When the customer perceives little difference between alternative solutions from vendors, the lowest price wins! And that’s how it should be, it would be insane for the customer to do anything else.
Now before you start leaping to conclusions thinking that I’m promoting rampant discounting to win business, let me clarify things.
Too often, we fail to differentiate our solutions and value in meaningful ways. As the customer compares both our offerings and their buying experience with other alternatives, it’s difficult for them to find any meaningful differentiation. As a result, the only substantive differentiation is pricing. So when the customer perceives everything as being equal, then the lowest price will always win.
So how are we to compete in this environment?
It’s pretty simple, it’s our job as sales people to make things unequal–and biased to our offerings.
Too often, however, sales people look in the wrong places to tip the scales. They get into endless checklists of features and functions—“We have 10 more features and 3 more critical functions than the competition!”
Sometimes, rarely in my experience, you may win on this–but product based differentiation is seldom enough and never sustainable over time.
We make things unequal–dramatically so–when we focus on the customer and their business. When we focus on how we can improve their business, help them more effectively achieve their goals/dreams. While our competitors are focused on their products and solutions, we focus on what they mean to the customer and their impact on the business.
We make things unequal by facilitating the customer buying process. By helping them in the difficult tasks of organizing themselves to buy, align disparate agendas, goals, and priorities in their own teams.
We make things unequal by getting the customer to think differently. By challenging them, by getting them to say, “I’d never considered that before. That’s a very interesting idea.”
We make things unequal by collaborating with the customer, co-creating value, doing things we couldn’t do individually, but together can have great impact on our organizations.
It’s our jobs as sales professionals to make things unequal–to become the standard the customer evaluates everything else against, but making it impossible for competition to match.
What are you doing to tilt things in your and your customers’ favors? What are you doing to make things unequal?
Sales Enablement tools are Hot! Developing and offering sales enablement tools is a multibillion dollar industry. It seems every week I get at least one email of a tool that is intended to help improve the effectiveness of sales people, managers, or anyone involved in sales. Some are quite broad in scope, some are very focused–helping us do one thing much better.
The developers of the tools offer great case studies and research about how the tools help sales people. Most of the companies I talk to are investing millions in buying sales enablement tools. I haven’t seen the latest data, but a couple of years ago, the investments in these tools were moving from $5K to $10K to $15K per year per sales person.
I’m very excited by much of what I see with these tools. There are a few I think are quite outstanding, but when I talk about them I have to do a full disclosure that I sit on the advisory boards of those companies.
With all that as preamble, I never written a post about my favorite sales enablement tools. So as 2014 is coming to an end, I thought I’d write about my 2 favorite sales enablement tools–at least for this year. We’ve been using them in our company for quite some time, to be honest, without them, we’d virtually be out of business.
These tools also seem to be very popular with some of the highest performing sales people and managers I’ve met. Seeing this has reconfirmed, at least for me, the investment our company has made in these tools.
These tools, like any sales enablement tool require constant use. The people we’ve noticed having the greatest difficulty in using these tools use them only sporadically. Sometimes, they get frustrated, and they abandon them. The power users, those getting the greatest benefit use them everyday. They integrate them into their work flow and into their daily routines. Like many of the tools, the more you use them, the more powerful they seem to become.
We’ve benchmarked the difference between the results the power users get from these tools and those the the sporadic users get–it’s profound. Those who use these tools consistently out perform those who don’t. But the same can be said of virtually every sales enablement tool. They require focus, dedication, constant use. So if you or your organizations aren’t committed to learning and using them, it’s probably not worth the investment.
When we evaluate sales enablement tools, we look at a number of criteria. My two favorite tools are stellar in every area–I guess that’s why we like them so much. But some of the areas in which they really shine are:
Scalability and Deployment: A lot of the tools we evaluate are great for very large organizations. Because they may have fairly complex implementations, conversions, or deployment issues, they serve large organizations very well, but it’s difficult for smaller organizations to implement and get value. Likewise some tools are difficult to scale up or down. My favorites get five stars in all areas. We’ve seen them easily deployed in organizations having just one sales person—and they can be easily ramped to support teams of thousands of sales people. They don’t require lots of support from IT, or other organizations.
User Interface/GUI: This is one of the biggest problems with many of these tools. It seems many of the large, older CRM systems and the other classic sales enablement tools hire Marquis de Sade as their User Interface designer. A bad user interface drive low utilization and compliance. People just won’t use the sales enablement tool if its too difficult to use. Again, my favorites shine, getting 5 stars here. The UI’s are elegant in their simplicity and design. At one point I did some research to see if Steve Jobs or Jonathan Ive were involved in the design. They weren’t, but the UI’s for these tools are that elegant.
Conversion/Data Migration: Most sales people don’t have to worry about this much, but it’s something we need to be concerned about. How easy is it to take all our data from previous systems and migrate it into these tools. Do we lose critical things, are we able to easily take everything we’ve had in the past into the system. Again, the designers of these tools have thought a lot about these issues and made all of that pretty transparent.
Miscellaneous: There are always a number of little things, but they can be annoyances. Things like battery life for devices, what if you don’t have access to WiFi or the cloud. In global organizations, multi-language support is critical. There are all sorts of other thins, as well. Again, these tools generally are 5 stars in the categories we’ve been concerned about.
Cost/Investment: This is a big issue with any sales enablement tool. What’s the return on the investment? What’s the ongoing investments we have to make to continue to get value out of these tools? Like any of the sales enablement tools, you do have to invest in these. You have to continually train, learn and develop to get the maximum value out of these tools. But, at least in our experience, these tools are indispensable to us. The power users and highest performing sales professionals seem to indicate the same thing. Interviewing one, his comment was, “You can take away everything else–CRM, Analytics, Research, Social Media, all of them, but you’d have to wrench these tools from my cold dead body. I would never give these up! They are what set me apart from everyone else!”
So, with that as background to why I’ve selected these as my favorite Sales Enablement tools for 2014–actually for all time, here they are:
Our Brain/Minds: This is really one of the coolest tools I’ve ever seen. Again, it’s only useful if you constant use it, I think that’s the challenge many sales people have, they don’t use it as often as they should. They don’t train it, they don’t constantly learn or develop their skills of critical thinking. We find it’s the thing that sets us apart from everyone else, it’s our differentiator and the ultimate Value Creation tool. I’m actually surprised more people don’t write about it as a sales enablement tool. I guess, possibly because it’s one of those old school tools, and their are much flashier shiny toys to talk about.
Pencil/Paper: We find this is a perfect complement to our brains. Our brains have some weaknesses. Though they allow us to analyze, evaluate, think, create in very powerful ways, sometimes we have so much going on, finding or remembering that critical task or to do just slips our minds. Pencil/Paper is our backup/complementary or auxilary storage system. Power consumption is low, we’ve never had a problem with battery life–though every once in a while we do have to buy new notebooks and pencils. We have discovered if we write down a lot of the strategies our brains enable us to develop, we no longer have to remember them, we can put our brains to use doing other things, but the pencil and paper are the perfect complement. (Some people prefer the pen/paper options–we’re actually quite indifferent–choose the implementation that best suits you.)
So anyway, those are our favorite Sales Enablement tools. I haven’t seen many other people evaluate them, I hope you find this useful. I kind of suspect these two tools will top my list next year, as well.
Every day I get emails and messages from sales people trying to “Hack Selling.” They ask me, “Is there an easy way to catch the attention of a customer and get a meeting?” “Is there a killer tool I can use that makes selling faster and easier?” “Is there a shortcut that accelerates the selling process?” “Is there a killer presentation technique, a way of asking questions, a closing technique?” All of these are focused on, “How do I get the order faster and with less work?”
When I speak or meet with groups of sales people, I can see they get frustrated when I talk about the importance of having a disciplined process, researching, preparing, creating value. While they are mostly too polite to say anything, I know they’re thinking, “We’re too busy to do all that, what’s the short cut?”
Ultimately, all of it is a quest to find the technique, approach, manipulation, or tool to get the customer to immediately say, “Do you have a pen, I need to issue a PO!”
It’s really interesting, because all the questions focus on ways to present products in a more compelling manner, ways to talk about how wonderful we are, that get the customer to buy. The questions seldom focus on the customer and what’s happening with them, what’s keeping them up at night—or should be keeping them up at night (I know that’s an unfashionable question, but I still like it.).
So, perhaps out of frustration, I’ve decided to start addressing “Hacking Selling,” what are the things we can do that provide huge shortcuts to the process? What can we do to accelerate getting the PO?
Somehow sales people don’t tend to like my favorite approach, but it’s always been successful and accelerates the buying process. Most of the time, it results in an order to me—not a competitor—because usually, I’m the only person that does this.
Drum roll, please….
My favorite hack is, “I can help you make more money—or save money…..”
Now, many of you are thinking, “Dave, you aren’t going to go over all that business justification stuff again. It’s just too difficult to build a business case. How’s that a shortcut?”
Yes, it may be difficult to build a rigorous business case, but most of the time you don’t need one. Here’s an example:
The other day, I was talking to a sales person about a deal he had. He had the customer pretty convinced about his solution, but their budget wasn’t nearly enough to cover the investment. His deal had been stalled for a very long time.
The solution was something retailers used in the stores. He came up with dozens of reasons a retailer should be craving the solution. Most of what he talked about were the features, functions, feeds, speeds, and capabilities of the solution.
After listening, I asked, “Do stores lose revenue because they don’t have this solutions?” He replied, “Absolutely, and started going on about how the systems connected to the POS devices, and started going on and on and on….”
I interrupted him, “I don’t really care about that. Is it reasonable that a store might lose 100 Euro a day in sales (I happen to be in Europe, you can do the currency translation if you want)?” He replied, “Oh, it’s easily much more. It could be thousands……” (Each store typically did thousands a day.)
I replied, “Well lets just start with 100 Euro. Do you think you could get a number of the store managers to agree to that?” He emphatically replied, “Absolutely, that’s a piece of cake! But 100 Euro isn’t a lot of justification, the all in price of this solution is 500K Euro!” (Some of you can see where I’m headed.)
I said, “Well that’s OK, let’s just think of 100 Euro a day. How many stores do they have? How many days are the stores open for business?”
He replied, “They have 600 stores, and they are open about 300 days a year.”
So math wizard that I am, I said, “So that means they are losing at least 60K Euro a day, or 18M Euro a year. So tell me why they can’t find the 500K to get that revenue?”
I went on, “Even if we’ve dramatically overestimated—let’s say it’s only 10 Euro per store per day, that’s still 1.8M Euro, payback is around 3 months. Why can’t they find the money to do that?”
It’s really quite simple. We can’t hack selling with methods, tools, techniques, killer presentations, or any kind of sales wizardry.
We hack selling by hacking the customer’s business. We hack selling by presenting how they can make money, save money, reduce loses, improve customer loyalty, and so forth. Sometimes it isn’t as easy as this case. But usually, it’s not that hard. Often, we don’t have to do a rigorous analysis, it can only be a couple of assumptions about the business that the customer can easily agree to.
Years ago, I had a case justified by saving 2 seconds on processing a transaction, I helped build a multi billion software business out of helping engineers save 0.2 seconds in each design transaction (those of you familiar with CAD/CAM/CAE/etc will know), not long ago, I closed a multi-million dollar deal when I told the EVP of sales, “Every week you delay on this decision, you are losing $1.5 M.”
So my favorite sales hack isn’t a sales hack at all. It’s a very simple customer hack, “Here’s how much money I can help you make, here’s how much money I can help you save, here’s how I can help you acquire/retain customers.” You don’t need to cover everything, you just need to find enough that they would be foolish not to buy immediately.
I have to admit, part of the reason I’m writing this post is to ease my conscience (Yes, I do have one). Yesterday, I was doing a deal review. It was a very exciting opportunity and a very large deal–one of the largest this sales person would have for the year.
Fortunately, he was very early in the sales cycle. He had done a pretty good job at qualifying the customer. It was a real deal for a significant amount of money. As he described it, he focused on the technology of the solution (he sold technology products/solutions). He had made significant progress on the technology issues the customer was having and the superiority of his products and technology.
I asked, “Why do they need this new solution?”
He came back, “The current solution is very old. They are starting to have some problems with it. It’s not performing as well as it should, there are problems the remote sites are having, there are some reliability issues, there are some things they would like to do, but they can’t do.”
I replied, “I understand that, it sounds interesting, but why do they need the solution?”
He looked at me, eyes slightly crossing. He repeated himself, speaking a little louder and slower (we were having this conversation in Frenglish–a mix of French and English). Rightfully, I didn’t understand some of what he had said, but I responded to his re-explanation, “Je comprendre, but why do they need the solution?”
At this point he started getting frustrated. I tried to explain, mostly in English. “People don’t buy technology just to buy technology, they buy it to solve a business problem!”
He was a strong sales person, replying, “But they are having problems with their current technology, so they need to replace it with the new stuff!”
I replied, “Yes, but the easiest way to solve the problem, in this case, is to just turn the system off.” He looked at me cross eyed and said, “They can’t, it’s a vital system, they can’t turn it off.” To which I replied, “Why can’t they, why is it so vital?”
At this point we had a long pause in the conversation, we were at an impasse (a French and English word). I felt bad, I was pushing the sales person very hard and he was getting frustrated, thinking we were going in circles.
Part of the problem was that he didn’t know the answer to this question because the customers he was working with didn’t know the answer to the question. They were technologists, as well. They knew they had an unhappy end customer.
This is the crux of so many issues we face in selling–particularly if we are selling technology products. We don’t understand why they NEED the solution. We understand why the people we are talking to might need the solution, but that may not be the fundamental business reason driving their need.
Every sale, regardless of what we sell (in B2B), is fundamentally driven by a business need. Opportunities we are missing, revenue we can increase, revenue we won’t lose, costs that we can reduce, customers we can acquire or retain (both of which translate into revenue/cost), quality we can improve.
Unless we can understand these reasons, our ability to maximize the value we create, maximize our differentiation, and close the deal–producing the return the customer wants, is always in jeopardy.
If the customers we are dealing with don’t understand this, then we must help them understand why this is important to their success in solving the problem, and help them get the answers from their end users.
Without this understanding, without knowing the specific business impact of the current problem and the improvement the solution would provide, no major purchase will be approved. Our customers know they have to go up the food chain to get approval for major investments–even if they have the budget. Senior management is driven by business impact/results, and if we and the customers we deal with can’t address these issues, there is no reason the customer should buy because we haven’t demonstrated the compelling business reasons to buy.
This applies to everything we sell! No if’s, ands, but’s!
There is a happy ending to this story–at least the prospect of a happy ending. As we further discussed the deal, we believed we understood the potential business need, though we had to meet with end users to understand the specific impact. We believed the business problem was severe, they were losing sales and potentially losing customers. So there was sound business justification.
But there’s more, because it was a large complex project, the technologists at the customer were looking at a 3 year roll out. As a result, they would be losing some revenue (a declining amount over the project implementation) through the 3 years. It might amount to 10’s of millions of Euro’s.
In thinking about this business impact–which we had to verify–we realized, we could provide not only the product but an implementation plan and services to dramatically accelerate the implementation, avoiding the 10’s of millions in lost revenue. We could help the customer solve the business problem much faster than they ever expected! In doing so, we more than doubled the revenue my client would get from this deal. A true win for everyone.
So we have to answer the question and possibly help our customers answer the question, “Why do they NEED to buy this?”
C’est une bonne idee!