The Sales Blog Interview: Jill Konrath and SNAP Selling (Part Two)

This is part two of my interview with Jill Konrath on her new book SNAP Selling. Here is part one.

ANTHONY: That sets us up perfectly for my next question. I’ll read you a quote; you know the author. “The only chance to truly differentiate yourself today lies in the value you personally bring to the relationship.” I love the quote. Playing off of what we have just talked about, in addition to business acumen, what else do salespeople today need to do to become real value creators? What skills and attributes do they need to develop?

JILL: It starts out with curiosity, first of all. You need to be out there asking questions, “how are you doing this,” and “why are you doing this?” When you bring it all together, you are searching for something, and you are searching for ways to help improve your customer’s business. What you need to do is look for the problems that they are having. So what are the issues that they are facing and how can I bring them ideas, insights, and information that will help them improve their operation? How can I help them be better with what they are currently doing? How can I show them new ways and open their minds to new possibilities? How can I help them reduce their costs, even though it’s not my job to do that in another area? It’s to constantly think: “I am here to help my prospects run a better operation. What does that mean I need to do for them?”

It really relates to insights, ideas, and information. Those three things. Because if you do that, and you think that it is your role to bring them insights, ideas, and information, then you are actually irresistible to them. But if your focus in on your “leading edge, state-of-the-art technology,” or your “robust solutions,” or your “unique methodologies,” they’re just going to say you’re just like everybody else. Why should they work with you? You’re not offering them anything.

It’s interesting that you ask that question because I work with a lot of people that are envious of bigger companies. They say, “If only I worked for IBM,” or “If only I worked for Hilton,” or whatever the big company is in their industry. They have this big company envy. They think that if they could have that name behind them, that well respected brand, that life would be suddenly easier. The reality of it is, those big companies, while it’s nice to have the overall brand, their customers will still make their decision based on their interaction with the salesperson.

ANTHONY: Absolutely! In fact, sometimes the bigger the company is, the more trouble they have differentiating themselves and pulling themselves out of the pack.

JILL: Right. They’ve got a reputation that precedes them. It’s the seller that really needs to stand out, and so many sellers in big companies are still hanging on to their big company name as the reason they should do business with us. “You know I work for this big company, and we’re really cool and we’re giant. I feel you should do business with us.” They could easily be replaced by a savvy seller from a smaller or medium size company who says: “Look, I know that those big companies out there do this. But I’ve got some ideas on how to do this, and I’ve been studying your company, I’ve been researching what you are doing here. Based on this, I think we can do this to improve things.”

Suddenly the decision-makers eyes are going to light up, and they’re going to say “Oh my goodness! This is good.” And they’re going to work with that smaller company.

ANTHONY: If we’ve learned anything through this recession it’s that bigger isn’t necessarily better. Better is better. That usually comes down to people, not the company name or the size.

JILL: What really matters is the seller, and certainly it would be nice to have their organization support them well. But a well educated seller, a seller who is savvy, who knows about the business, who has ideas, insights, and information, and who isn’t thinking it’s about schlepping their stuff, they’ll stand out like a sore thumb. They can’t not be noticed, because there are so many people out there who don’t understand that the game has fundamentally changed. Decision-makers will not meet with people who don’t bring them value. They don’t have the time.

ANTHONY: This is the lead to my next question, and it’s perfect. You talk about being invaluable. You say that in order to have a chance to create value for your client, that you have to be perceived as a value creator ahead of time. You suggest, and I wholeheartedly agree with you, that before you win that opportunity to obtain your client’s business, you have to have a track record of being valuable. My personal belief is that nurturing relationship is far more valuable and far more important than any single trigger event; when a trigger event occurs, it’s much more powerful to have the relationship already in place and to already be perceived as somebody who can help. What are the primary things that salespeople should be doing to 1) become value creators, and 2) to nurture relationships before they get that opportunity to work with the client?

JILL: That’s a big question. So many sales organizations are telling their salespeople to find the low hanging fruit. They are directing them to go after the companies that are actively making decision today or have the budget coming up right now.

ANTHONY: Something both you and I disagree with.

JIll: Fundamentally disagree with. It’s interesting now that there are some statistics that are showing that things that are budgeted are not necessarily budgeted. The lion’s share of the decisions that are being made right now in organizations in the funding requests, the funding is being given to the people in the organization who come with an idea on how to improve the business operation. The funding is shifting to new ideas and people within the corporation that are bringing them ideas.

If your decision-maker can go with a powerful case on why they need to switch, they will get funding shifted to their part of the organization. So the budget is not the budget anymore. The budget is something that was allocated at the beginning of the year but subject to change at any moment based on somebody having a good business case. That being said, I believe that you are better off as a seller to get yourself in talking to a prospect about key business issues before they are ready to make any decisions and actually being the instigator of change. Now it takes people a long time to make that change obviously. They don’t make it overnight, and they don’t make it without some serious thinking and angst; nobody wants to change from the status quo unless they absolutely have to.

What can you do? I think it goes back to being a resource and thinking “what can I do to help my prospect?” It’s something as simple as that. If you think “I am calling on the VP of Marketing. What are the issues that they are facing? What can I bring to that person on a regular basis that would be insightful to them?”

ANTHONY: Let me lead you on this. I have this idea, and I have shared this before, you know, your prospect isn’t hiring a sales rep. They are hiring somebody to help them manage a result for their business. We don’t need to prove ourselves as great salespeople; we need to prove ourselves as value creators and as somebody, again, who has the ideas, the information, and the fundamentals of business improvement. They’re hiring a business improvement specialist.

JILL: Right! And that’s what a salesperson is today.

ANTHONY: So you come with ideas that say “I can help you improve your throughput,” and “increase your sales,” or “reduce your costs in this area, and here is what I have done for other people” you’re a value creator. Like you said, if you say “Look, we have unique methodologies.” So what? How does that affect my business?

That leads us to my last question here. You talk about three client decisions, “are you worth meeting with,” which we have covered with the differentiation, the business improvement specialist, and value creation. The second question that you ask, I think, is a tougher question to answer and to deal with. That question is “is it worth a disruption?”

We sometimes underestimate that we are coming in as an agent of change and we’ve got the idea, and we know we can make an improvement, and the customer who is frazzled, overworked, and overwhelmed is siting there with this look of fear and dread, because we are coming in saying we are going to turn things upside down to get a better result. What are the best ways that salespeople can help manage that change, and what skills does it take to understand that we are coming in as a change agent and that that means disruption?

JILL: I think one of the best ways is to shift your perspective in that role. I think a lot of us look at it as it is just our job to prove that it would be valuable to change, but that’s not the only thing that they’re looking at. They are looking at all of the buy in that they have to get, the meetings that they have to have, and the whole internal process that they have to go through to get that change. What we don’t often realize is that many of these people don’t make decisions about this kind of stuff very often, so they are unskilled decision-makers in the area in which we are selling. Which, by the way, provides us with tremendous opportunity to show value.

So if we can meet with people, and if we can get them interested and tempted that we might have something that can create this value, one of the things we can do is call together the decision team and say: “Anthony, I am working with other companies like this, and one of the things we found is that in order to see if it really work for your organization is to get IT involved, we need to get HR involved, and we need to get marketing involved. Who are the people in your organization we should be including in this conversation right now?” They’ll look at you and say “Oh, we probably should invite this person in, too.” So, we start by pulling people in and having conversations with the whole team from the get go.

You can also lay out the decisions that they have to make, and show them the process that they need to go through to make a decision. If you can get them to rely on you for guidance in terms of how to make the decision, and say “Here are the steps we typically go through when we work with organizations that are considering this change. The first thing we have to do is this, then we do this, then we do this.” It’s a project management mindset, as opposed to a sales mindset. It’s leading and providing guidance. If you think about yourself, if you are in an area that you don’t know about and you have somebody who says “Come on, Anthony, follow me. I’ll show you how to do it.” You kind of relax, if you feel comfortable that this guy knows what he is doing, right?

This is what we need to do with these people because they are nervous because they haven’t done it before. You can give them stuff to read. You give them stuff one piece at a time, because if you give them four articles to read on how to do this they go into overwhelm mode. You say “Anthony, I am going to be sending you an article on how to do this, and this is starting point. I want you to read this article, and we’ll do that. Then I’ll tell you the next step and we’ll move things along.” But if you can show them that they are in good hands with you, and that you’re marching them down the right path to make the best decision for their organization, you can honestly say to them “I don’t know if you are going to choose me at the end of all this, but I can certainly tell you that we can help you achieve the objective that you are charged to achieve and the goals you want to reach this year.

When they know that your intention is good, they don’t feel like they are being sold, they feel like they are being helped. Then we can really be in the driver’s seat as sellers. But it’s a whole different position, and nobody’s been trained on how to do that.

ANTHONY: I don’t think that we always understand that as agents of change that they want us to own that outcome, they want us to prove that we are going to be there for them, and sort of what you and I have talked about today leads to that, are you developing relationships by creating value, differentiating yourself, being a business improvement specialist before that occurs, so that later on this buyer, who is frazzled, overworked, and overwhelmed, says “Look, this is somebody I can trust to be here through this change effort with me. And I’m not going to get caught holding the bag here, disrupting my organization, and then not being able to get that outcome.”

JILL: It’s setting the stage way early so that when the time does come, oftentimes, the decision of which resource to choose, instead of RFP’s, the decision can be made in snap—you’ve been there before.

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