This is the second in a 3-part series on how to become a Dealmaker. I’m often asked about what I think a sales professional should do to up his (or her) game. In the first post in this series Part I – The Sales Quadrant Profiler, I’ve tried to structure a model that might illuminate where you are starting from.
- In this post Part II – First Steps to Becoming a Dealmaker I look at four attributes that I consider essential in a Dealmaker, and
- In Part III – Are you a Dealmaker, I will list 20 basic attributes or proficiencies that you might evaluate from your own perspective to see how you measure up.
I hope you find this blog series useful. As ever, I’d welcome your feedback.
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First Steps to Becoming a Dealmaker
It has never been so important to get close to your customer. Buyers have big problems that they want solved and they want to be able to trust someone to help them. Now, we know that we can continue to emphasize this point, but unless you select one area to specialize in, your chance of success is severely reduced.
In the third post in this series, I will set out 20 specific detailed elements that you should evaluate in yourself so that you can self-assess and see whether you make the grade. For now, let’s look at four key things you should look at to raise your game:
1. Become a recognized ‘thought leader’ in your customer’s industry: The first step you have to take is to immerse yourself in the business. Read the trade publications. Attend seminars and conferences. Review what the industry analysts are saying. Talk to your customers about the key challenges they face over the coming years. Look to the whitepapers offered by your competitors. Read the SEC filings of the public companies in the sector. Use the Internet to research what opinion-makers are saying. Get to understand the dynamics of the sector, and develop profiles of the key industry influencers. Find out the names of the key trade or professional associations, and join the local chapter. Talk to other sales professionals who sell non-competing products to the same sector. Listen and learn. Now you’re qualified to play.
Research upcoming events and offer yourself as a speaker. Write a short opinion piece on what you have gleaned as the main challenges your customers face and get it published in a trade journal. If you don’t have writing skills, get someone to help you with the writing. Use the opinion piece as a basis for a customer survey. Talk to the 10 largest players in the sector and ask them to participate in a thought leader’s survey, soliciting their valuable opinions on your hypothesis. Offer them a copy of the survey analysis in return for their opinion. Get the results of the survey published. Now, when customers have problems or issues, they will be more inclined to think about you than your competitor. Unless you’re superhuman, you can only do this in one industry at a time, but don’t you think that if you’ve achieved thought leadership in your chosen industry you can achieve your goals? You will certainly get more opportunities at the right level in your prospective accounts.
2. Gain ‘trusted advisor’ status: Trust is not easily won. It starts with integrity. It starts with you being able to say to yourself honestly that the product or service offering that you represent can, when applied appropriately, deliver real value to the customer. If you don’t believe this, then you will not be able to convince the customers that it is true. Nor should you try. Integrity is a core business asset. Never undertake to sell products that you believe don’t deliver value to the customer. It’s not right and it will come back to haunt you.
To become an advisor you must be competent, and you must have knowledge that is more extensive in some areas than that of your customer. Sometimes, the customer is too busy trying to deal with problems internal to his company to review everything going on around him. That’s your job. Combining expertise, integrity and a true desire to help your customer produces surprising results and sometimes uncommon actions. You will find yourself calling the customer with recently acquired information that is of value to him, without looking for anything in return. If the implementation of your product is not going well, you will find the customer calling you to point it out before it becomes a big issue. You are both on the same side and you find yourself, in partnership with your customer, using the word ‘we’ a lot, rather than ‘I’ or ‘you’.
3. Be a complete communicator: Listen, question, listen again, then speak, write and present. Listening skills, while frequently referenced, are rarely exercised well. You cannot learn if you don’t listen; a good listener will beat a fast talker anytime. You have two ears and one mouth; use them in that proportion. Inexperienced sales people are often so interested in what they themselves have to say next that they don’t listen well. Highly developed listening and questioning skills will speed your understanding and help you to develop the right solution for the customer at the first attempt.
Once you have something valuable to say, you must consider how you present it. In a world increasingly dominated by email, social media, and voice-mail, you must pay due attention to how you communicate in these mediums. Sloppiness and casual correspondence is somehow deemed acceptable when communicating by email, but it says a lot to your customer about how much (or how little) you care, if you don’t take the time to craft your emails carefully, checking grammar and spelling, and using appropriate etiquette. As your customers’ use of voicemail has almost certainly become more prevalent, you should be prepared to leave a good voice-mail message. No ‘emming and aahhing’. Before making the call, think about what you want to say if the customer picks up, and what you want to say if he doesn’t. As you write proposals, or script presentations, consider that the document or presentation you are submitting may be received by other influential people, not just the person you have been speaking with. Each document should be complete in itself, so that you are not relying on previous communication with one individual to be passed on to others. If you are not good at writing proposals, seek the help of a colleague or friend. Always use the spell-checker and grammar-checker in your word-processor.
Communication is at the heart of business. It’s a skill to be learned, practiced and honed. In every sales situation, at all times, either you are making progress or sliding backwards – things never stay the same. Unless your communication, spoken or written, will advance the sale, then keep it to yourself.
4. Engage in continuous self-improvement and education: You have to work hard to stay on top of your game. Commenting recently on the developments in modern business, Peter Drucker said,
“There has been a revolution in the way that work is performed within most organizations, but the relationship between organizations themselves is changing just as fast, and this is the sales revolution”.
As mentioned earlier on, the sales role is increasingly about value creation, rather than value communication. Today’s sales professional must make a continuous effort to remain expert, so that he can be that value creator. Whoever can help the fastest, with the most expertise, makes the difference. That calls for continuous rapid learning. You must learn not to rely on being the best in the past. Every day, you must strive to keep your position as your customer’s trusted advisor. That means learning faster than the customer (and the competition) and being expert in his processes.
So, if you are a Dealmaker, you are recognized as an expert in one industry. You have worked hard on your communications skills. Your customer views you as his business partner, not just another vendor and you persist with your self-education to retain your position at the top of the pile. What does it all get you?
Niche market penetration
We all should have developed guidelines for target customer selection. If you’ve done so, you will have developed a Customer Value Proposition that connects with your target market, setting out your competitive advantage. It makes sense then, to focus on that niche market. If you deliver well for one customer in a sector, it is easier to replicate that success with another customer within the same sector, than to find a new customer in a different sector. Selling to airlines today, pharmaceuticals tomorrow and telecommunications next week means that you have to re-establish your credentials every time. Customers look to companies that they can relate to when looking for an example of a successful implementation of your product. Buyers in competing companies in the same sector will frequently talk to each other about their problems. Your customer can sometimes be your best advocate and your most fruitful source of opportunities. As you begin to gather a number of customers in one sector, you can attain a defendable position that will be hard for the competition to take away from you.
Contacts, connections and referral opportunities
Being perceived as a ‘thought leader’ will get you visibility in the sector. It’s amazing how everyone seems to know everything about everyone in their industry – at least locally. Your fame will spread, and you will have the opportunity to turn this increased number of contacts into true business connections and, ultimately, into customers.
Most importantly, however, if you have a track record of delivering real value to your customer, because you are the ‘trusted advisor’ who is expert and continuously stays ahead in the knowledge game, your customers will be comfortable passing on referral opportunities to you – if you ask. When you perform well for the new customer, it reflects well on the customer who referred you. Similarly, when your satisfied customer moves on to a new job, he is likely to do so within the industry. Rarely do senior executives move to entirely new sectors. When they get established in their new company, you are immediately presented with a potential new opportunity.
Knowledge & Power
If you are a Dealmaker, you probably know the organizational hierarchy of each of the target customers in the industry in which you specialize. You know the influencers in the business. You’re aware when industry associations are making recommendations to their members to implement a new technology solution to deal with an upcoming regulatory matter. You’re probably helping the standards committee draft the recommendations. You have the inside track, and you’re a jump ahead of the competition. As you meet with industry players at social events, you will learn different nuggets of information that you would never hear about in a more formal setting. Knitting together all the strands of knowledge and tidbits or data that you gather creates a much more informative picture of the industry in general, and the individual companies in particular. Knowledge is power, but it takes time and investment to get.
The Evolution of a Dealmaker
Dealmakers are professional about their crafts. They sharpen their skills constantly and engage in continuous self-appraisal and education. None of this is easily achieved, nor are there salespeople gratuitously ordained at birth with all the selling skills they will ever need.
Getting to this point is a series of steps. Most sales professionals begin by selling product features, and then progress to selling against competition in the market. As their business skills become more honed, the next stage of evolution is selling complex solutions to meet stated business needs. Only a few graduate to become true creators of value. Only the best become Dealmakers.