After witnessing thousands of sales calls, and advising clients on thousands more, I can confidently say that the number one reason that customers/prospects fail to make timely decisions is because the salesperson skips steps in the process. While it may sound counter-intuitive, the key to shortening the sales cycle is for the salesperson to slow the process down.
The problem begins because buyer and seller are out-of-sync. Most sales approaches rely on the buyer to be actively in the process of seeking out solutions. Difficulty presents itself as a buyer engages in conversation by either asking about a “solution,” its terms or conditions; yet, the problem has never been clearly defined.
While most people realize this is true when perceived from the seller’s perspective, they assume that the buyer does have an understanding of their problem. Yet, my experience and the vast majority of recent research, this is a fatal assumption, and leads to both major decision reluctance and commoditization.
In our approach, what we call Demand Creation Selling; we teach that there are four distinct segments of the sales process. There are distinct and important decisions that must be made within each segment. When you’re in Segment A & B, your focus needs to be on establishing:
- The problem,
- The cause of the problem,
- The cost of the problem, and
- The need to change.
Segment C is about defining what’s required to solve the problem, or defining the solution, and Segment D focuses on establishing that your company is the best one to solve the problem.
The out-of-synch issue presents itself in two troublesome ways:
- Because salespeople tend to be so solutions focused, they strive to get to Segment D (where the focus is on their solution) as quickly as possible, and fail to create value or build the necessary weight to their business case.
- The nature of most sales and marketing systems positions the message to be relevant to the end of a buying process. This means that by the time buyers reach out they’re oriented to Segment D, but the salesperson hasn’t participated in defining, diagnosing or assessing the problem. This means the buyer is focused on what the solution costs, while the seller wants to focus on what the solution is worth.
In both of these cases chaos, confusion and commoditization accelerates. The sales process gets bogged down, predictability is eliminated and sales costs grow, often to non-sustainable levels.
Solving the problem requires that you slow the sales process down. Whether you’re reaching out to the prospect or they’re reaching out to you, you must address each segment of the sale sequentially.
If a prospect calls you asking for a solution, ask them what’s led them to believe they need that solution? What problem are they trying to solve? What’s led them to believe that this is their problem?
For example, it’s not unusual that a prospect will reach out to me and ask about sales training. It may go something like this (with my narrative thoughts in parenthesis):
Prospect: Hi Doug. An associate of mine was telling me about the sales training you did for his company and I was quite impressed. We’re getting the final details of our next sales meeting together and I thought it would be a good idea to consider using a trainer like you for the event. Can you tell me about your program and how much it costs? (Clearly calling believing he knows what he needs and wanted to enter a “what’s it cost” conversation.)
Me: Thanks for reaching out. I’m glad that your associate had positive things to say. I’m more than happy to tell you all about our sales training approach; before I do, can you tell me what is it your looking to do sales training for? (I know no one wants to buy training, they want a result. Training is about cost, results are about worth. I also know that he probably doesn’t have a good answer for this question.)
Prospect: Well, we’re looking to increase our sales. (While this sounds like a result, it’s not. It’s vague and meaningless and will get us nowhere.)
Me: Not surprising. I’m curious, what do you think is presenting your from getting more sales with your current approach?
Prospect: That’s a good question. I’m not real sure, but I know that my salespeople need to improve their closing skills. We keep losing opportunities at the ends of the process.
Now we’re on to something. It could be closing costs, lead generation, sales cycles times or any other issues, but now we’re defining the problem. In virtually every case (and this typical example highlights the fact) they’re focused on a symptom – not the problem! And this is where I can pivot the conversation. I can begin asking questions about the symptom they’ve shared and highlight what’s really causing the problem.
By slowing the process down, I gain significant control and predictability. I’m able to make my business case and clearly demonstrate if and why we are the best alternative. While it lengthens the time to get to a proposal, it also both increases the value of the proposal and the likelihood of success.
There’s a great post over at Hubspot focused on how salespeople are still complaining about the quality of leads, even after an effective inbound marketing program is implemented. I wasn’t at all surprised to read this, as I often warn companies that if they improve their lead generation results but don’t change the way they sell, the net impact will be negative – potentially even devastating.
I realize that this statement may sound counter-intuitive; but think about it, how is your sales team really structured? What are they actually prepared to do?
If you’re implementing a typical solution sales approach (and [...] Continue Reading…
In my fourth post on this blog (back in September of 2005), I made the point that the ability to get customers/prospects to be willing to pay for a sales call was the biggest sales advantage you could create. Over the last six months, I’ve come to the realization that it’s no longer merely an advantage – it’s absolutely critical to your ability to consistently make profitable sales.
To put it as simply as I can, if you are not creating real value in the sales process, you’re falling waist deep into The Commoditization Trap.
At the risk of over-simplifying corporate [...] Continue Reading…
Ever since I wrote my post about Pests, Peddlers and Demand Creators, the most common question I’m asked is, “How can you tell if you’re being a Peddler or Commoditizer?”
Here’s the simplest and fastest way to determine if you’re peddling:
Look at how you approach your prospects and customers early in the sales cycle. Consider the questions you ask, the material you share and the possible presentations you make. Now answer this question: Who learns about the prospect/customer’s company?
If the answer is you (or your sales rep) you’re a peddler. If the answer is the prospect/customer then you’re positioned perfectly [...] Continue Reading…
I’ve written about the curse of knowledge before. An important sales implication of the curse is that selling organizations become increasingly committed to the belief that it’s the expertise and knowledge about the solution that separate competitors in buyers’ eyes.
There are two important points that contradict that belief:
Your customers are nowhere near as educated as we’d like to believe they are about their problems, so it’s virtually impossible that they’ll be able to:
Truly understand your expertise and solutions, and
Effectively compare the difference – and the value of that difference – between you and your competitors.
When you’re focused on your [...] Continue Reading…
Over the last eight years, I bet I have published more than 1000 pieces of content. Between my blog, columns I write for magazines, guest blog posts I write for other blog sites and magazines, I put out a lot of content.
Frankly, it’s one of the major advantages I’ve had in growing my business. A few years ago I quantified the impact of my blog alone and valued it to create more than $2 million of documented value for my company. On top of that I’ve won many awards and gotten quite a bit of press for the blogging [...] Continue Reading…
Next month I’ll be presenting a webinar that I more excited about that anything I’ve done before. It focuses on how to turn the tables and create a structural advantage for you and your business.
For years your business had the wind at its back, and you didn’t need an unfair advantage to grow successfully. In 2013, as we continue to recover from the “Great Recession,” ask yourself:
Is our sales approach creating an unfair advantage for us, allowing us to:
Close more business,
Close it faster with less effort,
Increase our margins, and
Drive our profitability and business value?
If you’re answer is yes to [...] Continue Reading…
Over the last 18 months I’ve been focusing on simplifying the approach that small and mid-market companies take to growth. There is probably nowhere where this is needed more than in strategic planning process.
Working with thousands of companies, I’ve come to understand that the focus of your go-to-market strategy can be broken into three categories. They are:
Those who will do business with you.
Those who won’t do business with you.
Those who should and aren’t doing business with you.
Those Who Will
The reality is that you do not need to spend significant time creating strategy for this group. This is the customer [...] Continue Reading…
For 20 years I’ve had a tremendous sales advantage. As someone who enjoys writing and creating new ideas, I’ve leveraged my sales efforts with content, before content marketing even had a name. Today, one of the core things Imagine does is enable small and mid-sized companies to create the type of content to leverage those sales efforts.
Last week I was presenting our new program Achieving Effortless Sales Growth to a group of CEOs in Canada. When I got to Step Five: Cultivate & Engage Your Market, a CEO asked about e-newsletters. He told me that a previous speaker had [...] Continue Reading…
I shared some thoughts on this topic several years ago. As I’ve received countless additional inquiries and attempts my salespeople do “get the conversation started,” I decided to adjust the post and add some recommendations.
One of the things we do at Imagine is to work with our clients to develop effective lead generation. We use email strategies, content strategies and even calling strategies. When implementing, I inevitably get a concern that “People don’t read emails,” or “I don’t take calls.” The real reason for this is poor execution – not poor tactics.
Let me be clear about something I haven’t [...] Continue Reading…
Congratulations to the Ravens. So, what did you think of the commercials?
With the annual celebration of one-night stands (Super Bowl ads) behind us, I still find myself asking why so many companies spend virtually all of their resources and energies begging for sales, when they should be building customers. A focus on building customers often seems like the longer, more complex path, yet it’s the only one that provides an opportunity for the predictability, sustainability and scalability of revenue growth.
When I consult with companies in developing their outreach strategies, I remind them that there are, in essence, six stages [...] Continue Reading…
It’s been quite some time since I had a good rant here, so I feel like I’m a bit overdue. On that note, I’d like to share with you the biggest frustration about my job.
One of the things we do for clients is to create the content that provokes, educates and leverage sales efforts. Over the last three weeks I’ve been involved in about 12 content interviews we conduct to keep the voice of our client. With a couple of exceptions, the only word I can use to describe what was shared is “Boring!”
The most frustrating part of my [...] Continue Reading…
I hate to lose. And I like people who hate to lose. I hate losing more than I enjoy winning (and I enjoy winning). I’ve learned that one key commonality of great athletes, sales professionals and businesspeople is that they HATE to lose.
I bring this up with the recent behavior of Bill Belichick, who refused to grant a 45 second interview to a CBS reporter, following the Patriots loss to the Ravens in the AFC Championship. Belichick’s behavior has been universally panned. He’s been called a sore loser, arrogant and worse. And while I certainly don’t condone his behavior, [...] Continue Reading…
As I shared in my post last Monday: Stop Selling! If you’re selling you’re doing something wrong.
Whenever I share this insight, it’s always greeted with agreement…and frustration. People shrug their shoulders and ask, “I get that I shouldn’t do this, but what should I do?”
Solving The Seller’s Paradox requires that you fully and completely leave the world of the peddler. You must let go of your products and services, your features and benefits and engage – truly engage – with your prospects/customers. You must embrace a diagnostic approach.
The basis of this approach is rooted with what I call The [...] Continue Reading…
When I conduct sales training for executives and sales teams, I typically finish with the valuable thought:
“Stop Selling! If you feel like you’re selling, you’re doing something wrong.”
I call it The Seller’s Paradox.
The more your focus is on your products, services, or (dare I say) your solutions , the less likely you’ll be valued or make a sale.
The faster you try to get to the proposal/recommendation stage in your sales process, the longer and less likely you’ll be to make a sale.
The harder you work to prove your worth, the less likely it is you’ll be valued.
When you’re [...] Continue Reading…