It’s not what you sell, it’s how you sell it. By John Magar
Forget the three pillars of failure in selling; consider these new paradigms for sales success.
How can so many sales people continually get it wrong and lose sales as soon as they open their mouths; and, moreover, usually after rigorous, long, and arduous training programs? I think the answer lies in the three pillars of failure in selling, the pillars upon which sales people are told to depend, for their selling success.
Extraordinarily simple and powerful in terms of generating poor selling results, they are:
1. Depending on product features.
2. Depending on high levels of quality.
3. Depending on the best price.
Before we jettison them though, I need to define them more clearly and explain why, in most cases, they simply are of no help.
First, let’s look at product excellence. Product excellence can help only if the sales person’s company has a monopoly with little, if any, competition. In this case, sales people can prattle on about product features and benefits because customers have no choice anyway.
In the real world, sales people work in a fiercely competitive environment, characterised by product proliferation, product sameness and a lack of perceived differences between products.
In this environment it is simply suicide for sales people to expound on the product features of their offerings.
A related concept to product feature irrelevancy is Price Pointing. In today’s world, there isn’t a product or service that does not exist in its own Price Point. For example, cars under $20,000, TVs at $999, holiday packages to say, Bali, for $999. Once a selling organisation locks itself into its chosen price point, it automatically takes on the minimum feature set that is necessary for a customer to make the purchase. If the feature set is substantially lower, the organisation is essentially forced to compete in a lower price point and, of course, if the feature set is considerably higher, it can compete in a higher price point.
Ideally, then, sales people should not make a big deal of their product feature set when competing “intra-price point” (that is, competing within a price point) as, by definition, that feature set is essentially the same as their competitors.
It also follows that the whole notion of “inter-price point” sales strategies (that is, competing between price points) is illogical. After all, Daewoo would never compete with Mercedes and Dimmey’s would never compete with David Jones; it simply makes no sense.
Let’s investigate the second pillar of failure: depending on high quality.
The above discussion on price points gives us a strong hint about why product excellence doesn’t help. It gets back to “inter-price point” and “intra-price point” sales strategies again.
Product quality levels, like product feature sets, are related to price points and, as in the case of product feature sets, acceptable product quality is defined by the market, not the selling organisation. If I can give an example, if two car manufacturers both sell cars in the $20,000 price point, they will have essentially similar quality levels commensurate with that price point. So, neither company can realistically boast of a quality advantage over the other.
Now, that third great pillar of selling failure: having the lowest price. When an organisation chooses a price point to compete in, it automatically chooses its competitors, who, as we have seen above, will offer similar products at similar prices, thereby nullifying any long-term price advantage.
Forget about product, quality and price, and consider these new paradigms:
- A true understanding of the rational and emotional needs of the customer.
- Highly developed, consistent and focused branding strategies that open the door for sales people.
- A thorough analysis of an organisation or product’s points of difference (POD), which should preferably not be product-based, because they are very likely to be copied.
- A thorough understanding of an organisation’s or product’s unique selling proposition (USP).
- Sales people developing a problem-solving approach rather than a selling approach
- Highly refined business processes and procedures that add value for customers, particularly in customer service.
Remember, it’s not what you sell, it’s how you sell it.
How not to
How not to have a plausible reason for taking the money and running
First prize for the best excuse when you’ve run out of them goes again to California’s Pacific Gas & Electric Company. Readers of these pages will, no doubt, remember how the utility awarded its 226 top executives huge bonuses the day before it filed for bankruptcy after running up billions of dollars in losses, largely because of California’s botched experiment with deregulation.
PG&E’s president, Gordon Smith, has since defended the bonuses as an important weapon in the so-called “war for talent”.
“The restoration of the company’s financial health requires that we have a rank-and-file team. Retention is a key factor.” Mr Smith said. And he said it with a straight face too.
How not to create teams
We all know that what management thinkers tell us doesn’t always work in the real world. So the “it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-when-I-read-about-it-in-the-flight-magazine” award goes to the managers of the Array Corporation, a private company with $US2 million in annual revenue, that employs prison inmates in the United States, primarily to make garments.
The factory churns out 50,000 pieces of clothing a year, mostly jeans and work shirts. Half are bought by the state of Oregon to clothe prisoners. The rest are sold in retail stores under the brand Prison Blues, with the slogan: “Made on the inside to be worn on the outside”. The managers walk around the factory as they would in any plant, supervising workers who are serving time for crimes that range from stabbing friends to raping children to burning down houses.
Business was going well and morale was high. Then the managers tried some team-building exercises. Forgetting that no inmate wants to be thought of as an informer, they tried to get the workers to point out each other’s mistakes. Now, it’s like any other workplace: hardly anyone talks and everyone hates the boss.
How not to manage your facilities
As the Bard might have said: “All the world is a toilet.” The award for creative and innovative thinking goes to the San Francisco man who has taken modern theatre into a new venue. His one-act play, The John, will be staged in a men’s lavatory at the city’s Maritime Hall later this month. “It’s the ultimate, everyday place.” local actor and playwright Bob Ernst said.
Ernst takes on the role of a middle-aged theatre goer named Alvin who encounters Death during an intermission of Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear. The two characters sing and swear at each other during the hour-long performance before Death decides Alvin is not quite ready to die.
The transformed venue will seat 20 spectators wedged in between the first and the fourth stalls. Ernst says there are plenty of tickets still available.
The slithershanks file
Inflatable dolls are not considered normal fare in management discourse, at least not during working hours. But perhaps they might feature in the future if the book Winning with Pumped Up People is any indicator.
Written by former AFL football coach David Parkin and former Arnotts chief executive Paul Bourke, this work mines yet again the rich vein of insight that can be had from applying lessons derived from the pursuit of a piece of inflatable leather through a pair of white sticks to generating profits in industries such as, well, biscuit making. Yet, perhaps, what we have here is a metaphor.
“My overriding feeling 20 minutes into a match was one of relief, because I knew we had them skun 20 minutes in. I knew the game was beyond anything the opposition was capable of, so I just sat back, smoked the big cigar, drank the champagne and watched one of the great team performances I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing.”
NOTE: On the big cigar and champagne, David Parkin was speaking metaphorically. he is a teetotaller and does not smoke.