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What If I Hadn’t Called?0

By Tibor Shanto

As most of you know I am a regular proponent of making cold calling part of your prospecting mix.  Beyond the logic of expanding your tool kit to include all things that lead to engagement, how you engage with your prospects will very much inform and shape the conversation you have with prospects.   The dynamics of an inbound call are very different than those on a call that interrupts and disrupts their day, and their current direction.

When I cold call someone, and get the appointment, I have an advantage over others.  Namely, the prospect has clearly indicated that they have an interest in the areas I raised in the initial cold call, but unlike those “57% of the journey buyers”, they haven’t started down a path.  This allows me, as the subject matter expert, to explore in a much more proactive fashion than with a buyer who comes to me with preconceptions and a “product” they are looking for already in mind.  Cold callers end up selling to a much more curious, and open-minded buyer.

Read on…

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Yes, all the same great content and more!
Our new home: www.TiborShanto.com. We’ll still keep things here for a while, but this same great post is also available at

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Child in calss

You Don’t Have To Answer0

By Tibor Shanto

It seems many in sales feel the best way to show how smart they are, is to have all the answers at the ready, and feel compelled to bark an answer as soon as the prospect asks, sometimes even before.  I would suggest that even when you know the answer, no element of doubt, offering it up like a candy dispenser, will not lead to the prospect thinking you are smart by virtue of knowing answer, and certainly does not guarantee the deal.

I know some will be hard to convince, but you need to look at questions and answers as props in a play, where the plot and theme are centred around the prospect, their objectives, and things they are looking to, or more often, willing to change.  So, while being right is great for grade 8 English test, it may move the dial the wrong way in a given deal.

Just as the questions you ask are designed to create a learning experience for both buyer and seller, and allow you to take the meeting in certain directions, so do answers.

Too Soon

Prospects will in their own way prepare for meetings as well, and when they are focused on addressing something, they want to get to that point, just like sellers want to get to their point.  As experienced sellers will tell you, that facts and reality are sometimes best doled out in bits and pieces, and these are tied to the buyer’s state of readiness.  This is not so important if you are selling products to “informed” and predictable buyers looking for what they bought last time, and neither you or the buyer are inclined to change, learn or improve.

But if your success is based on helping buyers achieve a future state, one different than their current state, one that represents change, or as they think of it as “risk”, then it will likely involve educating and motivating that buyer.  There is a reason they call it a journey, it allows the buyer to evolve on the way to the destination.

Our role as sellers is to ensure the buyers gain an understanding of the specifics at hand.  Individual buyers we deal with, are part of a group of buyers, often with varying opinions and wish lists.  This means they need to both understand and explain the change you are proposing to others in the process, meaning that a “just in time” approach to answers will likely serve you better than spewing facts.

Child in calssNot Every Question Deserves An Answer

That’s right, there is no law that says that all questions have to be answered immediately, or at all.  Sometimes buyers ask questions not purely out of a need for an answer, but for example, as a way of thinking out loud.  Based experience, you know that certain question show a state of unreadiness on the part of the buyer.  Answering the question, now or too soon, may confirm some wrong assumptions, or limit your ability to explore areas later; another good reason to review all opportunities, won, lost or “no decision”.

There is also the opportunity to demonstrate your organization’s “deep bench”.  You can introduce experts and specialist to respond.  Setting that meeting will allow you to surface and involve others in the process, by setting up a meeting to introduce your expert(s) to their team.  It also allows you to ensure that they form relationships with those in a better position to ensure success after the signature.  Something that if it came to you, would cause you to not “sell”, and delays in resolving the clients issues.

Knowing the answer is one things, what makes you an expert seller, not a product or fact expert, is how you use and dispense the answers in a way that drives the buyer’s and you objectives.

Hey – We’re moving

Yes, all the same great content and more!
Our new home: www.TiborShanto.com
We’ll still keep things here for a while, but this same great post is also available at
www.TiborShanto.com/blog

Come and visit, see what’s new!

Young Woman Traveler Journey Concept

Confusing Journey With Destination0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

I spent the weekend with some friends who were planning an overseas vacation next spring.  This is something they have wanted to do for some time, they have been saving up money, vacation days, and sacrificed in other ways, in order to make the trip everything they wanted.  You can sense the energy of anticipation that is going into every element of the planning, and ensuring that the trip lives up to everything they imagined and more.

When speaking to them about the trip, they talk about the unique destinations they plan to visit, food they plan to try, experiences they hope will live up to or exceed expectations.  What was striking is that over the course of the hour or so we talked about their trip, the subject how they were getting to where they were going did not come up.  There was actually one point where they talked about have to traverse a winding mountain side road, but again the focus was not the means of travel, but the experience and life changing experiences and memories.

There is a subtle lesson for sellers in the above example.  Namely that people are much more focused on the outcomes and experiences than how they got to those experiences; simply stated, most people are much more focused on the end than the means.  It is accurate to say that for most business people, as long as the means are ethical and legal, what counts is the outcome.

While it has been a positive that many sellers now spend time and effort on understanding the “buyer’s journey”, there is a risk in relating to the journey strictly through our own filters and needs as sellers, and over emphasising how “our product” is right for the journey.  Sellers need to do a better job of focusing on the outcomes, and the possibilities they deliver for the buyer, rather than the features of our “solution”, how it addresses one or two elements of the journey, while ignoring and confusing what the buyer set out to accomplish on their journey, with the “how” of traveling the journey.

You can look at this in the following way.  We do an exercise with reps of all skills, experience, and offerings.  We ask them a simple question: “what do you sell?”  With all the talk about being customer centric, and being driven by the buyer’s journey, the most typical answers we get, actually contradict their stated intent.  80% of the responses to that question talk to deliverables.  “We sell software”, “we sell hardware, solutions, integration, systems, trucking services, etc.”  All good, all accurate, and for the most part miss speaking to the buyer’s journey.

Buyers set out to buy results, outcomes, specific changes in their business.  This is as true for commodities as it is for so called “complex solutions”.  Look around within your company or even department.  When was the last time you heard your VP of Sales, “I wanna buy me a piece of software that will process leads based on an algorithm designed to….”  No, it is more likely they will talk about the impact that app would have on their pipeline, conversion rates, leading to increased revenues, margins, cash-flows, impact on funding, etc.

Just like my friends, they are more focused on the destination and the experience of that, not the journey.  While in some aspect of life it is more about the journey than the destination, in sales success is measured by the destination.

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Financial analyst and stock broker business concept as a human face wearing reflective glasses with arrows going up and down as a metaphor for having the vision for forecasting and analizing economic direction.

What’s My Future In Sales?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

There is a lot of discussion around the role of technology in sales, advances in AI (you decide what the A stands for), and its impact on the role of and future of sales people.  There is no doubt that technology will continue to change the process of revenue generation, maintenance and growth, but that’s nothing new.  In any given decade as technology is introduced, the sales tribe is the first to adopt.  We are the ones who figure out how to leverage new tech to make more money, sales ops figure out how to take cost out of the cycle, driving even greater margins.

But any conversation about “sales” and technology, should really be framed not as discussion of sales, but revenue.  Revenue, across the entire “client life cycle”, in that context, sales, or specifically, the act of selling, is but one small part of the cycle.  Selling here is defined as the initial point of persuading someone who is not doing business with you, to do business with you.  A small part of the larger revenue cycle, a crucial one, one that enables the flow of revenue, but it is a small part in the context of the “client life cycle”.  That front piece is different than the rest of the rest of the cycle.

Financial analyst and stock broker business concept as a human face wearing reflective glasses with arrows going up and down as a metaphor for having the vision for forecasting and analizing economic direction.

This why once the client has been persuaded, in most instances, the client managed by a different set of people with different skills.  This is even more pronounced in today’s “disintermediated” sales environment, or as some would like to call it, “sales specialization”.  No matter the label, the reality is that the person with making the initial sale, is not the one tasked with ensuring “customer experience”, fulfilment and support, “account management”, or growth, or renewal.  Taken as a whole, it’s all sales, but we all know it is a hockey team, yes, it’s all the Habs, but no one looks for the goalie to score, or a centre to stand between the pipes.

Which brings us to tech’s impact on sales, more specifically the discussion of “salespeople” being displaced by tech.  I would argue that if we took the “client life cycle”, the continuing revenue cycle, some parts are much more vulnerable to being out done by tech and replaced by tech.  In fact, the further you are in the process, the more at risk you are to being “Amazoned”.

The critical point, is the ability to persuade someone to change what they are doing now, and buy your offering or service from you, the thing hunters do.  While tools and tech can help score leads, nurture them, even get them to the point of engagement.  This may be easy for that small part of the market that is actively looking, ready to buy, and are just looking for the right vendor.  But when it comes to that 70% plus part of the market that is in Status Quo, not interacting with the market.  It takes real skill to engage with someone who has not given any thought to engaging, changing or buying.  This is the very reason that closed opportunities are handed off to people with other skills, and out of the hands of hunters, and given to people with different skills; skills I would argue easily replace by automation, which will likely do it more efficiently.

So, if you are a hunter, with the unique EQ, IQ, and skills to lead and persuade, you need not worry about displaced.  If you are downstream from the signature, Alexa has your number.

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Man in Square

Push and Pull In Sales0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Picture an weighty, rectangular object, placed in the middle square of nine squares; your task is to move the object to another square on the grid, a square other than the one you found it in. Ignoring the tools and resources you may want to utilize, there only three things that are going to happen;

  • You’re going to lift it (in this case maybe a crane, so will move to the next)
  • You’re going to push it
  • You’re going to pull it

Now let’s apply that to a prospect, the square they are in represents their current state, and the square they end up in, represents their state, where they are, after a purchase decision. With about a third of all opportunities going into B2B pipelines ending in no decision, the reality is that about a third of the time the square they end up in is the one they started in.

Man in SquareA key influence as to whether you will need to push, is the prospect’s current state. A small percentage will be easy to push, because they know they want to leave the square they are in, and know which square they want to move to, and why; all they need from you is a little push. I was talking to someone selling specialized ERP, and he was saying that this is only 5% of his market at any given time, small. But the vast majority of the market, has no reason to leave their familiar square, and given that they are busy improving their square, they don’t see the grass as being greener in the other square, and are too busy to care. To move these prospects, you’re going to have to “pull”.

Pulling here adds up to enticing them to see you as being able to deliver and exceed everything they set out to do in their square, but better; the only catch being that to do they need to be in a different square. You can try to push these buyers, but they do not react the same way as the willing 5%. These prospects have “to be led to”, and you have to do the leading. If you can lead in a way that they will follow, you can move them.

Getting them to follow involves many things, but two are a must:

  • Your vision for their future state has to exceed their vision (from their perspective)
  • It has to appear that you (more accurately your expertise), is the only path

Clearly these two go hand in hand, excelling at one, while not fully leveraging the other will not do; and both require that you demonstrate and reinforce your status as a subject matter expert.

The more and better they recognize and accept your SME status, the more effective you will be. Here we are not talking about your product expertise, but your expertise in helping prospects get the most out of their square. When you show them something they missed; something they had not considered or missed, that would have had an unanticipated outcome, a negative vis-à-vis their objectives, they will follow you. This could be unanticipated risk, something that impacts their cost structure or funding that in turn eats into margin; something that completely alters their supply chain in a way they hadn’t envisioned; or other factors like time. As with most successful sales approaches, it is not about product, need, or pain, but about changing the buyer’s state. BTW, addressing a single pain, no matter how well, generally just stabilizes the buyer in their current square, but will not get them to follow you, just puts them back on their current path, pain free.

All of these and many more, will allow you to create a reason for them to follow you, and as a result for you to pull them forward to another square.

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VR

The Change Game0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

No matter how one slices it, sales is a game of change. If you are the incumbent, the best way to avoid a client to change vendors, is to continuously introduce change in how your product helps the client achieve their objectives. If you are not the incumbent, then it is all about regime change. Both require that you capture and maintain the buyer’s focus, and have them adopt the change you represent. At its core, it is about first changing how the buyer/prospect views their reality. To do that, you need to do two things:

  1. Fully understand the buyer’s current view of their current state
  2. Get them to change their current view of their current state

Buyer Current State

This is not as easy as it first sounds, which why many sellers ignore it, and pay the price. Main reason is that it requires that we completely let go of our product and service, and immerse ourselves, not so much in the buyer’s view of our product, but their world, how they see it, where they see it going, why and how. Before you can change their view of their current state, you need to “live it”, so you can look at the issue the way they do, not the way you hope they do, or think they do.

It has been shown that opportunities have a greater likelihood to fall apart long before the talk of vendor or selection begins. Once they (buyer(s)), agree that there is a specific worth addressing, they then go on to see if and how it can be addressed. It is only once everyone agrees that that it is indeed addressable and how, does the internal conversation on the buy side turns to with whom, i.e. which vendor(s).

They may turn to the vendor community for information in the middle phase, but it is really for subject specific not product or solution specific info. Many vendors confuse this as a signal to pitch, when the buyer is actually looking for insights on the issue, how it impacts them and their objectives, and what others have done, see, and thought about in this stage, they are not looking for product stuff, they are not there yet mentally. And if you lead with product at this stage, you are putting your chances of being considered in the selection stage at risk.

So without an understanding of their current state, and how that state informs their views and actions; you will not be able to see what it will influence their views in a way that leads them to a view, which by extension, leads your product. Changing their state, their objectives, and the filters blinders, starts with you adopting their view, not hoping that they adopt yours.

Key here are their objectives, if you can align to those, especially those agreed on internally in the first stage “is this addressable?”, then you will be in a position to share how others have dealt with things, not how your product changed things.

The goal is to change their vision and outlook, and the impacts they want to deliver to their organization, it is not about getting them to change vendors to do the same as they are with their current vendor, with slightly fresher hue. It really is about doing something different, not just doing things differently #sellbetter Click To Tweet.

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Stop (640x427)

Pitch – Please!0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Despite the talk, the training, the tools, and everything else sales people have been exposed to and have access to, it is still interesting (disappointing) how fast most sellers, even those who hit quota, will resort to product in a sale. They may want to pretend that they are not, they may want to dress things up, but in the end what they deliver is a Pitch. While many will argue that as long as it gets the job done, except it is that view that leads to inconsistencies in results, rather than predictable outcomes that result from professional selling, rather than professional order taking.

One reason many resort to pitching is their failure to understand the business drivers behind the purchase the buyer is undertaking. This is especially prevalent with many one trick pony companies, where each product, and thereby each sale, is just one singular component in “the stack”. This allows reps to fall into the trap of knowing their slice best, and not having to worry about the big picture. To be clear, this laziness is present and abundant in other sales teams as well, it is just most prevalent with products that address one particular need.

Stop (640x427)The problem is that economic buyers do not set out to buy things. They usually set out to achieve things, at times these can be simple things that do not require a lot of process, like “I need to buy toner”. But with “solutions”, or more involved purchases, buyers are more often driven by a result they are trying to achieve. They often don’t care how that result is achieved as long as it is legal and cost effective. Which is why pitching product, or features, or even ROI’s lead to longer sales.

The ‘pitch” is usually centered on “how, and how well, we do what we do”, just think of your average “elevator pitch”. Some evolve to what makes “the how we do that” by adding what makes their process unique, hence the Unique Selling Proposition, but it is still about what we do and how, not necessarily why that is good for the buyer, just that it is unique from the others doing a similar thing. Still little about the outcomes, and “what’s in it for the buyer”. This leaves the buyer to figure out how well the pitch aligns with their objective.

Some smart marketers figured out that if they change the label to Value Proposition, from selling Proposition, they could catch more fly with that honey. But still a pitch.

To truly be unique, you should define your value vis-à-vis objectives the buyer is trying to achieve, results they are looking to deliver to their business. To do that you have to think more like they do, less like the day to day user of the product, and more like the ultimate beneficiary of the output of your product. To do that, you need to look at the world through their perspective rather than the product or sales perspective. I seriously doubt your buyers are reading the latest sales book, sales guide, or someone’s thesis on resurrecting some secret black art. They are more likely reading business books related to running their business, and the latest in that thinking. For every one of my posts you read, you should read a post written not for sales people, but your buyer, read an engineering blog, consume a journal from the professional association of your buyer. Read anything that allows you to have a conversation with your buyer about their world, not yours. That conversation will take further than the best value prop or USP. It’ll help you avoid driving your buyer to think “pitch – please”.

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Victorius businessman

What’s Your Buyer’s Closing Ratio0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

While it is important to understand your personal metrics, mostly as a means of improving your use of time, and to develop an ongoing improvement process. While many know some of their metrics and conversion rates, few take time to explore and understand their prospects’ closing average or ratio. It’s easy to see why, you find yourself in front of what appears to a willing prospect, sharing what they want to do, why they are thinking of doing it, all while asking you questions that your manager taught you are “buying signals”.

Victorius businessmanInstinctively you feed the fire, figuring that the more information you provide and gather, the more your share with them, the more likely they are to finish their journey with you. All is good till the last scene, curtains close without a deal. Would have been helpful had you had an inclination earlier in the sale, when you may have been able to change the outcome. The change in outcome does not always mean a closed deal, but saved time, energy and refocus on better opportunities in your pipeline.

No matter how good things look, professionals in all fields know that the fundamentals need to be present no matter what the immediate circumstances look like. A key fundamental in sales is not just to understand the buyer’s buying process, but their buying habits or patterns.

No matter how bright and rosy things appear at any time during the cycle, it is important to confirm and validate. Failing to do that leads to a familiar situation for us all, i.e. no deal at the end.

How & Why

This is where asking two specific type of questions, from a couple of different directions will give you window the buyer’s buying habits, or let’s be real, a prospect’s “kicking tires” habits.

The Why

The why – as you’re are going through the Discovery process, ask why they choose the current thing (product, service, etc.) you are exploring with them. What they respond is important, but more interesting is how they respond. Someone involved with the decision will have not just more details, and as a result lay out more dots, but will also be able to tell you why those dots connect, and how they prefer them connecting. Someone who was tangential to the decision will deliver the same headlines, but no detail. Someone involved in the decision would describe things in first person terms, while those who were not, say implementers, will use third party description. You will also see who was able to drive a decision, and who could not; in the case of the latter, listen for who internally they blame for the decision, (or lack of one), those are the people you should pursue to connect and bring into the current cycle.

You will also get a window into how progressive and early to adopt they are, or are they the type that wait second or third iteration of a technology.

The How

Now that you have a sense around how they deal with their “whys”, why change, why that, or more like why not, it is time to turn to how they select based on the why.

“So now I understand why you chose to go with that kind of database, help me understand how you selected ACME Corp as the vendor?”

Much like above, you will be clearly able to tell if they were in the thick of it, or someone that was not invited to the offsite where the decision was really made. People may want to embellish, but you will be able to have a good view wit the right questions.

The reality is that everyone will paint a positive picture in the start, even the “Brochure Scouts” sent to gather information. Exploring their role in past similar decisions will help you gauge their closing average, which has a direct impact on yours.

Bottom

Win lose draw dice

Let’s Make A Decision!0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

We’ve all been there, a real-life version of the popular game show. You’ve done your work, and have arrived at that final fateful stage of the sales.

Three possibilities, three doors:

  1. A positive Decision
  2. A negative Decision
  3. No Decision

While it is clear which door the individual sales person want, the question is how to get that. Much of that will depend on the state of the buyer and their organization at the time of decision. Broadly speaking three sates: 1) Actively looking, those people out there consuming all the content you dangle in front of them as they willingly march down their buying journey. You know all about these folks, 57% of the way… blah blah blah. They know what they want, why, and they are geared to get it. 2) Passively looking, they know they have to make a purchase, but they are not driven by the same urgency as their Active cousins. The things these two groups have in common include that they know they have to make a purchase, one now, the other sometime in the next 12 to 18 months. The other, is that they are both at the point of choosing the product, and will most likely end up with doors number 1 or 2. The other thing to consider is that these two groups make up less than 30% of the over target market.

But if you are only selling to this small group of buyers, an informed and opinionated set of buyers, you are most likely facing a decision based on price, features, or both. The good thing is that while you may not like the decision, at least you’ll get one.

What about the remaining 70%, the Status Quo, the complacent, set in their way, completely oblivious and removed from the market? Unlike Active or passive buyers, these people are not even thinking of playing, never mind deciding. Which is one of the key factors behind the high and rising number of deals that end up behind door number 3, no decision! According to sources some 30% of opportunities going into the top of your funnel will end in no decision. Take out the Active and Passive folks, who will make a decision, even when not in our favour, this means about half of deals initiated with Status Quo buyers go nowhere. Not the best use of time or resources.

While there a host of reason for this, but I think the key is what we are selling these folks. Because most sellers are practiced at selling to Folks who have made the decision to act, and are now down to selecting a product. Status Quo people are much further back down the road, they need to be convinced that a change is necessary. When we are successful at doing that, then they enter the product, or if you like, the solution, selection phase. The reason half don’t make a product decision is we were not successful at showing them why they need to leave the safety and warmth of their current means of doing things. Without that, they don’t need to decide on a product, feature, price or any of the common features of a buyer initiated and driven sale. Active and Passive buyers do most of the lifting, they just need someone to place an order with once they made up their mind.

Win lose draw diceSuccess with getting Status Quo buyers rests in being able to engage them on how they do things now, how that aligns with or detracts from their objectives. If we fail to get them to understand that there is another way to achieve those objectives, there is no need for a product decision.

Forget what makes you successful in winning what’s behind doors number 1 & 2, to win what’s behind door number 3, you need to create a reason for them to have to decide, this is about everything but the product. Active and Passive buyers have made the decision to decide on their own, leaving the sellers who service them no opportunity to exercise by sales people who are only selling to these buyers. Frankly a challenge for many inbound types, and others.

Adding to the challenge is that as soon as we go “product” with these buyers, they turn off, for them that is putting the cart way, way ahead of the horse. Your options need to look to their internal processes, and how those are enabling or preventing them from achieving current objectives, or objectives you can get them to adopt. The half of Status Quo buyers who choose not to make a decision, are not rejecting your product, but your inability to persuade based on anything other than product.

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sillhouette of cheering fan in stadium

Participants vs. Observers0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Ask sales people why they lose deals and most will offer either price or some aspect of the product that led to their demise. I bet the over 40% B2B reps who fail to attain quota in a given year will also lean on the same crutch. While I understand the defence mechanism, you have to wonder when they will face the truth, and actually consider that it is the way they sell that leads to the results they get, nothing else.

Before I go on, it is important to mention that the sales person is not in this alone, the things I will speak to below are not just the fault of the individual seller. Their organizations and immediate manager are complicit in this, and not only enable, but often encourage, with the help of pundits, the behaviour that continues to plague sales, and leads to the results sellers see.

The problem is that most sellers (and their managers, and in many cases leaders in their respective organizations) are nothing more than observers, spectators if you will, rather than full time participants in the arena they are selling in. Being a spectator gives one a great vantage point, but not the same vantage point, or experience, as the actual on field players have. The best sellers, learn to observe and speak to things from the perspective of the player on the field, a real participant, not just the perspective of a super fan, which is how many sellers come across to buyers as. “Enthusiastic, informed, empathetic, but clearly hasn’t walked a mile in my shoes, and does not get the detail required to understand my view” is how one buyer put it.

Here’s a live example, I was working with a group of telco, IT wannabe sellers. At one point the question of why should or do people buy from you or your company?

sillhouette of cheering fan in stadium

Rep: We help them be more productive
Me: How?
Rep: We increase their people’s productivity.
Me: OK, give me an example, how do you make them more proactive?
Rep: We increase efficiencies
Me: How?
Rep: By increasing productivity
Me: OK, I’m with you, give me an example

You can hear the gears grinding, smoke ever so slowly seeping out of the ears, he wants to go to price but realizes the VP in the back of the room had him in the cross hairs.

In a last-ditch attempt to salvage the moment, he went for it:

Rep: We help them eliminate their pain points by offering the right solution.

Yup, that should cover it all, I didn’t have it in me to ask what pain, and what he was gonna solve with his solution.

Sure this may seem humours, till my role is played by an actual buyer, in the real world, who is actually a day to day participant in the “game”, not a “spots center” hack who may know the game, the players, and the rules, just hasn’t spend any time on the real field.

You can fake a lot of things in sales, but your buyer will know in a second if you are a real participant who can make a difference to them, or second rate color commentator who can’t contribute to the game.

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