The 10 best questions to warm up a cold prospect

Hi readers,

Apologies for the sabbatical from my blogs…been busy on-boarding in my new avatar as Vice President Business Development of a great technology startup that will disrupt the social media space in the remote , rural , under-served, economically deprived, Bottom of the Pyramid Markets. The company I speak of is called GramVaani media (http://www.gramvaani.org/)

All this while I have addressed a distinguished gathering at the Rockefeller foundation‘s , Rock Talk event, and participated at the RMAI round table.

During all this, I have had the opportunity to engage with a group of very bright, young women who are raring to have a go at key account management and sales with a great new  platform that is poised to disrupt the wedding services space in India.

They posed a very good question to me- what would be set of some basic key questions that could warm up a cold prospect in the first meeting, agnostic to the vertical or the profile of the prospect (client). And I started to think on this and came up with this list that I believe would serve many who have the same question bothering them.

here goes…

  1. What can you tell me about your organization… and yourself?
  2. What do you like about what you’re currently doing?
  3. What don’t you like about your current situation?
  4. What would you like to be enhanced or improved?
  5. Have you spoken to other solution providers to address your current specific challenge?
  6. What can you tell me about your priorities and your options?
  7. What obstacles are there in the way of this initiative moving forward?
  8. What will be your criterion of evaluating different options if at all?
  9. How much have your budgeted for this proposal/project?
  10. When do you wish to start?

Try these questions with a cold prospect and write back to me with your inputs and comments…

more than happy to ideate with you !

Happy reading

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The Six Rules of Selling for Start-ups

Hi readers,

This blog is a result of my current professional engagements with 2 great start-ups, that I believe will disrupt our markets in India and empower the key stakeholders in their respective eco-systems, like never before.

THATs why I am with them!!

START-UP number 1 – Confidential / Secret/- Disruptive tech based and enabled platform for the $ 5 billion marriage services market.

START-UP number 2- http://www.fleximoms.in/ – Disrupting the flexible work niche in the labor market in Indian AND empowering women (yaay!!) at the same time!! (Double yaay!!)

These 2 great start-ups define awesomeness! and as I would say in Boston, …they are WICKED cool !!

So , the question is you have a tech enabled platform, ready to rumble and roll, NOW WHAT?

Well…revenues silly!

Who gets the revenues? The sales team of course?

And how do they do it in a start up? thats the million dollar question I wanna answer in this blog- hope you like it…

Selling for a startup presents unique challenges even for highly experienced sales professionals. Because your company is new, your potential customers don’t know anything about it and, sad to say, in business unfamiliarity breeds contempt. Not to worry, though. Here are the six rules of selling for startups:

  1. You are an entrepreneur. You aren’t in a big company, so ultimately the only person you can really count on to get things done is yourself. Don’t hesitate to do whatever it takes to move the sale forward, even if it means giving up your weekends.
  2. Don’t be afraid to bail. If a deal doesn’t make sense for your company, it’s not worth pursuing. Don’t let wishful thinking propel you into wasted effort. For example, if you can’t meet with the real decision-maker, you aren’t going to get the business. Period. Move on, without regrets.
  3. Don’t be taken advantage of. Insist that every customer relationship is a relationship between equals. Adopt a policy of “Quid Pro Quo” – that anything the customer or prospect asks you to do give you the right to ask them to do something comparable in return.
  4. Believe in your greatest strength. What startups offer customers is unique, and that’s good news, because top executives don’t have the time to sit with down with cookie-cutter sales reps, but always have time for somebody who can redefine problems and devise solutions.
  5. Don’t scuttle your credibility. Never take on an apologetic air, try to explain away the inexperience of your firm, or (ugh!) beg for the business. Savvy customers can smell fear and will ask for steep discounts or even amuse themselves by making you jump through meaningless hoops.
  6. Dare to be honest. Share your feelings with the prospect to move the sale forward. If you believe that the customer is treating you unfairly or asking too much, respectfully point out why you see the situation that way and then ask for reasonable concessions.

Effective Sales Questions that get results!

Hi readers,

This blog follows the other topics on which I have written about in the past weeks.

During the training programs that I attended and conducted over the last 18 years, I was often asked, and I myself asked of my trainers- which are the best questions to ask your clients/customers, so that the response meets your key objectives in the sales process?

By compiling elements that I learnt through class room training, numerous Rank Xerox PPS (Professional Selling Skills) programs and field sales experience I have come up with the following questions that I believe are effective , cutting across domains and verticals.

While these questions are primarily derived from my experience with B2B clients, I suspect that they will prove to be just as effective in the B2G  ( Business to Government) business eco-systems. ( Let me have your views as I have no understanding of this space)

Here are the fourteen absolutely indispensable questions ( power tools)  that should be in every sales rep’s bag of tricks:

  1. What can you tell me about your organization… and yourself?
  2. What do you like about what you’re currently doing?
  3. What don’t you like about your current situation?
  4. What would you like to be enhanced or improved?
  5. What can you tell me about your priorities?
  6. What prompted you to start this project now?
  7. What can you tell me about your decision-making process?
  8. How do you handle budget considerations?
  9. What other options are you looking at?
  10. What can you tell me about the people involved in the process?
  11. What obstacles are in the way of moving this forward?
  12. How will you be evaluating different options?
  13. How will the funding for the project be justified?
  14. How much support does this have at the executive level?

According to me –

Get the answers to these questions, and take action based on those answers, and you’ll get the sale. It’s that simple.

This is based on the KISS principle- Keep it simple and sweet!

The True Meaning of B2B Sales in the Solutions Marketing context

Hi readers,

My understanding of Solutions Sales in a B2B business has been enhanced considerably after my MBA program where I had taken Solutions Marketing as one of my key electives.

Based on my experience in B2B solution sales of 18 years and contemporary coursework in Solutions Marketing taught by Prof. Stephen Hurley, I am sharing what I believe is the essence of B2B sales in a Solutions marketing context.

B2B sales, as I was taught, and which I have practiced  is heavily dependent on an ROI analysis. The numbers used in the ROI analysis are the customer’s numbers, gathered through effective questioning.

(NOTE-2 key skills MUST HAVEs for a successful solutions sales professional- Financial analysis capability AND Interviewing /researching skills)
I taught my B2B sales people to look for ways of contributing to the prosperity of their customers’ business in five key areas: (1) sales, (2) employee or process productivity, (3) profits, (4) competitive advantage, and (5) cost control…If a B2B salesperson is talking about anything other than those five issues they are probably wasting their time and their customer’s time.

(NOTE- Keeping a focus on issues that are top priority for your client is key to success, otherwise there is the real danger to scatter your thoughts and energy all over the place and end up delivering nothing to your client, and certainly losing your incentives!!)

The five elements, mentioned above are interesting because they’re a map of what most companies think are important — and therefore provide hooks for B2B selling. 

I claim that there are only important two (2) goals inside every company: 1) increasing sales revenue and 2) decreasing cost of sales.  

To illustrate this point, let’s look at the five elements mentioned earlier

  1. Sales.  Nobody wants to decrease their sales, so this element is simply a restatement of the goal to increase sales revenue.
  2. Employee/Process Productivity.   Increased productivity decreases the cost of doing business, thereby decreasing the cost of sales.  If you increase productivity somewhere in a company in such a way that it increases the cost of sales, you’re decreasing profitability, which is stupid.
  3. Profits.  Increased revenue and decreased profitability means more profit, by definition.
  4. Competitive Advantage.  Any one can beat a competitor by giving away more value for less money; the trick is to grow at the competitor’s expense and still remain profitable.  Therefore, competitive advantage consists entirely of increasing revenues while either decreasing the cost of sales or keeping them stable.  Even product development (like building a better mousetrap) is actually just a way to increase revenues by making more sales.
  5. Cost Control.  You’d have to be an imbecile to control costs in one part of company in a way that ends up increasing the cost of sales and/or decreasing revenue.  Therefore, the only meaningful cost control consists of decreasing the cost of sales.

To repeat, there are only two (2) things important in a company: 1) increasing sales revenue and 2) decreasing cost of sales.

Therefore, if your B2B offering, through a solutions sales proposal,  focuses on helping your customer do either of those two things, you’ve got something that’s worth buying.

And if your product does both of those things, you’ve got a real winner.

So, in order to help you succeed in your product driven solutions sales efforts, you need to brush up your solutions marketing skills!!

How Do You Know if Your Customers Value You?

Hi readers,

This question hounded me for weeks when I was leading the solution sales team in India.

One of my rising stars had been on to his clients for well over 12 weeks, without a whiff of any indication about their intention-I guess that got to him and he posed this question to me during out team meeting.

I asked for time and came back to him with my assessment. Let me share that with you.

Research conducted by Harvard and other independent institutions have established that clients clearly differentiate between valuable vendors while treating others like plug n play commodities.

B2B relationships basically fall into 5 levels. In this assessment I am taking the explanation from the lowest ( level 1) to the highest ( level 5) and tried to explain the “what” and “why” of the engagement, with appropriate examples

  1. Approved Vendor: “We are seen by the majority of our customers as a legitimate provider of the products or services we offer, but are not recognized for having any significant competitive edge over other alternative offerings. We therefore often compete on price, via discounting, as a key consideration to helping close a deal.” Example: Gateway is most often viewed as one of a number of vendors from which a company can buy reliable PCs, but rarely seen as unique.

 

  1. Preferred Supplier: “Based on our marketplace reputation/past dealings with our customers, we are normally seen as the preferred vendor for them to do business with. While competitors may offer alternative offerings, all things being considered equal we win the deal in the lion’s share of the deals over the competition.” Example: Salesforce.com has such a good reputation that when firms are looking for on-demand applications, the competition must create a significant advantage in the eyes of the customer to get the deal.

 

  1. Solutions Consultant:Based on a specific set of product-related, value-add knowledge or services we bring to the table, our customers view us as not only a vendor, but a consulting resource on how to best use our products or services, as well. Because of this, during brief periods when our offerings may not be as robust or are more expensive than those of the competition, our customers will continue to buy from us because they consider the premium we bring to the table when making their final choice.” Example: MidMark sells a wide variety of products medical facilities use in their practice, AND offers specific advice on new ways that doctors can leverage those products to maximize revenues.

 

  1. Strategic Contributor: “Above and beyond the products and services we offer, our customers view us as a source of strategic planning assistance for dealing with broader-based business challenges they are currently dealing with. Based on this, we are regularly brought into business discussions that are above and beyond our products, to help the clients develop or implement key business strategies. This strategic focus often allows us to sole-bid deals, even though competitors may offer similar products.” Example: Hewlett Packard’s “Creatology” group which constantly identifies what other assets, besides the products that HP possesses, that the clients could leverage in their businesses – i.e. processes, relationships, intellectual property, etc.

 

  1. Trusted Partner: “At this highest level we are seen as a long-term partner whose contributions; products, insights, processes, etc., are seen as critical to the long-term success of their clients. Based on this, the occurrences of our clients seriously considering a competitive offering are next to nil.” Example: GE aircraft and Boeing, who co-bet their businesses on the mutual success of their long-term, multi-year relationship.