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

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Innovation? Forget Silicone Valley USA: Think Sheffield, UK!

Anyone who’s been in sales going back a number of years will be familiar with the oft used scenario of selling widgets in training videos. And we trainee sales people always thought: “How boring!”

Imagine then how intrigued I was to read recently about how a Yorkshire man’s widget has become a (somewhat sexy, even) global brand!

How it started

The man in question is Hugh Facey who, as the story goes, was a successful salesman for a wire company back in the 1980s. A farmer challenged him that surely there was a quicker and more efficient way to attach two bits of wire together than was currently practised – grappling around with a pair of pliers and knots? Now I haven’t spoken to the entrepreneur so I don’t know whether it was a genuine desire to solve a perennial and time consuming task that faced many of his customers that spurred him
on to invent the simple yet brilliant Gripple (the size of a matchbox), but by 1989 he’d come up with the idea and set up his own company to make it.

Now think a bit wider about the applications: Wine and fruit industries rely on trellises to hold up their crops and the Gripple offered a way to repair and even construct wire fencing in a fraction of the time, saving thousands of labour hours. Gripple won the Grand Prix du President (highest accolade of France’s design contest, the Concours Lepine), in 1990. And joined the elite ranks of inventions such as the contact lens, and the ballpoint pen… The Prince of Wales Award for Innovation came the following year.

Gripple Europe was established in 2000 and Gripple Inc the following year

And the (not-so-humble) widget was just the start!

Hugh realised there were so far untapped applications for the Gripple in the construction industry – and his systems of wires and Gripples are now used for lighting for example instead of beams for buildings in earthquake zones. Loadhog, a sister company has been established to provide better distribution solutions… And now, at a time when many business owners would love to be taking things a bit easier, Hugh’s company has expanded to three factories and he is insistent that at least a quarter of sales come from products less than four years old.

Innovation, innovation, innovation!

The company has won the Queen’s Award for Eneterprise in every category at least once.

There is an Ideas and Innovation Centre in the newest factory, and the company employs a dozen engineers to use their imagination and push the boundaries. They have twelve police forces looking at an new system for taking forensic moulds of footprints – it takes 5 minutes instead of half an hour and is more accurate…

Forget PC: Think Commonsense and Community!

No accountants run Mr F’s business and there is no personnel department. All staff currently have to buy at least a £1,000 of shares by the end of their first year of employment and the long term plan is to make the business employee-owned, limited by guarantee.

The company has managed to maximise its energy efficiency, decrease electricity use, reduce landfill/incinerated waste, increase recycling, conserve our use of raw materials, and minimise packaging.

Each year it donates a percentage of its profits to charity as well as dreaming up and participating in fundraising events. Take a look at their 2011 newsletter for inspiration, though I personally think the two jailbreak winners – who blagged their way from Sheffield to Marmaris in Turkey within 48 hours and without spending a bean get my vote!

This isn’t an advertisement for a company. It’s an inspirational story that shows an example of manufacturing that’s alive and well in a corner of Sheffield and can be profitable and sexy when approached with an open and enquiring mind and not attached to a “that’s the way it’s always been done” attitude!

What could you learn from this guy and how could you apply it to your thinking and your company?

The Gripple and Loadhog web sites
Robert Hardman’s great article in the Daily Mail

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Business start ups need this and so do business Neanderthals!

Regulars here will know that I rarely refer to or get involved with business start ups. In my experience they have so much on their plates with the day-to-day hassles of survival that it’s a little while before they come up for air, look around, and see what else is happening that they should maybe know about.

Well, to my mind, this is something that business start ups should get savvy on sooner rather than later.

I happen to believe it’s also really good for owners of small businesses that have been around for a while but still not really got their heads round how to handle the whole on line business presence.

These days, to ignore an effective on line presence is a potential, probable and, okay, I’ll stick my neck out ever so slightly, almost “written-in-the-stars” contribution to the route of said business ultimately disappearing down the drain…

What to do then, smarty-pants, Linda?

So glad you asked! :-)

As you’ll have gathered, this isn’t an area I work on – it’s not my experience or expertise. And my partner (who rarely gets mentioned in my posts here, and then only by oblique reference) works with small, but clearly focused, high value business owners and entrepreneurs.

However, a speciality of a friend of mine (whom I’ve known for several years) is helping new-to-the-web entrepreneurs and small businesses establish a presence that they can get to work for them. And it eases them gently and cost effectively into the process.

So, what do you need to do?

You may not need to do anything other than tell those of your mates who you recognise in my description above who might benefit from a free “session” with the Blogmistress.

Oh, down boys and girls, for heaven’s sake! :-)

Babs Saul is offering a free Blogmistress“>webinar on Wednesday 20th June at noon UK time. Now, it’s probable that all but the swiftest to respond will be too late to participate live on the day, but Babs is talking about making a recording available down the line a bit. So follow the link I’ve given you and get over there is my advice!

What’s it about?

I think it’s going to be fiendishly revealing… Well, I hope so!

Babs is great on how to get the best out of your website on a shoestring budget and optimising WordPress in ways most of us wouldn’t realise we could.

This isn’t part of an affiliate scheme

I don’t have anything against them and I’d probably happily join in with one I thought would be helpful to you to know about. With this it’s just that Babs mentioned what she was doing and I decided it could be useful either to you or people you know.

There is, I understand, an option to join a paying course that Babs is running: That’s up to you to decide about – you’ll have had the value of the freebie before you take that decision anyway… And Babs is no smooth-talking-sales hustler – Anything but! :-)

Hope this has been useful to you, and, as always, let me have your comments…

Thank you!


2 Responses to “Business start ups need this and so do business Neanderthals!”

  1. Lynn Tulip says:

    Babs is my webmaster and I am not disappointed by her expertise.

  2. Babs Saul says:

    Thanks Linda.

    I love running online workshops and this one should be useful for those who want a website they can edit themselves. I’m meanwhile knitting more too, so that people can really get to grips with using WordPress – it answers so many needs these days and it’s great to help people make the most of it.

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Is it really any tougher for women in business?

I hadn’t really thought much about challenges, issues or problems that might be specific to women setting up in business. I thought we were light years past all that “We’ll need your husband’s signature to guarantee your loan” malarky… yet a recent post on Birds made me ponder that well, maybe there are the odd things that we gels have to take into account and cope with that our male counterparts don’t…

I’ve already added some of my own points over there on a separate post that you can go and have a read of if you fancy, so I won’t repeat them here. Instead I’m just going to select and put my perspective on three of Ola’s 10 things ‘they’ didn’t tell you about being a woman in business…


No: Women aren’t always your best allies.

Maybe partly because I came from a commercial background as opposed to the public sector, I was perhaps more used to the “dog-eat-dog” attitude of some women in business – it isn’t nice (or necessary, in my opinion) but it certainly wasn’t the shock to me that it seems to have been to Ola… I don’t know about anyone else but I’ve come across enough not just single minded but hard bitten ladies from infant school onwards!

I think too nowadays maybe it’s less about long term formal partnerships and instead being on the lookout for and open to strategic and/ or tactical alliances that may be relatively brief yet nevertheless mutually beneficial and provide benefits for customers that would otherwise have been difficult (if not impossible) to achieve.

I think the issue here is more the importance of hanging out with the kind of people, male and female, who share similar values, ethics, interests and ideals.

Sexism isn’t dead!

Well there’s a surprise, yet I don’t believe I’m conscious of any more or less sexism as a female entrepreneur than as a female employee. Prior to the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act virtually all telesales staff in classified advertising were females and virtually all the reps were males. I suspect that the act probably didn’t so much wipe out the practice of sex discrimination so much as nudge it underground and force it to be less blatant.

Many years later when I was seeking to put together a team to carry out telephone marketing research for a client I was determined to be an equal opportunities employer. I recruited five men and five women to work part time. By the end of 2 weeks I’d sacked the guys and the women worked full time. Because they were better at getting that particular job done.

There are pluses and minuses regarding the looks department (none helped by that rather peculiar lady who made a name for herself recently in the UK press purely from having such a high opinion of her own looks…) and yes, I suppose there always will be the odd Neanderthal bloke who’ll behave like a pillock in the presence of a good looking woman. But if we’re going to bleat every time we come up against something that “isn’t fair” maybe we need to learn that’s just part of life…

Trying to be a man doesn’t work

Yes, it’s time to question the (mainly male-designed) business model that’s been followed by and large in the west for so long. But at the same time I believe we need to take care that the pendulum doesn’t swing too far in the opposite direction.

I am in entire agreement that there’s not only room but a need for both masculine and feminine qualities in business – from both men and women: it’s about balance more than anything else.

In my opinion there are way too many “bleeding hearts” who want to do good yet are hardly making enough money to survive – what good does that do the world? As I understand it, Mother Teresa wasn’t independently wealthy… yet do we really think she hadn’t got herself into a position of power and influence to drum up whatever backing she needed for her projects? And, whether or not you or I am a fan of hers, I wonder how many people were helped by her making the most of herself?

I don’t think there’s a nobility about choosing to be touchy-feely to the detriment of making a profit in business – to me that’s no better than its polar opposite: the old style entrepreneur-turned-corporate who’d use you and fleece you as soon as look at you!

I’ve always found the way around all three of these issues is to provide value that would be hard to match and well nigh impossible to beat! 😉

What are your views?

8 Responses to “Is it really any tougher for women in business?”

  1. Some fields are tougher for women than others. The advantage we women have as entrepreneurs is that many women would rather do business with us.

    I’ve been aware of gender discrimination since I was a teenager, but my choice has always been to forge ahead and see what I can get away with! I know that there have been times when I have been viewed as a ball-breaker (e.g., in meetings, when I refused to let myself be bulldozed by a dominant man). But I accept that as the “cost of doing business.”

    • Hi Mary

      Your contribution could kick of another whole post… 😉

      Meanwhile, I believe more women could find they achieve a heck of a lot more – in pure satisfaction and fun, let alone favourable results – by believing in themselves and allowing that belief to come through and take a stance that’s more “Actually, s*d whether you like the fact this is coming from a woman – my contribution is at least as important as anybody else’s.”

      More of the old: “Don’t ask for permission. Do it. And, if necessary, apologize afterwards”…

      I didn’t once add 25% plus unexpected perks to my salary by continuing to present the quiet accepting employee face I had been for the previous two years – I got assertive.

      And we definitely to carry that kind of belief combined with bravado over into our own business :-)

  2. When I first arrived in London to start work almost 20 years ago I had quite a strong Suffolk (Lowestoft) accent. I found this an impediment to being taken seriously and battered my own confidence, so I consciously impersonated the posher London types and over time the accent faded away, and through being ‘inauthentic’ I felt much more able to get on in a career.

    Being a bloke, I don’t know if this bears any relation to the way women might sometimes feel in the workplace. I hope that women are now much more likely to be judged on their abilities for the job and the discrimination that was once definitely a huge issue has melted away to some extent, although prejudices undeniably still exist.

    I think that social mobility in general remains an important issue though. What are the opportunities for people from deprived backgrounds to have opportunities in work and business? Isn’t being born into a poor area with failing schools a much greater factor in determining one’s opportunity for success in life than gender? And then of course there are other factors that are never discussed – things like ugly-ism where one’s appearances can have a huge effect on opportunity…

    • Hi John and welcome to the discussion :-)

      You raise some valid points about wider issues, too… Guess it’s time to get off our rear ends, work together and take on the world…

  3. Lynn Tulip says:

    Being a woman in business can be a bonus. I find that being authentic and consistent is the best and just doing what I say I can do when I said I would do it works well too.

  4. I find the best way to be taken seriously in business by both men and women is to be as good at my job as I can be. But it’s not always easy, as you say. You must recall that old saying … “when people praise the sheer skill and dance talent of Fred Astaire, remember that Ginger Rogers did it all, too, in high heels and going backwards.”

    • Yes, I do, Suze.

      I think we women need to set aside the old adage about self praise being no praise and realise that it has nothing to do with justified self confidence and speaking up for our own abilities.

      If we’d just do that a bit more, at least we’d know we’d always have someone in our corner! 😉

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Not getting the results you want?

The world is changing at, some say, an alarming pace… What worked yesterday might no longer work today and what works today might suddenly not work tomorrow.

Is this cause for hand wringing and despair? :-(

Not necessarily if we’re
a) Keeping our eyes open to what’s going on around us and
b) Prepared to change the way we do things and, maybe even what we do

So let’s have a quick look at the basics. In cases where you’re not getting the results/ outcomes you want, here are a couple of tips.

3 questions to ask yourself:

1: “What is it I really want from this business?”

There are always underlying ‘why’s to wanting material results, such as:

  • A great way of life for me/ and my family
  • Financial freedom
  • Pay for the kids education
  • Pay off the mortgage with enough over for a decent lifestyle
  • Something I look forward to doing each day – that gives me a buzz – that I can never imagine retiring from

And then you need to be able to describe what each of the above would look like)

Whatever your answers, they needs to be strong enough and mean enough for you to shift from wherever you are to somewhere better or you just won’t bother… If they do, you can ask yourself:

2: “What is it I need to do differently to create different and better results?”

Now the answer to this little beauty could include all sorts of areas to test:

  • Strategy
  • Product/ service
  • Message/ pitch
  • Target audience
  • Positioning and pricing
  • Focus/ concentration of effort

This can be a bit tricky as it’s unlikely to be just one thing. And so it’s imperative to bring in the old direct marketing adage here which is to change only one thing at a time and measure pre- and post change results before implementing and testing any other changes.

Why? Because otherwise you’ll never know which of your changes caused the different results you get! 😉

Another helpful question is:

3: “Where am I currently and how does that compare to where I want to be?”

You can then identify the gap between the two, do a gap analysis, define what’s missing and, finally, decide what actions are required to bridge the gap.

You may find you have all the skills and tools you need to work it all out for yourself or you may need help in some areas but at least you’re addressing the problem and not burying your head in the sand or running away from it! :-)

By the way, I’m asking these questions with the intention of applying them to business. When I step back and think from a different angle they can in fact be applied to all sorts of things, can’t they? Health/ fitness/ exercise/ diet, relationships… 😉

Have you tried any of these when you’ve been “up against it” and, if so with what outcomes? Or maybe you have your own favourite questions you’d like to share with us?

9 Responses to “Not getting the results you want?”

  1. Sarah Arrow says:

    I thought it was mind the gap? 😉

  2. Lynn Tulip says:

    I can ‘see’ little diagrams and helpful sketches aiding the thought process from all three questions. Nice one Linda.

  3. We do tend to get stuck and resist change, particularly when we’re time poor, so going through some reassessment steps like this can be very useful – and as sally says, it usually means we need to make even more effort!

    • Yes, change can be scary, Elaine! And that’s why, I think, it has to be worth enough to us to undergo the effort.

      In my experience, changes are likely to be more easily and smoothly achieved when they’re our own idea rather than imposed externally… 😉

  4. sally says:

    I think the thing many people miss after all the thinking and analysing what isn’t going right is that what really needs to happen is… MASSIVE ACTION.

    Without that effort any mental effort is sadly wasted. You can’t sit around and expect things to happen on their own…

  5. Linda, I think section 2–what do I need to do differently?–is crucial whenever we want to make changes in any area of life. I sometimes see people who are not getting the health or fitness results they want but who are unwilling to try something different. Typically they keep falling for “overnight cures” that don’t work, yet they’re strangely resistant to trying a slower, healthier approach that will work.

    • Trouble is, it can be a bit of a ‘catch 22’, Mary because “doing things differently” is one of the hardest things – as it doesn’t come naturally and often feels alien or, at the very least, awkward, at first.

      And that’s why, even if people are prepared to try doing things differently, they’re likely to slip back into old ways that feel more comfortable as soon as they hit a snag, unless they have knowledgeable support to help them through the sticky patches.

  6. Really helpful aide-memoire there, Linda – many thanks for sharing.

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What drives YOU?

I don’t know about you, but I feel as though the personal development brigade have hijacked the word passion – so much so that it’s become overused and, I don’t know, somehow demeaned. It’s got to the stage where I often feel you can’t use it without people either silently groaning and rolling their eyes or saying, knowingly, “woo-woo” behind their hands :-(

So I’m going for the word “drive” – you substitute it with whatever works for you but, whatever you call it, this is a worthwhile exercise doing not just once but every now and again – especially when you feel deflated, low and lacking vim or vigour, your mojo’s deserted you – see, I’m even steering clear of un-motivated and un-inspired 😉

Your business in context

Your business isn’t your life (at least, I hope it isn’t!) but it should be contributing to the best life you can envision for yourself, after all, as far as we know this isn’t a rehearsal, is it? Because, whatever your beliefs about life, death, reincarnation and eternity, we only get one chance at this life.

In a small business – whether it’s just you or you have a team of employees supporting you, you by and large are the business so, if you’re not out there in front being and projecting the business you want it to be, it will suffer

… I’m not saying it’s always easy because we all have good days and bad, days where the world seems to be our oyster and days where nothing goes right. But if we behave as though we don’t see the point in our business why should anybody else give two hoots?

How many times for example have we been to a networking meeting where at least half of those there:

  • Aren’t even mildly enthusiastic about what they do
  • Can’t easily and adequately explain the purpose of their business
  • Can’t differentiate their business in a way that makes us want to engage with them?

How does this sound?

If you want to be treated as more than just a commodity – how can you continuously ensure that you are more than a commodity to your clients/ customers?

What do you do for your clients or customers that they’d find it really difficult to get elsewhere?

To give you a laugh on me, when I was much more into the sales training focus of helping small businesses, one of my very good clients once told me he could get that aspect from any one of several different places and delivery routes. He already had a business coach and yet, get this: he would struggle to figure out where he could get the kind of help I provided… excuse me while I go and slap my hand against my forehead… :-(

In many ways I was his external human potential consultant: I made him stop and think when I believed he was about to louse up relationships with employees and suppliers. I told him to go home – I know, bossy boots 😉 – and see his young kids before his long suffering wife gave up yet again on them seeing their Dad… I told him off when what he was instructing the employee he’s hired me to train on sales to do something that got in the way of I was helping them achieve…

What I’m saying here is not how wonderful I am, it’s:

  • How does our inner compelling drive feed into our perceived value to others and
  • What/ where is our real value?

Because once we know the answers to those two questions, surely we can build on that precious information, can’t we?

Your thoughts?

14 Responses to “What drives YOU?”

  1. I also recommend Dan Pink’s book Drive. And yeah, I’m getting sick of the word passion/passionate yet I keep using it in my marketing copy because I’m not sure how else to say what I want to say. Maybe driven is the word.

  2. Anita says:

    Hi Linda,

    (Love the new site look)

    In answer to your questions –
    – How does our inner compelling drive feed into our perceived value to others and
    – What/ where is our real value?

    I would have to say that my business is something I am so excited about it, I love sharing the joy of gorgeous flowers/ trees … and having a design brief to work towards for a personalised card – just love it!

    I just want to be involved in brightening peoples days :)

    I also like making friends with my customers, adding notes with their orders either celebrating or saying how sorry I am if someone has died etc… I enjoy that personal contact.

  3. sally says:

    Have you read Dan Pink’s book, Drive, Linda? It’s all about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation – might be right up your alley :)

    Like the makeover but OMG on the SM widgets!!

    • I haven’t Sally – I’ll look it up, thanks!

      We haven’t had time to change the colours of the SM widgets so I consoled myself with the fact that at least you can’t miss them! 😉

  4. Sarah Arrow says:

    I like Drive, let’s see if we can replace passion with Drive, it’s sounds so much more…. passionate 😉

  5. Jane Hatton says:

    My business pretty much is my life, I’m afraid! I’m driven by the results we get – disabled people, some of whom thought they may never work again – finding work with inclusive employers who value their skills. It’s literally life-changing stuff, and that’s what keeps me getting up in the mornings.

  6. Very interesting post, Linda, and it reminds me of a relatively old “meme” – don’t be a solution looking for a problem. Many people are very subjective about what they do and put too much energy into that, but not enough energy into applying what they do to solving potential clients’ real problems and needs.

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My biggest business mistake?

Well, it may not turn out to be my biggest ever in the fullness of time, but it’s certainly the most expensive to date in terms of time invested and lack of earnings. And I see entrepreneurs making their own version of it all the time, day in, day out…

As many of you know, my background is in sales & marketing communications in the broadest sense: telephone sales and face to face sales, sales training, market and marketing research, brand, product and service positioning and development, and so on.

As my story unfolds some of you will undoubtedly ask yourselves “Why didn’t she see that coming?” The short answer is that, left to our own devices and sometimes the input of well meaning but usually insufficiently qualified friends and loved ones (that’s if we even listen to anyone), our perspective is that we’re too close to see the wood for the trees and will not allow us to do what an eagle does: constantly switch from the panoramic ‘big picture’, zoom in to the detail and back again.

The Big Idea

What do most individuals do when they cut loose from corporate land and set up their own stall as a brand new entrepreneur? They do what they enjoy, they’re good at and what comes easily to them: their own Big Idea.

But, I reasoned, very few if any would have acquired the skills of the composite sales & marketing background that I had. So, unless they’d been planning and transitioning gradually from employment into doing their own thing – whether that’s setting themselves up in a job where they are the boss or starting a business that they intend to grow, franchise and/ or sell – this is where the cracks often start appearing: They’re open for business but where are the customers who should be beating down the door to get at them and their fabulous offerings?

Now I don’t claim to know loads about how to build a business into an empire – the idea had never occurred to me – but I do know that I’m very good at helping others get the clarity and necessary skills to communicate the value and uniqueness of what they have to offer, and build their own businesses, so what better than to create a course dedicated to that? One that would:

  • Teach them skills that would easily enable them to win business that would recoup their investment many times over in double quick time
  • That they could fit their learning in and around their business
  • That enabled pinpoint their specific needs
  • That allowed them to design their unique route through the course with their own coach/ trainer
  • That provided exercises that let them safely test out their new learnings…
  • And worksheets to complete that enabled me to measure their understanding and use of their new learnings

I even began to think that maybe I could could grow this into a business that could be franchised at some point… oh, heady stuff, indeed! 😉

A little aside

It’s not long ago, only beginning of the noughties, that the Internet was young, as was online social and business networking. The creation, hosting and optimization of websites was in the hands of a select few self styled experts – the first release of WordPress was not until May 2003… It happened to be in this era that I created the course so you could argue that the need was greater then for interactive sales & marketing communication skills because there were fewer affordable routes to market for start ups and small businesses. Yet to offset that, I’d venture that the economy was more buoyant and there wasn’t a trend of corporates ousting employees wholesale, effectively to make their own way any way they could…

Back to the main plot…

So I had a tremendous time designing the course: By the time it emerged many months later onto the unsuspecting world it was indeed my beloved, treasured, beautiful, clever baby.

What I discovered then was that I could find very few business owners who would commit themselves to doing the course. Did they not trust the course and me to deliver? Did they not trust themselves to step up?

I was chatting to a member of a business brainstorming group I ran and it was the first time he really understood the scope of what the course covered and helped businesses to achieve. His comments were along the lines of:

“Brilliant concept. Fantastic service. Utterly wrong market. They’ll never appreciate its true value or pay you what it’s worth.”

I was flattened

In hindsight he was absolute right, of course. For ages I went around muttering and bewailing the fact that most owners of small businesses – the very ones who most needed the help I was offering them – would rather complain about the ‘sad state of things’ (i.e. not enough profitable customers) than do something to alter that state.

So what could I do?

Two things.

The first was to take the sales skills parts of the course – telephone and face to face – and target owners of businesses that had a dedicated (or even semi dedicated) sales person or persons who were under performing. I found that they would pay the money for the employee to go through the training and learning far more happily than if they themselves had to do the work.

The second, and this came later, was to fully take on board the realization that you can’t sell what you think people need – especially when that seems to them to be so huge it’s everything strong>including the kitchen sink.

I just counted the Modules in the original business owners course – 29 of them (15 on soft skills training and 14 on sales training)! :-(

Understandably, people will only intend to buy what they believe is necessary to get the desired solution. I’ve discovered that can be either a bit more than they think or a lot less! So it took a while we now have a range of solution based offerings as opposed to “look-what-I-know-and-can-help-you-learn” process-based offerings…

To paraphrase something I heard recently:

“Concentrate on the destination not the method of transport”

What clangers of your own would you be prepared to share?


13 Responses to “My biggest business mistake?”

  1. Hi Sally

    Interesting that you and Jill have raised the aspect of timing – from slightly different yet complementary angles – and, of course, you’re both right: it’s a vital aspect of the whole picture.

    The sale of the course in chunked down modules might well do fine – I can see how that would work – I didn’t mention in the post that I gave that a go – but maybe the time wasn’t right back then and may be now…

    I know that the results of those going through the majority of modules without a trainer to help them make the best use of them in their world and their individual circumstances would probably be patchy at best because you’re talking about changing (often ingrained) habits and replacing them with new ones and new skills that take time to get to grips with, let alone master.

    You’ve certainly given me food for thought :-)

  2. Hi Jane

    This is brilliant of you to share that obviously painful experience with us – thank you.

    I can see how the route your company took, on more than just the face of it, seemed like a sure winner.

    I’d wager that if more of us were willing to pool our mistakes as well as ‘wins’ we’d help each other a heck of lot more and, in so doing, learn from others and save ourselves from expensive mistakes!

  3. Hi Jill, and welcome!

    I think you’re offering something that may well be of benefit to a number of our clan here so happy to provide an extra platform in the form of a guest post 😉

  4. sally says:

    Weirdly Linda, you may find that timing is of essence.

    These days, people are now more hungry for paid, downloadable info-products in small chunks. So if you digitised the course and sold each module in an individual fashion through an online shopping cart on this site to your email list, it would probably do very well now.

    Promoting how each module would help the reader enables a much more focused (and easier choice).

  5. Lots of clangers from me too – but clangers are how we learn and grow, a necessary part of life. As long as we do learn from them, all will eventually be well.

  6. Jane Hatton says:

    Oh yes, this sounds a very familiar feeling! I had a brilliant idea once (one of many that eventually crashed around my ears). My training company offered management development programmes (amongst other things) which sold moderately well, but there were some tenders we couldn’t go for because they wanted the courses to be ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management) accredited. No big deal – we just went for the bespoke courses we could deliver. Then a member of staff was clearly not enjoying her current role (writing tenders for new business) and she had helped a number of organisations become accredited to run ILM programmes previously. It seemed a no-brainer (sorry – I know we hate that term!).

    So, 6 month’s worth of her salary later, plus a few thousand in accrediation fees etc, we became a fully fledged ILM centre. We underestimated the additional admin work required to run such a programme. Another member of staff worked pretty much full time on doing this. In the end we ran two ILM programmes, both of which were very successful for the clients. And on which we made a loss of probably £30,000 – £40,000 between the two of them.

    This would have worked well if we were a college running multiple programmes with hundreds of students because we could have spread the costs much further. As it was it was a complete disaster, which had seemed to make a lot of sense at the time. Many clients who came to us for ILM courses ended up wanting bespoke courses anyway so we could include just what they wanted without all the hassle of assignments and projects and moderating and goodness knows what.

    It’s not the only reason that company failed, but it was a big contributory factor.

  7. jill Poet says:

    A great article and fabulous responses.

    Another thing to add to the mix though: it’s often about timing. What’s current and what’s sexy. And that changes so quickly.

    That’s where I am at the moment. I’m first to market with a new concept that some business people already understand, but many see as soft fluffy stuff that doesn’t relate to running a business. But the tide is turning and businesses need to be ready to shout not just about their products and services, but authentically show they are ethical and value driven.

    An interesting position to be in: both our biggest challenge and our biggest opportunity.

  8. Hi Sarah

    If I understand you correctly,…

    I think the problem here is that the person who IS coughing up and “paying the premium” probably doesn’t have enough experience or knowledge to judge whether what’s on offer is regurgitated fluff or real life experience and knowledge. :-(

    The one who steps back to question the offer probably already recognizes it as based on phoney foundations. So the courage there might be: “Okay, their stuff may be inferior to what I could provide but at least they’re out there offering it – I guess I put up or shut up”… 😉

  9. Hi Suze

    Do you think that there’s a chance SOME who read this will learn from the mistakes we’re sharing BEFORE they commit the time and energy to the wrong half of the equation? 😉

  10. Sarah Arrow says:

    To many to list Linda :) The main one being not having the courage to stand up and say another persons teachings are not based on experience but regurgitated fluff, that their knowledge that you are paying a premium for has no depth and no substance.

  11. I think we’ve all been there and got the T-shirt, Linda … I sweated blood and tears writing a book called “Powerwriting: the hidden skills you need to transform your business writing” years ago and got paid a large advance by a well-known business books publisher for it. It received lots of praise – especially from fellow professional writers – but it bombed. Why? It was about the theory behind business and marketing writing – and business people can’t be bothered learning the theory: they just want a quick fix and the shortest possible route to that “destination.” My subsequent offerings are much more practical/hands-on “here’s how you do it, never mind why,” and they are much more successful. Lesson learned…

  12. Oh, that hurts, doesn’t it, Mary!

    The other BIG boxes the would-be recipients need to tick is that achieving whatever solution/ outcome is really important to THEM – or they often just won’t stay the course (no pun intended!)

    Thanks for being so open and honest :-)

  13. Linda, this highlights a principle I’ve been grappling with too: selling people on the results, not how they will be achieved.

    Not long ago I took a course on how to create and deliver e-courses. I came up with what I thought was a pretty good concept and devoted a lot of time to fleshing it out. Then the teacher of the course–a very well-known coach in the States–published a blog post that flogged all of her students’ new courses, including mine. This post would have been read by thousands.

    And I got zero response. Not one person indicated an interest in my offering. I know the content would have been useful . . . but I was selling features (the method of transport), not the destination.

    It was a useful lesson!

    Thanks for a great post.

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