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 to break-free from The Commoditization Trap.
You read that correctly. If you want to avoid being commoditized and being treated like a Peddler, your job is to ensure your prospect/customer learns about their company, their situation, problems and opportunities from the very first interactions. Learning about your company, it’s products and solutions comes last, with no exceptions.
The problem so many selling organizations have is they view their first interactions as a qualifying or needs assessment process. They ask questions to educate the selling organization, and, frankly, they bore the buyer.
- Don’t ask how the company has handled a function in the past. Instead ask them how they’ve adjusted to address the problems that could be causing that function to be performing at subpar levels.
- Don’t ask them what do they like about what they’ve done in the past and what would they would change? Provoke them with your Commercial Teaching Point-of-View that will cause them to look at their solution differently.
The point here is that the bar has been raised to making high value sales. You can no longer rely on the customer to educate you on what they need. You must teach them instead. When you do that, you’re in a position to create real demand and separate yourself from your competition.
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 Three Sale Mindset™. A successful sale is really the culmination of three distinct “sales.” They are:
- Agreement defining the problem.
- Agreement defining the best solution.
- Agreement defining the best provider.
The problem with traditional sales (and with about 95% of salespeople) is that they’re completely programmed and focused on making sale three, and as a result skip steps, assume and commoditize.
Diagnosis is all about focusing on the first sale, and realizing that you don’t really have a prospect until you have clearly and mutually agreed on what the problem is, the impact of the problem as well as its priority.
There are three distinct decisions that must be reached in The First Sale™:
- I (the prospect/customer) have a problem.
- A clear definition/description as to what the problem is and the underlying cause.
- Determination that the status quo is no longer viable, and that change must occur.
It is critical to understand that The First Sale has not been made until all three points have been met. It is not at all unusual (actually, it’s the norm) that salespeople move forward when only the first and third points are being communicated.
When a prospect/customer reaches out to you claiming to acknowledge a problem and desiring a solution, if you assume that they either a) understand what their problem really is, or b) are truly committed to solving the problem once they learn everything that is involved you are moving into false positive territory – and you’re peddling!
When you slow it down and spend the necessary time to ensure that all three points are covered, you’ll find you move beyond competition and begin to get treated like the trusted resource your should be. Focus on The First Sale, and you’ll see the next two move through faster than ever.
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 selling (or building a go-to-market strategy) you must – must – put thoughts about yourself or your interests aside. This is the entire point of what Demand Creation Selling is all about. Traditional selling is built on a very weak foundation. Your active sales time allocation looks something like this:
- The first 20% of your time is spent on qualification, which is really a one-way check-in for the salesperson to determine if they prospect/customer is capable of buying. While surface attention is paid to needs assessment, it never goes deep to create value.
- The next 30% of the time is spent presenting, proposing and trying to convince your prospect/customer of your capabilities.
- And finally the real dance begins, as 50% (and sometimes more) of the time is spent chasing down the prospect/customer, attempting to overcome objections, negotiate and close the business.
If I had $10 for every time a salesperson or executive I was either coaching or managing said to me that they wish they knew something that came up in the last phase of the process earlier, I wouldn’t need an income for several years.
However, if you go against the grain and build a solid foundation, one where you spend the first half (or more) of your time digging deep and diagnosing, you’ll accelerate your sales cycle, and bypass the shop cycle 80% of the time.
Diagnosing means uncovering issues and enabling your prospect/customer to understand their situation and needs, as well as you. When taking this approach, your prospect/customer stops seeing you as a salesperson, and instead views you as a critical resource to enable them to achieve their critical objective.
When you occupy this spot in their mind, objections, hassles and delays disappear.
Walk into any bookstore, or read any sales oriented magazine and you’ll see the primary focus on strategy and skills is the ability to overcome objections. Last week, I was talking with a fellow executive that I’ve known since I began advising sales teams more than 20 years ago. I was sharing with him how the discoveries we’ve made in developing The 7 Steps to Achieving Effortless Growth have impacted the sales teams we work with.
A couple of days later, he emailed me asking how (or if) our advice has changed in terms of how salespeople overcome objections. As I shared his question with my VP, Sales & Coaching Programs, we realized that we haven’t had a conversation with a sales client about overcoming objections in years. I’ve learned that when you stop overcoming objections, selling becomes far more effortless and productivity accelerates.
It’s funny, because the ability to overcome objections used to be the peak of much of the sales training and coaching I provided. However, as the world has gotten increasingly complicated and competitive, if your customer/prospect is objecting it’s probably too late. Rather than overcoming, the key today is preventing objections.
To prevent objections, follow these five steps;
- Create a very clear Headpin Customer Profile™. When your customer focus is too broad, you have no choice but to define yourself by your product and that will increase the likelihood of objections, and the pressure on price.
- Develop a clear focus on why people should buy from you. Define the critical problems that you solve for your Headpin Customer™ better than anyone else does.
- Create a clear commercial teaching point-of-view that challenges and changes your Headpin Customers’ perspectives. Without a commercial teaching point-of-view, you can only focus on features and benefits, which increase the likelihood of objections.
- Develop a core list of resonating questions that cause your customers/prospects to learn about their objectives as much as they learn about your products/services.
- Engage. Be human and have genuine conversations. Preventing objections is more about managing communications than it is about manages sales.
One of the toughest behaviors to change when salespeople are working to transform from being peddler to becoming Demand Creator, is the relationship they have with their pipeline.
Having been taught (consciously or otherwise) that sales is a numbers game, peddlers always feel better when the pipeline has more opportunities in it. As salespeople move up the value chain, they gain an understanding that the quality of an opportunity is far more important than the quantity.
This leads to a pipeline that feels weaker, and it increases the fears associated with the the necessary change in behavior and mindset. While the pipeline is actually becoming stronger, it doesn’t feel that way..
In 20+ years working with salespeople and sales management, I’ve learned that there’s little reality in most pipelines. While there may be many “opportunities” listed, few of those opportunities are real. A couple of years ago we conducted a comprehensive pipeline review with a new client’s sales team. The review started with 59 opportunities from 4 salespeople.
When we were done we discovered that 5 were bona fide opportunities, 7 had little to no chance of closing despite the fact that the company was about to invest several thousand dollars of man hours and expenses to prototype a solution, in 33 of them the sales rep was clearly talking to the wrong person and the rest were no better than a lead you could get from a newspaper.
The focus on quantity in the pipeline leads to several bad behaviors, such as:
- A lot of valuable time is wasted chasing the wrong opportunities or even the right opportunities, but with the wrong people.
- Reps lack the time to adequately invest in the right opportunities and places to build the business case and move beyond price.
- Pipeline reports become jokes within management circles, and businesses (especially small and mid-sized businesses) lack the critical intelligence needed to accurately assess their position and make adjustments in a timely and effective manner.
- An urgency mindset, instead of an importance mindset, is built; preventing salespeople and organizations from making the necessary changes to control their destiny.
Demand Creators firmly believe that all progress and growth begins with an honest picture of reality. They realize that focusing on fewer, high quality opportunities is the key to standing out and escaping commoditization.
Making the transition from a pipeline with lots of names on it to one with fewer can be quite scary, and it’s necessary to achieve the effortless growth you desire.
One of the consequences of the economic downturn, and the reductions in workforce over the last several years is a greater gap between executives with the authority and the people who are responsible for implementing and overseeing solutions.
When I work with salespeople, the most common challenge they have is getting access to authority. To get the access you desire, the first, most important thing you must do is to have something worth talking about.
Here are the five steps to take to get the access you desire:
- Be very clear who you want to speak with.
- Determine the critical results this person is responsible for.
- Next, use your experience to determine the most likely problems or issues this person is having in attaining these results.
- Now to determine the consequences of not utilizing your solution.
- Develop a well-defined resonating case to share with your targeted prospect.
For example, if I’m trying to reach out to a VP, Sales to begin conversations, I’d skip the focus on my features and benefits. Instead, I’d share something like this:
Over the last 20 years, we’ve worked firsthand with more than 1,000 companies mid-market growth companies. We’ve learned that these companies are getting, at best, only 50% of the results from their sales and marketing investments they should be getting. We’re concerned that if you don’t identify the issues that are causing this problem, you’ll lose hundreds of thousands to millions in lost profit and equity value. I’d like to share our findings with you, and share some tools with you so you can ensure this doesn’t happen to you.
The key to access is knowing your customer better than they know themselves. To get a jumpstart, you can download my Understanding Your Customer Workbook.
This post originally appeared on The Washington Business Journal’s BizBeat Blog.
Answer these five questions about your sales and business results:
- Is your sales cycle getting shorter?
- Do your customers and prospects properly value you, your company and your offerings?
- Are you able to control price?
- Are your margins expanding?
- Are you able to connect with the people you want quickly and effectively?
If you’ve answered “no” to two or more of these questions, than your business and sales efforts are in the danger zone.
Over the last 20 years, I’ve worked, firsthand, with more than 1,500 small and mid-market companies and nearly 10,000 salespeople. I’ve learned that only about 5 – 10% of companies or salespeople can confidently and accurately say “yes” to four or more of these statements – and it’s costing them hundred of thousands to millions of dollars in lost sales, profits, income and business value.
What’s worse, I’ve also learned that it’s rarely their fault. They’re working hard enough, they care enough, they’re smart enough and they’re good enough to make far more money and have far more impact than they are. The problem isn’t their behavior – it’s their approach.
There are three mistakes made in 90% of sales approaches that are destroying your efforts and need to be stopped immediately.
- Stop focusing on the “We-do’s.” Always remember, your customers and prospects don’t care about you or your company. Stop talking about yourself and start focusing on your customers’ key issues.
- Solutions are just another word for commodity. If I hear another salesperson telling me about the value of their “solution,” I might lose it. Customers have more solution options than they can manage. Instead, dig deeper into your customers’ problems and you’ll be treated like a valuable asset.
- Stop assuming! If you’re creating value in the sales process, you understand your customers’ problems better than they do. You need to slow down and help your customers diagnose their issues. You must get your customers to understand the causes and consequences of their problems. Stop talking about the value of doing business with you, and instead help them understand the cost of not doing business with you.
Join me in future posts here as I share insights, experiences and tools so you can build your sales system to drive growth, profits, incomes and business equity value – effortlessly.
One of the toughest lessons and most valuable lessons I learned early in my sales career was that my job was not to have the answers. I didn’t need to be able to solve the problems my prospects or customers had. My job was to get the prospect to connect to the problem, and to demonstrate that I understood what my prospect wanted to achieve.
I had a whole team of people that whose job is was to solve the problem. My primary objective was to a) get the customer to understand they had an important problem, then b) to connect the prospect with the solutions experts in my company, and c) to manage the process.
Last week I was presenting to a group of CEOs in Syracuse, NY. One of the CEOs was commented on the challenge of adopting The Five Unbreakable Rules for Creating Demand. He commented, “It’s tough understanding your customer like your describing. We’ve spent our entire careers becoming experts in what we do.”
My response to the CEO was that solutions expertise isn’t unique; to your customers and prospects it’s a commodity. While I’m not saying that a company should not have solutions experts, this type of expertise does little to create value in the sales process or separate you from competition.
Really, it’s the fundamental reason that companies create sales team. To have people whose job it is to become customer experts and to provoke awareness of problems. Put the focus there, instead of having the answers, and you’ll see your sales and profits soar.
What Would The Ability to Get Through More of The Right Doors Faster Mean For You?
In today’s noisy, competitive world getting heard by the right people is often the biggest challenge faced by a salesperson or sales organization.
Are you comfortable saying that your current sales message is getting you in the right places, allowing you to influence the right people and leveraging your sales efforts effectively?
If your answer is no, or you’re not sure, then you don’t want to miss our very first Sales Genius Network webinar: Creating a Powerful Sales Message: Getting In the Right Doors Faster.
In this webinar, we will lead you through the process of creating your powerful sales message. You’ll learn:
- Why messages fail
- The keys to creating and customizing powerful messages to get you in to see the important people you want to influence
- How to stand out in even to most competitive environments so that your propsects/customers understand the value you bring
- A draft of your sales message
- A clear action plan to put your message to work
- The steps to be able to replicate this across all your sales actions
All attendees will be able to share the message they create with one of Imagine’s Sales Coaches to provide direct feedback, and help improving the message.
Here are the details:
When: July 12th, 2pm EDT
Where: Online (Register now to get your unique link)
Investment: $50 per location – that’s right you can have as many people view this webinar from your location
All registrants will get access to the recording of this webinar, so don’t worry if something happens and you’re unable to be at your computer.
Register now to ensure that the 2nd half of 2012 is as successful as it can be.
For the last six years I’ve been talking about, working on and fiddling with an idea that would allow salespeople who truly desire to maximize their potential, impact and (yes) income. I’ve wanted to build a platform that would provide the support, leadership, insight, knowledge, experience and the ability to share experiences; giving serious salespeople the tools to propel their results.
For the last four years, it’s operated under the project name The Sales Genius Network. After spending countless hours trying to figure out how to launch the project completely, I realized that I needed to follow my own advice. Launch it, keep it simple and let its participants guide how it grows and what it ultimately becomes.
So today, I’m excited to share the first step in the journey, the official (soft) launch of The Sales Genius Network.
The first phase of The Sales Genius Network, will an be ongoing webinar series presented every month; focusing on topics like:
- Developing a powerful sales message that gets heard and gets you in the right doors faster.
- Account entry strategies that allow you to talk to decision makers when no one else can.
- Developing the questions that eliminate competition and close sales faster.
- Increasing referrals without ever having to ask for one.
- Shortening the time and reducing the effort it takes to manage your sales process.
- And much more
You’ll be able to sign up for the specific webinar you want, or you can subscribe to the series.
Our first webinar, Creating A Powerful Sales Message: Getting You In The Right Door Faster is scheduled for July 12th at 2pm. You can learn more about it here.
As many readers know, I coach college baseball. Last week the coaching staff got together because our team had hit little bit of a slump. We were trying to figure out why we had so much talent, but that talent wasn’t translating into the results that we expected on the field.
As the conversation progressed, I couldn’t help but get the déjà vu feeling that I had this conversation before, in the sales management arena. So often, too often for many small and mid-market companies, sales people who have talent and core ability to be extremely successful, yet they never meet their potential. This is a riddle that has confounded managers, trainers and consultants for years.
As we discussed the issue about the team, we came to the realization that not enough of the players truly hate to lose. And when I say hate to lose I don’t just mean that they don’t like losing, I mean hating to lose more than you enjoy winning.
Top performers in virtually any endeavor, share a common attribute – they loathe losing. Be it basketball, football, baseball, business or sales, top performers work hard, pay attention to the little things, learn and constantly improve because the feeling of a loss is simply detestable.
Everybody enjoys winning, and there are few people that I’ve met that dislike losing. The question to ask when assessing your salespeople is just how much, and what, are they willing to do to stay out of the loss column.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about how losing is part of the growth and success process. Since that post, I’ve received a lot of feedback. The vast majority of it has been absolutely on point and I’ve been excited to hear some of the stories that have been shared with me.
The post, however, is not an excuse to accept losing. When interviewing, managing and motivating salespeople, be on the look out to determine which camp they fall in – the ones who just enjoy winning or the ones that abhor
For 25 years the most frequent question I’ve gotten about sales efforts deals with successfully hiring salespeople. For small and mid-market companies (SME), hiring salespeople is the single, toughest and highest risk hire you can make. It’s what led me to write The 10 Most Common Mistakes Made When Hiring Salespeople.
Studies show that the mis-hire rate is as high as 75%, and that the total cost of a mis-hire is between 10 & 20 times the expected compensation rate.
My philosophy has always been that I’d rather have a bad salesperson than a good salesperson.
- When a salesperson is bad, letting them go is an easy decision and doing so minimizes the risk and cost implications.
- When they’re good, it’s almost (key word – almost) impossible to let them go. You constantly see the potential they have. Plus, there’s the feeling that having someone out there is better than having no one.
The problem is that good salespeople is that they commoditize your offerings. They never achieve that trusted advisor status that makes customers, clients and prospect truly value the salesperson or your company. The opportunity cost with good is huge.
The reality is that SMEs need great salespeople to grow and thrive. The problem is that most SMEs are not positioned to attract, recruit or retain great salespeople.
It is for this reason that I’ve put together my best thoughts, experiences and process that I’ve developed over the last 25 years.
I’ll be sharing my insights in our March 27th webinar: The Secrets to Successfully Hiring Salespeople.
I’ll be sharing:
- The 5 deadly myths that destroy your ability to hire salespeople successfully.
- The 4 sales roles, and how understanding those roles will multiply the effectiveness of your sales hiring.
- How to develop a system that will make you company a manufacturer of great salespeople.
- Develop effective measurements and metrics to ensure the wrong person doesn’t stay.
So join me on March 27th at 2 pm EST, and learn how to make the sales hiring process successful and predictable.
If you’re bringing something valuable to the market; something that will allow you to break away from your competition and sustain both growth and expanded marketing, then you need to realize that you’re in the change business.
This means that the primary focus of your sales and marketing efforts is to change the way your customers and prospects buy. At this point, a reasonable question to ask yourself is, “Why in the world would I want to change a customer’s approach to buying?” After all, it’s a tough, timely and complex thing to do.
There is only one reason to even think of taking on such an effort. That reason is that if the way your customers aren’t buying in a manner that drives your economic and business model, then you must embark on the effort. As marketing icon Geoffrey Moore once said, “To succeed with innovation, you must take your value proposition to such an extreme that competitors either cannot or will not follow.”
What you must understand is that changing your customer’s approach to buying takes time. You can’t expect to adequately influence your customers when your salespeople to show up near of the point that your customer is making a purchasing decision. While this is the default approach for businesses, it only results in increased operating and sales costs and increased pricing pressure.
You sales and marketing system must be designed for the long haul. In my experience, it takes a 12 – 18 month incubation period to effectively educate and influence target prospects. This is true regardless of what you perceive your typical sales cycle to be (and in reality, if you have a longer sales cycle, than the process takes even longer).
This incubation period is the primary reason the small and mid-market companies fail to implement effective sales and marketing systems. They fear that 12 – 18 months is simply too long to get a payoff. When I meet them, I always respond, “Well, sure it’s a long time. Where are you planning on being in a year or two?”
Companies that embrace the challenge, and develop the systems to support such a process enjoy disproportionate rewards. Will you be one of them?
Sure enough, a day after I present our webinar 5 Keys to Getting Your Sales Year Off to Fast Start, my friend and advisor happens to send her newsletter out reminding everybody that if you think that nothing happens the next two weeks – you’re thinking just like your competition.
Master Door Opener Caryn Kopp, shares several valuable thoughts on making the next two weeks productive. It’s well worth the read.
My favorite point: Often time that hard-to-reach decision maker who never has time for you, is probably more relaxed and chatty than normal.
Download her article, act on it and you’ll enjoy a head start.
Yesterday, as I was conducting some sales training for a client, we were talking about the importance of understanding your customer and I was sharing some tools we use to help companies and salespeople gain a better understanding (feel free to download it).
I could tell from the look on a few people’s faces that this was something they hadn’t done before. So, I shared a fundamental insight I’ve gain through 20+ years working with thousands of salespeople.
The biggest difference between great salespeople (who earn 2 – 10x what good salespeople make, and take far more time off as well) and good salespeople is the work the great ones do when they’re not in front of the customer. It’s just like athletics – the great ones practice harder, study more and constantly work on their craft. When you watch how hard someone like Drew Brees works before the game, it’s no surprise that he breaks records and wins Super Bowls (even though physically he’s not an ideal quarterback).
Great salespeople realize that a single small insight, gained from doing discovery work before they meet someone can be the difference between landing a multi-million dollar sale, while bypassing the RFP process, and failing to make the first cut.
Good salespeople work hard, often harder than the great ones. The problem is they dedicate all of their work during and after they meet with someone. They don’t like the pre-call practice and work required to gain those insights.
As you make your 2012 resolutions and goals, resolve to put more effort up-front in your sales efforts. Your income and vacation plans will appreciate it.
By the way, if you’d like to get a jumpstart on this resolution we’ll be sharing 5 insights into getting your sales year off to a fast start on Tuesday. It’s a free webinar and there’s still space to register.