3 Steps to Reframe Prospect’s Thinking

Capturing the attention of a prospect has become increasingly more difficult. We’ve all heard the numbers:

3 Steps to Reframe

  • 100 billion business emails were sent and received per day in 2013 – Radicati Group
  • 86% of sales rep’s messages have no commercial value to buyers – CEB
  • 67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally – SiriusDecisions

With the bombardment of ineffective messaging battling for your prospect’s attention, it’s no wonder why 6 out of 10 prospects end up in no decision. That number is likely to rise with a 31% increase in email and 44% increase in social media users expected over the next 4 years.

Many Sales Reps are trying to solve this through increased activity levels while simultaneously looking to improve their efficiency. Unfortunately, this will only result in adding to the noise, and lead reps to believe even more activity still is necessary.

Interestingly, as sales reps work tirelessly to get in touch with prospects to convince them to depart from their status quo, reps are equally guilty of their own status quo. Some are approaching prospects in the same ineffective way that they have done for years.

What so many fail to realize is without changing their approach and message, it is nearly impossible to generate enough activity through voice mails and emails to prospects, to make up for the poor response rates. Look at the recent statistics from The Blaire Group and Direct Marketing Association (DMA), respectively:

  • “Surprisingly, we’ve never seen a sales team that could achieve more than a 3% callback rate from voicemail messages. The average callback rate is less than 1%. – Kraig Kleeman, The Blaire Group
  • Yory Wurmser of DMA reports, “Email’s average response rate is 0.12%

There is a better way to approach prospects in order to reframe how they are thinking about solving their problems. But doing so requires a complete abandonment from generically contacting and emailing prospects en masse.

The C.E.B. Model for Better Reframes

After spending significant time in evaluating the Challenger choreography, not only in face-to-face sales conversations, but also in written form and in everyday interactions, I developed the following easy to remember acronym…C.E.B.

  • Challenge. The first step in your opening communication to a prospect is where you begin establishing credibility (Warmer Statement) by clearly articulating the ‘challenges’ your prospect is likely experiencing. The goal of this opening paragraph or statement is for the prospect to say, “Yes, I agree. You really understand my world.”
  • Example. The second step of your communication is to provide an example, demonstrating the traditional or conventional wisdom that everybody else uses to address these issues. This is where you lay the foundation to transition the prospect from Warmer to Reframe. At this stage, the goal is to have the prospect nodding, as if to say, “We’ve tried that approach too, and it doesn’t work.” Of course, they are expecting you to advise just like every other rep…but that is not what you will do as you are about to start the ‘bankruptcy’ proceedings.
  • Bankruptcy. The third step in your process is to demonstrate the insufficiency, or ‘bankruptcy,’ of traditional thinking and why it hasn’t worked. Your articulation and presentation of the problem with the conventional wisdom is paramount in preparing to offer your unique perspective that they hadn’t thought of before. This is the Reframe. The goal of this stage is to get them thinking, “I never though of it that way before.”

I can’t stress enough the importance of absolutely bankrupting the prospect’s investments (e.g., arguments) for remaining in their status quo. Sales Managers and Reps alike need to recognize that if the prospect has any ‘capital’ remaining in staying the same, they won’t budge until they have completely depleted their investment.

Repeatable Success Prospecting Tip

If a prospect’s “status quo fund” isn’t completely bankrupted by the end of their conversation with you, their fund will run out with a competitor…and they will earn their business. For the Challenger Sales rep, your job is to ‘defund the prospect’s argument’ for remaining the same.

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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 Reframe: Two Missing Frames

Challenger Sale ReframeNew to Challenger? Are you struggling with the Reframe? If so, this article is for you.

For Challenger Sale practitioners, the Reframe is that pivotal moment in the conversation when you have disrupted a person’s belief system and have them thinking differently about their situation.

But for the person newer to Challenger, it isn’t that easy yet. You are likely to find yourself in a position of trying to remember what to say and when to say it to get them to think differently. If you are like many people, you come away feeling that Reframing was much easier in training as the scripts went so smoothly.

One of the most memorable moments where I had my thinking ‘reframed’ was in 1997 with the controversial film, ‘Wag the Dog.’

In the film, less than two weeks before a president’s reelection bid, the media broadcast his involvement in a sex scandal in the White House. Seeing the threat to the president’s reelection bid, Washington’s greatest spin doctor, Conrad ‘Connie’ Brean (Robert De Niro) is summoned. His solution? To create a bigger story than the scandal, that would dominate the media until election day.

One of the memorable quotes De Niro makes in the film is, “What’s the thing people remember about the Gulf War? A bomb falling down a chimney. Let me tell you something. I was in the building where we filmed that with a 10-inch model made out of Legos.”

I remember the moment well. It was quite unnerving to think that the filters by which I was walking through life, may have been wrong all along. Now that, is a reframe!

The Reframe’s Two Missing Frames

One of the most common questions I continue to receive is how to Reframe. As important as the ‘how’ is, this article focuses on ‘when’ to Reframe.

A couple of years ago, as I was meeting with sales leaders in the beginnings of their Challenger implementations, there was one point I continued to reinforce when working through reframe competencies…

“You can’t Reframe something that hasn’t first been Framed.” Tweet:

With that in mind, following are two ‘frames’ that must precede every Reframe:

  • Pre-frame. The Challenger is not an arrogant, assumptive, all-knowing rep that just tells prospects how it is, and that’s that! CEB refers to that person as a jerk, not a Challenger. Therefore, in order to avoid coming across this way, it is imperative to validate with whomever you are talking with, that the issues you are seeing in their industry, are in fact their issues too. Pre-frames start a bit more broadly, focusing on industry, for example, and serves to calibrate the rep’s insights with the prospect before zeroing in on the customer’s business. This helps to prevent walking through the choreography in a misguided fashion.
  • Frame. Whereas the Pre-frame focuses more broadly on industry, the Frame narrows down to ‘customers just like them’ within the industry.This is what we have come to know as ‘The Warmer.’ It is used to build credibility by demonstrating you know a lot about customers like them, and sets the stage for a Reframe by framing the conventional wisdom that customers like them have been using to think about their issues.
  • Reframe. Finally, this is followed by the Reframe, which takes them in a completely different, and unexpected direction. Furthermore, it undermines their rationale for sticking with the conventional wisdom that has yet to move 60% of prospects out of their status quo. This begins the process that CEB refers to as ‘unteaching.’

Putting it All Together

Let’s use the opening of an article CEB wrote on ‘Traditional Strategies of Driving Customer Loyalty’ to show the Pre-frame, Frame, and Reframe in action.

[Pre-frame] Over the last few years, sales organizations have seen a fundamental shift in customer buying behavior. Not only do deals face greater scrutiny, but higher consensus requirements increase the likelihood of a “no” decision.

[Frame] Frequently heard strategies for driving customer loyalty include:

    • Product and service differentiation
    • Improving brand impact
    • Improving perceived product value

[Reframe] Conversely, our analysis finds customer loyalty impact does not squarely fall on these traditional drivers, rather it increasingly falls on the sales experience. However, this is not the product of a generically good sales experience, but rather a sales experience that delivers insight to the customer.

While this example is one-way communication in article form, turning it into a conversation would be quite easily done. At the Pre-frame stage, whether meeting with someone in person or over the phone, you are looking for visual and/or audible confirmation that this is aligned with what they are seeing and experiencing.

At the Frame stage, the same holds true, and a validation question or statement can help to confirm this is their experience too. For example, after sharing the three frequently heard strategies for addressing loyalty, if they respond with, “Exactly right,” you may respond by saying, “it sounds like you have taken a similar approach?”

Their response to that gives you better insight into exactly what you are Reframing. As we all know, customers don’t follow scripts, so preparing in a scripted manner as if those are the only three possibilities for the customer can set you up for an awkward moment.

In Conclusion

As you prepare for your next discussion with a prospect or customer, consider these two often over-looked frames before you attempt to reframe how they were thinking about their problems.

Following are three sentence-starters to aim towards crafting your own Pre-frame to Reframe.

  • Pre-frame: “One of the biggest challenges we are seeing… [Insert industry challenge that they are likely experiencing and significantly impacted by]
  • Frame: “Some of the typical ways customers similar to you have tried to address this is…[Insert the industry's conventional wisdom tactics here]
  • Reframe: “What may surprise you is that…[Insert your insight that controverts conventional wisdom and gets them to think differently about their problem]

As one final example, I will use the sentence starters above to show what I might say to a retailer that is struggling with sales growth and discounting to improve results.

“One of the biggest trends we see affecting retailers is virtual show-rooming, whereby customers use the physical retail store to identify what they will purchase elsewhere online.

Some of the typical ways retailers similar to you have tried to address this is by price matching, discounting, or increasing their promotional activities.

You might be surprised to learn that the research we recently conducted in conjunction with the NRF showed that these three activities actually have the exact opposite effect on sales from what retailers were trying to accomplish.”

While this is just an example, what is important to remember is that you must tailor specific to the customer, and know that even the most perfectly scripted Pre-frame to Reframe will not ensure prospects also follow the script. They rarely do, so prepare accordingly!

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.

The Problem with PowerPoint Presentations

PowerPoint PresentationThere is an old adage that warns those ‘speaking’ that no learning about, or from, your audience occurs when you are doing the talking.

The premise for this assertion, of course, is that when a person is doing all the talking, they learn no more than what they already know. This makes sense.

But how does this apply to the sales professional in which presentations are a key part of their sales cycle?

We like to poke fun at PowerPoint and those that use it for presentations, as the cartoon above suggests. The aim of this post, however, is not to admonish against the use of the tool, but rather to point out problems sales and business professionals alike, may create for themselves when choosing PowerPoint for meeting with others.

Four Pitfalls of PowerPoint

In my previous post on ‘The Wrong Question: PowerPoint or Whiteboard?,’ I spoke of determining first, what you are trying to build or create as a result of the presentation, then prioritizing your preparation differently for where to focus and how much time to devote to each category. After this has been firmly settled, you can determine which tool — PowerPoint, Whiteboard or other — should be used.

Assuming you have a solid handle on your objective of the presentation, which should be more than a “closed sale,” as that is a byproduct of behaviors, let’s look at a few of the pitfalls or unintended consequences that PowerPoint can create.

  • Pitfall #1: Static vs. Dynamic Content. PowerPoint slides obviously need to be created, designed and prepared in advance of doing the presentations. Problem: If the rep’s presentation includes their solution, they are often doing so prematurely without having ever spoken with most of their audience members. Question: How would you respond, if someone approached you and said, “I know we have never met, but I have a solution for you?”
  • Pitfall #2: Orientation to Screen vs. Status Quo. The rep’s graphic-laden presentation has successfully captured the focus…or at least the place where eyes rest…of your audience. Don’t believe me? Try inserting a blank slide and watch how many people continue to stare at the screen while you speak. Problem: Eyes glued to the screen does not equal engagement. More often it is a conduit for concealed disengagement whereby the audience does not have to confront their biggest issues. Question: Is PowerPoint the most effective way to get your prospect to look at their status quo? Sometimes yes, but more often, not.
  • Pitfall #3: Defending Your Point vs. Their Point. Let’s face it. Once you put something on writing on your PowerPoint, you’re committed. Problem: If you have posed a point of view devoid of understanding how the prospect may counter, you are stuck to either defend your point of view (the typical course of action), or admit that you hadn’t considered their point of view when creating the presentation. Question: Have you created a presentation without knowing the problems your prospect will present?If so, you have no business presenting at all, especially if your solution is included.
  • Pitfall #4: Presentation vs. Conversation. I am currently working with a company who is looking to solve why people don’t go to church anymore. One of their key findings in the declining attendance is due to one-way conversations of pastor to congregation. Important to remember is that talking isn’t necessarily teaching, nor is listening necessarily learning. Problem: Research by the University of Texas found that people will only remember about 10% of what they read or hear, but remember up to 90% of what they experience. Question: Are you creating an experience worth remembering through your PowerPoint presentation?

“Talking isn’t Teaching, and Listening isn’t Learning!”

Tips for Presenting with Repeatable Success

We all can fall victim to ‘presentation bias’ as we tend to concentrate more on what we want to say, than what a prospect needs to hear. If we continue to emphasize the presentation vehicle, then the only reason for prospects to choose one supplier over another comes down to whose presentation was best.

There will always be a better presenter, or a better designed PowerPoint. Therefore, if I am to focus on where to be the best, I would rather focus my energy on helping my prospects get to the center of their own story. This is the place where the prospect sees themselves in a situation that is completely untenable, and realizes that their pain of changing pales in comparison to the pain of staying the same.

When I choose PowerPoint as the vehicle best fit for disrupting how prospects see their own circumstances, I do these three things:

  1. Use presentations to tell ‘A’ story and use conversations to tell ‘their‘ story. The difference between the two is often the difference between what their industry faces, whereas THEIR story focuses on them within their industry.
  2. Use an image [and words, only when necessary] in the presentation to enhance the emotional connection to the story. Heads nod in agreement when the story about their industry is on track. This primes them for leading them to the center of their own story.
  3. Keep the presentation to just a few slides to prepare them for the conversation we are about to have and use the blackout function at key conversational points. I aim for one iconic image to anchor our conversation to, that will allow me to point back to something tangible that will resonate with the prospects in grappling with their own story.

In my next post, I will look at The Problem with Whiteboard Presentations.

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 Tip: The Problem with “Good Fit”

Good fit, bad fashionRon, a colleague of mine, is often counseling his sales team away from using the expression ‘good fit’ when working with prospects. His point merits repeating.

Ron’s counsel usually starts with, “Just because something ‘fits’ well, doesn’t mean it looks good or is something you should wear.”

One look at the picture to the left brings that point home, doesn’t it?

We as a society have become very accustomed to using the expression “good fit,” whether we are talking with prospects, or considering candidates for a position.

The Problem with “Good Fit”

Addressing this simply from a sales perspective, when we talk with customers or prospects in the same manner, by default, we are opening up the possibilities…and subsequently the defining criteria, to include any product or solution that also ‘fits.’ Why would we do that to ourselves? Why broaden the selection of possible suppliers to any and all that might ‘fit?’

For those that know me, you know I am a fan of CEB and their Challenger principles. One particular aspect that they continue to drive home is the necessity of delivering Commercial Insight.

In short, they speak of the progression of what is communicated. On one end is General Information, or noise that gets tuned out, and on the other end is Commercial Insight.

By definition, Commercial Insight not only disrupts [or Reframes] the prospects view of their business by juxtaposing the cost of current behavior against the potential of an alternate action, but simultaneously leads the prospect exclusively back to the supplier.

A New Way

Reps believe they have done well to truly uncover pain and save their solution to the end of the discussion. Indeed, they are doing better than many of their peers according to the statistics, but this can all fall apart if they fail to uncover the problems they are uniquely able to solve, and exclusively able to do better than any other supplier.

The link to my post on “Where are you leading?” will aid in the steps you can take to resolve this. But let’s all agree to avoid aiming for “fit.”

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 Tip: Where are you leading?

Challenger Sale Principle: “Lead TO, not WITH your solution”

Pushing ProductI have the honor of talking with sales reps from all over the world who have taken a keen interest in becoming Challengers. A common issue that reps often bring up is their inclination to bring product or solution into the discussion too early.

The typical problem is that reps ask questions about prospect’s business, circumstance, pain, etc. Their asking questions isn’t necessarily the problem. Their problems ensue when they ask aimless questions hoping to pick up on keywords that their product or solutions solve, then they jump right into solution.

Two prominent problems ensue:

  1. Solution Fatigue – Prospects wear out from seemingly endless and aimless questioning
  2. Unripened Prospects – Without getting to the root, the prospect isn’t ripened to hear about change

A New Way

In order to avoid the two aforementioned problems, establish in advance where you aim to lead the call or meeting. Your questions should intentionally aim toward uncovering the problems your solution uniquely solves. As you begin to uncover the pain points, don’t transition to solution yet as you are likely at surface pain…where the problems are still merely intellectual for prospects, not emotive.

Following are three questions CEB uses for message development that will help you determine questions to ask that lead TO your solution, not WITH your solution:

  1. What are the typical prospect’s problems and how are they currently solving?
  2. What do you know about their problems that they don’t?
  3. Considering what you know, what should they be doing differently?

Understanding the answers to these questions is critical in determining where you are leading your next prospecting call.

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.

Is ‘Status Quo’ Perception or Reality?

Disrupting Status Quosta•tus quo

/ˈstātəs ˈkwō/ - Noun: The existing state of affairs, esp. regarding social or political issues: “they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo”

“Status Quo” – The condition we all are describing these days. Whether talking about sales, marketing, innovation or strategy, our aim is always the same…to “disrupt the status quo.” But, this is commonly misunderstood.

While my aim for this post will center around salespeople disrupting the customer’s status quo, I believe you will find this relevant in all of its uses.

The Current Use and Understanding

Many of us in the Sales and Marketing community refer to ‘Status Quo’ quite frequently, and I would argue rightfully so. In fact, two of the foremost thought-leaders in this area, from my perspective, are Corporate Visions and CEB as their research and descriptions of the conditions and need for change are quite compelling.

When we talk and read about the status quo as our biggest competitor in the context of customers, we can misunderstand what is really meant. There is a tendency to infer that the customer has two choices – stay the same or change. I would like to reframe how we view status quo, and more importantly how we help prospects understand there is no such thing as staying the same.

A New Understanding

To properly understand Status Quo, let’s reorient back to the original Latin definition – “An existing state of affairs.” What this is speaking of is a condition at a particular point in time. In other words, there are literally hundreds of thousands of things that took their course to lead a customer, prospect, business, etc. to the point where they are now…at this point in time. This all has led to an “existing state of affairs.”

Where this tends to be misunderstood, whether by the sales rep or the prospect, is to treat the status quo as a condition that will likely stay the same unless acted upon. This is a wrong understanding. In fact, the image I used above has it exactly right…Status Quo has a downward trajectory, but is most certainly not level.

Consider it from a financial reporting perspective. If you were looking at a P/L statement or Balance Sheet, you would have a snapshot of your business at ‘a particular point in time,’ which describes the existing state of affairs. While there could certainly be some predictive qualities inferred from either of those financial reports, it does not guarantee that doing things the same way will produce the same results.

On a side note, this is one of the  biggest problems I encounter when working with businesses whose growth has stagnated or declined. They tend to look back to more lucrative times and conditions and subsequently try to repeat what they had once done. This doesn’t work unless all of the other variables that were existent at the time years ago are exactly the same today. As you can imagine, this is rarely the case.

Don’t confuse what I am saying with companies that return to the fundamentals. Returning to fundamentals is often a good thing for organizations…provided their fundamentals were appropriate in the first place. I am referring more to organizations that try to recreate their past like the ‘no-longer popular’ college student that desperately tries to recreate his high-school glory days.

A Different Kind of Conversation with Prospects

With the perspective of financial reports not being a guarantee of future results, consider changing your perspective on what you are truly trying to “disrupt” when talking with prospects who are afraid to change.

Their perspective is most often one in which they believe what they are doing today is known and has some predictability that will lead to predictable results. Your conversations should help them understand that if they are not currently leading to improvements they were hoping and expecting to see, things will only get worse. You already know that if they are entertaining a conversation with you, that they are not seeing the results they had hoped for. Your proof points should be inserted at this point in your conversational choreography to bring the point home.

In Summary

If you are struggling to disrupt the prospect’s status quo, it most likely due to your failure to help them see the consequences of not changing, and leaving the prospect with the impression that what they are doing today will still work going forward. Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Corporate Visions, often shares the following comments based on CEB’s research conducted with 5,000 buyers and decision makers that speak with salespeople:

86% of buyers said that the rep’s message, what they communicated in a meeting or phone call, had NO commercial impact whatsoever to them. In essence, they came away with the belief that what they are currently doing right now, the Status Quo, is okay and they themselves are okay. How do they know? The Sales Reps led them to believe that was the case because there was nothing to suggest otherwise in their communication.

When you speak with prospects, does your communication suggest any reason for change?

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 Word that Undermines Your Value

Value and Credibility in SalesIs making phone calls a part of your profession? Do you find that getting returned phone calls is increasingly more difficult? If you answered “Yes” to either one of these questions, you may be undermining your value and credibility with a single word.

Take a minute before reading further to review what your typical message sounds like to a prospect when you leave them a voicemail. In fact, narrow it down to your opening line following your name (e.g., “Hi, this is Derek from ACME Corp, and I’m…”). What is the very next word you say?

No ‘Just’ Cause

While my primary aim of this article is for those in sales, this principle applies to anyone who uses a telephone, or even email with new ‘prospects’ for commerce. Whether working with B2C, B2B, or other, one word threatens to devalue your proposition, no matter how well crafted, before you even get to it.

Back to the example above…What is the very next word you typically say upon calling a prospect? For many, it is “just.” Do any of these ‘openers’ sound familiar?

  • “I’m just following up on…”
  • “I’m just calling to…”
  • “I’m just letting you know that…”

When calling a prospect, the minute they hear the voice of someone they don’t know, there is a tendency for defenses to go up as your calls and emails rarely happen at the perfect time for the prospect. They are typically interruptions. Therefore, from the prospect’s perspective, they are immediately scrutinizing your message from the second they see an unfamiliar name, and their filter becomes, ‘What evidence do they offer that this is worth the interruption?’

Hundreds of thousands of sales reps lose this battle daily. It’s no wonder why, with such a high bar and unfair scrutiny, sales reps better nail it right out of the gate.

A Better Way

When you come to terms with why you use the word as an adverb, you will likely find it is used as a word to soften or lessen the interruption. Ironically the very word you use to lessen the impact of an interruption heightens it instead.

Therefore, a different approach is needed altogether. The following steps will improve your value, and subsequently your credibility when calling prospects, thereby rendering the word ‘just’ as unnecessary.

  1. Know your value. If you see yourself as an interruption, you will be. If, on the other hand, you understand how critical your role is in helping businesses like those you are calling on to dramatically improve results, then you will find you carry yourself as such. Never arrogantly, but certainly confidently.
  2. Know your prospects. Considering prospect’s defenses are already high, you better demonstrate quickly that you know and understand them. They definitely don’t have time to educate you first before you can help them.
  3. Know their story. This is critical and often misconstrued. I hear reps say all the time, “How can I know their story if I’ve never talked to them?” This is only valid if they have never sold before and have done no research before making their first call. For all others, this is off the table. Your organization is in the business of selling products, solutions, services, etc. to others that have a demonstrated need. When you understand this, and the industries your prospect operates within, you have insight into what those in the same industry are experiencing. Doing so allows further conversation on the cost of inaction, and the importance of resolving…ultimately and uniquely with your solution.

I have covered in more detail, points two and three above in my post on Sales: Those that can’t close, can’t open. One last point to summarize all of this…I am contacted daily by sales reps trying to sell me on their products and solutions. I am amazed by how many walk through the call trying to just get through each step of their process.

Don’t call out of compliance, call out of conviction!

I don’t want to be a check box call on a list of prospects that need to be called. Your prospects don’t want that, nor do you. Let’s make sure we are bringing excellence to an honorable profession that truly makes the difference in other’s lives and businesses.

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.

Constructive Tension through Insights

Constructive TensionIf you are anything like me, I learn best from real life examples. This morning, I was reflecting on a conversation I had with a major retailer a number of years ago, that not only got them to think differently, but caused them to adjust their whole strategy. Below is an abbreviated transcript of that conversation.

Background:

A major retailer saw themselves as ‘The Headquarters’ for our type of products and as such, having a broad assortment was a key part of their strategy. Regardless of how they perceived themselves, their sales in the category continued to decline. They had the wrong strategy, and  it was costing them sales and market share.

Following is an excerpt of my conversation with them:

Me: As I understand it, your corporate strategy for [X] category is to provide a broad assortment of brands and give a fair representation of each brand’s line. Is this still a key part of your strategy?

Buyer: Absolutely. Customers have depended upon us as their HQ for years.

Me: I would imagine carrying the top 3 brands in this category is important too…

Buyer: Definitely, it’s critical.

Me: Do you know who is #1 in market share for this category?

Buyer: If you are asking, I am sure it is you.

Me: You caught me, how about #2?

Buyer: (The buyer and Division leader make 3 incorrect guesses, naming our competitors)

Me: I’m afraid not. The three you just named only make up 8% of the market combined. #2 on the list is X [private] and they only sell through their own stores, so as you know, you aren’t able to carry their products. Any guesses on who #3 is in market share?

Buyer: Not if it is someone different from who we already mentioned.

Me: It is. The 3rd largest segment in the market is WYO (an industry-specific term), which rules you out altogether of carrying two of the top three that you said was critical to your strategy.

Buyer: Hmmm.

Me: Do you know what your $/Kit sold is for the other product lines?

Buyer: Do you mean how much in kits we sold?

Me: No. I mean how much ancillary product you sell for every kit sold.

Buyer: No, we don’t track that.

Me: Hmmm. That’s important to know. The reason is that with each of the other lines you carry, the purchase of the kit is all you will make of that sale since they don’t offer ancillaries. Were you aware that for every one of our kits sold, the typical sales on ancillaries are 9 times greater than the kit alone? In fact, that’s what is lost every time you sell another brand. Let’s multiply that by # of kits sold per store times number of stores.

[Figure calculated and presented]

Buyer: Wow! I had no idea. We hadn’t looked at it that way before.

Me: Can you name another category in your stores that achieves this same level of revenue and profitability during this same season?

Buyer: Nothing comes close. The other categories are down when you guys hit your peak.

[Light-bulb moment for the customer with new insights and discovery]

Me: Exactly right.

[The President enters the conversation]

President: What should we do?

Me: You currently have a strategy focused on promoting breadth and fairness to ALL brands. Research shows that 54% of consumers have predetermined the brand they will use before purchasing…

President: Is that your brand?

Me: …It is, and another 34% will compare with only 1 to 2 other brands. You carry 16. In just 2 months time, your strategy of ‘brand breadth and fairness’ cost your stores $xM in sales & $xM in profit. Even worse is that you have lost 7 points of market share. So, in answer to your question, I recommend a strategy change if you want to remain in this category, or otherwise allow us to help you successfully exit the business altogether.

[President pauses and is now at the crossroads with the Status Quo]

The President, after dismissing the buyer and division leader, asked how quickly we could reset the category and serve as category captains.

Doing so would require concessions, if they were serious. He assured me he was. We ended up getting key placement and dedicated signage in the stores, along with many other things that they offered to help them earn back market share and profitability. That following year, they had grown their business with us nearly 30%.

On a related note, we took this same approach with two other major players in the market who achieved even better results that year – One achieving 71% category growth, and the other in triple digits. They remain the market leaders today in their categories.

Summary

The questions I asked revealed that they did not know the answers to key questions. They were looking at things the wrong way. The questions helped to prepare them for a series of commercial insights that created a rich environment to hear a hard truth…that their key strategy was amiss, costing them market share, sales and profitability.

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.