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solution selling

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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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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