Paint a propositional picture

William Sidney Mount [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m prompted to put digital pen to digital paper by a challenge surfaced recently by a couple of valued but disparate clients, but in truth this is a conversation which pops up on a pretty regular basis.

Both asked for our help in addressing what one might think would be a pretty basic business task, described, by them, in terms such as “defining our unique go to market proposition” or articulating our differentiated client value offering”. Can you see the problem?
Personally I’d prefer to describe the task as “showing clients what you can do for them
But that seems a bit simple, after all we’re really clever people, we need to show just how clever to potential clients, so we tend to use big words, lots of them, and we find ourselves unable to agree internally on which big words we should use.
Even if we can agree on the words, even if we invest valuable time in producing collateral it’s typically ‘thoughtpieces’, ‘white-papers’, ‘position pieces’ and frankly it’s really hard to get busy clients and prospects to find the time for us to share these world-changing truths with them.
Time is precious, attention spans are short and getting shorter, it’s hard to grab attention, let alone keep it long enough to explain something really complicated.
So what’s the alternative?
Well, let’s make it simple…
Don’t spend a day workshopping a new market-changing paradigm with your brightest and best, instead…
  1. Choose a client engagement that went really well
  2. Tell us what you did, we’ll question you all the way back to simple.
  3. Tell us why you did it, again we’ll question you back to simple.
  4. Tell us what the result was, for the client, firstly in financial terms, (if you can’t do that, no-one will give you the time of day), next identify the side effects, the “unquantifiable benefits”
  5. Then we turn that into a storyboard, 6 or 7 slides, minimal words, powerful graphics, understandable, linear, a story, that all can tell, all can agree upon, and all can understand.

That’s it, we’re not trying to change the world, we’re grabbing attention, we’re not explaining every aspect of our paradigm-shifting approach, we’re creating just enough interest to get the permission to have a conversation.

Get the picture?


The parting of the procurement ways

IMG_0032There is, slowly but surely, a growing awareness in the B2B marketplace that, (thanks to the web-driven commoditisation of pretty much everything), it’s not your product, your service or your price that makes the difference, it’s your relationship.

It’s getting to be all about the people.
Paradoxically however the organisations intended to deliver value to the people, paid for by the people, staffed by an enormous number of the people, our central and local government services, our public sector bodies all persist in the practice of building or buying teams of expensive resource to produce pointless questionnaires, RFP’s and ITT’s to verify  that the likes of IBM, BT, Oracle and Thales are not fly-by-night cowboys operating out of a railway arch in Clapham.
Why does the public sector persist in mandating a procurement culture which inevitably delivers the apparently cheapest but actually, invariably, over time, priciest solution with, thanks to penny-pinching procurement the highest likelihood of catastrophic and expensive failure?
Why do all the suppliers have to invest in expensive teams of expensive people jumping collectively through an ever-changing series of procedural hoops which just endorse what (if they are any good at all) the buyers must already know?
Why does the public sector spend a fortune (our taxes by the way) excluding the human element from all procurement when the commercial world is recognising, rewarding, investing and coaching on things like trust, integrity, longevity and respect?
I’d like to think that those who ‘serve the public good’ recognise the value of those things too.

Moving the spotlight from products to customers


Perhaps one of the more positive aspects of the recession (there I said it) is that many companies are now finally biting the bullet and thinking seriously about what it is they sell and how they sell it.

In good times it’s easier to succeed with a product-led sale, setting out your stall and letting customers buy from you. In tough times, buyers are scarce, investment is limited, no-one buys ‘nice to have’ and this can easily lead to commoditisation and loss of control as the initiative moves from supply to demand.

The term “solutions” has certainly lost much of it’s meaning with just about everyone using it for just about everything but that doesn’t negate the fact that there is, for many, the opportunity to regain control of their destiny by changing focus from, “what we’ve always sold” to “solving a real customer need”.

Sure, Apple has become the most highly valued company in the world by developing and marketing products that entice customers to queue up and buy. Which is nice, but what works in the B2C world does not always apply in the high value, B2B marketplace where most of us trade; increasingly we’re competing on financial value delivered not bells and whistles. Few have the luxury of a “killer app” that will sweep all before it, the new battleground is customer intimacy, it’s about knowing your customer and meeting his needs better than your competitor.

If you’re still following a  product-centric strategy it’s probably reactive, few businesses can afford to create demand, so, you’re dependent upon your customer to work out what they need, and then buy it, hopefully from you. But business today is faster moving and rarely that clear-cut, there may be many different ways to solve a problem and if a competitor gets in there first you can get locked out.

The glib answer, (and we hear it all the time), is “to become more customer intimate” but that’s a concept that’s rarely explored or understood to the level that can generate the much needed change of mindset. It’s not a trivial challenge, it requires getting to understand customers better than anyone else and then doing something for them that helps them in a unique way, something they’ll value. But, if you can do this, if you can develop a relationship where they’ll trust you to help solve their problems you’ll get back in control and can start being proactive in developing business.

The steps needed to make this happen are blindingly obvious, there’s a general agreement on what they are, they’re just really, really difficult to do in practise:

  1. Understand who your customers are and get to know in detail what needs they have, identify the ones  that you can do something about
  2. Be clear about what you can do uniquely well to meet these needs, what differentiates you from your competitors, why they should buy from you; then articulate it in a clear, consistent, compelling manner
  3. Identify where you’ve been successful, which customers will sing your praises, research those market sectors where you can replicate your success
  4. Seek out new customers in these sectors with similar problems to those you’ve solved. Calling is easier, you’re not trying to foist a product on them, you’re offering to help in the same way you’ve helped someone else with the same problem, someone who’ll endorse your success
  5. Do whatever it takes to ensure that your sales team truly understand the problems of their prospects first, it’s easy and wrong to jump to convenient conclusions. But once the client agrees you’ve got it, (and only then) develop a proposal that in client terms, shows conclusively and unarguably why they should invest in your solution. What’s in it for them?

Working with many companies making this transition we’ve found three areas that are most challenging.

Firstly, taking the time to do steps 1 and 2 in an honest, dispassionate manner. It requires activity that’s completely divorced from “business as usual”, some clear thinking, an open mind and a structure to get a result. Invariably objective facilitation is required.

Secondly, producing the tools that marketing and sales will need to take this new proposition to market in a consistent, compelling manner, and make sure it gets heard. Not easy, being customer centric is a different mindset and creativity is required to get above the noise of a busy marketplace.

Finally, the customer facing team have to learn to build interest, ask questions and, hardest of all, listen. It’s the opposite of doing a “demo” at the first meeting, it’s about building confidence by having meaningful business discussions with top management. Not all sales people can do it, and those that can usually need time and support.

If these are some of the challenges you face then we should be talking, getting it right sooner rather than later can have a dramatic effect on the bottom line…

As the “Sales Pipeline Engineers” that’s what we’re all about.


“When the promise is clear,the price gets easy..”
Jim Rohn

Succeeding with simplicity, short+sharp+succinct=successful

Image Credit, Mr Ho, UEA, Norwich
At a recent dinner, where the marketing director for a major IT corporation was the speaker, many diners were heard to say “I didn’t understand what she was going on about but it certainly sounded very impressive”.

How many of us have had to endure someone enthusiastically explaining complex products and services in ways that appear complex, remain a mystery and seem of little interest; although we do have a niggling suspicion that there’s something of real value buried in there?

How often do sales people have to use an overly complicated “tool” that’s there “to help them” but in reality is of little benefit and takes them away from doing the real stuff of selling, and winning deals.

It doesn’t have to be this way, people do succeed in summarising complexities,. In the film Crazy People, remember Dudley Moore’s fictional campaign for Volvo, “they’re boxy but they’re safe”. Simple is powerful and often refreshing.

When PDA’s for police were made topical by Gordon Brown many years ago most suppliers chose to explain the connectivity, the technology, the flexibility to do all sorts of tasks in thousands of words. Anite took a different line, they hit the nail on the head with “It saves an hour of admin for every officer on every shift” which certainly got the attention of the Assistant Chief Constables, the ones with the budget.

It can be the same with process, it’s not often that 18 separate steps really need to be mapped out with “gates” at every stage. We’ve found that in selling  the simple…

  • Be interesting
  • Be curious
  • Be persuasive
  • Be sure to agree an action.

… approach works remarkably well much of the time.

So why is it that so many companies make heavy weather of what could be much simpler? In many cases I’m sure there’s an element of ‘job creation’ or justification but in fairness there is no denying that making complex stuff stunningly simple takes time, and skills, that may not be available.

We’d like to challenge the complexity status quo, the ‘handle turning’ prioritising that rules simplification out of play.  The benefits of good clear communication between sellers and buyers in a busy, noisy world should be obvious and a priority but it’s often tough to say to your bosses and colleagues, “I don’t get it”.

Simple, pragmatic tools and processes that sales people will use have real value.

Simple is more likely to be successful than complex.

Make simple, make time, if you can, do it;

but, if you can’t, get help!

“I’m sorry this is a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one.”
Blaise Pascal

What’s in a name

Names are special, our ancestors were very careful who they shared their names with, possession of someone’s name carried power. Names, thanks to history, culture and the way we are wired conjure up all manner of associations and meanings; they are a fundamental part of our identity.

In business it’s the same, a name may represent all the hard work that’s been put in to build a presence, a brand, a reputation, and as anyone who tries to start a business called Mcdonalds will tell you, it’s often jealously guarded.  But now we live in an online world we have to make our business visible, identifiable and accessible, in practise that’s through a search engine, which adds a new dimension.

We chose the company name years ago, “Adara Associates”,it meant nothing to anyone other than a crusty old sea dog who could remember celestial navigation; it gave us the freedom to do what we like. Over the years we’ve linked it with our tagline ‘the sales pipeline engineers” which succinctly and clearly describes to our target market what we do; there may have been the odd confused oilman but in general it’s worked remarkably well.

So when we first developed an alternative to the CRM’s that our clients disliked so much we thought carefully and in a moment of inspiration called it ‘The Adara Pipeliner’. “That’s great” we thought ”we’re cleverly communicating the manifestation of what we do, all packaged up in a hosted system.”

It turned out that although existing clients related to the name it didn’t work for people that didn’t know us,   nobody Googles “Pipeliner” if they need a better CRM, they type in “CRM”.

Obvious in hindsight!

We’d been reluctant to take on the CRM companies head to head as the whole sector is so (deservedly) unpopular but after a massive wave of development over the past year so many people told us that we had a real alternative, we realised we had to become more proactive and the name “Pipeliner” just wasn’t going to hack it.

We did some research on competitor positioning as well as use of search terms and were quite amazed by what we found, or rather the lack of it. Frequently the basics of SEO had been ignored and positioning was a variation of  “just another crm”

So, another round of drinks and deep thought and in a moment of inspiration came up with the name “AdaraCRM”. People who work with us say good things about Adara and we believe in our CRM, so it made sense to reflect that ownership and pride. Once bitten, twice shy, this time we did some market testing, Uh oh, folk liked the CRM tag and it made sense from an SEO perspective but it didn’t differentiate our offering clearly.

So, another round of drinks, and a serious discussion around the fundamentals. We’d developed a clean, coherent and powerful CRM that supported sales conversations. It worked the way that good sales people do. It supported a dialogue, pulled together the key content in the myriad of different ways of communicating that are available, and increasingly relevant, in today’s socially networked world.

What should we call a CRM that works conversationally?

Time for the “exactly what it says on the tin” moment.

Welcome to ConversationalCRM. We’ve built a new web site, tried to get a balance between being search-engine friendly and delivering a positive experience to visitors. If you look at  you can be the judge of whether we’ve succeeded or not (either way we’d genuinely love to hear what you think!)

So what’s the moral of this rambling confession? Well, we think that in an online world it’s not what you’d like prospects to search for that’s important; it’s what they actually do that matters.

What they actually do can be readily understood using the plethora of tools out there; and you don’t have to be an SEO expert to use them.

Names and their associations matter and they have to relate to the terms people actually use, this is one instance (maybe the only one) where the customer really is always right.

Have you briefed your telemarketing team? Yes? have you briefed them properly ?

Telemarketing folk rarely have the experience or skills of sales people but can perform a vitally important and very visible role.

A competent sales manager wouldn’t send a sales person out without making sure they understood what they were selling so why do companies set telemarketing loose on potential prospects without adequate briefing?

If you don’t take the effort to write down the key lift statements, the needs you can address, propositions and success stories how can you expect good results? Writing up a telemarketing brief may be a pain but it’s critical to success!