Why Executives Don’t Respond To Solution Selling

Is your company asking you to target larger deals and cross-sell solutions? Are you being asked to develop a more meaningful relationship with customers? Are you trying to establish yourself as a business partner rather than a vendor? If so, you’re probably redirecting your selling efforts toward customer executives.

If you are struggling to engage these executives, you need to think about your sales approach. Are you asking awkward questions like “What keeps you up at night”? Do you portray a negative tone by probing for pain and posing irrelevant questions like “If you had to do it all over again …”? Have you used the solution selling vision processing model to produce meaningless chatter like “If I could help you grow sales, decrease costs, and increase cash flow, would you be interested?” If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need to step back and retool your sales strategy.

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Are You Getting Appointments With Executives These Days?

It makes no sense.  Here we are in the midst (bottom of the 4th inning in my estimation) of the Great Delevering following the Great Recession: the most significant extended downturn in business-related investment in our professional careers.  Scores of companies have publicly boasted of their intention to ‘transform’ (always search for this word as it signals big change coming) their business models.  Business employment is way down and staying down.  Business investments, specifically CapEx and OpEx, have plunged.  Technology refresh cycles have come and gone with not a lot of ‘refresh’.  Revenue growth is MIA and record levels of investible cash balances lie sleeping on balance sheets earning next to nil.

This should be the perfect ‘buying storm’.  You’ve waited your entire professional career for the stars to align like this.  Executives have pain and you’ve got end-to-end solutions in your sales bag.  Your value propositions are ready to go and they’re full of ROI, TCO, and blah, blah, blah.  You should be witnessing an executive feeding frenzy as prospects clamor for your problem-solving solutions.  Buy-side executives should want to talk to sales professionals more today than ever before, right?

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‘Rev’ It Up To Get On The Executive Radar Screen

If you are a sales professional, you have probably spent a good deal of time communicating the financial value of your solution: the so-called value proposition. Your company’s marketing department has probably spent a good deal of time crafting it for maximum audience impact. And your company executives probably have spent a good deal of time traveling around the world repeating it to anyone who will listen. It might even appear in an advertising campaign or in your company’s annual report.

Chances are your value proposition is structured as one simple financial message suitable for all customer audiences. It’s easy to understand, easy to articulate, and universal in appeal; it’s a beautiful work of prose. Your competitors repeat a similar mantra, but your company is well-respected and known to deliver on its promises. Right?

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Selling Into FinReg

BREAKING NEWS: Washington D.C.  A regulatory sea change of immense proportions washed up onto the shores of the American financial services industry this week.  Initial damage assessments are indeterminable at this time.  Hundreds of additional waves of regulatory rules (243 to be exact) are expected in the storms aftermath.  Ten regulatory agencies including the Federal Reserve, FDIC and SEC have been assigned permanent clean-up duties. One agency, the CFTC, has asked for $45 million in emergency funding just to hire new staff to deal with the aftermath.  Thousands of lobbying organizations have been mobilized by local establishments to garner public support as they work to mitigate collateral damages.  Businesses, mostly banks, directly in the path of the 2300-page legislative monster have declared a state of emergency.  For example, J.P. Morgan Chase, operating at the epicenter of the storm, has assigned more than 100 triage teams to assess response priorities.  In a sign of despair sales professionals have been spotted aimlessly wandering the hallways of their customers looking for signs of life … and clues about the implications to them. Tax-deductible contributions are encouraged and can be made by going to your online bill pay solution and selecting ‘U.S. Treasury’ in the payee drop down table.  We will have additional reports from the scene as conditions on the ground warrant.

Interestingly, not everyone agrees that the storm has come ashore quite yet.  The Wall Street Journal headlines this week screamed, “Impact to Reach Beyond Wall Street; Key Questions Unresolved for Businesses and Consumers Until Bill Goes Into Effect”.  I know I’m in the minority, but I beg to differ with the implication that business decisions are being deferred.  The headline should have read “Attention Sales Professionals: Your Financial Services Customers Are Assessing Business Model Implications – NOW IS THE TIME TO SELL THE FINANCIAL VALUE OF YOUR SOLUTIONS INTO A POST-FINREG WORLD”.

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Bank to Basics

Once upon a time not so long ago, sales people calling on banks large and small knew what to expect when meeting with executives: business leaders sporting predictable customer-driven, risk-averse, continuous improvement mindsets. They were ‘steady as she goes’ managers espousing conservative strategies for making loans, taking deposits, and generating fees. And they were cheerleaders emphasizing the virtues of maximizing ROA (Return on Assets), an indicator of profitability before leverage.

Oh sure, ROE (Return on Equity) was alive and well in the lexicon of banking executives, but ROE was considered an external metric more suitable for an investor audience. ROA, on the other hand, was almost universally accepted as the internal performance metric of choice when it came to rallying employees, driving decisions, and making investments. The key to ROA was maximizing net income for every dollar, euro, or yen of assets present and accounted for on the balance sheet. During the period from 2000 to 2006, ROAs rose across the global banking industry. According to the FDIC, ROAs reached historically high levels in the U.S., hovering near 1.4%. Life was good in the fairy tale world of banking.

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What Executives Want

Ever watch the movie ‘What Women Want’ starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt?  Nick Marshall, the main character, is a chauvinistic ad executive, who miraculously gains the ability to hear what women are thinking when he interacts with them.  Nick Marshall isn’t the sharpest tack in the drawer, but this gift of insight helps him, through trial and error (mostly error), refine his messaging to accomplish his preferred reaction.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could hear what buy-side executives are thinking the next time you interact with them in a sales situation?  You could read their minds, making mid-course adjustments in what you talk about and the questions that you ask. You would have a self-correcting real-time feedback loop.  Oh, if only it were that easy.

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Just The Facts, Ma’am

What do business executives and Sergeant Joe Friday of the classic crime drama Dragnet have in common?   Dum-de-dum-dum.  “All we want are the facts, just the facts.” Not assumptions, not hypotheses, not opinions … just the facts.  “Deal with the world the way it is, not the way you wish it was”, offers John Chambers, CEO of Cisco.

The story you are about to hear is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

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Where’s The Beef?

Business executives are talking … not necessarily with sales professionals, but about them.  They’ve sat through sufficient meetings, briefings, presentations, and “interviews” to form an opinion, a generalization, a characterization.  They’ve been conditioned by the repetition of hundreds, possibly thousands of selling situations – by what sales professionals say (and don’t say), in how they act (or don’t act), and in their level (or not) of preparation and interest.

Sales professionals have been branded.  Business executives have formed an opinion and it’s not so flattering.  They aren’t expecting perfection or expertise, but something is missing.  Where’s the perspective, the context, the critical thinking?  Where’s the financial value?  Where’s the beef?

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