Sales Blunder #1: Selling Features Not Value

In the early days of my sales career, I was taught to sell features and benefits. Later, Solution Selling, Consultative Selling, Precision Questions, Spin Selling and other sales methodologies like them espoused the importance of red number one sign isolated on white backgroundasking the right questions to understand buyer pain in order to sell your solution.

For there to be pain, a problem had to be identified. Once identified, you then draw the correlation between the buyer’s pain and how your product or service is the buyer’s cure. Taking it further, if you are doing your job well, you also have to break through the inertia of what is likely your toughest competitor – the status quo. Your prospect may have identified a problem that is causing them business pain, but is the pain acute or chronic? In other words, is the pain something that they’ve lived with long enough that they will continue to allow it to go on, OR has the problem become so acutely painful that they absolutely must make a change?

Recently, I’ve had conversations with Judy Mod and Matt Rosenhaft, Principals at Social Gastronomy. They work with technology companies to overcome what they call the “buyer adoption” problem. Turns out that companies are getting in their own way. They very often hinder the buying process rather than further it along. In an April 2014 blog post, Chuck Carey had this to say, “Buyers measure success based on how well you resolved their problem, not how well you met their expectations.”

When it comes to problems, there are two things happening.

1. Your prospect thinks they have identified a business problem that they need to fix. Is it the right problem? Are you sure?

Doubtful that your buyer is sure. According to Matt and Judy, the challenge sellers (and marketers) face is that it is darn difficult for internal teams to all agree on what the acute problem is much less agree on how to fix it. As with so many things in life, most folks simply focus their attention on symptoms without delving deeper into the root cause of the pain the organization suffers from.

I think of countless sales situations I’ve found myself in where the buyer tells me the problem is X, and after I ask more questions, I find out that on surface X looks to be correct, but the deeper digging uncovered something more revealing.

In one sales meeting, the buyer tells me that the “problem” is that their salespeople are having trouble getting access to decision makers. They reached out to me thinking that social selling was the way to go. Maybe.  During the conversation, the buyer assured me that once a salesperson secured the meeting, they “always closed the deal”. When I hear that, I’m suspicious. I don’t care how good a salesperson you are, you never win them all. Curious, I ask them to tell me the percentage ratio of meetings to closed deals. Guess what. They can’t. Why? Because by their own admission, their salespeople are notoriously bad about entering sales opportunities and communication into their CRM system. They just don’t do it most of the time. If there is very little data regarding the sales pipeline and funnel progression stages, how do they know salespeople always close the deal? The discussion went on from there but you get the idea. They were not close to being clear about the real problem.

2. Do you know what problem your solution solves and can you clearly articulate that message?

Given how many sales presentations I’ve listened to, I’d say that the answer is no. If you, as the salesperson, don’t know what problem your solution solves, do you really think your prospect can simply connect the random dots and figure it out on their own? When it comes to marketing and selling your products and services, your potential customers DO NOT CARE about the process of how you get things done. Nor do they really care about the technical details. Sure, if it is a technology solution the IT guys might, but that comes later. In the initial stages of determining what product or service to purchase, your prospect cares about one thing – finding the right solution to solve their problem.

Forget the Features

I cannot say this enough. Though I know this is sooooo difficult for sellers to hear. They’ve been brainwashed to think that buyers make decisions based on features. They don’t.

Consider this basic recipe:

1. Understand the problem your solution solves. If you can’t speak to that, you’re sunk.

2. Get to the core of the problem that the buyer you are talking with needs to solve.

3. Determine if there is a match.

4. If so, help the buyer connect the dots by mapping your solution to their problem. Again, it isn’t the features that will win the deal!

The feature dance leads nowhere, and if you keep selling that way, you’ll be dancing all alone! That sounds kinda lonely to me.

You Got My Attention

Or did you?

What you really did is interrupt me. I don’t know who you are, but you think you are special enough that I’ll stop everything just to meet with you, talk to you or respond to you.interrupt

You don’t really care if the initiative that I am responsible for rolling out is a success. You certainly don’t care about what is at stake if I fail. All you care about is getting your sale.

Even if I meet with you, you hear nothing that I say. Actually, I didn’t have much chance to say anything, because you can’t stop talking about how great you, your product and your company are.

You know absolutely nothing about my business. What’s worse, it is obvious you haven’t even bothered to try to find out what’s important to me. That’s insulting. There’s this thing called the Internet and social networks. You may have heard of them. Do you use them? Don’t think so. All you care about is getting your sale.

You think all you need to do to bond with me is to ask a few outdated questions like “what keeps you up at night”. If you really want to know what keeps me up at night, I’ll tell you. It’s you.

In your desperation to sell me something, you are not thinking about the bigger problems that I am facing. Revenue keeps declining, leads are drying up, my sales people don’t follow up on the leads that marketing gives them, or they waste time with people not qualified to buy from us. Senior management is on my back, and I may not have a job in 6-months if I don’t find a way to stop the bleeding. I know we need more than a quick fix but that’s what you are peddling.

Even if your product or service fixes one part of the problem, how do you help me solve the rest of it? I know, I know. That’s not really your job is it? I think it should be.

You should care, but you don’t. You’ll protest, of course. You’ll say that you do care, but we both know that you just want the sale.

I know you complain about me. You whine to your buddies that I just don’t get it. You think it’s rude not to return your phone call or answer your email. You can’t fathom that the reason for my silence is that you’ve said nothing that tells me you are different. You are as bland, selfish, lazy and vanilla as every other sales person who approaches me. It soothes your ego to point the finger at me and proclaim it is my fault. You believe that if I just took the meeting, sat through your demo and listened to your company story, I’d understand.

The problem is that YOU don’t understand.

You refuse to listen to me. You can’t accept that everything you thought you knew is useless now. I want something more from you. You need to tell me something that I don’t already know; otherwise, what’s the point?

I don’t need sales people. I need trusted advisors. People that I can count on to tell me the truth, present fresh ideas, look at the problem holistically, work seamlessly with other providers and challenge me to think differently.

When the day comes that what keeps YOU UP AT NIGHT is that I might lose my job if what you sell me doesn’t work out, that’s when I will know it is time to welcome you with open arms.

Turning Blah Blah Blah Into Bling

Sales activity today appears to place far more emphasis on scrambling to get a deal with that next new client than it does on nurturing existing customers. Frankly, that puzzles me. It doesn’t matter what industry you serve, retention of your existing customer base should always be your number one priority.Money

When I think about a seller’s role, it is to develop and cultivate new sales opportunities while continuing to mine for new gold within existing accounts.

Depending on the size of your organization, you may have strategically decided that some of your sales people will focus on the hunting and other will focus on the nurturing. But whether you are hunting new business or selling deeper into existing accounts, you have to keep in mind that your message matters.

Lose the Pitch

One of the more egregious mistakes often made is pitching a customer with a message that clearly shows that you have no idea that they are, in fact, a customer. Last week, I received such a sales pitch from a CRM provider pitching me on a new service. For 3 years, I have been their customer, but it was clear that this sales rep didn’t know it.

Other pitches come in the form of unsolicited sales spam that are poorly written, generic and focused on the seller not the buyer. For an Oscar winning example of the worst piece of spam ever, click here and be amazed.

In various forms, thousands of sales messages are being sent to potential prospects each day. How much thought is being put into the core content of those messages? In my opinion, not much thought at all.

Blah Blah Blah

That is exactly what your prospects and probably your customers are saying to themselves as they read your pitch. It doesn’t matter if it is print, phone calls, email, LinkedIn InMails, newsletters, Tweets or Facebook posts, you have to be asking yourself – from the perspective of the prospect or customer – does your message convey that you know something about them and the troubles they face? If the goal is to increase leads and secure more sales meetings, you lose every chance of making that happen if you are not viewed as a credible resource worthy of having a buying conversation.

Time is tight and competition is fierce in most industries. Why waste effort sending out messages that land in the trash bin rather than as a meeting on the prospects calendar? The problem is that activity is being confused with sales effectiveness, which only creates a perception that what is being done will lead to sales results.

If you want the bling, you have to do away with the blah blah blah. Your customers and your prospects will thank you!

Did Infusionsoft Make it Right? You Decide.

Customer experience and back-end service support have always been hot buttons for me. When you work your backside off to close sales deals, the last thing you want to find out is that a customer bailed because excellence in another part of the customer experience broke down. iStock_000016225393Medium

In the “old” model, you sold something and everything was fine – until it wasn’t. When something went awry, fingers crossed, your service team handled it. But waiting to react is not consistent with the world we now find ourselves doing business in.

Companies remain too internally focused. Most do not stop to consider what their policies feel like to the prospect or customer. Policies are almost always focused on what’s best for the company not for the people who will choose to interact and do business with them.

An Update to a Recent Post About Service

Twenty days ago, I wrote a post called Just Cancel My Account – Part 1 In the post, I shared my personal story of what happened when I decided to end my business relationship with Infusionsoft. I did my best to be professional in my post, but I was ticked off. You can read the original post to understand all the details, but I was not happy to be billed for another month when I believed I was canceling my account ahead of the billing cycle.

Monday, I was surprised to receive an email from a senior manager at Infusionsoft (I’ll name the company but not the individual) telling me that Infusionsoft was aware of the situation, apparently management had a conversation about it and had decided to refund my money. OK. Nice. Unexpected. Thank you. It shows that they are trying. I give them credit for that.


Read my correlating tale of Kick Butt Service delivered by Zappos when something went wrong. You’ll understand why Infusionsoft, well meaning as they may be, has work to do.

Stop Justifying…Get Outside Your Company Walls

I originally planned to post the entire email, but decided to pull key statements from it instead. Here is my reaction to the email.

1. I do appreciate the refund. Though to me it felt like 3-days into the cycle didn’t justify keeping my entire monthly fee, I now understand that the timing of “their systems” didn’t quite jive with my understanding of when billing actually happened. More importantly, and to be fair to Infusionsoft, I did agree to their terms and conditions when I initially became a customer.

The refund is a nice gesture and…

2. I received the email 18 days after I wrote my blog post. The post was circulated widely through Twitter, LinkedIn and by my blog followers but I’m hearing from someone 18 days later? Though I didn’t expect a response at all, the fact that this wasn’t picked up sooner is surprising. Are Infusionsoft folks not monitoring the net and social networks for mention of them? Or did they pick the post up within a day or so and then spent 2-weeks deliberating what to do?

3. My colleague, Jonathan Farrington would argue that Infusionsoft wouldn’t have done anything if I had not written a blog post that cast their company in a negative light. That’s probably true. The question is…should you wait until someone calls you out online before you decide to do something? I did ask the billing folks to refund my money given I was barely 3-days into the billing cycle. Aren’t their employees empowered to “do the right thing” immediately?

Then there is the justification…

4. Is the “justification” for Infusionsoft policies and their behind the scenes reasoning warranted when sending me the conciliatory email? Probably not. It always bugs me when a company (or person) says, “We value your feedback.” and then goes on to tell you all the reasons why they do what they do.

“We don’t have online cancellations for several reasons, one of which is we have customers that we talk with every day that needed extra help, or specific consulting that have actually stayed with us and been very successful in using the application.”

Perhaps Infusionsoft does have customers who don’t know the difference between contacting tech support for help and canceling their account. I don’t know. But I am still asking why I had to call, talk to someone, tell them what I wanted and why, and then be forced to wait for a call back from another employee to spend more time going over it again? The process needs to be revisited.

5. What are your thoughts about being asked to “remove” or “rewrite” your blog post, because a company now tries to do the right thing?

“I would also ask that you consider removing, or rewriting the post to share that while we might have been slow to do the right thing, we did strive to get there.”

Infusionsoft made an attempt, and I do give them credit for it. But no, I won’t remove my original post or rewrite history; the story happened as I told it. Thanks for the refund though.

Measuring the ROI of Social Selling

How do you measure the ROI of social selling, especially against traditional selling activities, techniques or tactics?

I always find the preoccupation with social selling ROI interesting. Why such an emphasis on whether or not using social networks as part of the selling process is working when typically, sales leaders NEVER evaluate what their sales people are doing when they are not in the office. In other words, do they question the ROI or evaluate the effectiveness of the phone calls, lunch meetings, networking events or conferences that their reps attend?

I know sales people who meet with anyone who has a pulse. Where is the ROI in that?sellersusingsocial

But, of course, I agree that measuring activity – all sales activity and that includes the use of social media for selling – is very important. I also know that social selling actually can lead to sales people achieving their quota’s more often.

Measuring ROI doesn’t have to be challenging. If you read my work or have heard me speak, you know that I advocate strategy, skills and execution as the recipe for success. Your strategy – or call it a plan – also includes the things you want to track.

 Activities to Track

I’m just going to assume that your sales people have decked out their LinkedIn profile. At this point, that should be the obvious first step, but you might want to thereafter track how often they change up white papers, case studies or topical presentations on their profiles. At a minimum, I suggest changing out that content once a month.

Other activities to measure, which most sellers are usually most interested in are:

  • Size and quality of LinkedIn connections that are a mix of people who can refer business and/or can buy from your company. This is NOT simply a numbers game. If you are not connected to potential buyers or people who can refer business to you and you to them, the power of using LinkedIn has been missed.
  • Number of referrals received and from whom. Nothing gets you in the door more quickly than a referral from someone trusted and respected. As much as 44% f the time, you can secure that meeting. Sponsored by a trusted insider at the prospect company? The meeting acceptance rate jumps to 84% based on cited statistics in Selling to the C-Suite.
  • Number of net/new meetings – discovered and cultivated via social – with qualified prospects conducted each week, month, quarter. This can be tough because there is generally not a “straight line” between the actual activity and the ability to secure a meeting. Sooo…your sales people need to get in the habit of asking – then writing down- how a prospect proactively reached out to them or how the process of securing that meeting happened.

Speaking on webinars, conferences or participating on panels is an excellent way to gain visibility, but choose wisely. Even if I speak to 60 people, I can’t necessarily draw a straight line to a sale. It is a combination of things that lead to visibility.

Influence Counts Too

Driving revenue is obviously a sellers job, but that should not be to only measure of your effectiveness using social media. What about influence? You can use Klout to determine how well you influence your network.

Or, use TweetReach to judge the effectiveness of your tweets.

You should pay attention to the people commenting on your status updates on LinkedIn or how many people started to connect with you because they like what you post in groups.

And, continue the practice of giving things away that you can track. Presentations or webcasts shared via Slideshare, “how to” guides, ebook or white paper that be downloaded off the web, shared after speaking at an event or posted on your LinkedIn profile.

Focus on the Important

Don’t believe the hype that using social selling strategies leads to an immediate explosion of leads in the pipeline or revenue closing by itself over night. Like anything else, sales success takes consistent hard work and with buyers connected to multiple communication platforms, your sales people need to be ready.

But the most important thing to keep in mind… determining real ROI is about focus on the right activity not just the fluffy stuff.

Expert: Leader, Follower or Copycat?

When it comes to social media, probably 4 in 5 people you meet these days are experts. A quick Internet search reveals there are 310Genius baby million “social media” experts with 166 million grabbing the “social selling” expert moniker. That’s a lot of experts.

The problem, as I see it, is that “social media” is so big, so broad and so misunderstood that it is tough to pinpoint what expert really means. How do you really know if you are talking to one? Are you talking to someone who leads, follows or just copycat’s the work of others?

It takes 10,000 Hours (or close to it) 

Just yesterday I was interviewed for an edition of Top Sales World’s HardTalk podcast series. While talking to Jonathan Farrington about what it means to be an expert, for grins, I had looked up the definition before we got started with the interview. With so much noise being created by self-proclaimed experts, potential customers need a way to determine who’s got the goods and who does not, which might be tough if they aren’t even sure of the questions to ask or what skills to vet.

As defined on Wikipedia, “Experts have a prolonged or intense experience through practice and education in a particular field.”

While some will argue that you don’t need the 10,000 hours of experience that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in Outliers, I happen to believe that demonstrable experience actually matters. Do you think someone with no athletic experience can take up figure skating and within a year be competing in the Olympics? Anything is possible, but I’ve  NEVER heard of it happening.

Gladwell said in his book that “the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.” If you did nothing else but study, work with clients and practice your craft 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you could get there in just over a year. Of course, we all know that isn’t realistic at all. More likely, we are talking in the neighborhood of five years at least. Expert status, I believe, takes time, it takes hard work and especially where social media is concerned, you must be constantly learning and adapting.

Tactics and One Trick Ponies

When it gets right down to it, you know you are talking to someone with social media chops when they demonstrate breadth and depth of knowledge of the various platforms and how they fit together. You may be a really good LinkedIn trainer, but that does not make you a social media (or social selling) expert. Someone who understands social media strategy and how it impacts Sales, Marketing and Service will have a clear sense of best practices, and they will also know where the potential for disaster or failure lies. They will be able to show you the strategic work that they’ve done.

Be wary of one proven process or one way of approaching things. What works for one customer won’t necessarily work for another one.  A truly experienced social media player knows that it all begins with strategy and that strategy is crafted after you invest the time to understand the core of a customers business. Tactics come after strategy and not the other way around.

Buyer Beware

At the end of the day, I suppose it is the way of the world. People latch onto hot ideas and hot terms and want to ride the wave without learning how to surf. But trusting your reputation, your sales and your business to “experts” could be dangerous. You may find out that all they are expert in is taking taking your money.


It’s All in the Details

As a new member of a non-profit board, the chair recently asked all of us to complete the Everything DiSC Work of Leaders assessment. Having completed a number ofbob the builderassessments through the years – Myers Briggs, DiSC, Hermann Brain Dominance, Strengths Finder, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 – the results were no big surprise. As Popeye would say, I am what I am. Still, I always find the data helpful in reminding me where I might have blind spots or where certain situations and people may challenge me.

Understanding personality and behavioral styles is a good thing. In business we deal with people. For sellers who understand style differences and how that plays out in sales meetings and communication, it can give them a real leg up when selling. When they adapt their style to give their buyers what they need, deals are won more often than lost. Sell the same way to everyone and the probability of missed opportunities increases.

Let’s say that your style is more high level thinker, optimistic and good at verbal communication but you tend to gloss over the details. If your buyer happens to have a style that requires details to make an informed decision, you need to be prepared to go there. If you try to reassure them through promises that you’ll do whatever it takes, that just will not be enough.

So assessments and understanding human behavior can be helpful in selling and in all interactions with other people.

Where assessments – and they are assessments not tests – become problematic is if other people try to box you in based on your style designation. This assumes that an assessment score is the sum total of who you are as an individual. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Assessments provide big clues as to a person’s dominant way of thinking, behaving or decision making, but even two people with the same style designation are not exactly the same. And, in the case of DiSC, which is based on four quadrants, you may be most dominant in two of them but that doesn’t mean you have no strength in the other areas.

If you don’t know DiSC, let me briefly break down the four quadrants.

  • D=Dominance. Priorities include Results, Action, Competency. Avoid the small talk and focus on demonstrating quick, confident action.
  • i= Influence. Priorities include Enthusiasm, Action, Relationships. Upbeat, outgoing, openness is important. Negativity, too many details or detached people are bothersome.
  • S=Steadiness. Priorities include Sincerity, Relationships, Dependability. Casual and low key, these folks like predictable, harmonious environments.
  • C=Conscientiousness. Priorities include Quality, Competency, Dependability. Quality and high standards is of utmost importance. Be prepared to present logical reasons for decisions.

Curious about my style?

My style is a balanced Di. These are my natural tendencies. Core priorities that shape my leader traits are:

  • Being Pioneering – strategic, big picture thinker, I often see trends ahead of others. Always willing to risk trying something new and untested.
  • Being Commanding – that’s the D in me. I will drive for results. Meeting after meeting but accomplishing very little or nothing at all… makes me nuts.
  • Being Energizing – positive, glass half full gal is who I am. I believe the best in others until they prove me wrong. I tend to focus on what we CAN DO not what someone thinks we can’t.
  • Being Affirming – seeking to include others comes naturally. Collaborative in nature, I like to share and acknowledge the good work of others.

And while these four descriptions are accurate, they are not the total picture of Barb. Though details can sometimes bore me, my style does not mean that I am not a detail oriented person. It means that you wouldn’t want to place me in a role that required detailed work 100% of the time. It drains my energy, and I’m the first to tell you that looking at detailed spreadsheets can make my head spin. But I’m pretty darn detailed when I need to be. If it is important, I do it. To assume otherwise strictly based on my personality type is incorrect and unfair.

What got me thinking about how people make assumptions about each other, especially when you complete assessments and share results among team members, is a comment made at recent meeting. The conversation related to a particular project that I am responsible for and jokingly someone said, its good that so & so is on your team because you aren’t much for details. It was a stupid thing to say. It is untrue and disrespectful. As a practitioner in the field of people development, that individual should know better.

Human beings have so much more depth than any assessment, regardless how detailed or scientifically validated it is, can ever fully describe. In team building, coaching or hiring, use assessments to provide insight about the styles of others, but never assume you know all there is to know about them.

It’s More Complicated Than That

“Become disenchanted with anything that takes complex subjects and breaks them down into “Top 10” lists.” – Brian SolisWell-known physical formula

Social media has changed business. Today’s buyer looks nothing like the buyers I first met when I began selling 25 years ago. Technology allows them to evade us, block us and downright ignore us if they so choose. It’s a new world, and if you don’t think so, I’m worried for your future in selling.

Anyone who reads my blog posts or articles knows that I am unwavering in my belief that WHAT you sell is less important than HOW you sell. For the sales reps who have, to this point, made a pretty good living selling through feature dumps or demos, understanding that the “what” is less relevant now is a tough transition to make.

That I keep seeing questions or conversations about how to better “cold call” tells me that we have a lot of sellers stuck in the past. A member in one my LinkedIn sales groups asked if you should leave a voice mail when calling someone you don’t know. Group members actually debated techniques…yes, no, phone number in the beginning, compelling pitch in the beginning, phone number at the end… really? Instead of trying to improve upon an outdated mousetrap, get a new one.

Change is needed and it isn’t simple.

I follow a number of highly regarded leaders in sales. One of those leaders is Tamara Schenk, who writes an excellent blog that you should follow. Her recent post on the difference between simplification and simplicity is brilliant. It crystallized for me what the problem is related to the thundering din that is social selling. In their attempts to make social selling sound simple, the usual suspects have created a loud, confusing mass of noise that leaves sales leaders either completely confused – OR – they mistakenly assume, because that’s what they’ve been told, that if their sales people just follow a prescribed set of steps, their sales challenges will dissipate.

There is NO one size fits all.

Are there tactical elements that typically lead to success when using social for selling? Of course. Will they work for every seller, in every industry the same way? No. Should you even start with tactics in the first place? Absolutely not.

You see, that’s the biggest gripe I have regarding the chatter that largely surrounds social selling. It is surface at best. The message has become… just deck out your LinkedIn profile, send InMail to the prospects on your search lists, Tweet the content of industry influencers – so that they will one day reciprocate – and share a few blog posts… boom, you are now a social seller. The top of your funnel will magically fill up, decision makers will scramble to clear their calendars to see you, and deals will close in no time. You wish.

If it were easy, everyone would be doing it and succeeding.

“As customers make their decisions differently, every time, because their situation is different – so do sales leaders. There are no silver bullets. Every sales organization’s challenges are specific. Every sales organization’s customers are different. The way that your specific customers want to engage with your sales organization is different as well.” –Tamara Schenk

Social selling is not simply about adopting a new set of “tools”. Success requires developing a new mindset related to selling entirely. A change is required in attitude, approach, process and skill set. Change is tough, it can be messy, and it is painful in the beginning. Leaders must think holistically about what needs to change, what they have to work with – people, tools, process – and what they need that is missing.

I’m not saying don’t give sales people LinkedIn training, but I am saying that isn’t the first place to start. And if that’s all you do, expect limited results.