This is the final part in a 3-part series on how to become a Dealmaker. Dealmakers win more deals than their less schooled counterparts. In the first post Part I – The Sales Quadrant Profiler, I’ve tried to structure a model that might illuminate where you are starting from. This was followed by Part II – First Steps to Becoming a Dealmaker I where I described four key attributes that I consider essential for success. Here, in this final part Part III – Are you a Dealmaker?, I want to help you self-assess how you measure up to where you know you should be. I set our 20 basic attributes or proficiencies that you might evaluate from your own perspective to see what you might improve.
I hope you find this blog series useful. As ever, I’d welcome your feedback.
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When two people want to do business together, the details of the deal won’t hold them apart. Getting your customer into that frame of mind happens only when you have done your homework and shown yourself to be a true value creator. If you are selling to professionals, you must be a professional. If you are selling to C-level executives, you must act like one – you must create value for your customer.
I have identified 20 basic distinctive factors that, when put together, seem to represent what is best about the best. It is surely not an exhaustive list, but perhaps it’s a good place to start.
These factors encompass industry knowledge for the chosen sector, proficiency in value based selling skills, incorporating product knowledge and application of the product to the customer’s business problem, understanding the customer perspective, and above all, personal attributes of the sales professional. Attention to the principles outlined here will help – whether you are evaluating your own performance, interviewing candidates to hire or helping a fellow sales person develop a self-improvement plan.
It’s up to you to take it from here. We know that 20 factors are a lot to go through, but stick with it – it will be worth it! Review these attributes and consider how well they describe your competencies or attitude. Then score yourself. Honesty counts and pays off. The exercise should help you to identify any areas of weakness in your sales proficiency and will provide a framework for a self-improvement plan. For sales management, review these points for new hires and decide for yourself what score they need for a pass grade.
Value Based Selling
1. Ability to express value clearly
2. Understand why you win deals
3. Ask for referrals (not a testimonial)
4. Follow a defined sales process
5. Ask why you lost the deal
6. Pursue only well-qualified leads
7. Be able to differentiate against each major competitor
8. Have a plan to address most common objections
9. Be a trusted advisor
10. Engage comfortably at the most senior level
11. Act as a customer advocate
12. Understand the customer’s business
13. Know industry influencers
14. Join industry networking groups
15. Strength of personal Network
16. Listening and questioning
17. Effective communication and presentation skills
18. Motivated and confident
19. Negotiation skills
20. Business and analytical skills
Value Based Selling
Until value (and pain) exists in the mind of a customer, any price is too high. Therefore, you must:
1. Be able to express value clearly: You need to be able to articulate clearly the value of your complete product or service offering in terms the customer understands and values. “I have a pill that cures your headache.” This assumes you understand the cause of the headache, and that your solution is the morphine to cure the pain. Sometimes, it is useful to ask your existing customers to explain to you why they bought your product. Or ask them what they would tell their counterparts in other companies if asked about your offering. Then craft your own message, test and refine it, and keep it up-to-date.
2. Understand why you win deals: People rarely buy from people they don’t like, but the reasons customers buy are many and varied. To repeat success, it is important to understand the reason for your success. Rigorous analysis of sales wins helps you to identify those elements of your offering that take the cover off your customer’s signing pen. What were the ‘hot buttons’ the customer cared about? Was price a factor? What was your competitive advantage? Did the customer buy because of product features, your company’s market position, or just your outstanding selling skills? This analysis helps you to play to your strengths and to refine the profile of your ideal opportunity. It guides you to further opportunities within existing accounts. It helps you win more often.
3. Ask for referrals (not a testimonial): Marketing departments in technology companies spend a lot of time and effort looking for ‘testimonials’ from existing customers to put on the website, in order to attract more prospects. And we all know such testimonials are hard to get. In a Fortune 100 company, it is often as difficult to navigate the layers of sign-off and authorization for a public statement as it was to get budget approval for the original deal. You should spend your time getting verbal referrals. A recommendation from an industry peer will do a lot to enhance your credibility and open doors faster than you could yourself. It will certainly be quicker than waiting for the testimonial on the website to generate quality leads. Pick your target account and then ask your existing customer if they know anyone in that company. Customers who have successful implementations of technology solutions like to recount their successes. It reflects well on them, and can accelerate your sales cycle dramatically. Now, ask yourself: “When did I last ask for a referral from one of my existing customers?”.
4. Follow a defined sales process: Whether it’s The TAS Group’s methodology, or something else, you must have a plan, with a start, a middle and an end. To reach your revenue goal consistently, you must have many prospects at different stages in the sales pipeline at all times. You need to understand what stage of the buying cycle the customer is at, before you develop a plan to progress through the selling cycle. Customer selection, opportunity qualification, proposal, presentation, short-list, negotiation and contracts are all stages that typically take time, and each stage will deliver its own challenges and casualties. Think about it, make your assumptions, have a plan, test the assumptions and recalibrate, and then execute to the plan.
5. Ask why you lost the deal: “But they’ll never tell me the truth!”. Well, our evidence suggests that, if you have been fair and honest with your potential customers, and have made a bona fide effort to address the requirements of the sale, you will be told the reason why you didn’t get the deal. If you have selected the customer well, and were truly qualified to win, then somewhere along the line you were outperformed by your competition. It’s better to know the reason than to skulk away with your tail between your legs. There will be more opportunities in that account, and learning from your mistakes will prepare you better for the next go-around. You will also learn about your competitors and the customer’s view of their strengths over yours. Knowledge about your adversary will equip you with additional intelligence for other competitive situations. Overcome the natural inclination to wallow in the disappointment and don’t allow yourself to sink to denigrating the customer for making the wrong decision. Make the call and learn from the experience.
6. Pursue only well-qualified leads: Your time is limited. In a complex selling situation, you need to spend considerable time orchestrating resources, developing relationships, gaining access at multiple layers in an organization, examining how your solution can be applied best to the customer’s business, determining how you can add value best, testing your hypothesis and refining and reworking the solution you are creating with the customer. There are only so many opportunities you can pursue properly at the same time. Qualify hard. Examine budgets, buying process, buyer access, project timeframe and decision-making process, and then decide whether you think you can win the deal and if it’s worth winning. Pick potential winners early and sort out the wheat from the chaff. Be ruthless in prioritizing where you spend your time. You must zone in on the good prospects and leave less attractive opportunities aside. Select customers and opportunities well, and then decide to do what it takes to win those deals.
7. Be able to differentiate against each major competitor: We estimate that more than half of sales people underestimate their competition – or don’t research them adequately. You know who your major competitors are likely to be in most situations. Can you articulate clearly why the customer should buy from you rather than the bigger, established player? What advantages do you have over the new market entrant with the exciting new technology? What’s the customer’s perspective of the strengths of each of these competitors? If your company is smaller than that of your adversary, then perhaps you are more agile, flexible or responsive. If your competitor is the new kid on the block, then maybe you are the stable, safe, proven industry standard. Undoubtedly, there will be strengths and weaknesses for each player. You must know these and be prepared to position appropriately, depending on which competitors you are up against in a particular account. Never underestimate the competitor or belittle them to your customer. Be clear about how to express your value in the context of the competitive situation.
8. Have a plan to address most common objections: Objections arise when a customer has concerns about your company or product, as they relate to the problem the customer is trying to solve. Objections are not spurious obstacles put in your way to test you. Objections should be addressed, not overcome. Recognize that there is a possibility that some prospects won’t raise all their objections, and you should use the questioning techniques, outlined later in the book, to uncover hidden concerns.
Consider the customer’s perspective. If your price is higher than expected, or greater than your competitor’s, then the customer has a real problem to deal with if he proceeds with purchasing your product. You must be prepared to help him address that problem, if you are to win the deal. Product feature concerns can often be addressed by understanding what benefit the customer is looking to achieve or what problem he is trying to solve. Consider how your company can overcome a deficit in the product by adding a service offering. That will suffice in some instances. At least, it shows that you understand the issue and are prepared to address it. Value selling will overcome minor price objections. “Yes, I agree with you that we are not the cheapest and here are the reasons why…” Embrace the buyer’s perspective and work with him to come up with a solution that addresses his concerns. Objections are concerns to be addressed, not obstacles to be overcome. Be aware of the most common concerns, and be ready to help.
To change the customer’s mind, you first have to get inside it. Therefore, you must:
9. Be a trusted advisor: We referenced this point earlier, but it’s important and you need to constantly review your ‘trusted advisor’ status. It is not enough anymore to have an innovative product, superlative customer service, or a cost-effective solution. The bar has been raised dramatically and each of these items becomes a culling factor, rather than a differentiator. Your customers are bombarded every day by multiple vendors, possibly with solutions that are better, cheaper or faster. The customer is looking, however, not for a vendor, but for a partner, someone he can trust, can share the pain with, is knowledgeable and is in the relationship for the long term. In short, he is looking for someone he can trust to help him make the right decision for his business. He will treat his ‘trusted advisor’ almost as a part of his team, sharing concerns and uncertainties that will never be discussed with vendors. As a trusted advisor, you can help shape strategy, construct terms of reference for upcoming projects, and get to understand the real issues that customers care about. Trust is not transferable. You cannot be handed an account from a colleague and immediately assume the role of trusted advisor. It’s a rare and valuable position, and you need to build it, one truth at a time.
10. Engage comfortably at the most senior level: If you want to sell to executives, you have to act like one, read the same business and trade publications, attend the same conferences, and be professional in everything that you do. More importantly, however, to be comfortable as you interact with very senior executives in large corporations, you must believe in yourself and your ability to add real value to their situation. If you fundamentally believe that you can help, and that belief is not based on blind faith or groundless assumptions, then you have a right to be at the table – and you know it. With knowledge and hard work come experience, confidence (not arrogance), and mutual respect, and that’s the basis for a really strategic partnership with your customer.
11. Act as a customer advocate: It may require a change of mindset from the traditional view, but a Dealmaker acts as a campaigner to make sure his customer succeeds, having built internal relationships to expedite getting things done. Increasingly, s
ccessful organizations are creating cultures throughout their companies that inculcate a customer-centric perspective. At the front-line, customers expect you to be the primary contact andto be their advocate, promoting their interests, and sponsoring activities to optimize the successful application of your offering in their organization. Customer advocacy deepens relationships, and relegates price considerations to second or third place. As an advocate, you will always be proactive, anticipating needs, maintaining frequent contact with your customer, and acting as a bridge to your colleagues who participate in issue resolution.
12. Understand the customer’s business: What are the key metrics your customer uses to measure success? What’s the typical cost of customer acquisition in his industry? What are the growth challenges in the sector? Are there new disruptive technologies being introduced that present opportunities? What external factors impact on growth; regulatory, economic, demographic or social? What role does the Internet play in supply chain efficiencies or introduction of new competitors? In the hotel sector, it’s all about occupancy rates. For low-cost airlines, the strategic business imperative is operational efficiency. As online travel companies address the corporate sector, the return is directly linked to levels of adoption of their online booking tools. The customer acquisition cost for a typical wireless telecommunication company is about $400. A major challenge for healthcare giants is FDA regulatory compliance. How well do you understand the business drivers for your chosen niche? How does your product or solution solve the customer’s pain?
Don’t be dependent just on what you know about your product or your customer. The state of their industry is the context for their decisions. Therefore, you must:
13. Know industry influencers: In the CRM business, companies read the newsletters published by Bob Thompson and Paul Greenberg. Looking for trends in Search Engines, consult Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineWatch. Beyond these ‘boutique influencers’, each sector is covered by analysts from organizations such as Forrester Research, Jupiter Research, IDC, or Gartner Group. Buyers look to these influencers to help them in the early stages of their purchasing decisions. You need to know who the influencers are for your specific sector, and understand their perspective on trends in your target industry. You must make sure they are briefed on your offering. Hopefully, you will find one that supports your perspective. If not, you need to be prepared when your potential customer asks you about the influencer’s viewpoint.
14. Join industry networking groups: The chances are your customers are actively involved in the local association for their industry. So too are your competitors. Generally it’s a place to learn and network, develop co-operative relationships with complementary vendors and relationships with potential customers, in an informal setting. The more progressive associations host dinners, functions and seminars, bringing in experts from all fields to help you gain more perspective on your customer’s business. You could get involved in the industry awards selection committee, which might recognize the best company in a specific part of your business. Where else would you get the opportunity to get such insight into the best players? Participate in special interest group meetings or networking dinner meetings, and other high visibility events, and you have a powerful competitive resource. The more you put into these types of associations, the more you get out.
15. Strength of personal Network: A Dealmaker has a wealth of personal industry contacts. These contacts have been cultivated over time, built through effective networking and strengthened through an experience of trust and mutual respect. Every relationship matters, and treating customers, competitors or colleagues with respect and integrity helps build your list of precious contacts. When you come across some valuable information, take some time to consider who in your contact base might value it. Pass it on and it’s likely they will reciprocate. A broad contact base enhances your ability to gain access to companies or individuals you don’t know, or gather information on a prospect or competitor.
In the end, it all comes down to the individual sales professional. People buy from people they like. People buy from professionals. Most of all, they buy from people they can trust. The following five attributes are fundamental to your success:
16. Listening and questioning: While most sales people have been trained to listen well, few have practiced deep listening skills and questioning methods. Dealmakers allow the customer to talk, and really listen to what the customer has to say rather than thinking about what to say next. They keep control of the conversation flow by having a structured questioning technique that is only fluid in its adapting to the scenario at hand. Effective selling involves preparation, and Dealmakers will have specific objectives documented for every meeting, and a set of questions designed to lead the customer to present the information required or come up with thoughts aligned to the seller’s goals.
17. Effective communication and presentation skills: There is an overwhelming correlation between strong, powerful and evocative communication and credibility, respect and success. A Dealmaker is an effective messenger whose verbal communications, presentations and proposals are informative, inclusive, inviting of comment, context-sensitive, substantive, and powerful. They confer respect and leadership attributes on the source. Dealmakers work to hone their communication skills – both written and verbal. They communicate concepts confidently and with impact, are remembered and acknowledged for their ideas, and are acclaimed as intelligent provocative leaders.
18. Motivated and confident: People lacking in motivation tend to avoid results-related chores because they tend to doubt their ability and believe that success is dependent on ‘who you know’ or on other factors outside of their control. They work with little drive or enthusiasm, because they don’t see the relationship between effort and results. Dealmakers are highly motivated, take on challenges and are driven to be in charge of whatever sales situation they find themselves in, taking ownership and responsibility for their sales quota. They believe in their ability to take control over their own destiny and success. You notice when a successful sales person enters the room: they have poise and presence and a confidence based on self-belief and lots of preparation. Confidence begets confidence and the Dealmaker induces calm in the mind of the buyer through his composure and firm but flexible determination to get the job done.
19. Negotiation skills: While mediocre sales people can often close deals, they frequently leave money on the table and allow profit margins to be eroded through ineffective negotiation. Selling and buying are two sides of the same coin, and successful negotiation requires that you understand the other party’s stated and unstated needs, their point of view and their ‘walk-away’ position. Great sales professionals will have practiced negotiation techniques, understand the structures of strategy and counter-strategy, how to satisfy needs by uncovering them and when to walk away. Negotiation requires clarification of assumptions – yours and theirs, and the ability to separate real interests from adopted positions. Remember as you sell, negotiation is often about negotiation of information.
20. Business and analytical skills: If you are selling to businesses, you have to understand how business works. When customers look for return on investment analysis for the total cost of implementing your product, you need to understand the elements of their business that contribute to their costs. There are as many reasons why people buy products as there are products, but it nearly always comes down to financial metrics. You need to understand the rules by which this game is played. Some companies are looking to increase revenue, others seek cost-reduction and short-term profits, while many have specific measures of ROI performance. You must have the ability to understand and analyze both the macro-economic factors that impact your customer’s industry, and the micro-economic elements that are the guide-rails for his specific investment in your product or service. You should question yourself as to how conversant you are with general business issues. Do you read BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and your local business paper? How comfortable are you with basic financial analysis? Now, you don’t need to know the minutiae of GAAP, Sarbanes-Oxley, or Higgs, but you should know what they mean and their impact on your customer. If you are selling to public companies, you should be able to read SEC filings and standard financial statements. To be a great salesperson, to be a Dealmaker, you first need to be a businessperson.