Built into the DNA of a great many CEOs is a strong and often overwhelming desire to tell the story of their company. CEOs seek to give life, meaning, and purpose to why they are in business. Woven into the fabric of CEO presentations are statements and proclamations of what the company believes in, mission and value statements, its obligation to the community, the value and strength of its people, and so forth. Many times these presentations are uttered at the wrong time, to the wrong audience, for the wrong reasons.
The most common of the wrong reasons is to convince buyers early in a sales cycle that the company is different and better suited to provide whatever product and/or service that is being offered. There are instances when the CEO can get away with promoting the "greater good" of his or her company; the problem is that usually he or she is unaware of the potentially devastating impact this can have on the way the company sells.
While CEOs search for the right spin to give their story in light of the audience and competitive landscape, the people who are listening most intently are salespeople. Why? The salespeople are looking for a silver bullet phrase or argument to use next time that will help position themselves and their company as the lead vendor. Unfortunately, most potential customers tune out this (often meaningless) speech because they have heard it all before.
Take a look at this positioning statement from the Web site of a mid-sized company:
"Our unique combination of services and unmatched industry experience spans all business processes and business and operational support systems. Our customers are among the largest, most powerful companies in the world. We strive to anticipate and nurture their evolution with thought leadership and technology innovation."
It's hard to imagine how this statement will help a potential buyer distinguish this company from others. The company that will win is the one that best demonstrates it understands the prospect's business needs and current situation, and has offered a means to help them achieve their goals.
When CEOs make sales calls that sound like investor presentations, are they selling or marketing? A meeting with a potential customer is a great opportunity for a potential customer to reach the conclusion that you understand their company's situation and needs-or not. If you are "telling your story" to prospective customers instead of asking about their business, how will they ever find out?
Many salespeople think selling is about telling your story. Here are three simple tests to determine if you are selling or marketing:
Check #1: Does your company have a standard corporate presentation (or sales presentation) that salespeople use to tell your story?
If so, my first recommendation is to stop salespeople from using it. Why? It disables salespeople from having effective conversations (two way dialog) where buyers can conclude that you are different. You become different by diagnostically probing deeply into the current situation and helping buyers visualize how they can solve a business problem. Diagnostics are the key to successful sales behavior.
Check #2: Do your salespeople bring laptops to meet with customers?
If so, take them away and give them a yellow pad and a supply of pens. Laptops encourage presentations and demos. Until the salesperson has fully and completely diagnosed the buyer's situation and need, anything they present or demonstrate will be generic. Buyers are looking for you to understand their unique business, unique environment, and unique business problem. There is nothing unique about a canned presentation or demo.
Check #3: Does your company try to emulate the presentations you give as CEO (strategic positioning, mission, values, people, etc.) when meeting with prospects?
If so, your company has confused marketing with selling. In order to have effective calls with prospects and customers, salespeople need to be armed with a diagnostic roadmap. They need to know which questions to ask and how to ask them in such a way that the customer will conclude:
- you understand their business;
- you understand their business goal or problem; and
- you can help them.
About the Author
Jim Lewis is president of Princeton Sales Partners. He is a CustomerCentric Selling business partner and the author of Five Deadly Sins CEOs Make in Sales. Lewis resides in Princeton, New Jersey and can be reached at 1.609.333.9785 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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