I came across a wonderful story in Fortune magazine this morning about a resourceful young lady called Jamie Varon who, after many other failed attempts to get a job at Twitter, built a website called www.twittershouldhireme.com. The end result – no, she didn’t get the job – but she certainly got a lot of attention. Read more about that here.
As 12 million Americans and as many again around the world are out of work looking for jobs, those who hope to be successful need to be creative about how they go about selling themselves. The stories you read about some who have been successful are often blueprints for making a successful sale, starting first with selecting the target customer (employer), doing deep research about what the customer is really looking for, and then taking the time and making the effort to consider how they can add value by delivering what the customer (employer) needs. It goes to the heart of one of my core beliefs – there is really no end to the creativity of human endeavor. Where passion and aspiration lead, toil and success follow.
When I wrote the Select Selling sales book, back in 2004, I included a chapter on building your customer value proposition. When opportunities are limited, as they are today, it’s really important to create value for your customer. Value creation is one of the basic tenets upon which a successful sales career is built. For a salesperson to excel, he (or she) needs to understand his market and the unique advantage he brings his customer. He must develop a strategy to succeed, and then marshal the resources required to guarantee successful execution of his strategy. The superior sales professionals I have encountered view themselves as proprietors of their own businesses, concerning themselves with measurement of the value they deliver to their employers, their customers and themselves. Coupled with expression of a unique differentiated value that the customer cares about, choosing (the Select in Select Selling) the right customer target can be the catalyst for unparalleled revenue acceleration in your chosen market.
Analysis begins with understanding the ideal profile of a prospective customer. If every sales or marketing activity began with one question, what should that question be? It’s not ‘what’s our return on investment, or ROI?’. It should never be ‘what can we sell to this market segment?’. Before anything else is considered, you must determine what profile customer can benefit best from what you’ve got. What’s your ‘sweet spot’? Where does your offering mesh so smoothly with the customer’s business requirement that he would be foolish not to consider purchasing your product, in preference to anything else? If your answer to that question doesn’t direct you to a sufficiently profitable market segment, then you’ve got a problem with your offering, and you need to address it.
Selecting your target customer with restraint and accuracy will shorten your sales cycle. Your time is spent where it counts. Disciplined customer selection will increase the ROI for sales effort, reduce the marketing and support expenditure associated with the sale and, as a result, deliver greater profits. A single professional salesperson will be more effective addressing a market or territory armed with a well-aimed rifle, than an army of marketing folks wielding shotguns. Too often, I see companies adopting a ‘spray and pray’ attitude to business development. That is certainly a recipe for sub-optimal performance. How can you apply your solution to a customer’s problem, unless you have focused on the needs of that specific customer? It’s not possible. Is it more likely that you will succeed if you identify the ideal candidate, before you start your selling exercise? Without question!
Once you know who your customer is, the next step is to describe the value that your product delivers. The question you want answered now is whether this particular customer wants what you’ve got. Your next task is to describe, in terms the customers understand, why he should care about your offering. How is it going to help solve his unique business problem, better than any alternative.
Customers care about a product’s benefits – not its features. You should too. It’s not that the technology, or innovation, that’s at the core of your product isn’t important; it’s just that, unless it delivers value to a customer, it doesn’t matter. It’s not that your lower price isn’t advantageous; it’s just that, until you create value in the mind of the buyer, the buyer isn’t interested and any price is too high. That’s the power of a well-crafted value proposition. It expresses your unique value, and gets the customer interested – it’s your promise to deliver.
It is useful to think about the value you deliver in terms of what I call ‘measurable and ambient value’. Measurable value is tangible. ‘Reduce response time by 30%’, ‘increase market penetration by 10%’, ‘reduce the labor costs by half’, are all examples of measurable value, easily identified and easy to explain. Ambient value is hard to explain and harder to sell. ‘Improved image’ and ‘stronger morale’ are examples of ambient value. However, people often fall into the trap of describing their measurable value as ambient value. ‘Better customer satisfaction’ and ‘increased productivity’, unless quantified, are perceived as ambient value and that’s hard to sell. Better customer satisfaction means a reduction in customer churn, while increased productivity brings lower production costs. Do the work, and run the numbers to quantify the benefit, and turn a perceived ambient value into a real, measurable one.
The following five questions will help you define that area of focus:
• Who is the real buyer or buyers in the target customer organization?
• What is the impact of your product on the buyer’s company? What business problem does it solve?
• What are the [ranked] purchase criteria of the buyer that arise from his perception of how your [type of] product might impact his organization?
• What are the existing and potential sources of unique value that you can deliver – what’s your special ‘sauce’?
• How do you know your sauce is special and that the customer cares?
The market’s continuous state of rapid evolution and dynamic market conditions places severe stress on those companies striving for survival, success and, ultimately, hyper-growth. In this globalized, always-on, always connected world, most sectors are in a state of constant flux. New products, trends, and increasing levels of customer sophistication, combine to create a Darwinian environment, where only the fittest survive. To stay alive, you must have a proposition that delivers value and is sustainable. It must have the resources, ability, and desire to design and execute a plan to deliver on that proposition. The delivery of superior value to your customer – at a competitive price – lies at the core of success.
For the professional salesperson, this has never been more true that it is today. Clarity of purpose, a laser-like focus on execution, an uncluttered vision of implementation strategies and tactics, for each opportunity, are essential ingredients when defining the recipe for achievement. If ambiguity or fuzziness exists, or if the correct offering is not being provided to the right customers, through the optimum channels, sustained success is impossible.
I hope this is helpful to you in navigating today’s choppy waters. Leave a comment with your email address if you would like a soft-copy of the Customer Value Proposition chapter from the Select Selling book.