Author: Neil Shorney
The Sales Accelerator

You (probably) don’t have a USP – get over it!

Go on any sales training course, and you won’t get far until you hear the acronym USP – Unique Selling Point (sometimes Unique Selling Proposition). It’s what marks you out as different from the competition, and the reason your ideal client should buy from you at the expense of any other options.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? If you can only find your USP (or, more often, USPs) then this time next year you’ll be a millionaire! Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but despite what that sales trainer told you, you most likely don’t have one.

A couple of years ago, I ran a consultancy session with a London-based recruitment consultant which specialises in recruiting linguists to a variety of roles across Europe. Early on in the session, I asked the sales director how she thought they could differentiate themselves against the competition. She told me not to worry, as they have a great USP. “What is it?” I ask, genuinely excited. “We recruit foreign language speakers.” Oh. Instant deflation.

“Is that really a USP?” I ask.

“Yes – that’s what we’ve always been told, and it’s what we use,” she told me.

What’s the problem here? The obvious problem to me was that I’d been recruiting linguists for years, and managed to do so without using this particular company even once. It’s a selling point, but it’s not unique. Other people do exactly the same.

The two problems with Unique Selling Points

There are two traps that organisations fall into. First is what I’ve just described – Selling Points are confused with Unique Selling Points. Organisations think of something they do well, and they decide that’s their USP. They proudly tell their prospects their USPs, but the prospects just yawn and switch off, because the prospect knows these things aren’t unique. Let’s call these SPs – Selling Points. They’re things you do well, but that your competitors also do.

The second problem is USPs which are unique, but which are “transferable”. This is the kind of USP that’s just impossible to prove, even if it’s truly unique. You go to a sales meeting and tell your prospect that “we’ve got the best team of consultants in the world.” Perhaps you have. But the problem is that the prospect then speaks to another provider, and what are they told? You’ve guessed it: “we’ve got the best team of consultants in the world.” Even if you really have this, then unless you have solid proof, it becomes difficult to use.

So what can you do instead? How are you ever going to compete in your market? Don’t worry, because there’s something just as powerful which you can create…
Introducing the USC

The USC, the Unique Selling Combination, is where you look at all your selling points, and you decide how you can put these in combination to create a unique combination that differentiates you from the competition.

Let’s take Navanter as an example. Navanter provides sales training. Nothing unique there. As the director of Navanter, I have 20+ years’ experience in sales. USP? Not by a long shot. I also have 16 years working in the project management industry. Again, definitely not a USP. However, when you combine the two, you come up with the unique proposition of bring order to sales chaos. Taking the most relevant project skills to allow salespeople to sell more effectively, more predictably, and always having a plan in place.

I have not seen a single other competitor with this selling combination. I believe it’s unique. But imagine a competitor came along with a similar proposition. Well do they have a decade of experience delivering engaging virtual training? No? Another USC for Navanter.

USCs become even more powerful when you start to tailor them to a prospect’s specific situation or problem.

“You have this problem, so here’s my USC – the reason you should work with me above all other options.”

If you don’t have a USC for your business, then you end up competing on price rather than service, and it’s a race to the bottom. Once you have a relevant USC, then you have a truly unique proposition which makes you a compelling choice for your prospects.

Do you have a genuine USP? If so, I’d love to hear what it is. Have a great USC? Tell me that too. And if you’re struggling to find what makes you unique, then get in touch and we can talk through some ideas.

Supporting struggling salespeople through a dry patch

Most salespeople will go through a dry patch at some point in their career. Often this is only temporary, caused by focusing on the wrong things the previous month. But sometimes, these dry patch can cause confidence to drop, which then leads to a longer period of poor results.

This lack of confidence encourages people to work contrary to best practice…

How to be a great salespersonWhat strugglers do
Make enough callsMore emails, fewer calls
Open calls with impactTentative openings
Be assertive in meetingsBe led by the prospect
Actively look for objectionsAvoid objections
Overcome objections confidentlyGet defensive
Close the dealWait for the prospect to close

So you see, a dry patch can quickly become a longer-term drop in performance if the salesperson isn’t adequately supported.

As a sales manager, there are a number of techniques at your disposal to help the salesperson to recover their form.

Sales micro-planning

Note this is micro-planning, not micro-managing! It’s about coaching salespeople at a granular level of detail, to help them improve their skills. You shouldn’t need to tell the salesperson what to do – they have this knowledge inside them somewhere – it’s about questioning them in very small steps to help them come up with the actions they need to take in order to lead the sale to a positive conclusion.

Using targeted feedback

Feedback is about sharing your perspective on the salesperson’s actions, and the impact those actions have on the progress of the sale. It may be followed by suggested actions, or you might just “shine the light” on what the salesperson is currently doing, then let them come up with their own solutions.

Removing excuses

Salespeople often have excuses for why they’re struggling. The problem with excuses is that they disempower the salesperson from doing anything to improve. As long as there’s something external to blame, they’ll just keep working in the same way until things change – which they often won’t!

A typical excuse could be “I don’t have enough leads”. You know, as their manager, that regardless of the number of leads the salesperson is getting, there are things they could be doing to increase their sales. These are things like:

  • Plugging some holes in their pipelines
  • Finding their own leads
  • Asking for referrals from existing clients

Your goal is to get them to realise this. If they fail to realise that they have things in their power to do, then you might need to tell them.

You can ask questions to encourage action. For example:

  • “What would you do if you had zero leads?”

The salesperson will probably then come up with some actions they could take, such as cold calling. Follow up with:

  • “Well you don’t have zero leads, but could you take these actions anyway to improve your sales?”

Once you’ve removed the excuses, what’s left is actions which can be taken. This empowers the salesperson to make changes to the way they work and brings them out of their dry patch.

Driving salesperson performance using pipelines

Sales pipelines have been used for many years to increase salespeople’s likelihood of hitting their targets. The concept is simple yet effective:

– Leads go in at the top
– Sales come out at the bottom
– There are holes in the pipe on the way down which potential sales leak out of

There are then 2 ways to ensure that more sales come out of the bottom of the pipe:

1: Put more leads in at the top
2: Plug the holes

Pipelines have “stages” and at each pipeline stage, there’s the possibility to lose sales, or for the sale to continue through the pipe.

Pipeline stages are often created to be company- or role-specific. Around this, there are two approaches you can use:

1: Salesperson actions
2: Customer responses to salesperson actions

There’s no right or wrong, but in terms of benefits:

1: This approach is more tangible and practical, particularly for junior sellers
2: This approach is more closely aligned with the probability of buying

At Navanter, we use simple options for each:

Salesperson actions
– Qualify
– Probe
– Match
– Close

Customer responses to salesperson actions
– Attention
– Interest
– Desire
– Action

You now need to think about what needs to happen for sales to move through the pipeline.

Each stage has inputs and outputs. Inputs are what has to feed into that stage, and outputs are what goes out of that stage and into the next.

Within each stage, you have tasks. These are the actions the salesperson needs to take to get from the input to the output on each stage.

For example, look at probe from the first model. Here’s how that might break down:

A qualified lead.

Enough information to provide a proposal.

Task (to coach the salesperson to carry out)

Ask a wide range of questions to fully understand the opportunity in order to put a proposal together.

As you get used to working with pipelines with your team, you’ll begin to realise that salespeople have diverse strengths and weaknesses, and you can begin to share knowledge between them to upskill them on the tasks required to get from one stage to the next of the pipeline.

You can have two salespeople who have the same number of leads going in at the top of the pipeline, and the same number of sales coming out the bottom. But on the way down, they might be losing sales in different places. This is a great opportunity for you as their leader to share skills and best practice across the team.

Making individual sales measurable (part 2)

Now that you understand SPACECHAMPS and the importance of information in a sale, you can work with your salespeople to take a more strategic view of their sales on an individual basis.

As you’ve already learnt, strategy is all about knowing where you are, where you need to be, and how you’ll get there.

First, you need to assess the current situation to accurately understand your As-Is. And you need to know that for every letter of SPACECHAMPS.

Next, you need to map out the steps required to get from where you are, to where you want to be. This could be knowing who to speak to, what to say, or anything else that gets you the information from SPACECHAMPS that you need.

Now you’ve got the plan, you need to encourage (or coach) your salesperson to carry out the plan.

Finally, you need to review how you and the team performed against the plan to help you to perform as well, or even better, next time.

So, you know the As-Is and you know the final goal, but what makes a reasonable To-Be for a sales person? This needs to be something that can be achieved in the next 2-4 weeks.

A useful exercise to do internally, is to put RAG descriptors in place for each letter of SPACECHAMPS. Here’s an example which you might use for Competition 1.

Competition 1
R: I don’t know who I’m competing against.
A: I have identified the competition and have a strategy on how to eliminate it.
G: I have eliminated all the competition, and am the only option this prospect is still considering, confirmed by my Sponsor.

Now, you can help your salespeople to take a strategic view of their major sales in order to maximise their chance of winning the business.

Making individual sales measurable (part 1)

As a sales leader, a common problem you’ll come across is how to measure the effectiveness of your salespeople. You’ll sit down in a one-to-one to go through a sale with them and the rep will give you the gold-plated version of how things are going. It’s very hard then to establish what went well, what could be improved, and what needs to be done to maximise the chance of winning the deal.

Even if you attend the meeting with the sales rep, their relationship with the customer and the way they speak can create a misleading perspective on what’s needed to close the sale.

For these reasons, you need to be able to accurately measure the success of your salespeople so that you can coach them through improvement.

Using SPACECHAMPS™ to measure sales call performance

SPACECHAMPS is an acronym which can help you and your salespeople to identify all the information that needs to be gathered to progress a sale, and for you to coach your salespeople in what steps to take next to close the deal.

SPACECHAMPS stands for:

Who on the client side will help you to win the business?

Who makes the decision and how does the decision get made?

Aware of needs:
Are you aware of all the client’s needs in the context of their business?

Competition 1:
How will you differentiate yourself from the competition?

What impact are problems causing for the client?

Competition 2:
Who does the client compete against and how can you help them differentiate themselves?

What hoops do you need to jump through to make the work happen?

What makes you attractive as they choose a supplier?

How much budget is there and how do you get it?

Is this one-off work or is there greater potential for the future?

When does the client want to see results and what is the timeline to achieve that goal?

If you know all the information, you maximise your chance of closing the deal. Unfortunately, many salespeople spend more time telling the customer why they’re great than really understanding how to close a sale.

Let’s look at one of these as an illustration: Power.

Power is all about knowing who has a role in making the decision. And in a complex sale, it’s rarely one individual, but a web of interconnected stakeholders, all of whom have different priorities, desires and drivers in a purchasing decision. If I take the simple view, I could say “I’m in touch with the CEO so I just need to convince this single person that this is the right solution.”

But in a complex sale to a large organisation, the CEO often isn’t close enough to the problem, and doesn’t understand it enough to make an informed decision. The CEO doesn’t make a decision alone – s/he will take advice from people they respect lower down the organisation, which will inform the purchasing decision. And although a salesperson might feel the CEO is bought in, if other stakeholders haven’t been considered, they could be sending negative messages up to the CEO as they might personally prefer an alternative option.

By knowing which stakeholders we’re in touch with, which stakeholders are decision makers and influencers, and what their individual drivers and business perspectives are, then we can ensure we’re selling the dream to influencers across the organisation. Then, when the CEO asks for opinions from others, we can do our best to ensure they’re positive.

Sales basics

Sales basics

I’ve been sharing a series of posts on LinkedIn about what sales is, for salespeople and non-salespeople alike. I often think back to a conversation I had with my grandfather when I landed my first sales job.

You’ll do really well at selling – you talk so much!

He meant it nicely (I hope!) but as I got to know what it really means to be a sales professional, I realised how far from reality this was.

So here’s my little summary of what selling is and what it isn’t. I hope you take something away from this to improve your own client interractions…

Sales secrets

As you work to understand what salespeople do, it’s important to remember that you’re not a “sales clone”, but an individual with your own personality, communication style, expertise and approach. Your goal is to incorporate established sales best practice into your own style so that you come across as genuine, and as a natural, rather than a forced, salesperson.

The following principles should guide you regardless of your personal factors, as you develop your commercial skills.

Principle 1: It’s all about the customer
Too many sellers focus on themselves and on what they want to get as an outcome from the sale, but the reality is that customers don’t care about salespeople – they care about themselves. To properly engage as a salesperson, it’s vital that you focus on the customer and their world, rather than on yourself.

Principle 2: Customers buy change
Customers don’t buy products or services, but the change that those solutions bring. Think about buying a new, faster computer. You’re not buying a fast computer – you’re buying the ability to work more effectively and with fewer delays because of your slow hardware. Great salespeople focus not on their solution, but on the change those solutions bring to their customers.

Principle 3: Customers want to buy
No, this isn’t an arrogant salesperson’s mantra – it’s true. If you’re in a sales cycle with a customer, then most likely that customer wants to buy from you. But only if you can get your solution and offer absolutely right for the customer. Approaching a sale with the mindset at the customer doesn’t want to make a purchase is both not correct and not helpful. Customers don’t speak to salespeople for fun – if they’re speaking with you, then there is most likely a sale to be made.

It’s important, as you create your own sales identity, that you avoid some of the pitfalls which “bad sellers” slip into. Here’s how not to sell…

Pitfall 1: Becoming a tell-seller
These people spend their time telling their prospects about what they have and how great it us, but forget to take the time to learn about their customers first. They talk a lot and don’t listen to the customer.

Pitfall 2: Product sellers
These people focus too much on the features of their product and forget to communicate the benefits the product can bring. It’s particularly a problem for technical products, where sellers often have great knowledge of how their solution works – they get sucked into the technical side and fail to communicate why the customer should buy.

Pitfall 3: Manipulative sellers
These people sell through creating the fear of a worst-case scenario in the customer. Whilst many people use this as an effective way of winning business, it doesn’t foster trust between seller and customer, and can lead to “buyer’s remorse” in the customers, where they reflect on the sale and realise they were pressured into buying before they were ready.

How not to sell (the recruitment consultant)

Yesterday morning (at time of writing), I had a call from a recruitment consultant. I get a lot of these, and unless it’s one of the small number I like to work with, the calls don’t last very long. I have to be very impressed with something about a cold call to stay on the phone for a conversation. Most calls I get go along the following lines:

recruitment consultant: “Hello, my name’s Jane, I work for ABC company. Do you recruit salespeople?”
me: “Yes”
r.c.: “I’d like to set up a meeting to discuss your needs”
me: “I don’t have any needs at the moment”
r.c.: “I really think it would be valuable to visit you”
me: “I don’t have any needs at the moment”
r.c.: “Can I send you my contact details?”
me: “Of course”
(call over)

A few minutes later I’ll receive an email which goes straight in my deleted items. The problem with this sort of call is that they’ve given me no benefit in speaking to them. I do not see any value at all in spending 1+ hours with this person.

Alternatively the call may go like this:

r.c.: “Hello, my name’s Jane, I work for ABC company. Do you recruit salespeople?”
me: “Yes, but I already have a consultant with whom I’m very happy with”
r.c.: “Can we set up a meeting so I can explain what we do?”
me: “How are you different from everyone else?”
r.c.: “Well we phone interview them, face-to-face interview them, check their Cvs…blah…blah…blah”
me: “No, I’m happy with my current consultant thanks”
r.c.: “Can I send you my contact details?”
me: “Of course”
(call over)

A few minutes later I’ll receive an email which goes straight in my deleted items. The problem here is they’ve not differentiated themselves and again, I see no value in spending the time in a meeting.

And remember, there’s very little to differentiate sales from recruitment – recruitment consultants sell people, salespeople sell a product or service. The sales process should be the same.

Yesterday’s call, however, was different. Yesterday my faith in the world’s sales skills was restored. Yesterday I received a cold call and wanted to stay on the phone. Not because I need a recruitment consultant at the moment, but because the caller grabbed my attention with her good opening to the call and made me want to listen. I’d even have had a meeting if she’d asked. 15 seconds later, my heart sank and I remembered why I spend my time improving people’s selling ability. Yesterday, a recruitment consultant completely wasted an opportunity for build a long-term relationship resulting in future business. So what happened?

r.c.: “Hello, is this the sales manager?”
me: “Yes”
r.c.: “Hello! My name’s Rebecca, I work for ABC company. Can you spare me a few minutes?”
me: (nice and polite and friendly, how could I say “no”?)
r.c.: “Great! The reason for my call is that I’ve just joined the company and I’m trying to establish some contacts who may need our services in the future. I’d like to get to know you so that next time you’re recruiting, we’ll both know whether we can potentially work well together”
me: (wow, she’s really good!) “OK, how can I help you?”
r.c.: “Do you do the recruitment yourself, or do you also have an HR department involved?”
me: (good question – I offered a brief explanation)
r.c.: “Great, thanks so much for your time, I’ll send you my contact details and please get in touch if you need anything. Bye”

WHAT?! What happened? Is that all you need to ask me to kick off this productive business relationship?! What happened to the “what do you do?” How about the “what sort of people do you recruit?” And the “which skills should they have?”

I was really disappointed, this recruiter made a fabulous opening with an unusual honesty about having just joined the company that really made me really trust her. We could have had a half-hour call about my recruitment strategy which would definitely have made me give her a try next time, but in the end it was a complete disappointment.

So please, fellow salespeople, learn from Rebecca’s success and mistake. Improve your opening – many salespeople struggle with this, and Rebecca’s was really great. And then, once you have someone’s attention, don’t waste the opportunity, because opportunities only come once and then they’re gone for ever.

If someone’s happy to stay on the phone with you, make it worth their while, and grasp the opportunity.

What is a high-impact communication?

There’s a lot of talk these days about high-impact communications, but seemingly little understanding of what this means. I asked some sales professionals recently what they considered a high-impact communication to be, and received a range of answers, from “not sure” through to “something that’s lively and engaging”.

Continue reading “What is a high-impact communication?”

Sales and the environment… and why we’ve gone carbon-positive

Sales has never really been good for the environment, has it? For many organisations, reducing emissions is completely at odds with the need to sell products. Think, for example, mobile phone manufacturers. From the moment you get your new phone, you’re under pressure to upgrade to the latest model. This doesn’t help our planet, but is a necessary step for organisations to make more money. Of course, there are many products which are sold, which actively help the planet. But even then, there are the drives and flights which go into making the sale, and if you fly to Basel for a pre-lunch meeting then back to the office in the afternoon, there’s an environmental impact.

Continue reading “Sales and the environment… and why we’ve gone carbon-positive”

The challenges of virtual sales meetings

I’ve just finished delivering a micro-training course on how to run engaging virtual sales meetings. It’s a bit of a hot topic at the moment, because many salespeople are feeling like fish out of water when they can’t use the tried and trusted techniques of walking into someone’s office, complimenting that person on the sales chart on the wall, the family photo on their desk, or the prize stuffed cod hanging above their desk, then blitzing the sales presentation through charm alone. Yes, once upon a time, sales trainers taught that these were great sales techniques to break the ice and build rapport.

Except they never worked. Even face to face.

Continue reading “The challenges of virtual sales meetings”
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