By Corey Sommers, Corporate Visions
It’s the start of a new year and across the world, large and small sales teams are gathering – or preparing to gather – to kick off a new season of selling with new products and new and improved ways of selling them. Though the expense of gathering people together can be astronomical – in some cases $10,000 or more per attendee – organizations believe the money spent will, in the long run, improve sales effectiveness.
And yet, the mere mention of a sales kickoff meeting or sales training frequently elicits groans from even the most enthusiastic of salespeople. Sales meetings all too often signify work and personal time wasted; wilted hotel food; metal pitchers sweating and clinking with ice water; dark, cold conference rooms laid out with overly starched tablecloths; and the clicking of one PowerPoint slide after another morning until night.
You know these meetings. The typical agenda looks like this:
1. Opening session
2. Product sessions (slide presentations)
3. Sales methodology training (with or without hands-on role play)
4. Motivational speaker
6. Team building activity
7. Closing session
Everyone bunkered in for the day – or several days – bombarded with presenter after presenter talking through slide after slide of the latest and greatest product enhancements or pipeline strategies. And you, their fearless sales leader, hoping that they’re absorbing all of this information and will be able to translate it into unprecedented sales in the coming months.
Not only is the process painful for everyone involved, but also, it doesn’t work.
Studies show that people retain less than 20% of what is presented to them. The “first three slides and last three slides” retention rule – which is scientifically proven – is in full effect. And these presentations are typically limitless, in that there’s almost no limit to the number of slides or amount of information crammed onto each individual slide. Slide-based training is about knowledge transfer, not equipping the salesperson with the information in a way that can be used to facilitate customer conversations.
And, except for the possible Q&A session at the end of presentations, these sessions are not normally interactive, so attendees are easily distracted by their PDAs, coffee in the back of the room, or anything else that they find more interesting than what’s being presented. It’s no wonder salespeople hit the bar and wolf down the apps at the end of the day.
A better way
There is hope.
Just as you shouldn’t subject your prospects to droning PowerPoint-based sales presentations delivered in the dark, neither should you force your salespeople – whom you’re trying to teach and inspire! – to sit through one (or more), either.
Instead of telling them what they’re selling and how to sell it, use the session to practice and perfect the whiteboard approach to selling. Start with a “why whiteboard” keynote (PowerPoint doesn’t work, information isn’t retained, sales execs want a conversation, not a presentation, etc.) and then have a subject matter expert or sales leader present a “gold standard” whiteboard presentation. After the stage is set, assemble small teams to work together and leverage a role-play-based, repetitive, simulated sales call approach to present the whiteboard to one another other using a flip chart and markers. You could even end the day with a competition of top performers in front of the entire group.
But you’re not done there. Developing a whiteboard is a great first step, but stopping there really misses the whole point of the endeavor, which is equipping sales with a set of tools, skills, and ultimately, that critical element of knowledge ownership to “raise their game” when engaging with customers and prospects with confidence. You want to give sales mastery of the whiteboard content, structure, and flow; key questions to ask; and objection handling. You also want to equip them with basic whiteboarding skills and best practices so they can confidently present a visual story to a customer or prospect and interactively exchange information.
There are several studies that show participants retain ~70-90% of material when learning in a hands-on, visual fashion. In other words, with pen in hand. It’s not just about memorizing new product information – a whiteboard-based training is designed to be an interactive learning mechanism to transfer solution knowledge quickly and effectively to field personnel who may not possess the “situational fluency” and deep domain expertise of tenured and proven salespeople.
When surveyed, participants in whiteboard-based sales training identified a few key factors that contributed to their overwhelming satisfaction with these sessions:
1. The sessions were interactive, with participants able to ask questions, add things to the whiteboard, and share their opinions while learning from others
2. The training was 100% hands-on, facilitating “active learning”
3. The activities encouraged team members to come out of their comfort zone to learn new skills and present in ways they did not think possible
So gather your team, turn on the lights, arm them with a pen and an easel and set them to work. They’re bound to not only stay awake, but be much more effective in the year to come.
We’ve all heard the term “death by PowerPoint,” or worse, experienced it. It refers to the lack of interactivity and boredom engendered by the typical slide presentation. The term invokes an arresting image that reminds us that, if you want to engage your audience while standing out from your competitors, slides aren’t the answer.
In this post, we’ll look at five ways salespeople can boost performance using “visual storytelling” instead of slides. Whether using a whiteboard, a flip chart, the back of an envelope or a tablet PC via desktop sharing software, you can integrate the visual storytelling model into your existing sales methodology and apply the approach as a powerful differentiator in competitive and complex selling environments.
Five Ways to Tell Your Story Visually
1. Develop a Powerful Whiteboard “Story” Instead of Bullet Points
Your presentation should be much more than just a list of bullets – it should be a compelling visual narrative designed to showcase your products and services and how they deliver unique value. For example, you could create a story about a tragic hero (an anonymous customer) who overcomes adversity (the current situation) to attain ultimate glory (the desired state, achieved uniquely by your solution/service).
The story also needs to be visually intriguing, with humorous iconography, and should have a script that goes along with each step. The whiteboard story should include planned “interaction points” where you’ll engage with the customer to ensure a two-way dialogue. Stay away from features and benefits. Instead, ask and help answer these specific questions: what’s the impact of sticking with the status quo, and what’s the value of making a change?
2. Stick Figures are More Powerful than Photography
One way people have attempted to fix the PowerPoint problem is by using large photographs and metaphorical imagery with just a few words on the slides. While this may help make a keynote speech more interesting, it doesn’t advance the cause in a sales cycle, make abstract ideas more concrete, or make complex concepts simpler.
Stick figures and symbols get it done – boxes, circles, arrows, dollar signs…stuff you can draw. Even more importantly, these hand-drawn visuals can be redrawn by your prospects after you leave the room. You want your story to “walk the halls” in your absence, right? You want your prospect to feel smarter and more empowered to promote your story? Well then, give them the gift of a simple story and visual that helps them understand and react, as well as own and distribute.
3. Visual Storytellers are More Consultative
With the visual storytelling approach, it’s essential that you immerse yourself in the content. Prospects perceive salespeople with a clicker in their hand as “PowerPoint jockeys.” You are telling a story that someone else created. A visual story that you draw, and explain along the way, gives you the credibility. It confers the knowledge and expertise to you, not the marketing department that created the pretty slides.
In a world where every salesperson wants to appear as a trusted advisor or practice consultative selling, visual storytellers are seen as adding more value, facilitating more engagement, and delivering insight and expertise. Storytellers get the room to think about their challenges and opportunities in a fresh and interactive way. Turning on the lights and taking a pen in your hand, as opposed to closing the shades and standing in the shadows of the LCD panel, create an entirely different perception of you and the role you are playing in the room.
4. Create a Sticky Virtual Experience
If you’re part of an inside sales team, or spend much of your sales cycle dealing with prospects over the Web and on the phone, visual storytelling can create a huge point of differentiation. Just because you aren’t face-to-face with the customer doesn’t mean you can’t use whiteboarding techniques.
Using simple Web conferencing software and an inexpensive pen tablet, you can easily simulate a full whiteboarding experience. This can be the difference between creating a remarkable and memorable sales experience, and sounding and looking like everyone else.
We’ve found that while 50 percent of WebEx viewers intermittently leave a remotely shared PowerPoint presentation to access other applications, the attrition rate is less than 10 percent using the visual storytelling approach.
5. A Whiteboarding Methodology
Great visual stories don’t happen spontaneously. They are pre-built based on the different moments of truth in the customer buying cycle. At the beginning, you need to answer the foremost question in the prospect’s mind: why should I change? You need a whiteboard that helps them see why their status quo isn’t safe and why they need to consider doing something different.
The next question you need to answer is: why you? For that you need a visual story that clearly delineates your differences and strengths in contrast to the status quo and the competitive alternatives. Finally, you need to address the question: why now? That calls for a visual story that presents the business case and a relevant example of how someone achieved their desired outcomes and realized the projected value.
Each of these is a different, complementary whiteboard that builds on the previous one and develops your story along the decision-making path.
Having a good sales process is important, but having something truly provocative to say when you actually interact is essential. Visual storytelling is the fuel that powers your sales process engine.
SiriusDecisions, a leading marketing and sales effectiveness analyst firm, recently published a blog post called, “Sales Accepted Leads: The Most Important (and Most Overlooked) Step in the Demand Creation Process.”In the post, they encourage using a “marketing qualified” to “sales accepted” status change to ensure qualified leads don’t end up lost in oblivion.
Great and necessary step, but your work doesn’t end there. Perhaps you’ve set up various triggers to remind sales that they’ve got a hot lead and time’s a wastin’, but beyond that, most marketers essentially abandon the revenue generation process – even though it’s the marketing messaging that grabbed the prospect’s attention in the first place.
Here are three steps for adding value after a lead is qualified and in the sales person’s hands:
Get your messages in a row.
If a prospect has been visiting your website and clicking on and downloading content relating to challenge A, you don’t want your sales rep following up with a message focused on challenge B. Make sure your sales rep can easily see, within the lead management system, which message the prospect responded to. Once that’s established…
Equip your reps with follow-up tools that align to that message.
Don’t stop creating compelling content. Every marketing message needs to be backed with a corresponding sales talk track. Equip reps with a call-guide document that provides quick-hitting, additional pieces of insight into the challenge each campaign highlights. Don’t spell out the entire call for them (no good rep reads from a script) – but give them provocative industry facts, grabbers and key points to bring to the conversation. Otherwise, the “follow-up” turns into one email saying, “Hi, I left you a voicemail. Are you interested? When are you available to talk?” (You think we’re joking, but we’ve seen those emails come through. You know who you are.)
Track conversion rates by rep.
In any given month, track how many leads went from sales accepted to sales qualified (the lead is now in the pipeline), broken down by rep. Reps that are showing lower-than-average conversion rates likely need additional messaging coaching to increase their follow-up effectiveness.
Each quarter, we survey more than 600 marketing and sales professionals who work in complex, business-to-business selling environments. This quarter, we focused on the unique challenges associated with virtual selling environments. Here’s what we found:
- 58 percent of respondents indicated that they receive insufficient, little or no training for selling over the phone and Web. In fact, the survey found that less than 10 percent of respondents actually feel that they have extensive and relevant training for these types of communications.
- When asked how well their organizations have armed them with tools to deliver effective messages in a virtual environment, only 13 percent of respondents felt that they were adequately equipped. More than 50 percent of respondents, however, said that they have insufficient or no tools made available to them.
- Respondents noted that more than 64 percent of the time their virtual sales calls involve more than one person, underscoring the need for effective, differentiated messaging and a greater focus on speaking tools for group audiences.
What creates your customers’ buying criteria?
Before we begin, let’s start with a definition of Neuromarketing as defined by Wikipedia: Neuromarketing is a new field of marketing which uses medical technologies such as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to study the brain’s responses to marketing stimuli. Researchers use the fMRI to measure changes in activity in parts of the brain and to learn why consumers make the decisions they do, and what part of the brain is telling them to do it.
I have a great friend that I have known for the past twenty-three years. He loves anything with a motor in it. If there is a NASCAR race that he is unable to watch live, he will record it, and while he is away from his television, turn off all media (newspaper, radio, etc.) so that he does not hear the race results until he is able to watch the replay.
Over the years, I have seen my friend purchase Chevrolet trucks, Cadillacs, a Corvette and many other vehicles; however, always from the General Motors family of cars. My friend recently purchased a new Cadillac. Fred is careful about spending money. He always attempts to get the most for every dollar. With months of research and analysis, Fred found his Cadillac and got a great price. Recently, I asked Fred if he had considered any other brand of car. He had not. I then asked him if he ever owned any vehicle other than General Motors. After some thought Fred said, “I owned a Mercury once. It had the best ride of any car I have ever owned.” Now, I was puzzled. Knowing that Fred is highly analytical and always looking for the best value, I asked him, “When you purchased your last vehicle, did you look at anything other than GM cars?” When he indicated that he had not, I asked him why. Fred quickly responded, “I guess I am a GM man; always have been, always will. I guess it is in my blood”.
I found this discovery perplexing knowing that my friend is an individual that is always looking for the best value and is cautious about his purchases. Why wouldn’t Fred look at Ford, Chrysler or all of the other options available today? Is Fred typical of most buyers? Don’t we all buy the best product for our needs, at the best price? I decided it was time to do some research.
I found a study that was conducted by researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine assessing consumer preferences regarding soft drinks. Think about it – do you drink Coke* or Pepsi*? If you are like many of us, you probably have a strong preference of one over the other. Surely you could pick out your brand in a taste test! But, are you sure?
These two brands were specifically selected in the Baylor study because, “Coca-Cola* (Coke*) and Pepsi* are nearly identical in chemical composition, yet human beings often display strong subjective preferences for one or the other.”
When the subjects received an “anonymous delivery of Coke and Pepsi”, it was often a toss-up regarding which brand was preferred. Without knowing which brand they were drinking, results were nearly fifty-fifty. However, when the brand of the product was introduced in the experiment, researches found an interesting observation: those that had selected Pepsi without awareness of brand, when brand was introduced, now nearly 75% preferred Coke. The study concluded that “there might be parallel mechanisms in the brain cooperating to bias preference.” The Baylor study also concluded that “in the brand-cued experiment, brand knowledge for one of the drinks had a dramatic influence on the measured brain response.” Simply put, brand awareness significantly changed the results of the “preferred selection.”
In addition to brand preference, these researchers made another interesting discovery. This study was conducted implementing new FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) techniques to study how and where the brain is stimulated in decision making. The FMRI imaging technology was able to observe and capture brain activity throughout the test. In comparing the anonymous test, the researchers “noticed that the neural activity changed once the subject was aware of which sample was which brand.” When made aware of one product brand, “the medial prefrontal cortex – a part of the brain that controls higher functions – lit up like a Christmas tree. The brand itself was trumping the quality of the product.” Brand awareness accessed a different part of the brain resulting in a significant difference in choice.
How could these results be so different? Why would participant responses change once they became aware of the brand they were tasting? Did the brand or the past “experience” with the brand, affect their decision preference? Was something associated with the brand of the product that affected selection of the best product? Was there more to my friend being a “GM man” than just the engine, the brakes, and all of component of a General Motors vehicle?
I began to think back through my 27-years of sales experience. I have always thought I did a good job of representing my products. I knew them inside and out. I memorized features, benefits, my competition, and understood my customer’s environment. I began to wonder if past selling experiences were more complex than I had previously thought. Could I have lost sales during the dot.com era, when I represented a great technological tool with little or no brand recognition? Then, an even more subtle thought struck me. When I sold for a huge international computer company and never missed quota, might it have had more to do with the powerful brand I represented than the selling abilities I thought I had developed? Humbling thoughts! I concluded that in many of my efforts, the sale had literally begun before I made my first contact.
What if you were able to go into every sale and correctly assess the perception or impact of your brand? What if once you were able to establish rapport, you could use your discovery skills to determine your individual customer reaction to your brand (positive or negative)? How much more effective could you be if you found out this information early in the sales cycle? How would this information change your selling strategy? Just knowing that this information is critical to investigate early is a positive start. I immediately determined that with each new customer contact, I would attempt to seek as much information regarding these questions as possible.
All of this research is starting to wear on me. I certainly am thirsty. To keep my analysis and thought process simple, I think I will have an iced tea! Good luck and good selling!
By Steve Hub, Consultant, Corporate Visions Inc.
1. Neural Correlates of Behavioral Preference for Culturally Familiar Drinks, Neuron, Vol 44, 379-387, October 14, 2004, copyright 2004 Cell Press.
2. Media Maze Neuromarketing: Part 1, Jim Meskauskas, Imedia Connection, Published July 13, 2005, link: http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/6317.asp
Are you solving a problem, or selling a product?
Solving vs. Selling
Which is it?
You know, in reality, selling a product is not all that bad. You can focus really hard on the sale, create a tight sales process/cycle, and follow it ruthlessly. Doing this well will yield results. Doing it great can lead to outstanding results.
So why bother working on solving your prospect’s problems, when selling can be so effective?
One, it can make deals come down faster and with less effort, believe it or not. If the customer feels you are firmly in their camp, helping them solve problems, and that you will not steer them in the wrong direction, then they will trust you and follow your advice. Not a bad place to be as a salesperson. But, you have to earn this right. If you are not the solution they need, you have to be willing to admit this to the prospect and walk away from the deal.
There is another advantage to this kind of selling. Your size of contract is usually bigger and your margins fatter. Why? Because you did not go into the deal with a fixed focus. You are willing to look at the customer’s problems, through their eyes, and see what they see. When doing this, you often see a synergistic relationship between several of your products and their myriad problems.
These are not just words, selling vs. solving. They are a way of life – a strategic play in a tactical world. It takes fortitude to do this kind of selling. You really need to take the time and visit with the prospect to find out what exactly they are trying to solve. What are their goals, or business initiatives? Explore this with them. Be a consultant to them. Treat them like you would a great friend in the same spot. Do not throw away their trust by trying to force a solution on them. Really explore their world. Then, when you understand the full magnitude of their problems, explore what your company can do for them. If there is a fit, and you believe it is a great fit, then share this with them. Show them exactly what you can do. Dramatize what is unique about you, and what value it creates for them. Be of service to them. Make your sales story come alive. Remember, Samurai means: “One Who Serves.” Now you are Samurai!
By Chuck Laughlin, Founder, Corporate Visions Inc.
Quotes relevant to your conversation are great Grabber ice-breakers. Think about using one of these at your next sales call.
“To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer.”
- Paul Ehrlich
“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him how to fish and you get rid of him all weekend.”
- Zenna Schaffer
“Why don’t they make the whole plane out of that black box stuff.”
- Steven Wright
“Whenever I’m caught between two evils, I take the one I’ve never tried.”
- Mae West
“The pen is mightier than the sword, and considerably easier to write with.”
- Marty Feldman
“If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.”
- W.C. Fields
“Its not the size of the dog in the fight, its the size of the fight in the dog.”
- Mark Twain
“History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”
- Napoleon Bonaparte
“I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.”
- Margaret Thatcher
“It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.”
- Dan Quayle
“Chaos Theory is a new theory invented by scientists panicked by the thought that the public were beginning to understand the old ones.”
- Mike Barfield
Every person leading people to decide between one alternative over another is a salesperson. That includes Jesus, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, every president, attorney, motivational speaker, as well as your kindergarten teacher, mother, and father. Anyone intent on influencing your life choices is actually trying to sell you on something.
Great leaders are “salespeople.” They have to be to inspire a following. Imagine a person who stood up and said to a crowd, “Follow me,” and walked off. Who would follow? Not many.
However, if that person gave a rousing speech that rallies the group to take action – people will follow. Leaders influence people to follow them toward a course of action. That is salesmanship.
Many of the great entrepreneurs that have created offerings and changed our lives started out selling door to door or had paper routes, etc. They were mini-entrepreneurs early in life who evolved and honed their power of influence and just kept on going.
Those who choose a sales career develop these skills with a professional focus. They learn the science and art of influence and use it in their profession.
At Corporate Visions, our focus is to ensure you benefit from these incredibly powerful skills with high integrity and honor. Our goal is that you can successfully lead people to make choices that will improve their lives, both personally and professionally. Visit www.corporatevisions.com to discover more.
- Chuck Laughlin
Founder of Corporate Visions Inc.