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Sales Tips – Strategic Selling

5 Ideas to Outpace your competition

When we think of value, some people automatically go to the “price” and start thinking of value-for-money. I have heard a lot of sales people say recently “It is all about price.” I always say, “Yes it is, if you cannot prove the value you bring the table.” This is what regularly stumps sales people and drives purchasers to battle it out on price between vendors. It is not always a good business decision for the buyer to go for the lowest price. That’s another discussion. And it certainly does no favours to sales people!

What is value really about?

The value of what you are selling goes way beyond the cost. Is there a distinction between you and another competitor when the price is taken out of it? Selling successfully is clearly identifying what people really want, when you take price off the table.

What you offer may be measureable and tangible. And your buyer might want you to prove they will get a return on their investment.  What if it’s not about metrics? What if what you’re selling is about quality of life, better company morale or something more personal?  Wanting and needing are two different things. In the more complex, educated market, buyers may need what you have. That’s a good starting point. However, it is the “want” that makes a buyer commit to the purchase.

SO how do you get the want out of the buyer and outpace the competitors? Here are 5 ideas to help you sell more strategically.

  1. Identify a typical path-to-purchase with your target buyers

  No buyer is ever going to plunge into the bells and whistles of your offering without having the “why” and the outcome in mind. It may not be totally mapped out, so the opportunity is there to explore it. The path you design must have the why and be able to prove it at a high-level. Buyers are making business decisions. You have to prepare and prove the business case, above and beyond the price discussion, to be in with a chance.

The buyer’s outcome may be straight forward. It may be a complex solution that addresses business issues.  Perhaps the buyer cannot or chooses not to solve the problem themselves. Instead, they are looking for external resources – that’s you – to get the business outcome they want. There are so many possibilities to this; it may be too costly. It may not be their core business. Their business may be fire-fighting. They may want it fast. They may be looking to gain market share. What if things are ticking along nicely?

What do you do with all these scenarios?  You map out what you think would be a typical path-to-purchase for their business case. (And I am not talking about your sales process, I am talking about a buying-decision strategy.) You map the landscape of the organisation. You identify the strategic points that could convince them. You figure out possible factors that stop the buying decision. This will help you create compelling value proposition when you show up for the sales meeting.

2.  Identify the want for the business

Get clear on what business issues could be addressed with the solution you offer. Is it about fixing it, creating something new or revolutionising how they do business? What does the business want? In sales training workshops with sales teams, we go through as many as 10 possible business issues scenarios that can form the basis for a strategic conversation.  Are you strategic or just working with sales pitch on “repeat”?

Most salespeople hang on to the old reliable pitch around reducing costs and increase profitability. What if your B2B buyer has the best cost-saving and margins they can have? What if the want is for the business is to build a reputation in their vertical markets?  What if you can identify an intangible such as reputation and prove how you can translate that into positioning and business growth?  You definitely have your buyer’s ear.

You have to have other ideas to get into a complex organisation, above and beyond what the competition is doing. When you are in a market with multiple players, you have develop an approach that stands out. Even some of the most seasoned salespeople are having to change how they sell. They have to figure out more to help a buyer organisation, in a way that they want it. Key to this is being able to sit behind the eyes, ears and world of your buyer and imagine what’s missing and getting to the core of the want.

2.  Prepare and build your sales conversations

You have to have a different conversation with every decision maker involved in the purchase. Like every person is different; so is their buying strategy! So planning a sales strategy into a larger organisation requires a different conversation with everybody involved in the conversation. Miller Heiman talks about the different buyers; The Economic Buyer, The Technical Buyer, The User Buyer and Coach. These are great tools. I used them in previous sales roles. It helped! But over the years of going into big companies, I realises something more robust was needed; a way to interpret the conversations going on.  It was about going deeper and listening to how each buyer is processing the conversation and what they are focussing. It was skill that needed developing. So I identified how I could navigate sales conversation more effectively. Inside the conversation, I created a structure and noticed the response to a number of components; an opening strategy, a motivation strategy, an exploration strategy and a convincer strategy. It opened so many avenues for discussion. If you operate this way, you learn so much about how the buyer thinks about their business. You build your strategy around the business issues, the want and the value. You will sound fresh and different to your competitors. Do you have a clearly defined, structured components to your conversations?

4. You must motivate your buyer

 Do you have techniques to trigger a buyer’s motivation?  A lot of this might initially be guesswork, but you are going to build it on the back of the business issues identified. People only make decisions when they are motivated. There has to be something on the table for them; whether it be to get rid of a problem or find a totally new way to do something that will bring more of what they want. This is the magic that turns a sales meeting into a buying decision.

You have to know how to ask questions that awaken the motivation of buyers inside an organisation. You have to understand how this motivation it is connected to their business results (KPIs), their role in the organisation and the vision and values they are working towards.

Questions awaken the buyer to what is going on. They can explore the possibilities and choices they never considered. Questions can be about what’s not happening. They can be about hidden problems or what is triggering the pain in their business. Questions can also be about the vision they hold around positive change. And the question “What’s keeps you up at night?” is not one of those questions. Develop questions that work for you and keep them close at hand to ask for that all-important sales conversation.

5. Develop your strategic-thinking skills

Selling in the 21st century requires a different skill set. When there are many players, strategy is going to win over tactics.  I often discover in sales teams a mix of selling styles. Some use strategy, some use tactics and the best ones use a blend of each. It’s about knowing when to operate strategically and them move to tactics.  It’s the difference between sticking to a formula and having a dynamic set of tools that you can adapt and change in every sales meeting.

When I speak about a strategic sales person, there are a number of things that tell me they operate this way. They can identify what business issues they could use to develop their value proposition. They have multiple ways of getting into the mind of their buyers. They never sell the same way twice. They plan and structure every aspect of their sales meetings. They anticipate and progress each conversation towards a call-to-action. They create a dynamic, flexible conversation that allows them to change direction, when needed. This applies particularly where you are selling to different buyers in an organisation. You have to know how to navigate that effectively and elegantly.

Do you have a robust conversation tool box?

Sales people can no longer have one way to sell. They must have a conversation toolbox for influencing and motivating their prospects to want to listen. They must bring different conversations to the table. Selling features and benefits just doesn’t cut it anymore! How do you compete when you know the buyer is talking to 10 other people saying the same thing? Price is going to be the deciding-factor and a race to the bottom for the sales people. Nobody really wins and it’s certainly slicing into your industry profitability.

Salespeople must become strategic thinkers and know how to go deep into the buyer’s way of thinking and sell to that style of buying. When you get these pieces in order, selling becomes more dynamic, engaging and fun for both the sales professional and the person buying the value they offer. Price slips into the background and you become a more compelling sales professional. That is what strategic selling is about.

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9 Things I learned from a Business Trip Encounter

I was on a plane travelling back from a business trip to Frankfurt. For a long time I’ve been meaning to attend to the important things like updating an aging website.

If you know me, I tend to talk to anybody I meet.  So as I sat down for the two-hour flight, I got talking to Tom and Patrick,  two friends for a long time. As we always get to talking about what we do, we shared our stories. Tom was reading a book about the Mob, so that was my starting point, “Is the book any good?”

The two-hour trip flew buy as the three of us shared our stories of what we all did. Patrick joins in and tells me he’s a web consultant and was really looking to build his consultancy on his passion for web technology and SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).  He proceeds to offer lots of wonderful advice about what I could do with my aging website. His passion and excitement for his work were so obvious. Within 24 hours I got a whole page of ideas from him, for no reason,  except he loves to help others and is passionate about his work.

It dawned on me that this might be the person that could help me relaunch the website and blog. I called Patrick and we had a chat, and once again, there was so many quality pieces of advice just pouring over the phone line. I decided that I would offer him the project. So off he went, wrote this very professional well-thought out proposal, based on guidelines I was looking for.

The level of service I got was top-notch, high-class project management, attention to detail, pro-active customer service. He used his contacts in graphic design and IT consulting to support the smooth running of the project.

The happy ending to the story is that he helped finally start a blog that I’ve always wanted to start.

I started to share some of my ideas with him on how he could expand his business and coached him on some project he was working in, including advice on a financial adviser and a good accountant. He is now working on his next consulting project and no doubt delivering a terrific service.

It was a true example of great symbiosis. Two companies working together and 3 people benefiting from an encounter on an flight from Frankfurt; Patrick, the accountant and Zenith Training and Development.

And now, the 9 things I learned from a business trip encounter

  1. Opportunities present themselves every day
  2. Being interested in others is always a worthwhile exercise
  3. It pays to network and be a good listener
  4. It pays to offer something for nothing in return
  5. Curiosity about others always opens doors
  6. Passion sells and delivers
  7. Trust can be there from the beginning
  8. Doing business can be easy and fun
  9. The people  with the talent and skills are all around you

The simple step of starting a conversation can change everything in two hours.  We have had a great experience, exchanging our skills and expertise. We hope you like the blog and the new website.