You Are the Differentiator

It’s safe to say that there are probably a thousand firms that do pretty much what yours does. This is why your sales team needs to stop selling the products and services you provide, and start selling why partnering with you will bring buyers more value than buying from anyone else.

Differentiation Is the Key

Selling based on product features and benefits is a risky proposition. Products and services can be so similar across providers that buyers are hard-pressed to spot the differences. If they happen to be adept at doing so, they then are likely put into a trade-off situation. Your offering does many amazing things but is light in one or two particular areas. The competitor’s product is strong where yours is weaker but is missing some features that yours has. This situation elevates price as a key deciding factor in the sale and the race to the bottom commences.

Shifting this buyer decision-making dynamic requires your team to sell fundamentally differently. Making your firm, your people and your approach to excellence the heart of the sale [rather than product attributes] is a powerful way to clearly differentiate you from your competitors.

Telling Your Company’s Story

In a previous post I discussed that customers don’t buy what you do, they buy Why You Do It.  Communicating this Why is part of communicating the larger picture of your company and what makes it so great.  How did the company start? What were the driving factors that brought it through the tough times and into today? In my role as a Fractional VP Sales I work with sales teams to tackle this deceptively difficult task.

Here’s why it’s difficult…The objective in telling your company’s story is to make an emotional connection with your prospects. If a salesperson attempts to tell it by listing how many years you’ve been in business, how many successful customer implementations you had, the impressive list of banners that sell your products etc. they don’t accomplish this.  They may be building credibility, but they are not making an emotional connection.

Making the Emotional Connection

We are all innately wired to be moved by the power of story [a quick Google search on this topic will give you more information than you can read that explains this].  Given this reality, to differentiate your firm from the others and ultimately increase your sales win rate, have your sales team put focused effort into developing Your Firm’s Story.

A compelling story has a clear beginning, middle and end.  It takes the listener on a journey where they experience the ‘aha’ moment that was the genesis of your firm. They come along as you tackle the challenges and climb the mountains required to refine and expand your offering. They feel how other customers have felt as a result of working with you. It’s the classic three act play.

Crafting Your Story

Another quick Google search, this time on the topic of storyselling will give you many references [and sales consultant options if you so desire] to help you get started constructing your story. In working through this with clients it’s been a fun and engaging experience for all.  It’s a different kind of sales training.  Everyone learns more about the company than they knew coming into the exercise. The excitement level rises as the story is constructed and the team feels its power.  Once completed the sales team knows they have created something that will help them connect with buyers in a far more personal way than they have been able to prior and can’t wait to use it.

Utilizing Your Story

Your Firm’s Story should be leveraged in the first meeting with a prospect. It should be woven into this conversation in a way that is most effective based upon your industry, market and buyer. Most effectively done, it is positioned as “Before we get deeply into talking about our products and services let me tell you a bit more about us…”.  Doing this at the start of the sale positions your sellers to come back to this touch point of differentiation along the way. As a buyer goes through their comparison of product attributes and price points they will have clarity around why they will get maximum value by partnering with you rather than the competition.  It’s true that some buyers simply want the cheapest price. It’s also true that many want to partner with the firm that can bring maximum value and meet all of their needs. Which one would you prefer?

There is of course a great deal of nuance in crafting your company’s Origin Story. If you would like to discuss this in further detail I of course would be happy to do so. You can reach me at [email protected].

Sales Process vs. Technique: Which Matters More?

If your sales are not at the level that you’d like, the best thing you can do is have your salespeople brush up on their sales techniques so that they perform better, right? Wrong! Achieving predictable, long-term revenue growth is not as simple as sales training.

If you’re guilty of repeatedly investing in sales technique training hoping that it will boost your sales, you’re not alone. As a fractional VP Sales, I’ve seen many business owners fall into this trap.

Why Sales Training is Not the Way Out of a Slump

When your revenue generation is not at the level you’d like, you may assume that it’s because your salespeople are under skilled and that sales training is the easy fix.

What my experience as an outsourced sales VP has taught me is that virtually 100% of the time, the problem lies in the sales process, not in the skills of the sales reps. You could have the most talented salespeople in the world, but if your sales process is flawed, they will not perform well.

When I go to work with a team, the first thing I do is assess whether they know what to do. Because you need to know what to do before you perfect how to do it.

A story for you about this concept…I asked my son to paint the front porch this summer. I spent some time going over the painting technique (the “how”) and left him to decide the best way to apply that to get the job done. Well, he ended up doing a great job with the painting itself but he also managed to [literally] paint himself into a corner! I shouldn’t have been too surprised, since I hadn’t told him he should start on the opposite side and paint himself to the stairs (the “what”).

Aside from being a funny story, this is an example of why someone needs to understand a process before honing their ability to do specific parts of that process. In the context of your sales team, that’s why sales training won’t help if your sales team doesn’t understand the sales process.

A Diagnosis of What’s Most Often Wrong

When sales are down and business owners come to me for help, they’ve usually already self-prescribed sales training. My analysis of their sales process usually reveals one of the following:

  • There are things they should be doing that they’re not
  • There are things they shouldn’t be doing that they are
  • They’re doing the right mix of things, but in the wrong order
  • They’re doing things to the wrong degree

Let’s use a baking analogy to examine the difficulty business owners often have with diagnosing the problem with their sales. My clients come to me saying their soufflé is continually flat- they just can’t get it to rise. They wonder whether the temperature of the oven is wrong, or if there’s something wrong with the way they put it in the oven.

When we go back and look at their recipe, it usually turns out that they’re missing some ingredients or mixing them in the wrong order. When you have the process incorrect, the results are not going to be what you expect.

A Recipe for Sales Success

Speaking of recipes, a recipe for increasing sales is the magic 4 R’s formula. Sales training and a bit of extra motivation are not going to cut it. Your sales team needs to be doing:

  • the Right Things
  • the Right Way
  • to the Right Degree
  • at the Right Time.

If they do, you are guaranteed to get reliable and predictable revenue growth (you can read more about each of these 4 R’s here).

Where the magic comes in is the particular mix of these things that is right for your business, depending on your industry, your specific market, and your geographic area. Although there’s generally a list of the ‘right’ things to do in sales, the right way to do them usually varies according to the culture and customs of different regions. The right time refers to the need to approach buyers at the right time; sending a salesperson in to meet a prospect at the wrong time is setting them up for failure.

This is why the sales process is a bigger priority than the sales technique. If you don’t have the right 4R mix for your business, even the most highly skilled salespeople won’t get the results you hope for.

So, When Does Sales Technique Matter?

I’m not saying that improving sales technique isn’t important- just that it should come second to optimizing your sales process. Sales techniques such as rapport building, mirroring, and knowing which questions to ask and how to ask them are obviously crucial parts of sales.

Sales technique is about understanding buyer pain points, figuring out how their situation can be improved, and the business value they want to get from making that change. In chapters 4, 5, and 6 of my book Sell More By Selling Less, I outline in detail how salespeople can strategically identify pains, desired gains, and value drivers.

The way salespeople ask these questions is technique. Understanding the responses and putting together a solution that will solve pain points, make an improved situation a reality, and deliver value increases the likelihood that the buyer will say yes. To do these things is process, not technique.

Most people think sales training is the priority, and process optimization should come second. In reality, it should be the opposite. Process optimization should be the first thing you tackle if you want to see a sustainable increase in sales.

If you’re spending money on sales technique training without sales process optimization, you might as well be throwing that hard-earned money out the window. If you’d like to discuss more about why optimizing your sales process is more important than technique, reach out by phone or email. I’m always happy to help.

Revenue Growth Isn’t Everything

One of the most common traps I see business owners fall into is making revenue growth the most important driver for their business. As ironic as this may sound [coming from me, a revenue generation consultant], revenue growth isn’t everything.

Why Growth Shouldn’t Be Your Only Metric for Business Success

Obviously, growth is vital for the long-term survival of your business. As a fractional VP Sales, I certainly appreciate the importance of revenue growth as an indicator of business health.  To ensure long-term success, growth of course needs to go hand-in-hand with profitability.

When you focus purely on growth, your attention gets shifted away from the efficiency of your processes and profit is likely to take a hit.

There are plenty of examples of companies that adopted the “growth at all costs” model of doing business only to realize they had scaled unsustainably, had customer acquisition costs that are way too high, and ultimately experienced a drop in profits.

Why Declining Revenue Isn’t Necessarily a Bad Thing

A plateau or even a dip in your revenue is no reason to panic. In fact, sometimes it’s a good thing.  It causes you to pause and reassess all things revenue generation.  Before you start worrying about decreased revenue, take stock of your cost of sales.  The resulting profit picture will tell you more about the efficiency of your sales processes than your revenue does.

Tips for Lowering Costs of Acquisition from a Fractional VP of Sales

When it comes to sales, your profit is related to lowering your cost of client acquisition. To do this, you need to optimize your sales processes so that you not only increase your throughput of leads but also increase your ratio of paying customers to leads worked. Here are some key factors for you to consider in order to streamline your sales function and decrease your costs.

Put the Right Processes in Place

Establishing repeatable, reliable processes is the first thing you need to do to optimize sales performance. Having a purpose built sales process in place guides your sales team through each sales stage and empowers them to provide a consistent experience to prospects.

Not only does this contribute to a higher win rate, but it also makes it possible to measure the effectiveness of each stage of your process to help you determine how you can optimize further.

Find the Right People for Each Role

Once you’ve got the right pieces in place, you need to make sure you’ve got the right people executing each of those process steps.

As Jim Collins points out in his influential management book Good to Great, it’s crucial to ‘get the right people on the bus before you decide where the bus needs to go.’ In other words, you need to ensure you’ve got the right talent in the right positions so that your team can operate as efficiently as possible.

Unsurprisingly, when you’ve got the wrong people in the sales department, they will be slower, less efficient, and less effective- not to mention quite unhappy about having to execute on those steps. Let’s look at a specific example of why this is the case and the knock-on effects it can have on your business.

Keep Your Closers Free to Close

Different roles require different skill sets…obvious, right? Yet you’d be surprised how often business owners have their best salespeople doing business development work or account management, to the detriment of the business. Sure, you may have that anomaly salesperson who happens to be excellent at both research and sales outreach. But chances are that’s not the case.

What’s more likely is that you have a great salesperson who hates research, who when given a business development task may take 2 hours to do what a research person who enjoys that task could do in 20 minutes. This is bad for business for multiple reasons:

  • It’s an inefficient use of time and resources.
  • A salesperson who isn’t good at research won’t get great data.
  • The salesperson in this scenario probably won’t want to record the detail in the CRM, leaving a weak point in the historical data your company needs to draw from.

Now consider these impacts in the context of how many salespeople you have and it’s clear why assigning a business development function to the right person is an easy win!

Similarly, once they close a deal, your star salespeople shouldn’t be responsible for onboarding the client and keeping them happy. After all, the first rule of business is to keep what you have, then to grow – so keeping a Closer bound to an existing account is a surefire way to have new sales grind to a halt as that salesperson focuses on keeping that customer satisfied and on board.

This responsibility can and should fall on the shoulders of someone who has the time and talent for nurturing accounts. Depending on your business, this may be an implementation team, an operations team, or some other type of internal support team.

Focusing on Growth Without Addressing Operational Issues is Lethal

As we’ve seen from the above examples, single-mindedly pursuing growth without addressing areas of weakness in your sales process and sales effectiveness can harm rather than help your business.

By taking the time to strategically address operational issues, you can improve the efficiency of the sales process, lower costs, reduce sales staff churn, and ultimately achieve sustainable revenue growth.

Want to know more about why it’s more advantageous to focus on profit than simply striving for growth? Reach out to me, and I’d be happy to draw on my experience as a fractional Vice President Sales to discuss how this is relevant to your business.