It’s tough to impart any current best practices for sales and marketing without first providing a refresher on the foundations that are timeless and essential for any sales rep or marketer. For a product to be successful it has to find market fit. For a solution to be successful it has to fit the customer’s need, specifically meeting their goals. It’s the job and responsibility for sales management and marketing leadership to ensure they develop best practices to match products and solutions with market and customer. Failure to do so can only mean reduced sales and lost market share. The ability to do so means more sales and increased market share.
Before we jump in, let’s first set the table with a piece of advice from Scott MacGregor, former VP of sales and marketing for Flo-tech, where he built one of the industry’s leading MPS providers. MacGregor is now taking his valuable experience in sales to the recent launch of his new unique national sales and marketing recruiting firm, SomethingNew. He says, “Sales is all about them — the client or prospect — not about us. With that, spending time asking intelligent and probing questions is the key to finding pain. There is always pain, it’s only a matter of the degree of pain they are in and if that level is enough to move the client to act on change. We spend 20 percent of our time talking and let our clients spend 80 percent of the time answering questions and defining their pain and needs.”
The following best practices are geared toward taking Scott’s advice and setting a practical course toward applying it to sales and marketing.
Best Practice No. 1: SPIN Selling
I’ve always thought of SPIN selling as a way to understand the objective side of any opportunity or deal (i.e., the data and knowledge you must capture to prepare a winning proposal). The practice of SPIN selling was developed by Neil Rackham and documented in his bestseller of the same name. If you’re in sales and marketing and haven’t read it, then I highly recommend you do. SPIN is an acronym for Situation, Problem, Implication, Need. The general design is to become an expert at asking the customer the right questions, which will yield answers that unlock those angles, opportunities, and paths to match your product or solution with what they need. More importantly, though, it will unlock why they need it and that is the emphasis of implication. Let’s break it down further. I like to start with the big picture and begin to narrow my line of questions to specifics along the way.
Situation: These are questions designed to gain the full picture as it relates to a customer’s current situation. These questions primarily answer what rather than why.
- How many devices do you currently have?
- How many printers?
- How many copiers/MFPs?
- What is your monthly page volume? Black vs. color?
- Who is/are your current vendor(s)?
- Do you have a current MPS strategy in place?
- What software applications do you use?
- Do you have a print policy in place?
We could (and you should) go on, as these questions simply scratch the surface, preparing for the questions that will further develop the situation. However, let’s move on to the next step:
Problem: These are questions designed to identify what is and isn’t working with the customer’s current situation. Customers are not always forthcoming about their problems. Perhaps they don’t want to admit to them or they view them as competitive information. Either way, it’s the salesperson’s job to identify the problems, because his ability to provide a solution will increase his chances of earning the business. But what happens if the customer isn’t forthcoming?
In these situations, the salesperson needs to ask questions that steer the conversation toward highlighting solutions his company represents that commonly solve problems and, ultimately, win business. I’ve often found that, when customers are unwilling to share their pain points, if I begin asking questions that drive the conversation toward benefits/solutions that my product or company delivers, it a) helps the customer to recognize they actually might have a problem they didn’t realize or b) prompts them to start asking me questions and more freely allows the conversation to flow back around to the pain points I was aiming to identify in the first place. For example, you might ask, “How do you currently buy your toner?” If they respond with, “We buy it online through an office supply store,” they may view that as perfectly fine — no problem or pain at all. A good line of follow-up questions would be:
- How many orders do you place per month?
- How long does it take to place an order?
- Who places the order?
- Do you ever run out of ink or toner and have to order overnight in an emergency?
- How often does that happen?
- Would it be helpful or valuable if we could automate this process for you?
Obviously, this line of questions is designed to guide customers to the conclusion that if they were to automate the process through your MPS solution, it would be extremely valuable. Therefore, you just helped them realize they DO have a problem and you’re there to help them solve it, thereby increasing the value of your solution. In that moment, you not only gain value, you gain trust.
Moreover, this secondary line of questions is an iterative step evolving from what to why, and therefore understanding the Implications of their problems.It is absolutely in the Implications that deals are won and lost. Sales reps who get to the bottom of understanding the root cause (why) of a customer’s problem will win more often than not because they can best match the Need and propose the right solution.
Best Practice No. 2: Strategic Selling (Miller Heiman)
I’ve always thought of strategic selling as a way to understand the subjective side of any opportunity or deal through the people, motivations and sometimes the politics that are in play, which you must understand in order to win the business. The practice of strategic selling was developed by Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman (more commonly known as Miller Heiman) and documented in their book “Strategic Selling.”
The core concept is to outline a road map to every opportunity by understanding the influencers and decision makers, their motivations, and ultimately what you need to do in order to gain their trust and their favor to buy from you. There are four key influencers:
1) Coach: This is your champion — the person who is in your corner and a liaison to the other influencers. This person is there to coach you through the sales process and be your guide as it relates to everything: economics, politics and competition. In the hierarchy, this person often reports to a final decision maker. From an industry perspective, coaches are often in roles such as help desk manager, buyer or purchasing manager.
3) User Influencer: This person represents the users and those aspects of the deal that are often unrelated to the product or technical side. It’s not uncommon for the coach and the user influencer to be the same person — one person can be both. From an industry perspective, they are often buyers, finance managers, facilities managers or purchasing managers.
3) IT Influencers: This group of people represents influence on the products, features and technology of the solution. When asking your questions and presenting solutions about the product and why it’s better than your competition’s, your attention is directed at this audience. From an industry perspective, they are often IT managers, VPs of IT, help desk managers, CIOs and CTOs.
4) Economic Influencer: This is the final decision maker. Gaining buy-in from all the influencers underneath or reporting up to this person is often what will, collectively, move the needle in your favor. Miller Heiman simply suggests you have to move the majority to move the deal in your favor. From an industry perspective, this is often the C-suite: CEOs, CIOs, CTOs, CFOs
Part of the road mapping process is not only identifying who these people are, but understanding their motivations. What’s in it for them? It’s often cost savings (economic influencer), operational efficiency (user/IT influencers), or maybe just a “job well done” (coach). Strategic selling provides a great map toward seeing the deal through their lenses and measuring your progress as you go.
Best Practice No. 3: Metrics (SBI: Sales Benchmark Index)
I had the opportunity to work with SBI and their CEO, Greg Alexander, about eight years ago when we hired him to implement SBI best practices. The purpose was to understand and better leverage data to drive results. In a sales context, we had to answer questions like, “What is your activity formula?” “How do you manage it to achieve the results that ensure you make the number?” It seems pretty simple on the surface, but once you dig in, you begin to realize there is a level of nuance since every rep has his or her own activity formula. In other words, some reps make fewer calls than others but they achieve better results. So how do you objectively make sense of it — as a rep or as a sales leader?
A few basic requirements:
- You need to have a CRM system
- You need to track everything: dials, emails, meetings, close rate, deal size
- You need to have enough historical data and a large enough sample set to allow you to understand “If we make X number of contacts, it will yield Y number of dollars.”
Then you set your sales benchmarks and manage to them: by rep, by team, by organization. This impacts your hiring plan, quotas and activity requirements.
Without an activity formula and clear ongoing performance measurement against your sales benchmarks, you might as well be throwing darts in the dark and hoping to make your numbers. With an activity formula and ongoing management, you create predictability and scalability.
Best Practice No. 4: Innovation … and More Innovation
One of the more famous business books in the last 15 years was written by Jim Collins, from right here in my own backyard (Boulder, Colo.), called “Good to Great.” Colling took a scientific approach to understanding why some companies simply do well while others do great over a sustained period of time. One of the common findings across those companies in the “great” category was that they never stopped innovating. There are a number of companies that have streaks and spurts of success, yet they cycle up and down. This pattern is often in direct relation to their commitment and execution on innovation. We can look at obvious examples, like Apple, and point to how they built sustained success over the past 10 or 15 years with the iPod, iPhone, iPad and iWatch. But they also cycled down in the five to 10 years prior to the iPod because they had stopped innovating. So how does their story translate to the imaging channel? From my perspective, we can keep it simple: You’re either growing or you’re dying, but you’re never static.
The first three best practices outlined above are designed to impart strategy to be good. To be great, you need to harness innovation, introducing new ideas and new solutions. Looking back, companies that were slow to adopt MPS and MPS software applications like PrintFleet and FMAudit, put themselves in a vulnerable position. Their competition, which had already adopted these products, was aggressively encouraging their sales forces to install them as part of their assessment. This allowed the competition to “get on base” inside your accounts and, unfortunately, sometimes they stayed there. In short, those dealers didn’t resist change. They embraced it. They became more innovative by leading instead of following.
The same opportunities are always there. They’re always changing, surfacing in new forms, but remain present. Today, innovative solutions like PaperCut, ROI PrintManager and PrintReleaf are emerging. Innovative dealers are leading by embracing and leveraging them to win and grow.