Friday, 18 November 2011

Marketing Against the Real Competition - Dealing With the Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore and Upton Sinclair spotted it: we ignore those facts that make us uncomfortable. Gore's compelling documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" left most of us nodding sagely and promising to do better by our planet.
But we still leave the TV on standby and drive to the newsagent.
Upton Sinclair, that flawed but brilliant polemic, made a comment even closer to home for those of us with a sale to make: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."
If you worry about losing sales to your competition, you need to understand what, not who, is your competitor. It's not that bunch of cowboys who keep undercutting your prices; it's not the market leader with its stratospheric market budget. It's inaction.
Here's an exercise for you to try: pull out your prospect list for the last twelve months. Look at the sales you didn't get. How many of them were lost to competitors? How many of them just never happened at all? How many of them are still on your list, but the project's on hold?
See what I mean? Who's your main competitor now?
While I'm asking questions, how often do you come out of a sales pitch feeling it was a complete disaster? Pretty unusual isn't it?
You have a compelling, logical proposition; it makes perfect sense for people to buy from you. If that weren't the case you wouldn't survive. So you usually feel that your presentation went well. You probably heard encouraging comments: "That's very interesting; it's something we do need to do." Your prospect list is full of customers who definitely will buy from you. One day.
As for the environment, so for business-to-business purchases: the action happens when the desire for the outcome outweighs the personal inconvenience.
Like it or not, your solution almost certainly creates a measure of discomfort. It's unusual these days to deal with a dedicated purchasing department. You're usually talking to a departmental manager or director, and they have their own jobs to concentrate on. They'll consider your swamp drainage proposals once all these alligators are out of the way. Another inconvenient truth is that your customer's principle personal driver is the salary continuation scheme. If your solution involves risk of exposure to criticism, you're pushing string uphill.
The logic behind your proposition is important; of course it is. It'll be used when your customer justifies the purchase to his or her peers. But the spur to make the purchase will come from the desire to acquire the personal benefit you identified.
Business-to-business marketing is effective when it's as personal as a LadyShave. You have to get inside the head of the individual you're dealing with, not just find features and benefits for their market sector. Most people don't do this; it's easier to churn out a lot of formulaic rote. Why? Because the personal approach might be more effective, but it's also more inconvenient. So you're as guilty as your customers.
Give up; I've got you surrounded.
In sales and marketing, desire trumps logic every time. That's why we'd rather drive a Ferrari than a Toyota. The reason those stalled sales are still on your prospect list is quite simple: you showed them what they needed, but you didn't make them want it enough. If you can get your head around this single mechanic you might well double your sales

Monday, 14 November 2011

Are you on the job with Twitter?

Maybe I'm getting cynical, but I keep seeing a parallel between the mid-nineties Website fervour and today's obsession with social media. Back then, everyone was clamouring for "an Internet presence", but few had a clear idea what to do with it. Cross out "Internet" and insert "Facebook", "LinkedIn" or "Twitter" and that last statement has a disturbing resonance in 2011.

I'm not about to give you yet another list of killer social media techniques; if you have something to say that Tweets well, then go to it.  What I do want to do is put this 21st Century mania in its proper context for B2B companies.

First, here's a new concept for you, I call it On/Off the Job Marketing.

When you're selling B2B, your customers tend to focus on their own daily tasks far more readily than they do on your proposition. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to involve them deeply enough that they come to want your solution. The best way to do that is to help them with their job, not just tell them that you're going to do something splendid for their company. People become involved with your proposition when they can see it making their life easier right now, not producing a corporate benefit sometime in the future.

And right now, they have a job to do.

It's true that social media can encourage involvement, but they're not central to your clients' business.  They'll look at LinkedIn when they've got time.  Are you sure you're talking to them and engaging them effectively when they're actually doing their job?

One of my clients asked me to help with their social media marketing recently. This, with their permission, is an extract from their Website content:

XXXX is a leading supplier of YYYY, with a first-class portfolio of products and services for architects and specifiers. We are pleased to provide detailed information to support your specifications and client proposals. We hope that you'll contact us for help with your next project*.

Excited?  No, nor me.

My question here is: does it make sense to invest energy and expenditure on entertaining potential clients in their spare time, when we're doing little to engage them when they're concentrating on their job?

Instead of trying to think of something witty to say on LinkedIn, or complaining about the M6 traffic on Twitter, the priority for this client is become involved in his customer's actual work, not their social life. So we're putting our energies into creating tools that help those architects and specifiers to create and present their specifications.  That's what I mean by on-the-job marketing.

If you already know what you want to say on social media, as I've said, go to it; I'm not disparaging an unquestionably powerful medium.  But if it's on your list because everyone else is talking about it, think carefully and decide if it's really the next priority.

If, deep down, you feel it's a distraction from your real job, remember that your customers may have exactly the same opinion.

* Don't bother searching for this text - I promise you we killed it very quickly.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Shut up and listen!

Do you remember those bloody awful sales videos you had to sit through in the 80s and 90s? The ones that had you drawing a line down the middle of the page; that made you remember the alternative close, the puppy-dog close, the assumptive close, even the ludicrous Duke of Wellington close. It took you, maybe, two sales pitches to work out that none of them worked.

Sales pitches account for the majority of presentations, and presentations probably account for the majority of books, how-to Websites and general win-new-clients-and-look-sexy training courses.

Amazingly, in the enlightened 21st Century, we're still stuck in that groove of someone's theory of how the world ought to wag.  So we hear about "information-loading colours", "optimum bullet weighting" and God knows what other bananas.

About the only sales training tip I ever picked up that's been useful is the old one about the ratio of ears to mouth.  Good sales, we're told, stem from listening twice as much as we speak.  And most of us are willing to accept this as fact.

So when was the last time you made a sales presentation this way?

Unless you're as relentlessly vigilant as a wheel clamper at the Olympics, presentations have a habit of becoming didactic lectures.  Their whole structure encourages you to talk at your audience rather than with them.  I've had clients comment, "Sure, but we'll have a proper conversation afterwards".

Great, let's hope there's time.

This is fresh in my mind after a pitch presentation I made last week for a Web project for my Internet business.  I'd put together something that looked professional and slick - there'd be something wrong here if I didn't.  But the whole production was presented as a discussion document, not a "Here's what we can do, aren't fabulous?" propaganda attack.  It took two full hours to work through around 15 slides, because all of us were talking in detail around each point.  Except that they talked a lot more than I did.  In those two hours we advanced beyond where we'd usually be at the end of the second meeting.

We got the deal (smug mode ON <k-dzzz>).  Not only that, we got it on the day and before the end of the presentation.

So here's a thought: Drag out your most-used presentation deck and ask yourself how you could make it more like a conversation.

Your best presentation tools are stuck each side of your head.

Rules? What Rules?

Anyone who's attended a presentation techniques seminar will have been indoctrinated with pretty much the same set of edicts: Speak in a lower register, rehearse exactly what you're going to say, don't read off the screen, minimise farting and nose-picking and so on.

Well, in fairness, you wouldn't hear much of that stuff at one of my seminars*, but you know what I mean.

Today's post follows a seminar I attended yesterday by Calloway Green, and presented by Andy Calloway.  They're experts on search engine optimisation, and the seminar was a revelation, not least because Andy's either never seen the rule book or decided to use its absorbent qualities for personal use.  He turned his back on the audience and mumbled at the screen; he digressed, swore, lost his thread and wandered between his own presentation, somebody else's, a few strange Websites and the unpredictable scrawlings he effected on the whiteboard.  If he'd prepared his speech, he clearly changed his mind a few times.

Know what?  We loved every minute of it.  He had the audience completely enthralled.  For three hours.

I came away buzzing with ideas, not just about SEO, but about my whole Web strategy.  Was it despite Andy's bizarre style or because of it?  Without doubt, the richness of information and obvious expertise made the seminar useful, but it was the enthusiasm and humanity that carried the day.  We'd have listened to a three hour dissertation on Oxo cubes with just as much attention.

Beware presenters' rules; they make robots.  Your SatNav delivers great information, but you'd rather listen to Chris Moyles**.  Get enthusiastic, relax and have some fun and the audience will come with you.

Go to one of Andy's seminars and you'll see what I mean.

* Especially the farting and nose-picking, which I encourage.
** Thinking about it, this analogy isn't as clear cut as I intended. I rarely want to punch my SatNav in the face.