Sales is not the easiest part in building a business. Initially it is not that hard. When operating small-scale, in a network, there are enough opportunities for all resources to land interesting assignments. What really happens is that individual people are contracted by people who trust them. That is not the same as a steady stream of qualified opportunities, but at the same time it is exactly the kind of interaction that is the basis of growth. In our business, you do not sell solutions. Solutions suggest productized, labeled propositions that solve a specific problem. Find the problem, sell the solution. That is how most sales people operate. Have a catalog, make a shortlist, bug and beg potential clients for orders, and move on. The focus is on the short-term, on the transaction, and social skills are more important than content or curiosity. We believe in the long-term relationships, in the content, in genuine interest in each others’ success. Our assets are a network of people, the knowledge and experience they have, and the ability to increase, share and use this knowledge. This area is what the original founders are most interested in. The keywords were Autonomy, Mastery, Contribution and Peers. We wanted to work with peers that shared interests, but are autonomous thinkers, Masters of their trade, together making a real contribution to our clients, to each other, maybe even to the world. Finding these peers, interesting them in what we are doing, sharing ideas and knowledge and developing cohesion is all good fun, but does not constitute a business.
The Asset side has to be mirrored by a Productivity side, in the same way the balance sheet is mirrored by the Profit and Loss statement.
The areas to address on the P&L side are assembling a Portfolio of services – or areas of expertise – Sales and Delivery. Delivery is what most people are interested in: working with clients is the ultimate goal of most professionals. Luckily the more entrepreneurial ones among is are also interested in developing a portfolio, but sales… A necessary evil. Not at all! Our sales is the result of everything we do, not the starting point. We research, we talk, we share, we discuss, we discover. And our clients do the same. In the process the opportunities arise. All we had to do is create a process and tools to store and qualify the opportunities, get the confirmation that we may do the assignments and deliver. Luckily we were able to attract commercial professionals like Mario School to do this with us.
Our views on Marketing (for whom do we want to do what) and Sales (how do we get the orders) were most influenced by Bob Bloom and by the ideas of Miller Heiman.
I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Bloom, authority on business growth and author of ‘The Inside Advantage‘ last year, thanks to Kees de Jong. Bloom began as an entrepreneur, and grew a local advertising agency into a successful national agency.He later became the US Chairman and CEO of Publicis Worldwide. As the leader of a $4.6 billion global marketing services company, he worked on the strategies of some of the world’s largest companies and brands Such as BMW, L’Oreal, Nestle’, Whirlpool, and T-Mobile.
In a few hours Bob takes you through a process that will help you identify the core strengths inside your business and create a realistic, low-cost strategy that will quickly drive growth. He simplifies the growth process into four steps: “who, what, how and own it”. Although he made his money in advertising, he strongly believes that “every business must find a way to grow top line without investing in infrastructure or advertising. Just capitalize on the firm’s undiscovered or under-utilized inside advantage and use the firm’s absolutely free internal resource – imagination.” Ok, it sounds like an advertisement, but it is not. Bob must be close to seventy (and looks it, too), and does not have much to sell, except his books. He does not need to either, I assume. Anyway, a short summary, and how we have incorporated his approach:
In Bob’s world, simple is better than complex. All you have to do is discover and put to use the “uncommon advantage”.
Don’t spend too much time and energy on Brand Building and Tag lines. Customers know too much to be fooled. Instead, consistent focus on Uncommon Offering will cement what the Brand stands for. And this will only work when there is internal consensus and alignment behind uncommon strategic offering. A few nice one-liners:
Strive for customer preference, not loyalty – it does not exist anymore
Create preference by Performing and staying top-of-mind
Insufficient Prospect to Customer conversion is deadly – Get them
Churn is deadly – Retain them
Nothing is more valuable than Ambassadors – Focus on referral for Growth
The four steps:
1. Who. The Archetypal core customer most likely to buy our services in a quantity required to make a profit. We must know them individually well enough to understand his needs, concerns and desires to deliver tangible and emotional benefits. In one of his famous examples he talks about how to identify the Who for real orange juice; “Juicy Juice is Mom’s ally, giving her nutrition that kids love. It’s the very best juice for the very best kids”. Feel a bit like preying on a mothers worries and guilt.
In general, this should be simple: your Who is probably very much like our most valuable customer. If we have to give a definition, it would look something like this: Self-aware capable executives of growing companies, who want access to trusted people, solutions and opportunities to execute their strategies.
2. What: The offering that we can own. This offering should be understood in terms of real benefits as well as emotional ones (addressing wants, needs, aspirations, concerns, apprehensions and fears) not only in terms of the transaction. During the growth cycle the offering will have to be enhanced continuously, both to construct an expensive barrier for the competition, and to sustain ownership of our offering. In our situation: An intimate network of capable people who support in strategy execution, and enabling access to insights and opportunities.
3. How: What persuasive strategy will you develop, or what do you have to do that will convince the core customer to buy our uncommon offering? Again keep it simple: action oriented: What will the What do: honestly and achievable. What we strive for: Get our customers connected and make them successful inside and outside their current companies.
4. Own it and execute it: through consistent engagement, build an enduring relationship, develop an external communication strategy, that will you’re your business well-known for your offering (in our case: based on content), but only to the people critical to growth. We have chosen to spend our time and money where our passion lies: one on one with interesting people, focused on subjects that really interest us, such as food (WhatsQooking events), business development, portfolio- and programme management. We organize intimate events, invite speakers, provide training, coaching for our own people. Clients can participate free of charge.
Like I said, Bob likes it simple. Four steps to create a marketing strategy, four chances to create customer preference – or to generate revenue. In the end it all boils down to likeability, trust, performance and reciprocity. In all cases, preference is based on: how good we are at meeting the wants, needs, and aspirations and at reducing the apprehensions, concerns and fears of our clients.
This requires not only a sound strategy, combined with the right structure – with incentives for all who work with us to participate – and imagination.
1. Engage: Now or Never Moment. Based on research, we talk to people all day every day, we listen, we ask what is on their professional and personal agenda, and we learn about wants, needs, aspirations. If anything, we discuss how we look at value creation, at benefits. We discover where we can be of use, where we can help. We interact.
2. get: Make or Break Moment: This is the good old sales effort, where interaction can lead to transaction, and where we need to demonstrate continuous engagement, also if a transaction is not in the cards.
To channel our efforts, we have chosen Miller Heiman processes to bring some logic and consistency into everything that must be done before face-to-face contact with our clients. That ensures that the small amount of time with the customer is used to best effect. If anything it provides a common language that helps communication, but also it helps us understand how buying decision will be made, qualifies the opportunity, uncovers our strengths and added value, and provides a prioritized action plan for the most promising opportunities. Our network, leads and opportunities are documented in salesforce.com (and in an add-on called Jobscience for candidates), and we will are now also using the Miller Heiman add-on, so we have Goldsheets in the same place as the rest of the relevant information.
3. Keep: Keep or Lose Moment: This can only be the most critical part of our business. We have to ensure performance and customer benefits. We try to make them measurable and report on them, and we have to deal with complaints. That is not easy for a startup business, but luckily we have people who understand the importance. This month Peter Rappange has started to help one of our customers with a project free of charge after one of our associates did a less than perfect job for this client. If he has to be there for two months, than that is what he will do.
4. Grow: Multiplier Moment
Happy successful clients, dying to be our ambassadors, referring all their peers and colleagues to us. It sounds so easy, and it can be. My experience is that people will gladly be an ambassador – if you ask for help.
If it was all this simple, we would not have grown 100% each year, but 500%. Sales is not easy. People who used to be in charge of something, and sometimes of something big, find it difficult to approach people in their network “with the intent to sell”. It almost sounds like a crime. At least it is not considered very chique, especially not if you were the one people approached in the past to sell something to. That probably is the whole point. So many salesmen and –women still use the bug and beg approach, trying to convince potential customers that they have a problem that can and should be solved by one of the tricks of the salesman’s company. Ours will have to be selling professionals not professional salesmen.
Still, sales is fun.