From the category archives:

Solutions

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, on of The Shirman Group’s extended network of business experts.

In their quest to solve business problems, buyers are turning to the internet and social media for information. This customer-driven Buyers’ Journey gives marketers a new channel to create valuable information that is discoverable, consumable, shareable and valuable.

Unfortunately, many marketers fall into the trap of creating content flooded with buzzwords, jargon, and marketing pitches. These cause buyer resistance and make you indistinguishable from competitors.

Buyers reward well-researched and believable information packaged into quickly digestible and easy-to-absorb info-graphics, white papers, info-training materials, webinars and blogs. Here are a few pointers for avoiding the buzzword bingo trap when creating your marketing content.

1. Don’t lead with your solution, your product or what you do. Instead start with a narrative about the business problem you are solving. Have a vision. Then lead your reader to your solution. Show how your approach is different before you go on to prove how it is better.

2. To craft the story, listen to your customers. Find out how your customers describe what you do. What words and phrases resonate with them—and which ones do not? See my previous post for how to interview customers about their buyers’ journey to get this information.

3. Listen to how your top sales performers tell your story. This will give you added perspective—particularly from those with strong solution-selling techniques.

4. When you write, ‘speak’ with a natural voice. Use the words you would use if you were speaking to someone you knew. Use short phrases and sentences. Most times, less is more. It just takes extra work to edit things down.

5. Strive to say something relevant, memorable, and different from what your competitors are saying. Just keep it real and not overblown. Be careful not to over-claim. Puffed up claims put most readers off rather than draw them in and can end up being a legal challenge later if problems arise. Make your reader want to learn more – and show them how they can by having additional content for them to pursue elsewhere on your website or blog.

Released last year and written by lexophile Arthur Plotnik, “Better than Great” is a book I have found useful in fixing buzzword bingo. It reads like a funky thesaurus and includes an assortment of over 6000 words and suggestions for describing things—pulling from rare gems, vintage gold, and even phrases influenced by hip hop to present a wide range of fresh superlatives. It is both amusing and vocabulary expanding.

Share with us successful ways on how you are telling your company’s story in a way that genuinely informs buyers, stands out from the crowd and avoids buzzword bingo.

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Imagine you have an audience of 350 people. Now imagine you have them captive in a room for several hours. How would you use that time? What if that audience were already your customers?  I am guessing that handing out a catalog of random products and serving water in paper cups would not be the first items on your list.  Unfortunately, they are the ONLY things United Airlines could come up with.

I pick on United because they kept me sitting on a runway for over 4 hours recently, with a cup of water after 3.5 hours being the only concession.  They did actually serve food (liberal interpretation) and show a movie during the 12 hours in the air.  But they could have, among other things,

  • Sold DVDs or downloads of the movies they were showing
  • Sold CDs or downloads of the music they play on various earphone channels
  • Surveyed passengers about travel habits, plans, and airline selection criteria. (Fill out a survey, get extra frequent flier miles.)
  • Gathered data on behalf of a paying third party.
  • Sacrificed one seat in the back to offer in-flight neck or foot massages. I’d pay!
  • Sold neck pillows and other travel-specific items
  • Offered free informational pod-casts (from sponsoring organizations?) or audio books via the audio system (and then sold the audio and ebooks, of course)

These are all revenue-generating for the airline, and valuable to customers. But they weren’t done.  Seems that in a financial crisis, innovation applies only to cost-cutting.   Why not focus on revenue sources in stead?

I see many companies passing up opportunities to add value and generate additional revenue.   In the course of conducting research for one client, we concluded each customer interview with a very simple question: “What will help you get more value from this product?”  Several customers mentioned they wanted our client to offer post-sale services to fine-tune product usage 6 to 12 months after deployment.  This discovery was unexpected, unplanned, and pointed to a completely new revenue and relationship-building opportunity.   To find it, all we did was ask.

To find those hidden, yet in hindsight obvious, revenue opportunities, look in two places:

  • Can you address additional or broader needs for the customers you already serve?
  • Can you meet the same needs you address today, but for new audiences or segments?
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As a follow-up to the previous post, here are some practical differences to keep in mind when planning for solutions marketing.

Solution marketing differs from traditional product marketing.  This is a partial list, of course, but 7 is supposed to be a lucky number, right?

  1. Solutions marketers understand what motives customers to allocate budget within the broader context for a purchase
  2. Solutions marketing content is focused on the buyer and their objectives, not the product or its features
  3. Solutions-oriented value propositions focus in on specific use-cases or situations in which the customer is involved.
  4. The solutions marketing process and programs provide information or resources that are valuable to the customer
  5. Thought leadership and value creation are critical components of solutions marketing
  6. Solutions marketing activity often involves collaboration with other companies (see broader context in #1)
  7. To ensure that all of the above are truly relevant, current, and valuable to your audience, Solutions Marketing must engage the customer in conversation and dialogue at every available opportunity.

Speaking of dialogues, please add to the list with your comments!

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Companies used to selling products struggle to shift to “solution selling”.   There are lots of obstacles – product-oriented habits,  the never-ending argument of “what’s a solution, anyway?” (more on that in a future post), sales reluctance to adopt new techniques, etc.    Before we put the big strategy and sales kickoff program in place to “transform Sales”, however, lets first look upstream at marketing.

As any sales approach, solution selling starts with customer-relevant content, programs, and ultimately (we hope)  leads.  All supplied by marketing.   In this case, by Solution Marketing.   Understanding how its different from product marketing can pave the way to a smoother transition and solution selling success.

Solutions Marketing is about shifting your perspective and context. A solutions approach to marketing places your offerings within the context of the customers’ broader situation and needs.   It starts with the customer and their desired outcomes, instead of with you and your products. (Note – their objective is NOT to buy a product.)   Focusing on the customer’s broader context means solution marketing can encompass aspects of the customer’s needs that your own product or service may not solve.  The value prop IS the customer’s desired outcome, not your product’s superiority.

Let’s be really clear – “Solution Selling” and “Solution Marketing” are not the same as actually selling and marketing solutions. They are approaches to how your customers become aware of, learn about, interact with, and commit to your business. They don’t require that you actually offer a complete solution – only that you understand the role you play in helping customers achieve their objectives.

Ultimately, solutions marketing must support solution selling. That means giving sales reps and channel partners the knowledge and tools they need to carry the customer-centric view through the entire sales process and beyond.

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