Do the Math. Make the Sale.

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“I was told there’d be no math.”  ~ Ethan Hawke as Troy, “Reality Bites.”

Like it or not, there’s math.  And if you want to make the sale, you’re going to have to dust off the calculator.

When I work with teams of sellers in sales strategy workshops, I introduce them to a tactical tool called The Teaching Challenge.  Inspired by the great conceptual work of Dixon and Adamson in The Challenger Sale, it’s really just a very clear statement – preferably written and shared early in the sales call – that answers the question “So why are we here today?”  The answer should challenge the customer’s assumptions and summon up and re-frame an urgent business problem.  This then creates a meaningful path to your solution.

I’ve come to discover that the best Teaching Challenges almost always revolve around numbers.  When reps take the time to do the math – even if the math is questioned by the customer – it almost always creates the urgency and focus that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

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But very few sellers do the math.  Instead, they throw out meaningless generalities like “we’ll help you reach more millennial moms” or “we can help make your media plan more efficient.”  How many more millennial moms?  In what period of time?  What’s their economic value to my brand?  How much more efficient will you help me become?  How much money will I save this quarter?  If I’m the customer, I may not necessarily expect you to have all the answers.  But I at least want to know you asked the right questions.

But isn’t impossible to find these answers?  If your standard is immutable truth, then perhaps. But that’s not where the bar should be set.  Each of us can approach our customer with a working hypothesis about the scope and cost of her unsolved problem or unrealized opportunity.

Old, traditional approach:  “Young urban men are really important to your brand, and we’ll help you reach a lot more of them.”

After doing the math:  “We’re estimating that there will be 2.5 million urban, millennial men actively searching online for a product like yours in the next 6 weeks. Every 5% of that active market you win means $3 million in sales.  You’ve got a window of opportunity to get to these customers with a proactive strategy before your competitor, brand X, does.  We have the core capabilities to help you with that strategy.  Can I tell you how?”

Many reps avoid specifics because they worry too much about the downside of being wrong.  But it’s better to be specific and wrong than it is to be accurate and meaningless. Your hypothesis need only be credible, and you need only to be able to show your work.

So take a shot.  Do the math.  Bring your customer to the whiteboard to work on the problem with you and you’re halfway home.

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Great Meeting!

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A sure fire way to induce a room full of sellers to make that confused Scooby Doo face is to tell them you want them to stop having great meetings.

Huh?

Years ago one of my bosses had a bellyful of great meetings.  When he asked about the outcome of various customer meetings and sales calls, every rep seemed to come back with the same evaluation.

Great meeting! 

He finally couldn’t take it anymore and came out with one for the ages:  “Stop telling me you had a great meeting!  Tell me what happened!  Great meetings are the comfort of the weak seller!”

Promotional Message:  If you’re a qualified CRO or manager from a company that sells digital media and advertising services, request your invitation today for the Seller Forum on June 7th There are just ten seats left for a day that will transform the way you manage and the way you see the market, the competition and the consumer.  Rethink. Reframe. Refresh with a room full of your peers.  Only at Seller Forum.

While not known for subtlety, he had a point.  Far too often, these great meetings were great because neither side really committed to anything beyond general positivity and hope that things might work out some day.  No one was disappointed because no one really asked for anything.  The rep described his offerings while the client described her goals.  Everything was friendly and congratulatory.  There was much positive head nodding about things like alignment and complimentary strategies.  There was a nod toward speaking again at some future juncture when a budget or objectives will have arrived.  Hugs were exchanged at the elevator.

Great meeting.  Then….nothing.

What my boss understood many years ago in an era of four-color bleed pages and 15% commissions is just as true – and even more urgent – today.  All these great meetings are hurting us three ways.  First, nothing actually gets sold.  Second, we’ve needlessly extended an already long and meandering sales cycle.  And finally, we’ve injected an element of false hope into the pipeline where it doesn’t belong.  Hope is a wonderful human quality but a really shitty sales strategy.

Instead of having great meetings, reps should go in with urgent, specific business problems they can help solve.  They should have a specific course of action to recommend and be able to say just what that course of action would cost the customer.  And they should ask very specifically for the action they want the customer to take.

You may not get a hug at the elevator, but you’ll start having real conversations, better forecasting, account progress and better sales.

Now that’s great.

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Write this Down: Part One

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When I conduct a sales workshop (of which I do about 40 in a given year) I have a verbal tic that participants notice right away.  As we move through the structured materials and focused discussions of our day, I’m constantly telling them to “write this down.”  I do this because I’ll recall an idea or strategy midstream that I know is going to prove helpful later on.

So I’ve decided to write some of them down myself.  Enjoy.

If you want to be terrific, be specific.  Most of us treat our customers’ business and advertising problems like so many disposable razor blades.  Get just a little specific about their situation and watch the nature of your meetings and your relationships change for the better.  It’s better to be specific and wrong than accurate and meaningless.

Sell pain relievers, not vitamins.  Most of us tell clients about things that are generally good for them. This will extend your reach…this will help your brand.  Those who zero in specifically on an important short term pain point are more likely to create urgency and walk away with a sale.

Complexity is your enemy. Clients thrive on direction and clarity. Most sellers drown them in options and detail. Just get to the point.  Start with zero slides and build from there. And tell your customer what you think they should do.  If you’re not there to recommend action, why are you there?

Promotional Message:  If you’re a qualified CRO or manager from a company that sells digital media and advertising services, request your invitation today for the Seller Forum on June 7th.  There are just ten seats left for a day that will transform the way you manage and the way you see the market, the competition and the consumer.  Rethink. Reframe. Refresh with a room full of your peers.  Only at Seller Forum.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.  Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” TED Talk and his book “Start with Why” are game changers.  Don’t go more than two slides or 3 minutes into any meeting before explaining “Why We’re Here Today.”  And have a really good answer.

Be the party host, not the entertainment.  Sales is not performance art.  Most of us are way too wrapped up in what we’re going to say and how we’re going to perform.  Instead, pretend you are the host of the meeting and task yourself with creating a real conversation and making sure everyone is heard and comfortable.  Transformative.

Clients will always build something bigger with you than they’ll buy from you.  We tax our companies and our teams by making them build thousands of polished presentations and demos every year.  And they fall flat.  Instead, show your customer the plans, the blue print, the storyboard.  Keep it rough and invite them to draw, cut, add.  If they help build it, they’ll also own it.

You never get more than you ask for.  And most sellers, unfortunately, don’t ask for anything.  They imply. They talk about the next meeting, or going back to the office and putting together a proposal.  But ask for the order?  Close?  Not so much.  And the opportunity – to qualify, to clarify, to keep selling – is lost.

Watch for future posts in which I’ll continue to build on this list.

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Here’s How.

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Somewhere out there this morning, a seller has already been awake for hours. She’s staring at a number – her sales goal for the next several months. Her company has a solid product, not a dominant one.

Her managers try to motivate and support, but only being a year or two in management themselves they can tell her to ‘be more strategic’ but can’t really tell her how.

Here’s how:

Triage. What are the factors that make one prospect more likely than another to become a customer? Are they cranking up spending this quarter? Do you have even one ‘truth teller’ at the agency or client who could give you the straight story? Do their preferred metrics and buying style align at all with your offerings? Have they been a customer before? If you answer yes to all or most of these questions, these are your focus accounts – your A’s. If you answer all or mostly “no” then it’s a C account; drop it. Mixed results? It’s a B, so set it aside for work later.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux, the Salesforce DMP.  Krux drives more valuable content, commerce, and advertising experiences for the world’s leading marketers and media companies. Clients include Anheuser-Busch In-Bev, JetBlue, Kellogg, L’Oréal, Meredith Corporation, NewsCorp, the BBC, and Peugeot Citroen. Learn more at www.krux.com.

Decide What You Control. It’s easy to waste time lamenting what you don’t have, what a competitor might be doing, or how bad the decision making is at the agency. Instead, inventory those things you can control. They are: (1) your intent – are you really out to do a great job for the customer? (2) Your POV on the customer’s business situation – not just what you know but what you think is important; (3) the agenda for your meetings – a good answer for “why are we here today?” (Hint: if it’s about ‘updating’ the customer, ‘introducing them’ to your product or ‘learning more’ about their challenges, you will lose); (4) the quality of your recommendation; stop with the big capabilities deck; nobody cares. Decide what combination of products and services will help this client at this moment in time. If you tell ‘em everything, you’re telling ‘em nothing.

Start in the Middle. In between the CMO and the media planning team, there are a lot of people who can help you: account owners at the agency… strategic planning… group VPs… functional specialists at the client. Put away your pitch for a while and start teeing up honest conversations and email exchanges with these people.

Ask Better Questions. Ask questions customers can say “no” to. Will you buy from me? Do we have your commitment? Do we really have a chance here? Hope is too often the opposite of clarity. What you want to constantly be asking is Where do we really stand? and What can we do to keep moving forward?

Stop Waiting. If things are not closing because you’re constantly waiting on something – a product feature, a call back, a change in the budgeting process – then you’re not making a difference.  You can wait till things calm down, till you get through your inbox, till the weather changes. Or you can simply act. Take chances, try one new thing each day. Ask forgiveness, not permission.

It may turn out that the one you’ve been waiting for is you.

This post, in its original form, was first shared in January 2015.

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Closing Cases, Solving Crimes.

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Watch any police procedural and you’ll hear the grizzled veteran detectives talk about ‘closing cases.’  To add a retro visual, you’ll even see them erase victim names or case numbers from a huge blackboard in the station house.  But as you learn, closing cases is not the same as solving crimes.

The cop who closes cases is mostly concerned about the bureaucracy of getting a case disposed of; tagging it with a plausible outcome and getting it out of active consideration.  It’s Dragnet meets The Dilbert Zone.   In contrast to these uninspired civil servants, we’ll see the real cop in the bunch…the one who isn’t satisfied until she solves the crime and brings the real culprit to justice.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux, the Salesforce DMP.  Krux drives more valuable content, commerce, and advertising experiences for the world’s leading marketers and media companies. Clients include Anheuser-Busch In-Bev, JetBlue, Kellogg, L’Oréal, Meredith Corporation, NewsCorp, the BBC, and Peugeot Citroen. Learn more at www.krux.com.

It’s occurred to me recently that we have a version of this contrast playing out within sales teams in our industry.  There are a lot of erstwhile sellers who are actually just closing cases.  They watch the board, they take notes, they report out what happens.  If they don’t get included on the RFP or the client decides to spend the money with another vendor, they dutifully append the case with the outcome and take it out of circulation.  They will have a half-dozen very good reasons why the sale wasn’t made, and an air-tight rationale for closing it out.

Contrast this with the seller who’s really out to solve the crime.  This seller goes into the investigation with genuine curiosity.  Win or lose, he wants to chase down every lead, interview every witness, eliminate every dead end.  If the case seems to be going cold or the witnesses disappear, he digs deeper and with greater urgency; he finds a way to pry it back open and earning a second or third look from the customer.

Sellers who solve crimes are a rare breed in our station houses.  Maybe it’s because we don’t call out and recognize their particular contributions enough.  Or perhaps we’re just not being clear about the nature of the job that needs to be done.  Is the drive and ability to solve crimes just something you’re born with?  Or can it be taught?  I aim to find out.

We need a new kind of cop in this town.

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