Relevant Selling

Chapter Excerpts

Chapter 1 Excerpt: Relevant Selling Frees You from Price-Based Negotiation

Why should I buy from you?
I always ask my client companies that question. Because if you can’t reel off relevant answers, your prospects and customers will either demand the lowest price or they will buy from someone else. Businesses that don’t – or can’t – give relevant differentiators paint themselves into the commodity corner where they’re forced to make price the tiebreaker. If you’re one of the lucky ones, and price is frequently not your tiebreaker, then honing your relevant selling skills will increase your current close rates while further protecting your margins.
In the last ten years we have analyzed double-blind customer market research for over a hundred companies. We can say, from research, that ninety percent of companies do not adequately “sell” what their customers and prospects want most. Why? Because most companies don’t know what their customers want most. Sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? And yet, in this book, I will show how years of research has proven it true.
First, companies get hung up on selling their product or service, which often has been commoditized. However, their customers are usually looking for “how” those companies sell, not “what” they sell. For example, I can buy doorknobs from scores of suppliers, but if I want my orders to be delivered on time, in full, and accurately, I will seek out the vendor that can meet my demands, and I will be willing to pay more to get what I want. I won’t pay more for the doorknob, but I will pay more to get it delivered accurately, in full, when I need it. What good is a cheaper doorknob if it’s too late for my production deadline? Click here to download the full version of chapter one for free .

Chapter 2 Excerpt: Relevant Selling Depends on Unbiased Information

Most of us are familiar with the children’s game “Telephone.” Telephone begins when one child whispers a brief message to a friend, who in turn, whispers the same short message to another friend. The sequence continues child by child, until everyone in the group has heard and passed on the message. The result is always the same: when the last child recites the message, it has morphed into something vastly different than what was originally said.

When businesses get feedback from their customers, they often play telephone. Here’s how it works. A salesperson questions his or her customer and the customer responds. Then the salesperson tells the district sales manager his or her recollection of what the customer said. The district sales manager then relays the feedback to the regional sales chief. At each rung of the corporate ladder, the feedback, or a version of it, is repeated. Eventually, it reaches a corporate vice president or even the CEO.

Like rivers, feedback usually takes meandering routes. As it flows from person to person, it picks up silt and debris. Each time feedback is repeated, it includes different words, expressions, and meanings. Some information is omitted and it is subject to differing interpretations. As feedback is passed on, it’s filtered, rephrased, and changed because each person adds, embroiders, deletes, or downplays certain slants, biases, interests, and perspectives. Add to that our genuinely faulty memories…

Chapter 3 Excerpt: Guesswork Undermines Relevant Selling

90% of Companies Guess at What’s Relevant

I do crossword puzzles. It makes me crazy when I can’t think of something I know I should know. That’s how the teams in this book began to feel once they started the process of finding the facts, and abandoning guesswork. Nearly every story in this book reflects companies that have guessed wrong about what’s of value to their customers. The stories in this chapter show you how getting it right has paid dividends.

Entegra Roof Tile has been manufacturing concrete roof tile in South Florida since 1986. A highly environmentally conscious company, Entegra is a member of the Tile Roofing Institute, and is committed to conserving our environmental resources. Entegra’s beautiful tiles are made from natural materials including sand, cement, clay, and water-based sealers. Natural pigments are added for coloring. Entegra’s tiles provide the highest fire protection available, and are designed to be strong and durable. That longevity keeps them from adding to the tremendous volume of other roofing materials that burden landfills. In fact, Entegra roof tiles often outlast the structures they span.

Owners (and brothers) Terry and Mike Johnson were pretty sure that they knew what their customers, roofing contractors, wanted most. They thought that their customers’ top priority was the ability to buy directly from Entegra, the manufacturer, and avoid middlemen. And they believed the outstanding quality of Entegra tiles came next.

The brothers’ assessment was half right. The contractors valued the outstanding quality of their tiles, but…

Chapter 4 Excerpt: Relevant Selling Relies on Internal Agreement

Very Few Companies Have It

Your favorite team has the football. The offensive unit breaks from the huddle, runs crisply to the scrimmage line, and everyone moves into position for the play. The quarterback barks the signals, the ball is snapped, and everyone moves forward – except for two players. They go off on their own in completely different directions, and are out of synch with the rest of the team. So the play breaks down and the team doesn’t advance. In fact, it’s thrown for a loss.

How long do you think a professional team that played like that would last? Ask the infamous 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who won none of their fourteen games and were named the worst team in NFL history. “The coach (John McKay) stopped talking to us after the third game,” defensive lineman Pat Toomay told the Columbus Dispatch in 2001. “During the week, he wanted nothing to do with us. I can’t blame him, really.”

Your company may not be losing all its games, but consider the following quote from Richard A. D’Aveni, professor of strategic management at Dartmouth’s College’s Tuck School of Business.

“Whenever I’ve asked senior executives to map the positions of their company’s brands and those of key rivals, we end up confused and dismayed,” wrote D’Aveni in the Harvard Business Review (September 20, 2008). “Different executives place their firm’s offerings in different spots on a price benefit map, few know the primary benefit their products offer, and they all overestimate the benefits of their own offerings while underestimating those of their rivals.”

Our statistics show that ninety-eight percent of the time, significant differences exist…

Chapter 5 Excerpt: Prospects and Customers Have Different Hot Buttons

Relevant Selling Means Knowing How They Differ

When we analyzed the research findings for the companies in our study, we frequently observed differences between the buying criteria of those companies’ prospects and the buying criteria of their existing customers. We saw, in company after company, a pattern that was not an anomaly, but rather a trend. In about seventy percent of the surveys, what prospects said they wanted when choosing a company was statistically different from what existing customers said they wanted.

Then, when we looked at the sales messaging that companies used for both their prospects and for their customer retention pitches, we noticed little or no difference. That meant that one of the messages was pretty much guaranteed to be irrelevant…

Chapter 6 Excerpt: Relevant Selling Defines Differences in Buying Criteria for Each Target Market and Each Level of Customer

Most Use One Broad Brush for All

We’ve seen that prospects often need different marketing messages than existing customers. Let’s drill down a little deeper and discuss how levels of customers and different target markets impact your marketing messages.

In their marketing, companies often use one broad brush when they try to sell their goods and services to different target markets and different levels of customers. Although some of your target markets or customer levels may place a high value some of the same items, they seldom agree on the same top four or five attributes. And it’s even rarer for them to prioritize those attributes in the same order. For example, in my own consulting practice, similar to many organizations, there are three distinct target markets that…

Chapter 7 Excerpt: Operational Gaps Affect Relevant Selling

Tell Your Own People What’s Relevant

I’m not really much of a sports aficionado, but decades ago I dated an offensive guard for the New York Giants. On football teams, offensive linemen are the unsung heroes who do unglamorous and difficult work. Although they take the hard blows, sacrifice their bodies, and anchor their teams, they’re rarely the biggest stars. Yet without their strength, skill, and solid focus, the more heralded stars – the quarterbacks and receivers – would never put points on the board. Getting those points on the board is always a team effort.

Companies are teams, and every employee is an essential member of the team. Each employee, even the unsung heroes, plays a specific and critical role. Research frequently reveals who the unsung heroes are in the company; it might be the department you least expect.

Employees are frequently so busy and so focused on their particular tasks that they don’t realize how the day-to-day work they perform affects the relevance of their company’s sales and marketing. They don’t realize how their work fits in with other employees’ efforts, and how all the different pieces come together in the final product to pave the way for more sales and higher close rates.

If the production team and the sales team operate with different objectives or disparate agendas, problems will inevitably arise. Like an engine with a defective fuel injector, the business will run, but it will sputter, use lots of fuel, and get nowhere fast. On the other hand, when everyone knows his or her role, its impact, and how it fits, things will run smoothly, customers will get what they want, and will keep coming back. This is common knowledge in theory, yet not so common in practice…

Chapter 8 Excerpt: Relevant Selling Relies on the Right Investments

According to management guru Peter Drucker, “Ninety percent of the information used in organizations is internally focused, and only ten percent is about the outside environment. This is exactly backwards.”

Yes, it’s vital for your company to run smoothly and efficiently. It’s a given that you have to have quality products, knowledgeable personnel, and strong internal systems in place, but you also have to have the best, most reliable directional information. Like a pilot, every move you make should be based on having the correct bearings and following the right indicators. Pilots never guess which direction to fly; many companies do. If all your internal efforts are not based on solid information, your sales efforts will also be off course and they may not be relevant…

Chapter 9 Excerpt: Finding Relevance is Easier Than You Think

There is a myth known simply as the Gordian Knot. At one time, about 1,000 B.C., the Phrygians of ancient Turkey were without a king. An oracle decreed that the next man to enter the city driving an ox-cart should become their king. A peasant farmer named Gordias drove into town on an ox-cart, and the priests declared him king. The treasured ox-cart was tied to a post with an intricate knot – as it turned out, another oracle had prophesied that the one to untie the knot would become the king of all Asia.

Centuries passed and no one could untie the knot.

Seven hundred years later, when Alexander the Great arrived, the ox-cart still stood in the palace at Gordium. Alexander attempted to untie the knot. When he could not find the end to the knot to unbind it, he simply sliced it in half with a stroke of his sword, producing the required ends.

Many companies think that actually knowing what their customers and prospects want most is not possible. So they guess (see Chapter Three). Since they’re guessing, their guesses differ (see Chapter Four). Sometimes they guess wrong (ninety percent of the time!). And the results can be disastrous (HPs TouchPad, Apple’s Newton, New Coke). But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a fairly simple solution to this seemingly intractable problem: a sword stroke that will cut the Gordian knot…

Chapter 10 Excerpt: How to Buy the Voice of Your Customer

You Get What You Pay For

We’re all familiar with the cliché, “If you needed brain surgery, you probably wouldn’t think of shopping for the lowest priced surgeon.” However, when companies think about having market research conducted, their decisions are often based on price. If your company wants to increase market share or margins, or the recession has done a number on your balance sheet, then you need expert services. Don’t mess around with your business’s health. Consider the gold standard in customer market research: hire a professional market research firm. While Smart Advantage provides the front end (extensive identification of potential competitive advantages and disadvantages, with double-blind survey design), and the back end (analysis, and operational and marketing implications), we always use a professional market research firm to conduct the field work: the actual telephone interviews, and the collection and tabulation of the responses.

Among other benefits, a professional firm will ensure that your survey is double-blind. Their call centers are experts at getting people to respond to telephone surveys. They can recognize well-crafted surveys, and/or offer help to fix one. They already have the programs in place to make sure the respondents fit your criteria, and the attributes are randomized when they should be to avoid order bias. They will run the cross-tabulations you need to compare your customers and prospects, or different sized customers, or decision makers and influencers; and they’ll put the information into a form you can understand.

If you decide to hire a professional market research firm, how do you find one?

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