From the CCS® Sales Blog

May 2018

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Sales Tips: Why Do a Demo?

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

With the advent of online conferencing, the cost of doing demonstrations is considerably less than it was decades ago when sessions were done either at customer or vendor sites. The question I’d like you to consider:

What is the purpose of doing demos?

When and Why Do a Demo?

In my opinion, the only reasons are to prove relevant capabilities or to do proof in exchange for access to other people that would be involved in buying committees.

Please note: Prior to doing demos, buyers should have visions of the capabilities they need to achieve their desired business outcomes. If need development has not been done, the result will be dreaded “spray and pray” demos where buyers are subjected to a barrage of features that are not relevant to them.

Ultimately, demos don’t sell, salespeople do.

People asked to do demos should be provided the following information:

  • Names and titles of attendees
  • The desired business outcomes of the prospect company
  • Barriers to achieving the outcome (shortcomings in their current environment)
  • Capabilities that address barriers that must be shown to the buyers

Keep in mind demos are proof of the capabilities sellers have helped buyers realize they need.

Sales Tips: Setting the Pace with Buyers

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

It seems that salespeople are always trying to speed up sales cycles. Part of it I suspect is due to the monthly, quarterly or annual pressures salespeople and their managers deal with on an ongoing basis. My general experience is that:

  • Opportunities that are likely to close move at a fairly brisk pace.
  • Those that plod along seem to slowly lead to buyers making no decision.

setting pace with buyers

Start with a SOE

After gaining access to buying committees for large transactions, we suggest negotiating a written sequence of events (SOE) that defines the steps that need to be taken to make a written understanding of buyer needs and the recommendation and pricing to address them.

If buyers agree to the SOE, there are three (3) things that sellers should do:

  1. Ask if this is the right time to commit the efforts and resources needed to evaluate the offering being considered. If, for example there is a pending acquisition, key position that isn’t staffed, reorganization, etc., it will be difficult to proceed with the evaluation and sellers may be better served to resume when the timing is better.
  1. Ask the buying committee their timeframe as to when they would like to receive a written proposal. This allows sellers to align with buyers and remove the temptation to focus on a seller’s agenda (i.e. quarter or year-end) to recognize revenue.
  1. A potential accelerator can be created if value can be established with as many Key Player goals as possible. If these buyers can quantify improvement from baselines (where they are without the offering being considered) the committee may recognize there is a cost of delay.

After potential benefits have been recognized, buyers are incented NOT to drag their feet in doing evaluations.

Save the Infographic below for easy reference:

INFOGRAPHIC_How to Set the Pace with Buyers

Sales Tips: Honest Customer Feedback is the Cure for Insanity

Guest post from Primary Intelligence, CCS® Partner

It’s been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

This is obviously a cultural rather than a medical definition, but if you sell for a living, and you cannot figure out what you’re doing that’s causing you to lose deals you were sure you were going to win, you might start to feel like you’re losing your mind.

When you get some honest feedback, and start doing different things, the outcomes change, and the insanity goes away. Suddenly the world makes a lot more sense, and you’re closing a lot more deals.

Customer Feedback

Tell the Truth

If you want to one day benefit from honest feedback, you should start building truth-telling relationships. That means telling prospects “no” when “no” is the correct answer. “No, our solution won’t do that yet.” “No, I cannot offer you a larger discount.” “No, we cannot implement the solution any faster than that.”

You can steer them to positive features of the solution or favorable aspects of the contract terms, but being honest is key to becoming a trusted advisor, a key position in B2B sales.

Creating a relationship of mutual honesty takes courage because when you’re selling, you want to present desirable solutions. But in order to influence the final decision, it’s best to be seen as an expert rather than a “pleaser.”

Hear the Truth

When someone – a friend, a co-worker, a supervisor, a client, or a prospect – is honest with you, it is proof that you are respected and admired. People are honest when they know that you are strong, capable and smart enough to hear the truth. They don’t have to pretend everything is fine when it’s not. They don’t have to pretend you did a great job when you didn’t. Because, to amend the famous line from A Few Good Men, “you can handle the truth.”

You need to hear the truth so you can improve – your preparation, your pitch, your presentation, your product – and win more deals in the future. Colin Powell said, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” Sales can be a hard career unless you view failures as opportunities to learn and are willing to listen. Other people hold the lesson to your failures and your successes.

And yes, you can also learn from your successes. What did you do right? How can you make sure you repeat those good practices that helped you close the deal? The truth isn’t always bad. Sometimes, it’s commendation and acknowledgement of the preparation and hard work you put in to be successful.

Elicit the Truth

First, you start down the honesty path, as stated above. If you are not honest with your prospects, you will be lucky to get any feedback at all, and if you do, it will likely be painful to hear. Successful professionals want to work with people they trust, and avoid people they don’t trust.

Second, ask for the feedback as a favor – a positive form of assistance rather than some kind of bitter medicineyou have to take. Explain that constructive criticism will help you be more successful. Otherwise, people’s desire to be polite and not hurt feelings can filter out the hard truths you need.

Third, ask for tips on ways to improve rather than just their opinions. The people you are selling to have seen lots of sales presentations, some that work, many that don’t. Allowing the feedback to come as a helpful tip removes any uneasy feelings that might come from criticism alone.

Get the Right Truth

The only honest customer feedback that really matters is the truth told by the decision-maker. Do your best to get that feedback directly from the source. It doesn’t make sense to change what you do based on feedback from people who didn’t make the decision. While their feedback may be generally helpful, the adjustments you make might not be aligned with the result you want – winning more deals.

Conclusion

The world of B2B sales begins to make a lot more sense when you know why buyers say “yes” and why they say “no.” But until you have those answers, you are going through the same motions and pitches every day and getting the same results. It is insanity: it’s hard work, it’s disappointing, and it’s leaving deals behind that you might have won. Learning from honest feedback makes the world of B2B sales a much saner – and more successful – place.

Sales Tips: Losing Slowly – 6 Signs That All Is NOT Well

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

You would enjoy a lavish life style if you were on the PGA tour and finished second in each golf tournament you entered. In stark contrast a salesperson that came in second on every opportunity would have to live on their base salary and make frequent job changes. By its nature selling is a winner take all proposition. There are no parting gifts or consolation prizes.

During a workshop I taught, a CEO had an epiphany he shared with his team:

Most of his salespeople had an annoying habit of losing slowly.

warning-signBy that he meant they worked on many opportunities that had little chance of closing. These deals remained in their pipelines (pipe dreams) to make it appear as though the numbers could be made.

Sellers ultimately must decide which opportunities to pursue. Competent sellers understand the difference between activity and progress.

The worst possible outcome of sales cycles is going the distance and losing, whether it be to another vendor or to no decision.

In many cases, sellers fail (or are afraid) to see signs that all is NOT well:

  • Buyers already had budget in place, often provided by “Column A” vendors
  • Buyers already had determined their requirements
  • Sellers had limited or no chance to influence the requirements list
  • Sellers couldn’t gain access to Key Players
  • Sellers couldn’t establish value
  • Proposals issued months ago hang in their pipelines

Many sellers fail to realize buyers may need pricing/proposals from other vendors to make comparisons or to leverage pricing to get a better deal from the vendor of choice.

If access to Key Players isn’t granted, sellers do have the option to say they are unable to make a recommendation without first understanding the needs of Key Players.

This can become a “quid pro quo” of gaining access in exchange for submitting a proposal. If buyers refuse to grant access, it allows sellers to lose more quickly and look for better opportunities to work on. This is consistent with the core concept of “bad news early is good news.”

A question for your consideration: Over the last 12 months, how many opportunities have you chosen to walk away from? My hope is that the time you would have spent losing could be spent finding winnable opportunities.

A final parting thought: After Column A is awarded the business, Columns B, C, etc. are often told they came in second. It’s the most expedient way to let them down without rehashing why they lost.

When in doubt, save the below infographic for easy reference:

INFOGRAPHIC_6 signs that all is not well

Sales Tips: 5 Steps to Quantifying Value for Buyers

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

In initial calls it is important for sellers to conduct them in a way that helps buyers conclude they are sincere and competent. In my mind these are pre-requisites for having buyers share their business goals (or problems) so that potential value can be determined.

establish value

Once a goal has been shared, sellers should try to perform these five (5) steps to quantify value for buyers:

  1. Establish base lines. For example, if a VP of manufacturing wants to reduce scrap a seller should ask what percentage of production must be scrapped and/or what dollar amount that represents.
  1. Ask questions to determine if there is a trend and that by projecting a year ahead buyers could see increased benefits. Sellers can pose questions such as:
  • What was your percentage of scrap last year?
  • Have scrap percentages been increasing?
  1. Help buyers understand the barriers to achieving the goal that can be addressed by features or capabilities of the offering being discussed.
  1. Based upon the barriers the buyer shared, offer the specific capabilities that address them and ask if they would empower them to achieve their goal.
  1. If a buyer agrees, the seller can try to quantify benefit by asking: If you had these capabilities how much improvement do you think you could realize?

Remember: Establishing value can be a competitive differentiator.

Sellers that focus on goals, baselines, trends and quantifying improvement can instill a greater sense of urgency to take actions that can result in higher win rates.

Save the infographic below for easy reference.

INFOGRAPHIC_5 Steps to Quantifying Value for Buyers

Win Loss Best Practices: Competitive Intelligence Leads to Strategic Decisions

Guest post by Primary Intelligence, CustomerCentric Selling® Partner

Any electrical socket around you provides a tap to a near endless supply of energy. Inside the wires, there is enough power to run a houseful of gadgets, recharge your electric car or deliver an awful shock (don’t try that at home).

But, until you use the power to do something (turn on the lights, recharge your phone, etc.), it really doesn’t offer much value. For the electricity to be effective, it must power something that is important to you. Otherwise, it is just a bunch of electrons with potential energy sitting in copper wiring.

Your competitive intelligence is very similar to the electricity in your wires. You can collect as much competitive intelligence as you like, but until someone uses it to power change in your company, it really isn’t effective at all.

competitionCompetitive Intelligence for Strategy

Your competitive intelligence is most effective if it:

  1. Strengthens your company’s position when you compete
  2. Enhances your offerings to create desirable solutions that customers will buy

Answer These Competitive Analysis Questions

To maximize effectiveness, we recommend answering these questions:

1. Top-line Revenue

  • Does this intelligence create new revenue opportunities?
  • Can we take away sales from the competition?
  • Will our existing accounts stay longer and be more profitable?

2. Bottom-line

  • Can we be more efficient or learn best practices?
  • Are there better ways to manage our processes?

3. Application

  • How easily will we be able to act on this data?

What’s Your Best Source for Competitive Intelligence? Your Customers!

How often do you talk to your customers? If you add up the touches made by sales, account management, marketing, and other client-facing services in your company, you might find that each of your customers is talking to you on a regular basis.

You should have a central management group that has established some formal information gathering processes. Very common programs would include Customer Satisfaction, Account Loyalty, Win-back, Win Loss, Client Retention and Defection. Usually, these programs fall under the heading of “Voice of the Customer” (VOC). (Check out our Resources page to learn more about these programs.)

So, you have two types of contact:

  1. Informal, everyday conversations
  2. Formal programs to gather Voice of the Customer data

The fact of the matter is that your customers know nearly as much about the competition as they do about you. They evaluated the competition before selecting you as their vendor. They are regularly courted by the competition and many of your best clients also have purchased from your competitors, either in the past or currently.

Take a minute to see if your win loss program is generating competitive intelligence.

buyer-meeting-customer-experienceIn our experience, most customer satisfaction and loyalty interviews focus on the client’s experience with their present vendor. Go one step further and:

  1. Ask your clients who they perceive as your biggest threats.
  2. Find out what they are hearing about the competitors’ recent initiatives and offers.
  3. Understand how you stack up in various performance areas.

Put the Competitive Intelligence Collected to Work

The competitive information collected from your customers will not only be enlightening but will show your company what is happening in the market place in real time. (For more reading, download 7 Competitive Intelligence Strategies Used by Successful B2B Companies.)

Your company will benefit in the following ways:

  1. Sales will know what is being said about your company by the competitors. They will have more intelligence to sell more effectively and counter negative messages.
  2. Marketing will know what the prospects and clients value in the marketplace and will be able to establish messaging that drive home the most important value propositions.
  3. Product Development will know the advances being made by the competition and will understand how well these innovations may be received by the marketplace.
  4. Executives will have the right competitive intelligence to make strategic decisions.

Last thoughts:

Are you sharing competitive intelligence with the stakeholders in a timely manner to make sure that your company is capitalizing on the market as efficiently as possible?

Collecting data and sharing customer insights are valuable competitive strategies, but competitive intelligence must be converted to actionable decisions if you truly want change.

Sales Tips: Responding to “What Do You Sell?”

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

A quick insight into how sellers view and position their offerings can be gotten by asking a simple question:

What do you sell?What do you sell?

It’s a question sellers should be prepared to answer whether in social settings or sales calls.

Many sellers feel this question is an invitation to describe offerings and launch into product pitches. This is due in part to the extensive product training they receive, but responding in this manner isn’t likely to get conversations started. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that leading with product is unlikely to move the ball forward.

If I were asked what I sold and responded with: I provide sales training and consulting, it could elicit the following reactions:

  • A yawn
  • What type of training do you do?
  • How much does your training cost?

None of these responses is headed in a positive direction. I suggest any references to offerings should be avoided.

In 20 words or fewer, share an outcome that you help clients achieve.

In my case it could be:

I help organizations identify and share best practices of their top performing salespeople.

It won’t always lead to conversations but I’ve succinctly answered the question and am more likely to have discussions about outcomes before any product discussions.

You may want to create a positioning statement so that you’ll be better prepared with an answer to what should be an innocuous question.