The transformation of a business process, market offering, or business model to boost value and impact for the enterprise, customers, or partners.
One of the key skill needed to succeed in bringing innovation to market quickly is sales -- not traditional sales approach, but innovation sales approach. No matter how innovative your product, solution or process is, it does not sell on its own. You have to do it --- and do it well. You not only have to be adept at selling to customers, but equally adept at selling to partners, investors, within company and over the social media. Each of these are complicated since they all have their own unique needs, goals, objectives, interests and aspirations that you have to satisfy. Whoever does this well today, wins and wins big. It is no longer sufficient to walk and talk innovation, but also to sell it to be successful.
Many of the ideas of this blog were adopted from an outstanding book titled, “The Challenger Sale,” that explains this new sales approach which is counterintuitive to the popular approach of relationship selling. The book does not decry building relationship with customers, but based on their extensive research, they have found that relationship in businesses today are built and strengthened through impactful solutions that lead to relationship, instead of generating business through relationship. This was their key finding and the book goes on to explain how one can build relationships that are mutually beneficial with results and case studies.
A common mistake lot of companies succumb to when they try to bring innovation to market is that they attempt to sell it through the traditional approach that has been popular for a long time now. This approach involves spending lot of time and resources building relationship to establish trust, and then hoping that, through discovery (asking probing questions), you will better understand customers’ needs and map your solution to those needs. Though it sounds reasonable, it has several shortcomings, such as: one, it takes a long time and expends plenty of resources; two, customers often don’t know their true needs or can coherently articulate them; third, even if you get past the first two, the timing may not be right for your solution to be adopted. Thus, you have wasted lot of time and are now faced with making a difficult choice of either walking away or stay the course.
To avoid the business death penalty, companies are looking for solutions that will give them a significant advantage over their competitors; therefore, you want to ensure that your solutions lead to relationship predicated on the value you can deliver fast. Traditional sales approach does not accelerate bringing innovation to market but often accelerates company becoming irrelevant.
To achieve success, you must effectively perform these three activities during the sales process:
- Take Control
"In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else."
- Lee Iacocca
To get customers attention today, you have to bring unique perspective about their business
that will want them to talk to you. During the conversation, you want to bring insights that will reframe the way customers’ view their business and help them improve their competitiveness. To have this type of conversation, you not only have to be able to teach the insights but have solutions and examples you can point to where you have delivered success. The initial meeting is short and right to the point. Either you are going to go ahead or save time chasing a dead end opportunity. Innovation sales is no different than innovation; you want to fail fast.
With the innovative sales approach, you will offer insights based on your deep knowledge of the industry and a good understanding of the customer’s business. If you are able to reframe their view of their business with the insight you are bringing, the next step you want to move toward is to have discussion on how you can jointly do something similar for the customer with whom you are having conversation. This is different in a sense that you are leading with an insight that has a potential of a breakthrough solution. You only want to invest more time if the customer and you are aligned on shared risk, shared reward approach to deliver business outcomes.
“Fight as if you are right, and listen as if you are wrong.”
- Karl Weick
Today a purchase decision in B2B is no longer made only by the CEO, but often based on a consensus within the organization. Gone are the days when a leadership was a solo act; today leadership is more distributed due to the complexity involved in running an organization in a rapidly changing environment. Hence, not understanding this new reality results, mercifully, in a quick death of the sales process, or, worse, enters the black hole of the sales process.
You have to get support from other decision makers in order for CEO to give his approval to move forward with your solution. This makes sense since companies are operating in a “one and done” mode where they may not get a second chance to fix their mistake, so your best salespeople turn out to be the stakeholders you have to win over. They have the relationship, credibility and track record that you don’t. The best strategy then is to make them your advocates.
This is very complex since each decision maker will make a decision through five lenses that you have to understand and penetrate, and they include: individual, role, group (departmental), company (organizational), industry. Work from outside in by establishing your knowledge of the industry, then work toward the company’s position in the industry, next move to the value the department provides within the company, then the role the decision maker plays to make the department relevant and lastly, his individual goals and objectives. This is hard work but unless you can penetrate through these five lenses, you will not likely to succeed in gaining a strong advocate.
This is where you have to be very good since you have to do it in a very short time. As Oram Klaff explains in his excellent book, “Pitch Anything,” that you have to master the art of pitching, since this is high stakes and you have to get it right the first time to move on. To get it right, the book explains using findings from neuroscience on how our brain processes information using our crocodile brain, mid-brain and neocortex part of brain. It is critical to know this before you pitch anything in any environment, since you are in a proverbial “March Madness” as in college basketball to winning a deal. The harsh reality is that you are in a “one and done” mode, so you have to pitch well, survive and advance.
The main thing to remember here is not to waste the decision makers’ time or quickly get bounced to some subordinate and enter the dreaded black hole of a sales process. This is where you don't want to end up since there is lot of politics involved so you must know how to navigate through the process adroitly. Often sales people are just not good at this and default to building relationship, which does not result in business and hurts the company. So, you must be able to tailor your value proposition in terms of different needs within the organization to advance the sales process.
“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
If you can’t convince the customer regarding the urgency they face then you are not going to convince that it is worth solving. You are not selling to make friends, but to sell a solution that will help the company make or save money. If you lose focus of this, you will quickly enter the black hole of sales process. As you know, no one has ever come out of this with a deal.
Your job in taking control is similar to that of a quarterback, which is to keep the drive going and control the ball so you can score a touchdown and win the game. You have to be careful in not punting (going back to relationship based selling) or turn the ball over (not succeeding in teaching and tailoring). No matter how you do it, the goal is to keep going forward, score, and win.
This is the activity where you are guiding the whole process from start to finish where you have the confidence in knowing that you are bringing something new that will help the customer and are willing to take a joint risk the risk in developing a solution together to share the reward This is what the customers are looking for today. Unless you can do this well, you can’t take control of the sales process.
In closing, to be successful during the entire sales process, there are only two questions that really matter that you have to keep asking yourself before and during any meeting with a decision maker:
“So What? Who Cares?”
“Why should this customer buy from you over anyone else?”
They look simple but if you are facing a time constrained, attention deficit decision maker, this is all he is likely to care about in allowing you to move to the next step, so you must nail these two questions.
Jay Oza is a founder and principal innovation development consultant at 5ToolGroup, a company that specializes in helping startups and established firms bring innovation to market within 90 days through our unique 5Tool Methodology that integrates sales, marketing, partnerships, customer development and agile/lean methodology to enable frugal or ("Jugaad") innovation. We believe that to succeed today, you have to continuously look for ways do lot more with lot less. This is the only way to win today.