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The 3 Levels of Customer Acumen and Which One You Want

Part Four of a Five Part Series.

Customer acumen the third essential pillar of perspective selling.  Consider this situation: you know your prospect’s business in-depth and how your solution perfectly connects to their situation. Still, you can’t seem to make progress on the deal. Why? It’s all because you can’t figure out how they are going to make a buying decision for your proposal.  While also you need the other two, you can’t sell with perspective unless this third pillar, customer acumen, is strong.

To recap, perspective is knowledge or insight that expands a customer’s understanding of one or more business issues. When a seller provides perspective, they apply customer-valued (not just any) insights and expertise about unanticipated outcomes.

This series discusses three foundational “pillars” of expertise (or three legs of a stool) a seller should master:

  1. Business Acumen…The focus of part two. Basically, this expertise helps evaluate a prospective customer’s (or any company’s) operational efficiency and effectiveness, then identify value gaps.
  2. Solution Acumen. Feature/benefit selling is dead.  From part three, perspective selling means translating  your product or service into results/outcomes for a prospective buyer.
  3. Customer Acumen…The third pillar

Customer Acumen: Expertise in Customer Decision-Making

In contrast to business acumen, which helps you understand a prospect from a business/operational standpoint, customer acumen seeks to understand your customer from a social/human standpoint.

I recall a former colleague saying that “every [B2B] customer makes every decision differently…every time”.  By this, he meant that every group buying decision dynamic changes over time, sometimes subtly, but always importantly.  Even if your current opportunity pursuit seems like a straight clone of the last pursuit at the same customer, you shouldn’t simply clone your opportunity pursuit.  Mindlessly repeating the past is one of the easiest – and most serious – mistakes you can make.  To avoid this mistake, customer acumen gives sellers the ability to master each buying decision on a case-by-case basis..

The best sales people approach each new opportunity trying to learn the group decision dynamic currently in play…including in repeat buyers.  Perspective sellers approach each new sale on the lookout for key changes.  Sales methodologies (OK,  shameless plug for my favorite, Miller Heiman Group’s Strategic Selling® (…now,) with Perspective®)  help sellers tailor each pursuit to the needs of each opportunity.

Customer Acumen: Good, Better, Best

Upon examination, customer acumen isn’t a binary “you either have it or you don’t” property. Instead, it grows by degree.  Look at the good/better/best descriptions below.  While reading, try to determine where you and your sales organization land:

Basic Customer Acumen:

For clarification, “Basic” is not the same as “zero”; basic customer acumen represents progress for some organizations.  Here are some characteristics to help you identify that you’ve progressed to this level:

  • Sellers no longer pursue “single-threaded” opportunities with a single persona, counting on that person to facilitate a decision within their own organization..
  • At least for the main value proposition communicated by marketing and sales leadership, sellers regularly learn all the relevant players, what is each trying to solve for, and their motivations.
  • Even at this level, sellers can provide value-adding perspective, facilitating a buying decision among a group of buying personas making an unfamiliar decision. Thus, it’s useful, but far less than possible

As an aside, the HBR article Dismantling Sales Machine, derived from The Challenger Saleby the same authors, make valid criticism of “sales process” by falsely characterizing  that all “process” exists at this level.  While selling activity-based process often tops out at this level, methodology is just kicking in (click here) to learn the differences in more detail).

Basic customer acumen is better than none at all, but it those aren’t the only two options.

Elevated Customer Acumen:

As they elevate customer acumen, selling organizations emphasize mastery of the customer’s buying dynamic.  Where basic customer acumen focuses on understanding individuals separately, elevated customer acumen seeks to understanding a group dynamic…then successfully navigating that dynamic with the customer.

Sophisticated consensus selling methodologies emphasize this level of customer acumen.  Characteristics of this level look like this:

  • Sellers have — and use — tools to discover the group decision dynamic and solve for it.
    • They uncover if there is a ‘bully” in the group herding them along, or its softer cousin, the “first among equals” player.
    • Sellers learn to uncover any rivalries shaping the dynamic, using personal credibility and coaches.
    • They learn how the budgetary authority makes their decisions, who they consult most closely, who their key lieutenants are, what criteria they emphasize etc.
  • A key indicator of elevated customer acumen is that sellers focus on of customer buying processes, and follow metrics to make sure that their selling efforts are aligned with the customer’s buying process.
  • Additionally, sellers articulate a common theme, or customer objective — for everyone, focusing stragglers back on task, and reducing mission creep.
  • Sellers can effectively introduce new decision criteria to the group, but generally as simple extensions of the main/core value proposition contained in feature/benefit marketing materials.  At this level, though they seldom if ever introduce unconventional value or new personas relating to it (and their accompanying criteria) to the group.

At this level of customer acumen, adding perspective happens in two ways. First, sellers can add value to the decision by helping the group make a case for change.  Second, sellers can introduce new value/unanticipated outcomes to the customer…generally restricted to the core value proposition.

World class customer acumen:

Often, a solution delivers value outside the conventional value proposition(s) communicated in basic and mid-level solution acumen. For example, piece of hospital equipment (typically sold to lab personnel, doctors, finance, and purchasing) could reduce error rates, the third leading cause of hospital deaths.  Unsurprisingly, risk managers — well outside of the core value proposition, and outside of the typical collection of personas — cares deeply about. While good sellers can communicate value to the familiar buying personas, elite sellers articulate these next-level outcomes to personas outside of the typical buying group.

World class customer acumen has a few defining characteristics:

  • Sellers understand their offer’s value picture outside of the conventional selling box.
  • Whenever it yields a value advantage, sellers recruit new personas into the decision dynamic,  They can discuss value in a persona’s language, describing persona-specific outcomes. As the prior two parts of this series indicate, solution and business acumen are key foundations.
    • As a result, world class sellers regularly “pack the court” in the decision group by adding players supportive of their solution.
  • They can discuss any and all value drivers at C-suite level, translating it into C-suite language and outcomes.
  • Truly elite sellers can sell so effectively at the executive level that they get “introduced down”

Elite sellers introduce unanticipated value.  They are skilled at adding new personas to a decision team in order to leverage that value. Certainly, most selling methodologies teach sellers how to contact new personas and have meaningful conversations.  Unfortunately, I see too few teaching why or when, much less how to have conversations in a new persona’s language.  Without business and solution acumen, your selling organization will struggle to bridge this gap.  This is why the three acumens form a three legged stool that topples if any leg is missing.

So…

So…where did you land?  Do you know how to elevate yourself and your team to the next level?  Want to talk about it?

Excellent sales people are strong at all of the levels described above.  High-performing sales organizations develop all of these capabilities in their people.

How do you build customer expertise into your sales force? If you’re interested in learning more about how World Class organizations generate their exceptional results, share your questions or comments below. Feel free to contact me directly for more information.

To Your Success!,

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Best Practices Entrepreneurship Industries Management Marketing Personal Development Sales Technology

Using Mobile Apps to Transform Business Processes

As our need for just-in-time information flourishes, our reliance on traditional technological processes has decreased significantly. The shift from personal computers to mobile devices has picked up now more than ever. It is difficult to determine whether stationary computers will vanish into obscurity; however, there is no doubt that mobile devices are here to stay. Our reliance on these ingenious pieces of technology is overwhelming. Tremendous time and energy are saved through the use of a mobile device, as we can access information anywhere with ease.

The expansion of new types of tasks that are carried out using mobile devices has arrived. Smartphones can solve nearly every need of their users, from providing detailed directions anywhere around the globe to enabling access to the cloud at all times. We take these benefits for granted as the opportunities provided by our devices become more and more integrated into our everyday lives.

The information that we seek is not freely floating on our devices. Mobile applications are the key to the success of these devices, as they provide a gateway to our needs as consumers. Whether it’s the weather forecast, the highest-rated local coffee shop, a traffic report, or a stock market update, it’s an app that provides the answer.

At just over one hundred billion, the number of app downloads around the world to date is astonishing. And this number is expected to grow even further in the coming years.

Although mobile applications are commonplace today, most consumers think “personal use” when they think of apps. We all understand that there is an app for our favorite social media site or a card game app we can kill time with while waiting, but in what other ways can apps be leveraged, and who can benefit from them?

The answer is businesses.

I have seen businesses of nearly every size begin to see the potential behind creating an app for customers. Retailers can now move even further online to adjust their business model to the changing times. Transportation services have created apps that convenience users by helping them navigate routes and times, all while providing pricing. Some financial institutions allow their customers to scan and digitally deposit checks from their smartphones. These applications are beneficial; however, they are far from the only practical mobile business apps.

Mobile applications for business processes are now more prominent when it comes to how businesses run from day to day. Applications created specifically for the operational side of an organization have gained traction. The benefits of employing an app for use on a mobile device to transform a business process begin with the very reason we use apps in the first place: convenience.

For example, instead of handwriting notes on data or inventory while out of the office, an application that allows data to be entered on the spot by typing or talking removes an otherwise lengthy process. That saved time can then be better spent visiting clients and prospective customers, providing convenience in an otherwise tedious operation.

Another example of a mobile app for a business’s internal use is one that facilitates mobile sales. For deals that close quickly or unexpectedly, organizations can have contracts signed electronically, no matter where a meeting may have taken them. Presentations and data can be displayed at a moment’s notice if needed, as well. Data on previous deals made with a customer can be easily accessed while heading to meet with him or her.

Mobile apps can streamline processes, including supply chain, purchasing, distribution, or maintenance processes, so that a business can run as productively as possible. With information available on demand via mobile device from one accessible location, organizations tend to increase productivity and identify areas that need further improvement, which can reduce cost inefficiencies while increasing revenue.

Communication and collaboration are improved through mobile apps for business processes, as employees begin to more clearly understand roles and discuss the discrepancies highlighted by the application. Employees instantaneously become more productive, as time is saved through the assistance that mobile applications provide.

Business applications can be purchased and modified by organizations, or designed from scratch to fit the unique needs of a business. By creating a mobile app tailored to its business, an organization gains a competitive edge from having something unique in its industry. There are dozens of businesses that specialize in creating mobile apps to fit the unique needs of their customers.

The ways in which mobile applications can be used is seemingly endless, and right now, mobile apps for business processes represent a growing Hard Trend that every organization should address, as such apps can streamline internal processes. If productivity and effectiveness are your long-term goals, ask yourself how you can use mobility to improve every business process.

Innovation leads to disruption, not being disrupted. Learn more with my bestselling book The Anticipatory Organization. I have a special offer for you.

Pick up your copy today at www.TheAOBook.com

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Know Your Product/Service Through the Customer’s Perspective

Part Three of a Five-Part Series.

You need solution acumen (product or service…applied to the customer situation) to craft win-win solutions.

Previously, I introduced perspective: knowledge or insight that expands a customer’s understanding of one or more business issues. When a seller provides perspective, they apply customer-valued(not just any) insights and expertise about unanticipated outcomes.

Then, I introduced a three-legged stool: the three foundational areas of expertise a seller should possess:

  1. Business Acumen...The focus of part two. Basically, this type of expertise equips you evaluate a prospective customer’s (or any company’s) operational efficiency and effectiveness, then identify value gaps.
  2. Solution Acumen.
  3. Customer Acumen…Where we will go in part four

Today’s topic:  Solution Acumen

First of all, solution acumen is waaaaay more than simple product knowledge. I’ve met sellers who are experts on their products/services, but have only a vague inkling why a customer might care.  Consequently, they have product knowledge without solution acumen.  Ultimately, here’s the source of the disconnect:

Customers don’t buy our products or services.  Instead, they buy results. That is, they buy outcomes our products or services deliver into their lives and businesses.

Importantly, solution acumen means that you can articulate a relationship between properties of your offer and customer-valued outcomes. Knowing your product or service is something.  Knowing all about how your product or service adds value to a customer is everything.

In addition, the price they’ll willingly pay for your solution depends on clarity, certainty, and desirability of those outcomes.

Ultimately, profitability happens when you provide more value for your customer than it costs you to produce. You can only price profitably in two ways: by accident, or by understanding – and pricing to – your customer’s outcomes.  To achieve the latter, you need solution acumen.

What Solution Acumen Typically Looks Like:

Generally, solution acumen comes in degrees.  As sellers go from basic product knowledge to full solution acumen, here are some of the identifying characteristics:

Basic solution knowledge includes:

  • Specs, performance…information a subject-focused persona wants to know.
  • Available product or service options. At a basic level, every seller should understand how their offer can be stripped down, augmented, and/or bundled.
  • Commercial policies.  Similarly, basic-level  knowledge includes ordering procedures, lead times, implementation basics, pricing, available discounts, and the like.
  • Competitors: An essential understanding includes basic competitor profiles, product descriptions, etc.

Intermediate-level offer knowledge might look like:

  • Typical configurations offered, even configurations commonly purchased for specific segments.If your company has developed a standard “small business package”, this mid-level knowledge has been institutionalized.
  • Commercial policies: Above basic level, understand discounting flexibility, how the pricing exception system really works (how the game is played in your company), have complete knowledge of any implementation process, how to expedite orders, etc.
  • Competitive differentiation. In this area, sellers can articulate competitive differences, and confirm/gauge strength of customer reactions to those differences.

Advanced knowledge, aka Solution Acumen is outcome-based, and is characterized like this:

  • Applications/use cases have been modeled, and all affected buying personas’ interests can be articulated.
  • Sellers can map competitive differentiation to customer outcomes. As an aside, my value networks are one way to do this.
  • Ability to brief implementation teams with persona-specific outcomes identified during deal pursuit. A key part of solution acumen is delivering on world-class outcomes after the sale.
  • Additionally, sellers move beyond descriptions of outcomes to quantifying them (measuring outcomes in monetary terms) with prospective customers. Also, instead of mastering the ins and outs of discounting, sellers master upward pricing flexibility: understanding attainable price premium and the required customization in order to fairly and legally price at a win-win price premium.

How Solution Acumen Shapes Perspective Selling

Solution acumen enables sellers to build connections between their offer and customer-valued outcomes. To see how, look at the Venn diagram below:

Customers have value gaps, shown on the left oval.  That is, they have unmet needs and aspirations. Suppliers differentiate themselves through unique capabilities. With solution acumen, sellers’ capabilities are expressed in customer terms — outcomes,– so that customers overlap the two ovals.  Any overlap represents where sellers can provide value. Only in this overlap is where sellers perspective welcomed.

Solution acumen increases as sellers more clearly translate the right-hand oval from “we provide ____” to “you achieve _____”. In fact, this is why solution acumen is so important.  As a result, sellers who clearly articulate a cause/effect relationship between offer/outcome become trusted business advisors.

With perspective, sellers can add to the overlap by:

  1. Proposing new possible outcomes,
  2. Framing the customer situation differently…in a way that promises a better outcome
  3. Framing the decision differently…again, to yield a valued outcome.

Remember, customers don’t care about all of your capabilities, even if they are unique to your offer.  Until they can clearly see one of your capabilities enabling a valued outcome, you risk showering them with irrelevance. For this reason, “perspective” outside of a customer’s desired outcomes isn’t really perspective at all.

Solution Acumen: One Key to Perspective Selling

Remember, because customers buy outcomes, perspective sellers need to articulate them.  Optionally, sellers can tell stories, give fresh insights into a customer’s situation, ask questions to get the customer to consider new issues for themselves…in any combination.

Solution acumen is not the ability to explain seller capabilities as features and benefits.  Instead, it’s the ability to translate their product or service into customer outcomes, then to extend single outcomes into follow-on outcomes.

In conclusion, solution acumen is what connects the seller’s offer to customers’ value gaps.  While some sellers can do this naturally, most need help.  To do this, I help sales organizations revamp their sales materials and product training materials to establish high-level solution acumen organization-wide.

Feel free to comment below or to share this article.  If you would like to talk about building the solution acumen of your organization, let me know.  I’d love to help you build that organizational capability.

To your success!

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Perspective Without Business Acumen: Is That Even a Thing?

Part Two of a five Part Series.

Without business acumen, you can’t provide meaningful perspective.

In my last article, I discussed Perspective selling, and its cousins, insight & Challenger selling – and how powerful they are. First, I described perspective: knowledge or insight that expands a customer’s understanding of one or more business issues.  When a seller provides perspective, they apply customer-valued (not just any) insights and expertise .

To consistently provide perspective, sellers need to predict – then introduce – then validate – a customer-valued outcome.  Importantly, part one detailed three techniques for presenting perspective: three ways to stimulate a prospect to visualize an outcome.  In summary: asking value-oriented questions, re-framing a prospect’s viewpoint via credible instruction, and storytelling all engage parts of the brain that simple “selling by telling” does not.

Perspective Takes Three Kinds of Acumen.

Here’s the thing: those three techniques require a strong foundation in three areas. World-class sellers need three types of acumen in order to generate useful perspectives regularly.

The three underlying elements of acumen:

  1. Business Acumen
  2. Customer Acumen
  3. Solution Acumen

With apologies, let me bring the old “three legged stool” metaphor out of storage.  Thus, each type of acumen represents one of the three legs, and the stool needs all three legs to support world class performance.

Today’s topic:  Business Acumen

One of my most popular articles ever discussed the importance of business acumen.  It makes the point that you can’t know your customer’s business until you know business. Rather than repeating that article’s point, the  “why” of understanding business, I’d like this article to address the “what” and “how”.

First, there’s good news for non-“mathletes.  Understanding the numbers in a target company’s financial statements probably won’t get you as far as concentrating your time elsewhere (unless you’re in a field like finance or accounting). While financial acumen isn’t a waste of time, just remember:  financial statements describe financial health of a company, while a salesperson is usually more interested in operational health.  It’s more important to know how an operational change will affect the financial statements that it is to be able to analyze a financial statement for needed operational changes.

Business acumen is critical regardless of your role in your organization. This series of articles focuses on seller roles (any role that faces the customer). Nonetheless, if you’re a business leader trying to focus your company on delivering customer-perceived value, your whole organization should be business-savvy.

Perspective selling, becoming a trusted advisor, requires a seller to know their customer’s business well enough to give valued insights. Thus, many sales leaders realize that building business acumen for sellers and customer-facing roles boosts sales performance. Because of this, several Fortune 100 companies put their entire sales organizations through a mini-MBA program.

What Does Basic Business Acumen Cover?

If I had only one day to work with your people to build their business acumen I would organize a workshop covering a few key topics:

  • Treacy and Wiersema’s three value disciplines; how a company sees themselves differentiating in their market.
  • Understanding current trendsin a company’s market: your own and a customer’s.
  • Perspective sellers are attuned to their customers’competition:direct and indirect / substitutes.
  • Business professionals know how to find any company’s top management priorities. Can they leverage this knowledge into insightful interactions with a customer?
  • Businesspeople should know how to uncover major business risksfaced by any company, and articulate ways to address them.
  • While I don’t advocate strongly for mastering financial ratio analysis, I am big on understanding cost structure: fixed vs. variable costs, and break-even point. Know how to impact each of those items, and how you product /service impacts a customer’s cost structure.
  • Sales people should be able to break any company down into its component processes and activities…then identify key processes.
  • Your people need to be able to identify key process inputs/resourcesa company uses.
  • Business professionals should understand how key partners, alliances, and complementary offers build into complex ecosystems..and how these players add value to each other.
  • How does a company define their customers,and why?
  • Business people, especially sellers, should understand market channels:different kinds, how they work, their value, their challenges, and how customers use them to buy.
  • Business acumen helps identify different revenue streams, and understand what value (besides revenue and profit) each stream produces.
  • Professionals should be able to pick out a company’s value propositions. They should also distinguish propositions from value presumptions and statements, and know the dangers of the latter two.

How Business Acumen Shapes Perspective Selling

Business acumen enables sellers to look at a prospective customer’s business insightfully. Demonstrating a deep understanding of the prospective prospect’s business builds needed credibility. Without credibility, sellers risk being just another annoying know-it-all spewing a misdirected “credibility deck” in a prospect’s direction. Value messaging turns into old-fashioned “telling” if the perspective is not anchored in customer insight.

In summary, business acumen is needed to discover value that is hidden to average sellers.  It opens up a more detailed “map” of all the places where your differentiated value can impact a customer.  I often help clients identify completely new personas and roles within their target companies.  Having insight into how a customer’s company really works helps anticipate everywhere a seller’s differentiation generates value. A tool I’ve developed called “value networks” builds this world-class selling practice into a repeatable system for entire sales teams.

Fee free to comment below or to share this article.  If you would like to talk about building the business acumen of your organization, let me know.  I’d love to help you build that organizational capability.

To your success!

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The Importance of Perspective in Sales

Part One of a Five Part Series.

You may have heard the similar terms perspective selling, insight selling, challenger selling etc. and wondered what the big deal is. Are these passing fad or enduring principle restated? Good news: while the promotional buzz is relatively recent, they all trace back to some solid behavioral and decision science.

The bad news: insight/perspective selling is not simple “selling by telling”. Unsurprisingly, the magic pitch (aka the value message that turns prospects into pliant buyers) is dead. It’s been dead in consumer sales for a long time. And having been consumers, business buyers have lost their tolerance for pitches, even magic ones.

Each of the terms represent a similar idea. I mostly use us the word perspective, but I’ll sprinkle synonyms in.

What is it?

The Miller Heiman Group has one of the better definitions I’ve seen:

Perspective is knowledge or insight that expands a customer’s understanding of one or more business issues. When a seller provides perspective, they apply insights and expertise which increase customer perceived value.

What’s so great about it?

The whole point of selling with perspective breaking into the circle of trust.

According to CSO Insights 2018 Buyer Preference Study, business buyers view vendor salespeople as one of their least preferred sources of information. Salespeople ranked ninth out of ten information sources mentioned by buyers, ahead of only professional trade associations. Ouch.

The news gets worse. Because buyers don’t think sellers add value, buyers don’t engage sellers until they’ve identified their own needs and narrowed down to a self-prescribed solution. Then, when presented with a predefined solution, vendors (predictably) find it hard to differentiate themselves or to exceed expectations. Thus, sellers reinforce their initial impression of buyers, and a cycle is formed.

In short, once the customer has pegged you as an unremarkable seller, you are stuck in a no-value feedback loop that’s difficult to escape. Your goal should be never to enter this cycle.

Happily, buyers are willing promote sellers to “trusted advisor” status, especially when decisions are risky, complex, or unfamiliar. Sellers must simply add value to the buyer’s decision process…from the first contact, and every contact. That means providing valuable insights: selling with perspective.

What Perspective Does For a Customer…

Essentially, a trusted advisor produces new value in a customer’s buying process. This can include introducing new decision criteria, new ways of looking at a situation, or introducing new outcomes. Generally, new criteria and points of view are impactful when they enable or assure outcomes.

There is strong neuroscience and psychology research behind perspective selling. Since customers buy outcomes (not products or services), perspective is the art of opening a prospect’s eyes to new possible outcomes. Perspective triggers the mental process of visualizing outcomes. Visualizations can be spurred in the customer’s mind when sellers:

  1. Ask well-crafted questions which guide the prospect to see their situation in a new way and ultimately to identify (then value) new outcomes.
  2. Tell them something they don’t know – the specific technique proposed by The Challenger Sale. Half of Challenger sellers are low performers because they miss a key factor. The challenge statement only spurs the visualization process when the seller has established credibility. Some use “sales-ready value statements”, “value messaging”, and the like to describe such “perspective telling”.
  3. Tell stories which engage the buyer’s imagination to visualize an outcome for themselves. The human brain responds powerfully to story-telling; stories engage a visualization process, and telling stories about applicable outcomes is a great way to provide perspective. Recently, storytelling is achieving big buzz in the sales world. It’s a great neuroscience-based addition to a seller’s perspective selling arsenal.

Sellers should always combine the last two with the first. Telling a story or making a value claim may “expand a customer’s understanding”, but only questions confirm whether/how firmly any new perspective took hold.

Perspective selling harnesses the most compelling buying behavior: getting prospects to see desirable outcomes for themselves. Getting the most out of perspective selling means selling to full value, which I’ll discuss in part five of this series.

What perspective takes.

In order to consistently provide perspective, sellers need to predict outcomes likely to be customer-valued. Then, they engage in conversation which gets customers to visualize an outcome. Producing valued perspectives requires three types of acumen:

  1. Business Acumen. In order to expose new outcomes to a prospect, you need general business knowledge to predict outcomes. With business acumen, a seller can create new value. In my next article, I’ll cover this in more depth.
  2. Customer understanding. Sellers not only need to have insight into the customer’s business, they need to master the decision dynamic at a customer. Part three of this series will expand on this.
  3. Solution Expertise. Finally, sellers need to understand not just their product or services features and benefits. Perspective requires that sellers translate features and benefits to outcomes. In part four of this series, I’ll cover solution expertise in more detail.

It’s simple to learn, a lifetime to master.

To really master insight and perspective, you need to understand the building blocks. When you look at perspective selling within the framework of providing customer-perceived value, your ability to provide deeply insightful perspectives will increase.

Comment below, or contact me directly to share your perspectives on this article.

To your success!

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Best Practices Economics Entrepreneurship Leadership Marketing Sales Skills Technology

Trends for Every Salesperson

Every profession goes through changes, especially sales. A certain sales technique may have worked in the past, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work today. To be a top-performing salesperson today and in the future, you must continuously adapt to both market and social conditions.

There are several new business trends taking place—all of which affect salespeople in every industry. Understand what the trends are and how to maximize them so you can maintain a successful sales career.

Your Past Success Will Hold You Back

People who are in sales long-term tend to be successful. However, success is your worst enemy. Being at the top and doing well means you’re just trying to keep up and meet demand. You’re not looking at future opportunities because you’re busy reaping the rewards of current ones. The old saying “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” should be reworked today to state, “If it works, it’s obsolete.” If you just bought the latest device, odds are that the newer, better version is already in existence and about to be released to the public. We must evolve to stay ahead of rapid obsolescence in business.

Technology-Driven Change Will Dramatically Accelerate

While it’s human nature to protect the status quo, you have to understand that technology is changing the future, customers’ behavior, and your company’s reality. If you don’t change, you’ll be out of a job. As a salesperson, you need to embrace change wholeheartedly rather than resist and hold tight to the past. Spend some time thinking about where these impactful changes are headed. Change causes uncertainty in customers’ minds, so you bring certainty to them when you display confidence in change.

Time is increasing in value

Time is becoming more important to people because we have an aging demographic of Baby Boomers in the United States. Time gets more valuable as you get older because you have less of it. The world is more complex, with much more for people to do with their time. With so much going on, everyone is increasingly strapped for time. As a salesperson, make your customers feel that talking to you is actually saving them time. The list of time wasters is virtually endless, and these hurt your sales and profits. Prove that you’re a time saver and people will choose you over the competition.

We’ve Shifted From the Information Age to the Communication Age

Many salespeople rely on static marketing tools like company websites, flyers, and sales letters. These methods are a one-way interface. The better way is to have your sales messages be dynamic. For example, you could have a contest that encourages people to go to your site and enter. Instead of just telling people to buy your snack product, you can encourage customers to go online and vote for the next new flavor, getting them involved. The key is to generate communication, engagement, and involvement through your sales and marketing efforts. Don’t just hand out information; you want to listen, speak, and create dialogue to capture your prospects’ interest.

Solutions To Present Problems Are Becoming Obsolete Faster

Almost every salesperson has been told to be proactive by taking positive action. Unfortunately, you must wait and see to know if a certain action is positive. Instead, be pre-active to future known events. You need to look at your customer segment and identify what types of events you are certain they will experience, and focus your actions on what will be happening rather than on what is happening. Being pre-active also means that you change the way people think. When you put out a new product, it takes a while to catch on because you’re not actively changing the way people think about how the product can be used. Constantly educate your customers on the value you and your products or services offer.

The Value You Bring Today is Forgotten Faster

Sell the future benefit of what you do. Most salespeople sell the current benefits to customers who already know what they are. Your goal as a salesperson should be to establish a long-term, problem-solving relationship with customers, not a short-term transaction. Your most profitable customer is a repeat customer, so help them realize the long-term benefit of your partnership. Show them how the products and services you offer will evolve with their needs by selling the evolution of your products and services. Sit down with your fellow salespeople to create a list of future benefits that you have for your customers, and then get an idea of where the product and service developers are heading to think of future benefits preemptively.

Sales Success for the Future

The more you understand and adapt to today’s current business trends, the better your sales will be—today and in the future.

Are you anticipating future trends in your sales career? If you want to learn more about the changes that are ahead and how to turn them into an advantage by becoming anticipatory, pick up a copy of my latest book, The Anticipatory Organization.

Pick up your copy today at www.TheAOBook.com

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Best Practices Entrepreneurship Human Resources Investing Leadership Marketing Personal Development Sales

5 Sales Strategies Not Found in How-To Books

As a salesperson, you’re trained to ask customers what they want in terms of your product offerings. That’s wise advice but it’s incomplete. If you only ask customers what they want and then give it to them, you’re missing the biggest opportunity that has ever come in front of you – the chance to sell innovation.

Technology allows us to do things that were once thought impossible. While it is important for salespeople to ask customers what they want and then deliver on it, all that will do is keep you in the game – not ahead of it.

Chances are your competitors are asking customers the same questions, they’re getting the same answers, and they’re providing the same solutions.

So how do you break through to the next level of sales and become an anticipatory salesperson? Below are six strategies you won’t find in most how-to sales books.

1. Follow the Golden Rule of Sales

The Golden Rule of Sales is to give people the ability to do something they currently can’t do but would want to do if they knew it was possible. In other words, the Golden Rule is to help your customers be anticipatory. It’s called the Golden Rule because it’s much more profitable than simply giving clients what they ask for.

The key is that you have to look a little bit further into your customers’ predictable needs based on where they’re going. Only then you can see unmet needs and new opportunities.

2. Get Comfortable Around Technology  

One stumbling block in selling technology can be that the end user is awkward with new types of technology and related products. But another stumbling block could be that you, as the salesperson, are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the tech-driven solution you could be selling.

This is where the value of a time travel audit, one of the core components of my Anticipatory Organization Model, can prove essential.

3. Practice Anticipatory Selling

Anticipatory selling offers enormous opportunity for those who recognize that the very nature of sales is shifting and, further, that there are strategies to leverage that change.

One key strategy of anticipatory selling boils down to something I call a pre-mortem. Unlike a postmortem, which is an examination after the fact, a pre-mortem is focused on anticipating objections, problems and issues before they occur – and, from there, pre-solving them before the sales process even begins.

4. Raise the Bar on Trust  

You need to shift from being a vendor to being a trusted advisor. A vendor simply supplies a product. A trusted advisor supplies true advantage.

When you seek that higher ground and become a trusted advisor, your clients trust you more.

Remember that the future is all about relationships. Relationships are all about trust, and you gain trust by earning it. So never teach people to distrust you by stretching the truth or hiding some pertinent information. To differentiate, you need to raise the bar on trust.

5. Commit to Finding the Customer’s Truest Needs

When you focus on redefining what you already have, you can take your current offering and leverage it to new levels. That’s when you become a sales leader. It’s not because of some fast-talking sales pitch, it’s because of your commitment to your customers and their true needs.

So focus on relationships, trust and truth, and you’ll be able to give your customers tools and solutions they never dreamed possible. As a result, both you and your company will attain new levels of success and realize the profit potential you always knew existed.  

Want more tips for anticipatory selling? Get my book The Anticipatory Organization: Turning Disruption and Change into Opportunity and Advantage, available now at www.TheAOBook.com

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Best Practices Human Resources Management Marketing Personal Development Sales

There Are Two Kinds of Training. Only One Works.

For as long as I’ve been working, I’ve experienced training. We all have. We also know that it doesn’t’ always “stick”. This is especially true of sales training. Let me share one big “why”.

As my role transitioned into sales leadership, and now consulting, I had to figure out why some training works better than others. When an initiative involves training, whoever owns the results of that initiative (sometimes different from who leads the training) must understand why…and what to do about it.

There Are Two Kinds of Training.

The two kinds of training are really related to two kinds of content:

  1. Content that trainees can “know”.By this, I mean that information in the training is simply transferred with little or no behavior change. Examples in the sales world are how to prepare a bid or enter an order, or how to find collaterals. General examples might be how to log into the company networks or get help, where to go for an access badge, etc. In banking, we had “how to spot and report possible money laundering” training. The point: learning is simple knowledge transfer. Training works fine for this kind of content.
  2. Content that addresses what trainees “do” (behavior content).A lot of sales training falls into this category. It introduces and defines specific selling behaviors…perhaps with some role-playing for practice. A training department might erroneously measure “success” via post-course content retention testing. By contrast, the vice president of sales owns results responsibility; for him or her, success means permanent behavior change. Millennial-friendly hip multimedia content, video role-playing or easily digestible micro-eLearning modules won’t change behavior. These innovations are great at achieving “know”: they effectively transfer knowledge and introduce desired behavior, but they don’t drive behavior change.

The second kind of training doesn’t work…without help. Behavior change training alone works for only a very small percentage of self-starting and highly capable sellers.

I have watched many companies fail to distinguish between the two kinds of content. As a result, they unconsciously cripple a “sales training” initiative by applying a “know” solution to a “do” problem. They fail to adequately reinforce behavior change after a “do content” training event.

Changing Behavior is Simple, But Not Easy.

The difference between “know” content and “do” content is the level and type of follow-up required. “Do” requires follow-up coaching. Until recently, coaching required a personalized coaching regimen delivered via old-fashioned human interaction. (more about new innovations in that area below). The graphic above shows a table of the difference between a training event and coaching for “do” content. Notice how coaching focuses on adopting or changing behaviors. The differences are pretty self-explanatory.

The gold standard of coaching behavior content is and has always been manager-delivered. Due to the one-on-one nature of effective coaching, a seller’s immediate manager is the logical person to deliver effective coaching.

I was one of the first in my company to become fully certified in the full suite of (Miller Heiman Group) coaching methodologies. I now help not only my own clients, but those of several colleagues to build coaching acumen in their management corps. It’s a hugely rewarding part of my consulting practice: I grow sales careers by growing sales managers’ careers.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Comes to Coaching

The promise of AI is that it can act as an expert system that tirelessly monitors behaviors looking for gaps. An AI system has the time that a sales manager lacks. This is a powerful management tool. It also requires a huge underlying data set to “teach” the system to recognize both behaviors and behavior gaps.

I work with one of the first systems capable of recognizing critical selling behaviors. It diagnoses selling gaps proactively. It’s able to spot deal risks and recommend corrective selling behaviors in time to change the deal trajectory, a major innovation. This system operates from an expert system database built from the deepest experience base in existence: the largest, most successful B2B selling organization in the world. This knowledge base is poised to become the first to use machine learning (one form of AI) to diagnose sales opportunities via CRM data. This requires a different CRM that collects behavior data rather than today’s usual “activity-based” tracking. For instance, you can’t coach from “how many calls did this salesman make”. You can coach from data about meaningful conversations. CRM data isn’t today’s activity-based tracking; it’s metrics with insight into a buying decision…selling behaviors.

While personal coaching is still the gold standard, an expert-based system focusing on selling behaviors lightens the load on front-line sales managers. Sales managers are a very overloaded group, and can use the help.  A system which can automatically catch and notify sellers of the most common behavior gaps allows managers to concentrate their coaching on higher-value issues. Managers can follow up when sellers don’t react to machine-based suggestions, coach for more subtle points, etc.

Don’t Address a “Do” Problem With a “Know” Solution

If you and your company want to embark on a sales performance improvement journey, make sure your plan distinguishes between “know” and “do” content.  Then make sure that you do “do” correctly: with a robust coaching component. Also look for a solution which has a clear future into automated ongoing coaching using AI or some similar technology.

If you’d like a fresh set of eyes on your situation, I’d be happy to spend some time hearing your situation out, and your thoughts. Contact me at mark@boundyconsulting.com if you’d like to access a free sounding board. Comment below if you have any additional insights or questions to share.

To your success!

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Best Practices Economics Entrepreneurship Industries Marketing Personal Development Sales Technology

How Technology Changed the Billion-Dollar Ad Game

The advertising industry has had a long and successful history. It has been a very big business, especially for brands like Procter & Gamble, which topped AdAge.com’s list of the world’s five largest advertisers with $10.5 billion in advertising spending.

For decades, the personal care company kept its products front and center in the minds of consumers – on TV, in print and eventually online. The formula was simple: P&G would spend a huge amount on advertising and loyal customers would respond by buying its products.

That is no longer the case. Technology has changed the ad game for P&G – and not in a good way.

Brief Timeline of Advertising Game-Changers

So if your company is like P&G, what should you do? Start with a fresh look at how much technology and advertising have changed over the last 30 years.

As you look at this timeline, pay attention to how technology worked for – or against – advertisers throughout recent history. Then, use my Hard Trends Methodology to predict what’s next.

1990s – Hundreds of cable channels and the Internet launched, and advertisers jumped to buy space wherever their audiences would be.

Early 2000s – TiVo was one of the first disruptors to these seemingly endless advertising avenues. For the first time, consumers had power over when they got their content and began to skip the ads.

2001 – Next came iPods, which could play downloaded media while consumers were on the go.

2004 – Amazon.com launched as a virtual bookstore and began laying the groundwork for online retailers

2006 – Social media pioneer Facebook opened the News Feed, in which anybody – and any brand – could self-publish content. Facebook ads, for which advertisers once again had to “pay to play,” wouldn’t come until later.

2007 – Netflix went from DVD to streaming and never looked back. Consumers could now also choose what to watch, whenever they wanted to.

Also in 2007Smartphones came on the scene, allowing consumers to carry all types of media in their hands. The ad industry had to go mobile – often in addition to going traditional. Though it wasn’t easy to navigate at first, by 2015 mobile ad spending would top $28 billion.

2008 – Spotify started running on advertising dollars initially, but also offered premium, ad-free packages to consumers at nominal prices.

2009 – In the late 2000s, YouTube began allowing pre-roll ads; advertisers were once again able to recapture a very captive audience.

2012 – Facebook purchased Instagram. It would be five years before the $1 billion gamble would pay off, but in the meantime, real people became the faces of brands. The newest media-buying currency was the influence of the crafty, hip or carpool moms who had become spokespeople.

2015 – Amazon.com hit a milestone as it accounted for at least half of all e-commerce growth. Many experts attributed sales success to the debut of the company’s one-click ordering.

2018 and beyondNot only is data-driven advertising becoming more popular, it’s expected in today’s “show me you know me” consumer culture.

If you use my Hard Trends Methodology to look ahead to the future of advertising, you’ll be able to anticipate that the next decade will move even faster. Even more devices are likely to be developed, and they will ultimately be connected to each other as an integral part of our lives.

Now is the time to learn to anticipate the next wave of technology. Start with my book, The Anticipatory Organization, which is fittingly available with one-click ordering on Amazon.com right now.

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Personal Development Sales

CRM:  Compliance Hammer or Performance Instrument?

“Thanks to my CRM for helping me win that deal” said no salesperson ever.  In fact, CRM is almost universally looked on as serving management, not sales.  Salespeople view CRM as a hammer to measure compliance, not a tool.  CRM utilization is a constant battle, where management doesn’t trust reports compiled from inadequate usage.

Why the shortcoming?

Today’s CRMs, in even the most sophisticated implementations, track seller activities, not deal-moving sales behaviors.

I just finished reading a new client’s sales process document, which defines sales stages, tells the company’s sales professionals what tasks should be completed in which sales stage, and what resources are there to help them. It was a very thorough document, obviously well thought out and logically presented in considerable detail. It was tightly integrated with the company’s CRM system, and sellers can easily track the activities outlined in the playbook.  Of “selling process/CRM integration” efforts I’ve seen, this one is above average.

Here’s the thing:  in 35 pages, the customer’s buying process was almost invisible:  There was almost no insight into the customer’s journey, what it might look like, or who might be involved.

  • While several common roles were mentioned, zero coverage was given to what each role commonly looks for, or how they interact.
  • There was no mention of common value drivers at all – unless you count “provide test reports on features where we outperform competitors”. That is, there was not attempt to ascertain which product advantages might actually result in customer value.  And, actionable information like which value drivers might apply to which common buying personas was completely off of the radar screen.
  • While the sellers were doing all of their well-regulated selling activity, there was no mention of what complementary buying actions they should expect the customer to be doing.
  • There was strong emphasis on investing time and resources on the best customers, but no real definition what “best customer” looks like, other than “spends the most”.No particular mention of whether they are a fit for this company’s premium products, and certainly no attempt at a scoring system for “best customer”.

The difference between “above average” and “world class” is powerful.  World class selling organizations implement sales methodologies which address these (and other) gaps.  Miller Heiman Group clients have had the ability to overlay such methodologies on their CRMs.

What does the difference get you?

When you have a methodology that aligns selling and buying processes, then helps sales people diagnose the actions that will keep customers moving along their buyer’s journey, several things happen:

  1. You can identify deal-moving sales behaviors
  2. You can diagnose at-risk deals in time to rescue them…and know how.
  3. You can replicate high-performance behaviors across your entire sales team.

This sounds pretty powerful, right?  When sales leaders, particularly front-line sales managers, are able to diagnose and coach within a dynamic coaching culture, sales performance outcomes improve dramatically.

A new generation of CRM is the next innovation in sales performance:  What if your CRM was able to do some of the diagnosis automatically, so that front-line sales manager diagnosis time wasn’t the bottleneck? You’d really have something, wouldn’t you?

The new generation of CRM is here.  It’s an instrument for sales performance improvement, not the same old compliance hammer.  It’s combined with the world’s most highly respected methodology for complex selling…a methodology updated for even greater results for today’s generation of sellers. Where traditional CRMs measure seller activities, this new CRM is centered on selling behaviors that move deals, identify at-risk deals, and coach performance electronically.

Is the view worth the climb?

Adopting any new system is a substantial investment of resources.  While having a more manageable sales system is valuable to managers; real ROI comes from having a dynamic coaching culture.  Close rates climb by an average of 18%.  The view – the return – is high.  The results have been proven over decades.

Our new system is the easiest to implement way to achieve that dynamic coaching culture in existence. The climb – the cost — has never been easier.

This set of instruments are easy to customize to many businesses.  I’m happy to spend some time with you learning about your unique situation to see if we can apply this powerful solution to your needs, the way you need.  Contact me if you want to talk more.

To your success!

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