I was reading an article in Forbes Global just before Christmas entitled ‘The Undeaded’. The article considered great number of software companies who have been losing millions of $ and eating into their cash mountains built up by raising equity funding in late 90’s. The software industry is of great interest to me and this made me think about strength of their Sales Propositions. Are companies and their products searching for problems to solve? Are their propositions delivering real business advantage for their clients?
The issue of preparing and developing strong and robust propositions which deliver advantages to customer, is a common problem for companies and professional firms throughout land - and one not always well addressed.
The absence of a strong, coherent proposition which benefits customers is often one of weak links in building a successful and profitable sale and hence a viable business. A great deal of money is invested in employment of salespeople, introduction of marketing programmes, networking and other ‘set piece’ events to generate interest in a product or service but return on investment is dramatically reduced because proposition presented to customer is weak, misunderstood and lacks ‘beef’ and ‘sizzle’!
It’s like providing a mountaineer with eight days rations for a ten-day journey. He will run out of energy before he climbs peak. This equally applies to businessperson who is unable to efficiently articulate his / her sales proposition with sufficient knowledge, empathy and understanding and consequently loses sale.
The sales proposition must always be framed to meet needs and wants of customer. [A quick working definition of these terms: ‘needs’ are logically-based requirements; wants are deeper, emotionally-based desires]. This is achieved first by asking in depth ‘open’ questions to discover needs and wants of customer. It is a great (but very common) mistake to launch into telling your potential customers your proposition before understanding relationship between their needs and wants and your proposition.
What do I mean by proposition?
The proposition is built in detail by assembling features of product or service, together with advantages these features deliver for customer. The appropriate business advantages are listed alongside together with relevant proofs to support claim. The stronger proofs are in supporting advantages, stronger proposition and better impression made on potential customer. With a thorough understanding of features, advantages and proofs associated with proposition, easier it will be to ask right questions and discover whether your proposition matches needs of customer. There is a strong correlation between a successful sales result and a well constructed sales proposition, professionally delivered after (and only after) customer’s needs have been comprehensively understood and summarised.
Why not try this as a practical example?
Go to your local car showroom and show interest in buying a car and make a checklist to see if you are asked some of following questions. These questions should be asked by salesperson before he provides you with any information or explanation as to his sales proposition.
·What do you use your car for? ·How many passengers do you usually carry in car? ·How many miles do you expect to travel in car per year? ·What’s your average journey mileage? ·What kind of things do you need to carry in car? ·What performance are you looking for from your car? ·How important is fuel consumption to you? ·How important is luxury and comfort relating to your purchase? ·Who will be main driver of car? ·How important is reliability of service for you? ·Are there any other things I should know about regarding your planned purchase?
There are many other questions, which could be asked to find out needs and wants but I do not intend to cover them all in this brief article.
If needs of customer are to use car for pleasure, to travel 6000 miles per year with an average journey of 10 miles and to carry one passenger occasionally, then speed may not be so important but low fuel consumption and low cost insurance might be. With good questions he might ascertain that main user will be my wife. Comfort and good quality stereo together with a good security system might therefore be important. Can you see how by asking questions you are building a profile of needs and wants of customer?
You are now able to ensure that when you ultimately present your proposition to highlight features, advantages and proofs which match needs of your customer, proposition will become so much more meaningful and powerful in his eyes. Equally, in a worst case sense, if your product or service does not meet requirements of customer you will at least gain credibility by recommending another company or product.
My experience of visiting many car show rooms with my wife last year was not good. The salespeople asked very few questions. They supplied brochures, price lists but, critically, paid little attention to my wife who was decision maker in this purchase as she was to be main driver of car. (This of course raises subject of decision making process itself but we will leave that for another day). What’s your experience of buying a car?