What kind of live entertainment do you enjoy? Football, ballet, opera, theatre, art exhibitions, bullfighting , pole dancing, pop music, Hawaiian nose flutes?
If you asked 100 CEOs that question you’d get a lot of very different answers. If you drilled down even further within a genre – for example football or pop music – you’d get 100 very different answers. Because everyone is unique and everyone values different things.
And yet when it comes to sales we try to capture people’s attention using a single “value proposition“, a one size fits all description of what we do for them.
Well, have I got news for you. One size fits all doesn’t even work for socks or underwear. So how can it possibly work in something as complex as B2B sales? Sure, it’s better to have a value proposition than not to. But a value proposition by itself is useless. It’s only a starting point, not the answer. Anyone who says “lead with your value proposition” when reaching out to potential customers is living in the 1970s.
It’s a step ahead of “always be closing” but a long way behind what works today.
I love football – soccer to you – so if your market is “people who like sport” and your value proposition is “we have tickets to the Australian Open Golf” I’m not interested. But drilling down, if you offer me tickets to see Arsenal play Chelsea I might be interested – but certainly not if Swindon Town is playing the same day, because first and foremost I’m a Swindon fan.
Similarly, if you offer me front row seats for Celine Dion I’ll yawn. But I’ll snap your hand off to see Green Day, the Arctic Monkeys, Muse or Al Stewart.
My particular tastes aside, my point is that what people value is very individual. Similarly, what a C Level executive values, and equally important what they prioritise, depends many things; the industry they’re in, their size, their customers, the political environment, their position in the company, the specific issues in that company and more besides.
Here in Australia there’s currently a Royal Commission into corporate malfeasance in the Aged Care industry. It’s a pretty safe bet that this issue is top priority for Aged Care CEOs right now.
If that’s your market and your value proposition is something like “We help Aged Care Companies to reduce costs by 15% while maintaining resident standards” you’ll likely get short shrift. On the other hand if you approach the CEO of an Aged Care company and say “15 of your 30 homes are currently under sanction for non compliance – we can help you fix that, let’s talk” you’ll probably get the same reaction I’d give for front row seats to Billy Idol.
In all the arguments about inbound vs outbound, social selling vs cold calling, email vs LinkedIn, automatic diallers, account based marketing, ‘bots and cookies, text and Twitter we’ve forgotten that they’re all simply delivery mechanisms, ways to get our message to a potential customer. We’re so busy bombarding prospects with messages via different channels to showcase our “unique selling proposition’ and “value proposition” we’ve forgotten a few key facts. They are:
- It’s not the medium, it’s the message
- Prospects don’t give a damn about you, your customers, your awards, your new office, your position in the Gartner magic quadrant or your value proposition. They only care about themselves and their own problems and opportunities.
- You aren’t the only one bombarding them with messages about your value proposition. So are hundreds of other companies that want a slice of their time. There are more value propositions floating around the ether than Boris Johnson’s positions on Brexit.
- No CEO level executive can focus on the dozens of challenges they face at the same time. They have priorities and their focus is on their top few priorities
- Prospects don’t see themselves as part of a large amorphous group. They see themselves as being part of a much smaller group. I’m not just a football fan, I’m a Swindon Town fan. I’m not just a concert goer – I go see the artists I love. Because, like companies, I have limited time, attention and money.
When you first approach a prospect (ideally at C level if you sell high value products and services) the channel you use is almost irrelevant as long as your message gets through – and as long as it’s something they care about. (For the record I still find a combination of phone and email the most effective and the fastest). The keys to getting that all important first sales meeting with a senior executive are deceptively simple.
- Choose your targets well – better to approach your top 50 ideal prospects intelligently than to target 1,000 with a generic message. You can always add more as they drop out
- Understand what they value and what their priorities are from their perspective (things that you can help them with, of course)
- Understand what your initial objective is and stick to it – scheduling a meeting, nothing else. The rest will follow
- Work out the best way to get your message to them so they will receive it, pay attention to it and it doesn’t get lost in the tsunami of messages everyone else is sending them.
- Have a plan for every contingency – what do you do if you get voice mail, get the Executive Assistant, if the prospect picks up, etc.?
- Make it personal – talk to one person at a time, not a group.
- Don’t lead with your value proposition, lead with their problem/issue.
For example, recently I’ve been scheduling some high level meetings for a client (Cabinet Ministers, Heads of Government Departments, Presidents of National Organisations, etc). This very simple phone/email/phone approach has worked very well when speaking to the executives’ EAs.
Me: “Hi, I’d like to schedule a meeting with <name>, what’s the best way to do that?”
EA: ‘What’s it about?”
Me: “Last week <the prospect> said <insert comment>. I’ve been talking to <mention relevant people> on the topic and the MD of <my client> would like to discuss it with him/her. Would it help you if I sent more information?”
EA “OK, send me details“.
I’ve never yet had an EA say “No” to my offer of more information. When I do send the email I focus entirely on the issue I’d like to discuss, not on my client (except for some brief credibility info) and definitely not on the product. Then I call back 20 minutes later to make sure it arrived, to build more rapport, to make sure they remember me for next time and to ask “When might he/she get a chance to look at that?” and arrange a call back time.
Between 50% and 75% of the time it results in an appointment. When it doesn’t I have plans B, C, D, E and F in hand. And every person I meet is another implied reference, as in “I was talking to <relevant important person> about this and she/he suggested I speak with you“.
The communication channel is secondary to the content of the message. That message shouldn’t be about you and your standard value proposition. It should be about them, what they value and what their current priorities are.
When everyone does the same thing you need to stand out. When everyone is trying (and usually failing at) social selling, mass mail outs, automation, bland value propositions and doing more, more, more, you can stand out by doing a lot less. But do it strategically, intelligently and make it personal.