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sales techniques

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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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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Whiteboard as sales conversation tool

by Lilia Shirman on August 17, 2009

in Sales 2.0,Sales Tips

A great set of tips about on-the-fly sketching from XPlane are directly related to a recent post here about “2.0ing your sales meetings

Happy to see that collaborative selling approaches are becoming popular, and now insightful companies like XPlane and WhiteBoard Selling are helping sales reps get more interactive and collaborative.   That can only translate into greater customer relevance, and more productive and valuable sales meetings.

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Selling skills for enterprise reps

by Lilia Shirman on June 5, 2009

in Sales Tips

Your sales reps need to know how your customers think about their customers.     How educated are they about this? Everyone gets product training, but other desperately needed enterprise sales education topics are neglected.  Here are a few:

  • Listening skills
  • Customers’ industries, business processes, and critical business metrics
  • Usage situations (“use-cases”) of your products / services
  • Negotiation in a style that fits your brand and company character
  • Long-term account planning (Not the sales process. The relationship process.)
  • Research, information gathering, and asking questions to discover pains and opportunities
  • Presentation skills sans Power Point
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I hate hate hate pricing my consulting work.   There is always a tension between the value it brings to the client (which gurus like Alan Weiss will tell you is the only thing that matters), the reality of the client’s budget, the amount of effort and expertise required, internal company politics, etc.

So even before reading the article about a coffee shop that does not post prices, I had tried handing the pricing reigns to clients by asking some version of, “What do you think this work should cost, given the value you expect it will bring?”

Results?  Some clients did not want to name a number, and I ended up pricing the project as usual.  Some DID name a price: always higher than I would have quoted.   The difference:  Clients who were comfortable naming a price already knew me and had worked with my firm before.  It seems letting your customer set the price may be a great model when:

1. The customer is well-informed about the product and its value, or can become informed easily and quickly as in the case of the coffee shop. (This is the basis for free trials: Assume the customer will assign little or no value when first encountering a product. Depend on familiarity leading customers to agree with you on price.)

2. The customer has had some exposure to competing products and prices, and has a basis for comparing the relative worth of your product vs. the others.

3. The customer has a relationship with you, even if only a momentary one (note in the video that the cafe owner describes people “looking him in the eye and stating what they think is fair”)

Share your thoughts on if and when letting customers set the price is the right thing to do.

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In a tough economy, impact revenue or go home

by Lilia Shirman on March 3, 2009

in Economy

It was great to be speaking to a room full of entrepreneurs last Thursday at the TechCoire panel, Strategies to Drive Revenue in a Recession.   Gopan Madathil masterfully organized the event.  The big takeaways form our panelists (Igor Shoifot of Fotki, Rajat Paharia of Bunchball, and Vadim Rosenberg of CA) for generating revenue in this economy:

  • Listen more carefully than ever to customer requests and use them to create new revenue-generation initiatives
  • Look at the ideas you’ve accumulated but never executed. This might be the time to finally try a few.
  • Don’t walk away from customers who like what you’re offering but don’t have the budget.  Instead get creative about restructuring the deal – change payment terms, deliver in phases, start with smaller volumes, etc.
  • Always be on the lookout to great sales people – those who know how to connect and build rapport with customers.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: Revenue generation is the top priority for just about any company right now.  Resuscitate stalled deals and accelerate the close by showing how you can help customer sell more.

Got more ideas for driving revenue while everyone clutches their wallet ?  Comment!

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Social networking channels are not the only way to make your marketing efforts more interactive.   While you experiment with social media, you can make traditional marketing methods conversational too.

Getting customers to contribute to the substance in your marketing content, events, products will raise the value and trust customers place in them.   Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, demonstrates that  “labor enhances affection for its results.”

This week I’ll be posting a series of ideas on adding interaction and soliciting active customer engagement and contribution through traditional marketing tools.   Here are a few to start off.

  1. Value proposition and messaging – Starting with the obvious here: when crafting your claims of benefits, value, and ROI, ask your customers what benefits they’ve actually received.    Use these results to create your messages about benefits and value.  Then go back and ask customers if they “buy” the story you tell about how your product leads to business results. You’ll have messages that really resonate, and your will have created references that back up your story because they ARE the story.
  2. Collateral and White papers – Create a Wiki instead of static product data sheets, brochures, and white papers.  Provide a framework and some base content,  then give customers the ability to contribute.  You can moderate to ensure accuracy, of course.  With customers contributing,  you’ll have more complete, relevant, and trustworthy information.

Have you tried these or other ways to engage customers in conversations? Share them in your comment!

Read More
Turn Marketing into Conversations – Part 2
Turn Marketing into Conversations – Part 3

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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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