Over the years I’ve been involved in deals of all shapes and sizes. Big, small, complicated, technical, long, short, you name it – I’ve done it.
Aside from the pure straight bid/reverse auction scenario, where you have been pre-qualified and end up bidding blindly against someone else for little or no ending margin, there is more than often always an opportunity to build your value proposition. It’s not always about price in the Business to Business marketplace.
Where I see lots of salespeople go wrong is that they give away discount far too easily. I’ve blogged previously about the danger trap of falling into multiple of five or ten when discounting, avoid it all costs. As soon as the negotiation starts, they’re off, ten per cent, twenty per cent – any more offers? The trick in negotiation is to understand your value, package it up and if necessary de-package your offer to get the price down if the customer requests it. Alternatively, if you have to discount due to competitive reasons, be prepared to ask for something in return. Things such as a quicker payment, a bulk delivery or a longer commitment period if it is for a professional service.
It’s not easy, you have to have uncovered the need within the customer, be sure of your solution and be prepared to tough it out when needed. It’s always worth remembering that one per cent off the sales price can have an impact on profitability by as much as ten per cent, when taking into account your fixed cost base. So, defend your price, be solid about why you are the best fit and ensure that you are networked well in your target customer to ensure success.
Pitching to a CEO takes a certain approach and so many people still get it wrong. Particularly if you haven’t met the individual, you need to take a structured approach, as they may be one of a number of different personality styles.
Remember an executive generally has competing demands on their time, a short attention span (haven’t we all), a passion for their people, a brain full of ideas and competing priorities, a desire to make a difference.
Here’s 10 top tips to enhance your chances of success and impact when presenting to a CEO in a business pitch.
- Send as much information beforehand. Establish credentials before hand to save time in the meeting and a management summary of the key outcomes you need for the meeting.
- Look them up on Linkedin. Find out a little about them and see what you can learn about their history. If they’ve come through a twenty year career at IBM, then approach them in a highly structured way.
- Get to the point quickly. CEO’s have a million and one things on their mind and they hate waffle.
- Work to an agenda. It gateposts where you are and keeps things firmly on track.
- Ask for commitments to action. CEO’s are often action driven and want to make intervention, don’t be afraid to ask when you need something done, they have the power and resources.
- Follow up quickly. Don’t leave it. Get followed up and stay front of mind. If things might take a little longer for known reasons, ensure that you still drop a regular note with progress.
- Remember that the direct reports to the CEO will not want to be shown up. Do a pre-briefing with them as to your approach and ask for any pitfalls/commentary in advance.
- No surprises. If you have a “drop the bomb” moment in your presentation, then that can be high risk and de-rail your meeting. Grease the skids with any key issues to allow the CEO to gather all the information they need pre-meeting.
- Get to know their assistant. Be courteous to the person who works most closely with them. If you have an assistant, get them to connect peer to peer with their opposite number on Linkedin. It’s amazing what you can achieve that others may not be able to by having an assistant on your side.
- Be on the metrics and know what strategic objectives the CEO is working to. If it’s not relevant and aligned, well costed and with clear outcomes, you wont be impactful.
Ever heard of the concept of Top 3 box? This describes your prospective customers shortlist which they will be walking around with in their head, when making a key purchase.
In times gone by (not that long ago), a multi-million pound branding campaign would be needed in order to be one of those top 3 on the consideration list. Today, if you work at proximity (using social media), you can ease yourself onto that list by being around at the very moment when the customer may be close to purchase, by listening.
This gives smaller businesses a crack at the title, particularly niche and boutique brands. Outside of work, I’m a passionate road cyclist. I worked with a bike brand to launch them on social media and we increased consideration of their brand from 25% to 90% through regular engagement. Doing a consideration survey, there were a staggering 25 brands on the unprompted consideration list, so this was quite an achievement. A stack of the other brands weren’t even using social media platforms - pretty poor when the audience is so engaged with the sport. Some of the larger brands were simply broadcasting, with little real interaction. #fail
By always being around, you’ll be front of mind. By being front of mind, you will be part of the conversation and ultimately the consideration. Don’t be too pushy, be helpful and chatty buyers will resonate towards you. You can then ride off into the sunset with more customers.
I recently completed a short interview for Sales website, Salestarget.co.uk, which you can read here (note that I’ve been photographed in Starbucks – those that know me won’t be surprised).
You forget just how much you’ve done sometimes, the experiences you’ve had, the tips and tricks you’ve picked up, people that have passed through the business, how it all started.
Starting out, twenty odd years ago, selling was a different game. For me, it was a Vauxhall Cavalier, a bag of 10ps, a wallet with the business cards of all my key customers in and a lot of miles listening to the radio. Relationships really mattered and much more was done by phone and visits, than e-mails and long arm support.
I’ve previously blogged about something I call “Real-actionships” which is how business still does ultimately rely on relationships, human to human contact. Social media channels allow you to stay front of mind more, no doubt about that, but to win business, relationships still matter. See this blogpost about Social2facial too.
There are lots of reasons why you’d want to find out a bit more about a company. Whether they are a competitor you are looking to profile, someone you’re looking to join for employment or a sales prospect. I’ve written previously about the idea of the CIA in social media, that is, the ability to research and investigate on-line.
A little used feature of Linkedin is the company profile option, which holds some fascinating information.
Here’s how it works. Let’s just say that I wanted to find out a little bit more about Manchester City Council. Normally with any large public sector organisation, knowing where to start is a nightmare. So, in Linkedin, go to your top box where you search and change the drop down box to “companies” from “people.” Then type in “Manchester City Council.”
You’re search return should come to this page. It shows that there are 501 people on Linkedin who work for the council with profiles on Linkedin, ideal if you want to look through and see a target for connection. Your direct connections are shown and recent activity. At the bottom of the page is shows who has moved jobs, great if you want to drop someone a line.
Here’s the bit that most people miss. On the right hand side of the page is a hyperlink to “check out insightful statistics about Manchester City Council employees.” Click that and it should take you here. Now if you just work yourself round that page and see what level of information you can see about Manchester City Council. Right from the number of graduates they employ, how long people have worked there, where people live, where people go to when they leave, whose got a new job title and whose just departed. All in real time.
This is a stunning research tool, particularly if you are a recruiter or in HR. What’s really great is that you can click the link at the top that says “Follow Manchester City Council” and this – a bit like Twitter – will send you a weekly or daily digest update on what is happening, job title changes, job changes etc. If Manchester City Council were – for example – a major account of mine (if I were a salesperson), I’d be following them and keeping right up to date with whats going on within the organisation. If a trusted contact of mine had a promotion, I’d drop them a card. If a trusted contact left, I’d want to know where they were going in case there were a chance of business somewhere else.
It’s a terrific feature in my view and – when used properly – another powerful reason why social media should not be ignored by business to business sales organisations.
I love my job. One advantage of running a large business with a big external sales force is that you are always looking for inspiring people to tell their story as a way to motivate others. As someone with a big passion for cycling, I’m always intrigued by what motivates top-flight sportspeople and what lessons can be learned for business.
Last week, we heard from Scottish cycling legend Graeme Obree at a customer event about overcoming adversity, breaking rules and achieving the impossible (see blogpost here). I thought that was an inspiring story to fit in with a new campaign we’re running which talks about ambition and giving 141%.
Today, I invited former British Champion track racer - Denise Hampson - to address my sales team about transferable lessons from sport to business. She drew some great parallels between her experience as a top flight cyclist who rode for team GB. I’ve added my comments to these in bold.
- “It’s easy when the coach is there, real commitment is the things that you do when no-one is watching” <–This is about self-motivation to get on with the job.
- “Assumptions are deadly”. <–Great point, always check.
- “You don’t learn if you get beaten or win all of the time”. <–Agree, this isn’t the ideal way to learn.
- “You don’t have to have every skill to be successful”. <–A strong team counts.
- “Constant positive feedback is not helpful as you cannot clearly identify the bad days” <–So true, feedback must be constructive.
- “If you have success, celebrate it” <–In a busy world, important to stop for a moment.
- “Belief is important, but not everything”. <–Ability also counts.
With a warm, human delivery, Denise won our bunch over really quickly. It takes a lot to impress a sales force, however there is so much to be learnt from people who have pushed themselves beyond the limits that many of us dare to. I’ll put a few more of the cycling bits on my road cycling blog which you can read here.
Denise now runs a successful business. She has re-invented herself and is on her fifth career at a sprightly 32 years old, by her own choice. That in itself is pretty awesome and speaks volumes about her ability to set and pursue goals. A delightful person who gaves us real inspiration today.
At a few talks recently, I’ve found myself using the term “grid” or “matrix” selling more and more. As organisations become flatter and more democratic rather than autocratic, it isn’t always easy to identify the key decision maker anymore (used to be known as “the man”). Selling business to business, this means that you have to work harder to cover the bases or influence people who may be involved in the decision making process.
I use the term “matrix” selling to describe the process I feel you need to go through to win business. That is to always consider colleagues one up, one below and on either side of the person you are trying to influence. The workplace can be so political, it’s very important that you understand if their is a disturbance in your matrix (nicked that from the very excellent 1999 film of the same title), so to speak. Of course, this can differ culture by culture, however for a UK audience, this is becoming more and more of a feature of business life.
When you identify people within the matrix, it’s then critical that you ask the right questions of them, I recently wrote a blogpost on a similar issue here. The main point is that you are trying to gather as much intelligence about the potential purchase to ensure that you can overcome all potential objections. This also means you retain the integrity of your matrix and it should hold firm, even if there is one person within it that may not agree with your potential route (although this should have been overcome in the objection handling phase, but not everyone is always won over).
Selling is about people, solutions and business cases. By covering your bases properly, you should be able to satisfy any buyer that you’ve done your due diligence on their business to make you the only choice for them.
I haven’t taken a pill which has made me think of 1970′s TV shows, I’m talking about how you create opportunity for yourself. So many people let opportunities pass them by, if only they could be a bit more attentive or a bit braver or ask more questions, wonderful things might happen.
It isn’t always obvious, nor can it be spotted on your first meeting with someone, however the more people you do connect with and make an effort with, the more doors can open for you. The trick to generating opportunities is to ask good questions, listen attentively to the answers and then ask more questions and listen again. Questions I like are: -
- What is the biggest issue or challenge facing your business and industry right now?
- What is the biggest problem on your desk right now?
- Tell me about the stepping stones you need to take to reach your goals?
As you can see, not clever or difficult. All open questions, all with an ability for you to quickly hear the pain points of the individual you’re talking with and all with an ability to ask further questions dependent on the responses. The quality of your further questions, depends on how hard you listen. It’s surprising how many people don’t “actively listen”, I did a short blog post on this which you can see here.
Ultimately, the brightness of your entrepreneurial fire will depend on how many embers you have glowing at any particular time (that one’s for you Moneeb). Opportunity comes if you are alert, out, meeting people, thinking and curious of others. If you are stuck in your office, don’t go anywhere, stand in a room with a half-empty glass or just collect business cards at events, then opportunity won’t knock as hard or as often for you, as some others. Be the COE (Chief Opportunity Engineer) of your business, not the CEO, change your mindset and turbo-charge your efforts.
When did you last survey your key customers? Do a bit of research about how you’re doing? Couple of times a year? Annually Never?
A survey is different from – let’s say – a peer to peer relationship. We can maintain those, nurture them and pay attention to them. However, in larger businesses which often rely on a spiders web of contacts between two businesses, it’s amazing how opinion can differ. Leaders aren’t always connected with the detail. That’s where a survey can come in and give you a healthcheck, beyond the parameters of “do we like each other as people”.
The trick with surveys is to keep them short. Don’t expect too much of people, they are busy with their own stuff. If you keep it concise, targetted, simple and easy to complete you will get greater response. I regularly use Survey Monkey, a free cloud based application, which allows you to create a basic on-line survey for free. All you have to do is decide your questions, decide what format you want the answers in – multiple choice etc – and then publish the URL to your customers. Easy as that.
Well, it’s easy is you really focus your questions down and make them relevant. Surveys have to give the recipient a right of reply. Not everyone is comfortable with being “totally honest”. I like Survey Monkey as it is done anonymously, so you tend to get to the real truth.
Sometimes it can be difficult to read difficult things, sometimes people fill them in when “in the grip” of a difficult situation, so the timing triggers a negative response. Regardless, they should always be seen as an indicator for you to take action and investigate further if things aren’t going your way. It’s surprising what you can learn and in our world of “user generated content” the most important voice we should be listening to – is our customers.
Speaking to a roomful of executives at Old Trafford today (second time in a week), I focussed on Time, Attention and Trust as they key things that they need to pay attention to. As the people responsible for deploying shared services in their organisations, I argued the case against the “dark forces” of too much process control and reporting.
Too often, initatives are deployed in businesses which fail. I know this as I’ve been there. I’ve made the mistakes, got the battles scars and the T-shirt. Making or breaking a new initiative is as much about the time and investment you make in people as it is the brain power you put into process re-engineering.
In life, we are battling with lack of time, low levels of attention and low levels of trust. It’s a conseqence of life, we’re working longer hours than ever before, life is not about work/life balance anymore, it’s about work/life blend. Breaking through into peoples thinking, is all important.
To win the hearts and minds of our customers, we have to stay relevant. To re-invent processes, bin others, test, refine and improve. Large scale, enterprise-wide initiatives can be years in deployment from original design. You have to wonder, whether they are still relevant, years later. Change takes time. Time is in short supply. What do we do?
Stay relevant. Build pictures of our customers. Add value. Intervene at optimum moments. Move up the value chain. Make ourselves indispensable. Listen on social media. Be clear about our benefits. Stay passionate. Connect people. Break conventions. Look outside our industries for inspiration.