Four Mistakes Sellers and Marketers Make

Making mistakes can be uncomfortable, but they’re a good opportunity to learn and improve (or at least move on). Here are four mistakes we’ve written about recently on our blog that we see in sales and marketing organizations. Feel free to share some of the major missteps you see among sellers and marketers in the comments section.

Mistake #1: Relying on spreadsheets for your presentations.

Have you ever made calculations in Excel to help convince a prospect to invest in your solution, only to find that a simple data-entry error foiled the end result? An analysis of multiple studies on spreadsheets from 2008 found that 88% of spreadsheets have errors. In addition, even the most carefully assembled spreadsheets contain errors in one percent or more of all formula cells. A complex sale typically involves complex calculations. The more faith you put in manual data-entry into spreadsheets, the more you risk making a simple error that could potentially result in a mistaken conclusion. An ROI calculator can easily prevent this. Not only will an ROI calculator prevent data-entry errors, many prospects are more inclined to put their faith in numbers generated by a calculator that’s been created by a third-party vendor.

Mistake #2: Not properly preparing reps to make sales calls.

According to Forrester research, only 13% of customers believe salespeople can demonstrate an understanding of their business challenges and how to solve them. What does this mean? Sales leaders are sending their reps into the field without giving them the tools to win. If this describes your sales team, I would say it’s time to dig into two areas of the organization. One is sales management. Explore sales coaching and training options you can provide for your reps. The second is product marketing. Strong assets from marketing can help reps explain in clear financial terms how they can help solve a prospect’s business challenges (which is a must-have skill in today’s business environment).

Mistake #3: Talking about ROI without understanding what it really means.

Do you every talk about “ROI”? Do you know what the term really means? During my first job out of college as an engineer, I became an economic evaluator. That meant part of my job was to evaluate capital investments and decide whether they represented a good investment for the company (including evaluating the payback period, NPV, and ROI). So that was where I learned a lot about financial analysis and how to talk about numbers with CFOs. I frequently hear people use the term “ROI” inaccurately. In a casual conversation, people might still give you the benefit of the doubt and have faith that you know your stuff. However, if you’re making a formal presentation or having a serious conversation with a prospect who’s well versed in financial terminology, any misuse of the term could obviously leave a disastrous impression about you and your company. Don’t let this happen to you — learn the proper definition of ROI and how to use the term to your advantage.

Mistake #4: Asking sales reps to become financial experts.

A salesperson’s biggest strengths are building rapport, understanding business problems, negotiating, etc. Although business acumen is important, some sales organizations are taking it a step too far by asking reps to essentially build what amounts to a financial analysis so that reps can say to prospects, “Here’s what the ROI would be when you invest in our solution.” This is putting too much on a sales rep’s plate. A better approach would be to embrace an ROI calculator that can be used over and over again with prospects in your target segment. With simple navigation and ease of use, an ROI calculator built upon a software platform can easily uncover the costs of buyers’ problems. These sales enablement tools seamlessly calculate the key financial metrics.

What are some mistakes you see in sales and marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Discussion with a Sales Leader: The Transformation of the SunGard Sales Force

Last week I spoke with Ken Powell, who’s been leading a sales transformation at SunGard in his role as VP of Global Sales Enablement. (He was also a speaker this week at the Sales 2.0 Conference in Boston.)

He joined SunGard just 15 months ago, but his prior experience leading a sales transformation in his previous role at ADP helped him hit the ground running. Already he’s taken many steps to improve sales effectiveness. These have included:

  • equipping the sales team with mobile devices (specifically, Windows 8 tablets, which have “exceeded” his expectations and are “more business friendly” than the iPad);
  • adopting various Sales 2.0 applications (including Xactly, OneSource, LinkedIn, and SAVO, to name just a few);
  • simplifying messaging.

As a company, SunGard is in an interesting spot right now. Formed originally through acquisitions starting in the 1980′s, its primary revenue driver is currently software licensing, although they also have a large consulting organization. Ken said one of their aims is to make the consulting aspect a competitive differentiator.

To that end, Ken has already done quite a bit of work with his team to refine the message his teams send to the market. Whether his salespeople are face-to-face with customers or interacting online, Ken has made it clear that they must connect the capabilities of SunGard solutions and capabilities to business outcomes. Given this initiative, it didn’t surprise me to learn that one of the next steps for Ken and his team is to incorporate value-based selling tools (and TCO tools in particular) into the selling process. In his words, proof of value is “a natural course of a conversation that professional salespeople need to have today when they’re interacting with customers, because it’s an expectation.”

Since I’m in the business of creating ROI tools, Ken asked what I tell clients about overcoming the fairly typical objection from customers about “fictitious numbers.” As we all know, numbers can be arranged in ways that will support almost any kind of story (as Mark Twain said “There are three types of lies:  lies, damned lies, and statistics.”) As a result, many customers look at numbers supplied by salespeople with a very skeptical eye.

I said that, in my mind, a major benefit of using a value calculator (or other tools) as part of the sales process is transparency. Whenever we train salespeople on how to leverage ROI tools, we advocate what we call a “peel-the-onion” approach. Salespeople should rely on the default calculations of an ROI tool to generate an initial report. But the next step shouldn’t be to simply throw the report over the fence and let the customer evaluate it alone. A much more effective route is to say, “We have this tool to evaluate your business case and decide whether or not this solution makes sense for you. Let’s sit down to discuss the numbers together.” After that, you answer questions and adjust numbers accordingly as you go.

With a peel-the-onion strategy, the customer sees the numbers evolve and thus becomes invested in the final calculation. For example, you might change the default analysis from three years to five years on the spot. Or, if the customer pushes back on a point, you have options. If the customer says, “Ok, I’ve seen your case study and how you’ve done this with other customers, but I personally don’t think you’ll ever get a two percent reduction in labor for us.” At that point you can ask the customer what he or she feels is realistic. If it’s one percent, you plug in the numbers for a one percent reduction in labor and show them what that scenario looks like.

The point is to start the conversation with numbers. Numbers will get the customer engaged. Only then can you talk about features and functions and how you’ll be able to support those numbers with your capabilities.

Great sales leaders must make hundreds of choices that will influence whether or not their sales teams succeed. This is particularly true for sales leaders that undertake a sales transformation, which by definition involves countless changes that all tie back to a unifying business strategy. It’s an interesting journey for any sales leader and I look forward to seeing what evolves at SunGard.

Do you have a sales process that supports a business case? What do you say when customers show skepticism about numbers? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Don’t Overcome Prospect Objections, Prevent Them

Every sales rep dreads hearing prospect objections. From “Your price is too high,” to “Call me again in three months when I get my budget back,” it can sometimes seem like all prospects and prospects want to do is find reasons not to buy from you.

This is a frustrating situation for reps, especially when they feel — as the best do — that their product or solution could actually help the prospect and improve his or her business. So what’s the disconnect? If your offering can actually make life easier for this prospect, why is she spending so much time finding reasons to reject it?

I believe this dynamic happens when salespeople jump to a demo of their solution at the wrong time in the sales cycle. Most sales reps want to start the sales process by showing a demo and talking about product features. From there, they try to convince the prospect that their solution is the best.

In my view, salespeople need to start instead by identifying a problem the prospect has, and then defining how that problem is impacting their business including how much it is costing their company. Conceptually, this is a very simple thing to do. First, define what the problem is. Then, quantify how much the problem is costing the prospect. For example, the problem could be lost cross-sell opportunities, which could  represent $100,000 a month in lost opportunity. In other words, you’re making a business case to justify the prospect’s investment in your solution (which, obviously, will help the prospect solve the problem and increase their sales by $100,000 a month).

Why is it important to center the sales conversation on the business case instead of your solution’s features? Because a focus on features distracts prospects from their problems and pain points. When you start with the demo and features, you’ll get responses like, “Can we make this button blue instead of red?” This isn’t the kind of question that’s going to advance the sale, because there’s no focus on value. The value is not whether the button should be blue or red; the value is how your product can solve a real business problem for your prospect and result in real economic impact.

When prospects watch a demo, they’re on the lookout for why your product or solution won’t work. Even if your product could actually help them, they’re not ready to hear that yet. That’s because you haven’t walked them through the problem or pain point, which means they have no emotional nor financial attachment to solving that problem. However, if you start by identifying the problem and quantifying it, you’ve set yourself up to say, “What if we could solve that and save you half a million dollars? Is this worth spending more time to discuss?” If you’ve taken the time to lay this groundwork before showing the demo, they’ll have a different reaction when they see the demo. They’ll be thinking, “How can this solution help alleviate my pain?” rather than, “Why should I not purchase this solution?” It is a transformation in the mindset of the prospect.

Once the prospect is invested emotionally and economically, then you’re essentially preempting objections. When we work with clients to create ROI calculators, we frequently talk about the importance of getting the prospect to “own the numbers.” Put another way, the prospect has to understand how much the problem is costing his or her business. This is why an ROI calculator is an invaluable tool when it comes to building a strong business case. By the time you’re discussing how much your solution will cost, you’re in no danger of getting stuck in a debate about whether your particular features or benefits are “worth” a certain amount. Instead, the conversation is about how much the investment in your solution will offset the prospect’s problem.

In short, the best way to overcome prospect objections is to prevent them in the first place.

Have you ever used a business case to prevent prospect objections? How well did it work? Share your thoughts in the comments section.