Jun 21, 2012

Disrupting the Loop

No, I’m not talking about a physics or chemistry experiment. I’m describing a very successful sales strategy that is used every day by many and that you can use at the right time to help you succeed when competing with another provider.

Many of us have seen professional engagements that we thought were “a sure thing” unravel at the last moment.  Often, the client brings up an idea or concept that had not been part of our original discussion. Frequently, this happens when a competitor has successfully shifted the decision loop away from areas of our strength to areas of his strength.  Sales pros have a name for this—Disrupting the Loop—and it works.

Take a look at this video of a BASKETBALL team using a FOOTBALL play on the court to score. The other team looks totally sandbagged! They weren’t expecting it, weren’t ready to respond, and were unsuccessful in defending against it. 

How does this work in real life?

One client shared with me how he used this technique to his advantage:

“I was competing with another and larger firm for an O & M (Operations and Maintenance) training contract. I had the advantage, I thought, since I knew all the operators and used to be one myself. But my competitor had raised the issue of perceived quality: he could offer a group of trainers so that the material would be presented by several people, with different styles, and at a competitive price. My contact pointed out that learning styles are diverse and suggested the wisdom of offering operators training from a team of trainers.

“I successfully countered that having the training presented by ONE trainer would make it easier to film and edit the training so that it could be shown to operators who might be hired later, thus reducing the cost of future training sessions . Filming or remote viewing, however, was not part of the original RFP. My having successfully changed the discussion let me continue to compete for the business, which I ultimately won.”

Early in my sales career, I sold Rx health products in hospitals. I hated it. Everyone was forced to follow the same procedure and had the same access; in other words, we all had to play the same game. If you all start from the same place, speak for the same amount of time, and offer roughly the same alternatives, there’s really no competition. In the Rx business, the situation is even worse: price and even “product claims" are controlled by regulation.  I like having the freedom to call a football play on the basketball court.  Don’t you?

Just because you are selling professional services (training, legal representation, engineering studies or drawings, etc.) to a long standing,friendly client, or selling into a situation that you have worked on for weeks, don’t assume that you won’t have competition. You still need to SELL your expertise, capability, and unique abilities to your client. If the opportunity is a great one, there will probably be at least someone else also pitching for the contract.  Ask yourself how can you present yourself in a unique way.  If you are smaller, or newer, or not as well known as your competition, how can you frame the challenge in a way that will play to your strengths, not your weaknesses?

One powerful way to frame your challenge is to reframe it!  When you disrupt the loop, you no longer compete on product, performance, price—all those areas in which you may offer no advantage.  Be creative: envision a scenario in which you DO possess some unique merits—and you’ll come out on top.

Jun 5, 2012

Tell Me Your Story and I Will Trust You and Buy from You

email address of photographer is marproch@gmail.com
Charles Bridge in Prague by Martin Procharzka
“What I did during my summer vacation?” You’ve probably had to tackle this subject in an essay for school. I feel that’s what I’m doing now. My wife and I traveled 6000 miles, and I learned a lot of interesting facts about the places we visited., I also re-discovered a truth far away that was in front of my face all the time.

Luda and I visited three Eastern European countries that had long been on her “bucket list”-- Hungry, Austria, and the Czech Republic. It was a fascinating trip, full of exciting places to visit, new places to walk, and great restaurants (our family grew tired of all the restaurant pics I kept posting on Facebook). But of all its sights, sounds, and tastes, I will remember the longest the 20 minutes I spent with Martin Procharzka. 

Luda and I were walking across the Charles Bridge—the oldest bridge in Prague—and confronting vendor after vendor who had set up small souvenir stands on the bridge.   I stopped to admire a photograph and asked, “This isn’t your work, is it?” The middle-aged man answered in the affirmative. We began to discuss photography in general and the details of how he had captured this amazing image of this  famous bridge.

“I came out here early, around 5 AM, to get a good spot for the foot traffic. There was just a dusting of snow. After I had set up, snow really started to fall, and I got this great shot.”

Martin’s story behind the shot anchored my visit to Prague, made the whole adventure more real for me, and certainly more memorable. It also tied into the bigger story of a city and a people released at last from the confines of their previous system and free again to be creative individuals pursuing their dreams.

The power of narrative is a great truth that we sometimes forget as business people when we focus on our accomplishments, customer testimonials, or exciting product features. We all need to remember the “story” that helps our customers anchor our “truth” and remember it.  All businesses, but especially service businesses, can benefit from becoming skilled in telling their story to customers and prospects. 

But it is not just about telling your story. You need to link your story to a bigger theme that resonates with your prospect or customer. Storytelling marketing pioneer Michael Margolis has made this point in his book, Believe Me! You can download a free PDF copy with this link. 

Margolis believes that “Only when people can locate themselves inside [your] story will they belong and participate in your narrative.” By “participate,” he means remembering and retelling.  Sometimes it’s tough for business owner to overcome our own pre-conceptions about our businesses and think about them in a new way to harness the power of storytelling.

One of our engagements from several years ago illustrates the point. A computer firm in Silicon Valley was puzzled. No matter how much it promoted the new and improved versions of its industry- leading hardware, its existing customers—the largest businesses, with the biggest networks—kept buying at the same rate, year after year. Why were they not responding to the firm’s considerable investment in marketing? We did a research study to find out and determined that, in most cases, the customers were most influenced by the firm’s service and not its hardware, which was expected to keep pace with market trends.  Since the firm’s service offerings had not changed but were generally satisfactory, the customer buying habits remained unchanged.

By combining this Voice of the Customer data with powerful storytelling, the company added new service offerings to make its brand of hardware and services indispensable and part of a compelling larger story of a labor-saving, time-saving, and money-saving solution. The results?  This firm grew its hardware AND service revenue and profits so much that within a year it was acquired at a large premium.

As you think about how to grow your business in the coming months, think about your story. How will you tell it to make it engaging? How will you link it to a larger theme?