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?”

5 Things To Prepare For Before Mapping Your Buyers Journey

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It doesn’t matter if you’re a start-up, or a business that’s been around for 50 years, your buyer has changed. He changed last month, last week…he even changed yesterday. Thanks in large part to Moore’s Law (technology doubles every two years), we know that his access and availability to information is endless.  Today’s buyers are more connected, more savvy, more social than ever before.  In fact, it’s likely your buyer will know more about you than you know about him before you ever meet one another.  That is if you ever do meet one another.

We have all heard the statistic that 92% of all B2B purchases begin online.  That means that 9 out of 10 prospects will be checking you out well before any meeting ever comes to fruition. We also know that many sources report that at least half of the buying process is complete before the buyer ever meets a sales person.  For some companies like Amazon, Apple, and Tesla, they thrive on this disruptive buyer.  The buyer who shops at her own pace, educates herself on what she wants, with the content she wants, and from the sources she wants it from.  For other companies perhaps not as sophisticated in their understanding of this evolution…this buyers journey…the need to gain this understanding is critical.  It’s urgent.  It’s truly about survival.

To map your buyer’s journey requires time, access to customers willing to participate and answer questions, and likely the most important requirement being the business’s willingness to listen and change based upon these findings.  This is critical work, not easy, but certainly doable.  The rewards of understanding your buyers are many. The risk of not understanding your buyer is simple…irrelevance that leads to extinction.

Here are 5 things you need to prepare yourself, and your company for as you begin to map your buyer’s journey:

  1. Open-mindedness. Start this work with a beginners attitude. If we were launching today, knowing what we know, what would we say to our buyers, how would we say it, when, and where would we say it?
  2. Honesty. If your brand promise is “fast and easy” but your delivery is slow and confusing be honest about it. Guess what, your buyers already know this about you.  Resist the denial urge.
  3. Customer mindset. Our buying habits and expectations as consumers are gradually following us into our business lives. If I can buy a new computer fast and easy at home, I expect to be able to do the same thing at work no matter what product or service I’m shopping for.  My expectations for speed and ease, transcend the business experience.
  4. Acknowledgement and Acceptance. All change requires acknowledging there’s a better way, and accepting the fact that we will have to do something(s) different to achieve that better way.
  5. Action. Be ready, willing, and able to act. Some people, and businesses, are ready for a different outcome, but are not willing or able to implement the change required to generate that better outcome.  Change only happens when a different action is taken.

The age of the buyer is here.  Those who decide to align their business around the buyer will survive and thrive while those who still believe they control the sale will slowly fade away. Your job is to understand how you can best facilitate your buyers process – their journey – not your sales process. Helping and serving have become the keys to success in the age of the buyer. Now you just need to know where to help, and how the buyer wants to be served.

3 Big Learnings from the Digital Growth Conference 2016

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This week I attended the Digital Growth Conference in San Francisco put on by SalesforLife.  It was a remarkable event packed with great content, inspiring and thought provoking speakers and some of the industries most respected thought leaders in the digital and social selling world. The attendees listened, asked questions, pondered, and talked with one another about how to effectively interact with today’s digital buyers, all while grappling with the ever-present challenge of how to transform our sales people into social sellers.

Here are my 3 Big Learnings from the conference:

  1. Today’s buyer is far more disruptive to the buying process than technology. Social selling evangelist Jill Rowley said during her keynote, “The buyer has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous 100.” The disconnect between our buying habits and preferences as consumers, has not followed us into our businesses. Buyers are hyper-connected, plugged in, educated, informed, and knowledgeable. They are no longer waiting to be sold, but instead, they are controlling the sales conversation and process. This evolution begs a change to traditional sales processes. Your sales people today must be brand ambassadors both for your company’s brand, as well as, their own personal brand. Jill drove this point home by saying, “Your online digital footprint is how trust will be built before you meet your customer, your personal brand is so important.” The modern sales person sees this, embraces this, acts on it, and is constantly working to develop his or her personal brand. The question we should all be asking is, what about those sales reps who are not making the transformation to the modern sales representative? What to do?
  2. Since the buyer is now in control of the sales process, the job of the sales rep is no longer to sell, but to facilitate the buyers journey. Viewing a sale in this different light may be quite stirring…perhaps even provocative to many. However, the digital buyer is here.  There’s no going back. Sales people need to be socially engaged where the buyers are learning. It’s no longer enough to simply know where the buyer is.  The sales person now has to be interacting with that buyer before the sale in the places the buyer is learning and with those who are helping to educate and inform them. Tiffani Bova, Global Growth Strategist for Salesforce said, “How much of the journey they (the buyer) have gone through is irrelevant. It’s where they went in between that’s important.  Who are their advisors, where did they go to get info?”.  The sales rep is no longer leading with the sale, but leading the buyer to the sale. The question we should all be asking is what are we doing to aid in this transformation from a focus on the selling process to a deep understanding and alignment to the buyers journey?
  3. While the buyer has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, business has been much slower to change. Sure, it may feel to many that things at work are changing at light speed, but our sales process is still the same. Fill the pipeline, manage the pipeline, close the pipeline.  We may have changed the words we use, going from prospects, to pipeline, to funnel, but it’s still the same message, and same management. A true transformation to a buyers journey-centric focus requires great preparation, training, knowledge and assets that provide Sales with the tools they need to align with this “new buyer.” According to Sales Enablement guru Jim Ninivaggi, Chief Strategy Officer at Strategy to Revenue,” The #1 reason sales people fail to make a sale is due to their inability to effectively communicate the value proposition.” This reason, and its #1 ranking, hasn’t changed in 5 years. Why? The reason can be connected back to the disconnect between what we expect from our buying as a consumer, versus what we expect as a business person. This has to change.  To make this transformation we need to begin with hiring the right talent, providing that talent with the most effective on-boarding and training, and build a process that acknowledges the buyers journey by focusing on “education, solution, and selection.” It’s all about enabling your sales team to maximize all of their buyer interactions, because what got us here, won’t get us there. The question we should all be asking is what are we doing to better enable our sales teams?

As I reflected on my Conference take-aways on my flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia, I found myself thinking about the pace of change in our consumer lives and Moore’s Law – the speed of technology will double every two years. We all use technology to improve our lives, educate ourselves, inform one another, and buy things. The age of the customer has arrived.  They’re looking for an advisor. They want answers. And while today’s buyers conduct much of the buying process on their own, results of an Accenture survey presented at the Conference showed 65% of buyers still want a combination of digital and human interaction when buying.  This requires being there (where the buyers are), and being prepared (talent, training, knowledge, assets). Business needs to recognize and acknowledge these changes have happened.  We all need to begin to let our behaviors and expectations as consumers follow us into our jobs. Those willing, capable, and brave enough to make this transformation will be the companies that become the high-water-mark the rest will be chasing in the future.

 

 

 

Where are your buyers? How finding their hang-outs increases sales.

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Ah, prospecting.  The art of finding your next customer. The part of selling that makes even the most seasoned and successful sales people cringe.  Why is that?  What is it about prospecting that causes people to start twitching, flinching, gasping for breath?  It’s not talking to strangers that cause concern, nor is it hearing “no I’m not interested.” What really creates prospecting frustration is not knowing where your customers are hiding.

Networking is one of the keys to success in sales.  The more people you talk to, the more likely you are to sell something.  But networking for the sake of networking can be quite demanding and draining, physically, emotionally, and financially.  Time is your most valuable resource.  Time is more precious than the Hope Diamond or the Seven Seas (Steven Spielberg’s yacht). You have a finite amount of time.  You can never have more time, but you can always waste time creating a shortage.  Spending this precious resource wisely is your best chance to succeed in selling.

Imagine if you knew exactly where your prospective customers hang out.  You know where they will be, when they will be there, and for how long. Knowing their hang-outs is critical to maximizing your sales results.  After all, you can’t sell something to someone you don’t know how to find.  If your prospect is a restaurant owner, her hang-out may be at a state restaurant association trade show. If it’s a CIO, his hang-out may be CIO.com. No matter who your prospect is, he or she has some typical, and predictable spots they go to learn, question, and advance their decision making process.  Knowing where these hang-outs are reduces the number of networking events you need to attend.  If you knew that all your prospects were gathering at a specific venue every Wednesday evening from 6 pm – 7 pm, wouldn’t you be there?  Of course you would.

How can you find out where your buyers hang out?  Ask them!  What publications do you read on a regular basis? What types of events do you attend and why? Who are your trusted advisors? How do you research potential solutions for a business need? Sure, this is buyer persona work and it takes time. Sure, your Marketing department should be leading this work.  But if they’re not? Do it yourself. What you’ll discover will help you serve more buyers, more quickly.

These questions will help provide the answers and the insights into where your prospects are spending their time during their decision making process.  Once you know that, you can focus your energy on being visible at these hang-outs whether that means in person, or through content posted on a specific social channel.  There’s great power in knowing where your prospects go to learn and decided. When you know that you’re more than half way to the sale!

If this is something you’re interested in learning more about let me know.

Enough With The Spam! Get Permission to Market.

Permission

Tired of SPAM?  I’m not talking about the the stuff in the can that comes from the great state of Minnesota.  No.  I’m talking about the massive amounts of content that continues to be pushed down our throats via direct mail, email, advertisements, billboards and all the other various forms and mediums of media.

The vast majority of all incoming marketing messaging we receive is forced upon us.  We didn’t ask for it.  We didn’t invite it. We don’t want it.  And we especially don’t want all those pesky calls that come throughout the day from those companies who feel they have won the right to interrupt us with their message.  You know those calls.  The ones where you answer your phone and there’s a pause while the phone system uploads the call to the salesperson on the other end.  UGH!

Why do companies continue to take this approach to telling, and selling, their buyers?  The truth is that it’s comfortable.  It’s what they’ve always done.  It’s what your boss demands.  There is math that supports an ROI – make this many calls and you’ll get this many deals.  The other side of that same equation that is never considered, is how many potential buyers have you pissed off forever given this arrogant approach?

Permission based marketing takes time.  It’s a relationship.  Imagine walking up to a woman and saying “hurry up, we need to get married right now”, or bumping into that guy you see at the coffeeshop each day and saying “I see you here everyday, you should buy me my coffee today”.  Relationships don’t work that way.  Okay.  Maybe sometimes they do, but by and large, most lasting relationships take time.  Trust.  A commitment on each side.  Yet because approaches like these work sometimes many companies feel that if they do this often enough they’ll win with volume.

Asking for permission seems almost as uncomfortable, if not more so, than asking for the sale.  Can I talk to you?  Can I share my thoughts with you?  Can I connect with you over time to get to know you?  These are the questions you should be asking.  But to ask those questions you need to have something of value to offer.  Why do you want to talk to me, or why should I let you talk to me?  Your response should be clear, concise and focused.  You’re not about selling as much as you are about sharing.  But again, sharing takes time.  It takes patience.  It takes trust.

Think about approaching your prospects to gain their permission rather than the sale. Of course you’ll need great content, time, and most of all a genuine belief that you’re helping your customer.  Yes, it sure is a mind shift; and not one that is easily adapted.  Yet as the number of voices in the marketplace continue to increase, all fighting for shelf space with each prospect, it becomes crucial to win the hearts and minds of these prospects by gaining their permission.  Being, acting, looking, and sounding like your competition only helps your prospect weed you out quicker.  Provide value, in a safe and easy environment for which your prospect can consume it and get to know you and you’re on the path to increased revenue.

Salespeople BEWARE: You’re About to be Sensored

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So you’ve chosen a career in Sales.  You’re excited by the thrill of the hunt, the change of scenery everyday and the opportunity to make as much money as you want. But could Sales be changing in a way that makes all this a distant memory?  You may be at risk of being replaced by a sensor…big data.

In a recent Fortune magazine article on Formula 1 racing authored by Stacey Higginbotham, she writes about how big data has changed the racing sport.  In “less than 300 milliseconds” data can travel from the farthest track in Australia to the UK where it can be analyzed and strategy adjustments can be provided back to the crew at the racetrack.   According to Alan Peasland, head of technical partnerships at Infiniti Red Bull Racing, “Gut-feel decisions just aren’t made.”

Imagine big data eliminating gut-feel decisions in your sales process.  With CRM platforms, marketing automation systems, and a variety of sales enablement tools there is more data than ever providing insight into each sales encounter.  When contact was made, what was discussed, who was present, what the outcome or next step is, or what went wrong.  Crunching all this data and putting it into a useable format might just make the salesperson a thing of the past.

As baby-boomers are overtaken by millennials buying habits are changing quickly.  Millennials rely on mobile devices and testimonials much more than boomers do.  In fact, according to Business Insider, 62% of millennials respond to mobile offers versus 39% of boomers.  Additionally, 82% of millennials favor word-of-mouth from friends and family versus 52% of boomers.  That means marketers must adjust their branding, advertising and sales processes.

Is it possible that in the future the role of the salesperson simply goes away?  What if a company like Amazon was able to aggregate all of your purchases and with great accuracy recommend and predict future consumption…both product type and quantity?  Wait a minute…aren’t they already headed that way?  The Dollar Shave Club is already doing this with great success. Maybe this isn’t as far-fetched as you’d like to think it is.

Sales professionals need to recognize this tectonic shift.  Your ability to survive being replaced by a sensor collecting and analyzing data will only be as good as your capability to adapt and add value.  Reading, researching, and having your own teachable point of view are critical requirements of your survival.  In the absence of any or all of these requirements your sales role today will become a fossil for tomorrow.  Get curious and keep thirsty for new knowledge.

Confidence THEN Conviction

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Confidence is one of the most studied, sought after, and revered human traits. We all aspire to have confidence. The confidence to ask for a raise, or a date, or the confidence to ask for the business. Nearly everything we do in life requires confidence. But do you know what ingredient is needed to super-charge your confidence? It’s conviction.

 Years ago I found myself sitting in a meeting with the brilliant founder of Intuit, Scott Cook. In that meeting we were discussing why one of our product lines wasn’t acheiving the level of sales success we had anticipated. All of our research suggested it was due to a lack of brand awareness within that product category’s space.

At the end of our presentation Scott sat back and looked around the table. We were all quiet, anxiously awaiting his approval of the depth and quality of our work and findings. Instead he sat up, placed his arms on the table in a folded position and said, “I have a question. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of a Yugo.” We looked around the room at one another and quickly hands began to rise. Still looking around the room Scott then said, “Now keep your hand up if you’d buy a Yugo.” One by one hands came down and we now knew we were about to get schooled in the topic of brand awareness.

“Your problem is not with awareness. Your problem is that the market has no conviction in your product”. Scott effectively made the point that strong awareness without conviction equals failure. Our job was to instill conviction in the marketplace. Doing so required us to establish confidence first with our buyer. They needed to first “believe” we were capable of what we said we could do, and only THEN could they demonstrate their conviction to buy from us.

Establishing confidence begins with awareness, followed by increasing the buyers familiarity with your offering. Once familiar, the marketers job is to instill confidence. This can be done through a variety of ways including testimonials, surveys, samples, free trials, or a no-risk guarantee. Regardless of which method you use to instill this confidence it must be real before you can ask for the customers conviction to purchase.

To make this journey successfully you must be willing to truly hear what your customers are saying. You need to assess the marketplace. And perhaps most importantly you need to exude a personal conviction that by doing these things your business will grow with happy, delighted, and profitable customers.