I once believed that salesmen were born and not made. Now, I am a marketer – a product marketer to be exact – and one could argue that my view of sales from the outside might color my perception. It has, but not in the way you might think. While I still believe my original statement to be true, I’ve realized that the inherent talent required isn’t lying as I’d (mostly jokingly) thought in past. It’s storytelling; and that skill is inseparable from selling.
I work with multitudes of emerging and established technology and service providers (TSPs) and review torrents of PowerPoint sales decks every month. Some are created by marketing-oriented folks like me, others may be created by sales leaders, but so many of them miss the mark. They should be arming and supporting sellers in their ability to tell stories to prospects, but more often than not, they’re unending pages of product information, features and benefits, and a logo slide (some providers do thankfully include case studies, which can be great sources for storylines). I’m not saying that that information isn’t necessary (at some point). What I am saying is that first and foremost, a seller needs to be able to tell stories to prospects. The story of problems organizations like theirs have faced; the story of discovering, selecting, and implementing the appropriate solution to those problems; and the story of value delivered.
Data from buyer studies tell us that TSPs don’t differentiate well for the most part. The heart of differentiation is the ability to explain how one’s products and/or services deliver value better, faster, cheaper, [your favorite adverb here], or uniquely from other providers. It may also describe how much more quickly value is obtained from you versus others. But the benefit of recounting differentiation can be lost in a sea of feature/benefit columns. Instead, tell a story about how your last suffering client had looked everywhere for a way to drive its desired outcomes but was unsuccessful until YOU came along. You took an approach none had considered, you architected a solution that delivered outrageous benefits, you did it in 1/10th the time anyone else could ever dream to suggest, and it led to amazing revenue growth for the client. Tell stories about customers’ customers left unsatisfied, stories about industry challenges, and stories about happy and prosperous outcomes. This is what sellers need to do, and it’s what marketers/product marketers must be able to set in motion for those sellers.
Many salespeople are great at relationship building; they may have brass (you’ll-know-whats if you’ve seen “Glengarry Glen Ross”); and they may have the gift of gab. They may also be great storytellers, but that doesn’t mean they’re prepared to tell the story of technical and business value differentiation. Product/marketers must arm sellers to do this with appropriate “storified” content; train them (along with sales/field enablement) to respond to buyers with the right stories or story components; and continually listen and refresh these steps as needed given success/stumble feedback. In these ways, salesmen can be REborn or simply encouraged and assisted to tell stories that can win business.