something counter intuitive; what is there to lose if what you have been doing isn’t working as well as it did …

to keep doing it hoping for a different outcome was defined by Albert Einstein as insanity.

Has someone “moved your cheese”?

The question relates to the idea put forward in Dr Spencer Johnson’s book “Who Moved My Cheese?” that the source of whatever feeds you (in business; customers and new opportunities) may dry up at some point.  The book draws a parallel between the fruitlessness of continually returning to the now shrinking source and the alternative proactive approach of going out and looking for new sources.  If you have all the business you need to grow to plan don’t give this a second thought, but if new business has been tight in 2016 perhaps you need to look somewhere new.  Read more here

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Why wouldn’t you respond to RFI/RFPs?

If they come from/via a known source, a prospect you have been working with for some time or an established customer, you might choose to respond as you have enough information to assess the risk of losing.  But, if it has come from a company that you barely know the received wisdom suggests your chance of winning is 1:20 or even worse so I recommend you invest your time elsewhere.

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Do you have customers or clients – does it matter?

Many businesses use the word client in the misguided belief that it adds some sort of professional gloss to their image through an implied association with the real professions such as the law. The problem is that client relationships are typically infrequent or transactional being built around specific event(s).  In our view using the term client may say the wrong thing about your brand image and what your business stands for.

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How do your Account Managers stack up as Hunters?

A common model these days is account managers who manage and “farm” established customers while hunters take care of new business; a good model that I have seen work well in many companies but there is one potential big weakness.  Your customer is, in the eyes of your competitors, a new business opportunity so their hunters will be trying to steal “your” customer.  The risk for you is that if your account managers use a “passive/re-active” style to manage the customer they are matched against a hunter who will be assertive/pro-active.  This is not a fair fight so you need to ensure your farmers also know how to hunt. Read more

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Empathy

We all understand this word but not everyone considers it when planning how to engage with a prospect or to maintain a continuing relationship with a customer.  Simplistically; you must communicate with your prospects and customers in a manner they can understand. Discover more here

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Cold is not the same as unsolicited

There is a lot of negative chat these days about cold calling and while some of it is justified it is a mistake to confuse cold and unsolicited.  Every time you approach someone for the first time it is unsolicited – fact!  I see a dangerous trend these days that people are so fearful of being seen as one of those horrible cold callers or spammers they have backed off completely from all forms of proactive one-to-one communication with prospective customers.  So how are you going to find new customers? The key is to ensure your unsolicited communications are warm not cold. More on cold calling here

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Warm up your calls and other first touch points

How do you feel when you receive a call from someone you don’t know, offering something you either don’t need or have already got?  To earn time for a conversation why not use the wealth of data publicly available to learn about your prospect, their business, the problems they may have, the problems in their business sector, etc., etc.  Take that data, process it into useful information and use that to empower your contact strategy – ask pertinent questions so you can talk about the benefits and value they will gain from the solution, rather than the products and services you provide.

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How reliable is your sales pipeline as a source of forecasting information?

If 2016 has been littered with delayed decisions and prospects disappearing off the radar you may gain value from reading this article.  The key message is that you need to put in the work to qualify your prospects and to quantify the opportunities before you can use the sales pipeline as a source of reliable forecasting information.

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AIDA – attention, interest, desire, action

The oldest documented sales and selling philosophy but as true today as it was when first published almost 120 years ago.  The sequence is key and all too often these days’ sales people assume because they are in a meeting with a suspect that they have achieved AID so they focus on action; shall I do a proposal, would you like a quote or demonstration?  The sales person may be ready to do these things, and the other party will probably agree as it is free information for them, but until the suspect has been developed into a true prospect free consultancy such as proposals will almost certainly be a waste of effort as you may have their Attention but you are mistaking courtesy for Interest and Desire.

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Sales proposals – a good or bad thing?

Assuming you have arrived at the right point in the cycle and there is genuine interest and desire then a proposal may be a good thing provided you use it in the right way.  A proposal should only ever document and confirm what has already been discussed and ideally acknowledged and accepted by the prospect. A proposal can be a very dangerous thing if it contains information, conditions, costs, etc., that the prospect was previously unaware of.  Think about it; you inform the prospect there is a delivery and installation charge calculated at 10% of the selling price, but you are not there to see the response, justify the extra cost or deal with the inevitable objection!

Read more …

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RAF

No not our wonderful air force but a mnemonic for the way sales engagement should be pursued – Ready, Aim, Fire.  Sadly, all too often what I observe is; fire, aim, ready.  The sales person feels good because they are doing something but doing the wrong thing or in the wrong order is worse than doing nothing at all.

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Questions – our most powerful communication tool

Many sales people think it is their role to talk so they can tell the prospect how great their product or service is.  Problem is, while you are talking you are not learning and the most important thing for you is to learn about; your prospect, their challenges and above all what you need to offer them in a solution that they will buy.

    1. Ask open questions, listen carefully and empathetically, ask your next question based on what you heard not what you had written down before the meeting or call and continue the cycle until you have all the information you need.
    2. Ensure you ask questions appropriate to the engagement stage.  While it is perfectly reasonable to ask, for example, about the performance impact the prospect is suffering due to using old equipment, it may be seen as impertinent if you ask this at the first meeting.  Questions should be structured and layered so you build up a complete picture over successive conversations.
    3. Asking the right sort of questions is a demonstration of your knowledge, e.g. “How often do you have to close the warehouse to allow maintenance of the high bay lights?”  This says you understand a small part of their world and when they answer you can assume you have moved a little closer to them trusting and respecting you.
    4. Don’t answer unasked questions. “Your price is too high” is frequently heard but it is not a question so don’t answer it and definitely don’t defend or justify your position.   Instead ask a question – “How much of an issue is that for you” and once answered “Will this stop you doing business with us?” For more on this take a look at this article.

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Polite persistence

A term used in the film Door to Door which is one of the greatest lessons in effective sales and account management techniques I have ever seen.  It is common that suspects and prospects will say no or, just ignore you, innumerable times so how can you keep calling without offending?  Two things; make every attempt to connect different from the last so the prospect keeps seeing/hearing something new, and always be positive and polite hiding your impatience or disappointment.

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Process matters

Being systematic is the best way to gain a predictable outcome.  I have often heard it said that sales people won’t follow a process; they are free ranging, creative people who want to do their own thing. Don’t kid yourself, the best sales people have their own process running in their heads like a background computer program and if they refuse to follow the company process it is because theirs is better.  Find out how your most successful people work and build that into your process for all to follow.

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Never finish a step in your process without agreeing at least one more with your prospect

When a sales person tells me about the great meeting they had with a prospect that then becomes un-contactable, it triggers two thoughts:

    1. They think they have a prospect but the other party probably doesn’t see themselves that way so they have no reason to respond to the sales person.
    2. At the end of the meeting the sales person should have agreed explicitly with the prospect what will happen next and ensure the prospect puts this in their calendar.  At this point some will decline to agree the next event date which is a good indication that they are not a real prospect. This is an example of a technique known as the trial close.

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The trial close

A very effective classic sales technique that is little used these days. Simplistically the technique involves asking the prospect, at logical points in the engagement cycle, whether they are ready to go ahead and purchase from you.  If they say no then it triggers “why not?” and the answer will give you early insight to the reasons or objections the prospect might have that will stop them buying from you. Knowing early enables you to more effectively deal with the objections and a better chance of winning the deal. Give it a go; what can you lose?

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Get your competitors to help your prospecting

In the majority of cases your prospects are someone else’s customers so part of your prospecting run must involve exploring why your prospect may be dissatisfied with what they are already getting, what they might like in addition and what needs to happen for them to change supplier.  So, rather than knock your competition, ensure you highlight all of your strengths and in particular those that trump the incumbent suppliers weaknesses.  All is fair in love and war!

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Product, Service or solution?

Whether what you are selling is a product, a service or a blend of the two you need to present it in terms of the solution it delivers.  You need to help the prospect or customer visualise what they will gain from trading with you. Read more here.

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People

The crucial component in all aspects of business performance and in particular customer facing roles such as sales and account management.  Here is a very brief introduction to four crucial aspects of people performance.  We have written much about this in the past so there is plenty more for you to read if you wish.

    1. Recruitment.  Recruit only the people that meet the criteria for the job. Do not take the best of the bunch as if they are not really right for you, you are simply storing up a problem you will have to solve further down the line. Making this mistake in sales can be very costly both in direct expenditure and worse still lost opportunity.
    2. On-boarding and induction.  You have put in the effort and recruited the right person but they are still “raw material” for your business and unless you invest time helping them to get established it could take them months to get on top of everything they need to do the job effectively.  Each case will be different but they need to understand exactly how you do things; methods, processes and who to ask for help.  Just like recruiting the wrong person failure to induct properly is another great way to waste time and money.
    3. Training.  Sorry you are still not finished. Unless you were extremely lucky and managed to recruit someone who knows how to sell in exactly the way you want it done you will have to train them in your sales and selling techniques and this needs to be done in the context of your methods and processes so you should consider in-house or bespoke training in preference to a public course.
    4. Coaching.  Nope, still not finished.  There is a body of evidence that to perform at consistent peak levels most sales people need regular coaching and this is a primary responsibility for whoever manages the sales people.  The good news is this is one of those things where a relatively small investment produces a very high return. If a sales person produces say 85% of their target they have already covered all their costs and delivered a contribution to the bottom line and anything above that 85% will be very profitable as the CoS is effectively zero.

sales people who receive as little as four hours regular structured coaching per month outperform those who do not by 17% on their sales targetssource: Sales Excellence Council 2007

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Technology enables sales people to be more effective

Possibly but; it is a mistake to make the assumption that deploying technology will automatically deliver effectiveness or even efficiency.  If the sales people spend a day a week populating the CRM is that really a good use of time?  Do they actually sell 20% more by spending a day a week in this way?

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Price, cost and value

News just came in that the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix is to cease in 2018 due to poor attendances (40% of capacity) and the reason cited is ticket prices but as they were pretty much the lowest of the 21 races in 2016 and had been stable for a couple of years is that really the reason?  Many of us who follow the sport are becoming disillusioned by what is now very poor entertainment.  So; is it not the price that turned Malaysian fans off or is it the value, or lack of, they gain from the experience?  The price is what you pay, the cost is the price plus all other expenses required to use the purchase and the value is what you get – make sure your customers are VERY clear on the value they will gain by buying from you.

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Managing Objections

The typical approach to objections is to wait until they happen and then react which generally puts the seller on the back-foot. Managing objections is about being pro-active and pre-emptive; raising the issues, before the prospect does, by answering the questions they have yet to ask.  All businesses have a set of common objections so you should use these to build standard rebuttals that the sales people can use pre-emptively.

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Social media and its role in sales engagement

Many claims are made for the role of social media in sales and I even see the term “social selling” being used.  I will make just two observations on this and leave you to mull over whether your use of social media in sales is likely to work.  Firstly, while social media is clearly a useful marketing tool, can it really be considered to be a selling tool?  Secondly, because of the nature of social media is it possible your sales people have slipped into the mode of broadcasting a message then sitting back waiting for the answer – this is what we call a passive reactor approach and it is dangerous as your competitors who are proactive hunters will have eaten your lunch before you even knew a meal was being served.  There is a time and place to broadcast a message but this can only ever be a marketing activity not selling.

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Cut your cloth … (to suit your ideal customers and your individual customers)

When promoting or selling what you do it is important to address the question the potential buyer will have in the back of their mind “what is in it for me?”  There is no point telling them about your features as that just tells them about you; you need to tailor your messages for their ears so they can fully understand the value they will gain if they buy from you.

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Is there a difference between selling products and services?

This is a question often asked as people look for ways to refine and perfect the way they go to market.  Answering this question is made more complex by the large range of marketing and sales options that people can draw upon.  However, the fundamentals have not really changed; the proliferation of options has just made it harder to see those fundamentals.

While having multiple marketing and sales options is a key factor complicating the answer so is the use of the terms; product and service and also the now common use of the term solution.  Before you decide how you should approach selling what you offer, you must first decide whether what your offer is really a product, a service or a solution.

In answering the question will also provide input to both the strategy and the tactics to be deployed in pursuit of new customers and for growth of established customers.

Product, service or solution?

Although there is a lot of debate around these terms understanding the differences is generally quite straight forward.

  • A product is tangible so it has a specification that describes its capabilities and limitations.  So when you, for example, buy a; car, photocopier, washing machine or accounting package you can compare your needs to the specifications to inform your decision making process.  For the sales person, the specification provides a framework for exploring the needs of the potential buyer as well as a mechanism for describing how well the product fits the buyer’s requirement.
  • A service is intangible but it has a specification that is flexible with the final scope being determined through agreement between supplier and buyer.  The specification will have limitations either because resources are finite or because the supplier has limitations.  For example; a company selling hosted cloud services may only have the capacity to manage projects involving user communities up to 200 so the scope will include a size component.  Similarly; a commercial window cleaning company may limit itself to two story buildings so will not be trying for business to clean the outside windows of a skyscraper.
  • So, what is a solution?  This is one of those questions where if you ask 10 people you will probably get 11 answers.  A solution will often combine products and services but the core differentiator is that a solution provider takes away the problem and delivers back the desired outcome.

Take for example where a business needs some contract labour that they bring in and manage, then the provision of the labour is a service and some might argue the people providing the labour are in effect a product as they come with a specification in the form of their skill profiles and capabilities.  If however the supplier accepted the responsibility for delivery of the desired outcome, within an agreed timescale and to an agreed budget, then an [outsourced] solution is being provided as not only is the supplier providing the labour they are also managing the project to deliver the required result through the use of that labour.

I characterise this as the customer exporting the problem, thus transferring risk and controlling cost,  and re-importing the solution; the authority and responsibility for delivering the desired outcome rests with the supplier.  If that responsibility is on the customer side of the relationship then they are buying a service.

Summary example for a customer looking for cost effective business travel for frequent point to point carrying of samples/equipment.

Options:

  1. Buy Product = buy cars – maintenance costs variable
  2. Buy Service = rent* or lease cars – maintenance costs controlled, admin costs variable
  3. Buy Solution = use taxis* or outsource fleet management – maintenance and admin costs controlled

* Car rental or taxis would be effective for intermittent usage, lease and fleet for frequent/high utilisation

Presenting these three main categories of proposition is probably more of a challenge for the marketing function than it is for those doing the selling.  Once the sales process has commenced there is one-on-one engagement between seller and buyer and hence differences in propositions can be discussed and explained and questions from the buyer can be answered.  For the marketing function explaining the proposition in a one way communication is much harder and it requires good anticipation as to what problems the customer might have so a real understanding of the market is essential.

So what is different when selling products or services?

My high level answer to this question is that there are, or should be, no real differences.  But, the question deserves an answer:

The key difference in the way people approach selling can be found in the fact that; products are made and then sold whereas services are sold then made.

The product is made in the privacy of the suppliers’ environment whereas the service is ‘made’ in the public gaze of the customers’ environment.  A solution on the other hand is more like a Bake-off challenge; the target is defined and the result subsequently appears for judging.

Products have a finite specification and the capabilities and limitations are known and can be demonstrated before a sale is made.  A service can in effect have an infinite, or least very flexible, specification limited mainly by the available resources and capabilities which makes their demonstration more difficult.  A Service Level Agreement is often created to define the boundaries and expected behaviours for a service.

To sell a product you only have to demonstrate what it is, but with a service you have to demonstrate what might be which is a quite different challenge.  All forms of selling require the establishment of trust; the greater the intangibility the more the selling challenge involves the creation of trust without direct proof.

Good effective selling techniques can be characterised by a few key building blocks and all apply whatever you are selling:

  • Bear in mind that whether you think you are selling a product, service or solution, the customer is in effect buying the same thing; a means to achieve a result.
  • Ask don’t tell. No matter how much you know about the customer’s industry or their individual business to try to tell them the answers without agreeing on the question is just arrogant.
  • Use questions to explore and understand the specific concepts the buyer is wrestling with. Once you know what they need to achieve you can start to talk about the features of what you do in the context of their specific vision and you can begin the process of explaining the potential benefits they might gain from working with you.

If the sales person talks about features before understanding the buyer’s needs they gain no value from you being in the room; they might just as well read a brochure.  To illustrate how ineffective this will be, consider a couple of ‘comical’ terms used to describe this behaviour ‘features dump’ and ‘spray and pray’ – both put the onus on the buyer to ‘get it’ and then buy it but there is a very good chance they won’t do either.

  • Use questions to demonstrate that you understand the types of issue they might have, for instance a simple question “What impact has xxx had on your yyy?” portrays an immediate image of someone who really understands their world and the issues they have to deal with. This will trigger a process of mutual needs definition – using the question posed above you will get one of two answers; “the problems it has given us are …” or; “no that isn’t an issue for us but …”.   Either way you have acquired information that you can use to progress the exploration of their needs and the demonstration that you have the answers.
  • Use questions to educate prospects into what might be e.g. “Have you considered what you will need to do when the new xxx comes in?”. They may not have been aware of the requirement/technology/… or may not have thought how it would apply to them yet so you are helping them through your wider sector knowledge.
  • All selling activity requires the establishment of trust and in the case of a product this is potentially easier as features can be demonstrated whereas in the case of a service the features will only become tangible once delivery has commenced. However whether a product or a service the buyer is still undertaking a leap of faith that the supplier will deliver so will require the same amount of re-assurance from the seller. People selling products often underestimate the need to build trust relying too heavily on features as the main selling tool.

In summary, the key to effective selling is to recognise that you are only facilitating the buyer in their understanding of the problem, the potential means of resolution and your ability to deliver it.  You must treat all sales situations; product, service or solution, as a process of discovery, building trust and a demonstration of your capability to deliver.  Demonstrate your knowledge but don’t show off, and make it clear what it will be like for the customer to work with you if they choose you as their supplier.

One final thought; all product is likely to have an element of service e.g. delivery time, packaging integrity, order completeness, reliability, help-line performance, etc and this enveloping service may be the differentiator between you and the competition – so you need to understand how this may impact on the customer’s choice of supplier.  This service may only be required for a short period of time between order placement and commissioning of the product but don’t under-estimate its value in differentiating you from your competition.

Are you vertical, horizontal, or something else?

In the book “The Discipline of Market Leaders”, written just over 20 years ago by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema where they looked at competitive business strategies, the overarching conclusion was that a business needed to;

Choose your Customers, Narrow your focus and then Dominate your market.

A key reason for doing this is to make best use of your sales and marketing resources.  This requires a focus around a well-defined market or in most cases a logical subset of the wider market.  Deciding how best to do this is a common topic of debate with our customers and the most common dimensions considered are; vertical, horizontal, geographic and e-location.

Vertical refers to a market consisting of businesses in a particular sector where the product or service addresses issues particular to that type of business; insurance brokers, engineers, logistics companies, etc.

Horizontal applies to a market where the product or service satisfies a need that is common across a wide range of businesses regardless of sector.  For example; a software product that produces invoices, calculates vat and automatically produces the vat return would be of interest to any business.

Geographic; this model is common with; taxi companies, decorators, service engineers and in fact any business that needs to travel to get to and service its customers.  This is also a very common model with bricks and mortar retailers who know they need a physical presence in the locations where their customers will want to shop.

e-location; the arrival of the on-line environment has to some extent removed the need for a geographic dimension but the vertical and horizontal dimensions are in many cases even more important.  It is now all too easy for someone to ‘wander by’ your website; just browsing, and in the process they may trigger you to respond but if your on-line presence is too general many enquiries could be a waste of time for you.

These dimensions are important when you are planning how and where to focus your outbound sales and marketing effort but they are also important, as mentioned under “e-location”, to focus the nature and volume of in-bound enquiries that you receive.

Blending various combinations of the four dimensions is also common and this can help to further refine the focus of your efforts and a typical mix will see a geographic component with one of the others.  There are also many other parameters that can be used to further refine a target market including; business size, private rather than publicly quoted and demographics such as age, lifestyle and interests.

Matching your market strategy to your product/service

Defining a business’ marketing strategy as being ‘vertically focused’ has become very popular in recent years.  If you do actually have a vertical offering and you adopt a vertical go-to-market strategy then you and your customers will benefit hugely.  However, I see various companies that have adopted a vertical go-to-market strategy when their product or service actually provides a horizontal proposition.

I recall an example of a company that provided IT support services that considered itself to have a vertical offering for the utilities sector.  It is true that around 40% of revenue did come from contracts with utility companies and this spurred them on to approach other utility companies with the message “we are a supplier to the utility sector”.  As a result they gained an appointment with the CIO of a large electricity company and during the meeting he asked the supplier what they knew about smart metering systems.  The answer was actually very little.

It is said that perception is truth.  The CIO believed that someone claiming to have utilities experience would know about the business issues specific to a utility whereas the supplier only knew about the technical issues of the IT systems.

This example illustrates very well that doing a lot of work in a particular vertical market does not mean you have a vertical offering.

The experience the supplier had with that CIO proved to be invaluable as they re-evaluated their offering and realised they had a horizontal proposition.  Their knowledge and expertise was focused on the IT issues around processing very large volumes of batch data; they had developed experience in tuning systems to optimise performance.  Their market focus thus became any company needing to process large volumes of data; utilities, insurance companies, membership organisations and many others.

Points to consider when deciding on your go-to-market strategy

  • If your products or services directly address specific business issues of companies in a vertical sector then you have a vertical offering.  If your offering solves issues of; infrastructure, processes, systems or methods that are common in many different types of businesses, what you have is a horizontal offering.

Once you have a clear view of your proposition measured against the two dimensions of vertical and horizontal you can now overlay other parameters such as location or company size to further refine the definition of your preferred target market.

The above will feed into creating appropriate sales and marketing messages specifically aimed at your target market.  The messages can be accurately framed to appeal to the needs of your target customers and specific individuals with relevant responsibilities; financial director, production manager, HR manager, quality manager, etc.

  • Next to consider is how your proposition addresses the question “why you?”  Unless you have something truly unique your prospective customers will be able to buy it somewhere else so why would they choose you?  Although propositions are rarely unique the way a company delivers it may be and hence the ‘how’ will provide fertile ground for creating your unique proposition.

Incidentally, not many prospects will actually ask “why you” but naturally they will be thinking it so you need to ensure your sales and marketing messages proactively answer this question.

  • The previous points  help you to build a profile of the industries, business sectors and specific companies that are most likely to be interested in what you provide which in turn enables you to better focus your sales and marketing efforts.  However; what you have so far is a well formed but possibly ill informed picture as you have formulated your opinions primarily from internal reference points.

Before you can consider this part of the job as finished you need to take account of what your potential customers might think.  Unless you do this there is a risk you will be telling your prospects what you want them to hear rather than what they need to know.

To ensure you have a complete picture you need to gather external inputs from customers past and present plus a range of external stakeholders such as; your suppliers, relevant trade bodies and publications, government legislation, general media commentary and if justified specific market research.

  • The final task is the process of deciding which routes to market you will use and how they will blend together to form a complete go-to-market solution.  The previous steps will provide valuable inputs to the decisions that need to be made on the routes to market and how the mix should work to satisfy your needs for new business generation.  During the conversation with past and present customers you should ask how they actually found you and their preferences in terms of marketing environments they prefer to use when looking for products or services such as yours.

None of this is especially difficult but it can be time consuming which can be frustrating when all you want to do is get out there and make some more sales.  However, you will find this structured approach will pay you back handsomely as the key result is to make your sales, selling and marketing effort more focused which in turn will give better return in terms of conversion ratios leading to more orders won and therefore more revenue to bank.

 

How Much?

How do you handle questions like this?

How Much?There are four key factors to consider when responding to this basic question, no matter how it is phrased; when, what, who and why. When (in the buying cycle) is the question being asked, exactly what (price, cost or something else) is being asked, who (their role in the decision making process) is asking and why are they asking.

When – if you sell a simple product and the transaction is typically concluded in a single meeting or call then it is reasonable that the money question is raised and you need to address it then or commit to provide an answer soon after the meeting. However, if what you sell is more complex involving; a number of meetings with different people, requirements investigation, production of a specification, presentations and proposals then answering something like “how much” in one of the early meetings is not realistic and should be avoided.

Tip one – “How much?” is a classic tactic used by someone who is looking for an early opportunity to terminate a sales prospecting conversation – don’t rise to the bait; politely park the question to be dealt with later.

Tip two – Your sales process should include specific stages when it is appropriate to handle the money question and you should use this to manage the interaction with the prospect.

Tip three – don’t feel you have to wait to be asked about money; when the time is right you raise it.

What exactly is being asked? “How much” is a catch-all phrase that could include; what is the price, what is the cost, what is the monthly rental or lease fee, or something else. It is important that you know exactly what you are being asked before you answer otherwise you could create a misunderstanding that could in turn lead to you being eliminated as a potential supplier before you have the opportunity to fully explain what you have to offer.

Note to self. “How much …?” If the answer you give is your price, you’ve immediately transformed the conversation into a pricing discussion missing the opportunity to talk about cost and more importantly value and benefits. Price is only one component of the cost.

One other important factor to consider is whether the prospect is asking the right question. For example; if they are considering a purchase of low energy industrial lighting the price is one important factor but as it will be recouped several times over during the life of the installation, as a result of the savings in energy costs, knowing exactly what will be saved is even more important than knowing the price

Note to self. Decision making should consider the total cost of acquisition (all the elements required to become the owner), total cost of ownership (all the elements required to use what has been purchased e.g. fuel for a car) and risk; the risk of going with a new supplier, the risk of staying with the existing supplier and the risk of starting/continuing to do it themselves.   A brave supplier will raise the risk arguments so they are debated in the open; if you do not you are leaving the prospect to give themselves sleepless nights on their own and unchallenged.

Tip one – use your own questions to ensure you know exactly what is being asked of you before attempting an answer.

Tip two – if you feel you are being asked the wrong or an incomplete question say so. Don’t be afraid to gently challenge with something like “Of course we can let you know the fully fitted price once we have done the lighting survey and we will provide a breakdown of how much you will save through lower energy usage as well”. You have achieved several things here; you have delayed answering the question until you are ready, you have brought in the topic of energy saving that they may not fully appreciate and you have planted a seed with “fully fitted price” which will leave them wondering whether your competitor may charge extra for fitting. Always nice to plant a small landmine for your competitors.

Who is asking? If you are sitting with the sole decision maker then they are the right person to be having the conversation about money. You still need to judge whether they are asking the right question at the right time but they are the appropriate person to be asking you the question so you need to deal with it.

If you are selling a complex proposition where the buying process will involve multiple steps, a decision making process consisting of several stages and a decision making unit (DMU) consisting of several people from different disciplines, then who is asking the question becomes very important. Within the DMU you may find; budget holders, decision makers, influencers, users and others and each could be seeking different information when they ask “how much?” Consider the low energy lighting example; the engineering director will be interested to know whether there will be an installation and on-going cost implication for his maintenance function while the FD will be more focused on the overall RoI so will look at energy savings as well as installation and maintenance costs. The FD will also be interested in funding options as he will have reasons to consider both capital and expense options.

Tip one – your sales approach should include a process to profile all members of the DMU to help your sales people identify what is most likely to interest and motivate each person in the DMU. Having the relevant information to present to each person will increase your credibility and their appreciation for the role you might play in solving their current business issue.

Tip two – if, for example, you are sitting with the FD you can explore what financial information they will want and in what format and also how they will finance the purchase. If you feel they have not considered something important such as maintenance costs, politely suggest they should consider this – “would it also be useful for us to provide a comparison between current and future maintenance costs?

Tip three – although all members of the DMU are important there will typically be one or two who have the power and authority to sway the decision – make sure you know them and that you have done everything you can to satisfy their needs and wants.

Why are they asking? The obvious answer is that they want to know! But why do they want to know? There are many answers to the question and understanding this is a key aspect of competitive strategy and objection management. The important thing is to ensure you know exactly why they are asking before you provide the answer and combining this with the understanding gained from exploring when, what and who will put you in a powerful position to give the prospect exactly what they need and gain you an order for new business.

Tip one – during the early stages of your sales engagement process explore the prospect’s decision making approach to gain an understanding of how money will feature in the decision. This will enable you to pre-empt potential objections about price or cost by ensuring what you are offering delivers value and a demonstrable return not just a bill.

Tip two – whatever the question, always explore why (reasoning, hidden agenda, …) before answering it.

Additional thoughts

Ask yourself and the prospect if they have considered “The cost of doing nothing?”, as doing nothing is the most common outcome to a sales negotiation in some business sectors you should explore whether the prospect has given due consideration to the cost of doing nothing. Doing this at an early stage will help to avoid protracted negotiations that ultimately go nowhere and it can also provide you with the information on imperatives, timescales, etc., to help you guide the situation towards a successful conclusion.

We help you save …” is a powerful conversation piece because it focuses on improvement (customer satisfaction, productivity, lower expenses, higher quality, etc.) and savings are forever not just at the point of purchase. The discussion changes from what they have to spend to what return they can get from the expenditure.

We help you make more money” is even more powerful as most organisations are hungry to increase revenue and profits. If, for example, your solution reduces waste or speeds up production this will help your customer make more money.

Warning – if your answer to “How much …?” triggers the retort; “that’s more than XYZ company” it is a sure sign you have failed to establish the value argument. Take this opportunity to grasp the nettle and re-visit the value arguments for your solution. As you re-emphasise your value arguments ask the prospect how this compares to the competitor’s offering – make sure they are comparing like for like.

Previously published on LinkedIn Pulse

 

The ABC of Selling

ABC – Always Be Closing? No, not that nonsense.

While there is merit in the concept of exploring what will be required to successfully close the deal throughout the sales engagement process, as opposed to waiting until the final meeting after you have submitted your bid, most prospects will spot the classic ABC technique and be inured to it. So, rather than enhancing your chances of winning, Always Be Closing may well have the opposite effect.abc

So, what do I mean by the ABC of selling? Assume nothing, Believe nothing, Challenge everything. This is a simple framework that helps to structure sales engagements that if followed will increase your chances of winning more business, reduce the time wasted on deals you cannot win or that will never happen and earn the respect of genuine prospects who are looking for a professional company to become their next supplier.

Assume nothing

Well actually making assumptions is fine and it is a valuable part of a professional sales engagement process. What is wrong is acting on assumptions before you have tested them with your prospective customer.

For example, you may have concluded from publicly available information that your prospect is on a drive to reduce costs and as a result you plan your first meeting around explaining just how cost effective your solutions are. You can see how dangerous this could be if the prospect does actually have a cost reduction initiative underway but in the area of their business where your solution might fit they drive is for a safer more reliable solution. Perhaps they are just coming to the end of a three year contract with a supplier that came in on a low price ticket but has failed to deliver on time and to agreed quality standards on many occasions.

So, before you go headlong into your “we provide very cost effective solutions” ask questions to establish what the prospect wants and needs and what things will motivate them to decide in favour of one supplier over another. Ask questions, listen carefully, interpret and modify your planned approach accordingly.

Believe nothing

Strictly I am not saying prospects and customers lie, although some do! Really what I am saying is that you should believe nothing without first ensuring you fully understand what you have been told.

For example, the prospect tells you they are looking for a safe and reliable solution in some area of their business. That seems quite straightforward but could it have different meanings or nuances? Again this is about the effective use of questions to explore and delve into and behind what you think you are hearing. The words safe and reliable are not absolute terms so you need to explore the requirement in terms of how safe and how reliable. If, for example, you have an IT solution that will provide guaranteed up time of 99.99% 7*24 you may think telling the prospect this will impress them and indeed it might. However, if what they are looking for is 99% between 08:00 and 18:00 Monday to Friday they are likely to conclude that your solution may be more expensive than they need to pay, yet they probably won’t tell you so.

So, listen to what you are told and ask questions to ensure you fully understand what the prospect really wants and more importantly needs before you offer or suggest anything.

Challenge everything

Consider a scenario where the prospect tells you they need an IT support service that provides up time of 99.99% 7*24. You could take this at face value – they said it so they must mean it is a reasonable position to take. However, let’s say you know a bit about their business and you know they work five and half days; 08:00 to 18:00 Monday to Friday plus 08:00 to 12:00 on Saturday so why would they want full 7*24 support? There may be a good reason but you won’t know until you ask “could I just clarify; I thought your working hours are … so why would you want the expense of full 7*24 cover?” The answer might be something that supports why they want it or it might be “Good point, I suppose we don’t need that level of cover.

If they are currently paying for full 7*24 cover or your competitors are quoting for it and you can offer something that will cost them less while delivering exactly what they need you will have made progress towards becoming their new supplier of IT support services.

Some people fear the idea of challenging in case it seems rude or impertinent to the prospect or customer. Getting this right is all about being courteous and using the right sort of words; “I hope you don’t mind me asking”, or “perhaps I am wrong but I thought your working hours are …

In summary

Make assumptions but test each one to destruction. Listen to everything you are told but don’t believe it without checking and double checking you are all meaning the same thing. Challenge everything that you do not understand or agree with; be polite but do it.

The ABC formula provides a useful framework for structuring and conducting sales prospecting calls and meetings. This is not a onetime thing and you should repeat the process every time new information appears and with each new person you meet in the prospect’s or customer’s organisation.

This article was first published on LinkedIn Pulse by Phil Shipperlee