The sooner you accept the fact that you are a salesperson, the sooner you can get on with it. And by "it," I mean just about everything. After reading Daniel Pink's book, To Sell Is Human, I'm convinced that we are all in sales (or marketing as this post espouses), and it's not such a bad thing. If you're not convinced, well, I'll try to sell you on that idea in another blog post. For now, let's talk about the sales process.
Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, in their book The Challenger Sale, helped me feel comfortable with choreographing an effective sales pitch. They describe it as a well-orchestrated dance with six steps.
1. The Warmer
Most sales people start the conversation by talking about themselves and their product/service. "Here's what my product can do. Here's why our company is number one." Don't do that.
Instead, start by demonstrating empathy. You will build more credibility by showing that you know what the customer is going through. Talk to them about what you're seeing as trends in the industry, or your experiences with companies of a similar nature.
This will require you to do some homework, because you're going to have to actually know what the customer is going through. Dixon and Adamson suggest this possible opener,
"We've worked with a number of companies similar to yours, and we've found that these three challenges come up again and again as by far the most troubling. Is that what you're seeing too, or would you add something else to the list?" (p. 67).
2. The Reframe
This is the most difficult and most important step of the dance. The Reframe is where you introduce a new perspective that the customer hadn't thought of. This should make them say, "Huh, I never thought of it like that." If they are sitting across the conference table nodding in agreement, you've failed this step.
The Reframe step is difficult because it requires a lot of research and thoughtfulness about the customer's market situation. This is your chance to be useful to the customer as a teacher. You're there to help them, and you help them first by teaching them something new.
3. Rational Drowning
It's time to geek out. Break out the slide deck of colorful charts, graphs, and infographics. Hit them with all of the relevant data that you dug up while researching their company. "If you're going to put up an ROI calculator in front of your customer, this is where it goes" (Dixon/Adamson, p. 70).
By the end of this dance step, your prospect should feel a little overwhelmed with the evidence of what they didn't know (but should have) about their situation.
4. Emotional Impact
Now that you've got your prospect's head spinning with the big picture, it's time to dial it in and make it personal. They need to see themselves in the picture you're painting. This needs to be their story. Tell them about a company just like theirs that didn't see this new perspective and found themselves in a heap of trouble. Of course, you understand that they're different, but the dangers that you've described could easily have a huge effect on them too.
5. A New Way
Now you start turning the corner. You've shown them that there is danger ahead – danger that they didn't even realize was there before you arrived to teach them something new. This is where all of the hard work in the first four steps pays off. They should be a little anxious about their situation at this point. Now, show them that there is a way to avoid the traps, escape the danger, and come out ahead in the end. Show them that you've discovered a solution.
Notice that you are focusing on the solution – not who can provide the solution (you and your company) – just the solution itself. It will be tempting to tell them in this step how you can step in to help them. But don't. Not yet.
First, the customer needs to buy the solution before they buy you. This is the time that you want them leaning forward in their chair, nodding their head and saying, "Yes, that's it. That's the answer. That's what we need to do." And their next question should be, "But how do we do it?"
NOW! Light the fireworks. Drop the mission accomplished banner. Strike up the band!
6. Your Solution
The final step in the dance. Show them that your unique capabilities are exactly what they need to navigate these troubled waters. This is the place for you to finally talk about yourself – completely reversed from how the typical sales pitch is organized. You should talk about the fact that your solution is superior to your competitors. They've bought the solution, now they need to buy you.
In the teaching world, the pitch isn't about the supplier at all. It's about the customer... the best sales conversations present the customer with a compelling story about their business first, teach them something new, and then lead to their differentiators. Don't lead with [a solution], lead to [a solution] (Dixon/Adamson p. 74).