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 job is when I’m more excited about your company, your products, services and your impact than you are. I don’t know what it is, but the way 98%+ of companies talk about themselves is just boring. Maybe it’s because our parents told us that bragging about ourselves is rude. Maybe it’s because we’re so focused in trying to get people to understand the importance of what we do that we can’t help but “blah, blah, blah” our way to oblivion. Whatever the reason, it’s ineffective, it’s killing your company and it needs to stop! Now!
We work with a client (who’s name and details I will protect here) who does some amazing things. Their product is truly disruptive and yet extraordinarily simple. Their solution can materially and permanently reduce the cost of manufacturing, increase efficiencies, virtually eliminate rejection rates and shorten production cycles. What’s more it can be implemented in days, requires little training and no change or retrofitting for their customers manufacturing process.
Yet, how did my client talk about themselves? They talked about their process. They talked about the technical details. They were (and still are to some degree) reasonable that a manufacturing process is complex, and the credited their prospects with the knowledge and understanding to allow them to translate their features and benefits into meaningful results.
The important thing to remember is that your prospects and customers don’t have time to think. They’re too busy trying to keep up with the multitude of demands, the simply do not have the attention span to connect what you do to even the most obvious of points. If you talk about yourself like a commodity, you are going to be treated like one.
The solution is to stop talking about your features and benefits – features and benefits are dead. You need to speak the language of results. Lead with impact. No start with what you think makes you unique, finish with it.
- Be bold.
- Share you experience – help them understand why they’re failing to get the results they desire.
- Take charge. Remember, your job is to challenge your customers.
We work hard to get to essence of what makes our client’s companies special, while standing out from competition and resonating with clients. In an effort to help end the boredom, I’d like to share our approach with you. If you’d like to access The Five Tips to Stand Out & Resonate With Your Market, along with an accompanying worksheet, you can download it here.
For 18 months now, I’ve been ripping Blackberry on this blog. Just yesterday and I mocking their announcement that we’re going to be blown away by the new phones they will be releasing. As I told my friend that I’ve heard that before, he asked me an excellent question.
He asked, “Doug, what would Blackberry need to do or say for you to compliment them on their actions?”
My first thought was probably nothing. I realized that wasn’t fair, or true. Blackberry still endears very positive feelings from many. In many ways they remind me of Apple when Steve Jobs returned. While I highly doubt Blackberry will turn it around, I took my friend challenge and wrote the letter that I’d like to see Blackberry’s CEO, Thorsten Heins, share (Thorsten, feel free to use):
We screwed up, and on behalf of the board and executive management team I apologize.
You see, we forgot who we were. No, strike that. The truth is we never really knew who we were. We got so successful, so fast, we never had to figure that out.
Do you remember when you saw your first Blackberry? You probably laughed, thought was an ugly, cumbersome pager, and wondered who in the world would ever pay a monthly fee to get their email. Heck, many of you probably didn’t even have email accounts when the first Blackberry came out.
But, boy did we delight high volume email users and “intelligence” workers. We freed you from your desks. We made the 15 minutes between meetings productive. We turned libraries into communication centers (if you know what I mean).
We were engineers and innovators and we built a company. Even more, we built a brand. We became rock stars. We could do no wrong. We created a whole new product category – the smartphone. And, we thought we owned the category.
It was a great story. Unfortunately, the feeling that we owned the category turned into feeling that we were entitled to own the category. It’s not really that we lost sight of what was happening in the market, or how our customers were changing; in actuality we never paid attention. We didn’t need to.
It’s easy to blame our problems on the introduction of the iPhone, but that would be lazy. The problem is that we forgot that innovation isn’t a one-time event, and successful innovation isn’t just pumping out new versions or introducing things that don’t matter. We learned that innovation certainly isn’t copying others (sorry, Apple).
Here’s what we’re going to do about it:
- We’re going back to our very first principles that started the movement. We are going to be engineers and innovates, not gurus.
- We’re going to stop touting our products. Our customers and fans will speak for us.
- We’re going to stop competing. This is what caused us to make all the mistakes I’m apologizing for. Instead, we’re going to focus on wowing and amazing our best customers. This means that many of you may be confused or disappointed by what we develop – that’s okay; we learned that trying to be all things to all people is bad for your stock price.
- Last, and most importantly, we’re going to focus on creating value again. We’re going to really focus on our best customers and biggest fans. We’re going to ask – and answer – what problems, challenges or desire do they have that we are uniquely capable of solving. This means that we’re going to have to accept that we’re a smaller company. We’re going to reengage with our startup roots and look to build and create a brand new category. I can’t tell you where that journey will go, or end. I know that many currently with us will not stay, and while unfortunate, it is certainly understood.
I hope you’ll join us.
There are 2 types of companies in the world today. You are either:
- The best, or
- You’re a “Me-too” company
Only “best” companies will earn margin premiums and enjoy the growth worthy of the hard work of business executives and salespeople.
I’m becoming increasingly convinced that BlackBerry is rapidly falling into the “Me-too” category, and will become increasingly irrelevant (and less profitable) going forward.
Full Disclosure: I’m an Apple fanatic (of course, if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know that). I’ve owned every version of the iPhone within a week of its release. So maybe that colors my thoughts, but I don’t think so.
One of the fundamental precepts of great businesses is to narrow your market focus and expand your yield. Great companies are maniacally focused on who their customers are – and who they aren’t. Jim Collins made that clear in his seminal book Good to Great.
BlackBerry, at one time, was an absolute killer device. I had one and loved it. Ever since the iPhone came out, and the smart phone category exploded, BlackBerry has been struggling with finding its place. The Storm was a disaster (on all counts), and they continue to lose market share.
To fight that, they keep “innovating” and coming out with new products. A recent view of their website highlights seven different models to chose from. So I ask, what is a BlackBerry?
In contrast, Apple offers one model (two if you consider the fact that they are still selling the 3GS), and no one need ask the question, “What is an iPhone?”
Watching BlackBerry’s approach reminds me of the 1991 movie, Other People’s Money. In it, Danny DeVito played the memorable character Larry the Liquidator. In trying to takeover a dying company, he said:
We’re dead alright. We’re just not broke. And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.
Here’s my corollary:
You know the surest way to go broke? Keep introducing more new products while you continue to lose share of a growing market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.
Think about this for a moment. Who loves – I mean really loves – their BlackBerry?
Heavy duty email users – that’s who.
Email was the entire basis of BlackBerry’s success to begin with. They invented technology and a device that solved a critical problem for people.
Now, what’s their newest device? The BlackBerry Style. Huh?! What?! If someone is buying a phone for “style;” guess what – they’re buying an iPhone.
People who buy BlackBerrys buy them for function. BlackBerry is superior to the iPhone if email is critical. The iPhone is superior in just about every other way.
What Should BlackBerry Do?
To ensure its future, BlackBerry needs to stop playing other people’s games. They need to focus on their core market – heavy duty email users.
Is that a smaller market than the size of their current business today? Yup. But guess what, BlackBerry isn’t as big as it thinks it is.
BlackBerry needs to answer the same question that small and mid-market companies are faced with every day:
Do I keep fighting for volume and size which will result in less profit and greater vulnerability, or do I accept the market for what it is and focus on what we do best and become relevant?
What would you decide?
I was talking with my friend, advisor and client – Gini Dietrich, and it hit me that I’ve been blogging for 5 years now. So, wanting to avoid some work for a few minutes, I thought it would be fun to go back and look at my first few posts.
I have to admit that as I read them, I was surprised by how applicable they still are today. My first content post was titled Commoditization Is The Enemy of Growth. Unfortunately – it still is. For your benefit, I’m posting it again:
How easily can buyers quantify the differences between your offering and your competitors? How easily can your customers make those same distinctions? How can you continuously differentiate your company when market forces are constantly commoditizing you? Think about that question for a moment. It is the greatest challenge facing businesses of all sizes in the 21st century.
Commoditization is the evolutionary process that reduces all offerings to their lowest common denominator. Commoditization is the situation businesses find themselves in when their focus is mainly on their offering instead of the quantifiable difference their offering delivers to their customers. I have asked over 2,000 businesses why people should buy from them. Virtually all of the answers fall into the category of “we are better,” or “we give more value” and virtually all of those answers propel the business into commoditization.
“Value creation” is among the most common buzzwords used in business today. There is only one meaningful definition in business for the word value: something buyers would be willing to pay for. Your company can do great things, but if people aren’t willing to pay more for it, your company is not creating value.
So I ask: What are you doing to break away from commoditization? How are you making value creation a core discipline of your company?
I realize I’m about to induce headaches, but it’s critical you stay with me. I’m losing sleep, because every day I’m seeing really good businesses throw themselves into the middle of the commoditization trap. Once there, your future is best described as quicksand – either do nothing and sink slowly and fight like mad and sink more quickly.
The fatal error can best be described as taking what you do and selling it. If you think what you do is what you sell, YOU ARE A COMMODITY, AND YOU WILL BE RIGHTFULLY COMMODITIZED. If that’s the case, then you must play the commoditization game to have any chance of success. (That game, by the way, is won by growing volume and cutting prices faster than anyone else. It is a race to the bottom.)
I created the following SlideShare presentation to illustrate my point. If you’re new to the blog, you can read these posts about pricing and value creation.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was my first “official” sales job in a stereo/furniture store. Having botched my first “presentation,” my manager pulled me aside and said to me, “Doug, it’s far better to ask a question than to make a statement.” That was my first lesson – questions matter.
Then I engaged in formalized sales training, where I was told that there were different types of questions. I learned that open-ended questions (those encouraging the prospect to respond freely) were typically better than closed-ended questions (those that limited the responses).
In 1991, I read SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. Reading this, I learned that there were even more types of questions, and that open vs. closed questions weren’t they key differentiator of success. Rackham introduced the world to a new model of questions and taught those willing to listen that there were high-value questions and low-value questions. The key to successful selling was to keep the percentage of high-value questions high, and the percentage of low-value questions to an absolute minimum. What was great about Rackham’s work was that for the first time, there was actual research to back up the findings.
Since then, I’ve spent almost 20 years learning more about the power of questions. There is no skill more valuable to anyone wanting to grow business than the ability to ask powerful, thought-provoking questions. I’m left speechless though, when I see just how little progress most of the sales profession has made in the area of asking questions. The only word I can use to describe 90%+ of the questions selling organizations and salespeople ask is – BORING.
In blog after blog, and article after article (I won’t name them here as I don’t wish to embarrass anyone), I’m shocked by how low-value and manipulative the questions are. Too often the sales questions asked have these attributes in common:
- The only party learning anything in the process is the selling organization.
- Questions are based upon assumptions that (to steal a legal term) are not in evidence. The salesperson (and for this post salesperson refers to anyone selling, whether they consider themselves a salesperson on not) burrows in and attacks the customers. The question, “what concerns you about…” is actually an attacking question. The buyer realizes that by answering such a question they are giving up any power or control they may have and, in essence, they know they are about to “be sold.”
- The questions are narrow in scope at best and myopic at worst. The questions are asked from the viewpoint of the seller, instead of being asked to mutually understand the viewpoint of the buyer (and the buyer’s organization). If you come in and ask a question such as, “Explain the challenges you are having with your IT.” You’ve narrowed the scope to IT, which is your solution. As I’ve written before – your solution is not my problem. The reality is no buyer has an IT problem. The problem they have is that they are failing to get a critical business result that IT should be delivering – focus on the result.
- The questions don’t probe very deeply. Recently, I was working with a sale rep who was preparing for a major meeting. She reviewed the questions she was going to ask. An example of one of the questions she was going to ask was, “How should your performance management system work?” The problem with this question is it is based on the belief that they customer knows how the process should work. The rep needed to remember that if the customer knew how performance management systems should work – they wouldn’t need the performance management consulting service the rep was proposing. Asking this type of question (which get asked all the time) is the equivalent of your doctor asking, “How should your cardiovascular system work?”
- They fail to create any value.
For the last 20 years, salespeople could get away with asking boring questions. With so many “fish jumping out the water,” salespeople were able to “paddle their boat around and let the fish jump in.” Today, it’s the opposite. Not only are fish not jumping, they’ve gone down deep. I’ve written before about the drought we are in (and probably will be in for some time); and with fewer buyers, disappearing discretionary budgets and intense competition, salespeople are penalized for failing to create value. Today, if you want a buyer’s attention, you must bring something special to the table – and that “special-ness” has nothing to do with your offering. Buyers expect you to know their business, their strategies, and their problems – without having to ask sales questions to get there.
If you want to cut your sales cycle time and sales costs, the best thing you can do is build your diagnostic selling skills. At the core of your diagnostic skills is your ability to ask powerful, provoking questions. I call these types of questions Resonating Questions™, because they cause the person being asked the question to think, at multiple levels, about their situation and impacts. Selling yesterday was about having the right answer; tomorrow, it’s about being able to ask the most powerful questions. Here’s a guide to know if you’re asking powerful questions:
- The person answering the question benefits from answering it more than the person asking the question.
- They create context. Ask any good coach and they’ll tell you that the difference between average performance and top performance isn’t knowledge; it’s context. Top performers don’t know more, they’re just able to do more with what they know because they understand better. Context creates understanding. Powerful questions allow the buyer to understand their world and their issues better. Just yesterday I had a client, who utilized one of our questioning structures that we call The Belief Conversation™, tells us how fast her prospect opened up to her and bought their ideas. She was surprised how fast the trust developed and how little they had to say about themselves to earn a trusted resource status. The reason was because the questions created context that allowed the buyer to understand their needs better, and because the seller was the one who created the context, trust and action came with it.
- They’re results oriented. Remember, nobody wants your stuff; nobody wants to buy anything from you. What they want are results; the challenge is that buyers aren’t always clear on the results so they focus on the stuff – and the stuff has little value.
- Powerful questions take the conversation deeper. They trace symptoms to causes and explore the consequences of various actions and inaction. Buyers understand their symptoms, but rarely understand the cause, and as a result they try to treat the symptom. Because the symptom is not really the problem, no solution truly resonates and sellers get commoditized.
- They’re asked in the interest of the buying organization. We work with a really powerful sales team, they’ve got everything going for them. Their people are strong, smart, and capable. Their firm has a great reputation. Their challenge is that they are not comfortable asking questions that might have answers that aren’t in the seller’s interest. They think that either the answers have nothing to do with them (the seller can’t do anything about it) or they may open up a potential weakness in the seller’s offering. While this is not unusual in the sales world, their failure to fully understand their buyer’s world has limited their ability to accelerate the adoption of their higher margin offerings which they define as the core of their future competitive advantage.
- The questions are asked in a conversational format. (Download Steve Yastrow’s free ebook on Encounters to learn more about this.)
The great thing about Resonating Questions is that once asked the person being asked the question can’t help but consider it – even after the salesperson leaves. Resonating Questions are like a great workout – while the benefit during the workout is good; it’s in the time after the workout, as the body adjusts to the disruption caused by the workout, when the real benefit kicks in. So, stop asking boring questions and take the time to build powerful, resonating ones. Your buyers will reward you with faster, more profitable sales.
This post first appeared more than four years ago on this blog. Recently, I’ve had several conversations with clients and staff that have reminded me of this post. I thought it would be worth sharing with you again. Here it is:
I just attended a conference where Boris Brott, one of Canada’s most famous symphony conductors was a keynote speaker. In his speech, he noted that in the history of music, there are only 12 notes. He also noted that most musical compositions only use 5.
Despite all of the creativity, the beauty, and the memories for which music has been responsible, it has a very simple foundation. I realized how much businesses could learn by looking at the composition of music. Every musical composition from the most nuanced, classical music, to rock, rap and reggae involve the same 12 notes.
Companies are constantly trying to “differentiate” themselves. They are constantly trying to “add value” and to “innovate.” Too often, companies make life complex for the sake of making things complex. They claim the complexity is necessary so that their clients and prospects will understand how they are different. The reality is the complexity just further commoditizes the business.
No one will mistake Beethoven’s compositions with Bruce Springsteen’s. They are clearly different, and they use the same 12 notes. Apply this principle to your marketing and product development. Simplifying can be the greatest differentiators of them all.
What could you simplify? Where are you being unnecessarily complex? What notes should you be playing?
Earlier this week, I wrote a post about The 5 Levels of Sales Excellence. It’s generated a lot of discussion, best summed up by this stream of comments:
- Rodney Johnson says:
Doug – you nailed this one. I can tell you that businesses are struggling with the peddlers and commoditizers in their organizations. If they could just find a few Professionals, they would be in heaven. If they could find a Demand Creator, they would have found Utopia.
So let me ask you. Where does one look? How do we evaluate? And are Demand Creators even available?
- Doug Davidoff says:
Rodney, that is a great question. I’ll begin writing the answer now. I’ll post it as soon as it’s done.
- Rodney Johnson says:
I thought about my question, and at least in my world working with CEOs through Vistage, I can say with certainty that the Demand Creators tend to be the CEO/Entrepreneur of the organization. They have the skill set. They have the business acumen. They have the connections. And they definitely have the drive. If this is the case, finding individuals out there with Demand Creation skills is likely a very elite and small group. Your thoughts?
Here are my thoughts:
First and foremost, Demand Creators and even most professionals are very rarely (to a statistically insignificant level) “found”; instead, they are made. The only meaningful exception to this, as Rodney points out, is found at the CEO and entrepreneur level. They create demand, most often, because they are the creators of the value for their company and can’t help but go deep and resonate with buyers. The challenge is that CEO/entrepreneurs create demand in a non-replicable way and that creates a “growth wall” that halts most companies’ growth.
While sales mythology is filled with stories of “natural” sales superstars, reality rarely lives up to the story. The only meaningful difference between these natural sales superstars, Demand Creators and unicorns, is that the sales superstar does actually exist; but they are EXTRAORDINARILY hard to find, they are very expensive and they are very difficult to keep happy. Peter Drucker said you can’t scale a business requiring genius, and the same is true here.
The Critical Element to Make Demand Creators
The prerequisite to make/create Demand Creators is a repeatable, sustainable sales and marketing process. This is where IBM destroyed its competitors in IBM’s heyday. IBM was a superior sales organization, not because they hired better sales people (actually, IBM had a huge advantage in their ability to hire younger, less experienced salespeople than their competitors), but because they had a superior process – in the full sense of the word.
This leads to another myth – salespeople hate process. Properly stated (and in the context of my post on Demand Creators) it is true: pests, peddlers and commoditizers hate process. Professionals and Demand Creators thrive on effective process.
Please don’t confuse a repeatable sales and marketing process with things like the stages of a sale. While I’m a big fan of a lot of sales training programs out there (and they’ve certainly inspired a lot of my thinking over the last 20 years), they do not represent process. At best, they represent stages. Whether you’re talking about Tom Hopkins, Brian Tracy, Miller Heiman, Neil Rackham, Sandler, Huthwaite, Bosworth, et al; they demonstrate stages, not repeatable process (please note, it is not my intention to slight any of these fine organizations, I think they all do a very good job).
Think about this for a moment. If you were interviewing an operations manager, front line worker, accountant, controller, CFO, or virtually any non-sales and marketing position and they said something like the following, would you hire them?
“Before you hire me, I want you to know that I have my own way of doing things. It’s worked for me for years so I’m going to do it my way, rather than yours.”
Of course not. Can you imagine an accountant saying they find GAAP just a little too constraining, so they’ll just ignore it (oops, I guess that’s what happened at Enron)? But companies let salespeople do this everyday. An effective process makes a decent salesperson good, a good one great, and a great one a superstar. (A superstar by the way is merely a great salesperson who follows a process – whether it’s a stated process or not.)
The reason a process works and is so critical is that an effective process introduces constraints. Constraints, properly applied, force increased focus – which leads to more depth. A salesperson can only create demand by going deeper than their competitors do. These constraints create predictability, which is critical to effectively allocating resources (which for a salesperson really comes down to time). As author, professor, and consultant Jim Collins has said, if you take the person out of the process, the person is no longer as good.
Further, a repeatable process is, by definition, trainable and coachable. This means that you can hire people who fit a particular profile (as done in any top notch hiring process, and a subject I’ll write about shortly) and teach them how to do this. This makes the position hirable and it enables a company to ensure it can continue to grow.
The problem that the vast majority of small and mid-market businesses (SMB) have is that they have neither the time nor the expertise to create such a system. So they either rely on the salesperson to “figure it out,” have absolutely no system or overly rely on the “systems” presented in sales training programs (which as I’ve already mentioned are not adequate substitutes for process).
I know this because for the last five years a core focus of my company has been helping SMBs create these systems, and we’ve been helping companies make their sales teams professionals and Demand Creators.
For the last 20+ years, I’ve spent my life working with businesses and salespeople. I’ve seen quite a bit change over that time – things that have both encouraged and discouraged me. On the encouraging front, I feel confident that today, the best, most capable and professional salespeople are there. Despite several calls for “The End of the Salesforce,” there are salespeople creating more economic value for both their employers and their buyers than ever before. Today, more than ever, the need for highly trained, capable salespeople is a must-have for businesses.
On the discouraging front, everyday, I see a majority of salespeople failing to create the very economic value that exist to create. While many salespeople have truly become professionals and executives, the overall “center of gravity,” if you will, of the sales profession has not moved markedly. This is damaging for two compelling reasons:
- First, in today’s ultra-competitive marketplace caused by the recent drought, salespeople cannot afford to be anything less than excellent to create economic value for the selling organization, and
- Second, the overall lack of professionalism and value creation on the part of sellers is causing an exponential increase in the number of buyers who actively finding ways to avoid dealing with salespeople altogether. They figure that since so many salespeople are commoditizing themselves, they might as well just treat them that way. This had led to the rapid increases in RFPs and the increase in power of procurement in buying processes.
Part of my company’s underlying mission is to end all of this bad selling and to support the understanding and growth of the strategic importance that sales and salespeople have. So, for the last 15 years, I’ve been keeping copious notes on the difference between bad salespeople, decent ones, good ones, and great ones. This has led to the creation of what I call The 5 Levels of Sales Excellence. Understanding these levels is important to ensuring that your sales efforts create value.
The 5 Levels of Sales Excellence
At the bottom are the pests. These are the salespeople who just go out and bother people. Their disciples of the “sales is purely a numbers game,” and gosh darn it if they don’t go out there pushing numbers. They’re the ones who show up at a networking event and greet all comers with the battle cry, “Nice to meet you, here’s my card.” They’re poor at asking questions, they don’t listen and they extract value from the process. The biggest problem they represent (even if you don’t have pests on your team) is that it is the profile of the pest that first comes to mind, and is most associated, with salespeople. When executives in your buyer’s organization here a salesperson from your company is coming, pest is the picture that comes to mind, even if they know that your salesperson isn’t one. So, you must always manage against this perception.
The peddler is focused on the “stuff they’re selling.” Often times, they’re great conversationalists (in that they can tell some terrific stories and have much charisma), and they play the part of resource, but you know you’re dealing with a peddler because they spend far more time talking than working to understand. Their “solution” is always the right one “if you’d just understand.” Peddlers don’t listen well, when they ask questions they’re not high value questions, and they don’t “go deep”. A peddler focuses on getting to the presentation/proposal/recommendation as quickly as possible and firmly believes that you have to ask someone to say “yes” five times to have a real chance at success. They thrive on objections, as they’re “buying signs.” Peddlers create little or no value in the sales process, and as a result they lengthen sales cycles and increase sales costs.
I used to call the commoditizer a “professional peddler.” The commoditizer is clearly focused on the solution. Typically, they have a significant level of expertise when it comes to the solution, and they believe firmly in it. Commoditizers ask a lot of questions (they’ve learned that’s important in selling), but the questions are very low value questions, and do not provoke and probe deeper issues. The problem the commoditzer has is that they are so clear about the solution that they suffer from the curse of knowledge. This means that to be fully understood and valued, the buyer must fully understand their problem (which they rarely do). Because they are so focused on the solution, buyer’s don’t view them as important until they have already decided that they need what the seller provides. At this point, decision criteria have been established and the buyer is typically in a shop mode, price becomes increasingly important in the selection process and differentiation is difficult (hence why we call this level the commoditizer). At this level, the sales person is doing an awful lot right, but because they are solutions focused they do not create value.
Important Point: This brings me to an important point. If the focus of your go-to-market efforts is on your solution and attempting to “explain why your solution is best” rather than on diagnosing you buyer’s issues, then you are peddling or commoditizing – at best!
The professional is focused on what the buyer needs. It is the professional that begins to earn a “seat at the table” and is viewed as an important player by the buyer. Buyers value professionals because they know that their best interests are being looked after. Professional’s ask high value questions, probe deeply and help to refine the decision criteria. Professionals create value in the sales process. Their primary drawback is that they limit their focus to the direct issues that their solution addresses and they rely heavily on “treating” the buyer’s awareness. While they do diagnose, they are not diagnosticians, so if the buyer is misunderstanding their problem or is merely aware of their symptoms, professionals will struggle in changing the perceived need, hence, they do not create demand.
Which brings me to the fifth, and highest, level of sales excellence: The Demand Creator. Demand Creators are superstars and when you think of them, you rarely think of them as “salespeople.” When Demand Creators sell (and believe me, they’re the most powerful sellers there are), it doesn’t feel like selling. Demand Creators are completely buyer focused, possess a tremendous degree of business acumen, and are viewed as critical resources by their buyers. Demand Creators have mastered results oriented conversations with buying organizations, have the ability to speak to a variety of levels of buyers and create value in everything they do. Demand Creators are tremendous advantages to their selling organizations, the selling organization doesn’t have to worry about “differentiating” because the Demand Creator is different. The Demand Creator is able to take the conversation with a buyer so deep that they eliminate competition. Demand Creators are comfortable that not everyone should buy from them, and that “now” may not be the best time to solve a problem. While Demand Creators work very hard, they make selling look and feel effortless. When you’re working with a Demand Creator, you know it.
So, where are you – and why? What stories can you share about salespeople you’ve encountered at each level?
Think about it. How do you make money? Why do people really (emphasis on really) buy from you? Are you indispensable?
These are all big questions, and they’re difficult to answer. Every time I think about them, I get a headache. While these questions are important to ponder, it’s easier to ignore them. And for years you could probably get away with it – but not today.
Today, discretionary budgets have all but disappeared. Today, corporate executives are cutting initiatives that they never considered cutting before. Today, every company that wants to survive, let alone thrive tomorrow, has come to understand that they must reduce their cost structure and the cost of growth.
While these issues occupy CEO’s minds from an operational perspective, I’ve learned that they’re not getting adequate attention from a go-to-market perspective. If companies are cutting costs and are focused on reducing their cost structures, will your offerings stand up to the must-keep, must not cut test?
Going forward the only sustainable strategy that I can see is one that focuses on being indispensable. If you are indispensable today, then your strategic job is to continue to find ways to stay that way. If you’re not indispensable, your job is to figure out how to get there.
- An unsustainable business model
- The willingness to admit that the model is unsustainable and agree that transformation is necessary
- The lack of guts/stomach/commitment to truly engage in transformation
The newspaper industry admits that its model is dead, and they willingly engage in discussions about transformation, and then … they increment. They make modest improvements, they put their proverbial toe in the water and they increment their way to oblivion.
Why are they so afraid? Well, it’s natural to be scared. It’s normal to hold off of letting go of what’s worked for you when it’s so uncertain of what will work for you in the future. Besides, you’ve made a lot of money doing what you’ve done. Sure, if newspapers had embraced the Internet and online distribution when they should have (say, 5 – 10 years ago), they would have killed their cash cows – and who wants to kill a cash cow?
Your yet to emerge competitors do – that’s who!! If you’re afraid of killing your business, you can rest assured that some upstart individual or company would like nothing more than to kill you business. IBM killed its business model when they embraced a service model instead of a product sales model. That’s what The Dave Matthews Band did when they gave their music away – and found a way to make money through concerts and merchandise. So don’t wait, take the initiative and be the one to kill your business model.
The failure to do so means that you’re in “A Newspaper Business.”
I admit it. I’ve used military analogies from time to time to explain both strategies and tactics. War analogies are easy to use, easy to understand - and easy to misapply. For years, I’ve written about the various myths of selling, but the one that just gets my goat is this one – Selling Is War.
Recently I came across a sales oriented blog that finished their message on selling strategies with this paragraph:
If you are in sales, you are perpetually in a state of war. All salespeople are warriors who must fight the relentless march of time and enemies who are trying to defeat them daily. Sales is an intense hand-to-hand battle fought between two people or two groups of people who are each trying to win over the customer. The victor outsmarts, outmaneuvers, and overwhelms his enemies. In sales, just as in war, there can be only one winner, and today’s conqueror can quickly become tomorrow’s vanquished. The deciding difference is strategy.
If I searched the world for one paragraph that was at the focal point of what is wrong with selling, I could not find one better than this. What scares me about this, and why I’m pointing it out in this post, is that I think a lot of executives and salespeople believe this philosophy.
After reading the paragraph a couple of times, I admit that I’m not sure whether the author is saying that the customer is the enemy, the competitor is the enemy or both. What I do know, is that author is clearly communicating that sales – at it’s core – is a win/lose proposition. And this belief is at the core of why businesses are being so relentlessly commoditized.
Let’s be clear – SELLING IS NOT WAR; and any allusions to selling as war make your job as a fast growth executive or salesperson more difficult. Is it any wonder that top performers and brilliant salespeople bristle at the idea of “selling.”
War is rarely, if ever, any of these (and the war referred to above is clearly none of these). So, let’s drop the silly war analogies, and get back to creating value for our prospects, customer and clients. When you do that, your competition (the enemy) becomes irrelevant.
On a scale of 1 – 10, how good are you? If you’re like most people you probably do a lot of things where you would rate yourself a 6, 7 or even 8. I’d also bet, that if you’re really successful there are one or two things you do where you’d rate yourself a 9 or 10.
Recently, I was discussing issues surrounding a client’s sales team. I had observed that his top line sales execs (also VP level people in the company) were Demand Creators™ (a term I use to describe the top level of sales professionals), but that there was a huge chasm between his senior level and the front line sales staff – a chasm that could negatively impact their ability to implement a new go-to-market plan. The CEO replied to me that he thought I was underestimating his salespeople. He told me that while certainly his senior people were 9’s and maybe (his word) 10’s the bulk of his front line were still 7’s and 8’s.
I replied to him, that I agreed, but the problem is that the difference between an 8 and a 9 is the difference between – well – a lightening bug and lightening. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re at a talent level of 7 or 8 you’re quite good – BUT GOOD IS NO LONGER GOOD ENOUGH!!
Markets are too tough; buyers are under too much pressure; and the economics of the information age have completely changed the game. In sales, at least, you must build a sales team of Demand Creators (9’s and 10’s) if you are going to create economic value through your sales efforts.
What must a salesperson master to become a 9 or 10? Here’s a start:
- Business Acumen
- The Five Unbreakable Rules for Creating Demand™
- Diagnostic Protocol
- Their customer’s problems
You may say that there is little difference between an 8 and a 9. To get a picture of how BIG little differences are take a look at the money list for the PGA Tour in 2008. Vijay Singh led the tour, winning more than $6.6 million. He averaged 70.27 strokes per round. Kevin Stadler averaged 71.56 strokes – less than a 1.5 stroke per 18 holes difference. He won just under $600,000 – more than a 10x difference. Kevin Stadler is good – really good; Vijay Singh is great.
Just as a golfer must master all 14 clubs he or she uses in play; you’re sales team must master all the tools of Demand Creation if you expect them to drive superior results.
Your buyers don’t care about you.
Don’t take offense, it’s not personal. It’s just that they don’t really care about what year your business was founded, where you are from, and why you think you are different. They’re too busy worrying about themselves to care about that stuff.
Why am I writing this? Because today I was asked to review a presentation from a client who was complaining that their presentations “just didn’t seem to resonate,” and the client couldn’t understand because it was their best stuff.
How did the presentation start? You guessed it – with the client’s credibility story. But, it’s not just visual presentations where I see this. In my speeches about Creating Demand, I have the audience go through an elevator speech type exercise. 90% of the responses are some form a credibility or capability statement like:
We’ve got 35 years experience providing on-time delivery to manufacturers…
Look, I understand that you need to include this type of information (or at least think you do). If you are going to use it, save it for the end of your presentation – or better yet write it in story form and package it as a leave behind.
There are three problems when you start any presentation with this type of information:
- It’s boring
- Your competition has their own version of the same stuff, so it doesn’t demonstrate any difference, and
- It just adds to the noise.
A far better approach is to start off by provoking your customer/audience. How can you do this? Try one of these techniques:
- Lead off with the results you client is going to get
- Lead off by stating the problem your client is having – and state it better than the client could
Recent rumors have Apple in discussions to buy Twitter. If Steve Jobs is listening – STOP – DON’T DO IT!
Anyone who knows me knows that to say I’m a huge fan of Apple would be an understatement. Only Bruce Springsteen ranks higher on my raving fan ladder. I regularly use Apple as an example for how a company creates a Demand Creation Monopoly. The key to Demand Creation is focus, and so far as I can tell an acquisition of Twitter feels like it could only be a distraction. On the surface Apple has violated several rules of focus. Al Ries, in his recent book War in the Boardroom: Why Left-Brain Management and Right-Brain Marketing Don’t See Eye-to-Eye–and What to Do About It (which I highly recommend) takes Apple to task for this.
I’ve always disagreed with comments like this. I’ve felt that Apple’s focus has been on serving their core customer and making connections where they didn’t exist (computers to MP3 players to phones to stores). Recently when I took Starbucks to task, I bragged how Steve Jobs, when faced with a similar turnaround, told the world that Apple would get bigger by first getting smaller and then it would only grow from its core. A purchase of Twitter doesn’t follow this philosophy – it has nothing to do with Apple’s core customers or core value proposition. While Apple advocates certainly use Twitter (and for all I know, they be heavy users of Twitter), I just don’t see how it would align with what Apple fans desire from Apple.
The article about the rumor points out that one reason for this may be that Apple reportedly has $30 billion in cash built up and they need to do something with it. If buying Twitter is the best thing it can do with the money, then Apple may be saying that it’s run out of exciting things to create; and if that’s the case this may mark a precipitous decline for Apple (I hope not). Another reason for this may be that Apple is falling victim to its sins from the Jobs’ first go around – hubris. If they believe “they” can do anything, that is a clear sign of danger. I’m worried that Apple is getting bored. Whenver a company gets bored with its current playground trouble awaits. It’s a major obstacle for any creative executive, and it had been the cause of death of myriad small and mid-market companies.
It is my hope that this is just a rumor and that Apple will come to its senses and refocus on its core. If it turns out to be true, we will all be able to watch the unfolding of a case study.