A buyer for a large manufacturing company shares five competitive responses she has received to her request for a proposal. Each contains a variation of the common sales claim, “We have the most experienced team in the industry.” She laughs at the absurdity, “Sure, everyone is the best!” But she is deadly serious when she says, “How do we make a decision when we have to wade through this marketing fluff?”
Sales people are obsessed with being the best. You beat the competition in every respect: attention to detail, customer care, quality, and value. Unfortunately, so does everyone else. And, in a world where the best has become meaningless, buyers are sharing a consistent message: “When we receive three proposals that look similar, which we frequently do, we’ll award the business to the second- or third-best if that will save us money and help us get faster approval to move forward.”
Translation: customers worry more about making a good decision than making the best decision. Being the best does not guarantee a win.
Partnered with this craving to be the best is an addiction to demonstrating our “uniqueness.” The unique value proposition is like the Holy Grail of selling, and searching for it has sent sales organizations on lifelong quests. Frankly, when I ask salespeople, even their leaders, to articulate a tight, clear, unique value proposition, most can’t. Even if you are remarkable enough to identify authentic uniqueness, it’s short lived. Before you have time to spell “unique,” an astute competitor will replicate it and, on the heels of your success, do it better and cheaper.
While marketing and selling go hand in hand, never confuse the two. Claiming to be the best and pitching your unique value may work as slick marketing to the masses, but they are ineffective sales tools. While it’s easy to fill your messages, proposals, and presentations with hot air, it takes effort to articulate why, and how, you are right for this particular customer and her situation.
Differentiation in selling today is all about relevance. Buyers crave relevance. And they’re not getting it because sellers are busy providing generic information about their company, service, or solution, and they fail to position the right attributes in context of what matters most to the specific buyer. In short, they fail to make it relevant to the customer.
Now think about this: “What do your customers care about most?” They care about themselves, their company, and their success. Their own interests and priorities. Attention, time, and money flow to priorities. And I mean priorities by the customer’s definition, not yours.
Bottom line: Sellers need to spend less time seeking a Unique Value Proposition, and more time developing Value Propositions Unique to each client.
How do you do this? Re-write your selling ABCs.
1. Always Be Contributing
Many sellers have the same intent: Find a need and close the sale. Always Be Closing.
It’s this focus on closing that’s causing talented sales professionals to lengthen the sales cycle and deliver desirable business opportunities to their competitor’s front door.
Every prospecting message, every call, presentation, proposal, and meeting must be delivered with the intent of contribution. Simply put: If you’re not contributing relevant value, you are simply adding cost, wasting time, and making yourself indistinguishable.
Who defines value? The receiver. Not the giver. In order to be relevant to me, you must contribute value by the buyer’s definition, not yours. Which requires you to execute the second of the selling ABCs.
2. Always Be Curious
Curiosity is not, as some would have you believe, the simple act of asking questions to get the information necessary to make the sale. If you’ve been on the receiving end of one of these mind-numbing fact-finding interrogations, you’ll understand why buyers scurry for cover behind e-mail and the RFP (Request For Proposal) process. Every seller is trained to ask questions to discover needs. This is important, but it’s not enough. And it’s not curiosity.
Curiosity is a genuine interest in people and business. It is neither manipulative nor packed with hidden agendas. Curiosity is hearing something and wanting to learn more, observing and wanting to understand why, reading and wanting to go deeper. Curiosity delivers insights that enable you to communicate with prospects in ways that are meaningful to them, and that are welcomed, not ignored.
Curiosity should not be packed away, like the best china, waiting for that important client meeting. Curiosity should start before your first attempt to connect with a new prospect and continue through the entire sales cycle and beyond to ensure lasting relationships and future business growth.
So the right kind of information is power, right? Wrong. Selling power comes from having quality information and, more importantly, how you use this information to position your offering to be the most relevant to this specific customer. Enter the third of the triad of selling ABCs.
3. Always Be Connecting
Technology has forever shifted the way people and companies buy, and how and when they choose to interact with salespeople. The internet has fast-forwarded us through the information age into the quagmire of data overwhelm, leaving buyers bloated with information and paralyzed by choice. Today’s buyers choose to research potential purchases without supplier involvement. The last thing they need from a sales person is more information. They can visit your company’s website, Facebook page, LinkedIn page, YouTube channel, and myriad other online and offline resources to get what they need. So why are so many sales messages, proposals, e-mails, and presentations nothing more than a series of information dumps?
Today’s buyer expects you to bring three things to every interaction:
- An understanding of his or her world.
- Relevant expertise.
- The ability to connect the two.
Simply put: I need you to connect your information to me and my world in ways that contribute to my success, as I define it. Otherwise good luck getting my attention. And my business.
We assume buyers make the connection between our offering and their companies’ needs. They don’t. That’s our job. We presume that our promises of saving money, increasing revenue, or driving more leads to their business will have every buyer salivating. They don’t. Your ability to stand out in the fog of information has nothing to do with your features, benefits, expertise, or brand. It has everything to do with how you position these attributes in the context of what’s important to the buyer. Make the shift from pitching to positioning. Position your information in context of what matters most from your customer’s perspective. Do it by mastering the execution of a new set of selling ABCs: Always Be Contributing. Always Be Curious. Always Be Connecting.
JILL HARRINGTON, sales expert, speaker, trainer and author of UNCOMMON SENSE: Shift Your Thinking. Take NEW Action. Boost You Sales, has contributed to the success of thousands of sales professionals and business owners around the globe. She delivers the uncommon sense that will shift the way you think and maximize your influence, impact and income. www.salesshift.ca