From the category archives:

Sales enablement

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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Many of my clients are neck deep in preparations for their annual sales meetings. They  are creating presentations and content to get Sales jazzed about the year, and to educate them about new products, pricing, initiatives, etc.

Unfortunately after the dust settles and everyone has flown back to their patch, Marketing will moan about Sales not using all the tools they worked so hard to create.  Sales will complain that they don’t have the right tools.   How, after all this work, is that possible?

Part of the problem is that while marketers think about the content of sales and marketing tools, they often ignore usability.  Just as with a complex product, great features (content) are only as useful as the user’s ability to access and exploit them.

To improve the usability of sales and marketing tools for your sales channel(s) and for customers, ask these questions BEFORE your create the assets.

Internal Usability Questions

  1. How is the offering (product/service/solution) marketed and sold, exactly?
  2. Who will use the sales/marketing assets and how?
  3. Which form or medium is appropriate for each type of marketing and sales activity?
  4. How much customization will be required with each use?
  5. How will the users obtain the asset when the need for it arises?
  6. What kinds of responses or questions are sales or marketing people likely to encounter when they use this asset?
  7. How will we know whether the asset is useful and effective?

Usability Questions for Customers

  1. At which points in their decision-making process does each audience need this information?
  2. Where and how do customers find this information?
  3. What medium is easiest for customers to access and use?
  4. Under what conditions will they most likely use this asset?  (In a meeting? On the phone? At a computer? At a dusty job site? On a plane?)
  5. How much time will they have to interact with this asset?
  6. Will they want to share it? (If yes, how do we make that easy?)
  7. How will we know whether the asset is useful and valuable to customers?

Please share additional usability considerations when developing content and tools for us in sales and marketing.

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When President Kennedy announced the goal of putting Americans on the moon, no one had any idea how to do it. Not even the Russians, who had inspired the race with their ventures into orbit, understood how to get to the moon. Yet Kennedy got us there. He used the sheer confidence of his belief to convince Americans that the moon was an attainable objective. He then dedicated extensive resources to enable the scientists and engineers in the effort to achieve it.

There is a lesson here for sales organizations. Setting big goals at a sales kickoff and barraging reps with information about the newest products just isn’t enough. The top reps will deliver the numbers in any case. The rest will struggle without extensive resources and support.

Sales reps report that the following are especially effective in helping them achieve their targets:

  1. Case studies, case studies, case studies. Repeatedly and consistently rated as the most useful sales tool. (Post on making case studies more useful)
  2. In-account deal support from subject-matter, industry, or technology specialists.  This is especially critical in larger companies, where account managers must be relationship experts, but cannot possibly know the details of every product, business process, or industry (unless they are vertically-aligned).  The very fact of bringing in an expert who is perceived as more senior by the customer is often enough to move a deal forward.
  3. Business-level messaging and sales tools targeted at the high-level decision makers and budget holders.  These should complement detailed product-focused content, which is necessary but insufficient bu itself.  Business messaging targets the audience evaluating the investment rather than the people evaluating your product.
  4. Training & tools that enable sales reps to ask great questions and have intelligent conversations with customers at multiple organizational levels and functional roles. Asking great questions accomplishes three critical things: Positions the sales person as an ally and advisor, demonstrates that they can listen, and provides valuable information about the customers that can guide the rep in structuring the deal.
  5. Quantitative results achieved for other customers. While compliments (customer testimonials that discuss how easy you are to work with) are good, hard numbers about specific improvements they achieved are always more powerful.  Numbers in the elevator pitch get attention and meetings, and numbers in the business case  help close the deal.

Share what do your B2B sales reps value most!

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