Monday, May 3, 2010

Focused Selling

Part 3 of a 3 Part Series on Consultative Selling

Once you've completed the grueling process of understanding your value, you're ready to sell, right?

Maybe.  What are you going to say and how are you going to say it?

Whatever it is, it needs to be brief and to the point; this means refining your value message down to a short elevator pitch.  While in Silicon Valley, the elevator pitch is most associated with raising money from potential investors, it equally applies to raising money from customers (i.e. a sale).

To shortcut all the pointless debates between "elevator pitches", "unique selling propositions", and "value propositions," I define elevator pitch to be a brief series of sentences that describes (1) what value you provide (2) how you do it and (3) what sets you apart from the competition.  By brief, I use a 60/60 rule:  60 words in 60 seconds or less.  Simple, right?

Try it.

The two most common mistakes I see:  too much product talk and too broad.  Let's look at each in turn.

Product Talk:  Who Cares?
Inevitably, the first time people try to craft an elevator pitch, they start by talking about their products, technology, features, and on and on and on.... What's wrong this?  Shouldn't people first understand what we have so they can figure out how it might help them?  NO.

Our minds don't work this way.  The way people's minds work in a selling situation is that context must first be established with respect to their pain and problems.  If this context is established, then they're ready to hear more.  If not, they don't care what you have to say about your product.  Think back to the last time you got trapped on a telesales call.  If you're like me the conversation in your head went something like this:

Me:  Oh, man.  What does this person want?
Telesales:  "Good evening sir, we're running a special on custom carpet cleaning...."
Me:  Why on earth do I need this?  The cleaners were just here two days ago.
Telesales:   "...six rooms for only $29.95! We use the latest vapor-dry technology and we leave your house smelling...."
Me (interrupting):  "Thanks but not interested."
Telesales:  For a limited time only, we're also offering free window washing if you place your order....
Me (interrupting again):  "Sorry, really not interested. Bye."

Now if my kids had just tracked mud across our living room carpet, this conversation might have had a different outcome.  Why?  Context.

But It Can Do Everything!
The other problem I see is that people have a hard time focusing the message, especially where the product is capable of doing multiple things.  So they rattle off everything.  After all, you don't want to miss mentioning something that might resonate with the potential customer!  The problem with this is that you come off sounding mediocre in the classic "jack of all trades, master of none" fashion.  I'm in the service business, and one thing I learned early is that when customers are buying, they want to hire the expert.  After they hire, they want someone who can do it all.  Get hired first, you can cross-sell after you're in the door.

So even if you can do it all, focus on the one or two most compelling value aspects of your product for your pitch.  You can elaborate later.

The Purpose of an Elevator Pitch
It's important to remember that the point of an elevator pitch is not to close a sale.  Rather it is to get the prospective buyer to invite you to tell them more.  To do this, you need to frame your pitch in such a way as to help the customer connect their problem with your offering so that they start asking questions, invite you to explain more, or they take some action to contact you (if the pitch is not face-to-face like on a website or collateral).  This means you need to tailor your pitch to your target customer.  If you have more than one potential target customers, you will likely have more than one elevator pitch, one per target customer.

A Case Example (and shameless commercial pitch)
Here's the elevator pitch that we currently use for my company, Infrastructure Group, not as a shining example of a great pitch, but so that you can see what one looks like:

"Infrastructure Group provides business services to early stage startups that enable entrepreneur's to focus their time and resources on core product and business development.  We handle the non-core stuff like accounting, HR, and legal and act as your expert, time-share G&A staff.  We're all former startup people and approach things from an operating, not merely advisory, perspective."

59 words deliverable in 20 seconds.  Value:  entrepreneur time by offloading the paperwork stuff.  Differentiator:  we used to be in your shoes.  If you check out our website, you'll see the same message carried throughout.  You'll also notice that we offer a number of additional services that aren't mentioned as part of the pitch, in order to avoid defocusing the message.  Do we get invited in every time?  No, but our elevator pitch allows us and a prospective customer to quickly determine if there is a potential, mutually beneficial fit which is ultimately what sales is about.

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