Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman[i] says that 95% of our purchase decision making takes place subconsciously (aka System 1).[ii] Despite widespread agreement amongst neuroscientists that our conscious rational mind plays a minor role in decision making, why do our sales messages to buyers focus almost exclusively on facts and figures? Doesn’t all of this data flood customers with too much information, and result in paralysis for analysis? Why do we largely ignore the emotional subconscious, the real star of decision making? If we really want to reduce the number of sales opportunities lost to no decision, shouldn’t we also be directing our sales message to Mr. Intuitive, and not just Mr. Rational?
The goal of every sales training program is to improve the bottom 80% of salespeople, but that’s not what happens. What happens is that the top 20% get better, and the rest stay the same. Why? The top 20% can apply it in the field, and the rest can’t. So if you want to improve the bottom 80%, then you must share how your star performers are able to apply what they learned. You must use your best to train the rest through peer learning.
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It’s now possible for your salespeople to articulate value like your star performers in less than three months through online video peer learning.
It’s easier to believe a new sales methodology will be the magic bullet instead of doing the heavy lifting of follow-up training and coaching. But without follow-up, how will salespeople achieve sales mastery? How will they be able to articulate value in the heat of a sales call?
In the 2012 Harvard Business Review article titled “The End of Solution Selling,” the Challenger Sale positioned itself as the dominant sales methodology by creating a false dichotomy:
- Ask information-rich customers generic questions, or
- Challenge them with insight.
But what if salespeople asked better questions than “What keeps you up at night?” Could questions rise from the ashes like a phoenix if salespeople traded generic questions for ones that are insight-directed?
It’s counter intuitive that a list of discovery questions will not help your salespeople lead customers to value until they first know the answers. Without the answers to illuminate the road to value, your salespeople will get lost in a sea of questions, because each customer is unique.
Imagine you’re directing someone to a destination: They’ve misinterpreted your directions, and they are now lost. How are you going to get them back on course when all you have are written directions?
Today, most sales and marketing executives would agree that they should deliver insight to customers. But they question how can they deliver insight to an executive with decades of experience? The problem is that they’ve usually set the bar too high for themselves. To deliver insight, they believe they must teach the customer something new about how to run their business. No wonder they can’t do it! Instead of trying to out-think a c-level executive, it’s easier to find insights within the customer’s blind spots; namely, the optimism and status quo biases. Once salespeople discover how fertile blind spots are for uncovering insights, they will finally be able to find and deliver insights.
When sales messaging is delivered through a video role play platform, salespeople will no longer look at it once and forget it in the heat of a sales call. If they are required to video record themselves delivering the sales message, they will get the practice they need to internalize it, especially when they practice six times before hitting send. But while the video role play delivery platform will ensure that salespeople can deliver the sales message, it cannot ensure that the message will increase sales.
The value to buy your product is overwhelming, and yet the customer decides not to buy. Why? The optimism and status quo bias block customers from making the rational choice to buy your product. To help customers see the value of change, sellers can counteract these negative biases by performing a reality check on the customer’s baseline and completing a risk assessment of the status quo.
Counteract the optimism bias with a baseline reality check
After nine years of working with companies on sales messaging, I have found the number one inhibitor to salespeople articulating value is they don’t create enough contrast between the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of owning their product. And when salespeople fail to make the contrast feel concrete, customers can’t see the value, so it just feels like magic.
You could say “so what, who cares.” But did you know that 95% of our purchase decisions, according to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, take place unconsciously? And yet, when we seek to persuade c-level executives, we sell almost exclusively to Mr. Rational, and wonder why deals get stuck in paralysis for analysis and end in no decision.
Everyone in technology knows of Geoffrey Moore as the author of “Crossing the Chasm.” His book has sold over 1 million copies, and crossing the chasm has become a metaphor that is universally used by companies with complex products to explain why they struggle to sell to the mainstream market. But not everyone knows that he is also the godfather of Insight Selling. In March 2009, for example, the HBR published his article “In a downturn, provoke your customer.” In this article, Moore explained why salespeople must provoke their customers with insight if they expect to have their products funded in a slow economy. I sat down with Moore to talk about the inside secrets for Insight Selling:
If you work in technology, you know Geoffrey Moore is the famous author of “Crossing the Chasm.” This book has sold over 1 million copies, and crossing the chasm has become a metaphor that is universally used by companies with complex products to explain why they struggle to sell to the mainstream market. But you may not know that he also has a PhD in English literature, and this may explain why he is a proponent of narrative based selling.
Q1: Our first question for our guest is does he believe storytelling could help customers cross the chasm? “I am a huge believer in narrative. And if you think about it, particularly before the chasm, it’s 90% narrative.”
I just had an article published in the HBR. It’s neuroscience meets sales, and it bursts the biggest misconception is sales (click here for HBR article).
The article looks at the sales expression that customers “Buy On Emotion, And Justify With Logic” and it turns out that neuroscientists claim it’s 95% correct.
These stories are easy to tell because you’re providing proof to a customer who has already recognized that he or she has a problem that your solution can solve. Success stories are effective because they gloss over the problem so that they can focus on the solution as proof.
The problem is that the vast majority of customers at any stage of the sales cycle are not yet sold on why they should change or why they should change through you.
By recognizing the difference between an insight scenario (i.e. an insight based story) that “pops” versus one that “flops,” you can see for yourself how your own insight scenarios can be changed so that they inspire prospective customers to buy, instead of providing them with no reason to change.
The mistakes made in the story that flops are common. Because the effects of not having the seller’s capabilities are abstract, the story fails to make the buyer want to change, because the risks do not feel real.
Your salespeople would no longer have to chase these empowered buyers down the road of commoditization and discounting, because they would know how to sell value and differentiate your product.
As your customers discovered the unique value of your product on their own terms, your company would achieve higher win rates, shorter sales cycles, and higher margins.
With an insight scenario, you can deliver insights that will only challenge the customer’s thinking, and not the customer. Because insight scenarios are about someone else, the customer does not feel under attack. A story simply presents a scenario that allows the customer to draw their own conclusions. Without feeling pressured, the customer can now relax and listen to your message, and possibly gain enough insight that they start to tell themselves a new story, where new choices make more sense.
Even though insight is what buyers need, it may not be what they initially want. By the time buyers engage with a salesperson, they may already have an idea of their needs, the solution they believe they want, and what they are willing to pay. So how does the seller use insight to challenge the customer’s thinking without challenging the customer?
While many companies complain that 80-90% of their salespeople can’t sell value, they are spraying their sales force with product presentations, and praying that their salespeople will be able to figure out why customers should buy their product. But instead of complaining, these companies should feel blessed that they can increase sales by capturing and sharing this valuable tribal knowledge with the rest of their sales force.
Imagine running a sales team where the last person that your customers want to speak with is one of your salespeople? That’s the conclusion of a recent Gartner survey where Salespeople came in last place after technical and industrial experts, services and support, and senior executives as “the most influential personal interactions across the entire buying cycle.” (click)
So what’s the problem?
“Colleague Michael Harris wrote this blog post recently, and I couldn’t stop cracking up! I laughed so hard I had to read the story to my husband Tim. He laughed just as hard.
Michael uses storytelling in his sales training, and he uses this story to demonstrate why it works. Just imagine telling this story in corporate language. We’d be bored to tears.
But here’s another way to think about this story. We all have at least one story like this. A story when we screwed up big time. A story about a time we failed. A story about a near miss. A story about good friends who stick around even after misadventures.
True story. Before a meeting, a potential customer downloads, and then watches 11-videos on SAP’s CRM. So by the time the meeting rolls around, the last thing the potential customer wanted was more information, because they’re drowning in it. All they wanted from the salesperson was insight into three key areas.
So how do you sell value and differentiate your product to these empowered buyers?
How can you persuade someone to buy your complex product when 90% of your presentation is forgotten within 72-hours[i]?
The short answer is you can’t. Unless you dramatically change how you engage with customers, they won’t understand why they should buy your complex product, because of the limitation of our short-term working memory.