“Insight” is an important word in sales today. In today’s world of commoditized products with little differentiation, being able to deliver unique and valuable insight to your clients is what is going to set you apart from the competition. Insight is a central part of the Total Benefit of Ownership conversation I wrote about in the last blog.
In The Challenger Sale, Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson note that often clients don’t actually know what they need. In fact, their greatest need is to find out exactly what they need. Instead of trying to interrogate to discover how to fit our solutions might fit, we can tell our clients what they need and give them insights into how they can think differently about their business. This is the teaching part of the Teach, Tailor, Take Control method taught by The Challenger Sale and it is what the clients truly want from valuable outside resources.
Insight is information – information that is probably not internalized by the client at this point. Information about the world that we see that applies to them and their role in their own company’s decision-making process. This is information that may reframe what a client is already thinking or open up a new train of thought.
Creating and delivering insight takes great focus on the client and specific wisdom about how your solutions can uniquely serve your client in ways that help them achieve one of their big three goals:
Every interaction that we have with a client must be aimed at serving them in one of those 3 areas. We become valuable by helping the client see the same old things in a brand new light.
The “new” sales process pundits suggest that Insight should be created in the central hub of marketing and then delivered to targeted clients by the sales team. In effect they are advocating for creating Insight Factories. This can work. And these factory-generated insights can be reasonably effective at that point. They are just not the MOST effective. Consider the example of Grainger in the Challenger book. The Grainger story was about a specific insight and service that they could offer their client base by understanding the clients’ purchasing patterns. This insight was carefully researched and created and as it was delivered to the first clients, it represented a whole new way of thinking. It positioned Grainger as a strategic partner instead of just a transactional supplier and it offered a great difference to the client – until their nearest competitor also offered the same insight and service. So that great new way of thinking just got commoditized, and again price became the only discussion point.
Because pretty much anything made in a factory can be commoditized.
The real difference maker that we need to focus on is the Tailor part of the Challenger learning (Teach, Tailor, Take Control). You can take that insight that has been corporately created by the brain trust at the Insight Factory and use it as is…or not. It will work for a while. Then it will wither as others figure it out. But if you can take that insight and highly tailor it to the specific client that you are serving and their specific needs, you will be delivering unique, valuable difference-making insight.
By understanding the impact that your insight will have on your client and their business, you create a client-specific version of the factory insight and your advantage will last a bit longer. How long you keep your advantage depends on how well you tie in multiple aspects of your solution to multiple needs of the client. But there is another level of insight that will achieve even better outcomes: insight personalized to a specific person within your client. More on this next time.
For the last 30 years or so in the semiconductor industry we have sold a concept that might just have been wrong! This is a mindset shift that we can make now and that could easily have been of great positive impact had we recognized it much earlier. And this shift in thinking that I will propose could easily apply to any number of industries and market places.
As always with shifts in thinking, not everyone will understand the differences, or choose to accept them, and that is quite OK. And those that do (you) will benefit from the shift in methodology that this shift in mindset sets up.
So what is this epiphany?
In our past, we have worked to make sure our clients were fully informed and understood the TRUE Total Cost of Ownership. Total Cost of Ownership discussions required us to put negative facts on the table that the people we were working with may or may not have actually taken time to include in their analysis of the choices they had made. Most of the time, as sellers of the “preferred” solution, we detailed a specific, unrecognized, significant cost factor that raised the costs of the “other” solution when factored in.
In the case of the semiconductor industry, in the early days of the concept of “field programmability” we pitted our “flexible” solutions against the non-flexible offerings of what were called mask programmable solutions. The true cost of ownership of a mask programmable solution actually included many elements that were not normally included in the price comparison at a piece by piece level. There were up front manufacturing costs in the “other” solutions that would be thousands of dollars, there could be the scrap costs as many times these less flexible solutions needed changes to finally function. It was really an easy conversation to have.
And in actuality, it probably was NOT wrong for its time. Those were different times, and we were selling an education, not just products in these cases.
That was then, however, and the same old thinking will NOT get us where we need to go today. Talking just about cost is the same as talking just about price. We need a different perspective – a differentiated perspective if you will.
So, no more Total Cost of Ownership.
Its time to change the words, that will change the thinking, that will change the actions, and get the results we want.
So instead, we need to talk about Total Benefit of Ownership.
A minor shift in words and a huge shift in thinking, discussion, and action.
If Total Benefit of Ownership is BETTER, BEST is Total Profits Added.
You can easily imagine the 2-way conversations that you will now have with a client when you start to position your answers to their needs in terms of the benefits that can be achieved by the client when they execute on the ideas that you CO-CREATE with them.
That focus on achievement outcome from a positive perspective is only made more powerful when you, together, take the time to specifically spell out how the impact that actions taken in the directions created by you and your client will actually generate ADDED PROFIT of $$XXX. Not just revenue, but bottom line profit. Having that level of discussion and spelling it all out at that detail level demonstrates your complete commitment to the success of the client and the people you are serving.
As you do this, you can rest assured that you will be in a unique perspective with your client, as everyone else is stuck back at product features, benefits, and cost.
Time for a discussion about TOTAL BENEFIT ADDED!
It seems that the wave of the sales revolution is picking up steam. Just now we are seeing many “sales experts” announce that the role of the salesperson is gone. The internet has won and people in selling can be replaced by specialized recognition systems driven by big data manipulation running on machines.
First of all, where the heck have they been? The commoditization of information via the internet is not new - it is just moving at a non linear rate that is staggering and catching everyone’s attention. As of April of 2015 (ancient times in the data world) the stats are crazy. Ninety percent of the world’s existing data has been created in the last 2 years. Every day we create enough NEW data to fill 10,000,000 blu-ray discs (remember those?), which when stacked would measure the height of 4 Eiffel Towers on top of one another. EVERY DAY… a year ago. (No newer validated data that I can find.)
Secondly, those same pundits who forecast the demise of the salesperson are both right and wrong. They are right - if the sales professional questioning their existence does not make a huge mind set shift and follow that up with an equally huge methodology shift. So that opens up the door to the fact that they can be wrong, and the outcome is actually in the hands of the individual sales professional themselves.
My premise, along with a good friend and colleague, Hendre Coetzee, is that this massive amount of information that overloads people is actually a catalyst for the need for even better professionals in selling, helping clients understand good from bad data, make better decisions, and make them faster than ever before. Today’s very best sales pro is the master of understanding and simplification. Understanding how to help their clients make the world a better place, and simplifying the client decision-making process. While these both seem very holistic, they are actually very practical motivations and outcomes.
Preparation is the key to it all. No longer can the sales pro strap on their product selector guide and hit the street and do any real work. Now we must start with a serious focus on understanding each client, and the role of specific people in that client, and figuring out how to help them better view the myriad of product and solution options that are in front of them.
We need to understand, at a high level, the industry that they are in and many of the fundamental challenges that exist in that industry. It takes more preparation time than ever before to be able to help our clients make a real difference, because we must first determine what that will look like. When we get into this level of conversation the first push back we hear is that “we can’t be expected to know our client’s business better than they do”. While even that is arguable, the primary response to that is that we CAN be expected to know what impact our products and solutions will have on their business better than they can.
And to do this well we have to make a shift away from OUR view of the world and shift it into a view of THEIR world…then merge the two.
Hendre and I are writing a book in which we guide the mindset shift as well as explore some of the methodology and skillset shift that is required to remain relevant and successful in selling in today’s business climate. We are excited to show you how you can become a depended-upon resource for client specific solutions of any kind. Despite what many say, the sales professional indeed has an important and necessary role to play today. But it requires core shifts in mindset and skillset – stay tuned!
In the meantime, my good friend and colleague Dave Brock has just released the Sales Manager Survival Guide. The book has already reached number one in Amazon Kindle hot new books in sales and marketing.
In the beginning there were people who made stuff and people who needed stuff. Then there were the peddlers of stuff who helped the makers and the buyers find each other. The peddlers of stuff were very successful for hundreds of years, because both the makers and the buyers needed them. Stuff was bought and sold and everyone was okay. Then things changed.
Today’s business landscape is rapidly and radically changing and people and organizations are struggling to keep up. Product information was once the golden nugget that every salesperson owned and shared only with those people who they chose to enlighten. The salespeople were once the Kings and Queens of data and information and they reigned supreme. The true product that the salesperson offered up was the information that the client could not easily find. That was then.
Consider this: between the beginning of time and 2003, 5 exabytes of data were created. In 2013, 5 exabytes of data were created each day. In 2014, 90% of the total data and information in the world had been created in the last 2 years. And the prognosis is that the amount of data and information in the world will double every year shortly, and then every 6 months, and on and on. This commoditization of data and information has totally changed the value that a salesperson must deliver today. This rapid change in the creation of information is closely tied to the shifting trends in the nature of work and business. Some futurists estimate that close to 50% of jobs will be extinct in 20 years.
The jobs on the endangered list are not just the obvious ones like travel agents and the milkman. Accountants, air traffic controllers, utility engineers and teachers are all at risk – and so is the sales professional.
The sales professional is on the verge of extinction. Up until now the salesperson was the keeper and deliverer of information, but now they are not really needed for that anymore.
So what do they do?
The good news is that there are clear and valuable answers to that question. In recent months and years there have been a number of sales methodologies presented to bring relevance to the field of selling. The Challenger Sale is the best of those in my opinion. The basic tenets of Teach, Tailor, and Take Control only come from an in-depth understanding of the true value of insight and how best to create and deliver it. Done poorly it is just another substitute for commoditized information. And even in the domain of insight there are key differences that you can make. We will explore those as well as many elements in this journey.
The key difference in the work that Hendre Coetzee and I have done over the last several years shows us that methodology shifts are not sufficient. To stay relevant and avoid obsolescence you will need to make a mindset shift FIRST. Only from there can you properly attack making a shift in what you DO. The specific actions needed to make the shift will be detailed in the book and in the works from Hendre and myself.
Shifting mindset AND methodology is required for completely reversing the erosion of the sales professional’s relevance in a highly commoditized world.
As I find myself studying Edwards Deming more these days, I realize there is an amazing amount of fundamental business wisdom in much of his thinking and many of his quotes. This past week I was reminded of the vital nature of one of his most challenging quotes ever: “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”
I have had numerous discussions about dinosaurs and the desire to not become one. That focus is more critical than ever today, growing daily. Change is what defines us, change is what makes us different today and what will build our future.
I was fortunate to spend a few days with 90 of my peers in the sales world at the recent CEB Chief Sales Officer meeting. I found myself in company of an amazing group of sales leaders from the world’s leading companies. A few of these companies are Staples, FedEx, Penske, Analog Devices, Wells Fargo, John Hancock, Dow, Kemper, Airgas, Siemens Building Technologies, Vision, Jacobs Eng, Interstate Batteries, Georgia Pacific, Intelsat Daimler Trucks, Fluke, Cargill, National Instruments, Bose, Kaiser Permanente, Rockwell, Avery, Smucker, Medline, Honeywell, Herman Miller, Gates, NetJets, Kroll, Avis, Brocade, Fidelity, Gannett, Frost Bank, Comcast and a bunch of others!
These companies represented hundreds of billions of dollars of combined revenues. They come from every industry, from technology to healthcare, banking, oil and gas, materials, building, investment, pharmaceuticals, legal, foods, automotive, and a favorite of mine, J.M. Smucker (they make the best jams and jellies). These companies sell cardboards, advice, gas, pills, jams, oil, batteries, recovery, prevention, million dollar pieces of equipment and products that sell for less than a dollar, like us.
The common denominator that we all shared was that we all came from backgrounds where we sold product features and benefits with a vengeance. We all offered ‘solutions’ that we just knew were exactly what the customers needed. Why? Because that’s what our customers wanted in the past.
The challenge we face today: Our customers no longer want what they did once upon a time.
Most of the folks in attendance were still struggling to really grasp what they needed to do DIFFERENTLY. They had heard, they had read, they even believed, they were just too tied to the past to ACT. They were on a dinosaur path, they knew it and they were very uncertain. Enlightenment is just starting to take hold. It is moving quickly in the ranks of those folks that have the vision to move forward.
Only a handful of companies in the group had reformed their ‘funnel’, or pipeline, into a client perspective of how they make decisions, rather than the old view of what the salesperson needs to do. We made that shift MANY years ago and it has been a key part of our thinking ever since. Mark Sellers of Breakthrough Selling guided us in that critical stage. Helping our clients make better decisions is our focus and it remains the best place to exist.
If you decide that survival is preferable, that relevance is better than turning into a fossil, then change is necessary. Our journey continues to grow and evolve, and it has required shifting both mindset AND methodology.