Sound familiar ?

“As a result of an internal business review we’ve built a detailed specification of our requirements for [insert descriptive] that we feel your organisation may be able to satisfy. We’d like you to complete the attached RFP by [insert unreasonable time-frame]  and if considered suitable, to attend our offices on [insert non-negotiable date] and make a presentation about why you should be considered as a potential supplier”.

…and the unspoken bit hidden between the lines, “ We’ve also managed to come up with a list of your competitors and have asked them to do the same. Of course, one of your competitors is the incumbent and as such is very likely to retain the business”.

Sound familiar? Unfortunately, this type of conversation is becoming more and more common as buyers of B2B goods and services increasingly access publicly available information and use it to work out their own needs. Some studies suggest that they are completing as much as 60% of purchasing decisions before even engaging a supplier or speaking with a salesperson.

Of course, the RFP is an extreme of how the “informed” buyer is handling the procurement task. Not every solution is acquired through an RFP. Maybe it’s a scenario where the prospect says things like “I’ve been on the internet”, “I know how much it should cost”, “I’m familiar with the technical specs” or countless other examples. One things for sure, it’s a fact that every prospect can tap into information that just wasn’t accessible a few years ago and that changes the game.

So how do you adapt your sales approach to ensure that you are seen as an invaluable part of the buying process and be the one that secures the customers’ business?

An approach to this conundrum has been developed by Global Sales Training and Results Improvement Specialists, Mercuri International, and is centred on Differentiated Selling™ or put another way, the ability to flex your sales approach to the way people buy.

As the information age continues to gather pace, there are a number of your customers who having researched everything, feel that they know clearly what they want and are very comfortable to continue to trust you to provide it. In these situations the salesperson is fulfilling a known set of requirements in a “safe” relationship and only has to provide the solution. Typically, this type of selling situation would be managed by an Account Manager. That is, a salesperson who is focussed totally on the quality of the relationship between your company and the client.

But what happens when the prospect is not clear about their requirements and whether they want to work with your company at all? How do you approach this type of prospect?

Or the prospect who knows what he wants (or thinks he knows) but is not happy or convinced about working with you?

Differentiated Selling™ is essentially an approach that flexes dependant on the buying situation of the prospect. It requires you to think and act differently in different situations rather than have a “one size fits all” sales approach.

Are you ready to start being different? If you are, it could be useful to have a discussion with us first. We have some provocative insights into how you can turn your customer’s way of thinking on its head.

Interested in hearing more? Contact me by clicking here to arrange an introductory discussion and discover how to win that elusive customers business a little more often.

Think like your customer

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted on here. My apologies. My attention has been on a whole range of other important stuff for the last few weeks and of course, before that it was summer holiday time.

A lot has happened in the world over the last few weeks and more particularly in this month of October. Earlier this month we sadly saw the passing of a true innovator and business leader; Steve Jobs.

Much has been written over the last couple of weeks about Steve with most of it being good stuff. However, some detractors saw it as an opportunity to have a pop at his management style and question his judgement on a whole range of things.

What they seem to have missed is that Steve was an entrepreneur. Not so many years ago, he co-founded what is now the largest technology company in the world. He did this from a garage with not a penny to rub together, but he still managed to succeed where others failed. This was, in no small part, due to his relentless drive and enthusiasm. Of course he rubbed people up the wrong way, he was said to lose his temper at times, he was known for culling thousands of ideas until he found the next big thing. But let’s face it, Apple is a company that he founded, was thrown out of and ultimately rescued when he returned. He was always going to be passionate about it.

For me, one of the key secrets of his success was to understand the consumer. He was able to do this because he thought like one. He didn’t need to conduct expensive market research because he relied on his instincts as a user of products and services to come up with great ideas that turned the (generally poor) user experience of computing on its head. He saw how computer based technology could be used by everyday people without needing a master’s degree in computer science.

I’m sure that there are things that Apple doesn’t do as well as it would like. It is staffed by human beings after all and we all tend to make mistakes from time to time. But in my view, it’s no coincidence that Apple has continued to grow and become so successful despite the worst economic slump for a generation.

Put simply, Apple has continued their legendary focus on innovation and challenging regular thinking in the world of consumer technology. They think differently, continuously question what’s possible and are 100% committed to the awesome marketing machine they have created. (I find it amazing that so many companies slashed their R&D, marketing and development budgets just when they need them most).

Time will tell how Apple will fare without Steve, but my guess is they’ll do just fine. Steve’s DNA is inextricably woven into the fabric of Apple Inc and it will take a brave man to deliberately try to unravel that.





How was it for you?

In my previous post I talked about Referrals and Social Media. I made a comment about how a great customer service experience can quickly spread across the network you’re connected to. I also mentioned how poor customer service can do the same thing.

Of course the downside of this is that if you do a bad job then the world will find out quicker than ever before. It’s a great incentive for organisations to focus on delivering great customer service”.

Social Media is an incredible tool for getting the message out about your customer service levels. Imagine what would happen to your business if every customer had a great experience and told all their network about it through Facebook, Twitter or Linked in.

So now you need to review how good your customer service really is. This is a really big topic but it starts with listening to what your customers and prospects really expect of your organisation.

You can even conduct this research through Social Media by using the questions feature of Facebook, the Polls feature of Linked in and other tools like Survey Monkey or PollDaddy.

Once you’ve got your research results you’ll then need to conduct an honest analysis of how often you meet those requirements.

In the process, you’ll likely find some areas where you’re over-servicing the customer by providing things they don’t value and you’ll also find some areas that are “nice to have” for your customer but are not economic or viable for you to offer.

Once all this is complete (and you need to take it seriously) you have a roadmap of what you need to do to deliver great customer service to your existing and potential customers.

So how do you get people to let others know when they had a great experience? Simple, you just ask them. It doesn’t matter if your business interactions are face to face or virtual. You still have to ask each and every visitor to your company to tell others about how great you are.

It’s so easy to kit out your website and blog with Facebook, Linked in and Twitter widgets to help people share your content, products and services or just the great experience they had.

Of course, if you interact face to face, you can still help people share the great stuff you do by printing your Facebook, Linked in or Twitter URL’s on your business cards and other literature. (Choose those that work for your business).

How you go about changing the customer service culture of your business is a topic all of its own, but one that is worthy of talking about in another post.

Oh, and please don’t see negative feedback as a bad thing, it’s your chance to put things right and have a real dialogue with your customers.

Please leave your comments, thoughts and experiences of good and bad customer service. or just share how you purchased something on the back of good online recommendations.

Social Media – the ultimate referral tool ?

When I first started out in selling, it was drummed into me early on to ask for referrals. It made a whole load of sense and I did win business as a result of asking for referrals to other possible customers.

This was an example of Social Media at work in the world of selling. Do a good job for someone, ask them for help in finding others that you can also do a great job for, keep doing this and you have the beginnings of a pipeline.

In the new age of Social Media the basic principles haven’t really changed so much. However, we now have the benefit of the Internet to help us. We can tell our story to so many individuals and organisations using tools like Linked in, Facebook, personal Blogs and many others.

Recently I personally witnessed the power of Facebook referrals. My wife and I fancied having a meal out the other day and had recently seen a friend highlight their great night out at a new award winning restaurant. Guess what? We had a great night and posted a simple three line comment about what a fantastic meal it was. No doubt our contacts will read that update and some of them will think about trying out the restaurant.

Of course the downside of this is that if you do a bad job then the world will find out quicker than ever before. It’s a great incentive for organisations to focus on delivering great customer service.

Your sales team is sitting there ready to go. They number in the millions and you can find them in all of your social networks. Go talk to them.

(This example is a consumer focussed business, but the principles and practice are just as valid in the B2B world).

Linked in – Quantity or Quality ?

I regularly use Linked in and am connected to a broad range of individuals. I’m always looking to connect with relevant people with whom I have an existing relationship, am interested in what they have to say, that perhaps I could help in some way or of course, those that could help me. Sometimes I like to connect to people merely because I like them and wish to keep in touch with them and their professional career.

However, I regularly see people post updates that say something like “I need 20 more connections to hit 500” (pick a number, any number, as long as it’s a big one). It seems to me that their focus is on pure volume.

Isn’t it better to have a network that you can genuinely tap into for advice, to offer expertise, discuss ideas and contribute to the community, than have thousands of contacts that you don’t really know and with whom you have no real connection?

My view is that for a network like Linked in to add value to you and others, you should focus on quality rather than mere numbers.

Of course this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grow your network. On the contrary, I believe that we all should actively engage in doing just that. What I am suggesting is that it should be based on a principle of giving as much as receiving. If this is the case you’d only connect with people where there can be some kind of beneficial two-way relationship.

After all, isn’t that the basis of any relationship? Should the virtual world really be different?

Back to the future

Go back just a few years and we accessed the internet through dial-up. I remember it well, it took ages just to load a page of text. Now in 2011, a massive percentage of the population has instant access to information through both static and mobile broadband. It gives us access to almost everything you can imagine.

We can access the latest news in full glorious HD video, research and buy products and services, download films and music and re-connect and interact with friends, colleagues, influential people and of course, businesses.

We are able to do this through a seemingly ever-increasing range of devices that includes smart-phones, tablet computers, internet enabled televisions and of course the personal computer.

I’m interested in how we in business can use the incredible mix of tools now available to us in order to connect and interact with consumers to enrich the consumer experience and in doing so grow sales and the profitability of the organisation providing the product or service.

As this blog progresses, I’m interested in hearing your experiences and opinions of social media and to share ideas and thoughts on how we might all benefit from this remarkable evolution that’s happening around us.