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Jun 28 18

Can You Make A Sales Call Without Talking About Your Product?

by David Brock

Imagine you have an appointment with your ideal customer.  The only constraint is that you can’t talk about your product.

Could you make the call?  What would it look like?

I suppose you could talk about the weather, exchange chit chat about the World Cup, perhaps the latest baseball games or cricket matches.

But that wouldn’t be very satisfying to you  or the customer.  It probably would be a very short meeting, because your ideal customer probably doesn’t like to have her time wasted.

What could you possible talk about that would be a good use of the customer’s time?

A good start would be to talk about what the customer is most interested in talking about.

But you’d be wasting your time, and possibly be unqualified if you just spoke about any topic your customer is interested in.

You’d have to harness the discussion to talk about challenges they have about the problems you are the best in the world about solving.

But you’d be forced to talk about it from their perspective–not pitching your product features, functions, feeds, and speeds.

You’d be forced to get the customer to talk about the issues and how it impacts them and their organization.  You’d have to drill down asking them to define the issues specifically.  You’d probably then ask them how it impacts them.  You’d immediately get into how important the issue is in the scheme of things.

You might then guide the discussion to what they’d like to change, when, and why.  You’d probably follow that up by asking their goals or “what would it look like if that problem/challenge were eliminated?”

You might help them realize there might be different ways to look at or think about the issues.  Or you might help them understand they may be overlooking important aspects about the problem or things to consider as they look to eliminating the problem.  These, of course, wouldn’t be product/solution capabilities, these would be change and risk management issues.

Through the conversation, you would help the customer shape their thinking about their urgency in addressing the issues, the impact they of the change, you’d help them create a vision of a future state where they be moving past the problem, addressing new opportunities.

Properly executed, by the end of the meeting, the customer will be left with one question.

“How can you help me do this?”

It’s only then that your solution is relevant–in fact critical to them.  At that point they will be hungry to learn how you can help them.

Think about your next critical meeting with a customer.  Imagine what that meeting would look like without ever mentioning your products.  Even if the customer asks you, don’t give into the temptation, shift the conversation away from the product, focusing on the customer.  Develop your call plan, then execute it.

Magic happens when you do this.

 

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Jun 27 18

The Decline Of Corporate Culture

by David Brock

Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for lunch….”

We all know how important culture is in aligning everyone in the organization and driving high performance.

Company cultures are built on a common set of values and beliefs.  They tend to focus on:

  • Who we are, as an organization.
  • Why we exist.
  • What we believe.
  • What our values are.
  • What we want to stand for–to our employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders, and communities.
  • What our common purpose is and how we remain purposeful.

Corporate culture tend not to describe what we make or sell.

In start-ups or small organizations, the culture is usually very strong, though people may have difficulty describing what it is.  Often, the start up is people with common beliefs, goals, vision coming together to achieve something.  They are obsessed by the common vision and are driven to succeed.

As the organization grows, but is still very small, it tends to attract like minded people.  As leaders bring on new employees, they tend to hire in their own image, finding people with the same vision, beliefs, values, and compulsion to succeed.  People in the organization may not know how to articulate it, but they recognize it’s elements when they see it, and they recognize people that are aligned with the culture.

Sometimes, in the early stages of a company, it’s the intensity of belief, the intensity of the culture that enables people to persevere, despite setbacks, missteps, bad luck.  It’s the culture that sustains the team through good and bad times.  The common belief they are doing something that matters to them and to others.

As the organization scales and grows rapidly, is where the threats to the culture first arise.  As the organization starts to hire rapidly, they may miss the cultural fit.  As newer people are hiring yet more people, they may be unconscious to the culture.  As we onboard these people, we may not be taking the time or even be able to articulate the culture.

Rapid growth and scaling make things difficult.  Things are changing every day, new people are coming on board.  We may not have the right processes, structures, mechanisms in place to address the rapid changes.  Organizations struggle to manage the pace of change, while still achieving the goals.  People in the organization may not know the answers to address the challenges that arise, they may not even know the questions.

Culture becomes an important grounding point for organizations to successfully navigate this rapid growth.  In the absence of knowing what to do, how to do it, the culture becomes the common point of alignment.  Does what we are trying to do align with our values, beliefs?  Does it reinforce what we stand for, what we are trying to achieve, who we are as an organization?  Does it align with and strengthen our purpose?

Inevitably as the organization grows, mis-hires are made.  People not aligned with our culture are hired.  They immediately stand out, create challenges, difficulties.  It’s not that they are bad people–they don’t understand or they aren’t aligned with the culture.

Great leaders recognize this.  They recognize that without a common culture and an intensity of commitment to that culture, the organization can no longer perform to its full potential.

They recognize that not having a strong culture is as dangerous as a rudderless ship–you lose your direction, or you can’t effectively pursue your purpose.  Soon the organization stop standing for anything–to it’s people, customers, suppliers, shareholders, and community.

It becomes just another company, but can never be a leader.  It can never stand out.

In the absence of culture, rules and bureaucracies begin to emerge.  It’s the only mechanism to survive and attempt to maintain focus.  The problem is, that organizations can’t create rules and bureaucracies to cover everything that might arise.  But when they do, the organization slows down to a stop, people become burdened with following the rules.  And when a situation outside the rules arises, people become paralyzed and can’t respond.

Culture provides the foundation to everything the organization does.  In the absence or processes, rules, culture provides the foundation to helping people figure things out.

I started my selling career in an organization that had a very strong and distinctive culture.  It was a Fortune 25 organization, but had maintained the culture through the years.  There were a few core principles to the culture:

  • Dedication to every client’s success
  • Innovation that matters—for our company and for the world
  • Trust and responsibility in all relationships (Sometimes stated as “respect for the individual.”)

Those principles were important to me and part of what attracted me to the company.  They were things that I already believed as an individual–and now I was part of a company that believed them, as well.  Beyond these basic values, there were a number of other things about the culture which really aligned with who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do.

What I learned about being successful was that if everything I did was consistent with these three principles, I could never to anything wrong.  Yes, I may have made mistakes, I may have failed to achieve something.  But if I adhered to these principles, regardless of the outcome, I couldn’t get in trouble.

I, also, learned that if I ever violated one of those principles, I would immediately be fired.  Even if I had “won a deal.”

It’s not strategy, it’s not execution, it’s not super products, great sales people or anything else companies do or make that sustains it through tough and good times.  These are important, but by themselves are insufficient for long term success.

It’s always the culture, values, beliefs that are the foundation to sustained success.  Everything else is built on top of the culture.

This also doesn’t mean that cultures don’t change and evolve.  They have to, but it is a slow purposeful evolution and never a “program du jour.”

Great leaders recognize this.  They become living examples of the cultural ideals.  In every meeting, in every decision, in every conversation, in every action they reinforce the culture.  They never do anything to compromise the culture.  They are relentless in only allowing people that buy into the culture to join the company.

And they do this every day, every month, every quarter, every year, every decade………

 

Afterword:  I was provoked to write this, reading an article in the WSJ:  Google Sets Rules To Curtail Employee Debates.

I have always had an impression that Google has a strong, distinctive culture.  Yet when I see that rules have to be set to drive acceptable behaviors within the organization, I being to wonder.  (I mentioned the first company I joined and the compelling culture.  At some point, the culture became less important and things changed.  To some degree it regained it’s values and principles, the culture did evolve.)

 

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Jun 27 18

The Power Of The Discovery Process

by David Brock

There are two fundamentals to maximizing your ability to win a deal–unfortunately, both tend to be executed very poorly.  The first is Qualification, or as I like to call it, Disqualification.  This focuses us on pursuing the right deals with customers that are committed to changing.

The second is the Discovery Process.

Too often, sales people skip right over this, going straight to pitching their products/solutions.  We see day in sales people’s clumsy outreach to us.  Whether in an email or a bad prospecting call, most skip over qualifying and understanding what our needs/interests might be–immediately pitching their products.

The other mistake, more “sophisticated” sales people do is “selective discovery.”  They ask questions about problems, goals, needs, but selectively–only looking for something that enables them to immediately jump to presenting their product.  It goes something like:

Salesperson:  “What are your needs?  (Actually a terrible question, demonstrating no knowledge of the customer, the potential areas they might be interested in, but not surprisingly the first need identification question sales people ask?)”

Customer:  “We want a robust system that all our people can use and will support our growth for the forseeable future.”

Salesperson:  “Let me tell you about our product…….”

In their needs identification the sales person is listening to that cue that enables him to launch into talking what he wants to talk about, rather than trying to understand the customer.

Each area we identify with the customer enables us to dive deeply into a more complete understanding.  Taking the example, from above, the customer wanting a robust system, an astute sales person might ask:

What do you mean by a “robust system?”

How is your current system failing you?

What is the impact of that on your business?

How will you know you have chosen a robust system?

What do your expect to achieve with that robust system?

How would you measure your ability to achieve those goals?

One could go on an on in probing the customer to understand what they are trying to achieve, why it is a problem, why it is important to them, and what the impact might be.

Discovery helps you understand people’s attitudes, opinions, hopes, dreams, fears, goals, what’s important to them, and why.

Discovery helps you understand what they know, how well they may understand the area they are looking at, how well they may understand alternative solutions.

Discovery helps you understand how they will buy, who will be involved, the criteria they will use in selecting a solution, their priorities, the process they will use to buy.

Discovery helps you understand what they don’t know but need to learn and understand to achieve what they are trying to do.

Discovery helps you understand where they are at currently, what/why they need to change, how committed they are to change, what they want to achieve and when.

Discovery helps you understand what they need to do on their side to get approval for the change, how they will get support, how they will actually implement the solution and drive the change.

Properly done, in the discovery process, the customer will tell you everything you need to do to earn their business.  All you have to do is respond!

But there’s another important aspect to Discovery.

The customer is going through their own Discovery process.

This is our opportunity to teach them, to help them learn.

Maybe they don’t understand the problems at a deep enough level.  Or they don’t understand what they can achieve.

Perhaps they don’t know what they should be looking for and why.  Or they have overlooked some critical things, or they are missing some opportunities.

Perhaps they don’t know how to organize themselves and make a decision, or critical activities they should consider in buying.  How should the evaluate the alternatives?  Should they do a POC?  What could they learn from people that are already implementing solutions?  How can they more effectively justify the investment to their management, getting approval?  What’s it take to implement the solution, where are the risks, how do they avoid/mitigate them?

Often customers through the normal pressure of day to day business or through lack of experience in buying rush through their own discovery process missing critical things.

The customers’ discovery processes are our opportunity to teach them how to buy and how to achieve their goals most effectively.

Imagine taking the time to do this well yourself and helping the customer take the time so they can do this well.

This process, in itself, enables you to create tremendous value with the customer.  It enables you to differentiate your self from your competition–remember all of them are rushing to the pitch.

Once you have a properly qualified opportunity–the Discovery Process is where you win or lose the deal.

 

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Jun 26 18

The Problem With “USPs,” They Aren’t Unique

by David Brock

The Unique Selling Proposition is a cornerstone to much of what we do in marketing and sales.  At a high level, it’s supposed to be a compelling statement about who we are, what makes our solution different.  Ideally, it is so compelling the customer immediately sees the light and issues a PO.

All we have to do is position our USP in our web sites, our marketing materials, and our prospecting pitches, and we immediately capture the customers’ attentions.

I’m not sure USPs ever really worked, but in today’s world there is really nothing right about the concept of the USP.

Let’s dissect this…..

Unique is, well…. unique.  That means it is different for each person we seek to engage.  What’s important to a certain type of buyer (think persona) is different from another type of buyer.  USPer’s will immediately respond, “Yes, you have to develop persona based USPs.”

But then it’s different industry to industry, market to market, company by company.  Ultimately, we recognize, what’s unique is in the eye of the customer and it’s probably relevant to a certain point of time or set of circumstances the customer might find herself.

But our USPs never seem to reach the level of “One to One,” they are always broadcast to a wide audience and immediately become General Selling Propositions, (GSPs) rather than unique.

Another problem with our thinking about “Uniqueness,” is we fail to consider our competitors.  A number of years ago, I was giving a keynote, the client had asked me to focus on their USP.  My first slide, showed their “USP,” they immediately applauded, high fiving each other about their “USP.”  They probably thought, “We’ve got the right speaker, he recognizes the value of our USP.”

My second slide had the USPs of their top 10 competitors.  All of a sudden, the audience was deflated.  Except for a few small wording difference, the USPs weren’t unique.

Each, in fact, were remarkably similar.  Each claimed to be “bigger, better, faster, cheaper….”  Or “new, innovative, different…”  But fundamentally, they could have been interchanged with each other and no one would have known the difference.

But the fact that USPs really aren’t, isn’t the biggest problem.

The problem is the SP part of the acronym–the Selling Proposition.

Thinking customers or markets care about our Selling Proposition is really the ultimate conceit and self centered thinking.

Ironically, for all the decades the concept of USPs has existed, we don’t hear much discussion around UBPs–Unique Buying Proposition.  If Google is any kind of indicator, Unique Selling Propositions get 16 +M hits, Unique Buying Proposition gets 9 + M hits.

But customers care about what they care about.  When they are buying they care about their buying proposition, not our selling proposition.  And for each customer in the buying group, there is a different buying proposition—which may be why so many customers struggle with buying.

I’m not sure the concept of a USP was ever useful, but it’s not a helpful concept for our customers or for engaging them in high impact discussions.  It’s time that we abandon them and banish them from our vocabularies.

 

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