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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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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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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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Stop Leading The Witness0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

One of my favourite genres is court or trial based stories, could be a movie, play, TV program, but especially novels, where the author has room to fully explore elements and take one to unexpected places. These are usually larger than life, and even when the plot is viable, the settings, are exaggerated, full of symbolism than reality, all with the goal of drawing in the audience. You gotta love it, all the fantasy, all the pomp, and of course, all the dram, just like sales.

In these dramas, you inevitably run through the usual clichés, (just like sales), one of them being the usual set of actions by one attorney leading to an objection by the other, at least one for every five minutes of courtroom sequence. The one that reminds me most of sales is when one party objects to the other’s line of questions by suggesting that they are “leading the witness”.

Sales people get caught in this trap regularly, but often the prospect does not object out loud as they do in the movies, they just don’t buy, and usually we really don’t know why, because we think we asked the right questions, feel (rather than know) we got the right answer, only to be left asking in the end “what happened?”

LawyerThis happens when we ask questions that we are hoping to get an affirmative response to, and when we do we feel we are progressing, and we keep piling on these questions, realizing too late that prospect was giving us the answers we wanted, rather than what they would say if the question were put differently.

We have all been on the receiving end of this experience, it usually sounds like “wouldn’t you agree that it would be ‘good’ if you could ‘do ___________’?” Sure, prospects will agree, it would be almost illogical to disagree, as the questions are usually routed in some logical premise and phrased in a way that you are forced to say yes, but how sincere is that yes? How many times have you said yes to move things along, feigning to agree, but with zero or less conviction?

Prospects know when they are being led, and don’t often like, and reward it even less frequently. They know that the questions are delivered in a way to limit the discussion to those things that highlight your product. Problem is that often the difference is sales success is not the product, but the sales experience, as I have stated in the past, how you sell is the last differentiator. So if the prospect does not see a different sales experience, they will see little difference, and every other seller trying to lead them down a self-serving path. While the questions may make sense, they also clearly demonstrate that you want to sell things based on your view of the world, not their specific priorities.

You can take the same thought process, but deploy a different set of questions to engage the prospect and encourage them to open up and share things with you that they would not when they are being led. Rather than you painting the end state you think they need based on your quota and you needs, ask them to pain the end state they see. If you feel based on your experience that they may have overlooked something, or are making an erroneous assumption, you can still share alternative. The best alternatives are not questions that put them back on “your track”, but alternatives based on what you have seen clients do differently to achieve that outcome or objective.

Asking questions that lead to discussion, an opportunity for you to demonstrate you expertise and value, and help the prospect consider alternatives based on client experience is a good thing, because again, it provides the prospect with a different experience. But asking questions that lead to the prospect being boxed in, may lead to answers you want to hear, but not sales.

 

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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?

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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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3 Reason to Establish and Mine The Gap – Part I0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Sales people are always trying to create urgency, or figure out how they can accelerate a decision. The conventional approach has been to either focus on a “pain point” the buyer may want to solve with haste. The other conventional strategy is to have the client agree to a needs analysis, and leverage the outcome based on that analysis. The beauty of the latter is that no matter what the inputs, in some miraculous way, the output always pints to your product or offering.

We can talk about the merits or efficacy of these methods, they work not because of the skills of the seller, but as a result of the state of the buyer. Specifically, they either have a pain and set out to address it on their own; or realise that their current state is not optimal, hence their willingness to participate in needs analysis. But what about those who are neither in pain, and see their current state as being “satisfied”? Those buyers who respond, “we’re good”, or “we’re all set”, or similar responses. that’s where you have to work The Gap.

To start, this is not about objection handling in the context of cold call, for that click here. This is where you specifically target potential prospects who are “satisfied” in a way that allows them to understand that there are viable alternatives to their chosen path that they are not aware of or have ignored for any number of reasons. In other words, those who are not aware of any gaps in their current state.

Mine the gapThe GAP

The best way to have a prospect understand the “gap” in their current state is not to have them look in the past as many sellers do, or at their current state; people will naturally defend what they have done and what they are doing when their state is “satisfied”. Your only option is to take them into the future, then walk them back to the present to have them experience where a Gap you see exists, but they to date have not. Here is a simple and reusable example, it is somewhat general, if you would like to have it tailored to your vertical or target group, get in touch.

Seller: I am curious VP Jane, if we were sitting here 18 months from now, and you were telling me the team had hit a grand slam, what would that look like?

At this point you have to sit back and let the person talk, this may sound obvious, but I live in the real world. You have to be patient, it takes some people a couple of sentences to really get to it. You may have to help them by asking them to elaborate, expand, etc. But once they get going, once they buy into the fact that they can articulate their view for the future, i.e. their objectives, you will be amazed at the future state they paint.

What I find 95% of the time, is that “18 months from now” doesn’t look anything like “now”. Which allows you to ask the next question:

Seller: That’s a great view VP Jane, so help me understand why we are not there now?

The answer to that is the Gaps they see between where they are and where they say they actually want to be. Among the things they will lay out in their response (with help from you), will be the Gaps you can Mine to develop the opportunity.

To do this right you will need to do some work, understanding what are some common objectives similar people have had, which of those gaps they were willing to invest in, and which were only aspirational. But most importantly, you will need to be able to leverage how you have helped others “fill the Gap”, achieve their objectives, and the impacts you delivered to their business as a result. To be honest, this is not easy at first, you have to fly without product or brochure, and rely strictly on skill, knowledge, and the ability to transform that knowledge to actionable insights for your buyers. Once you can do that, you’ll be able to Mine those Gaps, and deliver sales success.

Beyond the example above, come back Thursday, and we’ll look at some ways to effectively Mine The Gap.

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Pain Leads To No Gain In Prospecting!0

A few weeks ago, I posted a piece titled “No Pain – No Game?”, playing off the old weight exercise motto. In case you didn’t bother rushing to read the piece, it suggests that if you can only sell to buyers who have a self-declared pain or need, you will be in trouble, as 70% of the market, the Status Quo, is immune to the pain argument.

But there is a further reason why reliance on pain for sales success could in fact be painful (in the form of missing quota, not making enough commission to buy your girlfriend or kids the winter solstice gift they really want).

Many successful business people, especially small business owners and entrepreneurs have a different outlook than the average sales person or corporate employee. Because they are not cocooned in the comfort of corporate safety, with a few given responsibilities. They know it will not be easy, it will not be 9 to 5, it will not be a straight line to success, they don’t get a weekly paycheck or a Friday Beer Lunch while they are “waiting to make things work”, like many sales people who fail to deliver quota. They know to succeed they will need to face some challenges and adversities. They are the business living version of “No Pain – No Gain”.

a-different-fishSuccessful business people are more stoked by the possibilities long term success brings to let a few temporary, often expected setbacks occur. They have heard all the negatives, potential risks, financial ruins, and still decided to push ahead, commit money, time resources, and sweat to realizing their dream and vision. They have planned for roadblocks and detours, you pointing them out is just boring to them. Unless, you can show them how you will help them realize their vision for their business, for them as individuals, you will be chewed up and spit out, all in a very social way. Given their drive, do you really think a little pain is going to stop them? Or do you think they want someone who can help them work past the pain. The business athlete knows how to work through pain to get the results the average person does not. Even senior people within corporate settings have demonstrated characteristics that have allowed them to distinguish themselves from the also-rans.

The people heading up organizations, entrepreneurs and serial small business owners are not your usual breed, they have different filters, they work hard play hard, win hard, they’re not in business to socialize, they do that after they achieve their objectives. So, if you fail to take that difference into account, and fail to adjust for that, because you have been selling to middle management or users, and that will not work when you are dealing with someone who not only has the vision, but more importantly the balls to act, and do things that most others clearly have difficulty doing or lack the will and/or knowhow to do. The pain and headwind that may scare some, is an expectation for many of your buyers, focusing on pain, rather than objectives, and how you specifically can help them achieve them, will lead to more pain for you than these buyers are willing to deal with, because they know what is beyond that, and that’s what they want to talk about.

Serial entrepreneurs are serial sales winners, and winners know that there is an element of fact to “No Pain No Gain”, a smart seller focuses on the gain, not the pain. Click To Tweet

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No Pain – No Game?5

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Despite all the tools available, both for sales people to execute their craft, and for companies to “enable” them, the narrative for many in sales has remained woefully unchanged over the last thirty years. Sure the delivery methods have changed, the means of engagement have evolved beyond where we could have imagined 10 years ago, yet what most sales people say once they engaged has one can argue, devolved. One can buy into the argument that sales technology, with all its capabilities, has made great sales people better, an A seller an A+; but it has also made the average seller, less than average, robotic and predictable; B sellers to B-, and C sellers to U, for useless. While it is easy to point at sales people, the pundits have to take credit, or blame.

The narrative we seem to be stuck in in sales is all about pain, all around need. Ask any group of sellers what they want to know about a new prospect, and the vast majority will say they want to know the prospect’s “pain”, or “pain point”; they want to know the buyer’s need(s); what their problem(s) are or about to have. Makes sense, who doesn’t want to reap the benefits presented by lower hanging fruit, easy to pluck, one can say that it can be plucked by almost anyone, with little talent or skill. I even hear managers dispatching their people back to a prospect with the clear command of “find their pain point and sell them, or at least make it forecastable.”

This all works well if your quota can be covered entirely by prospects with pain; and not just this year, but next and the one after, etc. What you are betting on is that pains, needs and problems will grow at a faster pace than your quota. When I ask sales people if they can exceed quota with just the pained and injured, and most say no. You would think given that fact only a small percentage of a given market recognizes or admits to pain, you are faced with a choice. You can update your skills, and I don’t mean your technology or app skills, but sales skills; a path chosen by some companies and sales professionals.

The other choice is easier, doesn’t always fill the gap, but chosen by many. It is exemplified by a conversation I have shared in the past, that I had with a former leader from an IT consulting and services firm. Unsolicited he decided to share his view on selling:

“My job is to find the soft underbelly of the beast (read prospect), stab it, and then offer up the cure.”

I am not suggesting that is what sales people set out to do, but when I hear that they are looking for the they “pain point” so they can push on it, I can only imagine the fat smiling face of the fellow above.

It is time to elevate your skills so you can sell to the whole market, not just the weakest of the herd, yet not weak enough to pinch a few more dollars off your price, sometimes to the point where it leaves you and your company’s margin in pain. You can socialize pain, you can spin needs, but to really sell, to anyone in your market, not just the lame and suffering, you need to develop some sales skills, and elevate your game.

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Are Your Sales Relationships Painful?1

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

People ask me why I focus so much on prospects’ objectives, after all if you can find a pain and play to it, you are bound to get a sale.  Well maybe.  I always find it amusing that when I ask people what do they want to know about a potential buyer, too many say “I want to know what their pain point is, their needs, the problem”.   When I ask what they want to achieve in a first/second meeting with a prospect, they start gushing on about wanting to establish a relationship.  One guy at an IT consulting/systems integrator, said this to me literally when I asked what his goal is for a first meeting: “I want to find the soft underbelly of the beast; stab it; then serve up the cure”.  While you may be shaking your head, and rightfully so, I hear this same type of thing said differently by so many in sales, including pundits, I worry.

You Don’t Have To Hurt The Ones You Love

So maybe I am missing the point, but how does one go from poking (or probing) for pain, latent or other, and in the space of one hour or so go to forming a relationship?  Maybe it is a Bizarro sales version of the Stockholm Syndrome.  How else can you explain the expectation that one can search for or deliver pain with a blunt instrument, and establish rapport or a relationship, even if you hand out Aspirins.What I see as being more effective, even with buyers who are screaming with pain, is to focus the buyer on a point down the road, a point in time 18 – 24 months in the future. You want the buyer to “see” themselves, their aspirations and their opportunities in your narrative and experience. Your ability to create an authoritative dialogue aligned with their objectives, based on specific instances where you have enabled and enhanced clients’ ability to reach their long term objectives, but to speak convincingly about specific impacts and outcomes.

While there is no doubt that in the near term pain relief is paramount, it does beg the question what then?  Pain is short term, usually negative, and limiting. While objectives are long term, tied to other initiatives, uplifting and positive, and as a result have an energy “pain” and “needs” don’t.

By marginalising the “pain”, and focusing on the big picture beyond the current pain, you can create a level of involvement and emotional commitment that is not available when it’s only about solving an immediate problem. Long term relationships should be tied to the long term, be that goals, objectives, etc. Clearly you want to address and resolve immediate “problems”, but you need to position that is but a small line item in a much bigger plan. To do that, you need to open up the conversation to align it with the big picture.  As mentioned, pain discussions are narrow and limiting, so in conversation with a client, assume you will solve the problem, and steer towards the long term.

A Primer

I have written about this in the past, but I find a two-part question to be an effective way of practicing and fine tuning this. You will need to make it more specific to your buyers over time, but use this as a primer.

Once you get past the usual social element at start of the meeting, ask:

I am curious Jane, if we were sitting here 18 months from now, and you were telling me your team had hit a grand slam, what would that look like?

The goal is to get them to look past their current positions pain or perhaps problem, and refocus the on their success plan, hence the grand slam reference. You’ll find that there is a moment of reflection, a couple of basic things, and then it gets interesting when they start detailing what their equivalent of a grand slam is.  Once you have let them share their vision, you really do need to shut up here and intensely listen, you can the ask the second question:

Help me understand why we are not there now?

You will often find that they reflect again, and start telling you about what’s keeping them from hitting grand slam.  What you’ll also find is that they will talk about many of the same things you have helped other achieve, and build a relationship around.

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Do Facts Matter?2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

I recently took in a discussion where one of the panelists addressed the question of preference and decision making. Specifically, individuals’ tendencies (or lack thereof) to change their mind once they have developed a primary preference.

The Decision Journey

The gist of it was that as people begin the decision journey, especially in instances where they know they will have to make a decision, be that a purchase decision, one person to date versus another, or an election, they begin to rank “choices” and identify a potential front runner.  The question then is can those choice or preferences be changed?  There is no doubt that they can be reinforced and strengthened, no matter who you back in the coming American elections, you are likely to take on things that support your “preference”, and likely to rationalize or ignore those that challenge them.

A pundit on the panel was firm in his belief that once that preference is in place, even when at a subconscious level, or when a person claims they are open to alternatives, it is harder to change than many believe.  So what does it take to change their minds, can their minds be changed, and most interestingly, what is the role and power of facts in the process?

Well it seems that facts, no matter how solid, are not that useful in changing people’s minds and having them switch from their initial preference.  Which is a bit of a problem for sales people.

Buying On Emotion

While many sales and marketing people will tell you that people buy on emotion, and then spend time and effort rationalising that decision, they continue to lean on the rational and fact based efforts in trying to win over buyers with a preference.  Be that case studies, ROI calculations, data, etc.  Yet there is a counter effect to these facts based evidence, buyers will feel the need to defend initial choice when they feel it is being challenged, especially when the buying spotlight is on them.  Their emotions are triggered, and they double down on rationalizing rather than evaluating rationally.  Whether we put that off to ego, weakness, their need to hold power in the decision, doesn’t matter, the outcome is the same.

Getting Ahead of Their Preference

So what’s a seller to do if they are not the “preferred” one early in the process, or when the buyer arrives at 57% mark of their journey?  Shift facts by shifting the narrative.

Take the discussion back to the beginning, before the initial preference occurred.  What caused them to enter the market to begin with, why did they start that 57% journey all alone, before having a preference, then calling them, then calling you as a way to validate they made the right choice.  Telling them they didn’t, no matter how right, will just confirm they have the right vendor in column A.

But if you can take them back to square one, you can be in a position to understand their objectives, what business outcome they were trying to achieve before they looked out the window?  You need to leverage their objectives and focus on outcomes they are looking to bring to their business.  More than demonstrating your understanding of those objectives, you have to show how others have achieved those same objectives, the business impacts they were able to realize.  Only after this would you introduce your role in the process, doing it earlier will just drive them back to their initial vendor preference.  It still goes to emotion, one of risk, getting it wrong, has a greater pull than the reward of getting it right.  But the wrong here is not the product, but achieving the objective or not.  And when it comes to that, facts don’t matter.

Join me and Michelle Schifrin is the Lead Customer Success Manager at Prezi, for a webinar:
Why Sales Teams Should Forget Presenting and Start Engaging
Thursday at 1:00 PM ET.

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