It’s Not You, It’s Them.

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Often the most profoundly true things about sales are deceptively simple.  Yet they can seem maddeningly elusive.  Like this one:

The answer to why they should buy from you can’t be about you.  It has to be about them.

Sure, we all believe in customer-centricity and starting with the needs of the customer and all that.  We just don’t act on it.

Promotional Message:  If you could tell five thousand digital sales leaders and sellers about your product or service each week in a focused, exclusive environment, would you do it?  Digital sellers have been anticipating, reading and sharing The Drift for more than 15 years.  A provocative, POV-driven read, it’s also a great vehicle for our underwriting sponsors.  We’re taking reservations for the second half of 2017, so if you’re interested please contact Tamara Clarke to plan your campaign today.

When a customer won’t see us, or when they raise an objection or say that we’re not right for their needs, the first reaction of most sellers is to say something else about their own company.  If they’re not buying us it must be because they just don’t know enough about us!  We then tax our internal research and marketing teams for more stats and slides and research tables that amount to a collective “Are too!”

The answer to why they should buy from you can’t be about you.  It has to be about them.

This is a point in the sales process when we need to fight our own impulses to answer the objection or win the argument.  If it’s the late stage of a transactional sale, it’s too late for this to work anyway.  They’ve made up their minds and telling them they’re wrong or that they’re making a mistake will only piss them off and ruin your next chance.  Instead, it’s time to ask yourself a couple of important questions:

What is truly unique about this customer’s business or marketing situation that we can really help them with? How can we not just win some of the business but actually make their situation better?

Instead of telling yet another fragmented version of your own story, you’re telling theirs.  You’re offering them a meaningful, thoughtful exception to or extension of their own strategy.  It’s a better response to being told you’re not getting the business.  And it’s a better basis on which to pursue it in the first place.

The answer to why they should buy from you can’t be about you.  It has to be about them.

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Write This Down: Part Two

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Back on May 9th, I posted part one of my “Write This Down!” series – really just a running list of helpful sayings and ideas that I share with sellers in my workshops.  Today we add to the list.  Enjoy and share.

The Opposite of yes isn’t no.   The opposite of yes is anything other than yes.  Most sellers don’t get this fact.  They hear “we’re waiting on our budget” or “we have a couple more proposals to look at” and they stop selling.  They don’t see these as the objections or brushoffs that they are and fail to qualify them further.   Hence all the ambivalence and murkiness in your pipeline.

The opposite of selling isn’t not selling.  It’s describing.  This idea prompted the biggest response I’ve ever gotten to The Drift.  Somewhere along the line we lost the connection between sales and actually selling stuff.  The goal is to persuade and change the outcome.   But sellers and those who support them seem completely focused on just endlessly describing stuff.

Don’t take no from someone who can’t also tell you yes.  This ancient gem still shines.  It’s particularly poignant in our industry because of all the lower-level gatekeepers whose main purpose seems to be role-preservation.  Sellers either don’t know these bureaucrats can’t green-light projects or are just too frightened of ‘getting in trouble’ to push any boundaries.

Promotional Message:  If you could tell five thousand digital sales leaders and sellers about your product or service each week in a focused, exclusive environment, would you do it?  Digital sellers have been anticipating, reading and sharing The Drift for more than 15 years.  A provocative, POV-driven read, it’s also a great vehicle for our underwriting sponsors.  We’re taking reservations for the second half of 2017, so if you’re interested please contact Tamara Clarke to plan your campaign today.

Big decision makers want to make big decisions.  I like to talk to sales teams about the client’s floor of consideration.  We think that by keeping the price minuscule and reassuring everyone that it’s just a test we are making the customer more likely to act.  But serious executives don’t want to take political and business risks to spend $50-100K.  Risk aversion only works with those who probably don’t want to buy from you anyway.

Work backward from the cost of the unsolved problem.  The core of the media sale is to stack up enough units of value – pre-rolls, banners, videos, full page takeovers, impressions, etc. – to justify a price tag.  But it’s not about that anymore. As I like to say, if you want to make a million dollars, go find a $20 million problem to solve. One of the crippling limitations of media thinking is that we never stop to consider what the unsolved problem – or the unrealized opportunity – is really worth.

Stop negotiating against yourself.  Speaking of crippling downsides…  Experience is a great teacher in our business.  Unfortunately it tends to teach limitations.  Show me 10 “experienced digital sellers” and I’ll bet you that eight of them know exactly why every new idea won’t work….why the customer won’t pay that price….and why there’s really, actually no way out.

Don’t sell or manage to what’s in the other person’s head.  Managers and sellers alike seem fixated on changing belief and getting others fully on board.  We talk of evangelism and winning others over.   But this just leads to endless cycles of guessing.  Instead, focus on discrete behaviors.  A client either agrees to recommend (that’s a verb) a buy or not; a seller either books a call, or doesn’t.  The sooner you focus on the actions of others the sooner you’ll be fully in touch with reality – and empowered to start changing it.

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Stop…Drop….Start Over!!

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You there!  Yes, you!  Drop the mouse and back slowly away from the keyboard…hands where I can see ‘em.

Sure, sure…I’ve heard it all before.  You were just going about your business getting ready for one of those “sales calls” that your boss likes so much.  You finally wore down that 29-year-old Media Sup to the point where she agreed to “get the team together” for a sit-down next week.  And now you’re making sure you’re armed to the teeth and ready for battle.  You’re pasting the customer’s logo onto the front of a hefty PowerPoint that has it all:   company intro….partner logos….all your products….case studies….even the obligatory Questions? slide at the end.  You’re even packing up a few gifts to make them all feel engaged and included:  a little swag to grease the skids.

Promotional Message:  If you could tell five thousand digital sales leaders and sellers about your product or service each week in a focused, exclusive environment, would you do it?  Digital sellers have been anticipating, reading and sharing The Drift for more than 15 years.  A provocative, POV-driven read, it’s also a great vehicle for our underwriting sponsors.  We’re taking reservations for the second half of 2017, so if you’re interested please contact Tamara Clarke to plan your campaign today.

But I just can’t let you go through with it.  I’ve seen this movie and I know how it ends.  It’s Fatal Attraction and you’re Glenn Close; it’s Thelma and Louise and you’re both of them.  In the name of all that’s holy, stop now and start over again!

Too many of our sales calls end up with both parties simply falling into their assigned roles.  Both the seller and buyer know they have to have a certain number of meetings, and they end up in the business equivalent of a bad blind date.  You share the same space, make polite but disinterested conversation, and part with some vague talk of keeping in touch or sending something.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

What is the meeting going to be about?  If you haven’t proactively identified a business or marketing problem and centered your entire meeting on it, then you’re simply another rep doing another “catch up” call who’s hoping for some of their money.

What exactly to you want to happen?  Write out the words of your closing “ask” before you walk in.  If you don’t know what you want to happen, you’re certainly not going to get it.  The right people might not even be in the room to give it to you.  Any answers that include words like updateeducation or evangelism are just too soft and meaningless.

What are you telling them that they don’t already know?  If you’re armed only with the information that the buyers themselves have given you, then you end up being another rep who’s describing their own product, rather than one who’s prepared to make something new happen.

Do you really need that PowerPoint?  People really looked forward to seeing PowerPoint decks….in 1995.  If you’re seeking a real, genuine conversation, then a piece of paper with some observations about the account is a better bet.

How will you use the first 90 seconds of your time together?  Sales calls have something in common with fistfights.  How they begin goes a long way in determining how they will end.  Hyper-awareness and presence right at the outset can change the entire character of a call.

If your sales calls are feeling less than fulfilling, look hard at your own approach.  You just may be sleepwalking into mediocrity.  You deserve better.

Before posting this week, I stopped myself.  I looked back to 2014 and decided this post deserved a second airing.  If it wasn’t new to you, I hope it was a good reminder.

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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.

Promotional Message:  If you could tell five thousand digital sales leaders and sellers about your product or service each week in a focused, exclusive environment, would you do it?  Digital sellers have been anticipating, reading and sharing The Drift for more than 15 years.  A provocative, POV-driven read, it’s also a great vehicle for our underwriting sponsors.  We’re taking reservations for the second half of 2017, so if you’re interested please contact Tamara Clarke to plan your campaign today.

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!”

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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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