From the category archives:

Customer relationships

storytellerAfter a sales presentation, what do your buyers really remember? You may be surprised! It’s not always the compelling statistics you’ve provided. It’s more often the stories you share that stick with them long after the presentation is over.

According to a study noted in Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, 63% of audience members remember stories they’re told. Yet, only 5% remember numbers or statistics.

Are you someone who has always peppered sales presentations with plenty of facts? While specific numbers are important to B2B selling, they need to be infused into relevant stories to make them tangible and valuable to your buyer.

All companies are looking for solutions to increase revenue, reduce costs, and retain customers. And, many vendors claim to help with these. Yet, too often these claims are meaningless and generic because they are not focused enough on the buyer’s specific situation.

Great story-telling can make statistics and figures truly meaningful to your buyer.

So, how can you incorporate hard facts into a story that actually resonates? It starts with turning the focus away from your product and on to your buyer. Yes, it’s all about figuring out your buyers’ perception of value and building the story from there.

The Four Dimensions of Buyer Context
Proving your value begins with having a good understanding of the four dimensions of context for your buyer:

1. Their External Environment
Outside factors can greatly influence your buyer’s situation and decision-making. From what’s happening with competitors and the industry to advances in technology, it’s important to “get” what’s going on in your buyer’s world.

2. Their Internal Environment
What’s happening inside your buyer’s organization is also very relevant to figuring out what’s important to them and how to build a story that will resonate. What’s their decision-making style? Do they have a quick or lengthy purchasing process? Understanding these internal factors can greatly help how you create a value story that makes sense to your buyer.

3. The People Involved in the Decision
Who participates in decision-making? Understanding their mindset, relationships, objectives, and roles can enable you to determine how to construct your sales presentation.

4. Use Cases
How will your buyer most likely use what you’re selling? By creating use cases that incorporate their specific objectives, processes, systems, and more, you’ll be able to bring relevancy to your presentation that your buyer will remember.

To create a story that provides context, relevancy, and facts, it’s essential to listen, show a level of understanding, and then prove value. When this has been done, you’ll have a story that your buyer will want to hear, will remember, and will act upon.

How do you provide relevancy in the value stories you share with your buyers?

 

 

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collaboration 3Just 4% of salespeople in the United States sell 94% of the goods and services, according to a study by Gallup and Harvard University. What does this small segment of highly successful sales professionals know that others don’t?

A study conducted by Cranfield University School of Management and Silent Edge identified eight common sales styles used in sales meetings:

Experts – In tune with customers’ needs, they make selling seem effortless. Experts face few objections due to their high-trust relationships with customers.

Closers – They are excellent at countering customer objectives, and are usually better at closing product rather than service deals. Sometimes, their smooth-talking style puts customers off.

Consultants – They listen and solve problems effectively. However, they sometimes overlook preparation and try to wing it, foregoing case examples that can boost sales.

Storytellers – Customer-focused and passionate about providing case studies, they can be guilty of conducting long meetings that don’t yield results.

Focusers – They know their products and believe deeply in them, but often lack confidence. They may focus more on product features than customer needs.

Narrators – They know their offerings and the market, but are dependent on scripts and marketing materials.

Aggressors – They approach sales meetings as price negotiations. Many customers dislike their combative approach.

Socializers – They may initially impress customers with friendly chats, but usually can’t progress beyond the earliest stage of the sales cycle.

The study showed that Experts, Closers, and Consultants were the most effective at making sales. Not surprisingly, the top B2B sales people incorporate practices from all of these. They are consultative expert advisors who build collaborative relationships that enable them to make the big closes.

What Exactly Do the Top Salespeople Do?

1. Start with a collaborative mindset. They approach each sales situation as an opportunity to create value together with the customer, for the customer, and for themselves and their company.

2. Listen. Top sales people don’t walk in and pitch. Instead they first seek to understand the customer’s problem or goal so that they can work with them to create a solution.

3. Ask the right questions. An expert’s questions don’t just serve to discover information about the customer. They challenge current thinking, reframe problems, and push the customer towards new insights.

4. Use the white board. Unlike the Narrators in the Cranfield study, top sales people launch open-ended interactive discussions that are free of PowerPoint and truly tailored to their customer.

5. Reward customers for engaging. Customer time is precious. Great sales people get this and reward customers with value for every interaction. This can take the form of ideas, resources, content, and even access and introductions to other people.

6. Sell the value. While they are savvy negotiators, the sales people who close the biggest deals focus on demonstrating the tangible, economic value of their solution rather than haggling about the cost.

7. Follow up. Top sales people know every sale is a step to the next. They check in to see if the solution worked or functioned the way it was supposed to, and whether the customer is getting all the value they hoped for.

What selling style do you relate to most? Share how you incorporate traits of the top performers to collaborate and build better relationships with your customers.

 

 

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The most successful B2B salespeople clearly understand that they’re selling to people and not just to businesses. While they take time to understand their customer’s business, they know that identifying each individual buyers’ decision-making mindset is essential to making a sale. One key aspect of the buying mindset is motivation: Is the buyer focused on pain or gain? Problem - focused buyer

Problem-Focused Buyers Unlike in the consumer space, 70% of business buyers* make purchases to solve problems. So, a B2B salesperson will naturally encounter more buyers who want advice and solutions to address specific pain points.

How to recognize them: A problem-focused buyer will talk about the pain they are experiencing today and the negative effects on their business.  They are likely to make statements like, “High churn is cutting into our revenue” or “We need to reduce churn,”  with a focus on issues and roadblocks.

How to pitch to them: An effective sales pitch to a problem-focused customer will be based around:

  • Reducing the severity of the problem
  • Eliminating the source of the pain
  • Mitigating risk and impact

Objective-Focused Buyers Picture2There are also plenty of buyers (the other 30%) who are more dialed into achieving goals and objectives. This is a dramatically different mindset than that of the problem-focused buyer.

How to recognize them: Instead of communicating the fact that they need to eliminate a problem, objective-focused buyers are more apt to say in our churn example, “We need to improve retention in order to increase revenue and customer lifetime value.” These buyers tend to make aspirational statements about the future and speak in terms of goals they want to reach or achieve.

How to pitch to them:  Objective-oriented buyers are likely to respond positively if you can show how you can:

  • Accelerate their ability to reach goals
  • Amplify the positive results they seek
  • Streamline the path to success

With both types of buyers, the issue may be the same, but how they think about it and communicate it will be different: one will spell out the specific problems, and the other will share what results they want.

Bottom Line: A smart sales approach requires first determining if your buyer is problem or objective-focused from the very first sales meeting and then customizing your message around this mindset. By being flexible and adapting to your buyer’s focus, you’ll be far more successful at communicating value in your buyer’s language.

*Source: Impact Communications

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CIOs have no TIME for you

by Lilia Shirman on January 28, 2014

in Customer relationships,Uncategorized

Many tech companies see relationships with CIOs as the Holy Grail of their sales and marketing efforts.  But should you really spend the money and effort it takes for effective CIO engagement?

Chasing Money

Pro’s :

  • CIO’s have the power to approve or veto technology purchases, so relationships with them can be critical to getting their all-important nod towards your product.
  • CIO’s plan and allocate IT budgets, so convincing them to reserve spend for your category can eliminate roadblocks late in the sales cycle
  • CIO’s make technology strategy decisions, so vendors who are leading the charge in some new technology direction need to convince this key audience that the new approach will benefit their business
  • CIO’s have a C in their title, which makes them great sources of endorsement quotes

Cons:

  • CIOs don’t actually get involved in every technology purchase.  The best CIO’s empower their teams to make as many decisions as possible.
  • CIOs don’t personally evaluate products. Their focus is on technology strategy and what direction to take that to support business objectives.
  • CIO’s only pay attention to things that are immediately relevant. Creating personalized and relevant content gets expensive.
  • CIO relationships are about the long term, not an individual sale. Nurturing those relationships will be time consuming.
  • CIO’s don’t have TIME.  That makes reaching them difficult, expensive, and time consuming.

Still want to get CIO’s to pay attention to you?  Here are a few hints:

  • Don’t sell to them
  • Don’t market to them
  • Give CIO’s insights, or at least information, that help them stay abreast of how to leverage technology to meet business goals
  • Make it relevant to their industry, company, and technology stack (That means do your research).
  • Keep it SHORT – Anything targeted at CIOs (or any other exec for that matter) should be scannable in 30 seconds or less.
  • Keep it SHORT #2 – Always include an executive summary – the 10-page white paper will at best be forwarded to a staff member.
  • Don’t do all the talking yourself.  Find and curate content from other CIOs and 3rd party subject matter experts

Bottom line: The less time your audience has, the more time you have to invest in keeping them engaged.

Have other pros and cons of engaging CIO’s or tips for  getting their attention? Do share.

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Blog_06-13-13I recently had the opportunity to chat with Rajat Paharia, founder and chief product officer at Bunchball, about his new book, Loyalty 3.0, pivoting startups, and the differences between the business of games and the gamification of business.

Lilia: You were one of the first to see the potential for gaming methodology in marketing.   What sparked this idea?

Rajat: The company I founded in 2005 was the right idea, but it was 2 to 3 years early to market.  It was a social gaming platform, and in the process of building it, we examined what made gaming sticky. Pogo was one of the best, most used sites at the time, and they had all these statistics that they were able to stitch together into a really engaging experience.  So we started building that idea into our gaming platform – for game results, but also to get people to do other things, like invite friends.  We saw that it worked for motivating more than just behavior within the game itself – and that was the spark.

We realized that combining data with “gaming” concepts can be used in other interactions.  We were still a small company, so we had to make a very tough decision – continue in the social gaming market, or shift to gamification for businesses.  We chose the latter, but we were early to market – again.  Ultimately, though, that turned out to be a good thing – because we had time to develop a strong skill set and effective motivation techniques.

***

Lilia: Bunchball has helped well over 300 companies, including dozens of global brands, leverage big data to drive gaming-inspired loyalty programs. What surprised you most about how those companies have put this technology to use?

Rajat: We started with B2C applications of gamification, but the surprise has been how rapidly the business has transitioned to B2B uses. Companies are using (our solution) to motivate and train employees in sales and service, and to influence partners.  B2B has taken off and is growing incredibly fast. That’s something we didn’t foresee.

It makes sense, of course.  Consider that Facebook, Amazon, etc. know more about your employees than you do.  Yet companies ignore tons of data about employees who spend 8 to 10 hours a day working for them and delivering enormous value. That data lives in Salesforce, Jive, Cornerstone, Successfactors and all manner of enterprise apps and systems.

***

Lilia: Loyalty 3.0 requires Big Data. Does that mean only big companies can really use it for employee and partner loyalty?

Rajat: Our customers range from small companies, as small as 10 to 100 people, to the bigger ones.

What you need is to understand customers’ or employees’ motivation. Then you need data.  And today we are walking data generators – constantly throwing off information that can be used to create loyalty 3.0 programs. Now, when I say Big Data, I’m referring to the large volume of data being generated by each of us as individuals – a lot of it unstructured.   Those individual data streams are available to any business, not just large ones.  Finally, you need Gamification – that is, you need to create data-driven motivational techniques.

***

Lilia: In your book you discuss the entry of Gen Y into the worksforce.  Is it that younger generation that’s really the audience for gamification?

Rajat: No. It’s based on fundamental human motivators, so it works for anyone. The demographic of our customers’ customers and employees is across the board.  The thing about Gen Y is that this is the air they breathe. So to motivate them, these methods are indispensable.  Gamification works for everyone, but it’s absolutely critical for the Gen Y.

***

Lilia: What do you find is the most common misconception people have about gamification?

Rajat: The word is a double-edged sword.  People think it’s games and entertainment.  And they don’t want their employees playing games. They want them working.  The reason these techniques came out of the gaming industry is because game designers have been living in  data-rich environments for the last 40 years, and have had a chance to learn and develop all these techniques for motivating and driving behavior.  Now the rest of the world has caught up. So gamification is really not about games at all. It’s about business results.

***

Lilia: Certainly wearable computing will create a huge opportunity for gamification through increasing the volume of data even more and through the “everywhere with me” aspect of those devices. What are some other emerging trends that you see either enabling or driving the demand for gamification?

Rajat: The notion of sensors everywhere. There’s a company across the street from ours that’s making ingestable sensors, powered by stomach acids.  So you can tell exactly when the medicine was taken, and how the body responds.  That means we can use gamification to motivate healthy behavior like taking your medication on time. More broadly, technology is mediating a lot of what we do – and all those systems are throwing off data that can be used to motivate behavior and inspire loyalty.

***

Lilia: Where should a company start when considering gamification?

Rajat:  Always start by determining what you are trying to accomplish. What’s your goal?  For example, “We want our channel partner sales team to contribute 10% more to the pipeline.” Gamification starts with a business mission statement.    Then you decide how you will measure that.  Then, understand what are the behaviors that I need to affect.   Next look at users and understand what motivates them.

***

Lilia: That sounds straightforward, but how would a company actually know what motivates customers or employees?

Rajat: The best way to do that is by talking to a few of them.  Ask them lots of open-ended questions.  You only need to talk to a few to get really smart. We break it down in the book – how to craft an experience that fits, and create automated, scalable, repeatable motivation and intervention that you can use to motivate employees or kids.

***

Rajat’s book, Loyalty 3.0, launches June 18th through all the usual channels.  In the meantime, you can pre-order at http://loyalty30.com/  and get extra gifts with your pre-order.

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Watching some of the new ventures getting funded over the last several months, there’s an interesting trend that’s turning user-generated content into real value for companies and their customers.

One example is Driveway Software, which develops applications that insurance companies offer to their customers.  The apps track driving behavior, and enable the insurer to offer discounts based on good driving habits.  In the healthcare sector, companies like AFrame Digital and Lark are creating devices and apps that enable doctors, care-givers, and individuals to track patient health and provide better, more personalized care.  FlixMaster collects information about how we watch interactive on-line videos so that media companies and advertisers can create more engaging content.

While the content in these instances is “user-generated,” all the work is being done within machine-to-machine interfaces. User devices or apps collect information and communicate with data collection and analytics engines to produce both individual and aggregated intelligence. That intelligence enables companies to offer new and unique products and services.

For each company that collects and uses customer-generated data intelligently, there are scores who collect data but never use it.  That’s not only a waste, but also an unjustified risk – keeping customer information without carefully managing it can have legal ramifications and expose the company to liability.

Bottom Line:   There are countless ways to collect data about your customers.  Before you start, decide exactly why you’re collecting it, how you’ll manage it, and what intelligence and action the data will drive.

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I just hosted a webinar introducing the second edition of my book, 42 Rules for Growing Enterprise Revenue: Practical Strategies for Increasing B2B Customer Relevance.

Watch the webinar to get a quick overview of 7 strategies for becoming more relevant to customers:

  • Selecting markets where you matter
  • Focusing on customer interactions rather than your org chart
  • Using context to define and articulate value
  • Collaborating with customers
  • Moving from products to solutions
  • Exploring vertical market alignment
  • Empowering your sales channels

Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Ways to Matter More to Customers, Lilia Shirman from Laura on Vimeo.

 

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I bet you already have a long list of launch announcements and product training sessions for your 2013 sales kickoff.   That’s important information, but it’s not enough.

If your sales people are still having difficulty engaging executive and business audiences, even after that expensive solution selling training you invested in so recently, it’s because they lack a good alternative to the product-centric pitch.

Executive audiences – whether IT or Business – don’t need your sales people to recite widely-known industry trends as an intro to the product pitch.  They don’t want to waste a meeting hearing information they could just as easily find on your website.

They DO want

  • To see that you understand their business, in-depth
  • To hear new insights about how to apply technology to grow their business
  • To experience what it’s like to collaborate with your company
  •  To be able to justify their decision to work with you

That means your sales people need a new arsenal.  Here are some changes you can make in time for Sales Kickoff:

  • Throw away the PowerPoint.  Replace presentation slides about industry trends with interactive discussion guides about customers’ objectives.
  • Ask Insightful Questions.   Your sales training and tools should provide lots of open-ended questions that intrigue customers, demonstrate sales reps’ expertise, and help discover what’s really of value to buyers.
  • State a point of view.   Give Sales something unique to say that customers haven’t heard from everyone else: Make some bold statements, show a distinct approach, or share a new perspective. Challenge common knowledge or the status quo.
  •  Tell Stories. Replace recitations of product benefits with use case-driven value stories.  Provide sales people with stories that illustrate how you have helped similar companies (and will help them) create tangible business results within specific use cases by leveraging your unique capabilities.
  • Brainstorm.   Turn sales meetings into collaborative brainstorming sessions by enabling sales people to discuss many options and approaches, point out the pros and cons of each, and explain how they fit with other products the customer is likely to need.
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I sell to some really big companies.   One rule I established when I founded my business is that sales is about listening and collaborating, not presenting.  The reason was that I had watched cost of sales at many companies skyrocket due to huge investments preparing elaborate sales presentations that often fell flat and pursuing deals that should have been disqualified or re-framed early on.

Even with the best qualification questions and inside sales efforts, a sales rep walking into an initial customer meeting is going to have, at best, a superficial understanding of the customers’ need.  If they start by bulldozing through pre-prepared slides, they are likely to a) waste time on topics irrelevant to the customer b) miss the opportunity to gain a better understanding and c) fail to establish a collaborative relationship with the customer.

If you’re a marketer creating content and tools for a direct sales force, ask yourself if the information and asset you’re giving them help sales people to:

  1. Ask questions that both demonstrate their expertise and help them gain greater insight into customer needs
  2. Facilitate in-depth discussions that are positive and valuable experiences for customers
  3. Articulate how what they’re selling is directly relevant specific customer situations they discover during the meeting
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This article is by Guest Blogger Charlie Born

Are you generating leads and finding that the buyers who contact you are already far into their decision process, having already identified you as ‘1 of 3’ top but very similar vendors?  To prevent the final selection round from becoming a feature-function-price competition and create stronger differentiation, you may need to engage earlier in the Buyers’ Journey.   This early demand creation (in contrast to lead generation) requires changing what is in your buyers’ mind, and not what is in your marketing database. That means influencing the early learning process with the right information, presented at the right time, via the right mediums to help decision makers learn about you before they contact you as a prospect.

Information Must-HavesIt is not a surprise that the internet, social networks and online communities are key sources that potential buyers use to search for meaningful information during their Buyers’ Journey. These online sources are largely relationship and not broadcast oriented; this means information that stimulates interaction and response is welcomed and encouraged in a ‘community’ setting while obvious marketing spam is most often ignored.  Because of this, information needs to be packaged in buyer friendly content formats that make it attractive, discoverable, consumable and sharable throughout the entire Buyers’ Journey. Think of your information as ‘content as a service”.  Provide interesting whitepapers, webinars, blogs, info-graphics and “info-tainment” to engage your buyers and create demand.  Be sure to point your potential buyers to sources of information other than your own, which often carry greater credibility.

How can you be sure you are helping buyers discover what they want to learn at the right time in their Buyers’ Journey?  Engage directly with the buyers.  Meet with current customers, new customers and lost sales opportunities and focus on some of these concepts during your discussions:

  • Gain an understanding of the customer’s evaluation and buying process by industry and role within the company.
  • Talk to them about what triggered the need for the solution.
  • Ask them what they were looking for and where they went to find answers.
  • Find out who they spoke with directly and who influenced them and how.
  • And most importantly, find out how they evaluated the information.

It’s been my experience that through these meetings you discover how to align your marketing to the buyers’ information needs and to the content formats and outlets that are most effective for an audience. Your analysis of the information that buyers need, and when, where and how they consume it, should inform the process for creating, packaging, and disseminating information and maintaining consistency across communication channels.   That process will likely change your current marketing efforts to emphasize demand creation throughout the Buyer’s Journey, rather than lead generation when that journey is near its end.

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