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 expertise or solution you must overcome 2 huge barriers:
- You’re in a what’s it cost conversation, and
- Your competitors have expertise and solutions as well, and they’re probably pretty good too.
As a small, mid-market business, if your goal is to separate yourself from your competition, drive accelerated growth and expand your margins, you cannot do so by focusing on or attempting to differentiate your solutions.
You must – MUST – contribute to defining the problem.
Ask yourself these 3 questions to determine if your sales efforts are setting you apart and making growth effortless:
- How much time do I, or my salespeople, spend talking about our solution vs. digging deeper into the real problem facing my customer?
- In my sales calls with my prospects and customers, how much do they learn about their problem vs. learn about my solution? As a general rule, you want them to learn 3x more about what’s preventing them from achieving their desired objectives than about how your solution will help.
- How much documentation do we use to highlight and quantify the cause and cost of the problem? (Feel free to check out our Core Sales Toolkit if you’re looking for some tools.)
Having witnessed thousands of sales calls, and advised thousands of more, I can state – unequivocally – that the single biggest, most common and most damaging mistake is that selling organizations spend too little time defining the problem, and jump to the solution way too fast.
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 all of the above, then by all means keep doing what you’re doing (and why are you wasting your time reading this page). However, if your sales approach is not creating an unfair advantage, you won’t want to miss our next webinar.
Join us on April 3rd, from 2 – 3 pm EDT as Doug Davidoff, Founder & CEO of Imagine Business Development, shares key insights on Designing Your Sales Approach to Create Your Unfair Advantage.
This program is ideal for CEOs, Presidents, sales team leaders, and top salespeople looking to breakthrough the barriers that are holding them back. We’ll share the secrets that sales and marketing consultants don’t want you to know like:
- The lies about sales and marketing that are throwing your business into the heart of the commoditization trap.
- How the traditional approach to hiring salespeople is killing your profits.
- Why your definition of marketing is cutting your sales and profit potential by as much as 50%.
More importantly, we’ll dispel the myths and share the path and plan that is enabling $1 – $100 million companies in more than 25 industries to transform their sales approach into their unfair advantage. Enabling them to build the system that makes sales growth:
- Sustainable, and
Plus, we provide time for an open question and answer period so that you can get on the path to creating your unfair competitive advantage.
The bad news first:
Gravity is against you. The gravitational pull of commoditization is constantly working to eliminate your advantage, confuse your customers, hold your prices and profits down, and make you look, feel and sound like everybody else.
The good news?
It’s completely in your control to break free from gravity and enjoy tremendous growth, profit and lifestyle. But, it takes some work – hard work – up front.
- Ensure you have a consistent message that all team members know how to align with.
- Your website is well designed and fully aligned with your message.
- Your LinkedIn profile, and the profiles of your employees, is in line with your messaging and positioning and that you’re engaging.
- Create regular compelling content. As I had written (some might say too much) about the need to stop telling everyone what a rock star you are, and instead demonstrate it. Your content needs to be interesting, well written and provocative.
- Invest in the business acumen of your people. I don’t care what position they’re in, but especially if they’re customer facing or sales oriented – they need to be businesspeople first and foremost.
- You need to develop and implement a sales model that guides your sales actions – whether you’re the only salesperson or you’ve got a sales staff of 20 (or more).
- You must plan, prepare, act, learn, plan prepare, act, learn…and repeat the cycle.
I could go on, but this is a good start.
Yes, it’s hard. It can even feel overwhelming, but it’s not. What’s overwhelming is fighting gravity everyday, treading water and struggling for relevance.
A little more focus and energy upfront and you’ll turn the tide in your favor.
My very first post on this blog was about the challenges every business faces caused by the increased rate of commoditization. The more I work with companies, the more I realize that the issue is even more critical today.
Commoditization occurs when your customers/prospects stop listening, eliminate what you perceive makes you special and reduce you (and your competitors) to the lowest common denominator, which is typically price (or something equally arbitrary and harmful to you).
Most companies attempt to do one of three things in response. They differentiate, innovate and/or value-add. Unfortunately, all this really does is throw more noise and complexity into the mix, causing customers to listen even less.
To break through the noise, businesses, marketers and salespeople must do two things:
- First, and foremost, they must start thinking like their customers, and stop making their customers think like them.
- By doing so, they can then effectively find way to earn their customers’ attention.
The key to breaking free from commoditization is getting people to listen. Here are some successful tactics that you can use to earn more attention (and drive more sales):
- As a business:
- Share knowledge on your website that can help your customers do their job better.
- Curate the knowledge that’s out there, and become a resource for your customers.
- As a marketer:
- Instead of sending sales material, write and share an article that highlight the tips or secrets to creating the results you promise.
- Create a presentation your sales team can use to provoke awareness of the key problems you company addresses.
- As a salesperson:
- Next time you ask for an appointment, instead of telling them about all of your benefits, promise to share the results of a study that will help your contact (even if the contact never buys anything from you).
- Develop a list of questions that reframe how your customer looks at their business, instead of how they consider your product/service.
These are just some of the things you can do, what ideas have worked for
I love watching top performers work. It doesn’t matter what the endeavor is, they all make extraordinarily difficult things seem effortless. Whether it’s sports, art, theater, business or sales, top performers make it look and feel easy.
I’ve studied top performers for the last 25 years, as a salesperson, executive, and coach. I’ve learned that they not only make it look effortless, they make it effortless. Don’t get me wrong, it takes a lot of hard work to make something effortless, and once you get there your opportunities are limitless.
What I find even more interesting is that in every craft, there are groups of people who want to make it feel complicated and hard. This is especially true when it comes to sales growth. It’s in the interest of highly paid consultants and “gurus” to convince the world that growing a business is complicated.
The reality is that it’s not. Sales growth is actually quite simple (not easy – simple). For many, it’s too simple, and that’s why it can be so elusive for small and mid-market companies. There’s an assumption that something so valued and valuable must be extraordinarily complicated.
The most important discovery I’ve made in 20 years is that the key to real success is keeping things simple. So, how does that apply to sales growth? How can you make sense of all the information and advise out there about growth? Simple, just learn and master The 7 Steps to Achieving Effortless Growth.
Over the last several months, my team came to the realization that, in many ways, we were contributing to the confusion and complexity surrounding sales growth. Realizing that we were contributing to the very problem we were aiming to solve, we have worked hard over the last four months to simplify everything. That effort led to this new structure.
While I will continue to write about many issues relating to your go-to-market efforts, Effortless Growth will become a central theme.
Here are the seven steps (I’ve linked these steps to previous posts on this topic to give you more color):
- Focus on the system – not the behavior.
- Be “maniacally” clear on your “who.”
- Focus on your “why.”
- Provoke your customer.
- Cultivate and engage.
- Bring your value proposition to life.
- Stop selling!
The trends are not good when judging the effectiveness of small and mid-market B2B sales efforts.
- According to recent purchasing surveys, as many as 40% of organizational buying processes are ending in a “no decision.”
- A recent research project done by the Wall Street Journal demonstrated that on 37% of salespeople were actually effective, and a comprehensive research project done by The Sales Research Council shows number worse than that.
- Margin and pricing pressure continues to mount on businesses, even as we emerge from deep recession.
- Finding good salespeople is tougher than ever.
Most companies continue to struggle to find a successful growth formula that will work in the short-, mid-, and long-term. There are, however, a few businesses that have transformed the challenges before them into a significant advantage over their competition. They’ve developed new ways to shorten the sales cycle, bypass competition and grow margins.
These companies understand that their sales process is the most powerful leverage point available to their business. Companies that are able to materially shorten the sales cycle enjoy huge advantages over their competitors.
- They need less money or capital to grow.
- They are able to capture more revenue without adding people.
- They enjoy a significant cost advantage.
- They’re margins and profits are substantially higher.
Shortening the sales cycle should be a key objective for every growing company. Yet, only about 5 – 10% of small and mid-market B2B companies are able to do so consistently.
Make sure you’re one of them!
Join us on May 23rd at 2pm EDT, as we share the secrets to shortening your sales cycle in our latest webinar.
The days of sending your salespeople into the field (or allowing them to wait for prospects to come to them) armed with product brochures, company glossies and boring PowerPoint presentations and expecting them to “dig deep,” “discover,” engage and close are over!
Today’s world is too tough and too competitive, you’re customers are too time-pressed and overwhelmed with other issues, and your salespeople must deal with unprecedented complexity. Your organization can longer leave it to each salesperson to manage their sales effort independently.
Great companies have seized the opportunity presented by this challenge and are investing the time and resources necessary to create an organizational approach to sales. These companies understand that to gain an advantage and drive powerful results, the organization must provide their salespeople the:
- Provocative story to open doors and gain buyer attention,
- Ongoing, effective communication of this story to their market,
- Sales tools that support the salesperson’s ability to share the story,
- Diagnostic protocol, training and insights needed to enable the salesperson to tailor the story to their prospect, and
- Road maps to enable the salesperson to choose their actions and anticipate what’s next.
While investing in this effort is certainly an undertaking, the pay-off is huge. Companies that successfully implement this approach see their salespeople produce 200% more than the average in sales, while the profit difference is typically 4x – 10x average.
Plus, these companies build a momentum that makes sales and growth almost effortless, while the companies that are still doing things the old way are finding the market increasingly difficult and treacherous.
And please note, if you have great salespeople that are successful even without this type of support, you’re in grave danger of losing those salespeople to organizations that provide this support, where they’ll make more money and not have to work as hard.
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.
In the last week I’ve had at least five conversations about the importance of content to support the sales and marketing process. It’s probably a result of the Making Marketing Work webinar we held last week, but the resistance seems to be the same with everyone.
We talk about the importance of content, the strategy to direct the content and the incredibly positive impact this approach has on sales results. Inevitably, the person I’m discussing this with acknowledges the weaknesses they have without it, and its benefits. Then I get the “but.” As in, “But, someone will have to write the content, and keep it fresh and up-to-date.”
My response? “Damn right someone has to do that!”
What do they expect? Look, we live in an incredibly intense and competitive marketplace today. There’s tremendous pressure on margins and differentiating is tougher than ever. Do people really think they can accelerate profitable growth, scale a company and maximize their equity value without expending significant effort?
Companies that do not have an adequate marketing cultivation system suffer extreme limits to their sales ability. Our research demonstrates that the results of sales efforts are reduced by 30 – 70%. The most direct way to doubling your profits isn’t hiring more salespeople, it’s implementing an effective cultivation program. But, yeah, that takes time and effort.
If you’re struggling to find the resources to support the effort, here’s my recommendation: allocate the expense of a salesperson to support the effort. Think about it, if you’ve got 3 salespeople and you eliminate 1 to implement such a program, you’ll still come out 25 – 50% ahead.
Full disclosure – my company develops, implements and/or manages marketing cultivation programs for small and mid-market companies. The reason we do it is because of the impact we’ve seen when a company has such a program versus what happens when a company doesn’t.
In July of 2011, I wrote a somewhat controversial rant as to why marketing just doesn’t work for the vast majority of small and mid-market (SME) B2B companies. As John Wanamaker famously said, “I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but I can never find out which half.” If you’re involved in a small or mid-market B2B company, you probably wish you were only wasting half.
In our experience, those companies that even do marketing not only find that half of their marketing efforts are a waste, but the half that is having impact is only creating about 50% of the results is should be. And it’s costing your company millions in lost opportunities.
This is the largest vulnerability facing SME’s. Ineffective marketing processes put far too much pressure on your sales efforts, making them less effective in both closing business and protecting your margins. An effective B2B marketing process is critical do either improve sales results, decrease sales costs or too do both.
Next Wednesday, January 18th we’ll share the inside secrets that will allow SME’s to double the impact of their sales efforts, without hiring another salesperson. Join us for:
The best companies in the world know the power and leverage that marketing provides – allowing them to break free and bypass competition why driving tremendous profitability.
In this program we’ll share:
- The 3 critical mistakes SMBs make that cause their sales costs to skyrocket and reduces your closing rates
- A 5-Step Marketing System that directly connects marketing efforts to sales and allows you to gage the ROI of EVERY activity
- How to utilize marketing efforts to double the impact – and value – of your salespeople
Here’s a preview (RSS Readers Click Here to View Video):
For those new to the blog (and as a refresher to those loyal readers), I’d like to make sure you know about three resources we have to help ensure that 2012 is your best yet.
- Fast Growth Tips. Every week I’ll share a tip, insight or observation into successfully growing your business. We’ve already shared 7 insights to making your lead generation efforts work. Currently we’re in the middle of sharing thoughts to make your marketing efforts work, and we’ll be focusing on how to build a high performance sales team in the coming weeks.
- Powering Your Annual Plan. I know that as a business leader there is no way you would have procrastinated on finishing up your 2012 plan, but in case you did we’ve gotten some great response on this simple workbook to developing and presenting a simple, powerful annual plan.
- Understanding Your Customer Workbook. Regular readers of this blog know how important it is to know and understand your customers, better than they know and understand themselves. The 20th century was all about segmenting products and services; the 21st is all about segmenting customers. Today, the only real sustainable advantage is a deep understanding of your “who.” This workbook is one of our most frequently downloaded; if you haven’t completed this workbook I encourage you to do so.
Thanks again for joining me on this journey. As I’ll be sharing later this week, the outlook is as good as it’s been in years – now it’s just time to execute.
Oh yeah, I don’t miss out on signing up for our next webinar on January 18th – Making Marketing Work: Harness The Power of Effective B2B Marketing to Leverage Your Sales Efforts.
I’m not going to lie to you. The last 10 days have been bad. Whether the S&P’s downgrade of the US government has any real meaningful impact or not, it’s both embarrassing and completely confusing. It’s a shot to the gut – for everyone.
The worst thing about it is that it is sapping the confidence in what is already a low-confidence environment. And the problem is that no one, no company, does anything that matters when they lack confidence.
If you’re selling a compelling value proposition to B2B companies, it’s a pretty good bet you’re asking your prospect/customer to make an important decision – a decision that involves some level of risk. It’s too easy for customers to just put things off, and wait for clarity.
This is where you come in. In a market that lacks confidence, buyers seek those who have it. Now is the time for you to be certain; to live the philosophy:
It’s okay to be wrong, just don’t be in doubt.
In November 2008 I said, “Damn the recession – full speed ahead.”
Today, I share the same sentiment. Be the company customers seek out for certainty and confidence – you’ll enjoy the result.
I’m reading a fascinating book right now, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (affil link).
One chapter addresses how great leaders (called Multipliers) make decisions. Specifically, Multipliers act as “debate makers,” while less effective leaders (called Diminishers) act as “the decider.”
Of course, one of the most famous “deciders” of all-time is President George W. Bush. The authors referenced an interview Bush conducted with author Bob Woodward where he said:
I’m a gut player. I play by instincts. I don’t play by the book.
Woodward, who wrote four books on Bush’s presidency and conducted more than 11 hours of interviews with him, had this to say about Bush:
I think [Bush] is impatient. My summation: He doesn’t like homework. And homework means reading or getting briefed or having a debate. A part of the presidency, part of governing, particularly in this area is homework, homework, homework.
Now please understand this post has nothing to do with Bush, Woodward or politics. The point is that Woodward’s description of Bush is smack-on to the description of the vast majority of salespeople.
I’ve often wondered why intelligent people don’t do the things that they know will help them get better results. Reading this passage lit a bulb for me. The reason is simple:
LOTS OF PEOPLE DON’T LIKE HOMEWORK
Unfortunately, the truth of our times today is that if you want to be successful selling, homework (often lots of it) is necessary. It’s a lot like the signs I saw when I first brought my son to workout at his baseball facility. They read:
- Mediocrity not accepted here
- Champions do what others don’t, when others don’t want to do it
The same is true of successful salepeople.
A few weeks ago, I shared a review for The Design of Business, an excellent perspective on design thinking and strategy. Since reading the book, I’ve been far more aware of how this type of thinking provides a critical advantage in the sales process.
Successful selling today requires that you be able to get your customers to understand the limitations of the status quo and to develop complex solutions that can be easily understood. You must have the ability to understand your customer’s current (perceived) reality and to enable them to see how your solution can effectively change that reality to create a better one.
This requires a dynamic-type of thinking that is missing in many sales organizations. Design Thinking is ideal for this effort. Combining the strengths of deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning, “Designers” can lead frustrated buyers to the future they desire, while driving high-margin sales opportunities.
By no means do I think every salesperson must become a “Designer,” but every sales organization needs to have a least one.
On the advice of a client, I’ve started reading Peter Schutz’s The Driving Force: Getting Extraordinary Results with Ordinary People. Schutz was the CEO responsible for turning Porsche around.
I’ve just started reading the book and wanted to share one of the most powerful management questions I’ve come across in years. Schutz tells the story of his early days at Porsche. Every Monday, 40 top managers of all disciplines get together for lunch. Schutz found the conversations taking place there to be both boring and mundane. Unable to stop himself, he blurted out:
Tell me, what is happening at Porsche today that is so exciting that you can hardly wait to run and tell our customers and dealers about it?
What a powerful question! What are you excited about?