I’ve been intrigued by a number of debates and discussions recently around the value of endorsements on Linked-In. You’ve probably notice that you’re offered photos of four of your contacts and asked to confirm their skills in Strategy or CRM or sales or morris dancing for all I know. I confess my tendency is to simply click those I agree with until I’m left with four that I feel don’t have the appropriate skill or expertise, It’s like playing Candy Crush with your chums skill-sets.
Lucy Kellaway in the FT recently criticised this process as a dumbing-down of the value of the recommendation process and I tend to side with her on the value of a well-crafted, genuine Linked-In recommendation, particularly when delivered freely by a client showing their appreciation for real value delivered.
The debates on Linked-In itself have mostly taken the easy target and harangued the easy click-ability and the resultant like-for-like behaviours this can generate, they’ve posited a scenario of a shifting Linked-in, sliding away from a genuine business networking tool to a wasteland devoid of value, haunted by recruiters and those who enjoy the Facebook-like culture.
I’m seeing some potential value though, it’s that nudge thing again, if you see that “N.E.Other has endorsed you for your skills in Morris Dancing”, don’t just blindly endorse them back, or worse, ignore them, have a look at their profile, ring them back, catch up, see how they’re doing, what triggered them to click on your visage.
It’s a reason to re-connect, to start a conversation, and that’s where the business is, don’t click, think and talk, what do you think?
Speak ill of no man, but speak all the good you know of everybody.
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
An old chum, a valued client, a skilled Sales Director, a master of maintaining and nurturing networks was bending my ear a week or two ago. He seemed to be complaining, “It’s all very well you going on about maintaining, nurturing and investing in client relationships” He’s right, I do go on about that. He continued “most of my relationships, developed and productive over many years are with folk who are my contemporaries, and they’re either retiring, relaxing, emigrating or dying, which means my network, and its value to me as a sales resource, is receding as fast as my hairline”.
I understood his point, I commiserated, but I couldn’t help feeling the problem was in his attitude, not his Saga-ready network. Sure enough, yesterday I spent an hour or two with two bright young folk, we spoke of many things, sales processes, managing social media, selling, selling oneself, career choices and understanding the people factors that influence and drive buying decisions. I was enthused by their enthusiasm, I was inspired by their insight and they (allegedly) were informed and forewarned by my vast experience of getting things wrong, and occasionally right, and the lessons we could all learn from those outcomes.
So my grizzled old chum probably needs to work at identifying some of the rising stars in his clients organisations, he needs to start building a new set of relationships, a new generation of trust and respect based on delivery and business understanding to reinforce and replace the inevitable customer entropy.
He’s got to work out how he can add value to generation next, and I think that if he can do that he’ll find it both profitable and enormous fun.Minds are like parachutes. They only function when open.
Thomas Dewar (and Frank Zappa but the young folk won’t have heard of either of them)