The best of all outcomes are achieved when you, as a serving professional, actually co-create insight that applies to a specific person within the client. It applies to that person and what they are working to achieve. It applies to that specific person and where they are in the client decision-making process and the progression of that process. This personalization is the most powerful connection that you will make at a client.
Think about the person you work with in a client-company. This person has specific needs and objectives that are unique to them. You have the opportunity to help them in ways that go beyond the overall business aims of their company. How can you help them do their job better? What constraints are pushing on them personally? What obstacles can you help remove? Can you help them meet deadlines? What information can you provide that impacts this person, not just this company?
This connection came to a clear understanding when calling on “Jim”, an engineer at a medical device client that we had been serving for years. Jim was a young father of 3 with his oldest son just turning 10. In this case, Jim was involved in the software creation of a new medical device that was due to market in the next few months. He had used our products and software tools to develop their end-products on many occasions. This time out the pressure to get the product to market was particularly high.
Added to the work pressure was the fact that Jim had just volunteered to coach his son’s soccer team. And that was a BIG community involvement in this case. We listened carefully to the conflicting needs for him to push to work overtime AND at the same time to coach his son’s soccer team. Our team had multiple solutions. We arranged for an outside consultant to assist in the project. We also coordinated our own technical experts locally and from the factory across the continent to help create the framework for the software and provided key sections of pre-written software code to address some of the special functions needed. We assisted further by helping with the quality assurance and compliance testing needed to get this medical device to market perfectly. On the personal side we were able to reach out internationally and connect Jim with a youth coaching expert that one of our European team members knew well.
In this case we delivered highly personalized insight and solutions that helped our client meet his corporate mandate and see through his personal commitment to his son. That’s how you work with your client to truly make a difference.
Insight is good. Personalized insight is invaluable.
“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.
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.
I remember clearly one of the early conversations I had with Jim Camp, author of Start With No. Jim and I had become good friends very quickly. We shared a true passion about the power of NO. America’s number one negotiating coach, Jim passed away in November of 2014 and the world misses his practical wisdom every day. This day Jim and I were talking about the power of process versus outcome and what NO might mean along the way. One of Jim’s statements sounds in my head on a daily basis: “Stop trying to control the outcome, focus on your behavior and actions instead.”
What I have learned along the way is that NO is just a word, but one to which we give way too much implied power. It is a word that requires context to give it any substance. It can be a perceived wall maker, a conversation branch creator, or an absolute command. In the business of selling and or negotiating you have to get over the fear of hearing or saying NO.
Hearing NO in the selling process most typically means that in the conversations leading up to receiving the NO, you did a rather poor job of using great questioning to lead to understanding. Jim said something else to me that day: “Control what you can control, and forget the rest.”
In this case that means we can only control ourselves and our process and questions - we cannot control the outcome. At every NO, we have a chance to branch and continue. We have to become masters at understanding and using great questions that are led by an interrogative. The good questions start with who, what, when, where, why, how, and which. All of them are intended to create dialog, extend the conversation, and figure out more about the client than ever before.
NO is just not all that complex. We make way too much out of it in the selling process. It is our job to understand the points that create NO, and that is ok to get to NO, on both parties behalf. When one path ends in a NO, then create another path based on a different who, what, where, when, etc. question; each time gathering more understanding and information along the way. And each of those conversations create more curiosity that enables further conversations. This all comes back to the basics of Question Based Selling with Tom Freese and conversational layering principles - deliver a bit of credibility that creates some curiosity and gets you the next mini-invitation to continue the conversation. And it can all START with NO.
The majority of sales training for the last several decades has been focused helping the sales person close the deal. There are techniques to Trial Close, to Pre-Close, to Soft Close, and even to Reverse Close. That one is where you actually tell the client that you can certainly see that they are not yet ready to take advantage of this great offer, so let’s just forget it for now – a bit of negative psychology that sadly worked. And sadly many complex B2B sales people in this world are still doggedly working on their Close.
For them, for all of us, I have just two words – STOP CLOSING!
Yeah, I just said that. Stop closing. You’re probably thinking, what do you mean, I should stop asking for the order? Nope, I did not say that. I’ll explain a bit later.
It’s time to make a mindset shift. Then we will shift our methodology. Shifting our thinking about The Close is critical. In the past The Close was seen as the grand finale. We all fell prey to that central theme. And while once The Close was the end, now it’s just another point on the way to this question: What’s next?
In past years, (for me decades), we have all been a part of or led sales training where a group of trainees is give a sales role playing situation to analyze, create a client pitch deck and then present a story to a panel of sales judges. The winners of the competition get the sales geek of the year award. Been there and done that a bunch!
As a trainer and a judge, I was always amazed by the groups of professional sales people that would do all that work and make brilliant customer pitches, and then neglect to ask for the order.
My experience has been that about half of the teams would not ask for the order. In my early years I saw this as a fatal flaw of the trainees. Teams that did not ask for the order were booted out fast. However, a role-playing simulation like this has a fundamental limitation: it cannot capture the scope of client engagement that needs to happen in the sales process. We were busy scripting a great pitch that ended with handing the client a pen to have them sign on the dotted line. The Close was also The End.
This is the real problem: we have assumed that the most important step in the selling process is the close. We see it as the end point of our client engagement –we “drive to the close” – when really, asking for the order is not the end at all.
Even in highly transactional selling like the Fuller Brush man or selling Girl Scout cookies door-to-door, the seeming end point of closing is really just the NEXT step in the never ending client engagement process. Right on the heels of getting the order, comes the Verification process where our aim is to clearly get a shared understanding of the value that has been created in the clients eyes by the work that you have done. From the verification process you escalate the discussion to other needs that that were identified through the journey in the first transaction. And the cycle of client engagement starts again.
There are 5 basic sections to the development and delivery of insight to a client and the drive to a closure is one of them. You’ve gotta ask for the order – it’s just not the end that it seems it would be. It is actually the springboard to the NEXT piece of business with the client. The door is never CLOSED!