Sales messages are a different animal than a unique selling proposition. That being said, sales messages must be created within the messaging and positioning framework, in order to build and reinforce the brand.
The Difference Between Sales Messages a Unique Selling Proposition
An effective unique selling proposition must not only clearly communicate a promise of value that an organization will deliver, but also create a belief on the part of the customer or prospect that value will be experienced. The most effective unique selling propositions incorporate a quantifiable combination of benefits, costs and value.
Although a unique selling proposition is required, that in itself does not directly provide the sales organization with what is needed to engage in meaningful and relevant sales conversations. As a result of this disconnect, each sales rep is left to figure out sales messaging by themselves. This frequently leads to inconsistent sales conversations that are interpreted from the unique selling proposition in an ad-hoc manner.
In addition, a small percentage of the sales force will “figure out” how to uncover and speak to specific market trend, business problems of qualified prospects and competitors’ actions. However, they may lack the confidence to talk about how to engage in a compelling sales conversation where value must be communicated. Because of this, most sales reps will adapt the unique selling proposition that is presented to them to the sales conversations that they used at their last company because that is what is most comfortable for them.
Why it is so Difficult to Create Compelling Sales Messages
Not only is there a disconnect between sales and marketing when it comes to creating qualified leads and converting them to qualified opportunities (demand generation and demand management) but there is also a disconnect between corporate communications and sales. Specifically, corporate communications is typically focused on telling the big story that describes the entire company (all products, all geographies, all industries, all audiences). There is no argument that that has tremendous value. However, to complete the last communication mile requires specific sales messages to be crafted for specific audiences and they must be derived from the corporate positioning. Although this task should be the responsibility of product marketing, solution marketing and or industry marketing, it often times is not addressed or dealt with ineffectively, due to staffing issues, lack of focus or skill-set
In a typical company, there are limited sales and marketing resources available to generate demand and produce sales tools. Sales messaging is often difficult to do well as it requires a great deal of market and technology expertise, competitive knowledge and strong communications skills. The trigger for developing sales messages is typically a fire drill (sales kick-off, a customer presentation, sales training etc.) that places a stake in the ground to “put the story” together in the desired timeframe. Unfortunately, the time, energy, knowledge and insights required to build effective sales messaging may not be available or present within the organization, so corners are cut and issues develop.
Effective sales conversation tools are those that provide sales reps with the insights, confidence and ability to lead effective customer meetings. To facilitate the development of effective these sales messages, a sales rep has to know:
- WHO is buying?
- WHY are they buying?
- HOW are they buying?
Once there is a firm understanding of the context, a sales rep will then need to be prepared to add value to a sales conversation by focusing on what to know, what to say and how to say it. What does that mean? In short, the sales organization is most interested in being prepared and confident to answer three questions from a prospect:
- Why should I do something?
- Why should I do it now?
- Why should I do it with you?
Reciting the unique selling proposition, rattling off a list of customers and stating some ROI figures from the cost benefit analysis that was created during the messaging and positioning workshop may get a rep in the door. However, the next step is to demonstrate domain expertise. People that will be on the hook for spending 6 or 7 digits, investing quarters or years for implementation, forcing behavior changes in the way people do their jobs for years to come and supporting the solution will want to be confident that they are dealing with an industry expert.
What Sales Conversations Do Prospects Value?
Prospective customers demand a high degree of subject matter expertise, professionalism, communication and consultative skills from sales reps. The first contact, often done by phone, requires a good deal of preparation to be effective. Prospective customers assume that sales reps will come to the conference call or face-to-face meeting well prepared and have a solid understanding of their business and industry. Beyond good preparation, prospective customers expect to converse in their language and be well understood. They want to talk to knowledgeable sales rep because the good ones are a conduit to the market and competitors. The sales rep should be able to assess the feasibility of potential solutions, and present only those that are viable for the prospective customer.
Unfortunately, few sales reps invest the time or energy to prepare for a meaningful conversation in which the rep can demonstrate industry knowledge and subject matter expertise. Only those sales reps who really understand customer problems can develop appropriate solutions. It all starts with connecting with the right person, with the right message, at the right time.
At The Heart of a Good Sales Conversation is Account Intelligence
Account Intelligence is about ensuring a sales rep is prepared to have an intelligent sales conversation with a prospective customer. This sales conversation needs to be engaging and leave the prospect with the feeling that the sales rep has added value. The sales rep must have key talking points, insight into threats, opportunities and exposure for the industry, plus in-depth knowledge of the company and of the respective competitors. Specific categories to be covered should include: company, market and the competitive landscape.
From a company perspective, a sales rep needs to do their research by gathering background data on the company, people in the organization, financials and the company’s offerings. It is also advisable for the rep to understand the organization structure including the parent company, subsidiaries and divisions. The effective sales rep should go further by understanding the companies objectives and strategies both for the year and as adjustments are made each quarter through publicly available documents.
From a market landscape perspective there are several sub-components to explore:
- Analyst perceptions
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
- Growth drivers
- CIO priorities
Sales reps should understand the competitive landscape for a prospective customer including key people in the organization, financials and the competitive offerings. In addition, sales reps need to review research reports and speak with analysts and influencers to understand who are the market leaders, followers, niche players and up and comers. Insight into the company’s organizational structure including key players and recent hires can provide valuable insights as well.
Sales Tools and Sales Training
Knowledge about business problems within industries and the ability to apply critical thinking to present concepts and technologies as solutions is highly valued by customers. This requires a rich understanding of the market trends, pressures, opportunities and threats that exist in the market today and in the foreseeable future. It also requires a clear understanding of the prospective customers business problems from a technical, business, strategic, and tactical perspectives.
The rep has to be confident that they can effectively respond in a compelling and motivating way to the prospects questions: why, why now and why you? It is also critical to detail qualification and discovery questions at this stage. Core differentiators that are relevant to the prospect and clearly superior to competitors need to be highlighted. It’s also important to summarize potential landmines that may be raised by competitors so that they can be diffused. Documenting frequently asked questions will be key to ensure that there is a unified and consistent message communicated by all sales people in the market place. Proof points are required to communicate acceptance and to establish trust vicariously. This may be accomplished through case studies, success stories, detailed use cases, analyst reports, influencer posts, reviews and references.
A great way to transfer knowledge to the sales organization in order to demonstrate value to a prospect is to remove all prop’s—PowerPoint, for example–and engage in real-time visual story telling. In this scenario, a rep has nothing but a dry erase marker and a white board to communicate his or her knowledge of the markets, industry, technology and the competitors. Whiteboard presentations are meant to be a personal, custom, engaging and dynamic experience that allows a rep to showcase him or herself as a thought leader. The ability to lead conversations at the whiteboard, answer difficult questions, and demonstrate executive presence is key to succeeding in consultative sales opportunities which requiring lots of interactivity.
When a sales rep steps up to the white board, he or she should be well prepared to:
- Confirm the purpose of the meeting with a unique selling proposition
- Document relevant business objectives that typically include revenue, expense, productivity, profitability and or customer satisfaction.
- Perform an assessment that includes documenting the current state, future state, gap and incremental plan.
- Evaluate alternative strategies to achieve objectives
- Introduce your companies approach to solve the business problem
- Document the cost/benefit analysis of how the solution provides value and provides a compelling ROI
- Present a proposal of the next steps required to move forward
Sales messaging converts strategy into the actual words salespeople will use to communicate with a prospective client to win new business. Don’t get fooled in thinking that all that has to be done is to create the words a rep can repeat in a meeting as sales reps are not media broadcasters reading teleprompters. The hard work of understanding market trends, monitoring the competition, the ability to comprehend specific business problems, knowing how to apply technology, and being insightful into industry specific workflows must be done so that the words will have meaning.