It is hard for anyone to feel deterioration or appreciate prevention. You can only really feel relief or crisis. If you sell qualities such as reliability, your buyer can only truly understand it if they have experienced failure.
This is why inexperienced buyers are so dangerous in the buying process and why financially motivated buyers are risky for their companies. They do not have the context for evaluating the pitfalls of poor choices. Presenting the true benefits of the right partner to an inexperienced buyer often means little to them. They do not have relevant experience to evaluate the difference between an acceptable choice and the right choice.
What to do:
- Be relevant and specific in your examples. Your case studies must not be about market risks or disasters in general. It is too easy for the decision-maker to say, “We’re not like that.” Your examples must be business and industry relevant to create a true sense of risk.
- Define “good” versus “great.” Inexperienced buyers still have a general understanding of good versus bad when considering vendors. Their purchasing rubric has been defined to aid in that. What is missing is the rubric of good versus great. That comes with experience. Scare the buyers with the risks of bad choices, but also present what great choices offer.
- Bring a positional voice. I equate taking sales people to meet with finance people like taking a knife to a gunfight. Finance oriented decision-makers value someone who speaks his or her language. Take someone from your finance or purchasing department to the presentation or have him or her on a call to help financially oriented buyers to sort into their language the buying criteria
Holiday Gifts to Customer and Prospects
John Ruhlin from the Ruhlin Group is my gift-giving-guru, and here are a couple of his tips for what to give for the holidays:
5 Holiday Gift-Giving Tips
- Don’t give gifts at Christmas – Crazy, right? John’s point is that your gift will be lost in the other gifts. It is better to give in an off-season or 3-4 weeks after the holiday season.
- Skip the clothes and food – Apparel with your company’s logo on it, or consumable items like popcorn, wine or food baskets will not stick out or show any true thoughtfulness.
- Thoughtfulness isn’t an event – The sending of gifts, notes and tokens of appreciation should be built into your brand and approach if it is appropriate to your company’s culture, not just done once a year and on birthdays.
- Plan – General gifts receive little notice or appreciation. It is better to connect the gift to the relationship. If it is not your natural skill to design programs, then use a specialist to help you. We use John, but you may have someone you know who is good at this.
- Connect – There is something about the relationship with a customer that should be remembered or honored in the gift. The attached note should connect the dots between the gift and the memory.
For some companies, it is against their policies to give gifts. For other companies, it is against their policies to receive gifts. Be aware of the policies before starting the effort.
When you take people to meetings, magic or mayhem can happen. I’ve seen both and the magic is worth the risk if you can control the mayhem. Some of the mayhem is self-inflicted by avoidable mistakes.
5 Deadly Meeting Mistakes
- Pile On – When people add on to answers given by other members of the team it does not provide completeness. It creates a sense of lack of confidence in the members of your team to whoever else is attending.
- Fidget – Wiggling legs, tapping pencils, spinning chairs and so on are all fidgets. I have even seen members of a team get up mid-presentation to refresh their coffee while someone is presenting.
- Glancing – When a question is asked by their team, and we glance at each other to figure out who will answer, we look suspicious and unprepared.
- Digital Interrupts – Emails, texts, ringing smartphones in the middle of a meeting are unacceptable. You think everyone knows it until someone blows it.
- Double-talk – Over-talking anyone in the room happens because we anticipate the question, disagree with an answer, or are just focused on our own response.
What to Do:
- Assign the Host – During your preparation before the meeting you must assign a host from your team to manage the questions and interruptions. If anyone asks a question, the host’s responsibility is to confirm the question and then delegate it to one team member to answer. This helps to control Double-Talk, Glancing and Pile on.
- Agree on the guidelines – Set the expectations for the rules before the meeting with your team.
There is a simple test to understand your relevant power position as a trusted adviser with your clients. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do they call you first? Whether it be issues of opportunity, challenges, or a need for market insight – whom does your customer call first? In uncertain times, people look for certainty and authority – qualities provided by the most trusted. If you are not getting those calls, someone else has their trust.
- Do you get last look? When your customer wants to keep you as the preferred partner, they assist in the buying process. That shows up in the form of access to influential people within the prospect’s organization and information that will help you in winning the business. If you are not getting unique access or last look at scope, specs and price, you are not in the favored position.
- Do you receive a premium price? Competitive bidding will diminish the range of prices that can reasonably be considered on many of the commercial purchases in the marketplace. A premium is expressed as any amount over that of the next most credible provider’s price. When a customer wants to keep your insights and value, you will be able to keep your price premium.
Often with customers we believe that we have a great relationship. This can lead you to believe that you have a unique relationship or a powerful connection. The real measure is behavior. Ask the three questions to determine if you are really in a power position.
Early in my career, I received sales training on recognizing buying signs. Questions, challenges, even hostile accusations were, under the definition of my training, considered buying signs. These actions represented an expressed interest or engagement in considering the offer.
Fast forward to today. Prospect companies engage in expensive market scans for new vendors at the end of a contract or on a regular scheduled basis, even though 5 out of 6 of the final awards go back to the incumbent provider. This means that you have to be looking past what I was taught to be buying signs if you want to determine if there is genuine interest. Let’s call these Signals. Here are some of the types of signals that I trust:
- Speed – If the speed of the responses to my requests is on-time or ahead of the request time.
- Timeliness – When prospects show up on time and stay through an entire meeting, webinar or conference call it indicates strong interest.
- People – When the prospect is adding people to the process at the same or higher level, the prospect is investing the political capital that means interest.
- Information – Prospects that provide transparency and details early out of a desire that you have a complete picture of their needs are choosing to give you more than your competitors. Good signal.
- Questions – “How” questions in particular are great signals.
You are not looking for a fair fight or equal interest. You are looking for the signals that show you true interest in your solution, not just their compliance to their own process requirements.
Many of the companies with whom we consult are in a two-step sales process. They first have to sell a governing body such as a GPO, franchiser, corporate procurement department, or other central body to approve them as a “preferred or approved” vendor. Great! They have the contract, but no money. The money happens with the purchase orders from the distributed body of buyers inside of the large company’s network. Now the selling starts over again. When you land the big company, you have just gotten a license to hunt, not a real paying customer. Yet, many companies work hard to land the license, then let osmotic pressure or marketing efforts bring in the money. That’s a slow road to revenue. Here are a few things to do instead:
- Support Agreement – Seek to get definition of the roll-out support you can expect from the parent organization. Know what you want in advance – whether that is an announcement, a jointly released video, a feature in their newsletter, a prime location at their next national meeting, or an opportunity to speak. The job is yours to get their support in a way that is favorable.
- Blitzkrieg Team – The landing of a large master agreement is an event. It should be treated as a win that you can springboard. Instead of just rolling out to your field reps the announcement, establish a team to go after the highest value locations in the network and land business quickly. These locations will start the dominos of the buying organization’s network tipping in your favor.
Do I take John from I.T., or not? A variation on this question will be asked thousands of times today by sales leaders as they consider who should be in the upcoming call or meeting with a prospect. The sales leader knows he or she needs the expertise, insight and details the person brings…but…they are a little worried about what the SME might say. No doubt, there is reason. Some past experience externally or internally tells the leader that John might do or say the wrong thing.
You have to take your SMEs, so perish the thought of working around them.
Here’s what to do to get the most out of their participation:
- Do not have them sell – SMEs are good at solving problems and understanding details. Tell them that is the role, not selling, and they will be more willing to come and relaxed in the session.
- Structure – Provide a structure for each SME that is specific to the meeting. I use the model of 3 points, 3 questions, 3 props. No more than 3 for each of these categories is how I prepare an SME. Easy to remember and easy to rehearse.
- Preparation – SMEs can wing it in their environment of day-to-day work, but probably not in yours of selling. So don’t ask them to wing it. Rehearsal is for them; don’t use yourself as the standard. Take the time to get them ready to do well.
- Direction – I encourage that you have the SME focus on one person with whom to connect from the prospect’s or customer’s side in the meeting.
Lose early; you’ll be glad you did.
We say NO to a lot of business and our goal is to say no early. I like clean pipelines – but don’t get me wrong, I don’t like empty pipelines. A clean pipeline means that the prospects in the pipeline are appropriate and qualified for us. The usual qualification characteristics almost everyone gets right; things like credit-worthiness, geographically serviceable, product or service alignment…those are a part of everyone’s up front list.
The customers that hurt your business or your margin over time, usually meet those baseline qualifications. To avoid this, we created an expanded list of qualifications for our prospects:
- Wrong problem – If the prospect has a problem that is in our field of operation, but not our specialty, then they have the wrong problem. We focus on large account sales. If they only need better territorial sales skills management, we pass.
- Wrong perspective on solutions – If the buyer can’t be moved from his or her point of view on how to fix a problem in the area in which we have expertise, we leave.
- Bad culture chemistry – No jerk rule. We just avoid jerks, regardless of how juicy the opportunity. Jerks rarely get better as customers if they are bad as prospects.
- Your gut tells you so – When was the last time you fought your instincts on something and won? Me either.
Companies who drive to the quota only, regardless of the quality of customer, are sacrificing the future for the moment.
Swagger is a mix of positive expectation and objective indifference.
I really like swagger when I see it. Moms parenting their kids, plumbers explaining a problem, surgeons presenting options, and of course, sales people in front of prospects and customers. Swagger is not posturing. I see a lot of the Justin Bieber/Miley Cyrus version of swagger as posturing – attitude with costume over real substance. Real swagger looks and feels different and that’s why the best can pull it off, whether a parent, a surgeon or a sales person.
Positive expectation – It’s the belief that the situation will end in your favor. That’s why people with swagger don’t have to yell, interrupt or pounce when they meet resistance. When you know you are going to win in the end, you can be patient in the process. It shows up in slowing the pace of the discussion down when you are faced with objections or hostility.
Objective indifference – Surgeons present hard choices to patients. I’ve spoken to several and asked them how they maintain their composure. They say that it comes down to presenting options and consequences as honestly and completely as they can. They care deeply about their patients and they have sincere preferences that they believe the patient should choose. In the end, however, the choice is the patient’s and to keep their position of trust, they see their job as one of adviser, not sales person.
Swagger is powerful. It gets stronger with practice.
Increasing Your Company’s “Sellability“
The economy is picking up. I can tell because clients are starting to get bought or are buying other companies and these are typically for a premium above the industry-rate, usually some flat multiple of earnings.
The desire for any business owner at the point that they sell is to seek a price above the market rate. It’s part of a report card as to how you have run your business compared to your competitors, as demonstrated by what price a buyer is willing to pay for it.
We have always emphasized the importance of having a clear sales process that increases confidence that your growth wasn’t a result of luck but is the product of an asset in your business.
Recently I viewed some videos by a friend who I believe does a nice job in talking about the other things you have to develop and measure to achieve a premium if you sell your company. Enjoy.
Watch the videos here.