I’m really pleased to post this guest blog from Steve Jessop for you all to read, enjoy and learn from. His knowledge of the B2B sales market is second to none and I know that you will all learn something from this first blog. In part one we look at what's required to gain insight into what's happening on the other side of the desk and how to start preparing to give your client real business value. In part two next week, Steve will give his insider's view on getting ready for When the Rubber hits the Road!
First, a short and true story.....
I accompanied one of our client’s Account Managers (“one of our best guys – great at managing relationships”, according to the Sales Director) on his first visit to a customer he had just inherited from a departing colleague. Our client has one of the most instantly recognisable brands in its sector and the customer in this instance was a huge U.S. services business.
We were surprised to hear that our key contact was shortly to be leaving the company and we were joined by the manager due to replace him. We were also joined by the Procurement Manager. It looked interesting to me. A new Account Manager and three of his customer’s contacts in a room, all with very different agendas. A good opportunity you might think? Investigate the agendas. Find out what they think – how they see things - and position himself as the person to move things forward positively with the right solutions……. Unfortunately that wasn’t what happened….. What actually happened during a 2 hour meeting was:
It was amazing that I had enamel left on my teeth after that meeting…!!
The heart of the problem.....
The fact is that there are too many people out there (including salespeople) who spend most of their lives in a ‘comfort zone’ talking about their products and services to people who may / may not understand them. They just talk at customers hoping that the sale happens. The key gap is that the person on the ground doesn’t get to understand his / her customer’s business and therefore cannot connect the company's services and products to the customer’s business needs.
The real world position…
In different, more buoyant, times, with proven products to call upon, and customers with big budgets to spend, eye-catching sums of money have been earned by people who have been riding the crest of the wave and taking orders. But that 'wave’ looks a little different now doesn’t it…. ?
The business people (those we might call ‘budget-setters’ as opposed to ‘budget-spenders’) insist on seeing proof of where and how the products will deliver a real return on investment for their business before they will consider parting with their cash. The inevitable conclusion is therefore: no demonstrable return on investment and no sale…
So what do we need to consider?
You must get smarter with your questions. Let me explain what this amounts to.
“The greatest enemy of communication is the illusion of it.” – Pierre Martineau.
Preparation. Avoiding the ‘waste of space’ syndrome
It seems pretty straightforward really, bordering on the bland even -- take an interest in your customer’s business. Our niche is the business-to-business sector, and we consistently find that our clients’ people know little more than the obvious headline stuff about their customers. In the example above you will, I’m sure, have spotted that the Account Manager who is “great at managing relationships” knew nothing about his key contact’s imminent departure until we pitched up on the doorstep. A little bit of advance communication prior to the visit would surely have picked that fact up?
Frankly, if you are not interested; really, genuinely, interested, in your customer’s business what ARE you doing in there? You’re a waste of space. If you aspire to be more than a waste of space, here are some ‘starter-for-ten’ examples of customer-related issues you might want to ponder on:
Not comfortable with these types of questions? Then either: get comfortable with them quickly, or get another job !!
Preparing to sell – our key areas of focus.
Next, you need to think carefully about:
"Judge a man by his questions, not by his answers" – Voltaire
The core of good selling: questions in relation to your sales propositions.
The key elements of your services and products need to be considered and captured in relation to how they could be advantageous to different types of decision-influencer within the customer’s organisation, as well as who you will be competing with.
Questions should be prepared which allow you to gradually and conversationally explore where the needs and wants might be for what you can do well, and where the cost, pain, inconvenience, wasted time, personal preference, competitive pressure etc, is.
When presenting your solution later in the cycle you will reinforce how you will address these problems and pressures with suitable pre-prepared 'proofs'.
Each of the above should be grouped together. Specifically:
We run pretty intensive workshops on this subject, sometimes of several days’ duration, so I can’t do justice to the detail in a short article – but here are some guidelines:
Why people buy
We often use the iceberg analogy when considering why the customer actually buys. At the tip of the iceberg, above the water, are the logically-based 'needs'. These are generally openly declared. To be a contender for the business you must be able to satisfy them. Typically, 'needs' include issues such as timescales, budgets, resource capability and references. They are important of course, but these days you can often respond to them by e-mail!
The bulk of the iceberg is under the surface and this is where the emotionally-based 'wants' are submerged. These are not always obvious. They often don't land in your lap, and so it's usually much harder to identify them. But they are invariably very big drivers in buying decisions. If you are serious about selling a meaningful solution you must understand them; really understand them, and the solution you ultimately present must reflect them one way or another.
Some examples, from a very long list of wants, include:
What are you really selling?
“What we sell is the ability for a 43 year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns, and have people be afraid of him.” – Harley-Davidson Executive.
As we know that emotion has a lot to do with why your customer buys it ought to get you thinking more about what it is that you are really selling. In an era of increasing commoditisation, people are buying into products which have, what you could call ‘emotional appeal’. Examples of emotional appeal themes might be: control; change, freedom, recognition, and care.
In our day-to-day lives continental mineral water is an example of this. The premium many of us will pay for ‘free range’ eggs is another and this is a great example of 'care' emotional appeal. An illustration of the ‘control’ theme is a mobile phone network providing the means to control our life. It could be said that people buy ‘North Face’ clothing to identify with those pioneers climbing Mount Everest (freedom).
The key issue for you in sales terms is to get a fix on where you can deliver most value for your customer and then to prepare the questions you must ask to establish and quantify the real business value of your proposition.
Part Two coming next week!
Steve Jessop is the co-founder of b2b sector sales improvement consultancy, Quantum (www.quantum-sales.com). He also acts as a private sales advisor for several SME sector businesses.
Contact Steve Jessop by email at firstname.lastname@example.org by mobile on +447973 909648, or follow him on twitter @stevenJessop1
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