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The 'U' Matters...

By Vinay Kalyan Parakala posted 10-03-2018 15:24


The ‘U’ matters…

Before you embark on enjoying reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it, you should know that this article would not have been possible without a bunch of professionals who I have very high regard for.

Especially Neil Barman who has been my ideation partner and content advisor and Abhi Bajaj who helped proof read and edit the article. 

I am greatly influenced by the work of some stalwarts in the field of sales and sales enablement, Mike KunkleScott SantucciTom ErdmanPaul DruryAtul Jalan and Vikram Nair amongst others.

I dedicate this piece to the memory of the late Robert Racine, a giant in the universe of Sales Enablement and one of the main reasons behind my foray into the field.

The Premise

It adds a lot of credibility to your sales pitch if you add the ‘U’ into it. 

Most of us, sellers, establish credibility by relying completely on our company’s brand and the product/service we offer and we get so engrossed in trying to sell our wares that we tend to forget that ‘people buy from people’ or that ‘Professionals buy from professionals’.

Remember the last time you took advice from a mentor? You never tried to ratify, judge or critically analyse the message that she was giving you… why is that?

It was because you were already standing on a platform where your mentor’s credibility as an expert in the field was established. The only activity was the imparting of the message and your understanding it. You already knew that if she was giving you the message – it had to be right.

Customer Cognition* is an important aspect and a key factor in succeeding in sales, but cognition is invariably marred by judgement. When your buyer is judging, she is not listening or understanding. Their mental stimuli are doing overtime in a parallel universe, stuck in trying to find out why they should listen to you.

*Please check my article “Using Cognitive Reframing in Product Sales

And say you are successful in capturing their attention a couple of minutes into the conversation, unfortunately they have missed out on a significant part of your pitch – that two minutes probably contained the reasons pertaining to the deciding factor which would have won you the deal!

Finding the ‘U’ Factor

So how do you use the ‘U’ factor in your pitch. Let me start with an example…

“In my 23 years as a salespersonand an intricate review of my experience gained from winning numerous deals worth millions of dollars, I can safely say that over 90% of those deals were won because my prospective customer recognised that I knew what I was talking about and hence focused on the information that I was sharing.”

There you go… I just did it! 

In my above statement, I inserted myself into the pitch to make you take this article seriously. I said (without actually using the words) ‘you should listen because I know what I am talking about’

Let me elaborate using a personal life experience - Many years ago, I was selling analytics solutions. In my initial few months, while I was in awe to what an analytics solution could do, I was always under the impression that there were successful businesses before analytics solutions became a buzzword in the industry so maybe what I was selling was only nice to have. 

Subconsciously, this was affecting my sales skills. I just couldn’t get it – I knew I was good but my results weren’t corroborating that thought and I was getting increasingly self-critical and desperate.

My epiphany came about when I did a deep dive into why – The only red herring that I could spot (and this I kept coming back to) was that I personally wasn’t convinced enough that I will ever buy an analytics solution to analyse or predict my sales closures. According to me, all my past sales successes never had such a solution, so why now? 

Then it struck me – I wasn’t peeling it enough to get to the core. I had always invested considerable time finding out what worked for me, what did not and what’s the best way to replicate my successes by re-creating the same process which helped me win the previous deals… I was obviously mentally using a sales analytics solution, I just did not know that I need to call it that. 

That day, a lot changed in my approach. I knew that I will obviously buy an analytics solution, having never lived without one. Not only was I extremely motivated to make the next call to a prospect to explain why they should have an analytics solution, I invested considerable time in deducing formulae, equations and algorithms which I have since successfully implemented at other sales organizations that I have led.

The ‘I’ of the ‘U’

Figuring out the importance of believing in the product I was selling was just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg. Knowing that I would buy the product that I was to sell was only Part1

I further found to my surprise that when I tried understand why I would buy the product, all the reasons that I was thinking of were only specific to the product or the credibility of the company that I was working for. 

For example, I would buy this analytics solution because it’s one of the key solutions being offered by a company that had over 10 years and countless man years of experience creating analytics solutions or then… This solution would allow me to predict the right products to offer the right set of customers at the right time for the right price point and the algorithm that helped predict this outcome was very customisable.

If you noticed both the above examples were specific to the company and the product. I was never the reason… How can that be? I always knew that the buyer is heavily invested into the buying process leveraging past experience, existing expertise and intuition based inferences for the future. More importantly, for key decision points to be reached the buyer surely is greatly impacted by who is selling to her, i.e., the salesperson’s experience, expertise, attitude, credibility et al. 

Why was all that missing in my original reasoning? 

Introspection Part 2 kicked in, beyond every fabulous feature differentiation that the product had and extremely key credibility pointer that the company offering the product had… I, the salesperson also hugely mattered.

So I started a narcissistic project – why did my customers buy from me? 

For some deals, I readily knew the answer, for example, I went an extra mile to understand and customise my proposal to ensure that it meets with my buyer’s and her company’s goals. I sometimes proactively answered a post sales aspect even before I was asked the question which my buyer loved.

In some cases, where I did not have a ready answer for ‘why did they buy from me as a sales person?’, I called the customer and asked. You will discover things about yourself that you hitherto did not know – this exercise is one of the most satiating experiences of my career – you should do it, if you haven’t already!

Some of the answers I got were… 

‘your knowledge of my business/what I do clearly showed us the time you had invested into learning about your customers, we respect that’.

‘You made sure that you individually spoke to and customised your information for every department that would use your solution, not just the decision maker. All the department heads had their own reason why they liked dealing with you. The decision was hence unanimous.’

‘You made sure that you fed us as much as we needed on the day, instead of dumping all of the information on us. It showed that you cared more for how we consumed your information rather than how you wanted us to consume the information. It showed us that you cared.’

‘You were the most patient, attentive and detailed sales person that we dealt with and we know we are a tough customer to please. We liked and respected that.’

‘You showed us a vision of what life would be a year from now, two years from now. We were so lost in the today that tomorrow was best left until it became today. You knew about what was happening in our industry and the likely changes and trends that may occur in the future. We found that extremely useful and knew that we were buying from a person who will be our partner and a friend in this journey.’

I warned you – it was a narcissistic project! But pun aside, I now clearly understood that I was an important reason for the deal to be won. The ‘I’ mattered and mattered an amazing lot.

I knew exactly why my customers bought from me and this new found ‘I’ factor was the ace up my sleeve. However my competition hacked it – this is one ace they will never have! 

Inserting the ‘U’ into your sales pitch, whether you do that in your first call/meeting or every call/meeting is key to your success. 

I need to reiterate a point that I made earlier, because it is that important… There will always be a competing product with the same fabulous features as yours and for similar price… There will always be a competing company that has similar credibility, experience, expertise, staff, support capabilities as yours… What ultimately will be the key differentiator which will greatly assist the prospect reach their decision, is ‘U’ – your competition does not err.. will never have that!

Six Steps to the ‘U’ 

So much for personal experiences and what I did… Let me share the easiest set of steps for you to leverage and succeed using the unmatched ‘U’ factor…

  • Step 1: Ask yourself this question – ‘Will I buy this product/service that I am selling? If you are selling it, you obviously are tremendously motivated with what your product or service has to offer. Remember that the first customer for any product/service is the sales person selling it – unless you are very sure that you will buy it, you can’t sell it.
  • Step 2: Please list out some of the top reasons WHY you would buy it and when you are done listing, sort the list into 2 parts – 
o   Part 1 should be the list that contains all the reasons which are associated with the product/service features and your company and
o   Part 2 should contain the list that contains all the reasons which are associated with you as a buyer – experience with similar products/services, including possibly technology or ease of use or saving money or future proofing or making a large set of people happy or setting you apart, etc. and also expertise which includes why are you qualified to make the choice including educational qualifications and reviewing it from close quarters like someone you know using it and being happy etc.
Note: Your part 2 will seem negligible compared to your part 1, don’t worry – that’s okay! That’s just an indicator that you haven’t focused on the ‘U’ so far.
  • Step 3: Work on part 2, for starters ensure that part 2 has at least 5 distinct points on why you would buy your own product/service. If you are finding it tough to make that list, ask your customers – current or past. Just like I did, you will be pleasantly surprised.
  • Step 4: Convert those 5 or more reasons that you now have in part 2 into statements that you can use with others 

o   for example – if you are selling an accounting software and you have in your part 2 listed that you would buy the software because your educational qualifications include accounting as a subject that you studied in university as a Bachelor of Commerce or an MBA student and hence you feel qualified to make the decision – convert that to “As a professional who is qualified in accountancy, I can tell you that this software not only meets but exceeds the requirements of any business’ everyday accounting needs.”

  • Step 5: Role play with your colleagues, team leader – your main aim is to be keenly observant if that ‘U’ statement that you just inserted into your pitch is being accepted or questioned. Tweak the statement to either lessen or increase the intensity of its impact.
  • Step 6: Use it in your next call, keep customising it until the statement(s) become second nature to you.

Positive word of mouth, positive user reviews, positive brand recognition and positive conclusions arrived at through personal research are surely important reasons why one buys a product or service. But reiterating a statement, I initiated with ‘Professionals buy from Professionals’. By leveraging the ‘U’ credibility factor in your sales pitch, you are assisting your prospect increase their confidence in your message.

Remember – and this is important! 

  • Do not brag or even try to establish with your prospect that you know more than her/him – you will lose the deal.
  • Do not use personal jargon or extremely technical words/phrases that only a trained professional will comprehend, unless you have already established that the person listening to you is equally an expert
  • Only slip the ‘U’ factor in your message as a prefix or a suffix to the message itself. Remember that the ‘U’ factor is NOT the message itself.

As a footnote, based on the many years that I have invested, doing research during my MBA and for my ongoing PhD thesis, specifically on the topic of sales productivity, I know that the sales person’s credibility is a very important reason, why customers buy.

Sound familiar?