Archive for the ‘Market/Marketing Research’ Category

Is it “Goodbye” to Solution Selling and “Hello” to Insight Selling?

There are three real nuggets here that you can use in your business, so I’d stick with this post to the end or bookmark it and come back to it if you’re in a rush (or both, if you like :-) !)

As is often the case, it started with a not-overtly-enticing breadcrumb… that lead me to a trail of much tastier morsels… that enabled me to piece together the analysis of results of several different surveys/ studies (by the Corporate Executive Board at harvard Business School) from different angles and perspectives of those involved in the sales/ buying process of complex b2b purchases.

Now, don’t be put off by either “complex” or “b2b” if you think these don’t pply to your business – hang on in there and you’ll see why it’s worth it! :-)

It started with an email from a colleague with link to a post in the Harvard Business Review about the best sales people avoiding “talkers”.

The first seemed to be little more than another labelling exercise of customer contact types based on analysis of over 700 b2b business purchases. Here are the types, so you can see what you make of them for yourself:

Customer contact types

  1. Go-Getters: Motivated by organizational improvement and constantly looking for good ideas, Go-Getters champion action around great insights wherever they find them
  2. Teachers: Passionate about sharing insights and ideas, teachers are sought out by colleagues for their input. They’re especially good at persuading others to take a specific course of action
  3. Skeptics: Wary of large complicated projects, Skeptics push back on almost everything. Even when championing a new idea, they’ll counsel careful, measured implementation
  4. Guides: Willing to share the organization’s latest gossip, Guides furnish information that is typically unavailable to outsiders
  5. Friends: Just as nice as the name suggests, Friends are readily accessible and happily help reps network with other stakeholders in the organization
  6. Climbers: Focused primarily on personal gain, Climbers back projects that will raise their own profiles, and they expect to be rewarded when those projects succeed
  7. Blockers: Perhaps better described as “anti-stakeholders,” Blockers are strongly oriented toward the status quo. They have little interest in speaking to outside vendors

Usefulness of this information?

I’ve seen research like this on several occasions and, in my opinion, the information is only as good as the ability of the individual sales person to spot these characteristics early enough in the game to minimise wasted time and concentrate on the players that will help move things forward… And if they’re that good, surely they don’t really need the labels to help them???

Just as I was about to move hastily on to more worthwhile pursuits I hit on the second – “The End of Solutions Sales” link to another article which claims that the top 20% elite and most successful b2b sales reps no longer use solution-based selling… Now, bearing in mind the small business owner is often his or her own chief rep, I figured we should share these findings here… and that leads us nicely onto the second nugget:

  • A key finding in one of the CEB’s studies that involved over 1,400 b2b companies was that nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision was made before any initial conversation with a supplier
  • Customers are a lot more knowledgeable these days about their own needs and the various solutions available to them…
  • Now is it making a wild leap to suggest that in over half of cases the customer has gone through all the information gathering, long list, specifications, and so on and drawn up a short list of contenders before you’re even aware they’re in the market to buy? And by this stage the only influence you have may well be on price.

    Not ideal, huh? So what are the key considerations?

    Let’s look at the main differences between solution selling and what the CEB call Insight selling for some clues that make up the third nugget:

    Solution Selling V Insight Selling

    What kind of company to target?
    Solution selling: Organizations that have a clear vision and established demands
    Insight Selling: Agile organizations that have emerging demands or are in a state of flux

    What sort of initial information to gather?
    Solution selling: What need is the customer seeking to address?
    Insight Selling: What unrecognized need does the customer have?

    When to engage?
    Solution selling: After the customer has identified a problem the supplier can solve
    Insight Selling: Before the customer has pinpointed a problem

    How to begin the conversation?
    Solution selling: Ask questions about the customer’s need and look for a “hook” for your solution
    Insight Selling: Offer provocative insights about what the customer should do

    How to direct the flow of information?
    Solution selling: Ask questions so that the customer can steer you through its purchasing process
    Insight Selling: Coach the customer about how to buy, and support it throughout the process

    Usefulness of this information?

    In my opinion, now we’re getting somewhere! :-) We can see that the Super Star Elite are cleverly positioning themselves as a trusted authority – even before the customer realises there’s a need for one by:

    • Evaluating prospects according to different criteria from those used by other reps, targeting agile organizations in a state of instability, change or transmission rather than ones with a clear understanding of their needs
    • Seeking out a very different set of stakeholders: Now this is where that first research I virtually pooh-poohed comes into its own! It turns out that the average rep hooks up with Guides, Friends and Climbers – aka Talkers – whereas our elite and most successful top 20% cultivate Go-Getters, Teachers, and Skeptics – aka Change Agents – in their customer dealings
    • Concentrating on coaching those chosen customer contacts how to buy, not about their company’s purchasing process

    How about this approach for you?

    Is it sound? Yes.
    Is it new? Quite frankly, not particularly – I remember using it it in exploratory complex sales situations back in the ’90s and I’m sure I wasn’t the first! So, to my mind it just has a fancy new label :-)
    Who’s it for? If you’re in any kind of value service/ industry where your knowledge and expertise are a strong part of your offer
    Can you use it easily? Yes. In fact if you’re not trained in sales you’ll probably find it a more natural way to sell than many others
    Should you use it? Absolutely if you don’t want to be reduced to a commodity where your offer will be bought on price.

    So, a quick recap

    Types of potential customers
    Types of contacts

    I’d love to know: How useful has this been to you and what would you like to add? :-)

    photo credit: schnaars via photo pin cc

Training does NOT make sense…

That’s a bit of a ripe statement coming from a Trainer, isn’t it?

Or is it?

If your business back is already up against the wall, to be honest you’ve left it too late to expect any kind of training to get you through an existing crisis.

Know how on Brand, Business, Finance, PR, Promotion, Marketing, Sales, Telemarketing, Market Research, Advertising, Social Media and so on – they’re each fantastic skills to have and an asset to any company but your chances of mastering any of them from scratch in time to be of help to you right now are probably slim to zilch :-(…

The good news is that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to start reversing your fortunes right now.

Whoever you are, whatever business you’re in, you have skills and assets you can trade – you just need to discover which have the most market value right now. The point is, these particular skills and assets may come so naturally to you – you are so unconsciously competent at them – that you don’t understand their potential value to others and they probably don’t even form a part of your current business offering!

Here are some ‘down and dirty’ suggestions (there’s nothing wrong with ‘down and dirty’ in this context – it just means don’t wait till everything’s perfect, just get on with ideas you can gainfully activate and use to your advantage):

  1. I’d suggest you go outside your inner circle to get help identifying what your greatest skills and assets are – those close to you, just like you, may be so used to them being part of you, they take them for granted and don’t see anything particularly special in them. So go a little more distant – colleagues and clients who aren’t your best buddies and see what their feedback gives you. Be prepared for some surprises ;-)…
  2. Next: Now you know where you have added and marketable value, who could you trade that with who’d bite your hand off and provide you with something valuable in exchange – something you desperately need but cannot provide for your business?
  3. Do your due diligence to make sure it’ll be a fair trade. I’d say forget competition for now – unless it’s ferocious – if you’re both still around as we come out of the recession, maybe that’s when to go back to the snarling gladiator routine if you must…
  4. Once your immediate crisis is over, take a deep breath or three and then take a good look at where skills training could or would help you avoid a similar situation in the future. Then may I, with all due respect (anybody who’s been around any length of time knows precisely where I’m coming from ;-)), suggest you put that training into place rather than waiting for the next hole to fall into…

What have you got to lose by giving this a try?

Or, to put it another way: What have you to gain by doing nothing :-( ?

Linda Mattacks - Small Business Training

PS: Let me know how you get on…

10 Top Reasons Small Businesses Fail and Quick Fixes

I did some online research over the past couple of hours on the Top 10 Reasons Small Businesses Fail.

The first I came up with was information from the Small Business Administration, an American federal government agency with some 2,000 permanent full time staff and a head honcho (called an Administrator) sworn into the post by the President no less… so I guess the USA takes small businesses seriously ;-)…

Anyway, back to the main plot: The SBA says (apparently in no particular order):

  • Over expansion
  • Poor capital structure
  • Overspending
  • Lack of reserve funds
  • Bad business location
  • Poor customer service and accounting protocols
  • An inadequate business plan
  • Failure to change with the times
  • Ineffective marketing and self promotion
  • Underestimating the competition

Now it might just be my limited powers of research (though I’m normally pretty good) but the only answers I could find regarding UK businesses was on a UK franchise site. Nothing wrong with that but it doesn’t have the same kind of kudos as a government agency.

Never mind – this time the reasons are in numerical order – presumably in importance of their contribution to failure. Let’s see what they are:

  1. The manager is incompetent
  2. Finances are not in place
  3. The Owner gives up too quickly
  4. Insufficient advertising
  5. Lack of branding
  6. Inability to close the sale
  7. Poor location
  8. Bad treatment of suppliers and (heaven forbid) customers
  9. Lady Luck
  10. Overestimation of demand and lack of USPs

So where are the similarities and how might you be able to get any quick fixes?

Remember that it’s often not what you know but who you know (let’s face it, if you knew that what you were doing was poor business and likely to come back and bite you in the you-know-where you’d hardly have done it, would you?). And if you’re genuine and ask people nicely they’re usually flattered and happy to help where they can.

  • Bad/ poor business and financial planning

Who do you know who could help you out here? How about Successful people you know who’ve been through what you’re currently going through recently enough to have what they might be able to impart still hold water in these economic times?

  • Poor location

I admit I haven’t had a need to know about business premises leases so again I’d say: Ask around and find a business person who does. It may be that you’re stuck where you are, in which case concentrate instead on other ways to combat it…

  • Poor Differentiation, Communication and Support of Brand Value in relation to Market Need and Willingness to Pay

If you don’t know somebody who has demonstrably got this right for their own business and can help you do the same for yours… I’d be happy to help :-)!

Linda Mattacks - Small Business Training

Stop the pain THEN find the cure

I don’t know whether it’s my shoulder that’s giving me aggro and bringing this home to me especially now, but it seems most places I look people are hugely prioritizing stopping the pain over affecting an ultimate cure to their problems.

Two months without a decent night’s sleep and I can sympathise :-( … Of course I want my full mobility back but right now I’d probably pay a king’s ransom to somebody who could wave a magic wand to make my shoulder a pain free zone and then look at sorting its ‘non specific’ cause.

It’s the same with businesses. The attitude seems very much to be: “There’s no point investing money in training me or my staff in skills for a business that won’t be here in three or six months time unless we do something radical now.”

Many businesses that did okay in a buoyant market are struggling in the current economy: We’ve been witnessing only too starkly how, when the banks get it wrong, there are knock on effects all down the line – like dominoes falling.

It turns out that trusted business relationships don’t actually count for that much when the chips are down and it’s every ‘man’ for himself. There’s nothing personal about it – it’s down to survival of the fittest.

Clients who never queried your terms before are now buying on price and often paying as late as they can. The banks won’t or maybe now can’t help out.

Doing what you’ve always done isn’t working. Traditional advisors haven’t been able to help.

What are you going to do? You have two choices:

  1. Carry on doing what you’ve always done until your ship sinks without trace
  2. Take your courage in both hands and decide the outcome is more important to you than being right

If you feel the second option is the right one for you, pick up the phone… 😉

What do you have to lose?

Linda Mattacks - Small Business Training

PS Ignore the date: This isn’t a joke

One for the ladies (apart from the freebie: that’s for all!)


The offer of a 15 minute telephone consultation on anything to do with growing your business – that’s open to all – guys and gals: All you do is pay whatever your telecom provider charges you.

What’s becoming abundantly clear is that I was by no means the only one to completely miss where my real value was when I set up in business for myself – see What do YOUR customers buy from you? for more of the story…

If you‘re not crystal clear about the value you offer and what it’s worth to your market, 15 minutes will give you a good start.

If you already have that clarity but you’re still not getting the rewards you believe you deserve, we’ll use the 15 minutes to brainstorm why that may be so and suggest what you can do to start putting it right.

On the other hand, if you’re already really happy with the way you earn your living, the lifestyle it affords you and the value you provide in return, then maybe you can share some of your tips with our visitors 😉 …

Now, as promised, One for the ladies:

I recently found myself on Lesley Kershaw’s mailing list for her site WomansWork so I had a look and then we had a conversation about it.

The site lists networking clubs, resources, other useful sites and local businesses – all for women in business. And each month Lesley sends out a newsletter to subscribers letting them know about free training, grants and events in their area – she’s already covering 11 counties in England.

It’s a free service, so if you’re based in any of these 11 counties you might want to bookmark the site and/or sign up for the newsletter :-)

And please let me know about any other good sites you see…

What do YOUR customers buy from you?

Do you really know the answer?

Do they buy

  • IT equipment & support?
  • Management consultancy?
  • Marketing services?
  • Accountancy service?
  • Legal advice?
  • Courier service?
  • Web design?
  • Web SEO?
  • Sales training?
  • Sales & marketing communications training?
  • Business coaching?
  • Widgets?
  • Plumbing?
  • Clothes?
  • Shoes?

If your customers are buying any of the above from you, you are providing a commodity; they’ll buy on price and convenience and will be wooed by the next temptress who comes along…

You might as well learn from my experience and save yourselves the aggro of having to go through it. It took a very good client who would put any new sales person through one of my courses to remove the veil from my eyes a couple of years ago:

“I could buy sales training from any number of sources.” (Boy! That hurt!)

“I couldn’t easily get elsewhere what you bring to my business…”

Round about the same time I explained what I did to a savvy business guy:

I provide blended learning, tailored sales & marketing communications courses primarily for small businesses where the in-house expertise was in the core offering (often technical) of the business rather than the ‘soft’ skills that are also essential to grow the business.

He then swiftly burst my bubble and explained what I’d got wrong:
“Fabulous idea. Great service. Trouble is these people won’t value it at a price that’s worth your while: Wrong price. Wrong market.”

These people don’t want courses on how to sell ethically: That’s fine down the line when they’ve grown sufficiently to employ dedicated sales reps and/or telephone sales people: They’ll buy your courses or somebody else’s for them. What they want is help on how to make it easy for people to buy from them.”

And do you know what? Not only was he right, it was actually so much easier! They didn’t need to learn all those sales techniques I’d put together, with examples of how to use them, tailor them for their business and make them work.

Now we invest time getting the basics right and the rest, with a bit of effort, slot into place relatively easily.

My savvy business friend’s advice to me was FREE. So I’ll do the same for you:

Email me: desk (at) smallbusinesstraining (dot) co (dot) uk

Or pick up the phone (office hours, 9 – 5, Monday to Friday, excluding Bank Holidays) for a FREE 15 minute consultation on what your customers should be buying from you…

Linda Mattacks - Small Business Training

Time to spring clean YOUR business?

Don’t adjust your set!

Regular visitors will notice changes to the look and feel of this site over the coming days.

We took a long hard look at the theme and had to admit that what seemed really cool before quite frankly had become dated. And it didn’t allow us to easily add the exciting extras you want and we want to provide you :-(.

So, sleeves up and revamp time.

Most of the changes will go on offline behind the scenes until the changeover is ready. However, there may well be some components that need to alter first – as part of the Work In Progress… so it would be great if you cut us a bit of leeway!

2 more things:

  1. Are you 100% happy with the way your own business is represented on and offline? We all need all the advantages we can get in this economy…
  2. What specific business issues would you like to see covered here?

Let us know what you’d like to see featured over the coming weeks

We’re talking to owners of all different kinds of small businesses, asking what the main issues are right now.

Here’s your opportunity to flag up the ones facing your industry – and have a chance to get answers here – so go for it!

+44 (0)20 7209 1284

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"I was very impressed by Linda's determination to help and the constructive, but persistent, manner in which she identified issues and then tried to resolve them. After recent progress I was again reaching a stage where I seemed to be spinning my wheels, and she has given me fresh impetus to start moving forward again."