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Social Selling: Rule #6 Slay Real Dragons

Your role is to enable your customers to meet their needs, grasp their opportunities, and defend against their threats.  Whether you like it or not (and I happen to like it a lot) that’s how your customers see your role.  If you’re not doing one of those three things, you’re a distracting and useless waste of time. Period.

Got your attention yet?  Good.  The salespeople who are using social selling (resources and methods) most effectively are making one of those three things happen for each customer.  They are working to understand exactly how the customer sees their own needs, opportunities, and threats and then to do something about them.

Can you help your customer solve large-scale problems? Let me ask the question another way. When you weld the value you, the salesperson, can create yourself (personally and directly) onto the value that can be created by the products and service you sell, can you slay a dragon-sized problem? I suspect the answer is yes. 

In the earlier posts in this series, I’ve made the case for developing substantial and influential relationships using all of social selling.  But to deserve and keep those relationships long-term you need to go somewhere with them.  You need to deliver value that your customer contacts see as significant.  Three things are required if you’re going after dragon-sized issues with your customers.

1.  Find and Agree on the Dragons  This seems obvious.  In practice, it isn’t.  Regardless of the sales model on which your company’s sales process is built (SPIN, Challenger, ROI, SNAP, Consultative / Solution, High Trust, or Agile) the initial foundation remains consistent through them all: You and the customer must understand and agree on circumstances that are worth changing.

Whether you lead the customer to that shared understanding or whether they lead you to it is immaterial.  Yes, there are methodologies like SPIN Selling that work exceptionally well to create that shared understanding.  Yes, much of the time you’ll need to reframe the circumstances so that the customer sees the situation as you do.  But the point is getting there, and getting to a “there” that’s big and gnarly enough to be worth battling.

What would a decision-maker, particularly an executive high up in one of your customer companies, agree is a dragon-sized issue?  Most often, it is dragon-sized if it affects the organization in one of two ways.

Survival / Cash Flow  These are issues that threaten the very existence of the organization, at least in its present form.  Companies can grow themselves out of business if they run out of cash to sustain them through that growth.  So cash flow is genuinely a survival issue for every ranking executive, not merely the green-eye-shaded Chicken Little’s in accounting.  It matters.

There are other Extinction-Level threats you’ll uncover in a customer organization.  And they will certainly be labeled “dragon-sized.”  Those can include competitive threats, major changes in the behavior of your customer’s customers, the price or availability of raw materials, regulation, supply chain disruptions, channel and distribution disruptions, and a host of others.  That’s why it is vitally important that you understand and track your customer’s performance and circumstances. That’s how you’ll stay alert for survival-threatening issues.

Profit / Growth  The other large category of issues that will earn that dragon-sized label are those that have a material effect on profits and growth.  And that applies even to organizations that are nominally classified as “not for profit.”  (Talk to any association executive and have her tell you how important the association’s “net income” is at the end of the year when they net expenses against income.)  This category is where you will find most of your opportunities to have a dragon-sized impact.

There’s an accounting concept that’s very useful to top-flight salespeople: Is it “material?”  I won’t wade into the nonsense that has swirled around the term “material effect” for more than ten years following Sarbanes Oxley.   Instead, I’ll use the very useful rule-of-thumb that accountants and auditors have used for decades by asking this question:  Will solving the problem (or meeting the need, or grasping the opportunity) make at least a 5% difference to the customer’s bottom line for the year?  Note, I didn’t say five percentage points.  I asked whether you could make a five percent improvement on their results by slaying that particular dragon successfully.  If so, your solution will have a “material effect” on their results.  There is no executive who can afford to ignore it when someone presents them with an opportunity to “make a positive material impact” on their results.

Here’s how to do the math, and it’s easy.  Let’s say that your customer has $100 million in revenue for the year.  At a ten-percent profit margin, they are netting $10 million each year (exceptionally high, but easy math).  Anything that would swing that up or down by $50,000 or more (a five-percent change) is big enough to be labeled “material.”  That means if you can make a $50,000 positive impact on a $100 million enterprise, or a $25,000 impact on a $50 million enterprise, you can make an impact that even the CEO cannot legitimately ignore.  And that scale of impact is well within the reach of most B2B salespeople.

If you want a customer executive to give serious consideration to any overture or proposal you’ll make at any point in your sales process, the best way to guarantee their rapt attention is to demonstrate the potential to have a material impact on their enterprise.  And it is that material impact test that tells you whether you’re making an enterprise level sale or not.

An “enterprise” opportunity is mistakenly associated with Fortune 1000 companies.  And that’s misleading.  An enterprise opportunity, deal, or relationship is one that the customer sees as very important or vital to the health and success of their enterprise.  That means you can create enterprise-level (vitally important) impact for organizations of all sizes. 

2.  Focus on Customer Outcomes  Again, this seems obvious.  But too often it is simply overlooked by salespeople who are mid-range performers, and even those who are working to use social selling resources and methods.  A focus on customer outcomes is the only thing that will get you (and keep you) taken seriously by a C-level (or near C-level) customer executive.

I’ve long been a fan of the “So What?” test.  I apply it everywhere.  It certainly applies to branding, all marketing messages, and even to the design of a remarkable and memorable customer experience.  But it especially applies to salespeople who want to earn, develop, and retain long-term relationships with executive-level decision-makers.  It needs to be a constant script running in your head as you prepare for any conversation or communication.  If the customer can ask “So What?” of your message, and not come up with a compelling answer, you may as well have skipped communicating completely.

Here’s another way to look at it:  Greg Galle, co-founder of Future Partners, gets the credit for demanding that his clients formulate straight answers to three simple questions:  Who are you?   What do you do?   Why does it matter? 

To Galle’s three questions, which he asks of brands and marketing, I’d add a fourth specifically for salespeople:  Does it matter enough?

The last two questions are direct enough to be harsh.  But if you cannot deliver a clear, cogent, and direct answer to either of those, then you’ll fall off the radar of an executive-level decision-maker and fast.

3.  Make Audacious Commitments  This one stretches salespeople and their companies consistently.  That’s because it runs directly contrary to the old and hairy axiom, “Under promise and over-deliver.”  The axiom is bunk.  If you under-promise to me, I’ll yawn and turn my attention elsewhere.  In that I’m typical.

You don’t win and hold attention without wowing.  Unless and until the commitment that you and your company are prepared to make reaches a “wow” you’re unlikely to leverage your hard-won relationship effectively for the benefit of your customer, yourself, and your company.  So what makes a commitment a wow?  Wow commitments are tangible, memorable, and genuinely superior.

Tangible.  You need to promise a measurable outcome.  And an intermediate or activity-based measure doesn’t cut it.  Too much of sales / marketing automation focuses on activities and intermediate metrics.  Your customer executives aren’t interested in activity, they are interested in measurable, financial results.  The bottom line really is the bottom line.  So “clicks” and “views” are not nearly as compelling as a commitment for a percentage or dollar gain in revenue, in net income, or in expense reduction. 

Don’t miss the opportunity to calculate and document that measurable outcome.  At the very least, be specific about the minimum ROI the customer can count on from your offer.  If that ROI is material to the performance of her firm, you’re on your way.

Memorable  Frame your commitment in clear language that’s direct and powerful.  It should look something like this:  “You will be able to (outcome) by (measurement / dollars) because we will (action).  This requires your commitment of (resources) which will be returned by (date).”  This is powerful because it cuts through the hedging and dumps all of the qualifiers that your customers are accustomed to seeing from others.

Genuinely Superior  Nearly everyone reading this has competitors.  For most of you, those are direct competitors.  For some, your competitors are substitutionary rather than offers of direct replacements for your products and services.  To make a dragon-slaying offer to a C-level decision-maker, your need to propose value that she sees as genuinely superior to what she would expect from others.  If your proposal offers results that are material to her enterprise, you’re likely there already.  Because you’re framing your results as I’ve described, those results should be seen as superior when compared with offers focused on prices, features, and benefits. 

The top-flight salespeople I know maintain relationships by solving big, important, expensive and painful challenges for their customers.  They enable their customers to take advantage of dragon-scale opportunities.  So tell me, are you reaching for dragon-sized challenges as your customers would define them?  Or are you chinning yourself on the curb?

What do you think?
Part of my practice is training and direct coaching of sales managers and individual salespeople. If you or your company might benefit, let’s talk. If this article was valuable or useful, please comment.  That tells me to keep at it. And please share the article through your own social media platforms. Start or join a conversation. Ask questions. Comment. Make a snide remark. I appreciate them all.