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What Makes A Post Go Viral? A Lesson For Sales And Marketing Professionals.

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Recently, 7000 New York Times articles were analyzed to determine what common elements were found in those that went viral. The results can be a great instructional guide for sales and marketing professionals that are striving to have their message heard above the cacophony of Internet noise.

Jonah Berger, Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School developed a model based on this research project. He breaks down the key components for creating a viral message into the following four categories:

1. Narrative: A well crafted story line that captivates attention.

2. Practical Value: Providing information that has value to the receiver.

3. Emotion: Causes strong emotional feelings including surprise and happiness.

4: Social Currency: The message makes the sharer seem cool or hip.

Many viral successes leverage more than one component. You may be one of the 300 Million who viewed the “Will It Blend?” video, where Blendtec founder Tom Dickson throws a variety of objects into a blender including golf balls, lightbulbs and an iPad. This post leveraged narrative, emotion, and social currency to reach such high viewership.

In the sales and marketing profession, recent research by CEB indicates we should be educating our customers with practical value while common wisdom suggests the best sellers narrate good stories about other customer successes. Perhaps there’s a correlation between sales and marketing messages that resonate and the viral components described above.

What’s your current sales or marketing message? And what components of viral propensity does it contain?

Help make this article viral by forwarding a copy to your colleagues! All of them.

The Enterprise Selling Group helps commercial organizations tune their sales and marketing disciplines to improve revenue results. Kevin Temple is the founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group.  

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The 12th Man In Sales: The Hidden Competitor

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If you’re not familiar with the 12th man on defense, its a reference to the audience noise level that gave the Seattle Seahawks a major home-field advantage this past season in the NFL. It suggests there is one more defensive player than the 11 allowed on the field.

Selling also has a 12th man or woman, that plays against you or your team. Although we often think of competitors as the other alternatives in our industry, the 12th man is the competitive use of funds for other initiatives. When your opportunity is submitted as a purchase requisition for sign off, there may be one or more purchase requisitions competing against it for limited funding. It could be an application for a different department, additional headcount, or even a new parking lot… as one of my client’s discovered in a recent loss.

So after engaging with your contacts, successfully differentiating your solution, navigating a positive outcome on a Proof of Concept and committing an expensive amount of resources and time, you’re now up against a competitor you know nothing about. Worse, the sponsor of the competitive requisition may be a better sales person than your champion or sponsor. Research indicates that up to 30% of sales opportunities lose to the 12th man. In some cases it only means a delay until a new quarter or new budgeting cycle, but in some cases the loss is permanent. In either case, when you are trying to optimize your time and resources to reach a goal, this can be a costly proposition.

So how do you mitigate this hidden competitor? The first step is to arm your champion with an effective Executive Summary. I find that most sales people either don’t use an Executive Summary or they provide a “selfie” and label it an Executive Summary. (A selfie is a description of the seller’s own company and product. See our previous post on the topic.) The absence of an Executive Summary or an ineffective “selfie”allows the 12th man an opportunity to better position themselves on the playing field and connect more effectively with the executive sign-off authority.

An effective Executive Summary should include:

  • An overview of the current and relevant business issues the prospect’s company is facing. For example, recent acquisitions, difficulty managing costs, new competitors, and so on. Remember, you’re trying to connect with a signature authority! So capture the subjects that are of interest to them now.
  • A overview of the relevant problems or challenges that you will be able to resolve and contribute to the resolution of the business issue(s). For example, broken processes, manual processes, limited staffing resources, capacity limitations, and more. I call these the People/Process/Technology challenges. Many times, the sign-off authority doesn’t know the scope of the problem set or the implications of the problems.
  • Identify the impact of taking or not taking action. The former is an opportunity, the latter is a cost. The most relevant impact is one cited by the customer themselves; “we have a goal to reduce costs by 15%”, or “the acquisition cost was over $100 million”, or, “our product revenue is down 10% due to new competition”. Sometimes the best we can do is an intangible impact: “potential lawsuits”, “regulatory fines”, or “loss of credibility”.
  • Provide proof in the form of a reference story or quote. If they follow you’re logic on why buy something, why buy from you, and why buy now, the last question they have will be “can we trust them?” Supply them with a brief story about another customer who had the same business issues, problems and credible payoff/cost results. Lacking this, an analyst quote may help.

The best situation is where you or your team can deliver the executive summary in person. But if that’s not possible you should create an Executive Summary that can sell for you, or better equip your sponsor to sell on your behalf. Leaving out the Executive Summary gives the 12th man the opportunity to do a better job of connecting their solution to the business issues the sign-off authority is interested in addressing.

Kevin Temple is founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group. Kevin works with companies around the world to improve their sales and marketing practices and increase revenue. The Enterprise Selling Group is the leader in sales transformation.

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What Clint Eastwood Would Do After A Consultative Selling Workshop

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Remember the movie “The Gauntlet” with Clint Eastwood? He’s been ordered to pick up a prisoner and deliver her to the courthouse a few hundred miles away. What he doesn’t know at the time is that he was selected to fail. As the plot progresses, it seems like everyone is out to kill him. The conspiracy runs right up to, and includes, the police commissioner.

The same goes for sales reps that are chartered to sell consultatively. (Insert your favorite: Solution Selling, Value Based Selling, Challenger Selling, etc…)  It’s as if everyone’s against them as well. From the moment they finish their introduction to a consultative selling model, it’s as if the entire world is against them.

Imagine the scenario that plays out every day all around the world. A successful product sales person has just completed the world’s best consultative sales training workshop and they are anxious to engage their first prospect to practice their newly acquired knowledge.

The first obstacle they encounter is the customer. The first words out of their mouth are usually something to the effect of, “so what does your product do?” If a seller is particularly tenacious and holds her ground by asking to understand more about the customer’s business, it’s not uncommon to hear the prospect elevate the defense by stating, “you don’t need to know that, just tell me what your product does”. A very seasoned consultative seller can navigate past a “See-more”, but the new consultative seller will need some help and guidance with establishing credibility, leading a dialog, and controlling the steps, especially if they run into multiple “See-more’s”.

Let’s talk about the second obstacle. Clint’s character, Ben Shockley, was chosen for this job because his alcoholic fueled lone wolf behaviors had defined many failures in his career. Like Ben, many sales people can be their own worst enemy. When their product expertise is the primary source of their value to a prospect, their strength becomes their weakness. At the first sign of a difficult consultative dialog, many reps will readily fall back to educating on product capabilities. They enable themselves. Worse, when the prospect provides positive feedback for an deep dive on the product capabilities, the sales rep internalizes it as good behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth. Focusing on the product keeps access to other stakeholders to a low level, and hands over the only thing the prospect values too early in the process.

Now let’s go to the wolf in sheep’s clothing: the sales manager. Unfortunately, this person was usually given a battlefield promotion for selling more product than the next rep, but that doesn’t often translate to possessing consultative selling skills. They are often ill equipped to role model the expected behavior and are generally inclined to forego early customer diagnostic dialogs to focus on closing meetings where they mistakenly believe they are having the greatest contribution to success. Many are also not prepared or developed to coach effectively. They tend to fall back on “watch how I do it”, only to role model the best product centric habits. While it seems intuitive that the sales manager plays the most critical role in transforming a product centric seller to a consultative centric seller, they are a leading reason many sales reps’s fall back to previous behaviors.

Now the invisible enemy; the seller’s own company. Its ironic the company is expecting the seller to suddenly begin consultatively selling, while unfortunately, their marketing messaging is still touting product capabilities, their recognition and reward systems still incentivizes old behaviors, their leadership hasn’t defined success in a very tangible way and probably didn’t attend the same training experience, and their solution training is still product centric. Imagine moving to a foreign country to learn a new language, but everyone speaks nothing but English. You’re not likely to learn very much.

The transformation of a single sales person to sell consultatively includes many enemies, most of which are unconscious they are undermining success. The transformation of an entire sales organization only magnifies the problem.

So how did Clint finally deliver on his promise? He had help. You may remember that his former partner helped him with information and coaching. For a sales team to succeed with this task, they need help as well. They need help from their manager, from their company, and from their customers. Further, each of these stakeholders need help. The company needs to become aware of how their processes and ecosystem support old behaviors, not new ones. The manager needs to be developed to be a better coach and role model. And the customer needs to understand why engaging in a different dialog is in their best interest. Lastly, the rep needs to know about these traps in their quest so they can more effectively navigate the challenge.

 

The Enterprise Selling Group provides sales transformation strategy, planning and execution services. If you’d like more information about successfully transforming your team to a consultative selling model, please visit our website at www.enterprise-selling.com

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The Proposal that Sells Itself

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Even the best sales people can’t get to every decision maker. But your proposal can. Do a check up on your proposal format. Does it convince a sign-off authority to sign the purchase requisition and place an order, especially if you can’t be there?

After reviewing literally hundreds of “standard” proposal formats sent out by a large variety of big and small companies, it’s not surprising why so many sales teams have a hockeystick quarter end. From my perspective, most proposals are little more than a price quote.

I’m talking about the “proposal” that has a nice cover letter thanking the prospect for the opportunity and an overview about how this vendor is the leader in their field. This is followed by a price quote and overly generous discount with a time expiration coincidentally connected to the end of the quarter. Then some sort of terms/conditions agreement, license agreement, services SOW, and so forth.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the decision maker. You have a list of questions you need to have answered before you sign off on the proposal… maybe something like this:

  •         Why do we need this solution? (What business issues is the customer facing and what are the underlying problems that are not currently being addressed by the existing solution?)
  •         Is this vendor the best alternative? (Can we do it ourselves, or is there another vender with similar capabilities at a lower price? Or, what makes this vendor special?)
  •         Do we need to act now? (Versus other alternative uses of the funds or especially with other more pressing issues?)
  •         What’s the potential savings or reward for making this change? (ROI? Competitive advantage? Lower cost of ownership? Or, what disappointing metric will this help us to overcome? Etc…)
  •         Who will this solution benefit? (Are there other parts of the organization that could chip in? If we broaden the purchase could we save/earn even more?)
  •         Can we trust this vendor? (Will it work? Can they support us? What’s their track record look like? Did you try it out? Do others that we respect us it?)

The question is does your proposal help them answer these questions and make a decision? Worse, the first question they ponder that doesn’t get answered gives them the excuse to push back and ask the sponsor to do their homework.

I know what you might be thinking; these questions should have been answered during the discovery and evaluation process. I’d agree, but often times they are not, and even if they are, that doesn’t guarantee the final decision maker was involved in the transfer of this information. That means the seller would have to depend upon their inside champion to articulate the answers to these questions, but we all know hope is not a strategy! Your next thought might be, “the proposal should be delivered to the decision maker by the seller so all of these questions can be answered directly”. Again, I agree, but unfortunately, not the case most of the time.

If you’re sucking wind through your teeth thinking about your proposal format,  I recommend a set of simple changes.

The easiest and most effective way to address your current proposal format in this light is to structure the cover letter to address these questions. I recommend a format for the letter that includes:

  •         The business issues uncovered during discovery. (A quick review of their latest earnings statement or recent press releases can provide some insight if you missed this step during your discovery process.)
  •         The underlying people, process, or technology challenges that are currently impeding the business issue. Word these with problem oriented adjectives: difficulty with, challenged by, or lacking. i.e., “Difficulty with multiple manual processes that are error prone.”
  •         The impact of not taking action. Sizing the cost of, or lost opportunity for each challenge and the associated business issue. Or, identify the current state of the metric they care about, and the potential. i.e., “The goal is to reduce costs by 15%, but it currently stands at a 5% reduction.”
  •         Connecting your unique capabilities to actual challenges the prospect has acknowledged. The only way they can determine if you are the best alternative is to identify challenges they care about that can’t be solved by others as well as you can solve them.
  •         Identifying the stakeholders you have included in your analysis to allow them to confirm the organizational opportunity.
  •         Specific usage example, citing another similar but respected company with similar business issues, similar challenges, and actual accrued results. (This structure of success story is often shortened to simple name dropping, prompting the buyer to take a small pilot step first.)

As the sales leader, I also recommend that you inspect every proposal for this structure. Your inspection will underscore your commitment to making this a discipline, and if your sales people can supply the information for all of these components, they will have undoubtedly conducted a more thorough discovery process. You kill two birds with one stone.

You should see a decrease in stalled decisions or no decisions, a measurable increase in your win rate, and interestingly, a smoothing of your hockeystick. After all, if the prospect’s decision maker has all of their questions answered, and it’s a compelling proposition, there’s no need to sit on the proposal until the end of quarter.

The Enterprise Selling Group helps commercial organizations tune their sales and marketing disciplines to improve revenue results. Kevin Temple is the founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group.  

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Disqualifying Can Increase Sales

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Last week, I wrote about developing qualified opportunities. This week I’ll tackle the other side of the coin. When should you disqualify an opportunity?

Many sales people get a frightened look in their eyes when the subject of disqualification comes up. I’ve heard more than one sales leader describe it as “they try to wrestle everything to the ground”. It’s an unspoken truth that many sales professionals don’t practice disqualification at all.

But the fact of the matter is that 30-40% of all enterprise sales opportunities end in no decision. Worse, when a sales person works on an inquiry that can’t buy, they get robbed three times. First they lose the time they worked on the inquiry without a reward. Second, that time could have been spent on a real opportunity that could buy. And third, the opportunity they missed might go to a competitor. When you think about it, disqualification should be a common practice!

Imprivata is the leader in Single Sign-On technology. They make it easy and secure for Healthcare professionals and others to access a range of applications with one sign on. When I first met the team, it was a pleasure to see their marketing team was doing a great job with lead development. Too good in fact. Their sales people were getting swamped with leads, and at that time, they didn’t have an automated way to score leads for better digestion. So we tackled the problem with a simple disqualification process.

We had four disqualifying questions for inquiries:

  1. What business issues are currently getting executive attention in their company? This question helps determine if there is alignment with the seller’s solution, or misalignment. For instance, if the seller’s solution saves money, but the prospect company is focusing on new competitors entering the field, their message might get lost in the weeds.
  2. What problems were compelling the evaluator to reach out to Imprivata? People don’t really buy capabilities, they buy things that resolve problems. If they can’t identify the problem, they’ll have a hard time convincing their boss to spend money when there are other well articulated problems to address.
  3. What’s the impact of the problems and the business issue? Again, if they can’t articulate the value of addressing the problem set, they will have a difficult time getting signatures to spend money, especially if other buying initiatives do a better job of articulating value.
  4. Will they introduce the seller to other stakeholders? Recent research indicates that sponsors who will mobilize other stakeholders into the conversation are more likely to succeed in selling your solution into their organization. Conversely, contacts that refuse access are more likely to end in a no decision.

If the answer was negative in all four categories, the seller would put the contact on an automated nurturing feed, and offer to get back in a few months. Notice they aren’t dropping the prospect, they’re really re-prioritizing them down the list. If they had some positive responses, but some blanks, the contact’s willingness to help address the unknown information was used to determine which bucket they were assigned. The key to this successful disqualification process was having a largely objective way to determine who should be de-prioritized. This alleviated the compulsion to tackle everything to the ground with some solid logic.

Imprivata tracked their results. They cited a 20% increase in deals closed! Curiously, they also cited a 19% increase in the average contract value. In hindsight, selecting opportunities that could better articulate their business issues, underlying connected problems, and economic value tended to execute larger transactions. In effect they got a double win out of disqualifying.

If your team is really busy, but still struggling to hit the numbers on a consistent basis with high participation from all members, it might be time to consider implementing a disqualifying initiative.

The Enterprise Selling Group helps commercial organizations tune their sales and marketing disciplines to improve revenue results. Kevin Temple is the founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group.  

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Is It How To Qualify A Prospect, Or Develop a Qualified Prospect?

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When I started selling years ago, my first sales manager coached me to qualify an opportunity by asking if there was a budget allocated to my product or service.  That was his entire definition of a qualified opportunity. Even worse, I was hired as specialist selling a new “revolutionary” product, so there were no budgets developed or allocated for my product. With his definition, not a single prospect I had targeted was qualified.

Since then, I have had the privilege to sell many more disruptive technologies that didn’t have the luxury of a healthy budget tide to smooth the waters. So I’ve developed a much more refined vision of qualification which doesn’t necessarily include a question about budget in the direct manner described above. My perspective is that qualification is a spectrum of potential positions.  Ultimately, the best qualified opportunity is one that has just given you a purchase order, and anything less than that is somewhere on the spectrum of being developed into a qualified opportunity. I have a grouping of four buckets that help determine the level of qualification of the opportunity.

The first checkpoint involves the level of synchronicity between the prospect’s view of their problem and our solution as the answer. In other words, do they view my solution as the best way to address their challenges and contribute to resolving a critical business issue?  If they don’t view my solution as the best, or that it will address their challenges, or that it will contribute to resolving their current business issue, than this qualification component is weak. This also implies that I must confirm their view on these subjects as part of my qualification process.

The second component is directly related to their sense of urgency and priority for my sale.  My objective is to develop or uncover the impact of taking action or not taking action in order to help the prospect motivate themselves to take action.  If I don’t explore this dialog, I have hampered my ability to heighten their motivation to take action, and my ability to qualify their intent.

Next is the stakeholder and authority aspect of a decision.  The qualification of an opportunity is directly dependent upon the ultimate decision maker deciding he or she sees the impact of your solution as having a significant priority (second component above),  and that it is the best solution to resolve their challenges and contribute to resolving a critical business issue (first component above).  Qualification of this category also requires that the decision maker has discretion over funds and can allocate budget if none exists. Further, this category should also take into account the backing or opposition of the purchase by other stakeholders who can sway a decision maker.

Finally, the last bucket incorporates their decision process.  Do I know their decision criteria?  Have they verbalized when the decision must be made and why that timeframe?  Do I have these items confirmed back in some written form? The confirmation of the subject is the highest level of qualification for each individual category. So how does this help a sales person sell more?  The major contribution is to provide a guide.  If the seller is setting out to answer the questions I’ve outlined, they will actually be doing a better job of facilitating a purchase.  This reduces the contribution of “no decisions” to the outcome of a forecast in two ways.  With this process, some opportunities can be moved from a “no decision” outcome to a winning decision, usually by helping to illuminate the connection to the impact and the current business issue.  Further, disqualifying opportunities that have no chance of making a decision allows the seller to focus their efforts on opportunities that do have a solid chance of being won.  It’s a tragedy to miss a perfectly good opportunity because the seller was focused on a deal that never had a chance of being won.  That’s two losses in one.

ESG provides qualifying and disqualifying training that will improve sales, decrease sales cycles and differentiate you from lower cost alternatives. For more information, visit our website at www.enterprise-selling.com and  read our most recent white papers on Enterprise Selling and Sales Transformation

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RFP Strategies

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The Enterprise Selling Group

No matter what you call it, RFP, RFI, or RFQ… the success rate for winning unsolicited requests for proposals are dismal. If a buyer sends out 10 bid requests for an RFP, statistically each vendor only has a 1 in 10 chance of winning. That’s much worse than a normal 1 in 3 win rate for most line items on an average sales rep’s forecast.  But if the RFP is rigged for a single vendor, then all the other vendors have zero chance of winning.

So, back to the question, do you bid? I’ll say it depends. I’ve helped many companies improve their RFP win rate, usually very dramatically. But the strategy is very heavily dependent upon knowing which RFP request to ignore. The best way to ascertain if you should walk is to test the RFP. Here are a few of my favorite test points:

Posture

“As the leader in an industry that is growing dramatically, we don’t have the luxury to respond to unsolicited RFP’s. If you would like to evaluate our solution for your needs, we’ll need to engage in a dialog about your business in a more direct manner.”

One of the best methods for increasing your win rate and reducing wasted sales cycles on unwinnable RFP’s is to posture you way out of the process altogether. Although ideal, this strategy usually only works for the leaders in an industry and has to be truly aligned with a buying frenzy.

One of my clients recently hosted a prospective CIO customer during a headquarters visit. After the VP of Sales gave a very energetic overview, the CIO implied that the next step would to tender an RFP for response. The VP of Sales responded with a solid posturing strategy, “As you know, our technology is in the perfect storm of opportunity, market leadership, and high growth. We don’t do RFP’s, we can’t afford to.” The CIO responded, “Yeah, I can see your point. OK, we’ll skip the RFP and go direct to an evaluation phase.” That’s how posturing is supposed to work.

Test their Resolve and Intention

Of course, not everyone is a market leader in a perfect buying storm, and when a quota has to be met, every opportunity should be evaluated. (Notice I said evaluated, not pursued.) I suggest a series of tests to determine their intentions about your solution and to improve your position should you decide to pursue.

The Shadow Story

I worked with an experienced sales management professional who had a saying, “An RFP is the shadow of the story.” What he meant was when you receive the RFP it’s focused on the requirements. What’s missing are the reasons behind the RFP. What unresolved business issue is driving the RFP? What specific people/process/technology challenges were linked to each solution requirement? How big are these problems in terms of money, lost opportunity or other value proposition?

The first place to test an RFP is to ask the prospect if they can share the story behind the RFP. If they refuse, you’re not on solid ground. But if they agree, you have some indication that you are needed in their RFP process either as their first choice (good footing) or an important price/functionality reference point (not so good).

This is your opportunity to not only understand the story behind the RFP, it’s also a chance to change it. This is where the next test comes into play.

Adding Challenges and Requirements

If you have the opportunity to hear the story behind the RFP, you have an opportunity to change the story. This is where you look for problems or challenges that have not been identified, link to your differentiators, and have value for the prospect. There is always something they overlooked.

If they accept the suggestion to change the RFP to incorporate the challenges and associated required solution capabilities you suggested, you have another favorable data point. If they refuse, you have a negative data point.

Reprioritizing Challenges and Requirements

Sometimes you have a capability that differentiates your offering. Look for the opportunity to get a priority ranking of key capabilities. If you have a differentiator that is low on the list, ask about the pain associated with the challenge it addresses. The more pain the higher it should be on their priority list. Conversely, look for competitor’s differentiators. If they are higher on the list, a review of the pain (or lack thereof) behind the associated challenge could help to lower the priority of a capability that you can’t address as well.

If the prospect engages you in the reprioritization dialog and responds favorably to suggested changes in priorities, you have another favorable data point. If they refuse, note the negative data point.

Trade Offs

There will be occasions where you can’t address a capability as described in the RFP, or you address it differently. This is where you request a trade off. You’re trying to get the customer to accept an alternative capability or trade a different capability for the one they specified. If they accept, your position is stronger, if they reject the request, you have another negative data point on your position.

Stakeholders

Another test is to request access to the stakeholders that would benefit from the solution. If they allow the request, you have a stronger foothold, and you may be in a better position to influence changes to the RFP. If they deny the request, you have another data point that may indicate your solution is not valued. If you do get access to the stakeholders, that’s your best chance to re-engineer the list of requirements by bringing up challenges they didn’t anticipate. (see above)

Date of Submission

Another good test point is to ask the prospect if you can be late for the submission date, whether you need it or not. If they agree to accept your submission late, it may be an indicator that you are valued in their RFP. If they reject your request, you have another data point that doesn’t indicate a position of strength.

Conditional No-Bid

At one point in my sales leadership career, my sales team came to me with a very comprehensive RFP tendered by a large corporation. The sales team wanted to secure a large technical team to spend several weeks assembling our response. I said, “No”.  One of our competitors was the incumbent in the account and we had no role in building the specification for the RFP. So I asked for an audience with the RFP committee. My sales team relayed the request and the RFP committee agreed to meet with me.

During the meeting I requested the story behind the story. They declined to share any information. Then I asked if they could extend a longer period of time for our response.  They said if we wanted to compete, we had to play by their rules. Then I asked for access to the stakeholders that would benefit from the purchase. Once again they said, “No”.

I walked away from that meeting with the feeling that we were not their favored vendor. When I got back to my office, I wrote a contingent no-bid letter. I addressed it to the CEO of the company.

In my letter, I explained that we were the leader in our industry, that we were excited about the opportunity to potentially add value to their business, and so on. But, I explained that without more information about the circumstance that brought this requirement to the surface, we could not possibly tender a proposal that would hit their business needs as well as we probably could. I suggested that if the circumstances were to change, and they were willing to share the information, we would be happy to submit a proposal, but in the meantime, we had to decline the RFP. This is what I call a contingent no-bid. I leave the door open, but decline under the current conditions.

A few days later I received a phone call from the CFO of the company. He said the CEO had asked him to get back to me personally. He told me that there was no budgeted purchase planned. He also explained that this group of people were in-between projects and were being funded by a training budget until they were assigned to a project. In other words, there was never going to be a purchase. He apologized for the confusion and asked me if there was anything else he could do for me. I said, “yes, there is!” I asked for a meeting with the CEO and the CFO to simply describe how we could address their business challenges better than the vendor who was currently supplying their solution. He said he would look into it. (I eventually got the meeting). More importantly… I asked him to please not share the information he just disclosed with the other vendors involved in the RFP. He laughed and said he would let it run another 30 days before shutting it down.

A contingent no-bid is an effective test for determining if the prospect needs your response. If they do, they will call you back and attempt to talk you into the response. If they don’t, you were not going to win, and best case, you were only there for pricing comparisons. Better still, if worded correctly, it leaves the door open if the circumstances change.

Improving Your RFP Hit Rate

The quest to improve your RFP hit rate is highly dependent upon setting a goal to NOT reply to blind unsolicited RFP’s. If you can posture your way out of responses you’ll save a lot of resources and project yourself as the most attractive solution. But if you have to reply to win, you can use the strategies listed above to improve your position and test the reality of your chances for winning. If the tests indicate a weak position, you should feel good about walking away from the situation before you invest any resources into the response. After all, if there’s no way for you to win, the unsolicited RFP robs you twice. First because you can’t win this deal, but they also rob you of the time you could have spent on any opportunity that you could have won.

The Enterprise Selling Group helps commercial organizations tune their sales and marketing disciplines to improve revenue results. Kevin Temple is the founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group.  

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Is Your Corporate Overview Factual, or Persuasive?

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A client of ours recently asked us to develop the skills of his sales team to deliver a more persuasive corporate overview. His motivation came from the lack of sense of urgency they were witnessing with their prospects. They could get the first meeting, but the second meeting was becoming elusive. What I’ve gathered below is right in line with Aristotle’s work on Rehtoric describing Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. So if you have any college flashbacks, good or bad, you can thank me.

Before I begin the summary, keep in mind that a persuasive sales presentation is supposed to answer three questions for your audience. “Why Change?” “Why Change Now?” and “Why Us?” Your objective is to heighten their emotional perspective on the requirement for change, and lead them to your solution as the best option given their circumstance. Alternatively, a lack of persuasion translates to leaving it up to the prospect to find the motivation to change on their own. For those who may have forgotten, I’ll remind you of the saying, “hope is not a strategy!”

1. Problem Identification. People are motivated for their own reasons, not yours. A persuasive presentation should start with a focus on the problems they’re having in their business. (Not your company bio, or your client logos! See my post on Selfies). Within the first 3 or 4 slides, there should be a problem identification slide. This is where you get the customer to confirm the problems they’re experiencing in their business. It can be a list of common problems other customer’s have shared. It can be a “situation creates problems” visual, or it could be a blank slide with bullets reminding you to start a dialog about problems. Even better, blank the screen out and have a discussion (In Powerpoint, Ctrl B turns the screen black, ctrl W turns it white). You’ll be amazed at how many people wake up, put down their mobile devices and contribute.  Don’t forget to capture their input in plain view.

Some people have voiced concerns to me about “guessing” with the wrong problems. My answer is that if none of the problems you can solve resonate with the prospect, you should walk away from the engagement and find a prospect that does have problems you can solve. Further, it’s not necessary that all the problems resonate. Just enough to help them answer their first question “Why Change?” and compel them to share problems not listed on your slide.  I’ve also received pushback on this suggested activity when the seller feels uncomfortable engaging in a subject that seems obvious to the prospect. “They know what problems they have!”, I’ve heard as an explanation. But in fact, they don’t know all of the problems they have, and they will be grateful when you point out problems that add to their perspective. (This is called delivering insight.) At a minimum, you get credibility points for demonstrating that you understand the problems they’re facing. More importantly, the list of problems becomes your long term motivational carrot and stick. (See item 5 below.)

2. A Compelling Story. This can be an anecdotal story about a company/person similar to your audience, an analogous story about some every day experience, or it can be an foreign land based mythical story. In the former, your story depicts another organization or person in a situation similar. More important is to describe the problems this other character was experiencing… you want them to relate to your character, and problems are their common ground. Then you describe how you solved the problem set and the outcome or payoff for the customer. I call this the Hollywood format, since it follows almost every movie script format ever produced. In the analogy or foreign land story, you are doing the same thing as the anecdotal story; you introduce a character ( your dog, or a giant in medieval times for example), you describe the problem (your dog won’t take his medicine, or the giant is terrorizing the village), you describe how the problem was overcome (your mother suggested wrapping the medicine in peanut butter, or the small child uses his slingshot to fell the giant), and then you draw out your point ( sometimes solutions come from collaboration, or fear can cripple grown warriors) and connect it to your message for the day.

Stories do more than illustrate the “Why Change?” question. They build rapport with the audience and they make you more accessible. They also last longer than your presentation. People can easily forget the details of your presentation, but many will remember a story for months or years. If you can remember the details of a book or movie that you haven’t viewed for years or even decades, you are your own proof that stories have staying power.

3. Build Anxiety. If you’ve done a brilliant job of answering “Why Change?”, your next goal is to answer the question “Why Now?” Your audience needs to be compelled to take action. Although some people are motivated by opportunity, a vast majority are motivated by fear or pain. Your job is to get the audience to experience the pain of not taking action. This can be achieved with a Provocative Question, another story with a disappointing outcome, or a third party prediction.

A Provocative Question is designed to tap the personal ramifications of not changing. It might sound like, “So if the your team misses their milestone delivery date, how does that impact you personally or the group?” Your objective is not necessarily to get the answer, in fact, you may already know the answer. Your objective is to get them to experience the outcome while they are sitting in front of you. Ideally, the receiver thinks through the outcome and comes to some conclusions in their mind such as… “I won’t be getting my bonus.” or, “I’ll have to dust off my resume”, or “There will be some late nights and weekends for everyone.” Basically, you want them to move from the logical reasons for change to the emotional reasons for change. The best answer you can hope for is the prospect asking you, “so how can you help us with that problem?” ..teeing up item 4 below!

If you decide on another story, the structure is the same as above – identify the character, describe the problem – however, now you reveal the lack of action, or a different decision (such as they tried to solve it themselves). Then you describe the outcome. Only this time its pain oriented. Loss of money, competitive disadvantage, personal heat from their boss, etc. Help the audience to feel the ramification for not taking action, or for taking the cheap way out.

In using a prediction, its best to refer or cite an outside source that has credibility. “Gartner anticipates that 40% of businesses will double their cost of application support every year without the use of analytics.” The objective is to get them to experience a pain in the future that has been verified by a credible third party. On a side note, I’ve witnessed lots of corporate presentations with compelling quotes sprinkled throughout. Unfortunately, most presenters fail to leverage the quote, or simply read it aloud. Try engaging the audience around the quote. You might ask, “so does this quote seem appropriate to your situation?” Or, “do you think that number is high or low?” You want to get them to live in the moment of the quote and tap into their emotional drive to help you with your objective to act now.

4. Connect Your Differentiators To Their Problems. Now we want to answer, “Why Us?” When you reach the section of your presentation where you are describing your solution, you want to call out the problem you captured earlier that connects directly to the capability you’re about to disclose.  If you captured their input of the problem definition on a white board or a flipchart, go to that location and circle the problem that your capability addresses. If you captured the list in your notebook, verbally call out the problem again and even better, identify the person who brought it up. “Mike, were you the one that said there was a problem with redundant processes for the team? (Mike nods agreement.) Good, next I want to show you how we address that better than any other solution available.” Make sure you identify when your capability is unique or at least does a better job addressing problems than other solutions, including a DIY solution.

5. Follow Up The Presentation With A Recap And Confirmation Of The Problems. When you captured the list of problems, you weren’t just being a good listener or providing insight by bringing up problems they weren’t aware of; you were also planning for the future. As soon as you leave your presentation, the attention of your audience is pulled elsewhere. It might be dreading the upcoming commute home, or it might be getting back to a project deliverable that’s late. What ever it is, there will be many distractions and they diffuse the power of your persuasive presentation by overwhelming the participant with other thoughts. As days go by, your compelling presentation is lost in the muck. Your job is to remind them of the emotional reaction you created for them. When you type up your follow up thank you email, recap the problems (and impact) you uncovered and seek their buy in that you heard it correctly.

“Hey Mike, thanks for sponsoring the meeting yesterday. Wanted to make sure I shared the input I gathered in case you need it for internal discussions. The group identified three major problems 1) redundant process, 2) no way to understand how their product was being used when bugs occurred, and 3) having to reinvent the wheel for each operating system. They said this was driving up costs by 30%, and delaying releases by 2 months or more (leading to disappointment upstairs). Let me know if I missed anything important or if I’ve portrayed the situation correctly.

Your objective is to remind them of their reasons to change and to change now. But don’t stop here. When they ask for demonstration, start the demonstration with another recap and confirmation. One reason to do this is that things can change, but more importantly, you want to refocus them on Why, Why Now and Why Us. When they ask for a pricing proposal, include the problem list and impact in your cover letter. Remind them again of the reasons to change and the priority for doing it now. (It also helps to sell for you if a unknown stakeholder has to sign off and you lack access to them directly.) Think of it as the movie trailer that gets you excited about seeing a movie again.

Summary

When you master the persuasive presentation format, you’ll see shorter sales cycles, lower no decision outcomes, and better access to other stakeholders. After a great presentation, some will want you to repeat the presentation to their boss, or their boss’s boss. On the other hand, if you deliver the same boring presentation as the next guy, they will want to shield their boss, take their time sifting through other alternatives, and let other distractions mask the urgency of the initiative.

Please forward this link to your team!

The Enterprise Selling Group helps commercial organizations tune their sales and marketing disciplines to improve revenue results. Kevin Temple is the founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group.  

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The Hidden Sales Cycle: Are you ignoring it?

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“The Hidden Sales Cycle” is the activity that takes place prior to first contact between seller and buyer. This is when the buyer uses the internet and/or direct social connections to investigate possible solutions to a perceived need. They might visit your website, read user reviews, rank alternatives, and potentially sift through analyst perspectives among other things. Two studies indicate this occurs in as much as 60% of all enterprise class purchases. It becomes a problem for the seller when the buyer reaches premature conclusions based on a competitor’s positioning, incorrect information, or incomplete information.

This means that sellers must be ready to “re-frame” the perspective of the buyer during their initial discussions. For this reason, I’m suggesting that the Hidden Sales Cycle be acknowledged and used as the basis for a re-framing discussion.

  1. Start your early conversations with an inquiry about the homework the buyer has conducted using the internet or other means.
  2. Ask them to describe the problems they  are trying to address. After this bring up several additional problems that are potentially in play for the buyer and connect those to your capabilities. For instance, “Ms Customer, many of our other customers tell us that they were not able to see how their customers were using their product, which made it difficult to identify bugs, or specify an enhancement list with proper prioritization. Is that an issue for you?” Ideally, this problem resonates with the buyer, can be solved by your solution better than other solutions, and was not a problem the buyer had previously considered addressing during their preliminary investigation. That’s the science of re-framing the vision in your favor.
  3. As the old shampoo upsell states, “rinse and repeat”. Establish a few more problems that re-frame their vision of the problem set and the solution. This differentiates you on your professional approach as well as your product or service.

Using problems to re-frame your buyer’s perspective will also increase your credibility which is required to motivate the contact to take you to other stakeholders to socialize your problem set and related solution further.

Since the internet has become a fixture in the sales process, re-framing skills have become a “must have” skill set. As an exercise for your team, you can brainstorm to identify a set of capabilities within your solution that would resonate with a buyer type or a key vertical segment. Then, for each capability have the team identify what problem it solves for the customer. They may come up with more than one problem for each differentiating capability which gives them even more ammunition in a re-framing discussion. Don’t forget to capture the tribal knowledge and spread it around!

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Is your sales messaging more like a “selfie”?

Image result for business person selfie I’m often asked to comment on a corporate presentation or customer specific presentation, and the most common mistake I find is the “selfie”. They start out with a description of their company, a list of impressive logos, perhaps an industry analyst quote. That’s the selfie. It’s all about them, not the customer. Unfortunately, its not in the proper sequence. Your prospect doesn’t care about this information until they conclude you have something that might help them. Using a selfie too soon lowers your chances of making this connection. As a more effective alternative, start by confirming the market trends in your customer’s business, and more importantly, the problems or challenges you help other customers solve as a result of these trends. Some or most of these problems should be selected to resonate with your intended audience. When your prospect identifies one or more problems from your list, now you have their attention. Then they will want to hear how you have solved these problems, where (logos), and who else can attest to it (analyst). Put your selfie in the proper place, at the end of your presentation. The Enterprise Selling Group helps commercial organizations tune their sales and marketing disciplines to improve revenue results. Kevin Temple is the founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group.  







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