Are you listening to product pitches that start with the vendor’s history? “Founded in Silicon Valley by really smart people with A-level VC funding and a market-leading solution” goes the pitch. Then they take 10 minutes to explain the problem. Another 20 minutes to explain the solution in (too much) detail. Does that work for you? It does not for me.
As a salesperson, I’m always interested in how other sales people try to sell me. While part of me is listening to their pitch, the other part is thinking about how effective they are. Are they doing things I would not? Are they doing things that I should?
Usually, those “selling to me” experiences have been while I’m a consumer. Recently those experiences have been in the business world and tend to be more relevant to how I do my own job. There are many smaller vendors looking to partner with my current employer on various sales opportunities. As I am the point person on several large opportunities, I get these partnering calls.
Those that know me also know about my sales material. It’s a double-sided, laminated card with customer logos on one side and my solution architecture on the other. The card gets lots of smiles from peers and customers but it also is quite effective. Why? Because I start with the slide that tells the customers stories.
I got the title of this post from Geoffrey James’ recent article on Inc., entitled, “Tell the Customer’s Story, Not Your Story” The tagline is spot on, “Why are you wasting everyone’s time telling your company’s story?”
I’ve been listening to too many vendor presentations that tell their story. The salesrep has admirable enthusiasm for the solution and a deep knowledge of how it works. But I don’t care yet. What I want to know is WHY other customers are using the solution. I want to know what problem are they solving with this solution. If you can’t start with that information, then you’re wasting everyone’s time.
[5 Aug 2013 Update] Given the number of people who’ve said they’ve encountered this problem as well, I have created these 2 quick polls to see how pervasive this issue is. Please vote!
“Many years ago small businesses wanted to appear large so customers would trust them. They produced fancy stationery and secured a respectable business address. This has all changed with the Internet, where customers value the human voice. Now every business wants to appear small and provide personal service to its customers.”
And I agree. I was quite happy to stop the renewal order of new stationery and envelopes and instead spent it on a better website. But still recognized that a website wasn’t enough, that customers expected a contact link that included phone and address. It was acceptable that the address wasn’t local as long as there was a viable address. More importantly was ensuring the phone was answered by a person instead of an automated system. At my small companies, everyone was the receptionist because the call rang to everyone if the frontline people were otherwise engaged.
The next level of trust that customers are looking for includes customer ratings. Think what eBay, Amazon and others started to ensure customer feedback is reflected back to prospects. Having peer ratings for Inquisix referrals was a key point to the system.
To build trust in today’s market, make it easy for the customer to research and buy your offerings. No more paper or offices but a well-designed website, a human answering the phone and trust ratings from customers are the new trust factors.
Inquisix was focused on helping fill the beginning of the funnel with qualified prospects who came to you, the sales person, based on a referral from someone the prospect trusted. At Inquisix, the network was the salesreps and executives who had high-value relationships with their customers and thus could refer them. Influitive looks at the sales cycle from the point of view of your happy reference customers. At Influitive, it’s these customers who expand their reputation network based on the products and solutions they embrace.
Influitive is in beta now and I encourage any VP of Sales or VP of Marketing who is using salesforce.com to take a look at them.
Part of the sales process will inevitably include time spent showing the customer why your solution is better than your competitor’s solution. However, that’s often a delicate dance because while you want to show them that you have the right solution, you need to be careful not to tell them that they’re wrong to want another solution. Especially if the customer has chosen your competitor and is thus the incumbent in the account.
An interesting article in Fast Company discusses how the “birthers” advocates, who believe that President Obama was born outside of the US, still don’t believe he was born in Hawaii despite the recent evidence of his Hawaiian birth certificate. The Fast Company article quotes Psychologist Leon Festinger, who wrote, “”A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” So despite the clear evidence of President Obama’s place of birth, many birthers still cling to their claim.
Do you find birthers in your accounts? Maybe you call them the old-guard or the technology bigots. Maybe you ignore them and hope your internal champion is stronger politically. No matter what you call them, how do you change their minds? Would analyst reports and customer references really get them to admit they were wrong? Instead, the Fast Company article felt that you need to give the naysayers a way to save face before they would back down.
Often in sales, we decide to go around these groups after we’ve shown them that they’re wrong and they still refuse to concede. Most often this leads to a lost sale. Next time, try a different approach to gently convert them to your side.
I saw reports that the new RIM Playbook had initial sales of under 50,000 units during it’s debut. I feel bad for RIM being forced to compete against Apple in a category Apple themselves defined. Being forced by analysts unhappy that RIM didn’t have an offering and then being blasted by the same analysts for the Playbook as not being on-par with Apple has to be a no-win situation for RIM. The only company that’s done well competing with Apple in this space is Google and it’s primarily because they give Android away for free.
(photo from RIM)
I wonder how I would sell the Playbook to companies if I was the RIM Enterprise sales rep. My only pitch would have to be the standard pitch of all incumbent vendors to the big enterprises, “We’re already your vendor of choice, we’re the safe choice, you won’t get fired buying with us, our execs know your execs, our new product is good enough, think of the huge implementation costs you’ll incur by switching.” Even some of the RIM enterprise sales reps can’t use that pitch with confidence as they’ve gone over to sell the iPhone to enterprises.
Poor RIM, they have record sales of product and no respect. And poor me since I really prefer a physical keyboard so I’ll continue to use the Blackberry…for work…and get the iPad for personal use.
As a follow-on to my last post about why customers say they’ll buy early-stage solutions but do not, “You love me but you won’t buy”, I read an article in a recent Fast Company that discussed the same issue. Written by Dan and Chip Heath, co-authors of, “Made to Stick”, they discussed the difference between a product considered a vitamin, a nice-to-have – versus an aspirin, a must-have. Some people will pay money for vitamins to stay healthy but everyone will pay for aspirin to cure a headache.
I encourage you to read the article. Too bad there’s not a recipe for turning your vitamin into an aspirin but they have several examples that can help you brainstorm how to turn your own product into a must-have.
In two recent meetings with startup executives, the same issue came up. It was a challenge for us at Inquisix and at many of the startups I’ve talked with.
The issue is that many people SAY they love your idea, your product, your solution and would buy it IF it were only ready. And of course they tell you to build it, that they have the decision making authority and budget to buy it. Yes, I’m talking about products sold to businesses but this issue is often true for consumers.
At Inquisix, we had multiple VPs of Sales tell us that they loved the product and could see rolling it out to their sales team. At an information security company where I was first sales hunter in, the customer literally drooled at the prospect of using our software to monitor employee computer habits. One the startups I recently met with said that they had paid betas with multiple Fortune 500 accounts. The other startup had customers saying they loved their medical device and would buy it, all in the first meeting. And yet each company struggled once the product was delivered. And why? Because your prospects, customers, partners and confidents will all encourage you even if they’re not being completely honest with you (and maybe even themselves) on why they won’t (or can’t) ultimately purchase.
At Inquisix, the VPs loved the idea of their reps getting referrals but ultimately struggled with letting them give referrals in return. At the information security company, the senior execs would not accept a product that screamed, “We don’t trust our employees,” and thus no enterprise purchase. And the company with the paid betas had trouble getting the betas to move to production because while they solved a problem, it wasn’t a painful problem needing solving right away. Same with the medical device company as everyone but the patient saw the need for the device but the patient ultimately made the decision to use it or not.
So the challenge is to find a problem that needs solving NOW and is budgeted where your product’s positioning can be changed to be that problem’s solution. At the information security company, the big pain point for many of the betas was that they had regulatory requirements to monitor applications. So we positioned the solution to monitor applications, not people. Thus the senior execs could say that the government required them to do the monitoring and there was a big compliance budget to solve the problem. The new positioning led to me closing a $1M deal 6 months after the product was released. At Inquisix, we tuned the product so that companies with business development deals between them could share referrals in a closed system. We also partnered with in-person networking groups to use Inquisix as their group’s SFA system. The medical device company is working with companies and organizations that require the patient to use the device or not receive reimbursement for their care.
Then how do you change your positioning? Often your customers and prospects will tell you what you need to tell them that suddenly makes them open up their wallets. The challenge is to differentiate between their wishful thinking and what will really make them open their wallets.
Welcome to my new site for discussions on referral based selling and more. I hope many of you will follow me from the Inquisix blog to this new site despite the long quiet period in between postings.
The goals of this site are:
Continue the discussions on referral-based selling
Include new topics especially around entrepreneurs and start-ups
Interesting articles that I’ve read that I hope you’ll find interesting
All of the articles that I wrote at the Inquisix blog are included at this site. I’ve also included some of articles written by guest authors, including Joanne Black and Shiera O’Brien, that were so popular at the Inquisix blog.
As our final blog post of 2009, we are featuring Inquisix member Shiera O’Brien‘s article on The Power of Business Networking.
Best wishes for a wonderful, healthy and prosperous 2010!
In the early 90s, a film called Six Degrees of Separation built its story around the idea that we are all separated by six degrees from everybody else on the whole planet. Everybody is an open door into another world and knows the people you are looking to meet or companies you want to work with. Everybody is connected on this planet by a trail of only six people, whether you are famous or not. If you find the right people to make the connection with, distance vanishes and the right opportunities will come your way.
In thinking about this I decided to look on YouTube to remind myself of the key ideas in this film and whether it really does have any relevance to our business life today. To my surprise and delight, I found a documentary on scientists who have studied and written an algorithm to prove this network theory, which they worked on for years. It shows that nature has this hidden blueprint and structure that connects us all. The scientists mapped it out and tested it on people by taking parcels across the world and asking 27 people to only use their social networks to get the package to a person on the other side of the world. It was amazing how quickly the parcels moved closer to the addressee, who was a scientist working at Harvard University in Boston.
This is an idea worth experimenting with in our daily business lives. I apply it in my own business strategy by making my business networks help with word-of-mouth marketing and create the connections and opportunities I seek with particular companies. There is no better example of the power of networks than the latest Web 2.0 social media networks. If you test the theory within your own social circle, you will find very quickly that people have connections that can open doors for you. Many of your connections within your business circle either know each other or have a contact into a client or employer that you may be looking to meet.
Looking at our own economy and applying this to our client-building strategy or job search, makes me think that the traditional ways of building businesses and finding jobs is far too slow. In this day and age, you need to be tapping into your personal, social and professional networks, if you want to get faster results. Systematically searching for the right people through your networks, using a plan, will yield faster results every time than a traditional approach of throwing out a blanket of hopeful letters and calls. In human nature, people will always respond faster to people they know than to strangers.
You may be asking yourself, “How is that in any way relevant to me?” If you are looking grow your practice or find new opportunities, it is very relevant. My suggestion to you is to take it out and test the theory yourself.
Here are six steps to help you in your own Six Degrees experiment:
Step 1: Connect into the network hub
The scientists tell us that in every network there is a traceable hub, where the core activity takes place. It is the place where people gather and take information about you back into their world. Even more interesting is that within each hub, you will find the “human hub”, the person with the highest degree of influence and connectivity. They are important people to know and start building relationships with. What they do for a living is irrelevant, their social currency is what you really want to tap into! Identify this person within your networks. This includes your family and friend networks, professional networks, membership organisations, and most importantly your on-line networks. Ask yourself, “Who are the people gathering around me with the most influential links?” Make sure you set up your social media accounts (LinkedIn, Facebook, Inquisix and Twitter) to build your on-line treasure chest.
Step 2: Have a networking plan
Key to getting the results you want is deciding or naming the companies and roles of people you wish to meet through your network, whether at networking events or through your on-line contacts. Then identify a very good reason why they would want to meet you. Human nature is designed to act principally from self-interest, which is driven by the reptilian part of our brains. So people will always unconsciously ask “What’s in this for me?” Give your network and potential contacts a worthwhile reason to want to meet you. Perhaps it’s to share some information, opportunities, save them money or help them use your networks.
Following on from that, it is important to have something to share about you that’s of value to them, and sets you apart. Direct them to your website, literature, testimonials or information that you think they would benefit from. Ask them to do you a favour. Most people like doing favours for others and help their own business contacts. It helps cement relationships.
Step 3: Authenticity at networking events
There is no end of opportunities to attend networking events as we go into the autumn. Networking is not just about getting into a room to break the world record for the largest business card collection. Nor is it a popularity contest on social media. The most valuable asset you can bring to a networking event is your authentic self. Be real, be present, engage and listen to people as you would if you were at a social gathering. And avoid talking about yourself all the time. Ask great questions. They don’t have to be about business. Get to know people, because relationships are built on this. Even if you only meet 3-4 quality contacts and have agreement to follow up and meet, you will have done a great job. Set a goal of having at least 2 meetings come out of a networking event.
Step 4: The Follow-Up
The downfall of people’s networking strategy is either poor follow-up, no follow-up or the full- blown sales pitch in an email. Think of your follow-up as a “getting-to-know-you” phase of your relationship. It must happen within 24 hours to reinforce the connection you made. Acknowledge the meeting, the event and create the invitation to connect on LinkedIn, Inquisix or Twitter. You will need to explore which of these ones suits your business needs. And ignoring emails is a poor reflection on your business, so avoid it at all costs. Arrange a follow-up meeting, even if it’s for a coffee to learn more about each other’s business, in anticipation of opportunities down the line. This is always a great starting point.
Step 5: The Power of Reciprocity
Give without expecting something back demonstrates how powerful reciprocity can be. If you see an opportunity to share some information or introduce a contact to your contacts, “Just Do It.” This is building some credit for reciprocal behaviour from others in the future. I saw this recently when I did a favour for a business contact. In return, an out of the blue opportunity came my way through the person I did the favour for. I was the first person that came to mind. This is the power of reciprocity.
Step 6: Build it and they will come
People often give up before they reach the momentum that makes them a network hub in their own right. They are inconsistent or dismiss people as not being of value. I suggest a rule of thumb is to treat everybody you meet like your clients, even your “so-called” competition, as they may be a vital link for a joint venture in the future.
It’s far too easy to assume people in your network as not worth knowing, because they wouldn’t understand your business of have the right kind of contacts. The business people I have met are very intelligent so give them your time! And don’t be a dabbler by attending networking events, gathering cards, connecting on social media sites and then abandon ship. Use your 20:20 vision. See the value in everybody you meet as a chain in your network and a part of your most valuable asset: your contact database.
To truly understand the power of networking, read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, who writes brilliantly about Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople. These are the people turning their businesses around, making money and finding great jobs, when the masses are doing things the old way. Be a pioneer in your business or profession and tap in that that rich reservoir. Your best client or the perfect job is only six handshakes away.
Biography About Shiera O’Brien: Shiera is an expert in sales optimisation. She specialises in consulting and training companies in sales and communication strategies to their clients. She offers training and coaching on business networking, communication skills, presenting and selling excellence. Contact her in Ireland on (086) 399-6601 or firstname.lastname@example.org Visit www.zenithtraining.ie for more information.