Why you should say no if you don’t match 100% of your prospect’s need

In the good old days, sales people were able to fill their portfolio with stock items and hit the road selling those, without much preferences if customers’ needs fit to that product. But now, customers are demanding 100% solution of their problems.

Some time ago, in a world of never ending market growth, goods had to be produced cheaper and cheaper, driving competition harder and harder. All eyes were focused on how to source and produce to the lowest cost as possible, not what customer really needed.

Customers thought they were needed the offered goods – and for sure, they couldn’t find anything else. And customers were right, not much were changing from year to year or even from decade to decade. Globalization – as we now it today – driven by the internet revolution hadn’t started yet. Companies were pretty happy to source their business with goods available.

Then something happened. A great paradigm shift, from producers’ point of view to customers’.

The introduction of internet started a customer education process. First at slow pace, but soon accelerating. Customers started to get informed using available information and with social media introduction, they were also able to discuss within their networks about their problems and needs, just to get as informed they could before they engaged with a salesman.

Today, this paradigm shift is fully completed. The customer has made himself comfortable in the driver’s seat and decisions are made fully informed. But they still need help to match products with their needs, in detail.

On the selling side, we meet with fully informed customers, so it shouldn’t be any problem – if you are informed at the same level about your products. In my blog post Why Expertise Outperforms Process , I explain why being an expert on your own products or services is mandatory these days.

But my point is, if the salesman’s offer don’t fit 100%, the customer don’t solve 100% of their problems. The result on your customer’s side is not reaching their fully potentials and goals, leading to decreased competiveness. On the selling side, you may lose the deal to a competitor meeting 100% of the needs. Or, have a lot more work to get it. Work including persuasion, product customizations, discussions, motivations an much more hassle to eventually end up with the signed contract.

My advice is simple. Only go for opportunities you know you will solve 100% of your customer’s needs.

puzzle

In an efficient sales process, the first stage – qualification – secures no deal is allowed to pass if not a couple of qualification questions are having positive answers. Common questions are such as if customer has budget, if you talk to the decision makers, if investment is intended in reasonable time frame, if competition is not too overwhelmingly and so on.

“If your product fit” sometimes is one of these questions, but not too often the most important and never the only one. Why? It should be.

Think about the “good old days” when everything you produced could be sold, no matter what. The salesman was king and customers were trusted him as The Voice from the world outside.

Those days could be revived once again, if your product is solving 100% of your customers’ needs and most of your time is spent on helping your customer understand and trust that.

Doing so before you qualify your opportunity in your sales process, will save tremendous amount of hassle and time. But to afford to spend all your time on fit matching, you need to say NO to opportunities that not have any potential to pass the “Fit Test”.

Good luck!

Stefan

 

 

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Why Price Is Becoming Everything In Sales

In today’s rapidly changing market landscape, buying decisions are made long before any sales rep is contacted. When you’re finally are being contacted, the only question still left to be answered is the one of price.

Price

My question is: If you’re a sales rep, why bother spending your valuable time on building any relationship if your prospect already has done all evaluation beforehand and only has this single question to you?

No reason at all.

Why not just publish your pricing on your web and you get rid of that last question as well?

Perhaps, I’m starting a revolution within The Sales Community. But I’ve got this topic on my mind for so long. Now, I cannot bear it anymore; I’ve got to start this discussion. My excuses if I’m tend to be a bit provocative.

Some time ago I was planning to build a sundeck to our house. I did my investigation; what type of wood, construction and other materials that we needed. Finally I called a couple of lumberyards for prices. Lumberyards offer exactly the same goods, so pricing was the only thing to compare. I had my favorite – where I used to buy this type of stuff – so I started to call them. It was a friendly and nice conversation, but I decided to buy from a completely new supplier where I hadn’t bought anything from before.

Why? The pricing difference was just a few dollars? Why was the change to a completely new supplier so easy to make, without any chance for my existing supplier to control?

I’m sure the increasingly importance of price is a huge trend, and it’s not just about selecting local lumberyards. Look at the global brands. Ten years ago, I saw major differences between brands. In phone industry a great example comes from the story of Nokia. Technology was more or less the same – the goods was the same – but companies like Samsung or Huawei was lacking the value of a strong brand, which Nokia possessed. You bought the Nokia phone to belong to a hip community. Now, the Samsung brand is one of the strongest on the market and Huawei is the third largest phone company on the planet. Nokia doesn’t even exist anymore.

Look at the Car Industry and you’ll find exactly the same thing; the brand image gap is decreasing very fast and it’s accelerating. KIA, the Korean car manufacturer, was some years ago considered to be cheap and deliver low quality. Today, KIA is one of the fastest growing car companies in the world. Why? Because they are still cheap but it’s brand has recovered to be much stronger diminishing the gap to premium car brands at an accelerating pace.

Another example is Microsoft’s e-mail client Outlook. Only a few years ago, it was considered to be unbeatable and any attempt to get market shares were completely unfruitful. What happened? Well, many companies are now leaving for Google cloud suites and even Windows operating system are now under fire – new Google Chromebooks are all over the marketplace.

Why? Lower price of course.

The last ten years, companies have learned their lessons. Focusing on design, marketing, efficient processes and brand have almost taken away the only weapons available for sales reps to differentiate. In a very near future there will not be any gaps left to work with at all.

The core question is; why would you pay more for exactly the same delivery?

Soon; no reason at all. For now; well, let me pick some reasons you still may come around with a higher price.

  1. Your prospect is lazy
  2. Your prospect is afraid of change
  3. The change itself is costly

Lazy.

Your prospect is not doing any great research on current available solutions and they trust you to be the one to deliver the optimal solution for them.

But the compelling question is: Are there still companies with space in their bottom line to be lazy? If you’re lucky finding them today, certainly you’re not gonna find them tomorrow. So, be aware to change your price level before they are forced to be proactive and reshape their profitability.

Afraid of change.

Most companies manage risks. Even if you’re promoting exactly the same goods but to a lower price than all your competitors, you may lose your deal. That’s because the prospect sets a price on the risk. If they discover any higher risk doing business with you, they judge the risk within a price span, and if you exceed that span it turns out as a price of that risk. That price is put on top of your proposal. If you still are lower in price, you will get the deal but if not, you’ll lose.

Costly change.

In the same mindset, your prospect may add a price of change on top of your quote. They may have to rewrite manuals, set new routines in place, train people etc when changing to your solution. Nowadays, companies take a good look into changing costs much more than before. These “internal” costs is a little harder to collect and estimate but companies are doing more than a guess.

The challenge is to force yourself being lowest priced solution but still earn money. You have to find other sources to get paid. You need to be innovative or you’re out. Great brand creators have followed the trails of making buyers belong to lifestyle communities, but tomorrow you can’t lean on a great brand, since low-price companies have captured and closed the gap of brand value.

You may survive for some years if you are lucky to find companies that are lazy, afraid of change or where the change itself is too costly. But why wait just to die?

Act. Now. Remember: Why pay more for exactly the same stuff?

 

 

3 stories that reveal if your sales attitude is out of date

It’s not easy to cope with all dramatic changes now happening around how to sell. High performing sales reps do, but my following true stories tell many people within sales and SMB’s still have a long way to go before they would be able to compete in the future.

outofdate

Story #1

In my garden there was until recently a huge red leafed beech. It’s height was almost 60 feet and due to that we couldn’t leave it for another year. We had to take it down. In my former life I certainly was a monkey or such animal, so I went out climbing up to the top, taking down one branch at a time.

One day later I was satisfied with my work. However, the tree trunk was still left. I scanned the internet after firms that could help me taking the trunk down. I called a few local firms and selected one that already the coming Friday was able to finish the work. Being an experienced sales person, I appreciate if a buyer comes back to me, even if it’s just to tell me I lost the deal, so I went out texting those firms that lost my deal.

Here’s the text dialog with one of them:

Me: Sorry, but I have to tell I selected another firm for the job. Thanks for your time anyhow 🙂

The sales rep: Now you lost a lot of money! We’re always 30-40% below our competitors.

Me: (slightly sarcastic) Ooops, then it certainly was a lot of money, maybe several dollars? But you didn’t check all of my needs when you called – I wanted to get the job done already this week… By the way; care about what you’re texting – just a small tips.

The sales rep: I always stand up for what I write or say. I’ve been in business since the 90’s and last year we got 96% of all jobs in your town.

Me: (increasingly upset) Think about if I had another tree I needed to take down? Regarding your attitude, do you really think I would be contacting you again? Blaming a potential customer is not a good choice. I’ve been in sales for a long time and teach sales reps, it might be a good advice to join one of my sales training classes…?

The sales rep: You should consider a training class in Foresight to earn some money!

End of story.

Lesson learned. Always accept a lost deal with a smile and a “good luck”. Look at it as a new opportunity that starts. We all know prospecting takes time and even if you lost this deal, you got in touch and next time it’s a warm call.

Story #2

This story is recently shared from my brother. He had some problems with his chainsaw (I know; you may think we are all in forestry…) and went to a retail store to get it fixed. He asked for service and the sales rep took the chainsaw into his repair shop. The brand was one of those they were selling in the store and the sales rep promised to fix it. But this was what happened next:

The sales rep: OK, I know what’s wrong, we’ll fix it. By the way, where did you buy it?

My brother: (little embarrased) On the Internet…

The sales rep: ON THE INTERNET????? Just go away and take your worthless chainsaw with you! People buying things ON THE INTERNET are not welcome in my store!!!

Lesson learned. Not adjusting your attitude and business to modern buying processes where customers using the internet and social media to educate themselves, buy things and compare, are just out of date. It’s a major threat for SMB’s but not aligning to reality is only stupid. Such aligning might be: “Great, we have a special offer for those buying on the internet, it’s a service agreement for only 99 dollars per year and I can make this included as the first repair. Would you like to fill in this form, please?”

Story #3

This story is a short one, also shared from my brother. His mower was not starting, so he called a local shop to get it fixed. However, the shop was closing at 4 PM and he knew he was a little late calling 4.05 PM:

The sales rep: (first thing saying) Do you know what time it is???

My brother: Well yes, I actually do, but I took a chance and called anyhow; and lucky me, you answered.

The sales rep: We’re closing at 4.00 PM, you cannot call later. Come back tomorrow! Then he hung up.

Lesson learned. Nothing is closed anymore. Business is always open, 24/7. Opening hours are restricting in itself, but here’s the worst thing about the short conversation above: The sales rep was actually picking up the phone. It’s not just missing the call if he didn’t answer, he also damaged his brand and that may be unrepairable.

Recognize any of these stories by your own? Do you have any more examples of out of date sales attitudes? Please tell in the comment line below! Maybe we all as high performing sales reps would get a big laugh at least 🙂

 

What is Lean sales? – Identify your internal customers!

Continuing from my earlier blogs:

What is Lean sales?
Identify your external customers!

This is where I believe we all assume too much. Most people in an organization have their own networks and routines for communicating within the organization. This has been developed during a long period of time and is handed over from person to person as people change position in the company and as the company grows. It has not been put in place, it has just happened…how do you know that this is the best way to perform the tasks in your company?

Understanding is better than believing, so find out who in your organization you as a sales group hand over information to. Is there a secondary party within your organization that receives information that comes from your group? Should this information not be passed on directly?

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” ― Albert Einstein

Is there a white spot on the map? Is there a group within your organization that is seeking information that you could be providing, but you are not?

I heard a great example of a white spot. In a company working with industrial installations in the 80’s. In some cases the customer provided engines that were supposed to be used in the final product. Normally the purchase department was responsible for all the incoming goods and when they placed the orders, goods management was already planned and article numbers were in place. The customer unique engines would turn up out of the blue, the team handling the receiving would call the purchase department and ask about them, but since the purchasing department had nothing to do with these engines they had no information to provide. The result was that the engines would be stashed somewhere and many where lost on their way to production costing a bundle of money and irritated customers. If the sales department had seen the goods receiving department as a customer and understood their responsibility they would have set up a routine with the receiving group and communicated to the customer how engines need to be labeled and shipped in order for their company to manage them.

These days Big Data is widely discussed. The requirements to enter information are constantly increasing. A lot is probably rubbish, but some will definitely bring value to you or to some other part of your organization who is a customer of this information. Look through your entire business process and organization scheme and truly define who is a receiver from your sales department. It is better to do a few things well rather than trying do a lot and making a mess of it all…so find out where your input will have the biggest impact.

Big Data anyone? It’s time for Less Data.

Sometimes you need time to think. I’ve just read an interesting post by Maree Conway Slow Strategy that pinpoints “there are no quick fixes, no silver bullets to developing strategy that is futures ready”. People are so anxious finding the right answer, they may not have time to think to ask the right question.

If you are sure having the right question, the specific answer will be ready to serve you. If you don’t, you still will have an answer. As Maree Conway tells, there are multitudes of options to explore and it’s not one single answer. You can’t be sure having the right question until you invest enough time to explore those options. Exploring your options one after the other you will discover that every option are connected to several questions as well. If you got five options – or scenarios – you easily can ask at least three questions.

Examples in a sales environment.
Scenario A: You discover the half year sales revenues are not keeping the pace for the end year. Questions may be (1) what if we book more sales meetings? or (2) what if we put more money in TM lead generation? or (3) what if we try to raise the average order size?
Scenario B: A continued slow down in China (an important market to us) escalate next year. Questions may be (1) what if we layoff five sales reps? or (2) what if we decrease our prices to keep up the number of orders? or (3) what if we increase the hitrate winning the deals?

You see, it’s not that simple just asking one question. Which of the above six is the “right”? That’s the problem with hype of Big Data as well as with Google. For sure, the answers will be there. The databases are full of them, but the tricky part is still to figure out what question to ask. The Big Data database or Google can surely give you patterns for help providing guidelines in which areas to look. However, it’s only historical data – it would still not give you facts about tomorrow. It’s up to you to think about. You need to discuss within your team, and you need time, since there are several scenarios to explore.

Exploring your options to find your right question, of course you may need some historical data. But you don’t need exact facts provided by wrongly asked questions. Big Data consultants will tempt you to ask questions because their only delivery is answers. They are paid after the number of answers, not the quality of the question. I think you should consider not starting any Big Data projects until you are very clear about what you need to know.

In that process, you need Less Data. It’s typically figures about revenues, process efficiency, people etc. This type of information is often easily available from your internal systems. More important, you would also need information such as competitors and their products, macro economics, customer challenges and so on. Do not be tempted to read the consultants’ answers first; they belong to other enterprises’ questions, not yours. Begin with much less data, but much more experience – which is not in any Big Data machine.

This experience is certainly encapsulated in your team and organization already.

Use that experience, take your time, read the blog post by Maree Conway for inspiration and develop your right question tenderhearted.

Sales Tactics for Dummies – summary

While driving home for Christmas, I’ll just try to give you all a short summary from the post Sales Tactics for Dummies.

As you know, my defintion of Sales Tactics is the ability to act proactively on issues that are unplanned and deviates from the strategic plan or the possibility to reach it’s targets.

To establish that sales tactics ability to act, you need to:

  • Go for a Collaborative Decision Making culture
  • Introduce some sort of software that supports the above decision making

First, the Culture. I’d just read a great blog post written by Anthony J. Bradley, Group vice President in Gartner Research, that provides insight that it’s time to take advantage of social behaviour in our professional organizations, and not only in marketing. No-one these days can disagree that social media has made a huge impact to our businesses. Why shouldn’t the benefits be used in other processes as well?

A great start could be the sales process.

Even if a more collaborative decision making style may give some benefits, it’s not really any big effects if you don’t support that with a software. The software would in every aspect help you gather comments and bright ideas – from your management team or sales reps on the street. New truths you never would have been aware of may pop up – painfully honest. But take advantage of all new insights and make better decisions and communicate decisions with higher level of acceptance by those people that are affected. Not to take this opportunity – it’s reality today – is only stupid.

A software platform should include the following:

  • Possibility to define an objective
  • Run one or several possible future scenarios
  • Share a chosen scenario within your team, employees or external network
  • Have comments and ideas back
  • Improve your scenario
  • Communicate your decision instantly and clear

Looking forward to 2014, it seems to be the year collaborative decision making will blossom. The advantages are there. The softwares are on the shelf to grab. But is your organization ready?

We’ll keep in touch,

Merry Christmas!

/BR
Stefan

Sales Tactics for Dummies – Part Four

Long time – no see. I do need to aplogize. I haven’t come back to you in months. Really sorry for that. It’s no excuse, but I hope you may understand – it has been too much work and nobody has come to help, poor me.

Let’s recap previous posts. We were discussing a sort of correction system in sales to help when things happen on a tactical level. Remember? You set strategic goals and break down these to an operational level; what have to be done in your sales organization  – every day or week. Easy.

But things never go exactly as you plan. Lots of events occur; new competition, news, macro economy, etc, that force you to act. If you get insights often – for example every week – you are probably able to handle most events on the fly. This is the tactical level.

But is “on the fly” the right way to go? Are your decisions all the time well founded? If you’re experienced, maybe yes. But still I believe you can make better decisions. Think about the case Peter had in my previous posts. Let’s go on with Peter’s way to a well founded decision and the key features a tactical correction system has to be equipped with.

By setting up a few sales scenarios, Peter pointed out his Objective – meaning what problem or challenge has to be solved. In the example, the sales figures for BA Automotive in EMEA were dropping unexpected . Hence, Peter’s objective was: “Meeting the new competition and win the battle”. Help by hand, he presented scenarios he can think of as reasonable. The scenarios were elaborated in his management team to secure the quality.

What is the next step for Peter? In my mind, he’s got two alternatives:

  1. Decide supported by his own thoughts and experience (“my solution has worked before”)
  2. Ask a friend or expert

By definition, an expert knows a lot about one single topic, but may lack the overall picture. But since Peter himself has the overall Picture, why take the risk not to ask an expert to be really informed about his or her knowledge and experience in the topic? An expert may be a very educated person with University Grade and titles, but also an individual sales person facing just that challenge of the new competitor.

Useful information is typically how the competitor is acting in a lost deal, what arguments and sales pitches they are using, what discounts they are willing to give at what pressure, where they in detail are located, which customers they are attacking and so on. Detail knowledge that is too valuable to ignore.

This type of information provide the ability to set certain constraints of what can or can’t be done. For example, if the competitor is highly discounting the price – we may not be able to set our prices too rigid. When Peter decides, he have to be aware of these constraints and the only way to be that is to get people involved in an iterative Discussion. The individual sales person may say “if only the price is low, we will sell”, but the constraint may also be “the margin has to be on a high level” stated from the board or financal manager.

Do you understand what I’m looking for? People are experts in different areas and with different knowledge and experience. A software platform for Collaborative Decsion Making has to support a collaborative way of setting constraints and to let people honestly express their thoughts. Otherwise it’s not a collaborative way of making decisions.

In many organizations I have met, the middle levels of management are a bit afraid of what the levels below are saying. I mean, a sales rep may express thoughts that are a bit rough and may not be suited to be expressed in board meetings. My experience is that the middle management tend sometimes to hide uncomfortable truths for the management team or board. My opinion is that what you know, you are able to correct. If you not love what you hear from the grassroots, act upon it. Don’t try to think the problem don’t exist – it does. And as quickly you act, the better.

A software platform for collaborative decision making has to have the capability to be open enough not to filter out uncomfortable truths since in the long run it will even impact your brand and what values you stand for. A real collaborative decision making software platform also supports feedback from outside your company. Of course, sales figures may be sensitive in some extent to communicate outside your Company, but think of the upside value of having an outside view of your problem. For example, your customers. Having their view how you can reach your goals, isn’t that valuable information? Or what types of sales efforts they like or dislike?

It’s time to collaborate. Start within your own organization, but don’t be afraid to honestly ask for advice from the outside. Otherwise it’s still old truths.

/BR, Stefan