Help 1

I Need Some Help0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Despite the state of discourse in general these days, in a one on one settings, like a sales meeting for instance, most people are helpful by nature. As a sales professional, we need to walk the line of leveraging that to help us make a sale, while not taking advantage of it.

I know some days it is hard to convince you that people are helpful, especially when someone just hung up on you, or you’ve run out of ideas how to get a response from someone who said thy were ready and would have the order ready a month ago. But, when you can put those moments aside, there are things you can do to help both the prospect and you succeed.

As with many elements of sales that are more subjective in nature, how effective we are will be influenced by personalities, and how you approach things.  People who naturally social, who draw attention the minute they walk in the room, find soliciting help much easier than another rep who may take a more cerebral style; the difference is in how they solicit help, not their ability to leverage people’s helpful nature.

A simple example is one used by many in prospecting into companies they have not dealt with before, ya, cold calling.  One lady I worked with does this extremely well, she pours her maternal self into every call, and with the warmest and “lost voice” she will call her intended target, and start with the following:

Seller: Is this Mr. Chapman?
Prospect: yes,
Seller: I am hoping you can help me.

Help 1

She then goes on to introduce what she sells, not a product riff, but as a true graduate, she speaks to objectives and outcomes she and her company have delivered to other similar buyers.  She ends her intro by asking:

“Who should I be talking to about that?”

When the person identifies themselves as the right party, she continues:

“Wow, that was fortunate, ….”  She then continues to close on the appointment.

It is important to remember that this does not guarantee an opportunity, people will still evaluate the premise of the offering, timing, and more.  But she does have more conversations, and is able to explore further than in scenarios where the call does not start with a call for help.

The main reason for this, is that by asking for help, we help the mind focus and understand that they are looking for an answer to the caller’s “dilemma”.  When they get a plain cold call, it is perceived as an interruption, and the mind listens and weighs their perception of the call vs. being interrupted. As soon as it is labeled an interruption, the mind shifts to “we gotta get rid of this disruption, and get back to my work.”  When we start by asking for help, the mind shifts to “I gotta listen and see if and how I can help.”  Again, I am not suggesting that asking for help will lead to an instant prospect, but it will lead to a more attentive one, and by extension, and better shot.

Hope that helped!

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Apple in calss

Educate To Sell0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

I was in the audience for a panel looking at sales, and the future of sales (yes, another). What made this a wee bit more interesting is they actually had some buyers on the panel, bringing a level of reality often absent from such affairs. One CEO made a comment that at first seems basic, but when expanded on his experience, it was easy to see why we as sellers think we are doing something, the buyer completely misses, or misinterprets.

He spoke of how he measures a good meeting, a simple measure, but as he says often not achieved by sellers. He feels that is a meeting with a sales person makes him think, look at something in a tangibly different way as a result of the meeting with the rep, and best of all, if he learned something new. If the seller was able to challenge some of his assumptions, and preconceptions, it often led to one or more of the above measures. He was asked if he had heard of the Challenger Sale, and if those were the type of sellers he was looking to work with? He said he was aware of the book, and as he said he has had “the pleasure of participating in meetings where sales professional challenged in the way the book spells out, and others, where the sales people just play point-counterpoint, the only challenge there is making it through the meeting.”

Many in sales will agree that it is the role of a seller to educate their buyer, the question is how that is done. Think back to school, who were the best teachers, the ones that made you think, reconsider your view, and help you take on new concepts and practices? While there is a Madison Ave image of the teacher, a lecturer dispensing information and lessons. These are the ones where you sat in class and asked if it was on the test, if so you retained it, if not, why take up storage space.

However, most people remember those teachers who left a lasting mark or impression; more importantly, taught them how to think about a scenario or situation, in a way that leads to analysis and understanding. These educators, the best educators, start with engagement. Engagement is more than just being present, many executives sit through meeting, nod politely, but not be engaged. No engagement = no understanding = no purchase.

Apple in calssTo engage, you have to get them to think, as Gerald Bostock told us, “I may make you feel, but I can’t make you think”. Getting them to think takes questions, planned, scripted questions based on experience, and expertise. The right questions interrupt a racing mind; while they may be in the room, most busy buyers are thinking about the next meeting, or the one after that. Good strategic questions, based on your 360 Deal View work, keep the buyer present, and open to ideas they would miss when drifting in though. At the same time, as Dorothy Leeds explains in her The 7 Powers of Questions: Secrets to Successful Communication in Life and at Work, questions get people to think, and that’s always good, especially these days.

Evidence of engagement is when they are not just willing to share info, but crucial information about gaps in their thinking, and how they can address the issues you are exploring with them. Meeting that advance the buyer’s knowledge, also advance their confidence, and willingness to buy something other than what they thought at the start of the meeting. We have all been to meetings where there was a lot of information exchanged, but no one left any smarter, or more willing to buy. As with most good education, it has a purpose and a destination, so should your sales meetings.

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Rain

Risk vs. Uncertainty0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Risk and certainty are not the same, but listening to the way many speak, it is easy to get the impression that even native English speakers often mix and interchange the two.  In most instances or conversation this misuse (or abuse) of the two may not matter or have tangible consequences, but in sales, well, they do.

At a basic level, with risk we are dealing with the known or experience backed estimate or assumptions.  If we look at actuarial work, they assess the risk, based on data and other factors, and then calculate what it will take to cover or mitigate the risk.   

Certainty speaks to the unknown, right out of the dictionary:

not clearly identified or defined; a fire of uncertain origin. 

Certainty or uncertainty may be a component of the factors people will use to calculate risk, but it is always the unknown element.

When it comes to selling it is not a question of right or wrong, but ensuring the seller and buyer are talking about the same thing, otherwise we sellers, may be introducing unnecessary risk into our sales.

Buyer may be uncertain about a number of things related to their purchase, which impacts the level of risk they perceive.  Some of that uncertainty may be around the new direction they are embarking on that may require services like yours.  Others may be certain they are on the right path, but uncertain you are the right travel mate or partner embark with.  One way to manage this is providing insight and knowledge to help the buyer understand, and reduce their uncertainty.

RainSome believe they do this but they do not.  An example would be ROI calculators or marketing contrived scenarios.  These are not bad, but are usually product or vendor centric.  They take a “real life” scenario, which is usually not based on the average experience, but the absolute best-case scenario, usually one your current buyer does not always relate to.  This adds to their uncertainty about whether you understand what they are looking to achieve, adding to both their uncertainty and the risk to you getting the deal.

According to The B2B Buying Disconnect – TrustRadius 2017, buyers find sellers focus on providing material that buyers don’t find very useful or trustworthy, they don’t trust all vendor claims, nor do they expect to, especially when sellers overemphasize selection criteria that aren’t important to buyers.  But buyer do want something that vendors have in but fail to fully leverage, satisfied customers, prospects want hands-on experience with the product and insights from customers.   A clear indication that sellers are adding to the uncertainty with their approach.

Sellers often know the outcomes or impacts they seek, but have no clear ideas on how to get there.  This is where sellers make the mistake of only focusing on risks they perceive prospects may focus on while comparing providers.  When they do this instead of dealing with the buyer’s uncertainty first, they are adding risk to their chances of winning the deal.  Sellers need to understand buyer uncertainty, once they have removed, minimized or isolated the buyer’s uncertainty sufficiently, they can turn to dealing with the inherent risk. Sellers actually increase the risk in the deal if they do not deal with uncertainty first, especially if that uncertainty is not around vendor, but on the means to an end, specifically their objectives.  By failing to deal with uncertainty, they elevate risk.

One way to deal with this, as I have stated in the past, is to leave the product in the car, and go in with the goal of understanding their objectives, gaps and hurdles in their way to achieving those objectives.  This will help them articulate their uncertainty; you can leverage the tension between what they want and what is driving their inability to achieve them, the very things causing their uncertainty.  Creating clarity, removing doubt, will not only allow them to attribute value to dealing with you, but also reduce perception of risk on their side.

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girl by phone

Social Ends When The Phone Rings0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

The reason you need to integrate social selling, traditional phone work, and other elements of prospecting, is to ensure that you are covering all bases the process of converting a stranger, into a bonified pipeline opportunity. This means using the right tool at the right time, not as some would have you believe, using one tool “über alles”; but rather using the right tool for the task at hand along each step of the process.

Social selling, and the use of social media is key to learning about the target industry, the specific company, certainly for understanding the individual you are pursuing, or more accurately the image your target is projecting on social media. Remember the lessons learned from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are. There is no shortage of materials available on how you can leverage LinkedIn, ABM and more, on how to smooth the path to first contact. But for most, especially in outbound sales, there is the point where we must pick up the phone and go direct.

When the phone rings, we enter a different realm, where based on the reality of the situation, “being social” does not play as well, and in fact can be deterrent for the prospect. Whatever interaction we may have with someone prior to the phone, it is usually on their terms, they choose to interact, they set the ground rules, and ultimately pause a conversation, or take it further right away. But when we call them, especially an unscheduled call, at a time we picked, not the target, a different set of dynamics kick in. As discussed here in the past, we are an interruption, and as such, a set of events are set into motion, usually leading to an objection, the bane of telephone prospectors everywhere. Being aware of what we are in the eye of the prospect, we need to take steps to make it easier for the prospect to stay on the call, rather than making it easier for them to blow us off.

There are two things sellers can do, with focus and practice, to avoid being victim of dynamics. Two questions that many feel compelled to ask at the start of the call, that if left out, would help them be more successful on more calls.

girl by phoneThe two questions:

  • How Are You?
  • Is this A Good Time?
    (or any variation of either of the above)

We ask these questions because we have been conditioned to do so from day one; our parents, teachers, and others, have drilled into us that social norm is for conversations to start with one of the above. Well telephone prospecting is different than other conversation we usually have.

I am not suggesting we need to be rude, unsocial, or unconventional for the sake of unconventional, but to take an interruption, where the other party just wants to get back to finishing their seemingly unending days, to a genuine conversation, we need to manage the dynamics of the moment.

The reality remains that the prospect wants to understand “What Is In It For Me”, and that is what we need to lead with. Knowing they are feeling great, or like shit, does not get us any closer to that. Leading with the outcomes they can expect based on your ability to help them achieve their objectives, is more likely to. Being an interruption, and then asking, “Is this a good time?” or “Do you have a few minutes?”, or any iteration, is just stupid by definition.

Of course it is not a good time, they have a ton of stuff to finish, and there is a 90%+ chance they were not thinking about your product or marketing speak. On the other hand, if you lead with specific outcomes, they may recognize their own objectives in the mix. Lead with that, and ditch the “Social Norm” questions, to conversations based in that norm, a cold call is not that.

To close, I know that years of conditioning is hard to shake, so here is a way to transition from the silly questions above, to starting help them understand what is in it for them in your call. Remember, the problem with questions, is that you have to stop and wait for an answer, which relinquishes control of the flow, you are now completely dependent on their answers. If you get a positive response, great. But if you get a negative “I’m busy”, “Not a good time”, “What do you want?”; you now have to deal with that objection, rather than one based on your real value to the prospect. Rather than a question, make a statement, one that allows you to get rid of that social steam you have pent up. Once you introduce yourself, just name, not your whole resume, say “Thanks for taking my call”. You acknowledge that you have interrupted their day, but unlike a question, you can keep going to your outcome statements.

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iStock_000001908289Small

Prospecting Dynamics0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Proactive Prospecting Summer – Part 6

In this segment of Proactive Prospecting Summer, we look at the importance of the unspoken in prospecting calls.

Telephone prospecting, after all, is an exercise in communication. If we take the experts at their word, communication is roughly 60% body language, the one thing we don’t have working for us on the phone, or e-mail, or LinkedIn; 30% intonation and expression, and only 10% the words used to communicate. Yet most of the effort by sellers in prospecting is focused on words “the messaging”, and little effort to compensate for the 60% not available to at the time of the game. Which is a lot like getting the best warhead, then placing it on a delivery mechanism that is bound to miss the target.

When we call someone unexpectedly, unscheduled, we need to ensure that we are cognizant and balancing for environment, on both ends of the call. What’s gone on before the call, going on during the call, and things likely to happen as a result of the call? Managing all that, is managing the dynamics of the call, take a look.

Next Step

How to prepare, manage and execute is dealt with in much greater detail in the Proactive Prospecting Program available on-line at Sales Gravy University.

 

Honestly

Lie To Me Like Everyone Else Does0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Revenue, finding it, winning it keeping it, is more than sales, and certainly more than just one says. Winning growing and retaining clients (the source of revenue), may be centered around sales, but involves other key groups. Some like marketing, may not have as much direct contact with prospects/clients as customer support, implementation and others. All have an opportunity to reinforce the relationship, or blow it, making each and every interaction and exchange with a client. I know there were a number of accounts I lost because of an experience a client had with support; just as have landed bigger deals and kept them because of things others did for my clients. All this makes each encounter key, and makes one wonder why some companies have their representatives say some of the things they say to customers, and to know that they actually paid someone to teach these mistakes to their teams.

One challenge arises when there is a disconnect between what people say, and how they act, I guess one can call it incongruity

Empathy Is Not Just A Word

We all know empathy is central to interactions and by extension sales. But empathy is more than a word, it is more than an ingredient you measure and add in the right amounts at the right times during a conversation. It is very much the behavior that defines the word, not just saying it. You can’t say you are empathetic to a buyer or their concerns, and then behave in an opposite manner.

We have all had the opportunity to be screwed by a provider, I am not saying wireless, but as an example. Instead of dealing with the issue at hand they always apologize and empathize, I am sure it is like pages 27 to 32 in the work book.

“no matter what the prospect/customer says, just say ‘I apologize Mr. Shanto, I am sorry you feel, I can understand you feeling that way’ and then let them continue.”

You know they don’t mean, only because they don’t take any action to change things, just agree with your feelings, and apologize for how you feel, but not what they did to make you feel that way.

This is a challenge for sellers, because they too say things the prospect does not see them act on, which just confirms the whole mess.

What’s funny about the whole thing, is many companies, for example wireless, will do this to “how can I help – I apologize and see why you feel that way”; then do nothing, you bring up your next point, and they go right back to “yes, I can see that – I apologize and see why you feel that way”, and keep it going for a long time without resolution, until you drop the F-Bomb. Then it all becomes about that, the F-Bomb. So, it is perfectly fine for them to do it to you, but not for you to talk about it.

Honestly

The other words that cause prospects and buyers to be cautious is when a sales rep or support rep, says in response to a question the prospect/customer has says “Well to be honest,…” Hang on a minute, does that mean everything you said prior to this was not honest?

I know it is just a turn of phrase, but buyers hear these things over and over, and have come to take the words at face value, with the expectation that nothing will result of the conversation.

Why not just leave these expressions out? You want them to feel they are being empathized with, show them, act the part, don’t just talk to it because it is on page 27 of the work book. Align you actions with your words and people will see you are honest, you may not always be perfect, you may not always be spot on, but you will be perceived as being a lot more honest and customer focused, then just talking about it and then walking another way.

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Portrait of a businessman giving a business card

What Do You Sell?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Proactive Prospecting Summer – Part 4

In this part of the Proactive Prospecting Summer series, we look at improving how we communicate early in the call.  Clear concise communication is key to sales, especially in the pressure packed first few seconds of an unscheduled prospecting call, yes, a cold call. Yet it is interesting how many sellers fail to effectively communicate the simplest concepts at this crucial stage of the sale.

Try this experiment, if you are a manager or team leader, next time you have team together in a room, or call, ask them to respond to the following question: “What do you sell?” If you need to set it up, tell them the setting is a trade show and the person asking the question could be a viable prospect, so the answer counts. After a few minutes, you can start capturing their answers.

Go ahead, try it now, we’ll be here, I gotta check my e-mail anyways.

Good, you’re back, gave it a go? Here are the types of answers I get when I do this with teams:

“I sell…

Software
Hardware
Copiers
Transportation services
Marketing Automation
CRM
Recruiting
IT Integration
Engineering

Occasionally I hear:

“We sell solutions”, but when I ask them to elaborate, they do not go to the problem they “solve” (as in solution), they revert to product.

Others will offer up “efficiencies”, a top 5 “Sales Empty Calorie Word”. While it sounds cool, it means nothing to a prospect who has heard a thousand times before. If you don’t shape it in some way that they can visualize in their business, words like efficiency, productivity, solutions, work-flow, and others are devoid of meaning, and can in fact hurt you in a prospecting call.

I recently worked with a leading telco provider, and in doing this and a related exercise answering the question “why do people buy from you and your company?”. The Alpha rep in the group offered up, “We sell productivity, that’s why people buy from us, we make them more productive.” I said “great, give me an example.” Still confident, he fired by “we make them productive through the efficiencies we bring”. I asked for an example of the efficiencies their clients realise, here is what I got “We increase efficiencies for them by making them more productive.” “In what way?” I asked, and it literally circled like that for five minutes. How long do you think a prospect will give him on an unsolicited and unscheduled call (or e-mail, or InMail)? Exactly.

If you look at the list above, it is all correct, but it really relates to what your company “manufactures” or “produces”, or from the buyers point of view, it is literally the “deliverables”, the stuff that will be in the boxes when it arrives on “location”. But buyers are more interested in the impact the “deliverables” will have on their business. Buyers, especially economical buyers, set out to achieve business results, the “deliverables” are just a means to an end, and for most economical buyers (not the implementers, or the people who get to “push the buttons” every day, the means are a distant third to the outcome.

Many cold callers try to explain what they do at the top of the call, and then wonder why “there is no interest”. Likely because that is not what the buyer was thinking about at the time they called. But if you move to defining things in a way that aligns with the outcomes they are looking for, that are similar to what you current clients are already achieving. So go ask them what is different in their world vis-à-vis their goals, issues, risk, reputation, cost structures, market share, anything other than something that sounds like a deliverable.

As a seller, you need to translate the question “What do you sell?” to “What are they looking to achieve?” The answer has to be driven by the outcomes they are looking for. How will their world be different after they buy from you? That’s what you sell.

You can drill down on this exercise, and make it more specific to your business by exploring the on-demand version of the Proactive Prospecting Program on Sales Gravy University.

PPP On Demand
Hypos

Hypothetically Speaking2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

It is easy to understand why some, especially in business, don’t like hypotheticals, they want to deal with facts, and tangible things that impact their business. Many view hypotheticals as just a distraction from things they need to deal in the real world. But it is precisely because it is a distraction, something that takes them away from the challenges they are dealing with that make hypotheticals a good tool for sellers.

Often, especially early in discovery, it takes a bit of an effort to pull back the layers and get to the substantive issues that can impact a prospects business, due to previous “abuse” by lesser sellers that preceded you, prospects may be a bit guarded. They may be reluctant to share key information that could actually help you formulate the right plan for them. A bigger challenge can be to take them in a direction they had not considered, may have misconceptions about, or areas they have avoided due to perceived risk, even if we do see it as such, the prospect is driving this process.

Hypotheticals allow you to engage around these areas without the associated risk. Some sellers, firm in their conviction that they have a great “solution” for the prospect, will ignore the buyer’s reluctance, hoping the strength of their solution will prevail. It may, but only if the prospect is open to the topic, but if not, as is the case for most buyers, their solution does not see the light of day, and it’s all for not. Framing the discussion in a hypothetical, especially a hypothetical outside the company, allows they buyer to tip their tows in the water without the sense of commitment of a head on question presentation. They don’t have to own a hypothesis, the sellers does, if they don’t agree, no harm, if it starts to resonate, all the better.

Hypotheticals are also a great way to get people to think outside their current lane. This is especially powerful if you are dealing with a buyer who has traveled all alone the first “57% of their buying journey”. By the time they get to you (I know you think you got to them), they have firm impressions if not opinions or more; to change their direction, to get them to take an alternate path to the one they are down, you’re much better off using hypothetical than facts. This is not to say we ignore the facts, but if they are not willing to have the discussion, the facts as you see them may or will not see the light of day. Starting them off with a hypothetical allows them to step outside their lane without all the associated risk.

HyposHypotheticals will get the prospect to share facts (pains if you like that type of thing), you otherwise would not have discovered. One of mu favourites is to ask a prospect a forward looking hypothetical. Placing the scenario into the future allows them to escape the shackles of today, and go to a happier place in the future, a future that is sunny and bright. I start by asking:

“I am curious Julie, if we were meeting here, 18 months from now, and you were happily telling me that your team had hit a Grand Slam, what would that look like?”

It may take them a minute to get going, as they start their journey to feeling what a Grand Slam feels like, but if you don’t interrupt, they will get going, and tell you all the things they want to be real 18 months from now. You’ll be amazed what they will share, as long as you let them. When they have shared their vision of a Grand Slam, I follow with:

“That’s a great vision Julie, and I can see why that would indeed be a Grand Slam; so help me understand why we are not there now?”
And that is when they will share with you all the things they see being in their way. I find that they usually share a number of things I have a “solution” for. This is when we move from the hypothetical to the real world, to the sale.

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Slow and low

Slow & Low – The Right Recipe For Great Prospecting0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Next week both Canada and the US celebrate their respective independence days, which means barbecues galore, and as you may have guessed, an opportune lesson for cold callers everywhere. Most cold callers, carnivores and vegetarians, make the same common errors in executing their telephone prospecting calls, many of these mistakes contribute to their lack of success, making the whole thing a further mess.

Part of the negative cycle revolves around the fact that they are way too nervous, anticipating the worst, as a result many rush the call, leading to the outcome they feared. There are a couple of specific things telephone prospectors do that if approached differently would help overcome the challenge, alter the results and their view of cold calling; once mastered, they will find the whole thing much more productive and profitable. This is where the barbeque lesson comes in, making a good prospecting call is like making a good southern brisket, slow and low.

First thing that happens to nervous callers is they speed up their speaking, going faster than they normally would, and way faster than what makes for an effective prospecting call. This triggers a similar response from the buyer, they get nervous at the barrage of words coming at them, and they look for the exit even quicker. Ever deliver you into (at a nervous pace) only to have the prospects ask, “I’m sorry, who is this, what’s this about?” And before you can answer, you’re on your heels, and the call ends without engagement.

Slow and lowSlow down Man, it’s not a race. I know most want the call to be over more than they want the appointment, but is not about completing the activity (fast), it’s about engaging with potential prospect. Slowing down takes practice, repeated and out loud. Slow down your breathing before you pick up the phone and maintain the pace through the call. If you’re not too macho, get a metronome, and stick to the rhythm. I know sounds silly, till you start connecting with prospects and getting appointments.

The low part has to do with voice and pitch. When callers get nervous their voice gets higher, I’ve heard grown men sound more like their sisters than themselves. This makes it harder for the buyer to comprehend what the caller is saying, and obscures their message. Think about some of the great radio voices or TV voice overs, think about James Earl Jones famous “this is CNN”. As with slowing down, this comes down to practicing, and again out loud.

In a tension filled call, any element of distraction can be a negative and work against you, when you sound squeaky and speak fast, the two just compound in a way that makes it hard to achieve your objective.

One overlooked way to help with these two factors is to have a well prepared script, this will reduce the nervousness, and with practice limit the speed and pitch. Get over the self-imposed fear of scripts, and you’re a long way towards overcoming this and other prospecting roadblocks. Next time you pick up the phone, think brisket, slow and low.

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Lipstick. Great Variety of Women's Lips. Set of Mouths

Difference Is In the Eyes Of The Prospect8

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

There is a lot of talk about differentiation in sales, whether that is at the product level, sales technique level or other factors. Some difference is good, some goes a bit far, unfortunately most of seems to fall short. The main reason is that most vendors and sellers spend time and effort to differentiate themselves from other products, companies, or sales people. As with other miscues in sales, the problem is that most of the effort excludes the only element that counts, the buyer.

Buying and selling are very subjective experiences. While there are reams of tools and means for capturing requirements, allowing buyers to better understand what will help them achieve their objectives, presenting a clear and objective process, there is a range of undercurrents that allows a lot of subjectivity to creep in to the decision. Who among us has not lost a deal where the we were a perfect fit based on requirements. Or conversely won a deal, where on the face of things we were deficient and less cost effective than an alternative. The reason is simple and human, people are very subjective, (and buyers are people), and as such will make decisions using more than just logic, leading to the reality that difference, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.

While many may not like it, but one advantage to having multiple decision makers or stakeholders in the deal, is that it can naturalize subjectivity, allowing us to better present and leverage real differences we may have. I say we may have, because most leading products have very few real differences, especially in the eyes of buyers. What some vendors think is really different, may not be that important to the market, which is likely why the others have avoided it. With “sameness” rampant in products, the other difference is how you sell, and by extension your sales process. The challenge here is that most people sell in a very similar way, leading to only superficial differences that even the least experienced buyer can see through.

Once you accept that difference is in the eye of the prospect, and not something you can ram down their throat or post on a billboard, you can then switch your approach to understanding how they see themselves and their reality as being different than others they are looking at. Let’s be clear, it may not always be true that what the buyers are looking for is all that different than their neighbor’s, but, we are dealing with buyer perception, not necessarily reality as we see it.

The only option is to have the prospect articulate what they see as being different. And while most sellers will tell you that they are doing that, when observed in action, they are still very much anchored to their product, and features they feel are “solutions” for the buyer’s “pain”. Presentations are geared to highlighting the “vendor’s difference”, rather than the difference the buyer is trying to achieve in their business. Presentations limit our ability to get the prospect to help us differentiate ourselves, mostly because they are centered around the product, and things we believe we are “solving”, that in turn make us different.

Especially early in a cycle, leave you your product, presentations, preconceptions in the car; go in armed only with questions that will help you uncover the buyer’s objectives, and impacts they are looking to deliver to their business. This sounds easy, and is often met by “we’re already doing that”, until we examine the questions many sellers ask, and the reality of some first and early meetings. Remember that the “difference” starts long before you engage, so how you engage, and what happens at your first encounter is key. You may think your PowerPoint is different, but it is still PowerPoint.

If you stay focused on the impacts and outcomes, you will start to establish a difference. When you get the prospect to share their objective, avoid the instinct to map those back to your product. First, drill down on those objectives, why those, how will that change their business, what are related risks, and more. This will allow you to demonstrate your Subject Matter Expertise, and help the prospect validate their direction and means of getting there. If that direction and means are less than optimal, help the buyer reorient their thinking, reorient their direction and path. Now that’s different, especially in a world where sellers are not experts, and seek the safety of “the customer is always right” over pushing back, getting the buyer to see things differently, help them down an alternate path to alternate results. (Easy Kellyanne, it’s just sales). When prospects start their journey, they are more focused on the end than the means, which is why your product, solution, or whatever, is not that important in the early stage.

With difference being in the eye of the prospect, the more we take ourselves and our product out of the early phases of the sales, the more different a prospect will see us; the more we can make them think instead of listen, the greater the difference in experience, leading to different experience and results for both the buyer and the seller.

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