Category: Sales techniques

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.

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.

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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