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The Customer’s Story, Not Yours

27 Jul

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.

WasteTime

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!

Influitive – new spin on referrals and references

31 May

This spring, my dear colleague, Joanne Black, the author of No More Cold Calling, introduced me to Mark Organ of Influitive. Influitive has an interesting twist on the reputation-based referral process that Inquisix built our business on.

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.

Happy Selling!

You lose when you show your prospects that they’re wrong

28 Apr

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.

Starting Up Again

12 Oct

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.

Happy Selling!

Michael Kreppein

The Power of Business Networking

31 Dec

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 shiera@zenithtraining.ie Visit www.zenithtraining.ie for more information.

By Referral Only – Wed Dec 30 event

8 Dec

If you’d like to learn more about building and strengthening your business 100% thru referrals then I highly recommend you attending this special event from a master networker and early Inquisix member, Rick Roberge.

Rick’s program, “By Referral Only” will be offered on Wednesday December 30th, 2009 from noon to 1:30pm US ET. You have two options of attending  – you can be there in-person in Westboro, MA, USA or participate via webinar.

But act fast, as the first 24 people who register for each event using “RR1230” as the discount code will receive a $50 discount when they register.

Pick your option but don’t do nothing!

Join in-person

Join online

Your Prospect Tells You How to Sell to Them

30 Nov

Not often that your C-level prospect will tell you how to sell to them.  They’ll hide behind email spam filters and executive assistants but won’t take the time to tell you what you’re doing wrong.  Until this CEO opened up with their automated email reply telling you to do more than just call the vendor hotline at purchasing – a voice mail no one ever picks up.

Top ways to get noticed:

  • Let your prospect find you – ie Inbound Marketing
  • Get introduced by someone they trust – ie Referrals

Top ways to annoy:

  • Constant cold-calls
  • Mass emails to entire executive team
  • Trying to connect via social media

Thanks to Hubspot for the full article.

Follow-up Follow-UP

5 Nov

Ivan Misner posted on his blog – What Is the Number-One Trait of a Master Networker? this week and I thought, “Absolutely dead-on!”

Nothing frustrates me more than giving a referral to someone and then they DON’T FOLLOW UP. I’ve asked my colleague if they’d accept this referral to and now I have to explain why there was no follow up. This affects my reputation. That’s why Inquisix allows members to rate the referral in both ways – rating how well one party handled the referral and how well the other party gave the referral.

Inquisix – Business Relationships that Last

27 Oct

BusinessRelationshipsThatLast

I just ordered this book because that’s what Inquisix members do – they build business relationships that last.

If you’ve already read the book, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Free Up Your Time to Do the Important Stuff

10 Oct

2 great tips for freeing up a bunch of your time – from the in-box and out-box side of your desk.  First tip is from the out-box side on how to decide whether to respond to an RFP or not.  It’s tricky to tell if it’s a real RFP because they can just take SOOO much time.  What’s worse, coming in second or not having it awarded?  The second tip has really freed up my day to tackle my to-do list instead of read and respond to trivial stuff.

  • How To Avoid Deals Where No Vendor Wins – Really enjoyed this post from Geoffrey. In discussions with other sales reps in various industries, there seems to be an uptick in RFPs being issued but two items stand out –
    * RFP decisions are pushed out out out. The company wants the RFP response back in 2 weeks but the decision drags drags drags. Hence the timeliness of Geoffrey’s post
    * RFPs in purgatory. In addition to new RFPs being issued, old ones are getting dusted off and sent out again. When you ask, “Why” the answer boils down to, “We’re getting ready JUST IN CASE…”
    Always a challege for a small company responding to an RFP from a F500 company when there’s no real good understanding (or belief) in whether the RFP’s really real or not.
  • Improve Your Connect Rates – Absolutely spot on commentary. Emails are so easy and cheap to send that readers are bombarded by them. Therefore, they don’t read them or at best, scan thru them. I’ve even set up my BB to only accept emails from people who are already in my address book as all other emails get saved on my PC. Guess how many of them are read on my PC?

    Jim’s critical point – call & leave a message pointing out the details in your email. I’ve had a much higher connect rate when I both call (leave a message) and send an email. And as he says, “Persistence is key.”