Why do sales people win? Until recently, the primary points of differentiation for companies have been based on two factors:
- We provide great products
- We back them up with great service
While that may be true, the challenge is that these provide little differentiation in a marketplace where the great product you sell can be sourced from dozens of vendors online. And while great service is rare, the reality is that there are many companies that provide great service.
In order to win sales, we need to differentiate ourselves. How do we do that? We have to bring value beyond the product and service.
Research presented in Insight Selling revealed the top two factors that separate sales winners from second place losers:
- They educated me on new ideas and perspectives
- They collaborated with me
“When sellers educate and collaborate, they aren’t just selling the value; they are the value.”
Winners go beyond the value their company’s products and service provide to bring insight to their buyers.
Insight involves bringing and creating ideas that help their improve their business. In this way, we’re not just brining products and services, we’re taking the time to understand the prospect’s goals and challenges related to those goals. We’re then applying (and even customizing) our solutions to help them achieve their goals.
According to the authors of Insight Selling, we bring insight to a prospect in two ways:
- Educating: They bring new ideas to the table in the form of education
- Collaborating: They interact with buyers in a manner such that the achieve insight on their own or with the seller as a team.
Let’s unpack each of these.
The first way to bring value is by educating. This is critical for two reasons. First, clients need to know we can bring ideas to the table. Educating clients demonstrates that we have the competence and creativity to apply technology to solve business problems. Second, clients need to know that we have the credibility to be able to recommend and deliver solutions to their business problems. (More thoughts on this in the article Credibility: Building Your Critical Success Factor.) Education accomplishes both of these goals.
Marketing Role in Education
Educating prospects begins with marketing. The marketing team needs to understand client challenges. This is done by research and reading. It’s also done by getting out in the field and riding with sales reps to client appointments. From there, the marketing team can create educational content that resonates with buyers.
Fortunately, this content can be easily published and shared with the internet and social media. Blog articles, special reports, ebooks, webinars, and videos should focus on adding value by addressing prospects’ challenges and recommending solutions. (The best format I’ve found to communicate this message is Don Miller’s method outlined in Building a Story Brand. Check it out!)
Sales Role in Education
Sales isn’t off the hook when it comes to education. Quite the opposite: sales reps that want to maximize their commission checks need to maximize the value they bring to clients. In essence, they need to be seen as trusted advisors. What does that mean? They need to self-educate.
"In order to bring value and win sales, reps must be able to give good advice."
Good advice doesn’t come out of a vacuum. Sales reps need to consume content that allows them to become the bridge between the prospect’s business challenges and the solutions they can bring.
Most sales training focused on product. That’s necessary, but it’s only half of the requirement to bring advice. Sales reps also need to be educated on their prospect’s problems. Then, they need to be able to bridge product and problem with ideas.
How do you learn about your prospect’s problems and ways to solve them? Here are a few:
- Understand Business By Reading Business Books. Every sales rep should read 10 pages of a business book every day. Don’t like reading? Not a problem. There’s an app for that: Audible.com. Turn off talk radio and turn on the mobile university while you’re commuting. In this way, you’ll be able to bring fresh ideas to your conversations. Sales reps should select a wide variety of business books. There are thousands of great books. All of them spark new ways of thinking and allow reps to bring insight.
- Understand Your Clients By Consuming Their Content. Grab an app like Feedly or Flipboard on your iPad and start following websites related to your prospect’s businesses. If you serve CFO’s and Finance Directors, follow CFO.com. If you serve the healthcare industry, follow healthcare blogs. Each morning, take 15 minutes to read content related to the clients you serve. You’ll have all kinds of insights to bring to your prospects and you will shine like a star.
While you’re consuming content, take a few moments to share some of it. I like reading books on my iPad so I can immediately share quotes from the book. You can also share articles from your Flipboard. Putting these on your LinkedIn profile and Twitter feed demonstrate that you have ideas to share. If you want to kick it up a notch, write a blog post from time to time and share your own ideas.
The second thing that winning reps do to “be the value” is collaborate with their prospects during the sales process. This begins by understanding the prospect’s business goals and challenges.
You may say, “Darrell, my prospects won’t be that transparent with me.” My response would be that you have two problems. First, they don’t trust you. Second, you didn't ask.
Trust is critical. Take an honest look in the mirror (and at your LinkedIn profile) and ask yourself, "Am I someone that can bring value to my prospects and clients?" You can change this. As prospects and clients see and hear you bring more educational content to them on your LinkedIn profile (yes, prospects check out your profile before a meeting) and in your conversations, will earn more trust.
The second reason you don’t know their business goals is you probably didn’t ask. Like most reps, you are focussed on explaining how great your product and service is. Thus, you are stuck in the profit-eroding, soul-killing, low-close-rate land of no differentiation.
Here’s the other thing. Prospects don’t want to talk about your company. They want to talk about themselves. So, why not ask some good questions about their business goals and pause to listen? You’ll learn a lot and you’ll build trust in the process.
With the goals on the table, then you have the foundation to be able to work together on a solution. This changes the entire sales dynamic from adversarial to collaborative.
Product Training + Problem Training
Recently, I’ve been training sales teams how to ask their clients and prospects about their business goals and challenges related to those goals. Then, the reps learn to map out the business processes related to the goals.
What I’ve noticed is that when you begin to map out the prospect’s business processes, they dynamic changes. Instead of sitting across the table from each other in an adversarial position, you and the prospect are sitting on the same side of the table. This happens metaphorically and often physically!
At this point, you have graduated from sales rep to trusted advisor. You are now in a strong position to win. You have the trust and you’ve brought insight. Sure, there are competitors with similar products and services. But you have differentiated yourself as a trusted advisor that understands their business and have brought ideas to the table.
The Best Part of This Strategy
Here’s the best part of this strategy: most of your competition won’t do this. Why? It requires sustained investment and hard work.
- Creating a large body of educational marketing material costs money and takes time. Most companies want marketing to be an magical unicorn that distributes hot leads. Even if you have a unicorn in your marketing department, you won’t close these leads if you haven’t differentiated by bringing insight.
- Becoming a trusted advisor as a sales rep takes work and requires reading. Most sales reps want to schmooze prospects, lean on their wit and charm to win deals. Then, they complain that the products aren’t competitive and the service isn’t good enough when they lose deals.
The good news is that if you are willing to invest in hard work, you can differentiate and create unstoppable competitive advantage in the process.
You see, I think that most companies are dating their vendors. They haven't gotten married to one because they haven't found the right match. When you bring insight, you'll find your clients falling in love with you. Many of them will commit. They'll stop dating around each time the contract is up for renewal. In this way, you'll not only win more deals, you'll create more lifetime clients.
Inspired? If so, it begins with a decision:
- Business Leaders: Commit to bringing value by creating insight. Invest in great content to bring insight to your prospects and clients.
- Sales Reps: Take time every day to educate yourself. The time and effort you invest will pay massive dividends.
For more ideas on this topic, check out our recent Selling From the Heart podcast episode: Differentiating With Insight and Understanding.