B2B: Why Thought-Leadership Falls Short

Thought LeadershipWhen it comes to thought leadership, an image like the one to the left often comes to mind for people. The recent thinking goes something like the following…

Customers want to be presented with new ideas and learn from thought leading subject matter experts before making a purchase. As they are educated by the SME, they are gradually sold.

But is thought-leadership enough? I would maintain that it threatens to be an expensive path for free consulting. Allow me to explain…

The Research

A few years ago, ITSMA conducted research finding that 57% of B2B buyers would like to see thought-leadership from sales reps. The conclusion they had drawn, like for so many others, was that if buyers want thought leadership, sales and marketing must give it to them. Important to note is ITSMA’s official definition of thought leadership is as follows:

“Ideas that educate customers and prospects about important business and technology issues and help them solve those issues—without selling.” – ITSMA

More recently, Omobono joined forces with the Business Marketing Association to research marketer’s top priorities. The results showed that not only did ‘Strengthening Thought Leadership’ rank as a Top 3 priority at 63%, 8% higher than ‘Deepening Customer Relationships,’ and 19% higher than ‘Raising Brand Awareness,’ but it ranked as marketer’s first priority.

The focus and emphasis on thought leadership is not surprising, and can be a good thing. That is, if thought leadership is the goal and your sales and marketing model is to offer free consulting and therefore derive no commercial benefit. Tweet This C2T

For the CMO and CSO, this is an unaffordable luxury as accountability to the board and stockholders would never permit such an expensive endeavor with no associated RO[M]I.

Standing in contrast is the work and research conducted by CEB, which shows that ‘thought-leadership’ is several steps removed from meeting the criteria that results in having commercial impact. Let’s look at their definitions for each of the five areas in their hierarchy of messaging.

Hierarchy of Messaging

  • General Information – General Information is simply information that covers generally just about everything. It’s that overwhelming flood of information out there, that we spend more time filtering out rather than taking in.
  • Accepted Information – Accepted Information is credible, it’s relevant, but often, it’s not terribly interesting. It doesn’t necessarily teach anything new. An example might be, “90% of CIOs are concerned about what cloud computing means for their organization.”
  • Thought Leadership – Thought Leadership is interesting, newsworthy, incremental information that customers themselves likely couldn’t have discovered on their own. So, unlike accepted information, thought leadership provides new perspectives or new data that teaches, and doesn’t just confirm.
  • Insight – Insight is designed to disrupt the customer’s view of their business. It juxtaposes the cost of current behavior against the potential of an alternate action. This breaks the customer’s frame of mind.
  • Commercial Insight – Commercial Insight has the highest bar, and ensures we are not simply providing free consulting to customers. It’s Insight that meets the “frame-breaking” bar but simultaneously leads the customer specifically back to us as the sole supplier, enabling them to actually take action on that Insight.

In light of the definitions, let’s now go back to the originally cited research from ITSMA to understand why giving buyers what they want (‘thought leadership’) is bad for business. There are three perspectives to consider:

Three Limitations of Thought Leadership

1. The Buyer’s Objective with Thought Leadership

From the buyer’s perspective, they truly want to understand trends and conditions that may impact them or their business negatively. But, they don’t care where it comes from, nor if it results in a sale for you or credibility for your brand. That was never their aim, as they care about protecting the interests of their business first and foremost…and that is perfectly reasonable. Therefore, the goal of the buyer(s) is to become as informed as (s)he can so that the best decision can be made when selecting between suppliers.

“Thought Leadership is largely focused on presenting a new idea rather than undermining an existing one.” – CEB Tweet This C2T

According to CEB, when it comes to thought leadership, “the real limitation is it doesn’t necessarily drive action. That’s because most thought leadership is largely focused on presenting a new idea rather than undermining an existing one. Thought leadership often has little lasting impact for this reason. It fails to disrupt the customer’s thinking.”

2. The Marketer’s Objective with Thought Leadership

For marketers, of key interest is creating disproportionate mind-share for the brand, which requires establishing credibility, which leads to engagement and subsequently, reliance upon the brand. According to the study, thought leadership is seen by marketers…AND BUYERS…as a way to do so.

I am not claiming the research is wrong. But I am suggesting the conclusions drawn from the research are not only off-base, but potentially detrimental to the marketer’s stated goals that led them to pursue thought leadership in the first place.

As marketers, we can often fall into the trap of inserting ourselves [or our brands] into the center of the story. For example, the term ‘thought-leader,’ puts the person delivering the ‘thought’ at center stage. What we all have learned over the years, however, is that the only way to change a customer’s behavior, is to stop telling our own story to build credibility, but instead, tell theirs and help them see themselves in the story.

Therefore, instead of pursuing thought leadership to earn credibility, be credible in demonstrating you understand your audience. C2T

3. The Sales Rep’s Objective with Thought Leadership

While marketers certainly have their own challenges of getting attention and responses, given the rise in popularity of content marketing, sales reps too, have some tough sledding to get responses to their emails and phone calls.

Reading the research from ITSMA, reps are left with the natural, but wrong conclusion that if buyers want thought leadership, they should provide it to them. The problem with this approach is that sales reps can tend to overlook one very important element.

In their pursuit to provide thought leadership, their point of view, insight, etc., no matter how profound, fails to lead uniquely and specifically back to them as the sole supplier in a way that enables the buyer to take action. The following article discusses more on this concept here (Where are you Leading?).

In other words, the thought leadership merely provides the buyers with a perspective that could apply to any number of suppliers. This results in the buyer determining that their choices of suppliers are relatively equal, so they look for a tie-breaker. Too often, that tie-breaker becomes ‘price.’

Three questions that must be answered before a prospect will buy – Why Change? Why Now? Why you? C2T

To change this outcome, I will refer to a friend of mine, Bob Apollo. He argues in his article, that there are three primary questions that need to be answered before customers will buy from you, Why Change? Why Now? Why You? 

Regarding the order of the questions, both Bob and I would contend that the order of the questions [as written] is paramount as well. Reversing the order, as so many have done for years, merely results in prospects remaining with the status quo 60% of the time.

In Summary…

While demonstrating thought leadership is certainly better than simply offering general or accepted information,  as we see it still pales in comparison to the kind of insight that is frame-breaking and provokes an action that leads distinctly and uniquely to your solution.

With that said, let me provide a different picture of what sales and marketers need to be doing to provide the most value for a customer.

Disruption

I love what this picture represents. By virtue of the fish (i.e., Marketer, Sales Rep, Content, etc.) swimming against the flow, others can’t help but redirect their path (i.e., Thinking) to adjust for the disruption to their current path (i.e., Status Quo).

As for thought leadership, presenting new ideas that others have never heard before often produces a pattern like the first picture. What that picture doesn’t represent, however, is how long they stay on that path. The hope or belief is that they remain on that path to purchase. But thought leadership does not require them to purchase your product to still value you as a thought leader (i.e., Free Consultant).

Therefore, to avoid this, whether you are producing content, a campaign, or delivering messaging to prospects as a sales rep, ask yourself the following questions about what your message delivers.

Does your message:

  • Break the customer’s frame of mind about what they have been doing?
  • Juxtapose the cost of current behavior against the potential of an alternate action?
  • Lead the customer specifically back to you as the sole supplier?
  • Enable them to actually take action on that Insight?

Answering “no” to any of those questions puts you at risk of providing free consulting for your competitors.


 

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

#SMM: Stop Talking, Start Learning

Stop TalkingThe chorus to the Lifehouse song, “Nobody Listen,” describes many marketer’s approach to Content and Social Media Marketing these days…“Everybody talk, but nobody listen.”

The amount of content produced is staggering. According to Gary Vaynerchuk, New York Times best-selling author, he cites that there is more content produced in 48 hours than what has been produced from the beginning of time to 2003.

The strategy of just ‘being present’ in content and on social media has not worked, and will not work.

Change Your Social Media Strategy

If you are finding your engagement to be low in social channels with the content you are sharing, it’s time for a different approach.

As Marketers, we are all susceptible to becoming enamored with our own point of view, and as a result, we end up doing all the talking. When people don’t listen, we talk louder. In marketing, “talking louder” takes many forms, such as email blasts, Facebook posts, Tweets. This even shows up in our retargeting efforts.

These approaches are what I refer to as Bumper-Sticker Marketing. The premise of  the ‘bumper-sticker marketer’ is that it is one way communication that shouts a point of view, but fails to engage others in meaningful ways, and certainly fails to persuade.

One of the common struggles I hear relative to producing content is lack of ideas for what content to produce next. If you find yourself struggling with what to talk about, you may not be as close to your customers as you think you are.

If that’s the case, time for a change in your social media strategy, which will benefit you in your content strategy as well.

Listen to Learn

Assuming you know where your customers are spending their time on Social Media, pay attention to what they are talking about. Listen for the key words and phrases they use to describe their problems, concerns, and struggles.

We are listening and learning so that we can speak their language, rather than trying to get them to understand our own language.

One strategy I use, that may be helpful to others is to do the following. Use your favorite social monitoring tool(s) to identify the keywords your customers use to search your competitors sites.

Additionally, I look at large, non-industry sites like Reddit or Mashable, then filter down to the category in my field/industry to see what people are searching for and talking about.

For example, if I filter by Internet and Telecom, I find the top trending words in their keyword cloud are ‘web2.0,’ ‘blog,’ and ‘social networking.’ (See below).

Word Cloud

This 60-second process gave me three different topics from which I can produce content about that will be relevant to my audience. When content is relevant and valuable, your audience is more likely to engage. What’s more is I now know the specific words to build my SEO strategies around with HREF, H1 tags, etc.

Looking for keywords is one thing, but remember, we want to understand our customer’s concerns and speak their language. Therefore, I take the keywords of interest listed above and search conversations in Twitter and Facebook to try to ascertain what their intent is behind their searches.

In searching #web2.0 this morning, for example, I quickly learn that areas of interest to multiple groups is measurement, collaboration and applicability to SMB.

Take the time to listen and learn for a better content and social media strategy. As my mom used to say…”Talk less, listen more!”


Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Don’t Sabotage Your Challenger Sale Implementation

Sabotage Challenger Sale ImplementationIn January 2012, as I began my first Challenger Sale implementations across several of our SBUs, there were certainly things I would later change in subsequent implementations. One thing that remains the same to this day, however, is in identifying my true goal for Sales Reps and Sales Leaders.

After sufficiently making a compelling case for departing from the status quo, I make one point abundantly clear with sales leaders and teams:

“My goal is NOT for you to become a Challenger! My goal is to help you achieve your goals with intentionality, predictability and repeatability. If you are currently not experiencing this in your sales performance, I can train you to any of the five profiles as each are capable of producing high performers. But only one has nearly a 14x higher likelihood of producing high performers! Therefore, in which of the five would you like me to aim my training?”

Should Challenger be Mandatory?

It’s understandable why leadership would want to make mandatory something as important as Challenger, especially given the organizational importance of meeting revenue and margin objectives. But doing so, can often have the exact opposite effect of what is intended. Following are three reasons why I would recommend avoiding the ‘mandate’ for anyone looking to implement The Challenger Sale.

  1. Mandates lessen value. Whenever you take someone’s choice away from them, which is what making something mandatory does, you risk creating a perception that whatever is coming, can’t be that great. After all, if it were, people would want to participate without the requirement.
  2. Mandates shift ownership. By default, when an organization makes something mandatory, the onus for the outcome lies squarely with the organization. Is this where you want the ownership for outcomes to be for the rep, or would you rather have the rep own their own outcomes?
  3. Mandates don’t equate to buy-in. Anyone with children will quickly recognize this reality with the following example…“Tell your sister your sorry…like you mean it!” Just as mandates don’t equate to buy in, neither does compliance equate to behavioral change.

Not all mandates are bad. They definitely have their place, but using them in your Challenger implementation will start things off on the wrong foot. Furthermore, it is unnecessary if you properly frame the need for change before trying to reframe.

Regarding my original point on ‘making people Challengers,’ be careful of the message you are sending when implementing Challenger. Sending a message such as, “We are going to turn everybody into Challengers” will cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety and resistance. It will wreak of being the “next new program” and to many reps, will suggest you are taking a blind and blanket approach to selling. Their defenses will be primed to make impassioned pleas for why their current approach is sufficient. This is what happens when you lead WITH the solution, not TO the solution.

Important to remember is what CEB’s research didn’t show.

The research did not show Challenger as being the only successful profile. Sometimes, proponents of the Challenger research and methodology, can appear more like zealots than advocates. What the research did show, however, is Challenger as having the highest success rate for complex selling environments.

Therefore, if you are contemplating a Challenger implementation of your own, honor your team members by not elevating the importance of  a “program” over their value as an individual.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

3-Second Rule for Customer Insights

3-Second Rule for Customer InsightI am going to take a guess here that if you are reading this post, your reason falls into one of two groups. The first group believes that no meaningful customer insights can come within 3-seconds, and you are reading to confirm your belief. The second group is hoping against all odds that insights truly can be gleaned that quickly.

The 3-Second Rule for Insights

When speaking with your current customers, ask them this simple question…

“What are you doing three seconds before using our product?”

The answers you receive may be quite different from what you expected. What I have found over the years is that this very question gives specific insights into the circumstances that customers find themselves in when preparing to use a product, service or solution. As I would continue to ask the question of a variety of different customers across a variety of industries, similar patterns began to emerge. Let me share a few examples.

Example 1: Computer Accessory Company

In working with one organization that made computer accessories, one of their products was a Presentation Remote. I conducted a number of in field interviews and focus groups, and one of the most common responses to the ’3-second’ question was that they were looking for their flash drive with the presentation and loading it onto the laptop, then ejecting the drive to replace with the dongle for the presentation remote.

The result not only led to a better understanding of how customers used their products, but it also resulted in a whole new product that turned the presentation remote dongle into a flash drive as well. The perceived value was huge, and subsequently led to further points of separation in the marketplace.

Example 2: Curriculum Resources

Once again, applying the same process with another organization that creates Sunday School curriculum, I was leading a workshop at a national event and asked the ’3-second’ question to a room full of teachers and leaders. A pattern emerged in that one of the most common activities they do right before using Sunday School curriculum is to scramble to the supply closet to gather all the supplies necessary for the lesson.

This is a distraction from what they are supposed to be focused on…and with distractions, comes opportunity. Once again, I was able to gain valuable insight into the circumstances customers find themselves in when using the company’s products. These customer insights are what led to the creation of a Curriculum that includes everything they need “in the box.” The marketing reinforced this message and drove the point home by saying that, “The only you need to prepare is your heart.”

Summary

When you understand the nuances of the circumstances in which your customers are dealing day in and day out, you will find that you have increased your credibility when speaking with prospects.

For the aspiring Challenger Sale rep, if you are going to have any chance at getting prospects to think in new ways about their status quo (i.e., Reframe), establishing credibility (i.e., Warmer) is critical. Without credibility, even the most brilliant Reframe will be dismissed as quickly as your introduction was.

Give it a try, and keep sharing your results with me, whether in comments below or via email.

What have you got to lose? You can’t learn any less!

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

When Leaders Get It Wrong

Responsibility, Characteristic of LeadershipAs the childhood song goes, “When you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.” What about when you’re wrong?

Thursday, I received a phone call from yet another supplier that had the solution, but had no idea if I had that problem. Here is how the call began…

“Thanks for taking my call, Jeff. Do you have 5-10 minutes?” I replied, “I have no idea with whom I’m speaking, nor why spending 5-10 minutes would be in my best interest.”

SPOILER ALERT: This post is NOT about what he did wrong in the sales call. It’s about what I did wrong in my response.

How Should A Leader Respond?

I won’t go into details on how rude I became through the course of this 90 second call, but let’s just say my response to the rep was certainly punitive. Upon hanging up, I spent the next couple minutes mentally justifying my response and why it was okay for me to “teach him this hard lesson.”

This was the moment of truth for me…the moment in which I recognized something was wrong, and realized how I behaved next would be one of those ‘character-defining’ moments.

Fortunately, I had this sales rep’s email address from a previous attempt he had made, and I had the chance to start rebuilding, what I had so quickly and recklessly torn down. I apologized, taking responsibility for creating the low-point in his week, and for showing a lack of respect for him. Additionally, I committed to work on not treating others the same way going forward.

His response showed great professionalism, claiming that the subsequent interaction was the highlight of his week, not the low-point.

It turns out that this sales rep had learned more about the ineffectiveness of his approach through my respect for him as a person, than he did through my critique and rebuke of him as a sales person.

Leadership Tip

It is easy to critique, and call out problems we see in others. In our zealotry to uphold truth, right the wrongs, and teach a better way, we can leave quite a bit of carnage in our wake when our ‘principles’ trump our respect for ‘people.’

As leaders, our approach matters. While we may seek to ‘teach’ new and better ways, we must be quick to recognize the difference between Teaching and Preaching. As I have said before…

“A person who puts their own PR before [t]eaching is merely [PR]eaching.” (Tweet This)

How would you finish the lyrics to the song?
“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. If you’re wrong and you know it…”

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

1-Question Test of Sales Effectiveness

Sales Effectiveness and Status Quo | Repeatable SuccessAs a general principle, we in the profession of Sales seek to disrupt the Status Quo of our prospects. This is good…and appropriate. Too often, there is one behavior that sales reps exhibit, that can completely undermine their effectiveness in closing the sale.

Following is a simple, one question test. Your answer to this one question will help you determine if you too, may be exhibiting the same behaviors and at risk of compromising your effectiveness in the sales process.

What does the Orange ball represent?

If the picture above were representative of you selling to prospects, what does the orange ball represent? Before racing to find the right answer as so many of us performance-driven and competitive sales people are inclined to do, I would encourage you to pay more attention to your gut response to the question, and less on solving ‘what’s the right answer.’

Common responses to this question typically include:

  • “Standing out from the competition”
  • “Differentiating our solution from others”
  • “Being seen as a Trusted Advisor”

None of the aforementioned answers are bad, nor are they wrong for any sales professional to desire. But key to understand is that these are all byproducts of something much more important.

Misplaced Focus

In each of the representative answers above, notice what was the intended focus for the prospect — Company, Solution, Rep. What did we start out with saying was our primary aim in the sales process? Disrupting the status quo! For the Challenger Sale rep, this is reframing how prospects see the unanticipated or underappreciated aspects of their business problems through commercial teaching and insight.

If that is our primary aim that is critical to making the sale, then why on earth would we want to distract their focus from seeing their business problems with absolute [and painful] clarity. To prematurely talk about or point to anything other than the business problems that are currently, negatively impacting the prospect, causes the prospect to shift focus from resolving their status quo to resolving in their mind, “Relative to other companies, solutions, reps I have dealt with, how do I like this one?”

The orange ball should represent the prospect’s focus on their business problem, not your solution!

Seller’s Paradox

While we certainly want to be seen as trusted advisors that stand out from the competition with our differentiated solutions, the more we keep the focus on those aspects about ourselves, our solutions and our organization, the more we look and sound just like everybody else.

There has been tremendous research and studies done on how we make decisions. The layman’s version of the findings is that prospects tend to see more similarities between organizations, solutions and reps than differences. Therefore, when we focus on these aspects about ourselves, here is what the prospect sees…

Disrupting Status Quo | Repeatable Success

Question — If this is truly how prospects see suppliers and their products, what do you suppose becomes the differentiator for how to make their decision? If you said “Price,” you are absolutely right. The answer is not in differentiating ourselves through solution or organization.

Repeatable Success Tip

To stand out in the ‘sea of sameness’ is not to point out how different you are, especially since the majority are already doing that. To repeatedly stand apart from the competition with a differentiated solution is to help prospects see their problems differently. When you effectively do this, the byproduct is that they will see you differently.

Key to this whole process, though is to keep your solution out of the conversation until the end when they have clearly understood the problem. To insert ‘solution’ between you and their problem forces a feature and benefit comparison to what they have already looked at. As my good friend from Sandler constantly says, “Focus on the Problem, not the Solution!”

That’s a good tip for leading to Repeatable Success!

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Do Challenger Sales Reps Do Demos?

Product Demos | Challenger SaleInspired by a very good question in the CEB Challenger Sale forum, I decided to write an article on the topic of product demonstrations relative to the Challenger Sale, addressing some of the questions around this particular subject.

The question posed to the group, was in essence, “What conditions would need to be in evidence before a good Challenger sales rep would initiate a product demonstration?” Excellent question!

Derivatives of the question throughout the forum discussion evolved into whether or not Challengers should conduct product demonstrations at all. Equally good questions! Following is my take on the two questions — Do Challengers do product demonstrations, and if so, where in the sales process would be the appropriate time to do so.

Do Challenger’s Demo?

The short answer to whether or not a Challenger Rep does product demonstrations is a qualified “Yes,” but with some caveats. Let’s look at a couple of them.

  1. Demos don’t define Challengers. Challengers define demos. Not all products require demonstrations, which you already understand. When they are pertinent as part of the sales process, the Challenger conducts at the appropriate time, anchoring back to what the customer didn’t understand about their business or industry in the first place. To be clear, the Challenger Rep is not defined by whether s/he does a demo. They are defined by their behaviors throughout the sales process …with or without a demo.
  2. Challengers don’t win the sale with demos. This will be, perhaps the most important point I make here. If the sale were won at the point of product demonstration, something went wrong earlier in the process as this has just become the Features and Benefits sale. True Challengers shape demand before a prospect ever knew they wanted or needed a solution, then continue to expose problems, consequences, etc. through commercial teaching/insight. Challengers effectively win the sale by selling the problem prior to a product demonstration. Furthermore, the effective Challenger rep will have been leading TO their solution throughout the sales process, thereby making the product demonstration merely ‘confirmation’ of the sale.

When Do Challengers Demonstrate Products?

As a quick rehash of the Challenger choreography, following are the key stages:

  1. Warmer – Prospect Response: “S/he knows my industry/business”
  2. Reframe - Prospect Response: “I never thought of it that way before”
  3. Rational Drowning - Prospect Response: “I’m familiar with the story s/he is describing”
  4. Emotional Impact - Prospect Response: “S/he is telling my story”
  5. A New Way - Prospect Response: “What should I do?”
  6. Your Solution - Prospect Response: “Will your product address these problems?”

With my paraphrase of the Challenger choreography above, the answer to when a Challenger rep should do a product demonstration is quite straight-forward…At the end of the choreography.

To add a little bit more color to this though, following are a few key elements of Intentionality that must have taken place with your prospect prior to a product demonstration occurring:

  • You taught them something about their business or industry (commercial teaching/insight), that they didn’t appreciate or anticipate before
  • You effectively led them to the center of their own story (Emotional Impact) and created a compelling need to change
  • You remained disciplined and left product/solution out of the discussion in stages 1 – 5 of the choreography

There is certainly more to it than these three areas, but these tend to be the primary areas where lack of intentionality and discipline show up in a rep’s process. That said, when a rep has effectively met the aforementioned criteria, the prospects are prepared to confirm their selection of you as their supplier once the demo is complete.

As a bit of an exaggerated visual picture for what this looks like, consider what the audience members looked like each time Steve Jobs was unveiling a new product. It was the Jerry McGuire version of, “You had me at ‘Hello’!” as the audience, both physical and virtual, has already said ‘yes,’ and are merely waiting to see what they have said yes to.

Repeatable Success Tip

Intentionality. Staying disciplined to the process, despite the prospect’s tendency to try to remain outside of their own story and talk about product requires tremendous intentionality on the rep’s part. In fact, for a great illustration on commitment to the process, see the following article on Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh.

To practice intentionality in this area, consider doing the following. In your next conversation with a prospect, pay specific attention to how quickly you begin speaking about your own product/solution. It doesn’t matter if the prospect initiates discussion on product. If you engage and proceed to discuss your solution, prior to the other 5 stages of the choreography taking place it counts. Furthermore, it will typically cost you for reasons I will describe in my upcoming article on The Consequences of Introducing Solutions Prematurely.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

Challenger Sale Tip: Don’t Sell Solutions

Solution Selling vs.Challenger SaleIn the day and age where the conventional wisdom of selling has migrated from product selling to solution selling, I would like to provide a different perspective on the topic, particularly for the aspiring Challengers.

Can You Relate?

In exasperation, my wife walks through the door grumbling. I ask her what’s wrong, and she proceeds to describe another frustrating conversation with a friend. She describes the situation to me, and I offer the solution. Fixed, right? Wrong!

Many of you already know the end of this story and can relate, whether being on the delivering end or the receiving end of similar types of conversations.

I wrongly assumed that the reason she told me about her problem was because she couldn’t solve the problem on her own. As an incredibly bright and capable woman, she didn’t need me to solve her problem. She needed me to understand the source of her exasperation.

Instead, I came with a ‘solutions-based’ approach to her problems and created even more frustration for her. Characteristics of this scenario play themselves out every day in sales as well.

Selling Solutions is a Mistake!

The mistake is understandable. Organizations have problems and they need solutions. Suppliers manufacture/create/publish solutions. Therefore, match problems to solutions and voilà! Not quite, as this is more a recipe of how to look and sound like everybody else.

At the heart of this problem is the belief that since prospects buy solutions, we should sell solutions. As long as we continue to believe this and behave this way, we will keep the prospect’s focus squarely on a product…or solution…comparison (i.e., “whose product will adequately solve my issues at the best price?”).

For prospects to buy our solution, we need to sell them on the problem!

By now, everybody is familiar with the CEB statistic that buyers (on average) are 57% of the way through their buying process before they engage a sales person. Sirius Decisions reports an even higher percentage at 70%. Don’t get distracted by the number, or the industry that the number applies to, as you will miss the point of the research. The point is that there are myriad ways in which buyers can AND DO, self-educate today.

The problem with consumers self-educating is that they often times don’t get it right. One of the primary reasons for that is that they look too narrowly at the problem. They are looking from the perspective of their own organization (n=1), whereas suppliers see things from the perspective of hundreds or thousands of prospects just like them, that deal with similar problems. Incredible insights can be derived from this perspective and from the immense pool of data.

Challenger Sale Reps Don’t Behave Like Other Reps

Unfortunately, the common sales reps inadvertently set all of these valuable insights aside as they are more focused on selling their solution. The typical choreography of the common rep…if you can call it, that…is to identify needs, ask some validating qualification or disqualification questions, then listen for key words in which your solution addresses,and BAM! Present your solution to their problem.

The Challenger Sale trained reps pay specific attention to the insights gathered from their prospect’s industry, and as a result, teach prospects something new about their business that they hadn’t considered before. Before they teach them something new, they will often have to unwind their current beliefs about their problems. CEB refers to this as “unteaching.” This is critical, because as aforementioned, prospects often get it wrong.

Repeatable Success Tip

Predictability. A key characteristic of Repeatable Success is predictable outcomes, stemming from the best repeatable behaviors that are intentionally applied.

For a predictably bad outcome, continue selling solutions. On the other hand, for consistently, and predictably better outcomes, concentrate on selling the prospect on solving the right problem, if you want them to buy your solution. Doing so requires “leading TO your solution, not WITH” through the use of ‘commercial insight.’

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

The Wrong Question: PowerPoint or Whiteboard?

Whiteboard PowerPoint PresentationsA question I frequently hear raised in sales forums is whether a person should use PowerPoint or a whiteboard for their presentation.

I would like to suggest a different question, as asking which tool to use places inappropriate focus on the tool.

Lesson from the Woodworker

Imagine approaching a skilled woodworker and asking him, “which tool should I use, a hammer or a saw?” His response would be quite predictable…”What are you trying to build?” Depending on your answer, he may suggest one, both or neither. The key, of course, rests upon what you are trying to ‘build.’ So a better question is, “What are you trying to build?”

The Presentation Trap

Let’s look at a common scenario. A prospect or customer asks you to come and deliver a presentation to their team. We won’t get into it in this post as to why this might be a yellow flag, if not a red flag. For this example, let’s assume it is appropriate for you to meet with their team to present.

The prospect, knowingly or unknowingly, predetermined your communication to be a “presentation.” As a result, you are enticed to look through the lens of “presentation” and subsequently question whether you should use PowerPoint or a whiteboard. If this sounds familiar, you have fallen into the presentation trap.

TIP: When asked to do a presentation, don’t be hemmed into the same format your competitors will use. Ask the prospect if by “presentation,” (s)he means the ‘tool’ you should use (e.g., PowerPoint) or instead, means to effectively achieve the mutually predetermined outcomes in a way that will resonate with the audience. The question alone, begins to set a refreshing contrast between you and the competition.

Reps can get so excited by the opportunity to ‘present’ that what gets emphasized is the presentation, subsequently compromising your opportunity to present the case for change.

Common Mistakes

As a result, sales reps invited to do presentations will often prepare by addressing three areas – The audience, the message and the presentation. The three areas aren’t the problem, but rather the focus within those areas and the amount of time given to each is generally the bigger problem. For example, reps I encounter across a variety of industries often place inappropriate focus and time to each area:

  • 60% on Presentation: Building/designing the presentation, provided the same message isn’t used for everyone
  • 30% on Message: What’s intended to be communicated (e.g., Info about your company, product, solution)
  • 10% on Audience: Identification of audience members (e.g., Who will attend and what is their title/role?)

While the percentages are merely illustrative, not recommendations, I often see even lower time given to the audience with much greater time given to designing presentations.

Change the Focus

Instead of focusing mostly on the presentation and tool, and the least time on your audience, change your focus and amount of time spent in each area. Consider something more along the lines of the following:

  • 60% on Audience: While knowing titles/roles is necessary, it is not the goal. Know your audience well enough that even with a mixed audience of finance, operations, sales and marketers, you can tailor and speak specifically to the problems they face from their respective areas.
  • 30% on Message: The message should clearly demonstrate that the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. The proposal for change should ultimately lead to the areas your organization is uniquely able to solve.
  • 10% on Presentation: Shift your focus from building presentations to building a case for change (i.e., The message). The presentation of your message should heighten the case for change. If the tool doesn’t do so, don’t use it.

Important to note is that if you have not created a core message* that demonstrates the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change that generally addresses the problems of the industries you work with, the percentage of time spent goes up greatly for the message the first time you create that. This is not only appropriate to spend more time here, but is critical to your success.

*By ‘core message,’ I mean that given the industry you work in and the common issues those within your industry struggle with are at the core of the industry. The representative ’30%’ indicated above is therefore, referring to the amount of time it will take to tailor your core message into a specific message for your prospect, given the audience and unique problems they face.

In Summary

Don’t think and act like your competitors. When they hear “presentation,” they think ‘tool’ or ‘output’ (i.e., What do I want to present and in what format?). Instead, when you hear “presentation,” you think about the unique problems each of your audience members are facing from their respective areas, and ask, “What will be the most effective way to build the case for change that will lead directly, and exclusively back to my solution?”

Upcoming Posts on Presentations

Over the next two days, we will take an unconventional look at the unintended consequences of using PowerPoint and whiteboards for presentations. For quick reads on each, see the posts here:

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

The Problem with Whiteboard Presentations

Presentations, Whiteboards, WhiteboardingNow that we have taken a look at just a few of the Problems with PowerPoint presentations, let’s take a look at three of the problems whiteboard presentations can present if not intentional in design and approach.

Let’s be honest. When we see the work of masters at whiteboarding like RSA, whose work is pictured to the left, we think, “That’s cool!”

The way they marry the work of incredibly competent whiteboard artists, with a compelling story is second to none. But notice the two requisite points necessary for a compelling whiteboard presentation – 1.) Competent Artists and 2.) A Compelling Story.

The absence of either one of the two can compromise the whole presentation. For example, trying to deliver a compelling story with poor whiteboard skills, merely becomes a distraction. This distraction compromises the story by shifting focus from the story, to the clutter on the board (See picture below). On the other hand, even with an incredibly competent whiteboard artist, without having a compelling story, the value of the presentation is merely tied to watching an artist work. The takeaway from this kind of presentation is, “Wow, s/he can sure draw!” This is the wrong outcome.

Three Warnings on Whiteboard Presentations

To be clear, I am not against whiteboard presentations at all. I am quite the fan and personally use them for certain types of presentations, but my use of whiteboards has to meet the criteria I defined in my post on the Wrong Question: PowerPoint or Whiteboard?. Let’s take a brief look at two areas to consider before presenting by whiteboard.

Warning #1: Skills. This should go without saying, but it is amazing how often this point gets overlooked when a sales professional approaches a whiteboard presentation. In fact, it would appear that very little thought is given here at all, as if the rep’s thought is merely, “What’s there to think about…I will simply write on the board whatever I am talking about.”

You do not need to be as talented as the team at RSA to use a whiteboard, but you do need to have competency…and practice…telling your prospect’s story via whiteboard. The team at Corporate Visions have done some great work in helping people think through communicating stories with simple images via whiteboard.

WARNING!!! Without forethought on what to whiteboard and specifically how to present that thought, you are setting yourself up for a poor outcome!

Warning #2: Proficiency. This one is important. If you are not proficient at telling your prospect’s story through whiteboarding, you are likely to compromise the presentation in one of two ways. Either you will take too long to draw the ideas on the board, which creates some really awkward dead air, or you will be too quick to be effectively represent your point in the drawing like you see below.

Bad Whiteboarding | Whiteboard PresentationRegarding my previous point on taking too long, think of it this way. Imagine showing up to your prospect’s meeting with your laptop connected to a digital projector and saying to them, “I am going to build this PowerPoint on the spot while I present to you.”

WARNING!!! Without being proficient at whiteboarding, whiteboard presentations are analogous to creating a PowerPoint real-time in front of your prospect!

Warning #3: Message. The last area of caution is with regard to the message. Of course, this is critical regardless of what method you choose for presenting, but the criticality increases with whiteboarding quite simply because you are  developing the presentation ‘real-time.’ At least with PowerPoint, people have an image or slide in which to direct their empty stare while they think about what they need to get done once the presentation is over. Therefore, you need to make sure your message is spot on and finely tuned to the prospect’s story, and their focus should be squarely aimed at disrupting their status quo.

WARNING!!! Without proper attention to delivering a compelling message, your prospects will likely remember your whiteboarding skills…or lack thereof, since that is where you are directing their attention!

Repeatable Success Tip

Whiteboarding can be an incredibly effective way to lead prospects to the center of their own story in a visually compelling way. Like anything in life in which you want to improve, it takes practice. ‘Practice’ falls under the category of being Intentional, which is one of the three characteristics of the Repeatable Success model.

Our profession of Sales is a noble one. Great intentionality must be given on the front end of your presentation…from preparation through delivery. Those that have consistently repeatable success in presentations aren’t scripted, but choreographed. Prepare in a manner worthy of the outcome you are working to achieve. You are worth it…and so are your prospects.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.