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Strategy

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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The New Challenges of Selling as “1 of 3”

by Charles Born on September 5, 2012

in Marketing,Sales Tips

This article is by Guest Blogger Charlie Born, the newest member of the Shirman Group extended team.

Over the last five years, B2B selling has evolved from general concepts of solution selling to the ‘Buyer’s Journey’ – a journey driven by the large amount of information available online.  A new sales and marketing reality is rapidly emerging as the internet plays an increasing role in buyer research.  I’ve seen the impact of this in my own marketing work, and I strongly believe we are on the cusp of some important changes to the conventional marketing and sales wisdom of the past

Studies are consistently showing that B2B buying habits are shifting.  Buyers are now 60-70% of the way through the buyer’s cycle before they reach out to your sales representative.   By that time, there is less need for traditional solution selling techniques.  In the new buyer’s journey, the buyers believe that, based on their own research, they have figured out what they need.   When they decide to contact your sales team, they have most likely decided you are one of their top three choices – you are 1 of 3.

Maybe this sounds like good news.  It’s not.  Most often the buyer views all three choices as equally acceptable, and the final decision comes down to features, functions, support—and price, price, price.  Exceptional sales representatives might be able to overcome this ‘1 of 3’ syndrome, but this is the antithesis of where you want to be with solution selling.

In this new selling environment your biggest hurdles are no longer your competitors or features and functions; they are:

  • The ability of buyers to learn on their own
  • How your company participates in that learning process

As the CMO of SAP, Jonathan Becher, said at a recent Churchill Club CMO Panel, “Being marketed TO is a mindset we need to end.  It’s helping (the buyer) discover what they want to learn about.”

Are you experiencing this phenomenon?  Has it changed your marketing strategy?

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fallen 3 legged stoolLots of companies are diving into their annual planning process.  Many will find that time and resources are wasted on seemingly useless high-level discussions that don’t lead to specific actions, that some stakeholders participate but later don’t follow through on key portions of the plan, and that there is little consistency or coordination around how groups make decisions and set priorities.

That’s because they’re  focusing on the content of the plan, while ignoring the other pieces that are absolutely fundamental to its success.   Whether you’re creating a 5 year strategic plan for an entire company, or an annual operating plan for a department, consider all 3 parts of the planning process:

1.       Structure :  HOW you will arrive at your plan

  • Outcomes – What is the scope of the plan, and what are the key decisions to be made? What should happen once the plan is completed?
  • Process – How much time do you have? Which parts of the company need to be involved? How often will you meet, and what work must happen between meetings?
  • Decision frameworks – What will be the criteria for the key decisions?  What inputs are needed ans what will be your sources of information?  What analysis will be required, will it be bottoms-up or top-down?
  • Action – How will you structure and communicate the final plan to the various stakeholders? How will you make sure that everyone understands the decisions and aligns their actions towards the goals in the plan?

2.       People – WHO will create, approve, own, and execute the plan?

  • Stakeholders – Who are the key stakeholders for this plan, and what form of participation and communication is appropriate for each?
  • Ownership – How will you ensure that key process participants take ownership for the quality of the entire plan and look beyond their own functional areas?
  • Collaboration – What will you do elicit relevant expertise in your organization, enable open-minded idea creation, and reach decisions in a timely manner?
  • Communication – How, when, and what will you communicate to whom in order to keep the organization informed about the progress  and outcomes of the planning process?
  • Commitment – How will you gain the commitment of the management team to align resources to plan objectives? Will there need to be any changes in responsibility, authority, or incentives in order to ensure commitment and ability to execute?
  • Change management – How will you need to prepare and guide the organization though any changes that the plan requires?

3.       Content – WHAT will the contents of the plan be?

  • Financial or market objectives
  • Operational execution goals
  • Market, competitive, or supply chain analysis
  • Strategies and tactics for reaching objectives
  • Prioritization of key initiatives
  • Action plans and time lines
  • Budgets

I’m always looking for examples of organization who do all three components of planning well.  If your company does, please comment or email me to share your experience.

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We just sent out a summary to the participants of this year’s Industry Specialization by B2B Vendors Benchmark Study.   We had a record 120 B2B companies take part in this year’s study.

Companies see that greater customer focus, in the form of industry-specialized sales, marketing, services, and products will enable them to access more senior decision makers and increase deal sizes.  Many are also responding to competitive pressures. The good news is that the investment is paying off.

The full report is due out next month, but meanwhile, a sneak peak at a few tidbits:

  • 67% of B2B companies that already have some amount of industry specialization said they plan to further increase their focus on key vertical markets.
  • It takes two to three years to begin to realize the full benefits of specialization.
  • After 2 years, 70% of companies reported notable or significant impact on revenue from their investments in industry-specialized activity
  • Industry alliances have a big impact on brand awareness
  • Industry-specific case studies and quantitative ROI analysis were reported to be the most valuable industry-specific marketing tactics.  Sales and marketing brochures were least effective.
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