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Feb 23 17

Are You So Busy Selling Your Product, That You Won’t Win The Deal?

by David Brock

Don Mulhern published a brilliant post in LinkedIn the other day.  I thought I’d expand on his ideas.

I spend innumerable hours doing deal reviews.  95% go the same way, they focus on the product the sales person is selling, not what the customer is trying to achieve and how we can help the customer do that.

Sales people spend endless hours talking about:

  • This is what they like in our product, this is what they like in the competition.
  • We showed them these things in the demo, they really liked it!
  • We just need to overcome these perceptions of the product, then we can win.
  • If we could do these things with our product, it’s a slam dunk.
  • The customer wants it in “torchlight red,” can we paint it?  (OK, I made this one up, but you’d be amazed at some of the things I hear.)

Inevitably, I get impatient, I may ask something, like, “What are they buying this for?”  The sales people look at me, inevitably thinking, “Haven’t you been paying attention, they want to buy my product and I have to tell them how great our product is!!!”

The fixation sales people have on selling their products blinds them to what the customer is trying to achieve.  Customers aren’t buying our products just to be buying, they are buying our products to solve a problem, to address and opportunity, to achieve something they can’t otherwise do.

Inevitably, the product is just a component of what they are trying to do, but there are many other challenges they struggle with.  This is where they need help and this is where sales people create the greatest value.

Customers are concerned with implementation, they are concerned with risk, they are concerned with their ability to be successful with their customers or beating their competition.  They are concerned with improving quality, reducing cost, reducing cycle time.  They want to drive growth and revenues, they want to drive profitability.

They want to be successful, they want some level of sanity in their otherwise insane lives, they want their bosses off their backs, they want to get a promotion or a bonus or keep their jobs.  They want to get home at a reasonable hour to spend time with their families and friends.  They want to free up time to do other things, some that may be more important than this specific issue.

These are the things our customers are interested in.  These are the reasons our customers are buying, but buying is just a small part of what they are trying to achieve.

When sales people lose site of this, focusing instead on their products, they are no longer being helpful to the customer.  They are no longer focusing on the issues that are most important to the customer, and which create the greatest differentiated value.

Our products are just a small part of what our customers care about.  In the end, they will have several alternatives that meet their “product needs.”  But what our customers really want is a supplier that understands what the customer is trying to do and is helping them achieve that.  It goes far beyond the product.

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Feb 22 17

Make Buying Easier!

by David Brock

As sales people, we want to make it easy for our customers to buy.  We have endless amounts of data sheets, cases studies, presentations, and information about our products.  We seek to be super responsive to our customers informational needs, immediately burying them with information, conducting endless demos to respond to their questions.

Marketing helps us, both with the content and making vast arrays of information available through multiple digital and non-digital channels.  They leverage SEO, online advertising, drip campaigns and any number of techniques to make it easier for prospects and customers to find information about our products and services.

We even provide buying tools–configurators, shopping carts, and others to help make it easier for our customers to execute the buying transaction.

All done with the goal of making it easier for the customer to learn about and buy from us!

Ironically, all of this actually doesn’t make buying easier!

In a new HBR article, The New Sales Imperative, the folks at CEB

First, these activities focus on the vendor/solution selection process.  This is actually a very small part of the work customers are going through. in their buying/problem solving journey.

In fact, based on the CEB research, we are only making the easiest part of buying easier—but doing little to help them with the parts of buying that too often derail buying processes, resulting in No Decision Made!

Unless our customers are buying these solutions every day, they struggle with knowing how to buy, not what to buy.

They struggle with aligning the 6.8 + people involved in the buying process–each has different priorities and agendas.

They struggle with defining what they want to achieve, what should they be looking for, why?  They struggle with defining risks, understanding and evaluating alternative approaches, gaining internal and management support, building business justification.

More importantly, “buying” is usually just a small part of what they are doing–fundamentally, they are trying to solve business problems or address new opportunities.  These usually are far more profound, buying becomes just one component of their overall problem solving process.  This “Customer Problem Solving Journey,” is far more difficult than just the buying portion of that journey.

As the article by CEB points out, if we want to make it easier to for our customers to buy, we have to focus less on product selection but more in their buying process (and problem solving process.)

While our customers struggle with this, since they don’t buy every day, we are expert at that process, afterall, we are involved in countless similar deals.  We have worked with customers addressing these issues in the past.  We have great experience in helping them learn, what they should be doing, why, what they should be asking themselves, how they can start aligning goals/priorities, how they gain management support.

We can provide them road maps to help them be more successful with their efforts.  We can become “prescriptive,” by helping them learn from the experience of others who have gone down this path before.

We create the most value for our customers when we work with them to make the entire buying process easier, not just focusing on product selection.  We create even more value when we focus on their entire problem, not just the buying component of that problem.

Make sure you read, The New Sales Imperative, it will help you broaden your perspectives and create greater value for your customers.



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Feb 17 17

Why Do We Sell?

by David Brock

Some may be wondering about the “existential” nature of this title.  Some may be thinking, “Well, that’s stupid Dave, it’s our job.”  Others might say, “I’m money motivated and it’s a way I can make a lot of money!”

We choose to become sales people for a variety of reasons.  For some, it’s the only job we could get coming out of college.  For some it is a path to getting rich, though I can think of a lot of other paths to get richer, faster.

This week, I had an amazing experience.  I observed two days of training of one of the best performing sales organizations I have ever encountered.  These people are not only the top performers in their industry, by virtually every other metric, they are one of the top performing sales organizations in the world.

On the first day, they spent a lot of time discussing, “Why do we sell?”  This group sells because they want to have an impact, they want to change the world, they want to make a difference.

Sure, they want to make their numbers, they absolutely want to make a lot of money, but those are by products of their success.  Individually, and organizationally, they want to change the world!  They do it one customer and one deal at a time.

They focus on what the customer is trying to achieve and how they can help accelerate their customers’ success.  They walk away from deals where the customer doesn’t care about their ability to do these things, where all the customer values is price.  Just as they invest in their customers’ successes, they expect the customer to invest in their success by enabling profitable deals.  Without this, they can no longer afford to provide value.

Everything this sales team talked about was the customer.  Yes they loved their products, but their focus was how their products enable the customer achieve their goals.  While most sales people focus on their products, forcing the customer to figure it out, these sales people focused on the customer.

Some of you might be wondering, “Well this is a nice story, but that’s not how things really work.”  They like every other successful business are intensely goal and revenue oriented.  But they realize the secret to doing this is through changing the world.  Their record indicates it works–they are one of the top performing companies in their industry, they’ve had over 25 years of profitable growth, leading their industry–few others can make that claim.

So this mission is not some theoretical or idealist goal.  It produces hard business results.

I contrast this with many other sales people.  Those that are purely driven by making money.  Sure, one could do that, but they burn through a lot of customers doing so.  They can’t keep going back to the same customers helping them buy more.  There are those only focused on the numbers, but somehow, more often failing to achieve the numbers.

Most are too short sighted or self centered to understand the real secret to sustained sales success.

We sell to change the world.  We sell to have an impact on the success of our customers, individually and organizationally.  We sell to make a difference in each one.

There is nothing incompatible with being viciously focused on these goals, while always making our numbers, helping our company make money and making money ourselves.  Those are all outcomes of helping our customers achieve success.

Why do you sell?

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Feb 16 17

Customers Should Care About Your Profitability!

by David Brock

Too often, we succumb to price pressure–even worse, we lead with price, making pricing the center of focus of our sales efforts, then being forced to discount to “win” the business.

What if we started shifting our conversations from discussions of discounting to educating them about the importance, to them, of maintaining our pricing and our profitability?

In complex B2B sales, the profitability and success of the suppliers is critical to the success of customers.  What happens to customers who focus only on hammering vendors on price?

  1. To meet price goals, suppliers start sacrificing quality or ability to meet commitments.  We’ve seen this time after time in various industries.  Quality of procured products decline, driving down the quality of the products our customers provide to their customers.  The result is their customers are upset and stop buying the products.   Returns, warranty, service costs skyrocket, their revenues and profits plummet.  But high pressure on prices has to come out of the vendors somewhere, often it’s product quality, delivery, or risk.
  2. Perhaps, customers can maintain product quality from their vendors, but what about innovation?  Their customers are always changing, forcing them (our customer) to innovate, changing business models, introducing new products and services, and growing.  In turn, they need suppliers that are on the same journey, suppliers innovating with them, looking at the end customer needs, understanding the strategies, priorities, growth opportunities of each customer and responding by creating products and services that support their own growth and innovation.  As customers start having unreasonable expectations for pricing actions from suppliers, suppliers have less to invest in product development and innovation, and become less able to support the growth of their customers.
  3. Pricing pressure reduces investment in sales and marketing.  Some customers would see this as a blessing, fewer sales and marketing people make their lives easier—or does it?  If we are doing our jobs as marketing and sales professionals, we are helping our customers find new ways to innovate, grow, and serve their customers. We are helping our customers improve their product quality, reduce expense, adapt better practices.  We are helping our customers learn and discover, growing in their careers and growing the business.  Pricing pressure reduce our ability to fund sales and marketing in helping our customers, we can no longer afford to do these things—where does the customer go to get this help, what does it cost?  If they don’t have this help, what happens to them?  What risks do they face for their future, how do they manage those without the help of trusted advisors from trusted suppliers?
  4. We need fair profits because those profits don’t sit idle, they are invested in growing the organization and it’s capabilities to better support customers.  Those profits are invested in new plants, people, acquiring other companies, all of which enable us to do more for and with our customers.  If we aren’t able to grow and invest, at all levels, our abilities to serve our customers, helping them grow and invest become limited.

What about the customer that says, “We can always find other suppliers…..”  Fundamentally, they’re playing a short game.  As suppliers choose not to play that game, dropping out of competing for business, the only ones that are left are the bad ones.  Those that compete only on price, continually cutting their investments in R&D, sales/marketing, product quality, investments in their plants.  Overtime, the number of alternative suppliers dwindles to a few–each of which since they compete only on low price, becomes very risky.  Eventually there own viability becomes questioned, or the risk to the customer skyrockets.  Sure, it works for a few years, but long term viability comes into question–first for the supplier, then to the customer.

We’ve seen examples in many industries where customers have so squeezed their supply chains that they ultimately fail, causing the customer to fail.

Our pricing and profit margins exist for a reason.  The core is to continue to allow us to grow and innovate by helping our customers grow and innovate.

We need to defend our pricing vigorously, not just for what it means to us, but for what it really means in supporting and growing our customers!

We need to make sure our customers understand this, that they understand our strategies in investing and growing so they may, in turn grow.

We need to defend proudly, our right to fair prices and fair profit margins–because it makes our customers healthier and better.

We have to be prepared to walk away from customer who don’t see the value in our success, profitability, and growth.

We as sales and marketing professionals need to be able to conduct and support these conversations with our customers, not wasting our time looking for approvals for deeper discounts.



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