Archives for posts with tag: Selling

Are you an overseller or an underseller? Is your default position overselling or underselling? I’m talking about either in a sales or a non-sales environment.

I’m generalising now, but I find that business-to-consumer (B2C) interactions are generally overselling.

‘Your table will be ready in a few minutes.’

‘I’ll have that fixed for you in a couple of moments.’

‘She should be back to you in a day or 2.’

It’s vague, intimate, approximate, and unreliable. The stakes aren’t too high, that’s why.

Business-to-business (B2B), however, is different, or should be. You want to under-promise, and undersell, so that you can overdeliver, and delight, your much-higher-stakes customer.

You find people are oversellers and undersellers too. Me, I’m always trying to be underselling. I try not to overpromise. I try to deliver early. I try to deliver more. Other people are not undersellers:

‘I’ll be back to the car in a couple of minutes.’

‘I’ll meet you there at midday.’

I’ll have it for you tomorrow.’

If you sell the dream, and the dream doesn’t appear when it should, you create disappointment, a phantom version of what you promised. When you let someone down, even in a microscopically small way, you create a microscopically small phantom.

The question is: do you care?

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I don’t know too much about business-to-consumer products sales and marketing, except as a lifelong consumer of them myself. I’ve also never smoked. I took a look at a cigarette box the other day, as I hadn’t seen one up close for a while.

It’s an odd existence marketing and selling cigarettes isn’t it? Even if you smoke them yourself. Working for a cigarette manufacturer must  feel like being a social pariah.

The packaging on fast-moving consumer goods is one of the traditional 4 P’s of marketing, along with product, price and promotion. Yet when you look at cigarette packaging, everything on there is advising you not to buy it. The cigarettes are also behind the shop counter hidden in a cupboard where you can’t even peruse the packaging.

You can’t advertise them through most media, thanks to the regulations of elected government officials, a good proportion of whom must be smokers too. If you work for a cigarette manufacturer you can’t get life insurance benefits or an occupational pension, so the manufacturer has to provide its own.

It’s flippin’ expensive too, at least if you pay your country’s duty on them.

Against all of this, people still buy a lot of cigarettes. Why is that? For one thing, cigarette smoking is still portrayed as being cool in TV and film, almost something to be aspired to.

Front and centre, of course, is the obvious physiological pull of the nicotine, as well as the behavioural comfort that comes with smoking too.

Without those addictive and behavioural factors, I wonder how successfully other things would sell if this amount of sales and marketing restraints were placed on it.

I recently finished reading a 2012 tome by Daniel Pink called To Sell Is Human. I thought it was excellent. It revolves around the premise that we all practice selling, even those of us in non-sales roles. We sell our kids on going to bed on time, our company on our project over someone else’s, our spouse on this holiday destination over that, and so on.

One of the sections is about 6 different ways to pitch a product, service or idea. They’re developments from the tried, trusted and a little outdated elevator pitch. Here they are:

  1. The Once Upon a Time pitch. You tell a story as follows: Once upon a time [there was a situation]. Every day [something happened, like a problem]. One day [introduce your solution or idea]. Because of that [something different happened]. because of that [there was a specific benefit or good outcome]. Until finally [there was a new situation brought on by your solution or idea].
  2. The twitter pitch. As it sounds, can you get your basic idea over in 140 characters or less, ideally less to allow others to retweet it?
  3. The rhyming pitch. Something is more memorable, catchy, lasting and prone to propagation if it rhymes. Example: if you don’t make it rhyme, you’ll need to make more time
  4. The one word pitch. If you had to distill everything it’s about into one word, what would it be?
  5. The question pitch. A pitch can be more powerful than a statement as it invites you to think about fairly solid facts. Think: what could you do with a faster internet connection?
  6. The subject line pitch. Designing your offering like the subject line of an email that you really want people to open is a really good way to tighten your pitch

All of these have their merits and situations they’re best suited to. The book has loads of other thought-provoking recommendations and is well worth a proper read.

As a buyer, you want to be sure that a vendor’s sales person is telling you something rather than selling you something.

Sometimes it’s hard to discern whether a company has a specific product or service element that you’re looking for. Do they really have it, or they putting up ‘smoke and mirrors’ and giving you the impression they have something, when in fact they would have to build it, get it, or wriggle out of it if it’s not explicitly called out in the terms and conditions, should you become a customer?

Buyers who suspect they’re being sold not told on some important part of their requirements need to work hard to get to the truth. Ask direct, closed questions. Look for guarantees or break clauses if certain conditions aren’t met. Ask for references so you can ask both about the vendor’s performance and delivery generally but also about the specific thing that’s close to your wallet.

As a vendor, you really should subscribe to SWYG – sell what you got – or else be prepared to move the goalposts and persuade the buyer that they need something different, something you have. Selling what you don’t have is a recipe for strained relationships with both your customers and the other parts of your business. You’re simply building a rod for your back. If you don’t have close to what they need, nor are you likely to for some time, qualify out. It’s a bad fit for your business.

It’s better to be told than sold – for both parties.

There is a big difference between demonstrating how to use something, and selling that thing itself. Yet it’s amazing how many salespeople confuse the two. Either they show everything the thing does in the hope that something will catch the buyer’s eye, or they will say ‘this bit does this, and this button does that, and oh, watch this, it’s quite cool.’

Who cares? When you’re not sure what to show people, it means you haven’t figured out what problem they’re trying to solve. When you’re not sure how to show it to people, then you need to figure out the correct scenario that will best show off how you fix a specific problem better than anyone or anything else.

When you’re selling something, don’t show them how to use it. You will bore, frighten or otherwise deter them. Instead, show them how that something will make them money, save them money, save them time, or help them comply with something that must be done.

Of course, you need to know enough about your something to be able to demonstrate how you help your buyer, so learn the handful or two of user scenarios or ‘use cases’ that your buyers have, and learn how to demonstrate how your something addresses each scenario elegantly and efficiently.

You don’t need to be a power user of what you sell, with a deep understanding of every nook and cranny. You need to know it well enough to show how it solves a range of problems or capitalises on an opportunity.

There’s an old adage that nothing happens in a company until somebody sells something. In fact, it’s also true of you, when you’re trying to sell yourself or your idea.

I do a bit of work as a mentor in the technology sector and so I come into contact with quite a few very early stage companies. In the tech sector in Ireland there is plenty of support, guidance and funding for building your software product. Once you’ve built your product, and you have to start selling it, in other words commercialising your idea, the funding is not so forthcoming.

This is a problem, because many of the people who have the idea for and develop their software product also have a lack of knowledge and confidence when it comes to selling it. Start-up companies can avail of a few meetings with sales and marketing mentors like me, but that’s nowhere near enough. They either need to start full-time selling themselves or else find the funds to get someone with the expertise to do their business development. They don’t have the money to do that, and the business development specialist is probably not going to work for free, or even equity, if they can’t see the promise of steady sales. Which brings it back to the fledgling business owners, who have to do the work themselves.

Start-ups have to start, but if they’re not capable of starting, then the money already invested in them, by them or others, is wasted. We need to train our entrepreneurs to sell, or else fund the sales expansion efforts and increase their chances of turning their idea into a functioning, growing business.

So far in this series, we’ve covered six of the seven selling stages that are joined at the hip to your customers’ seven buying stages in the B2B buying process. These six are:

–  targeting your addressable market

– defining the sales opportunity

– understanding your prospective customer’s objectives,

– demonstrating why you’re the best option

– zeroing in on the deal, and

delivering the order and the solution

The Seventh Selling Stage. Ah, halcyon days! This is typically – if the implementation’s gone to plan – the honeymoon period that follows the consummation of the deal, but it’s not the time for you to rest on your laurels. Is there ever such a time in sales?

In the Seventh Buying Stage, which can potentially last the duration of your initial contract, your customer is engaged in the ongoing operation of their business, evaluating – among other things of course – the performance of your product or service against plan and moving towards the time when they have to make another business decision: do they renew with you or do they move their funds to an alternative solution or project that bumps yours?

Correspondingly, you should not be idle either. You should be reviewing the performance of your product or service as well, especially if your product or service involves your customer’s staff changing the way they work. People are notoriously and naturally resistant to change, so the key to any B2B project’s success is whether the benefits of the new product or service are sustained over time.

Be sure to schedule regular review milestones with your customer to make sure things are going to plan and to course correct if they’re not. At one of these early milestones, if things are indeed going to plan, you should also be asking your customer for referrals, other people they could recommend that would benefit from your offering. If you could build your business simply from referrals, you would never need to prospect again.

As with the seventh buying stage, the seventh selling stage is very similar to the first selling stage and in fact completes the cycle. You are actively reviewing your addressable market for other sources of new business. As well as new business, you also have your recently satisfied customer to think about. This gets us into a whole new and crucial realm of sales, the realm of account management. Often treated as a different role or skill-set within a business – but not necessarily so – account management is where you build the trust with your customer, strategise together on how best to develop their business, win new pieces of work from them and start to widen your influence within their organisation.

The Sixth Selling Stage – it’s a bit of tongue-twister! On the plus side, you’ve done all the hard work and now you need to see it through. So far in this series on setting out a typical B2B selling process we’ve covered knowing your addressable marketdefining the sales opportunity, understanding your prospective customer’s objectivesdemonstrating that you can best give them what they need, and zeroing in on the deal.

At this corresponding sixth buying stage your customer is on a high state of alert as they cover all the bases before committing their hard won funds to you. At this stage they’re looking to invest and implement, which means you’re looking to deliver, both the order and the solution.

In order to deliver the order to your company, your customer needs to sign on the dotted line and get the paperwork housing their signature back to you. Here are some things to help get the signed contract back.

– Check nothing has changed and they’re still planning to go ahead

– Take responsibility for being the conduit between your legal people and theirs. You’re paid by the selling organisation, but you need a fair deal for both parties for the long term benefits to accrue. Don’t be afraid to fight your customer’s corner as well as your own

– Ask when they expect to send the signed contract back and plan a lead-up process accordingly. If you’re calling them at 4:30pm on the Friday it’s due in, you’ve lost any buffer you could have built in

– Confirm how the implementation is going to work once you get the order and reiterate how much you’re looking forward to working with them

– Stress that you will be monitoring the implementation phase. You’re not going to disappear, merrily cartwheeling to your next deal. Your customer will be expecting continuity and consistency from your company and you’re the one to deliver it

Once the order is in, it’s time to roll out the implementation. Of course, you’ll have kept your operations people in the loop and the resources earmarked to roll straight away. This is where the rubber meets the road, and you should work hard to make sure that the implementation and change management processes are delivered on brief, on time, and on budget.

Ah, the second selling stage. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? And so it should, because it’s a very important stage. Coming after the first selling stage where you have defined and listed your addressable market, the second selling stage is opportunity definition.

This stage corresponds to the Second Buying Stage of problem / opportunity definition. If your customer has a problem to address, or an opportunity to exploit, then you need to define what the opportunity is for you. This stage is all about qualifying the situation. At this stage there has been some level of engagement between you and the company. Either they’ve reached out to you or you to them.

Don’t get your hopes up yet, however. If you can’t qualify the opportunity to your satisfaction, as far as you should be concerned there is no opportunity. Being ruthless at this stage and discounting the ‘bad’ or non-opportunities is the best thing you can do, because it frees you up to concentrate on – or find – the good opportunities.

So how to qualify? Many people use acronyms like BANT – do they have Budget, do they have Authority to buy, do they have a defined Need, what is the Time limit by when they have to act – to help them define the opportunity. In essence, this sales stage is all about establishing that this is worth your while putting in more effort to pursue the opportunity, over other opportunities. These questions will help you:

– exactly what’s stopping them from doing what they want to do? What’s the problem?

– is there a great fit between what you provide and what they need?

– who are you talking to at the company? are they high enough up the pecking order?

– when do they need to act by?

– what will happen to them if they don’t act?

– what other alternatives are they considering (the biggest two being do nothing and do it ourselves)?

– how can you do a better job for them than the alternatives, and why?

– do you like the odds on getting this deal?

Ideally, you don’t want to deduce the answers to all the above questions, you want the company to confirm the answers for you. All that is, except the third question and the last question. I would keep these answers to yourself and use them to decide the following: am I in, at this stage, or am I out?

Whew! I’ve recently finished a blog series on what I see as the seven typical stages in the B2B buying process. Call them the magnificent seven if you will :-).

It’s important to understand how our customers buy expensive, drawn-out and complex things because if we don’t know how they want to buy from us, we don’t know how to sell to them – effectively. I say effectively because we can all do whatever it takes to sell, but you need to do it profitably, productively and sustainably, or you won’t grow.

In order for you to deliver on this understanding, you need to do one really important thing, which I shall emphasise with the ‘dah dah dah’ dramatic use of the hyphen. You – need – to – match – your – sales – stages – to – your – customers’ – buying – stages. Simple!

Which brings us to the first selling stage. This is aligned – for that is the meaning of ‘match’ – to the first buying stage, namely the ongoing operation and review of the customer’s business that reveals awareness of a problem or opportunity. The first selling stage is your Addressable Market.

As you do your research into potential industries and customers to sell to, consider these questions:

– what businesses are they in that you could help improve?

– do they normally buy your kinds of products and services?

– do they have the kinds of problems that you can prove you solve?

– which role usually does the buying for your product and service?

– are they of a similar size, growth stage, sector and region and that you are comfortable doing business with? Hint: if not, they probably don’t fit nicely into the same buying process…

– are they already working with companies that fulfil a similar business need to you?

– are there enough of them and is their combined spend enough for you to win an achievable market share that allows you to grow?

Once you can get a sense of your total target market, you can then decide which portion of that market would pay for your products and services. This is your addressable market.

Don’t be tempted to put additional companies into your addressable market if they don’t fit. They’re a distraction and too expensive to sell to and service, because of the lack of fit.

Do be tempted to keep adding in new companies that do fit your addressable market.