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'Do You Know Me?'

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  • | 2:54 p.m. October 7, 2010
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Neil Rackham, bestselling author of “Spin Selling”, tells the story that while traveling on an overnight flight from the West Coast to New York he was sitting next to the vice president of sales for a Fortune 1000 company. The VP woke from a 20-minute doze and said, “I had such a weird dream. I dreamt my whole sales force vanished overnight and I had to start again from scratch.” He thought for moment, then muttered, “What a great dream!”

Starting over

Many Gulf Coast managers have had the same thoughts, or perhaps the same dreams. The idea of starting over is an irresistible fantasy for team managers who suffered from the problems of an underperforming sales force. Naturally, that's not realistic. You just can't start over again with a clean slate. You can't find enough new talent fast enough. Even if you could, you'd have to train, mentor and withstand the near-term disruption to revenues; and to client service.

Realistic entrepreneurs, while they may dream of a fresh start, will settle on their best option: work with what you have and try to effect change over time. In large part, this displeasure is misplaced. The problem may be with the management itself. Still, the sales function has remained stubbornly without change. Naturally the sales staff thinks of themselves as their organizations' permanent value spokespeople. Sadly, because their own value is measured in “sales”, there is little measurement in value to the “customer”.

Who gets value?

Limiting the sales role to “value communication” is bad strategy. Since products and services are becoming commoditized more rapidly than ever before, it's increasingly more difficult to create and sustain differentiation. It's customized “value creation” we must seek.

Will a power of attorney from Lawyer “X” look vastly different from Lawyer “Y”? How about portfolio “diversification” percentages suggested by one financial planner over another? Or, trust services from one bank to another? And finally, will available listings from one realtor be vastly different from another? Sadly, I think not.

A new era

A decade ago, you could argue that the value you offer to clients largely rested in the products or services you could provide. In the post meltdown New Era of marketing, if that's primarily what you offer, you loose! No longer in this economy is “a better mousetrap” the winning differentiation. Today, all of your direct competitors can boast “a better mousetrap”; each with unique features. Your client may even recognize yours. The difference is, he can now choose from a dozen other “mousetraps.” He can easily substitute one of the alternative competing services for yours and feel completely satisfied.

Today, clients are requiring something more. Let's simply refer to it as a new Gulf Coast Buying Behavior. They want you to really know them; or at the least really know their unique need. They require and in fact, are crying out for personal, customized understanding. To add something significant and meaningful consider this sale-clinching value-added initiative, especially in the category of professional services: Think what “extra” you can provide, without charging extra!

Will you come to my home instead of making me come into town, park and seek you out? Will your administrative assistant keep me advised on the progress of my “project?” At my request, will you handle any transfer of papers and procedures direct? Will you consult with my northern advisors and even spare me the conflict of canceling a service provider at my direction? Will your firm's trusted messenger hand deliver the finished “package” to me? Can I count on a personal call, post-assignment, to see if I am satisfied or have additional thoughts?

The bottom line

To be the market leader in your Gulf Coast category and have a truly successful sales force, you must break away from a traditional ho-hum focus. The required change will be so dramatic, thinking “out of the box” will not be enough. You'll need to develop an entire new box! I promise you, this initiative will be that big.

You'll need to transform your total management thinking. Realize please, that the outdated “one-size-fits-all” view of selling is being completely eclipsed by delivery of a targeted value-added extra in service. This highly potent initiative will propel sales achievement in your own Gulf Coast enterprise. Implementing this strategic initiative could literally transform your team into a powerful professional services selling machine.

Start by creating multiple sales approaches and personalized, customize “unique-to-me” models that meet the demands of today's knowledgeable buyer.

In the final analysis, your client is reaching out to you asking: “Do you really know me?” He will undoubtedly assume you and your firm are relatively good at what you do. It's your challenge to prove you are uniquely good for him!

Lou Lasday creates action-oriented strategic marketing initiatives for Gulf Coast companies. He has been a general partner of an Ad Age “Top 100” marketing communications firm and regional president of the American Marketing Association. Lasday can be reached at [email protected]


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