Archives for April 2014

Buyers are Buying Differently – What Are You DOING About It?

If buyers buy differently, sell differently

I know it’s important to continue to spread the word, but I’m almost tired of hearing about how buying behavior has changed.  Yes, buyers are buying differently. Things have changed.  The real question is… what are you DOING about it?

We’ve all heard the stats, right?

The Broken Record:  Buying Behavior Has Changed

RFPs are on the rise, the number of decision-makers has increased, there’s more senior executive involvement, procurement is trying to commoditize everyone into a price war… the list goes on.

The Newsflash:  Sales Behavior is Slow to Change

Case in point:  See this infographic from Sales For Life about social selling readiness:

  • 52% of the reps studied had less than 500 social connections
  • 47% had contact information on their profile
  • 6% of profile summaries demonstrated value to prospective clients
  • 19% didn’t have recommendations
  • 3% were actively sharing relevant content to potential buyers

I don’t mean to single out social selling as the answer to the changes in buyer behavior, but it certainly is a big part of the new toolbox (where social selling makes sense). So are:

 

What Does This Mean for Sales Pros?

 

Sales & Marketing Alignment

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but as a starting point, if you haven’t already, it’s time to reach out for a real handshake with your partners in Marketing. The old saws, complaints, and whining, must stop. If you don’t feel like “they” understand you, be a force for change.  (You can start by dropping the “we/they” thinking.)  “They” probably don’t think you understand or capitalize on what they’re doing, to try to help you.  Figure it out. Get aligned.

If you’re not in a position to orchestrate this personally on a large scale in your company, start with yourself and nudge your leadership.  Trust me when I tell you this:

The future will be bleak for sales professionals who do not understand and align with their marketing partners.

The real point?  Both of you should be aligned around your customer. (See this series of posts for more thoughts on sales growth through customer focus: part 1, part 2 and part 3.)

If this is something you’d like to dig into, check out:

Move to the Front of the Line

Content management, lead gen, predictive scoring, marketing automation, email marketing, MQL… these things are your friends.  If you don’t have a marketing department, yours hasn’t yet moved into the world of modern marketing, or you work for a smaller company, you may need to fend for yourself for awhile.  But if you want to get in front of buyers sooner (before they’ve done 70% of their research digitally and are almost 60% of the way through their decision), you can’t rely on business as usual from the early 2000’s.

You may have company-provided tools for research, or you may need to:

  • Set up alerts for trigger events, conduct your own research, and watch the media for prospects who may have problems you can solve
  • Network inside your clients to unearth opportunities to provide additional value and deepen your relationship
  • Make strides toward social selling approaches that are appropriate for your industry vertical and customer base

Some social selling resources:

Set aside time for research and preparation to establish automated alerts, look for trigger events, execute your social selling approaches… all with the goal of identifying possible needs sooner and getting engaged with your prospects and current clients (deeper account penetration) proactively, sooner, rather than reactively, later.  My one caution with trigger research is that if triggers are obvious, by the time you are able to search for them and read something somewhere, it may be too late.  See this 2010 post by Anthony Iannarino to add perspective from both sides of the fence (read the comments, too).  Still, since not everyone is using alerts and tools like Avention, and many reps remain in “response mode,” you can still gain some significant advantage this way, in my opinion.

Some trigger event resources:

Inside your current accounts, you’ll hopefully rely on relationships, account mapping, strategic account management, and mouth-based data mining (asking questions!), but within large companies, your contacts may not always have visibility into what’s happening in other divisions. In a case like this, mining for Trigger Events and then leveraging your internal relationships to gain a competitive advantage, can be a powerful combination.

Bringing Value to the Table Early

Whether you call it insight selling, selling with insights, thoughtful selling, or something else, this is all about bringing relevant data and information that can help your clients see things differently.  It might help them see around a corner and recognize a coming threat sooner; it might help them realize an opportunity they might otherwise have missed; it might help them recognize your competitive differentiation.

Finding real insight isn’t easy, but it doesn’t always need to be Earth-shattering.  It just needs to be enough to help someone see things in a new way.  How you position the information can matter a great deal.

Here are some good resources on selling with insight and thought leadership:

Do Something Differently

Those are just a few ideas, but there are certainly more. I hope you might post a few of your own or cite some other sources.  The bottom-line is this: Don’t be one of those people who do the same things over and over and hope for a different result.  Don’t be a “victim” of the changes in the market.  And by all means, don’t sit around waiting for it to get worse.  Do something different and start now.  Figure out what ideas here might help you take a next step, create a plan, and execute. I fully realize that your choices are very dependent on your situation and context, so if you want to discuss that, reach out. I’m not consulting now, so this is not my full-time job, but I’ll do my best to help or point you in the right direction.

Whatever you decide and whatever your next steps, I wish you the best of success with your journey.  I’d enjoy hearing about it, if you care to share.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means, let’s continue to elevate our sales profession.

Mike
_____________________________________________________

Mike Kunkle
Transforming Sales Results with Clear Insight & Focused Execution

Contact:
214.494.9950
<mike at mikekunkle dotcom>

Connect:
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/mikekunkle
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mike_kunkle
Google+: http://gplus.to/mikekunkle
Blog: https://www.mikekunkle.com
Slideshare: http://bit.ly/MK-slideshare

The Path to Sales Growth through Customer Focus – Part 3

Sales Growth through Customer FocusThis post continues the previous discussions of enabling sales growth through customer focus. In my opinion, the journey toward sales growth starts and ends with our customers, so I’m not sure why our customers aren’t always the foundation of our sales processes, methodologies, and messaging, but I can testify that many companies still need improvement in this area.

In part 1 of this series, I shared my Customer Focus Framework for Sales Growth and shared the five pillars of this framework:

  • Modeling Buyer Personas
  • Mapping the Buying Journey and Buying Process
  • Aligning your Sales Process and Methodology
  • Understanding Market Conditions and Buyer Issues
  • Aligning Your Sales Solution Architecture

I discussed Modeling Buyer Personas and Mapping the Buying Journey and Buying Process in that first post.  In part 2 of this series, I wrote about Aligning your Sales Process and Methodology.

Today, we’ll focus on the last two pillars, Understanding Market Conditions and Buyer Issues and Aligning Your Sales Solution Architecture.

Understanding Market Conditions and Buyer Issues

If you assemble one hundred sales and marketing experts, they’ll have eight-five or more ways of describing this.  This is just my way.  Note that in some Buyer Persona structures, the conditions, issues and needs are part of the persona.  If so, and you’ve already done this as part of your persona modeling, that’s great.  No need to recreate the wheel.  If not, this is critical and necessary, so don’t ignore it.  Do it separately.

Market Conditions

  • This is what’s happening in the buyer’s industry and market.  Think: “situation” and “circumstances.”   These could include economic pressures, competitive environment, regulatory changes, and all the external factors that impact company performance.

Buyer Issues (Internal Conditions and SWOT, tied to Personas)

  • Based on those conditions and internal readiness to address them, your buyers (by persona) face certain issues.   I think of this as a mini-SWOT analysis, from the buyer’s perspective… what are their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, relative to the conditions they are facing.   This should be considered by persona, because even the same conditions externally, create different internal issues for a CFO than for a VP of Operations or a Director of Sales.

Negative Consequences of Inaction (NCI)

  • This is simple, but powerful and often overlooked, or assumed to be known or clear.   Do not make this assumption and always state the consequences explicitly.  What could happen, to the buyer, department, other stakeholders, or company, if the issues go unaddressed?

Positive Outcomes of Action (POA)

  • This is simply the flip side of the Negative Consequences, but worth restating.  If action is taken, successfully, and the issues are minimized or eliminated, what are the favorable outcomes?

Need Statement

  • Based on all of this, what is the explicit statement of your buyer’s needs?  Let’s be clear that this is not a statement about how you can help or your solution.   This is just a summary statement, based on the Conditions, Issues, NCI and POA.  Just ensure to make it about them, not what you provide.   That comes later.

The Great Conundrum of Sales

Before I discuss Solution Architecture and aligning it to your buyer’s issues, here’s a recommendation that may surprise you.   The above exercise is worthwhile to understand your customers, even if you can’t solve the specific issues they face (perhaps I’ll write a post later on how you can add value, gain credibility, build trust and become an advisor and problem-solver for your clients this way).

However, let me be clear that even the best intentions, stewardship, service orientation, focus on customer experience, pay-it-forward mindset, and go-giver attitude won’t save your job or your company if you don’t ultimately sell your products and services. This is the conundrum of professional sales.

  • You won’t become successful (long-term) by focusing on selling products or making commissions for yourself.
  • You need to focus on your customers and solving their problems.
  • Yet, if you solve all their problems without selling anything, well, you know that outcome.

You see the circle here, right?

The Superbly-Simple Secret Sauce of Selling

The answer to this dilemma is simple.  Sales pundits have been saying it for years, so this is not exactly thought leadership here, folks.

  • It’s never about shamelessly hawking what you sell.
  • It’s always about finding people who have the problems you can solve.
    • Note that they may or may not initially be aware they have a problem you can solve, or that you may not always truly know at the outset.

When customers have problems you can solve, you do still need to influence them to buy those solutions from you.  If you have a clear value proposition from their perspective and can truly solve those problems at a fair cost, with a return on investment (in whatever way your customer thinks of that), you can sleep at night and feel good about yourself for “selling” or influencing, negotiating and generally navigating the buying and selling processes to a mutually-beneficial outcome.  This is the attitude and mindset I have seen from top-producers over nineteen years of analyzing them.

I sometimes feel this puts me in the minority, but this is why I struggle with using sports and military metaphors for selling… a topic for another day.

Aligning Your Sales Solution Architecture

With that said, let’s return to our original train of thought.  Once you clearly know the buyer’s Conditions, Issues, NCI, POA, and Needs (for problems that you can solve), you can begin to document your Products/Services, Capabilities, Differentiators, and Solutions, relative to the buyer’s needs.

Products / Services

  • This is probably the last thing you want to mention in an early solutions discussion with your buyer, but let’s face it… most of the capabilities, differentiators and solutions that we craft to resolve customers’ problems, are fueled by our products and services. While we don’t want to rattle off a list of unrelated features and benefits, you (and especially your new hires) need to be clear how your company solves problems.  Your buyers need to know this as well.  There are appropriately different levels of detail that is needed for different buyers (think: personas or economic, user, technical, etc.), and perhaps based on where you are in the sales process (such as prospecting, early solution exploration, or detailed solution presentation to a buying committee).  The goal is to match the appropriate level of detail to the buyer and process stage.  Too much, too early, is a bad thing.  Too little, at the right time, is a bad thing.  Like the Goldilocks story, you want to get it “just right.”

Capabilities

  • Simply put, these are the abilities you have to solve the problem. Capabilities usually exist at a higher level than the products/services and especially the features and benefits of your products/services.
    • Example: Your customer wants to document their sales processes and have their sales team use a consistent approach, where it makes sense.  You offer a software that analyzes CRM records and uses algorithms to cull out the likely processes by type of client and product/service sold, as a starting point (allowing them to validate the process and make adjustments).  Then, your solution integrates with their CRM to help reps manage their pipeline through the finalized process that they established.  Your solution has been shown to save up to 45% of the time usually dedicated to sales process mapping.  (Completely made all that up.)
  • No deep details there, right?  They need to map a process and you have an offering that will help them speed the process and manage it afterward.  There are likely multiple features that enable this solution, and possibly services with the product, and you haven’t mentioned a single one at this level.

Differentiators

  • Pick a company. Find 3 competitors. Review all their websites. See if you can clearly see a differentiator.  Want to have some real fun?  Do it with your company and your competitors.  (Go ahead, I dare you.)
  • For fans of “Blue Ocean Strategy,” if you’re swimming in a Blue Ocean, enjoy the water, but watch on the horizon for the pinkish-red coming your way.  You won’t always have a competitive advantage or differentiation (or for long), especially in commoditized markets.  In my experience, you can usually find something (hint: look at the humans, and look at how well you enable them – perhaps the topic of this post might help you build some differentiation through customer focus).
  • In any case, differentiators sometimes appear in unlikely places, and I’m writing a separate post about how you can find them.  Know this: they’re almost always found through customer focus, and what your customers care about.  Look hard, find or develop yours (even if it’s you and how you operate and bring value), and document it here.

Solutions

  • It might be a stretch for some to say this is different than Capabilities, but I think of them separately.  Sometimes, a solution is a gaggle or combination of products, services, features, and/or capabilities.  If so, your Marketing team might consider branding these (different topic, but worth considering).  In any case, document your solution sets in your Solution Architecture, with the consistent alignment and focus on how it all directly addresses and resolves your buyer’s Conditions, Issues, NCI, POA, and Needs.

Once you have this done, organized by the Buyer Issues and your Solutions, you can begin to create sales messaging by persona, identify target customers and buyers, and take your message to them.

It’s not always easy, but it is that simple.  At a high level, that’s how it works and comes together.

Customer Focus Framework for Sales Growth (The 5 Pillars)

I hope this three-part series of posts has given you some food for thought.  Again, the 5-pillar framework we’ve been discussing is:

  • Modeling Buyer Personas
  • Mapping the Buying Journey and Buying Process
  • Aligning your Sales Process and Methodology
  • Understanding Market Conditions and Buyer Issues
  • Aligning Your Sales Solution Architecture

I’d be pleased to hear your thoughts and reactions to this post or the series, and hear what’s been working for you, to achieve sales growth through a relentless focus on your customers.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means, let’s continue to elevate our sales profession.

Mike
_______________________________________________

Mike Kunkle
Transforming Sales Results with Clear Insight & Focused Execution

Contact:
214.494.9950
<mike at mikekunkle dotcom>

Connect:
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/mikekunkle
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mike_kunkle
Google+: http://gplus.to/mikekunkle
Blog: https://www.mikekunkle.com
Slideshare: http://bit.ly/MK-slideshare

The Path to Sales Growth through Customer Focus – Part 2

Sales Growth through Customer FocusThis post continues the previous discussion of enabling sales growth through customer focus.

“The journey toward sales growth starts and ends with our customers.”
– Mike Kunkle

Customer Focus Framework for Sales Growth

In part 1 of this series, I shared my Customer Focus Framework for Sales Growth.  The five pillars of this framework include:

  • Modeling Buyer Personas
  • Mapping the Buying Journey and Buying Process
  • Aligning your Sales Process and Methodology
  • Understanding Market Conditions and Buyer Issues
  • Aligning Your Sales Solution Architecture

Last time we discussed modeling personas and mapping the buyer journey and process. This time we’ll discuss step 3, Aligning your sales process and methodology to the buyer journey and buying process. 

If You Want to Shine You Must Align

As usual, I don’t see the need to recreate the wheel. If you don’t know how to map a process (or think you need some support), that’s the first place to start.

Align the Process

If you know how to map a process, here are some other good thoughts for aligning your sales process to the buying process:

A Method to Your Sales Methodology Madness

With the processes in alignment, the next thing to consider is your methodology.  Put simply, sales methodology is your approach to selling – it’s the skills and methods that your sales reps use, to successfully shepherd the buyer from one stage of the buying/selling process to the next, ending in a successful purchase/sale – a win-win decision.

Bruce Rasmussen wrote an interesting post recently on the new LinkedIn platform, called, It’s Not WHICH sales methodology – it’s WHEN!  Worth sharing and thinking about, if you use vendor training.  Nuance and context matter greatly and the only thing that matters for you, is what is happening with your customers, in your world, with your company/products/services and sales organization.

In my experience, designing your own or deeply customizing your sales methodology is what gets the best result.  I typically use sales analytics to bucket sales performers, and then find the differentiating (and replicable) practices of top-producers (compared to the middle), and build my sales methodology around what I learn. What do the top-producers do differently, to move their buyers through their process to a successful conclusion?  Capture that, and train, coach and reinforce to it, and you’ll have the best chance of lifting performance in that big bucket of mid-producers (the B and maybe even some C players.

Sales Growth through Customer Focus, One More Time

In the next and final post in this series, I will discuss the last two steps, which go hand-in-hand:

  • Understanding Market Conditions and Buyer Issues
  • Aligning Your Sales Solution Architecture

In the meantime, thanks for reading, be safe out there, and by all means, let’s continue to elevate our sales profession.

Mike
_____________________________________________________

Mike Kunkle
Transforming Sales Results with Clear Insight & Focused Execution

Contact:
214.494.9950
<mike at mikekunkle dotcom>

Connect:
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/mikekunkle
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mike_kunkle
Google+: http://gplus.to/mikekunkle
Blog: https://www.mikekunkle.com
Slideshare: http://bit.ly/MK-slideshare

The Path to Sales Growth through Customer Focus – Part 1

Sales Growth

The journey toward sales growth starts and ends with our customers.  If we want to grow our companies, marketing and sales must align with an unwavering focus on our customers, building everything around them.  The need for customer focus goes beyond marketing and sales, of course, to include implementation, execution, and service delivery, but this post will focus primarily on the sales side, with a touch of marketing.

Hocus Pocus, Customer Focus

On April 5, 2014, I published my first post on the new LinkedIn platform.  I titled it, It’s STILL All About the Customer.  It’s a tribute to how much we have tried to encircle the concept of “customer,” yet how little we seem to have achieved, in reality.  In the post, I briefly mentioned:

  • Customer Service
  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Customer Loyalty
  • Voice of the Customer
  • Customer Experience (CX)
  • Win/Loss Analysis
  • Net Promoter Score

To encapsulate the intent behind all of this activity, I’ll use the simple term, Customer Focus.

Amazingly, with as long as companies have existed and with as much as has been written and researched about customers, we still have so far to go. Not just in “figuring things out” – but in the execution – in using what we already know.  And, for the purpose of this discussion, in learning how to drive sales growth through customer focus.

A Framework for Customer Focus

I’ve developed a framework for Customer Focus that I believe we can use to spur sales growth.  As a disclaimer, I don’t mean to position this as a complete solution.  There are a few marketing-type activities on the front end, but there many other marketing activities that need to come before it or support the framework elsewhere.  In addition, there are service delivery activities that occur afterward.  Plus, as I’ve written about many times, there are learning systems, performance levers, and a host of other things that go into a true sales transformation to radically improve sales results.  This is the foundation for using Customer Focus to drive sales growth, which includes the customer’s (buyer’s) perspective and pulls that perspective clear through the buying/selling process.

My Customer Focus Framework for Sales Growth

The five pillars of this framework include:

  • Modeling Buyer Personas
  • Mapping the Buying Journey and Buying Process
  • Aligning Your Sales Process and Methodology
  • Understanding Market Conditions and Buyer Issues
  • Aligning Your Sales Solution Architecture

This is an outside-in thought process.  In addition, you are focused on your customers, your target clients, your current accounts, and how you respond to them… not the world at large.

As much as we can in a blog post, let’s begin to explore the elements of this framework. I’ll share thoughts on the first two today, and the remainder in part 2.

Buyer Personas

Much is written about Buyer Personas elsewhere.  Yet, I’ll share information anyway, because I think this is the critical foundation from which all effective, modern, professional selling begins, in our current age of the buyer.

Tony Zambito defines Buyer Personas as research-based archetypal (modeled) representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions, and where they buy as well as when they decide to buy.

Marketo believes you should include:

  • Main sources of information:  Where your persona does his or her research
  • Goals:  Persona’s primary and secondary goals
  • Challenges/pain points:  Your persona’s challenges, and the emotions which accompany those challenges
  • Preferred content medium:  How your persona likes to absorb content
  • Quotes:  Bring your personas to life with actual quotes gathered during interviews
  • Objections:  The objections you anticipate from your persona during the sales process
  • Role in purchase process:  Persona’s influence in the decision making process
  • Marketing message:  The messaging that speaks directly to this persona

Check out the links above and resource links below for more detail.  It’s not lost on me that these definitions of personas cross over several elements of my framework.  Try not to get caught up in that.  I’ll explain why I do that, in part 2.

Whichever approach or terms you use, in short, you must understand who your customer is.  Based on the method you follow, that will include multiple things, but at a minimum, to me, it should include their:

  • Position (CEO, CFO, VP of ABC, Director of XYZ)
  • Decision-making role (decision-maker, influencer)
  • Buyer type (user, technical, economic)
  • Challenges (see also: Market and Buyer Conditions, below – more in part 2)
  • Goals /Needs/Wants/Desired Outcomes

During the opportunity pursuit, you obviously get more granular with the actual buyers involved, with things like their bias toward you (advocate, neutral, or detractor).  But in creating personas, you’ll have a solid starting point.

Some Buyer Persona Resources:

Buying Journey and Process

As you are modeling personas, you may capture this as part of that process, or you may capture your buyer’s journey and buying process separately.  Either way, they (personas and the journey/process) dovetail, and must be completed to maximize this framework.

I think of the journey and process as different, which the process as a subset of the journey.

  • The buying journey includes everything before the actual buying or purchase process begins, the buying process itself, and what happens afterward.  The pre-purchase journey includes things like strategic planning, goal setting, tactical planning, and the things that companies do before they realize what is in the way of achieving their goals.  The journey also includes the post-sales stages, too, such as implementation, service delivery (and/or recovery), measurement, and evaluation (not necessarily in that order).  The entire thing is their “journey” and along the way, they have a “Buying Experience” and a “Customer Experience.”   While I separate these in my head, I believe that most of the CX world just considers it all to be the “Customer Experience.”
  • The buying process is a subset, to me.  It includes the stages that the buyer goes through when the purchase process starts, and the steps in each stage of the process (the buying methodology).  The process continues through to the decision point – to either make a buying decision – or not. (Way too may purchase processes end in a “No Decision,” as I’m sure you’ve read or experienced personally).

Important Note:   As a sales professional, you want to enter the before the buying process begins, whenever possible.  You can do this through research, trigger events, social selling, referrals, or by using this entire framework to identify organizations like your current clients, and approaching them before they fully realize they have a problem.  This is how you create opportunity, and get around the fact that buyers are almost 60% through their purchase process before engaging with a sales rep.

I’ll stop here for now, and pick up next time in part 2, with the…

  • Aligning your Sales Process and Methodology
  • Understanding Market Conditions and Buyer Issues
  • Aligning Your Sales Solution Architecture

… and how they fit into the picture of driving sales growth through increased customer focus.

Until then, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on part 1.

As always, thanks for reading, be safe out there, and remember that we all need to work harder to elevate the sales profession.

Mike
_____________________________________________________

Mike Kunkle
Transforming Sales Results with Clear Insight & Focused Execution

Contact:
214.494.9950
<mike at mikekunkle dotcom>

Connect:
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/mikekunkle
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mike_kunkle
Google+: http://gplus.to/mikekunkle
Blog: https://www.mikekunkle.com
Slideshare: http://bit.ly/MK-slideshare