According to Charles Darwins’ Origin of Species, “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself”.
This probably is one of the best bits of advice to give to a salesperson too, when they are dealing with business in today’s environment.
Well, nothing is as consistent in business as change. It underrides every fundamental in every company today. If they don’t keep up with change, then they simply get left behind. So, how can Darwin’s quote help us to achieve more?
The fact is that every business you deal with every day is going through change. Some are experiencing change that is being thrust upon them; some are coping ok with the changes they face every day; and some are driving change successfully so that they succeed where others fail.
A key component required here is the ability to see the repercussions of change on your customers’ businesses as quickly as they do, if not quicker. If you have that ability, you give clients reason to listen to your recommendations and suggestions for improvement.
Your competition will try and sell the products and services they have. That’s all well and good if they are just in transaction mode. Those products may work well enough for their clients to try them, buy them and use them.
However, for companies to thrive in today’s world, there has to be a certain unique element that sets them apart from the competitors who simply sell products. And one of the best ways to keep ahead of your competition is to highlight the effect of change on your customers’ businesses. That way, you are building a good reputation based on advice and quality recommendations.
Identify for your customer how the changing market is affecting their business. Help them adapt to those changes by using your products and services. Become the company of choice by utilising the abilities of your products to keep your customer ahead of the game.
Change really is the only constant. Helping your prospects adapt to those changes ahead of their competition will make you a valuable asset to them and will help you build a reputation for driving performance forward. This will take the emphasis off price and develop a sense of reliance on your company, because you prove yourself to be better than the competition in the long run.
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We often get asked to help salespeople craft their cold-calling script so that the recipient drools at the very thought of meeting with the salesperson and has sleepless nights waiting for the presentation that will change their lives for the better.
This utopian situation doesn’t occur very often/quite often/seldom/hardly ever/once in a blue moon/never in world history (delete as applicable)
What’s happening here, then? Why would many salespeople find it hard to get in touch with a company to arrange an appointment to show them products that will improve their lives or businesses?
We know the reasons. Most sales calls are desperately poor in their production and execution. They rarely, if ever, have the prospect feeling that they should spare their valuable time being sold to.
It requires a proposition that builds value in the prospect’s eyes in actually allowing you to take some of their valuable time. Known as your ’value-proposition’ , it offers the chance for you to show how others have gained results from your products or services.
In simple terms, a “value proposition” is the sum of the total benefits that customers receive when they purchase a specific product or service from your organisation. Your product or service value proposition is a powerful, compelling statement designed to capture the mind and the heart of your customers by demonstrating a relevant advantage in buying from you.
Getting the value proposition right for what your business sells is so important, because it provides the basis for your business relationship with your customers; and answers the question foremost in every potential customer’s mind: ‘Why should I buy from you?’
Most salespeople, however, use the initial contact as a chance to practice their product knowledge by outlining what they sell and what they do. Quite frankly, at this stage the prospect isn’t interested.
What is it at this stage that the customer/prospect wants to hear from you?
Put simply, it’s a statement that demonstrates that you understand their situation – that you recognise the problem they wish to solve, or the outcome they wish to achieve -followed by a specific offer or explanations as to how you are going to help them address their situation.
Ideally, the value proposition will not only explain how owning your product or using your service will allow the customer to achieve a desired outcome; it will also explain how it is that your business is uniquely positioned to create that outcome.
So it should focus on the results your prospect will achieve, rather than the features or benefits of the product itself.
So, DO NOT explain the product or services you sell, or outline their features.
INSTEAD, detail the benefits to the customer of owning your products or retaining your services.
Weak statements would include:
“We’re the best in class”
“We improve morale and motivation”
“Ours lasts longer than the competition’s offering”
Yeah, yeah, yada, yada, yada.
How can I say this politely?
They’re Not Interested!
Today, you need to have a strong value proposition to break through the noise and pressure they are feeling from all sides. You need to speak to the critical issues they are facing, be they production, staff turnover, cash-flow, technical issues, profitability, stemming losses, health and safety, or others.
How about a stronger value proposition?
“We’ve helped our last 15 clients increase their turnover by an average of 9% in two years, and their profitability by over 12%. All without having to cut costs or make redundancies”
That helps prospects see the real value that you can offer and helps them make the decision to see you as soon as possible, just to see if their business could benefit in the same way. By talking about results rather than products (which are what customers really buy, isn’t it?), you create reasons for them to accept your proposition of a meeting or presentation.
So, don’t talk about what you do or how you do it; talk about the results of what you do and how the prospect will reap those rewards with you.
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One of our clients had a particular dilemma, described here by one of the sales team:
“Our clients think our products are just a commodity, and so mainly focus on the price against our competition. We know that our products are different, have differential qualities and will be better for our prospects than our competition’s will. What can we do about this?”
Interesting question. Remember, the perception of your products and services are in the eyes of the customer. If they think you’re cheap, then you’re cheap. If they think you’re lousy, then you’re lousy. No amount of marketing or brochure blurb will influence that if it’s ingrained.
What should you do? Here’s a checklist to ensure your customers see your products as different in many ways.
1) Be absolutely honest and truthful about your products’ appeal to the marketplace. Are they really different, to everyone you meet? Or do they just offer value to specific customers with specific needs? You could have a niche product. But who does it appeal to?
If you really think your products are special, then…
2) Do you have a great story about your offerings that make the value and benefits come alive? If so, how do you prove it to the customer? Have you got testimonials and references of the results others have got? Specify what your product will do for this actual customer, based on what other similar companies have experienced.
3) Have you created enough opportunities with the decision-makers to prove how valuable your offer would be to their business? Remember, the decision-makers may not be the end-users, and they might not be able to perceive the real differences between yours and the competitive offerings.
4) Have you become so focused on price differentials that the real value of your products has been clouded over? You must be capable of really detailing the story of what your products will do, for THIS specific customer.
5) Think seriously about the results you’re promising from your products. Are they of real benefit to the customer? For instance, one photocopying supplier we worked with tried to sell the value of their machines by saying it saved three seconds of time in printing 100 copies over the prospect’s current machine. The prospect couldn’t see the real value in that. It simply didn’t justify the changes they would have had to go through in order to get our client on their supplier list. So, identify what is of real value to the prospect and help them see what it would do for them in terms that are valuable to them.
By being aware that customers will focus on price if there’s nothing else to differentiate you, you are able to determine what could be important enough to this specific customer to warrant you referring to them.
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You know well how customer don’t buy on price alone. The risk that is taken when they buy the cheapest option is sometimes too great and so other components are taken into account when decisions are made.
We often say that we should sell the concept of value, as it appears in the eyes of the prospect. But how can you generate that value? How do you know what would be valuable to a client? We have to analyse what we can do to increase that value early on in our planning.
Your discussions concerning how you build that value in the eyes of the prospect can boil down effectively to six points, derived from answering these questions. These questions clarify the value your business provides:
Remember, build up your value message, because if you don’t, you may well be selling what is viewed as a commodity, and that’s when customers see price as more important than value, and you’ll find yourself up against those who are cheapest.
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Branding is one of the key components of marketing your products and services, and branding has become a multi-million pound industry, with so many companies using their brands to leverage their marketing positions.
Branding, though, can be lost in the competitive elements that make up the world of products and services. No more is this so in the components that make up personal branding.
Personal branding is how you are perceived as an individual. If your clients think of your product and immediately think of you associated with it, your personal brand is attached to the product.
But what if you were to build your product brand away from your product or service? What if your prospects were to think of you as standing out way above the level of the product or service you sell? What would be the implications for your selling future?
What I’m referring to here is the element of thought-leadership within your own business model. I follow various leaders on LinkedIn, as their ideas inspire me to become the person I know I’m capable of being. But what if people started to follow you? Is it possible for you to become a thought-leaders for your industry or product? What if people sought out your views on new products or directions on what to choose or where to buy?
Becoming a thought-leader doesn’t have to be that time consuming. And it opens up lots of opportunities for you to show your personal brand off to many more prospects.
So, how can you become the kind of person others will want to follow and know about? Here are some ideas to kick you off:
1) Identify yourself with one thing. You can’t be too generic here. Just saying ‘sales’ or ‘product x’ won’t be specific enough. You need to become an expert in a particular field. Take one area that you know people are interested in and start researching ideas connected with that area. Yes, it takes focus and yes, it takes time. It will be time well spent if you become the person that others choose to listen to.
2) Expand your portfolio of opportunities. In sales, we tend to concentrate on our own products and services, while the competition and others are developing and evolving. You need to look at other opportunities within the field and offer people ideas and techniques on how they can improve their businesses and their lives. By showing others where they can improve, you set yourself as someone of value, and people will always seek you out because of that.
3) Go where the people are. When you have decided what you are going to focus and concentrate on, you need to go where people are looking. This means placing your blogs in areas where people go. You need to share ideas in LinkedIn groups, on your Facebook business pages and on Google Plus. People are evolving exponentially in the way they seek out information. Your message needs to be in places where people visit, or you will be lost in the morass of other minutia. Building your personal brand awareness through articles, thought-starters, questions, debates and future-focus are key ways to stimulate interest and drive people to your ideas.
So, becoming a thought-leader in your industry may take time and effort, but the rewards will be more interest in you, more referrals from others, more contacts from people you haven’t heard of, and more awareness of your ideas on how businesses can improve their business results. It offers you plenty of chances to show your value to individuals and companies. And it increases your pipeline as people approach you for advice and guidance.
Sure beats having to prospect all the time!
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