Many businesses are recognising that social media and customers”voting with their tweet” can cause a tsunami of negative feedback but it’s interesting that some of them, although they’ve established teams of problem handlers to engage with complainants in the twittersphere, still make some fundamental mistakes.
So, you’ve built a successful business, you’ve a base of loyal and appreciative clients, with all your investment in creating a good customer relationship it makes sound financial sense to exploit it by selling as many complementary offerings as possible, it’s good for both customer and seller.
This has been the driver for so many companies, of all sizes, to expand their product ranges, sometimes by R&D, often by acquisition.
It’s good theory but in practise the range of offerings can easily extend beyond the capability of the sales teams to understand them all. And as we all know if they aren’t comfortable selling the new, they tend to stay in their comfort zone, to focus on what they know well, inevitably missing out on many cross-selling opportunities.
Fortunately, as salespeople (and buyers) are becoming increasingly tablet-enabled, this is an area where technology can help; a few really interesting solutions that dramatically increase cross-selling capabilities are emerging.
As more and more service companies today seek to grab the high ground, they are developing portfolios of niche providers, often of complex services; trouble is that niches require familiarity to sell, service offerings can be complex, “all customers are different” and it’s all just too much for a busy sales team.
In the real world, time to become familiar with new offerings is limited, so training is rarely an option. Specialists may be available but sales folk still have to know when to bring them in and must be competent enough to identify the need. Often, the “show them what we can do” monkey lands screaming on the back of product management who respond to it with reams of mind-numbing technical documentation, impossible to navigate unless you’re the author.
A classic response is to use software but just making all this bumf available electronically via a portal or Sharepoint can build even more confusion as the numbers of documents multiply.
Imaginative ways of addressing the problem need to be found.
What sales people need is something pragmatic and functional, that cuts through information overload. Intelligent enough to guide a busy salesperson through the options available and capable of displaying just enough information, the relevant, nothing more. To be interactive,to allow a dialogue, to relate to the sales opportunity, to step through the sales process.
Above all it’s got to be sales focused, able to communicate those powerful nuggets of information that the most successful sales people use, just when they’re needed. Support a business-level dialogue, about benefits and proof statements not volumes of functional, contract or technical detail.
Amongst the many glossy electronic brochures that add little real value some solutions with this necessary intelligence are starting to emerge. We’re working with CoToCo, a highly flexible framework that has enabled us to develop a customised sales application with real interactivity, the intelligence to select and the ability to display what’s really important for a specific sales opportunity. Delivery is obvious, the web,smartphones and tablets, it is the 21st Century after all.
We’ve seen this sort of application effectively used in two ways, either as an aide-memoire before a meeting to “mug up” on what might be appropriate or used in conjunction with a prospect in the meeting, this has the advantage, (unlike a projected dumb slideshow) of getting salesman and prospect shoulder-by-shoulder, working together to identify problems and agree solutions, that’s good body language.
We’ve been working with MySQL. They have the interesting challenge, needing to sell without a core sales team, as their base software is available without cost, customers only pay for service and extras. We’ve developed a tool for their partners to help them cross-sell where it’s appropriate and to show them how to make money from Open Source Software. Take a look at it at http://mysql.cotoco.com It’s still evolving; so we’d be interested to hear what you think of it.
We strongly believe that sales people need to focus on the relationships they are developing, not the endless search for the information they need to make a case. Applications like this give them the ability to effortlessly navigate the data-swamp rather than drown in it.
“In these parts, a mans life may often depend on the smallest scrap of information” Clint Eastwood (Fistful of Dollars)
We live in a world of sound-bites, tweets, news headlines, short sharp messages, elevator pitches and who has time to read lengthy case studies? When we’re selling, reference stories are essential but so much of what the well-meaning gnomes in the marketing mines laboriously produce, doesn’t get read, why? Because it’s in the wrong format, it says the wrong things, it’s used the wrong way.
Real impact comes from a relevant, well-summarised and well-delivered customer success story, introduced (not shoe-horned) into the conversation at an appropriate moment, to reinforce or demonstrate a point.
It’s hard work to get meetings with top management, when you do, make sure you can bring the meeting to life with relevant, powerful stories that contribute to the conversation and your relationship.
It only takes a little effort for a greater reward.
We’ve all seen them, lurking in the literature cupboard or in a mysterious corner of the company intranet, the four-page, five-page, maybe even six-page case studies that are so full of gems if only we could make time to read them.
But are they full of gems and is it worth wading through to find something meaningful? Even the name “case study” is an invitation for the writer to overproduce and too much of what is written is inevitably about the technology, the approach, the methodology.
That’s not what interests your customers and prospects,because it’s all about you. They’re interested in themselves, and people like themselves, It’s always what other customers say that gets the audience; it’s invariably more relevant, interesting and believable.
A well produced success story can fit comfortably on a single page with some attractive graphics and should take moments to read. It should include quotes and benefits, it should be succinct, sharp and structured. It should be an an aide memoir to support a conversation, not an alternative to a conversation.
Just reflect for a moment on how top CEO’s behave in exploratory meetings with prospects and customers. Do they get immersed in detail? Not if they can help it. They stay at a high level, listen more than they talk, ask questions about business issues and challenges; occasionally interject with a succinct explanation of how their company helped someone with a similar problem.
It is simple and effective, it doesn’t happen by accident, it’s the polished result of conscious effort and practice.
In contrast how do many conversations held by people lower down in their silo’s work out? They may have a detailed understanding of the way to make things happen in their own domain but outside that? When a prospect mentions a challenge is it better to say, “Company Y had a similar situation, we did this for them and saved them £3m” or “let me get back to you on that”
It only takes a bit of effort to do much better; once established as a habit, it takes very little time at all.
To get started you’ve got to build up a library of stories so you’ll always have one that’s relevant to a particular need. Next you’ve got to hone the story down to as few a words as possible but still convey the essentials of a customer success story; who they are, what their challenge was, what you did (briefly!) and what the benefits were. It’s then down to memorising them so you can pop them out on cue, without hesitation.
It’s such a powerful technique; it’s about being helpful, interesting and authoritative to customers and prospects. It’s far too useful to be limited to a few top flight CEO’s; we all sell, we should all use it. All customer-facing people hear about challenges or needs at some time or other, being helpful with a success story cements relationships and identifies new business opportunities.“Those who tell the stories rule society.” Plato
There’s a lot to be said for familiarity. There’s a reason why we miss the little corner shop and the grocer who knew everyone’s name. There’s a reason we’re generally loyal to our favoured supermarket chain, websites and restaurants. We know them, we know what we’re getting, we’ve a history of mostly being happy with what we’ve got and in some excellent cases we’ve either got a relationship or the sense of one (buy a few things from Wiggle.com or Virgin Wines to understand a great customer experience).
It’s no different in the B-B space. Clients with whom you’re working, who know your qualities, who know your capabilities are much easier to sell to, easier to work with.
So, we’ve been surprised, saddened and frankly, disappointed recently when requested to carry out independent, objective reviews of customer engagements, to find out just how buried “in the project” account managers can become.
How quickly do your wonderful, broad and multifaceted offerings come to be seen as a thin slice of commodity value by customers who may feel abandoned, ignored and taken for granted by your account managers. Account Managers, who assume rather than question, who miss the opportunity to hand-deliver the invoice along with an interested and interesting conversation, who assume you’ll be in the frame for the xyz project without ever checking that the client knows you can do xyz.
No matter how good your work is your client’s perception of you is driven by their world, not yours, and the only way to understand that is to spend time with them, talk with them, give them a really good listening to.
If you’re any good at account management you’ll be a part of their world, you’ll know where the opportunities are for you to help them and you’ll know who you should be talking with to grow the account.
But objectivity is tough when you’re at the coalface and you might need a little objective help to find out exactly what you don’t know that you don’t know, (that was the moment you might wonder if we might be able to help, yes, we might).
“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted”