Is different enough?

Without a doubt there is a conversation happening with marketing teams around the globe as I write this post trying to nail down differentiators. The more aggressive marketers might even be searching for “core differentiators” as if being different isn’t enough. Now we have to be different right down to our core.

Different is not good or bad. It’s not valuable or invaluable. Different is just, well, different. Who places a value on whether different is worth something extra, or worth something less?

Identifying your differences – or core differentiators – is a complete waste of time, money, and effort without first truly understanding your potential buyer. After all, who are you trying to appeal to with your differences?

Instead companies tend to begin on the inside rather than outside. Meaning, we tend to take the path of least resistance. Sitting in a conference room pontificating on why we’re different, and how much better we are than others does not get the job done. No. In fact, putting yourself in the market to truly listen to your buyers, and becoming vulnerable is what leads to innovation and disruption. Companies that do this well have no interest in being right….just in getting it right.

Does your buyer want different? What if all they want is better? Perhaps no one wants to relearn something entirely new. Perhaps all the buyer wants is for the “thing” they are currently using, to work better, or perform better. How do you know? Have you asked them? Have you asked enough of them to have a dependable sample size? Have you truly listened or did you embark on that research with a predisposition or set of biases? Were you tempted to skew the results to fit what you have in place?

In my book The Customer Mindset; Thinking Like Your Customer to Create Remarkable Results, I share an easy to implement process to map your buyers journey, starting with engaging your buyers and ultimately solving for the “so what?”. Yes, different can be better. The question is how much better, and does your prospective buyer care enough to pay for it?

When you look at your core differentiators, don’t forget to ask yourself (and your team), “so what?”

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Why Your Role as Sales Leader Isn’t to Motivate

MOTIVATION word cloud, business concept

Many people think “cheerleader” when they envision an effective sales leader.  Someone who gets the team fired up, screams and shouts, and sets everyone on a rah-rah march into the field to meet prospects.

The sales leader is expected to be a high-powered extrovert, charismatic, outspoken, aggressive, and perhaps even a bit shocking.  We have all worked for sales leaders that possess these characteristics and shall I dare say, some other, more wild ones to say the least.

Early in my career I worked for such a sales leader.  He’d stand on a chair or a table during sales meetings screaming at the top of his lungs, face beet red.  The hair on the back of your neck would stand on end.  You were pumped.  There was nothing you couldn’t do.  But when he finished his super-charged motivational speech, the result felt more like a tirade than an inspiration.  There’s an enormous distance between rallying a group with fear versus inspiration.

So what is the sales leaders responsibility as it relates to motivating a sales team?

Are you ready for the answer?  None.  You have no responsibility to motivate your team.  Each sales person on your team is responsible for motivating him, or herself.  So what is your job as the sales leader?  Provide vision and inspiration.

People want to follow a leader who demonstrates the confidence that he knows where he’s going, how he’s going to get there, and why getting there is so important and beneficial.  I’ve built a number of sales teams over the years.  I have worked hard to be an inspiration – doing this provides your team members with the “why” should they do what you’re asking them to do.  Inspiration transcends motivation.  You can motivate for an hour or a day but motivation is time constrained.  It lasts only as long as the instigator – you – are on duty.  But to inspire, creates a fire, that burns deep into desire.  The greater the fire you build the more insatiable the desire is to achieve the goals you’ve set – whether you’re around or not.

Your job is to find out what drives your team.  Is it money?  Is it recognition?  Is it invention or innovation?  Is it client engagement scores?  Once you know what drives each person on the team you will be able to create your inspiration roadmap.  That roadmap will provide a clear picture to:

  1. Where are we going?
  2. Why are we going there?
  3. What’s in it for us?
  4. What will we feel once we’ve arrived there?

Most organizations fail due to a lack of clarity around the vision. You’ve got to assemble a team that WANTS to a be a part of your vision.  Trying to convince someone they will be happy going to Buffalo in the winter probably won’t sell.  You can expend all your energy convincing or you can set out to find those who are interested or intrigued with going to Buffalo.  It’s the Good to Great philosophy of getting the right people on the bus and the right butts in the right seat.

Lead by example.  Walk the talk.  Model the behaviors.  Do these things and you’ll increase your ability to inspire your followers to achieve remarkable results.

Get Specific -4 Ways to Make Your Business Conversations More Effective

Business People Meeting Growth Success Target Economic Concept

 

Your eyes are glazed over.  You’re trying to be discreet but you can’t help looking at your watch.  Is it over yet?  As meeting standards go this one is pretty brutal. It’s dull, boring, lacking insights, not informative, it’s basically a disastrous waste of your time.  Have you ever encountered one of these meetings?  Here’s a daring question – have you ever been the one driving one of these meetings?  If your answer is “no way, I’d never run such a terrible meeting”, I’d say you should probably spend a bit of time on self-reflection.  We all have coordinated and run meetings like this.  We’ve all wasted someones time at one point or another.

Here are 4 Ways to Make Your Business Conversations More Effective:

  1. Prepare – Do some homework on the individual you’re meeting with and the company.  It’s not enough to just throw out facts about the company or industry.  With the advent of social selling you’ve got to know your buyer – the human behind the decision.
  2. Ask good questions – Dump the “what keeps you up at night” question. So boring.  So predictable.  Kind of shallow.  A rookie question.  Have a hypothesis of what you believe keeps them up and night and throw it on the table.  Of course that requires having completed Step 1 above.
  3. Know what’s going on in the world – Don’t take a political stance, but know what’s happening in the world, the markets, etc.  Election year impacts, the Brexit issue, the Middle East conflicts, the Puerto Rican debt default. People enjoy spending time with people who have a bit of depth.  You don’t need to be Alan Greenspan, Warren Buffet, or Seth Godin, but you do need to have ideas and opinions beyond your company’s.
  4. Manage your time – Arrive early.  If you’re on time you’re late.  I get tired of hearing how bad traffic was.  Sales people today, especially in bigger cities think they can use traffic in Seattle, LA, NY, Boston, Atlanta, etc., as an excuse and people will just understand.  If you want to be like every other sales person walking in the office than great.  You will be – just like every other.  You want to be different?  Give yourself extra time.

One final extra tip.  Please show up with some energy.  No, you don’t have to drink 17 Red Bulls before you walk in the door.  Likewise you don’t want to be Eeyore either. Find the balance between excitement and control.  Do all of these together and you’ll run an awesome meeting.

 

 

A word or two on sales coverage models

 

 

Isolated Earth -  Elements of this Image Furnished by NASA

In a recent conversation with a CEO of a large service organization I was asked which sales model I believed was most effective in generating improved sales results.  A popular question these days.  Everyone who is responsible for generating revenue has asked this question at least once.  The answer however, lies with your buyer.

In a vacuum there is no one single, silver bullet to drive sales results.  The most popular sales coverage models include:

  1. Generalists – sell everything
  2. Specialists – sell usually one, perhaps two products
  3. Verticals – sell to specific industries; professional services, restaurants, manufacturing, etc
  4. Revenue – sell by revenue size of client; SMB, mid-market, enterprise
  5. Employee size – sell by number of employees; payroll companies often use this coverage model
  6. Account-based – assigned specific accounts/companies to sell or cross-sell

In addition to this mix of options, a head of sales must consider whether a field sales organization or inside sales team is most effective.  Again, the decision here should be informed by the company’s buyer’s journey.  Many products and services once believed could only be sold via an in-person interaction are now sold over the phone.  Taking this a step further, we also know – thanks to Amazon, Apple, Tesla, Intuit, and others – that self-fulfillment is not just possible, but preferred by many consumers.  The ability to do-it-yourself is highly appealing.

Gaining an understanding of how your buyer makes decisions is the first step to determining which model is best for your business.  Listen to your buyers and then align a sales process that helps lead the buyer through his or her journey.  That’s the answer to which model works best.

To Sell or Not to Sell?

USP concept
Hand with marker is drawing USP concept on the transparent white board.

Selling isn’t about winning or losing.  It’s not about money, trips, plaques, or prizes.  Selling is not an easy job, nor should it be a job to kill time until the “real thing” appears.   It’s not a set of activities, calls, presentations, or ratios.

Selling is about helping others.  Helping others solve problems and improving lives in the process.  Simply put, to sell is to make something, or someone better.  If what you’re offering for sale doesn’t provide some improvement over the status quo you have no sale.  The key is to understand your buyer well enough to know exactly how your product or service will improve their life or business.

People know when they’re being sold.  They also know when they feel they’ve been helped.  Seek first to understand before being understood is a good way to approach helping others.  Set out to help others and the sales will follow.

Reverse Prospecting: Your Buyer’s Looking For You

 

Reverse

Understanding your buyer’s journey is the first step to delivering explosive growth results.  The age of the buyer has arrived and the seller no longer is in control.  Buyers today are prospecting more than sales people.  How?  By scouring the internet and leveraging social channels to learn and make decisions.  In fact, if you’re the seller, you’ve become the passenger on this purchasing trip.  So make yourself comfortable, stay observant, and most of all have fun on the trip.

Your buyers know more about what they need than ever before.  There was a time (and it goes further and further back each day) when the buyer had to rely on a sales person to identify his problem and present a solution…the seller’s solution.  Not any more.  Have a runny nose and sore lower back?  A quick trip to the website WebMD can provide you with information on what may be going on with you.  You need to put in a new garbage disposal?  There are hundreds of how-to videos on YouTube that provide step-by-step instructions that take a job that previously required a plumber and turned it into a DIY project.

We have all become addicted to information.  In fact, more than 80% of 18 – 44 year olds say the first thing they do in the morning, immediately after opening their eyes, is to check their phones.  Information.  We want lots of it, all the time.

Buyers have this access to information and are using it more and more.  They Google, Facebook, YouTube, Tweet, and ask their LinkedIn groups for information, recommendations, and ideas.  If you’re a seller without a social selling strategy you’re already trailing the pack.  And if you think your product or service is too complex to promote via social channels think again.  General Electric has hundreds of videos on YouTube on MRI equipment, jet turbines, and lighting.  Toll Brothers, a national builder of custom homes, provides a website that allows someone to design and build their dream home and see it!  Buyers are not just using the internet to shop for shoes, sweaters, or books.

Having a social presence isn’t enough. You can’t set up a Facebook or LinkedIn page and check off the box and say its done.  You have to be active…engaged.  You have to create content, share content, weigh in on content others have shared.  This is where your buyers are looking for you.  Your paradigm must shift.  Buyers are now conducting a form of reverse prospecting.  They’re looking for you…you just don’t know it.  So if you’re a seller, and you’re not visible in the areas your buyers are looking for you, you simply won’t be found.

So get started.  Take it slow.  Don’t try to boil the ocean in a day.  A retweet here, a LinkedIn post there, a blog here, are all activities to get you on the road to being found by your buyer.

Newsflash: There is no one-size-fits-all sales methodology

The-Ring-Lord-of-the-Rings-jrr-Tolkien

Newsflash: There’s not one sales approach that works in every selling situation. While some may believe “there is one ring that rules them all”, I would suggest that believing this ignores your buyers behaviors.

There are numerous sales methodologies in the marketplace today that have real value.  Many sales leaders pick a specific approach because it “feels” right, or natural relative to their specific style and tendencies.  However, the sales methodology you select for your company, and your team, should reflect your buyer’s journey first and foremost.  If you haven’t taken the time to study, ask, and understand what motivates your buyer to buy, you’re missing big opportunities.

Not every sale is a one call close.  Not every sale has an 18 month cycle time.  Nor is every buying decision made by one person.  By studying your buyers you will identify what drives them, makes them tick, causes them to take action.

You can force a sale for sure, but it’s likely you won’t find a return customer.  Given the cost of acquiring new customers it would seem almost too obvious that sales leaders and their marketing counterparts would be striving to better understand their buyers.  Once you’ve identified the various steps or phases your buyers’ go through on their way to the cash register you can then begin to align a sales process to the buying process.  Always work outside-in.  Begin with your customer and create the process he or she will warm to.

I’m often asked which sales methodology I subscribe to.  The simplicity of my response may sound arrogant but hear me out.  The methodology I subscribe to is my own.  My own, because I’ve invested my time and money reading, testing, educating, retesting, and selling.  Because of this experience I am comfortable and confident in deploying a custom-made sales methodology to each individual sales organization based upon their buyer’s journey.  I take the time to learn the buyers behaviors first and then create a process that aligns to those behaviors…outside-in.

There is no one ring that rules them all.  It’s up to you to make the investment to expand your knowledge and apply it to gather learnings.  If you know when your buyer begins her journey to satisfy a need, you’ll know how to prospect her in a way that is non-threatening and value added.  If you know how many steps your buyer goes through before making a purchase decision you’ll know how to establish a contact strategy that touches him at the right time, with the right message, and the right tone.

Forget the one-size fits all, and take ownership of your buyers journey.  Once you do that your sales results will produce remarkable outcomes.