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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!

Trust – Fancy Website or Human Voice

11 Oct

A great comment from Barry Moltz:

“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.

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

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.

Sales Rant – Why can't your company handle an onbound query from a prospective buyer?

16 Oct

I called a division of Acme Industrial [name changed to protect the guilty] a week ago and asked to speak to someone in sales as I had some questions.   The service runs about $7500-12,000 per year, not an insubstantial amount of investment. The phone system asked me to press 1 if I wanted to speak to someone who “would be happy to answer your questions about our services.” The person I got didn’t know anything about the product at all, and said someone would call me back.  Already a bad precedent, I wonder how the sales rep covering my territory would feel about their inside team dropping the ball.

A week goes by. A week!

SalesRant

So I call back today and go thru the menu prompts again and again I’m told I’ll be transferred to someone who “would be happy to answer your questions about our services.” When they did answer, they said that they have no record of my call last week. They put me on hold for 4 minutes. They come back on the line and ask me for the same contact information I provided a week earlier. Didn’t ask any qualifying questions, curiously, like budget, timeframe, or even what 2-3 top questions I wanted answered. Said “someone will call you back.” When I asked when I would hear from them or who would call me, the rep didn’t know. I pointed out it had been a week and I wanted this information as soon as possible so I could make a final decision – would I get a call back today? “I’ll ask them to call you sooner rather than later.”

By contrast, their competitor took my call live on the first time I called them, answered my questions reasonably well, and sent me email today to follow up.

What company can afford to put themselves in this situation? How many other calls did they handle this way? Sales live by the numbers, but this team isn’t doing themselves any good. And with marketers scrambling to justify their existence and their budgets based on closed leads, its clear that getting the metrics right is only part of the equation. What does this experience communicate to me as a prospective buyer about what it may be like to work with these guys? I felt a lack of accountability, lack of concern for me as a customer, and a very low service experience.   Guess who’s product I purchased?  And that Acme Industrial sales rep handling my territory never even knew what they lost.

Thanks to Malay Pharma Sales Rep Rant  for the picture.

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.”