Notes on Selling to Big Companies

If you are trying to do enterprise sales, I recommend reading Selling to Big Companies by Jill Konrath. Here are the passages I highlighted:

After the first reading, I strongly suggest a focus on your value proposition. If you can’t clearly articulate the business results that customers realize from using your product, service, or solution, then the rest of the book is a moot point. Weak value propositions are the most common root cause of ineffective selling.

The easiest and fastest way to get into a big company is through one of its functional areas.

When pursuing corporate contracts, most sellers want to ensure that decision makers know all about the full range of products, services, or solutions that they provide. This lack of specificity is extraordinarily detrimental to their sales objective and actually creates massive roadblocks for them.

I discovered that it was easier to get into big companies if I focused my entire “getting in” strategy around one very specific business problem related to the success of the new product launches. Many companies do a terrible job of preparing their field sales organization to sell the new products or services they’re introducing. As a result, sales revenue typically lags far behind projections. Because the marketing and sales teams blame each other for the dismal results, they never really solve the problem. My targeted customers clearly had an immediate, urgent need for help. The success or failure of a new offering is highly visible in the company. If the new product flopped, everyone knew about it. Careers were at stake. Windows of opportunity would be lost, market share could erode, and the lifetime profitability of the product would be seriously diminished. Not only that, but companies have a lot more money at launch time. So despite the fact that I was capable of doing training on a wide range of sales skills, I chose to focus my “getting in” strategy on helping salespeople be successful at launch. In my early meetings with corporate decision makers, I never confused my message by sharing with them the entire breadth of my services. The focus of our discussion was always on their product launch issues. Once I had a successful project under my belt, I let my clients know how I could help them in other ways.

Figure out which portion of your own offering addresses your prospect’s urgent and compelling needs and leverage that aspect to initially get your foot in the door.

Friends who work for large corporations tell me that no matter how hard they work, they can’t seem to get ahead of the game. New fires keep popping up every where as urgent matters distract them from focusing on the important. Despite putting in 60-hour weeks, they can’t seem to catch up.

I recently talked to an executive from a manufacturing firm whose salespeople were really struggling because of changing customer demands. Quite frankly, the firm’s salespeople lacked the skills needed for success in today’s market. But his group was under such intense pressure to “bring in the numbers” that he couldn’t pull his salespeople out of the field for the kind of training that would help them succeed. Because they didn’t have time to address these problems, they were forced to work even harder all the while they were slipping further and further behind.

Corporate buyers are also incredibly savvy regarding their options. They know that products or services like yours are available everywhere—and probably at a lower cost. From their perspective, almost everything is a commodity. Cynicism reigns supreme. The only thing that seems to counteract it is real customer stories with actual, tangible, and measurable results.

The reality of the situation is that people in big companies really do have an unrealistic workload. Corporate decision makers are often too busy to: explore ways to improve their current systems, processes, and methodologies despite the fact that they may be losing an incredible amount of time and money; deal with the problems that haven’t yet reached the crisis stage; plan proactively for their future; identify critical success factors; determine gaps in their operations; and implement much-needed strategies. They get sucked into a chain of band-aid solutions, making kneejerk decisions to put out the fires and jerry-rigging systems to keep them afloat. Rather than addressing root causes, they treat the symptoms, which ultimately leads to a whole slew of unintended negative consequences.

The last thing in the world that corporate decision makers want is to create more work for themselves. They’re already on overload, with a pile of work that just keeps growing. Even the very best, most positive change is disruptive.

Their extreme need to protect their time at all costs makes the status quo your most formidable competitor when selling to big companies. Change really has to be worthwhile to get someone to move.

Corporate decision makers won’t take time to educate you in more depth about their firm until you’ve proven your willingness to invest your own time first.

Many times prospective decision makers will set this trap too by asking for information on your new products, services, solutions, or technology. Remember, they don’t want to make a change unless they absolutely have to. Most are simply asking about it so they can find a reason to say “no” to you. Don’t confuse this request for information with interest.

Never, ever expect corporate decision makers to intuit the value of your offering or make the calculations themselves.

Your biggest competition today is the status quo. Unnecessary change only adds to the stress of an already overburdened workforce.

Never, ever waste your prospect’s time. Make sure every conversation or meeting is well-planned and provides high value.

Sales is not a bunch of mysterious, manipulative techniques you can master that trick customers into buying from you. We’re not talking about selling snake oil and getting quickly out of town. We’re talking about establishing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.

The priority of today’s top sellers is making a difference. They see themselves as change agents who specialize in improving their customer’s business. These sellers know that if they help their customers solve their problems and achieve their objectives, success automatically follows.

Successful sellers today must focus on finding problem spots or missed opportunities inside their customer’s operation that no other supplier is currently focused on. Once they identify these areas, they literally lead a sales campaign to help their prospect understand two things: (1) why change is an imperative and (2) why their solution is the answer. This demand-generation focus is proactive and provocative, as opposed to the traditional seller who simply responds to existing needs.

Sellers who are successful today know that customers can go online and find out all that stuff in seconds. They realize that they must create value with every customer interaction. They do this by helping clients see their business operations differently, by sharing useful information, by questioning the status quo, and by doing much more. They make customers think. They bring customers ideas and insights. Customers want to get together with these sellers because they always get something of value from the meetings.

Today’s seller knows that their products, services, or solutions are simply tools—nothing more. They know that their customers could care less about buying new software or training their staff. They realize that customers invest in their offering because of the outcome they get. That’s why their focus is on business improvement. These top sellers are fully cognizant that their knowledge and expertise are the reasons that customers want to work with them. Traditional sellers don’t have a clue that top sellers know so much more than they do about the market, operations, processes, competition, business goals and objectives, strategic imperatives, and more.

The reality is that in today’s market, you personally make a huge difference. By bringing your knowledge, expertise, and ideas to the relationship, you separate yourself from all the product-pushing peddlers out there. Ultimately you become irresistible; customers want to do business with you.

Top sellers constantly think about how they can help customers improve their business.

Those busy decision makers don’t have one bit of time to intuit the impact you might have on their business. Corporate buyers could care less about the “bells and whistles” of your product, your unique methodology, or your impressive personal qualifications. They like the status quo. Until they clearly understand that change will have a really positive impact on their business, they won’t budge. So do the calculations for them. Quantify the difference you can make. Give them numbers, percents, time frames, and statistics. When you initially contact them, you need to shout out your value to them— loud and clear—so they can’t miss it.

Your product or service is simply a tool. No one wants it in and of itself. You must get this firmly implanted in your head. Customers buy your product or service only because it helps them improve their business operation.

Think about when you were a teenager. Adults probably tried to share their hard-earned wisdom with you on numerous occasions. The more they talked “at” you, the less you listened. The louder they talked, the faster you turned them off. In order for anyone to penetrate your protective walls, they had to take a different approach.

pick the companies with whom you want to work and then make it happen.

When you know your target market well, you know the trade shows they attend, the magazines and trade journals they read, the Web sites they visit, and more. You invest less money on your sales and marketing with significantly improved results. Because prospective customers can find you more easily, referrals go up. Finally, you differentiate your business from competitors, thus increasing your profitability.

If you’re struggling to get into big companies, you probably have a weak value proposition. Pure and simple. Your vague or nebulous statements about the benefits that customers get from using your product or service are likely the root cause of your account entry problems.

A value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible results a customer gets from using your products or services. It is focused on outcomes and stresses the business value of your offering.

A value proposition is financially oriented and speaks to the critical issues your target market is facing. A strong value proposition is specific, often citing numbers or percentages. It may include a quick synopsis of your work with similar customers as a proof source and demonstration of your capability.

Both the elevator speech and the USP are cousins of the value proposition, but both lack its punch for capturing the attention of corporate decision makers. In short, they’re worthless.

Your offering is simply a tool. Decision makers care only about the results your offering delivers for them.

Corporate buyers are particularly attracted to phrases that are linked to their business goals and objectives. Start speaking in these terms and you’ll definitely attract their attention:

Can your business do any of these things? How about something similar? Perhaps you never really thought about your products or services from this perspective. But because this is what corporate decision makers listen for, make sure to integrate these business-oriented terms into your value proposition.

The more specific your value proposition, the more attractive it is to decision makers. The very best value propositions deliver tangible, measurable results that are highly desirable to prospective buyers.

When you’re defining your value proposition, first examine where the impact of your offering can most easily be quantified. Tangible value is typically expressed in numbers, percentages, and time frames. Examples might be: Reduce cycle time from three days to one Cut labor costs by 25 percent Save $100,000 in energy costs Increase market share 5 percent Improving productivity 17 percent Typically these tangible gains also have related indirect value gains that aren’t quite as obvious, but they can help strengthen an already strong value proposition.

A well-designed Web site may cut the need for customer service staff. A more efficient just-in-time (JIT) ordering process decreases the amount of warehouse space and its associated costs. A digital asset management system’s ability to repurpose data reduces advertising expenditures. Always try to quantify the indirect values as well as the direct ones.

Sometimes the value of your offering is not quite so easy to measure. Perhaps you help companies lower risk, increase teamwork, enhance marketplace image, or improve morale. Maybe your products are eco-friendly or made by disabled workers. Intangible value doesn’t sell well in today’s hypercompetitive marketplace. Most decision makers consider it a nice added benefit, but they won’t spend money for a solution that provides only intangible value. To increase your sales success, take these intangibles and make them tangible. For example, if morale is improved, fewer sick days are taken and employee turnover is reduced. If what you sell has much intangible value, it’s imperative to find ways to quantify it.

THE IRRESISTIBLE ATTRACTION OF POWERFUL VALUE PROPOSITIONS Not long ago, I had lunch with the president of a half-billion-dollar division of a major corporation. She told me that if a seller approached her and said he could reduce waste by just 1 percent, she would meet with him immediately. Why? Because she knew exactly how much her company spent on waste, and it was a lot of money. Every penny she saved would go right to the bottom line.

Powerful value propositions open doors—quickly! Making the effort to clarify your value propositions is well worth the time invested in the process. If you can’t get specific numbers, at least talk business terminology. Here are several well-crafted value propositions that have proven extremely effective in opening the doors of large corporate accounts. “We help large companies reduce the cost of their employee benefits programs without impacting benefit levels. With the spiraling costs of health care today, this is a critical issue. One of our recent clients saved over $800,000 in just six months without cutting any services to their employees or making them pay more.” – Benefits Firm “After working with our firm, one well-known retailer saw a 54 percent increase in sales conversions and a 25 percent increase in average order size from their online sales. Our clients typically see 40 percent to 150 percent improvements in key operating metrics such as profit margins, rates, and cost savings.” – Web Design Company “We help technology companies significantly shorten time-to-profitability and meet projected sales goals for their new product launches.” – Sales Consultancy

Impressive business results coupled with real-life stories are irresistible to corporate buyers. That’s what value propositions are all about. They attract. They magnetize. They open doors. They get you into big companies.

When you truly understand the business value you bring to customers, you work harder to get into accounts. You’re less discouraged by rejection. You don’t question if there’s a market for what you sell. Ultimately when you know your product or service makes a valuable difference, you sell a lot more!

Your challenge is to create a value proposition so enticing that when corporate decision makers hear it, they say, “I need to learn more.” While this may seem glaringly obvious, in real life it can be much more difficult to implement. Recently I talked with a woman who said she did training for sales organizations. As a nosy but friendly competitor, I asked about her programs. She told me they were based on the appreciative inquiry model that builds upon what salespeople already do right. When I asked about the outcome of her methodology, she replied, “It energizes the sales force.” After 25 years in this field, I’ve never met a sales executive who wanted their salespeople to have more “energy.” They want results—pure and simple. More orders. Fewer losses to the competition. Bigger or more profitable contracts. Better customer retention. If you’re selling to sales management, you need to use these terms.

Your existing customers are a veritable fountain of information regarding the business value of your product or service. They’re unequivocally the best resource you can use to clarify your value proposition.

Customer Interview Questions Consider the questions below as a guideline for your customer meeting. To get better data, customize your questions to your product or service offering. Both tangible values and intangible values need to be considered as you work on strengthening your value proposition. If your customer shares a tough-to-measure result, such as improved communications, brainstorm on how to make the business value tangible. Before you started using our offering, how did you handle things? Why did you decide to change to or to use our service? What problems were you hoping it would solve? What objectives were you expecting it to help you achieve? On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate our offering in terms of helping you reach your desired result? Why did you select this rating? Did you realize any positive results that surprised you? What were the three most important benefits you received as a result of our product/work together? What value did our offering provide to your company? How would you quantify the value of these improvements? How did it impact . . . ? What were its ramifications on . . . ? What was the effect on . . . ? What improvements did you realize? How did that help your bottom line or with your growth objectives? What did our solution enable you to do that you couldn’t before? What is doing that worth to your organization? What other areas in your company benefited because of our work together? Can you help me quantify the payoff your firm realized from using our offering? Ask these same questions to more than one person in your customer’s organization. Talk to people in different areas and in different positions in the company. They each have a unique and highly valuable perspective. Sometimes you’ll hear something totally new from one person that will lead you to a much stronger value proposition.

Quantify, quantify, quantify. Where are the dollar savings? How can you measure the increased productivity? How much have you increased sales? The more you can make your value proposition tangible, the easier it will be to get your foot in the door of big companies.

If you’re an independent professional, get a group of colleagues together and brainstorm each other’s business cases. You need their perspectives to clarify your primary value proposition. You’re much too close to it to discover it without help.

Many consultants and professional services providers find it difficult to quantify the measurable results customers realize from using their offerings. Because of this, they think they can’t come up with a strong value proposition. I understand their frustrations. With 15 years of consulting under my belt, none of my product launch clients measured the effectiveness of my work. There were many reasons for this: not enough time to compare before-and-after results, lack of benchmarking, and the multiple factors that can impact a new product’s market success. So like many of you, I lacked good hard data. However, this didn’t stop me from talking about what I did in business terms. Rather than giving exact figures (which was impossible), I emphasized the: lag time between product launch and achieving projected sales results; critical need to shorten time-to-revenue; high costs of sales representative downtime spent on preparing presentations and proposals; lost windows of opportunity, enabling competitive inroads; and inconsistent messages being delivered to channel partners and customers. These value propositions were extremely attractive to senior marketing and sales leaders. As a result, I had a highly profitable new product launch consulting practice for years.

Talking as a businessperson talks is where you have to start. For example, if your company designs Web sites, put on your thinking cap to figure out what a corporate decision maker might be interested in. Honestly, they don’t care about your awards or how long you’ve been in business. To catch their attention, you might want to focus your discussions with them on: driving more traffic to the Web site; decreasing the number of customers abandoning full shopping carts; increasing the transaction value per customer; improving search engine rankings; and freeing up corporate resources through improved online capabilities.

The truth is that sometimes it’s difficult or nearly impossible to measure the value of what you do. If this happens to be your situation, I strongly recommend using industry statistics. You can also use statistics to support your value proposition, providing the “outside expert” perspective that gives you even more clout. Here are several examples of how industry statistics might be incorporated into your value proposition: To get in to see prospective clients, I frequently mention a study that says, “75 percent of executives who work for big companies involved in a complex sale blame poor value propositions as a major cause of their new products failing to achieve sales projections.” One of my friends is a consultant who does a lot of work for big companies in the area of teamwork. The statistic she uses is that “50 percent of a manager’s time is spent resolving people problems related to trust issues and poor communications.” If you think about your business, I suspect you can come up with some industry statistics also. Again, they can be great proof sources of the need for your product or service in the market.

As you research, keep asking, “How can my product or service make a difference for this customer?”

What you learn from interviews with their customers is totally seductive to corporate decision makers. A business consultant I knew wanted to set up a meeting with an executive in a major printing firm. By snooping around, he identified some of their top local clients. He compiled a list of questions he knew would be of high interest to the decision maker. (They just happened to be highly relevant to his offering as well.) After the interviews were completed, he contacted the executive and got right in.

Sometimes you learn invaluable information just by talking to people who work at the company. My neighbor works at a large technology firm. At a neighborhood party he shared some info about the long hours he was working and the challenges the company was facing. What he said wasn’t confidential, but it was one of my problem indicators. I was able to leverage this knowledge to get an appointment in a completely different division. If you get creative, you’ll find numerous opportunities to interact with someone who works for any company.

Depending on your offering, you could learn an incredible amount by ordering or using a target account’s products or services. You could evaluate quality, the delivery process, customer service, return procedures, packaging, and more. You could compare the information with other suppliers’ information to see how they stack up against their competition. You could identify problems or opportunities for improvement.

This method proved extremely valuable to me in getting into one of my clients. I attended a local technology trade show to find some new prospects. Many big companies were exhibiting, and I talked with lots of people. At one firm’s booth (an ideal client) I had long discussions with several of their salespeople. We talked about their new products, changing marketplace direction, and sales challenges. One sales representative even gave me the names, e-mails, and phone numbers of all the people I needed to contact. As you can see, there is an endless supply of ways to get good quality information about a big company you target. Request their marketing materials. Talk to their competitors. Interview the executives for an article you’re writing. Ask their executives to speak to an organization to which you belong. Over the years, I’ve done all these things— especially when I have my eyes set on getting into a very specific account that could be extremely lucrative for me. These techniques work, and they’re fun to do.

Alert! Alert! Once you identify the big companies you want to target, your job is to keep on top of what’s happening in their business. You’re looking for trigger events—those changes in their organization or in the outside world that can create openings for your products, services, or solutions. What should you be on the lookout for? These newsworthy events can create just the opportunity you need to get your foot in the door: Poor quarterly earnings or annual results Recent spin-offs, mergers, or acquisitions New funding received Important new product or service announcements Expansion into new market segments or geographical areas Downsizing or rightsizing Restructurings and reorganizations New management or ownership Pending or recently enacted legislation Resignations or additions of key personnel Downward spiral in business Landing a prestigious new client National or international events and crises Availability of new technology Trigger events create a “ripple effect” through the entire organization. If you haven’t explored this technique yet, you might want to ask yourself, “How might these events create a need for my product or service?” These trigger events are a critical reason why big companies may suddenly be more receptive to your offering. For example, if your targeted account announces an acquisition, tons of sales opportunities are created. Computer systems need to be integrated. Supply chains are reevaluated. Sales forces are merged; employees are let go. Marketing collateral needs to be redesigned. Teamwork and collaboration are necessary as people jockey for position. Existing suppliers may have to reestablish their value. One of my clients, an entrepreneurial professional services firm, keeps a keen eye on legislation. When new laws are pending or have just been passed, they leverage the news to get themselves in to meet with key decision makers from competitive accounts. In the past year, they experienced significant growth using this strategy.

be crystal clear with them about your target market, the problems your decision makers are encountering, or the goals they want to achieve. This is when you use your elevator speech, that one-sentence to two-sentence statement that answers the question, “What do you do?” It should be so clear that when people hear your elevator speech they say, “You need to meet Terry. She was complaining about that exact issue last time we talked.” Or else they say, “I have to introduce you to Bryan. That’s what he’s trying to accomplish in his division.” Elevator speeches are less specific than your value proposition but share the essence of what you’re doing. They overtly state the type of customer you work with so your fellow networkers know when someone would be an ideal prospect for you.

Use a Problem-Centered Approach Because issues and challenges typically have top-of-mind awareness, problem-centered elevator speeches are generally more effective. Here’s a formula you can use to create a problem-centered elevator speech: “I/we work with (insert target market) . . . who are (insert feeling word) . . . with (insert problem/issue you solve).” One of my good friends is an organizational development consultant. She used to say, “I do team building.” Now she uses this elevator speech: “I help fragmented leadership teams who are struggling with communication issues and turf wars.” It’s been much more effective for her.

Use a Benefit-Centered Approach These elevator speeches are focused on what customers want to achieve. There’s a gap between their current reality and their desired future state. Here’s a formula you can use to create a benefit-centered elevator speech: “I/we work with/help (target market) . . . who want to (describe what your customers want).” When I first started coaching a software sales representative, his elevator speech was, “We sell and implement fully-integrated CRM systems compatible with all the major data base applications utilized by the Fortune 500.” What a mouthful! I’m sure his marketing people would have been proud of him for using the company line so accurately—even if it never worked. He got much better results when he changed to: “We help large companies use their customer information to drive repeat sales and reduce customer turnover.”

In the last chapter, I shared how it took me seven phone calls to locate the decision maker in a local high-tech firm. Once I found his name, it took me another eight contacts to finally connect with him. Below are the contacts I made over a two-month period and what I did on each one. Left a voice mail highlighting value proposition #1 related to new product introductions. Sent letter focused on new product launch issues and relevant customer results. Followed up via phone; left voice mail stressing different aspect of value proposition. Faxed funny cartoon illustrating the “problem” with a brief note attached. Left voice mail reiterating need to get together to discuss how to ensure successful launch on critical new product coming to market. Talked to assistant. Found out the decision maker was out all week traveling but would be in Friday. Got e-mail and sent short message that I looked forward to talking with him soon. Called on Friday at recommended time. Got voice mail and transferred to assistant. His schedule had changed and he was traveling. Got cell phone number. Called cell phone and immediately reached decision maker in airport. Had short conversation, answered questions, and was referred to product marketing manager with blessings. The result? I talked with the woman in product marketing the following week, set up a meeting, wrote a proposal, and had a very nice-sized contract within a month. No competitive bids were taken, and no one tried to knock my price down.

Plan on eight to twelve contacts to develop name recognition, capture your prospect’s attention, and, ultimately, get your foot in the door.

Corporate decision makers are under extreme pressure to reach ever-increasing goals with ever-shrinking time frames and resources. They’re always willing to meet with someone who can help them address their critical business issues and attain their objectives. You’ll attract their attention with: strong value propositions, business-related terminology, and relevant success stories.

Decision makers are interested in what’s happening outside their own little world. If they believe you have knowledge that’s of value to them, they’ll be willing to meet with you. You’ll find they want to learn more about industry trends, their customers, the marketplace, other areas of their own company, their competitors, and new technology.

ANATOMY OF AN EFFECTIVE VOICE MAIL MESSAGE Enticing voice mail messages require careful planning and crafting. The ones that have proven effective contain the following three key elements—all of which are essential in today’s crazy business environment. 1. Establish Credibility. When you leave a voice mail, your first task is to ensure that you’re taken seriously from the moment your voice is heard. To establish credibility with corporate decision makers, you can reference: Your Referrals: If you have a referral of any sort, this is the time to use it. You might say, “Mr. Graham. Brian Johnson calling. Marcia Herman from the Leadership Development Center said to give you a call.” “Alex. Nancy Stevens from Synergy Software. I just spoke with Bob Cummings in your corporate research area. He said that you were the person I needed to speak to.” Your Research: So few sellers actually invest time studying their clients before placing a call that you’ll immediately set yourself apart if you mention it in your voice mail. You might say, “I saw in the Wall Street Journal that your firm’s number one business priority in the upcoming year is . . . ” “In reviewing your company’s Web site and marketing collateral, it became apparent to me that a critical issue you’re facing is . . . ” If you’re not doing precall research prior to contacting a big company, you’re making a huge mistake. Dig in. Do it. What you learn makes your voice mail even more enticing. Trigger Events: Mention these to let decision makers know you’re up to date on what’s happening in their firm. You might say, “I noticed in yesterday’s Business Journal that your company will soon be acquiring your main competitor.” “In the latest issue of Industry Events, I saw that your firm is now moving into the medical market.” 2. Pique Curiosity. After reviewing what you know about your targeted big companies, determine what would pique their interest the most. Communicate Your Value Proposition: Prospective customers are enticed by value propositions that address critical business issues and demonstrate significant value. To increase their effectiveness, mention that the results come from businesses like theirs—or even name-drop some prominent clients. Examples of enticing value propositions include: “In working with another firm like yours, we reduced space requirements by 10 percent, saving them over $500,000 on lease payments and reducing capital equipment expenditures by over $300,000.” “We help shrink time-to-revenue on new product introductions—a big issue facing companies today. In fact, research into failed product launches shows that 75 percent of executives blame weak value propositions as a major factor in their poor sales results.” Share an Insightful Idea: You have to do some preliminary work to use this approach, but it’s highly seductive to your prospects. To pique curiosity with a thought-provoking idea, combine it with your knowledge of their business and your value proposition. Examples might be: “Over the past month, I’ve invested a great deal of time studying your Web site and what you’re trying to accomplish with it. Based on my analysis, I have some interesting ideas regarding how you could leverage it to create additional revenue opportunities.” “I’ve been following your firm closely for the past six months because of its merger with Beta Industries. After hearing about your recent round of layoffs, I have some ideas that I’d like to share with you regarding how you can reduce the risks of potential legal action.” When you leave a voice mail, don’t tell your customers everything. Tell them only enough to make them eager to learn more. Dangle Important Information: If you have access to knowledge that big company decision makers might find useful, by all means use it. One of my clients recently used this strategy to land appointments with hard-to-reach decision makers. Essentially, their salespeople said, “We recently conducted a study of how your customers’ needs are...

The ability to connect your firm’s value proposition with the decision maker’s priority business needs is the foundation you need to get in.

Every piece of correspondence sent to your targeted account must be written specifically for the decision maker with whom you want to meet.

To be irresistible to prospective customers, your writing must accomplish two things: Pique their curiosity by speaking directly to their business issues and challenges. Position your firm as a competent resource capable of making a difference.

Here are a variety of subject lines that you could adapt for your own e-mail account entry campaigns. Subject: Mary Jones suggested I give you a call Subject: Quick question re: waste reduction initiative Subject: Operational efficiency problems in plant Subject: CEO’s office recommended I talk with you Subject: Local tax incentives help firm’s expansion Subject: Need help re: document management issues Subject: Shrinking time-to-market on new product launch Subject: Referred to you by Bob Smith in regional office Subject: Impact of new legislation on your HR group Subject: Increasing sales of Star seafood products Subject: Programming idea for new radio station Subject: How Goodies Restaurants cut absenteeism 34 percent

The last thing you want to do is to talk with someone who’s distracted. Trying to engage people in a discussion when their mind is elsewhere is totally pointless and inane. It’s also very self-absorbed thinking. Treat the person you contact like a human being, not a prospect. If you were calling a colleague, you would: automatically ask if you were interrupting: “Tony. Faith Walston here. Is this an okay time to talk?” (Or, you could say, “Do you have a quick second?”) notice if they sounded distracted and address it head on: “If you’re swamped right now, I don’t want to interrupt. I’d rather catch you when you have a few minutes to talk.” immediately suggest a future contact, initiated by you: “When is a good time to call you back?” There are also phrases you need to avoid when you’re calling a corporate decision maker. These comments get you in trouble nearly every time. Make sure you never say: “Thank you so much for taking my call. I really appreciate it.” This statement makes you sound like you’re a little person not worthy of this attention. It’s not how a peer talks. “I’ll be brief. I know how busy you are.” This remark makes you sound like what you have to talk about isn’t very important. You may think it sounds respectful, but instead it diminishes you. “How are you today?” Avoid using this question and other artificial niceties to get a conversation started. You hate it when telemarketers use these insincere and feeble attempts to warm you up. Don’t make the same mistake. “Can you help me out?” Don’t ask this question when you’re talking to a person whom you know is a decision maker. This query is fine when you’re searching for one, but totally inappropriate when you’re talking to one. Why? Because the next thing you’ll do is ask who makes decisions in this area, which immediately positions you as a seller!

After you pique the decision maker’s interest, continue with a question similar to these: How big of a concern is this for your firm? How satisfied are you with the performance of . . . ? Are you experiencing similar challenges? How concerned are you about your group’s ability to . . . ? Is this something you’re interested in learning more about? What is your organization doing to address these issues? How are you handling the . . . related to the trigger event? Do you feel you’re at risk in this area? Have you analyzed the impact on your organization? What plans do you have in place to help you achieve those stretch goals? Don’t ask tricky or manipulative questions. People hate it when salespeople say, “If I could show you a way to reduce your costs by 50 percent, would you be interested?” Those questions are set-ups, and everyone knows it. They make people feel stupid if they say no, but trapped if they say yes.

Never try to convince prospects that you have a great solution. Instead, use questions to demonstrate your deep knowledge of their most pressing business concerns.

When you feel like decision makers are interested, that’s a good time to suggest the logical next step, the one you’ve determined prior to placing the call. Here are several ways you can easily, gently advance the sales process: “It sounds like what we do could potentially make a difference for your organization. Let’s set up a time to get together to explore this in more depth. Is there anyone else you think should be included in the meeting?” “If your situation is like my other customers’, you could be spending up to 39 percent more than you need to in this area. That’s big dollars we’re talking about. How about scheduling a meeting with a few others in your group who deal with this issue all the time so we can find out?” “With your company’s aggressive growth goals, it’s going to be a challenge in the upcoming year. I have some ideas I’d like to share with you that could help you get there—on time and within budget. Let’s set up a follow-up phone call to talk about this when we both have more time.” Notice how gentle these closing statements are. They simply reiterate a valid business reason for getting together—on the phone or in person—and suggest what could come next. It’s like you’re talking to a peer. You’re probably thinking that this all sounds too low key to be effective. Your perception of sales has been jaded by observing the very worst in this profession, the manipulative hucksters who don’t get into big companies. To be irresistible to corporate decision makers you simply need to keep your focus on their business issues and challenges. It’s all about making a difference for them.

So how do you tackle questions like “What does your company do?” By focusing on the problem and the issues instead of what you sell. When my business was focused on new product launches, here’s how I responded to the prospect’s “tell me more” request: “In most organizations, communication between marketing and sales is sorely lacking at launch time. It’s like they’re in different worlds. When marketing throws the new product over the wall to the sales force, they forget to toss over the tools that the salespeople need to shorten their sales cycles and keep them in the field selling. “Despite the high hopes everyone had for the new product, before too long it’s pretty evident that the launch goals won’t be met. “So, what do we do? We work in the gap between marketing and sales to create the tools and to prepare the sales organization for making highly effective sales calls. “Let me ask you a question: What are the biggest challenges you’re facing in introducing new products to the marketplace?” Notice that this description never once talks about the offering. It really expands on the problem, thus building credibility. Finally, when you end your over view, don’t wait in silence for your prospect’s next question. Have one of your own ready to ask—a question that focuses the attention back on their needs, their issues, and their concerns.

We’re Too Busy Right Now If you hear this, it’s likely a true statement. But the other truth is that they’ll still be too busy in six months or even in a year. So don’t ask politely, “When should I call you back, Ms. Bigwig?” This brush-off requires a bit of provocation—something that’s tough to do if you don’t know the true value of your offering to their business. That’s why understanding your value proposition is so important. If you know the difference your offering makes, then you can confidently say: “Diane, you know as well as I do that six months from now nothing will be different. You’ll still have way too much to do without nearly enough time or resources to get it all done. That’s why we need to talk sooner rather than later. Right now your company is pouring money on this problem with little to show for it. I have some ideas on how to eliminate redundancies in your workflow that can make a big difference almost immediately. How about we get together sometime in the next couple of weeks? It’ll be worth your time.” You have to be pretty confident in your product or service to be able to respond to a prospective customer this way. But let me tell you, it has high impact. They never hear this from sellers. Most back down immediately. This type of response positions you as an expert—someone who really understands their business. Think you might have a hard time pulling it off ? Practice saying your own version of this comeback until you believe yourself. Sometimes that’s what it takes!

You’re Too High Priced (Sophisticated, Complicated) The only sellers who run into this obstacle are from fairly well-known firms. Plus, it’s based on perception, not reality. Think for a second, though, about why it came up. Is it possible that you were talking about your products or services too soon again? Of course it is; they caught you! If you talked about issues like the high cost of employee turnover or knocking six months off their product development cycle, you’d never hear this objection. By making the changes in your opening remarks, you’ll find that this comment disappears. Feel free to treat this obstacle humorously. It’s simply intended to get you off the phone and has no other meaning. So you might respond, “Depends on what you’re trying to accomplish” or “Compared to what?” After listening to their response, redirect the conversation to a focus on business issues.

We Work Only with the Approved Vendor List This brush-off puts you in a real catch-22 unless you understand what’s going on. To get on this list, someone needs to champion your inclusion. The company won’t consider adding you unless a request is made. The only way to deal with this one is head-on. You might say: “Everyone on the Approved Vendor List is there because a sponsor in your company believes their solution is worthwhile. That’s why I’m calling you. What we do makes a big difference for our customers. Again, I’d like to suggest we get together to go over the ideas I mentioned earlier.” This comment should defuse this obstacle—especially if you keep your focus on improving the decision maker’s business.

To avoid sounding pathetic on follow-up calls, don’t ever say something lame like, “I’m just checking in.” These calls are as important as your initial one and require just as much planning. To generate interest over time, stress different aspects of your value proposition, share results your customers have attained, or tempt your prospect with new information. If a decision maker contacts you when you’re not anticipating it, it’s important to have time to gather your thoughts. Thank him or her for calling and ask if you can call back in a few minutes. Always bridge your contacts with decision makers. Reference key points in your letter or voice mail to get them grounded, then ask a question. If you’ve contacted decision makers between eight to twelve times with no success, then move them to a monthly or quarterly follow-up schedule. Their lack of interest is usually a matter of corporate priorities.

Good selling is about creating conversations with decision makers, not pitching. It’s about focusing on their business only. Remember, your offering is only a tool to help them achieve their desired outcomes.

Your prospective clients must know from the onset that your one and only goal is to help them remove obstacles or impediments to reaching their business objectives. Maintaining this focus is the best way to lay the groundwork for a mutually beneficial relationship.

If you focused on your value proposition or shared a customer success story to get your foot in the door, your prospect wants to find out how you helped other firms achieve these same results. Listen carefully to me now. Rather than telling about your process, capabilities, or technology, which you’re probably dying to do, be ready to share the following information at the beginning of your meeting: How customers did things prior to working with your firm The problems they encountered in their operations The business ramifications of these problems The specific value and business outcomes they’ve realized as a result of your relationship When decision makers ask about “how” you did this, be brief and succinct. Simply say something like this: “We put together a customized plan that really addressed their very specific needs and issues.” Or, you could say this: “They utilized one of our new products to get these results. However, at this point I would need to know more to determine if that would be the right option for your firm.” Your goal is to quickly transition to questions so you can learn more about your prospect. Now move into asking questions. That’s the end of your talking for a while. A conversation is a two-way street. It’s time to get the decision maker involved.

If you enticed your prospect to meet with you because you shared an insightful idea, focus on that idea when you meet. However, rather than making it sound like your idea is the perfect solution, position it as a possibility that needs to be explored in more depth. Here’s how you tee that up at the beginning of the meeting: Mention the research you did prior to initiating contact. Point out what you’ve learned from working with other similar clients. Focus on their business issues, critical success factors, and obstacles to success. Bring up what you discovered about the prospect’s business in terms of likely problem areas, bottlenecks, or work arounds. Share ideas about how other customers successfully tackled these same challenges and the results they achieved. Emphasize that you can’t be sure that these same ideas would work for this particular client, but you felt it was worth exploring their situation in more depth. Don’t get sucked into a discussion of your products, services, or solutions. You goal is to start a conversation about their business. After sharing your idea, transition quickly to questions.

What most sellers don’t realize is that the only way to achieve the status of a trusted advisor is by asking pointed questions. Not by blabbing everything they know. Not by telling customers what changes need to be made. Not by talking endlessly about their unique capabilities or technology.

It’s absolutely imperative to develop a list of ten questions to take with you into the meeting. You might think that this makes you look like a rookie, but real pros do it all the time.

Neil Rackham’s groundbreaking sales research showed that the ability to ask good questions was the single biggest differentiator between top sellers and average sellers.

When you start asking questions, focus on the customer’s current situation as it relates to the problems you solve or objectives you can help them achieve. To avoid sounding like a police interrogator, try to create bigger questions that elicit fuller answers. A few years ago I coached a sales representative who was very excited about a new product his company had introduced. We role-played a call he was going to make the next week at a large corporate account. He asked me a hundred questions in just a few minutes, some of which were: What system do you use for this application? What software are you using? How long have you had it? Who do you use for support? Where does the information go when you’re done with your job? What system is that person using? “Stop,” I finally said, putting my hands over my ears. “All you need is one question.” He gave me one of those “yeah-sure” looks. “Just say to your customer, ‘Tell me how the work flows through your operation,’” I said. “When your customer answers, you’ll learn what’s going on. The rest of your questions will come out during the course of normal conversation.” Also, don’t ever ask a question about information that’s readily accessible to the public. It makes you look stupid—and that’s the last way you want to be perceived.

You can’t help customers improve their business unless you’re willing to be uncomfortable. Selling is not about you. It’s about solving current and future problems. If you’re truly a customer-focused person, you must ask questions about what’s wrong. Questions that uncover problems and gaps have evaluative words in them. Key words to include in problem or gap questions include: Bottlenecks Challenges Barriers Concerns Difficulties Issues Problems Improvements Troubles Dissatisfaction Changes Frustrations Ask the decision maker questions specifically related to the business problems your offering solves. We talked about this earlier in Chapter 7: Strengthening Your Value Proposition. Look at the problems you listed. Develop questions around these problems to find out if your customer considers them to be significant issues. For example, you might ask questions such as: What are your most pressing problems related to . . . ? What are the primary challenges you face in growing your business? Where do the bottlenecks occur? What are the biggest barriers to achieving your goals? What improvements are needed to increase your operational efficiency? Based on how you’re doing things today, what are the biggest concerns? When customers share their answers, be curious and learn more about their issues. Specifically, you’ll want to know why they consider it a problem.

Whenever you uncover an area of concern related to the solutions you provide, do not jump in and start talking about your offering. Instead, keep asking questions that uncover the “ripple effect” of the problems you’ve discovered. Again, this was covered in earlier discussions related to your value proposition. Review the business implications of the problems that customers experience when they don’t work with your company. Then create insightful questions that engage the decision maker in exploring the consequences of their current methodology. Key words to include in these questions include impact, consequences, affect, implications, effect, and ramifications. Examples of questions you might ask include: How do these problems impact profitability? How does the difficulty with . . . affect (other area)? What are the implications for your organization if those problems aren’t addressed successfully? You mentioned turnover was an issue. How is that impacting your training costs? Hiring costs? Error rate? Customers like these kinds of questions because they make them think. They also give you lots of good information to build a business case for your offering. Top sellers ask significantly more of these types of questions than average sellers.

After you’ve explored the business implications of your customer’s problems, it’s time to determine the payoff they get from resolving them. When customers answer these questions, they tell you how their business would be better if their problems were resolved. In essence, the customers sell themselves. Top sellers are extremely proficient at asking these types of questions. Most average sellers rarely ask them. These questions are positive and solution-oriented. Key words to include in these questions are help, important, value, useful, benefit, assist, aid, and worth. Here are some sample questions you could ask that would help determine the value from your customer’s perspective: If that problem were solved, what value would it provide to your organization? Why is it important for you to fix . . . ? Help me understand why cutting turnaround time would benefit your group? Are there any other ways it would help? What is it worth to you to free up additional space? After you ask these questions, lean back and listen—even if you’re talking to this person on the phone. Keep exploring your customer’s answers for as long as you can. Make sure you take good notes too because what you learn can be invaluable. Good questions are the key to turning merely frustrated prospects into active buyers looking to resolve their problems. Create a list of ten primary questions you want to ask when you talk with corporate decision makers. This list guides you in creating a sales conversation and keeps your focus on your prospective customer—exactly where it belongs.

What Do You Do If They Really, Really Want to Talk about Your Product or Service? Find out immediately if this is something they’ll be making a decision on in the upcoming weeks. If they haven’t committed to making a change, then it’s likely you’ve created this situation yourself by talking about your offering too much. Very politely say, “Mr. Biggie, we’ve been talking about my offering too much. The real issue is if it will help you achieve your objectives. That’s something we’ve barely touched on. I’ve prepared some questions that can help us determine if it’s a good business decision for your firm.” Then, ask a question.

What Do You Do If They Ask about Price Right Away? Once again, this is a problem you created yourself by talking about your offering too soon. At best, you can deflect the question by talking in generalities. For example, you might say, “Based on what we determine works best for your situation, it could range from nothing to $50,000. What we really need to do is analyze what’s going on in your business in more depth.” Then transition to a question focused on their business issues and challenges.

What Do You Do If You Catch Yourself Leaning Forward and Starting “The Pitch?” Apologize to your prospects for getting carried away and talking about your offering. Tell them that much as you love your product, what’s most important is to determine if it would provide business value to their organization. Then slowly lean back and ask another question.

One thing I haven’t touched on at all is how to attract clients to your business without making outbound calls. I’d strongly advise you to consider how you might leverage a variety of public relations strategies, speaking, writing, and the Internet to make this happen—especially if what you’re selling is your expertise. These are long-term strategies that may take several years to deliver results, but they work incredibly well. However, when you need clients now, making sales calls is essential.

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