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Selling in a Flattened World
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1. Selling in a Flattened World CONTENTS Now vs. Then ............................................ 2 Strategy vs. Concept ................................ 3 Product vs. Solution ................................. 4 Conceptual Selling® Drop the conventional product pitch and learn a better You + Me = Mutual Success ..................... 4 way to interact with clients that positions your solution for greater wins. For new prospects and existing clients, Conceptual Sell- ing® is a new approach to an old target that gets you re- peat sales, great referrals and long-term profitable client relationships. To learn more, visit www.millerheiman.com.© 2006 Miller Heiman, Inc. All Rights Reserved www.millerheiman.com | page
Selling in a Flattened WorldSelling in a Flattened World comment as emblematic of Ford’s emphasis not just on mass production, but on mass consumption, of hisBy Robert Miller products. The “sell-sell-sell, buy-buy-buy” approach may have worked in the early 20th century, but it cer-Selling from the buyer’s point of view is nothing tainly won’t fly in the 21st.new at Miller Heiman—it’s been our underlying philoso-phy since our founding three decades ago. But thanksto the forces reshaping the global business landscape, Now vs. Thenadopting that mindset is more critical today than What’s changed in recent years? Well, the whole world,ever before. really. In his brilliant best-selling book The World isBuyer-centric selling has never been part of conven- Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Farrar,tional sales wisdom. When I was a junior salesman, just Straus and Giroux, 2006), the Pulitzer Prize-winningstarting my career, my supervisors told me over and journalist Thomas L. Friedman argues persuasivelyover: “Understand what the customer needs and sell that globalization is doing more than leveling the play-to that.” All too often, that meant my job as a sales- ing fields--it’s flattening them. By that, Friedman meansperson was to get the customer to need what I had to that powerful economic forces ranging from trends likesell--which is very different from the approach that our outsourcing and off-shoring to technologies like work-research indicates is key to business success in the flow software and--above all--the Internet are reducing21st century. the costs of entry. Today, almost anybody can play.Today, the salesperson’s job requires stepping back, Easier entry, in turn, means that all goods and servicestaking a hard look at each customer’s big picture become commoditized. In fact, when we talk to ourand working with those customers to develop custom- clients, they tell us that commoditization is their No. 1ized solutions. problem. They say it’s tougher and tougher to differen- tiate themselves not just from their serious rivals, butThat’s a long way from the one-size-fits-all 20th-cen- from everybody else in the game.tury approach epitomized by Henry Ford’s famousstatement that buyers could have a Model T in any Almost literally overnight, markets can be eroded withcolor they wanted-- “as long as it’s black” (because new players, or even old players with new products.black paint dried faster than any other color, allowing And unlike the past, when it took years for newcom-for faster production). ers to ramp up to serious-threat level, many contenders enter the game on essentially equal footing.Writing in Time magazine nearly a century later, autotitan Lee Iacocca noted that what he called Ford’s “to The reason: Customers and prospects no longer seehell with the customer” attitude eventually impeded an individual company’s value. Clients tell us they hearthe company’s ability to hold off competitors. Iacocca- arguments like this all the time: “Your products and ser--the former Chrysler Corporation chairman whose early vices are indistinguishable from those offered by yourresume included a successful stint in sales at Ford lower-cost competitor, so your prices should matchMotor Co.--also described the “as long as it’s black” your competitor’s prices as well.” © 2006 Miller Heiman, Inc. All Rights Reserved www.millerheiman.com | page 2
Selling in a Flattened World ing where we are in the sales process. In contrast, con-The problem isn’t limited to the United States and Eu- ceptual selling is about understanding where the cus-rope. Other nations--from South Africa to Australia to tomer is in the buying process.Singapore--are feeling the pain as well. Companiesworldwide are finding they must either convincingly jus- Why “conceptual”? Because when customers want totify their prices or differentiate themselves with some buy something, they always have concepts about howkind of perceived recognizable value. whatever they’re seeking will help them meet a need, achieve a goal or solve a problem. (Of course, sellersAccomplishing the latter requires that the sales- also have concepts about what their products will ac-person abandon that old one-size-fits-all approach complish, change or fix, but they’re usually quite differ-for good and, instead, focus squarely on each custom- ent from those of their prospects.)er’s immediate and long-term goals, needs and chal-lenges. In other words, they need to engage in buyer- So in today’s world, successful salespeople under-centric selling. stand each buyer’s concept. In fact, you don’t really even know what you’re selling until you know what eachStrategy vs. Concept customer is buying.We’ve long talked about the importance of taking a sci- Often, customers themselves aren’t yet sure whatentific approach to sales, of following a logical sequen- they’re buying. They haven’t conceptualized that im-tial process to each transaction. That advice is fine, as age; possibly, they haven’t yet defined the problem. Infar as it goes. But it’s no longer enough to thoroughly such cases, your first step is helping the client recog-understand the selling process. Buyer-centric selling nize or identify the specific need and develop a conceptrequires that you also understand each customer’s around it. Otherwise, you and your customer will be inbuying process and know where they are within that different places in the buying process, passing like twoprocess at all times. ships in the night.Of course, buying and selling processes are roughly If you’re still not convinced, consider this fact: Our re-corollary processes involving similar steps. But they’re search shows that the biggest reason salespeople missnot identical. And nowhere is that more evident than their forecasts is they understood where they were inwhen you’re talking about today’s complex business- their sales processes—but they didn’t understandto-business sales—that is, those involving multiple where their customers were in their buying processes.players at different levels, each of whom can say “yes” One simple way to find out: Ask. Ask your customer:or “no.” Salespeople who want to survive and thrive in “Why now? What’s the trigger event, the reason, forsuch environments must know their prospects’ buying us having this conversation right now?” The answer--processes as well as they know selling. whether it’s “we’re gearing up for a big competitiveThat, in a nutshell, is the difference between strategic push” or “we had a couple of lousy quarters on Wallselling and conceptual selling. Strategic selling is about Street”--will go a long way toward defining the custom-positioning, about sales objectives, about understand- er’s concept and buying timeline. (As an aside, asking questions is an excellent tactic for buyer-centric selling. © 2006 Miller Heiman, Inc. All Rights Reserved www.millerheiman.com | page
Selling in a Flattened WorldWe recommend that salespeople spend about 80 per- geared to sales reps anxious about having to movecent of their time asking questions rather than pitching higher and higher within their customer companies.)products or services.) You + Me = Mutual SuccessProducts vs. Solution Major change always generates some growing pains,Historically, sales have been product-led, meaning that and, as the evolution of those relationships indicates,salespeople functioned primarily as product experts. the shift toward conceptual selling is no exception. ButFor decades, the sales process was reactive, often be- we believe our clients when they tell us the long-termginning in response to a list of customer requirements benefits are well worth some short-term discomfort.issued in a formal request for proposal (RFP) or a re-quest for quote (RFQ). In such cases, the salesperson’s Ultimately, the conceptual approach is a premiere ex-job was to fit product capabilities to customer needs as ample of non-manipulative win-win selling. It’s the onlydictated by those documents. stance proven to lead to repeat business, long-term re- lationships and satisfied customers.Then, in the 1990s, progressive businesspeople begantalking about the benefits of solution-driven sales. That Again, that’s a big improvement over the approach of,model required salespeople to function more as trust- say, 30 years ago. During the Watergate era, Ameri-ed advisors. cans lost faith not only in their government, but in other established institutions as well. They were particularlyToday, the most successful salespeople rely on a pro- suspicious of salespeople. Back then, if you wantedcess that’s far more proactive. The true stars under- to clear a room, all you had to do was tell people youstand, keep up-to-date on and even anticipate their worked in sales. Comparing someone to a used-carclients’ problems, offering customized solutions. In the salesman was a pretty serious insult.increasingly rare cases that require RFPs and RFQs,salespeople and customers typically collaborate in The animosity worked both ways. Salespeople used allpreparing mutually beneficial specifications. these sports and war metaphors expressing contempt for buyers: The customer was the enemy. You werePersonal relationships have changed dramatically as supposed to “get” him before he “got” you. Someonewell. In the past, sales representatives typically dealt had to win and someone had to lose. Salespeople whowith one or two buyers in each organization. Today, wanted to get ahead in their careers worked hard tomany of those low- and mid-level purchasing jobs have stay victorious.gone the way of the passenger pigeon. Miller Heiman’s mission is--and always has been--toInstead, salespeople often now face a slew of senior- replace that unpleasant “I win-you lose” mindset withand top-level executives who actively participate in the more collaborative, and ultimately more effective,shopping for solutions and must approve major pur- “win-win” approach. That philosophy, considered revo-chases. (At Miller Heiman, we’ve even enhanced our lutionary when we founded the company 30 years ago,training with new strategies and tactics specifically may sound like simple common sense today. In fact, © 2006 Miller Heiman, Inc. All Rights Reserved www.millerheiman.com | page
Selling in a Flattened Worldpeople often ask us: “Doesn’t everybody sell likethat now?”Interestingly enough, many still don’t. Many still focusmore on sales than on customer satisfaction. They’restill more interested in getting customers to buy prod-ucts or services than helping them to accomplishgoals, avoid headaches or fix problems. They haven’tyet learned that, unlike approaches that manipulateor trick buyers, conceptual selling leads to long-termcustomer relationships; in the best-case scenarios, itall but automates future sales. They’ve yet to discoverthat customers who feel like winners are far more likelyto come back, make bigger purchases and refer ad-ditional business.Bottom line: Those deep, strong relationships involvecustomers who are satisfied because, essentially,they’re buying something that was at least partly theiridea in the first place. That builds loyalty. That addsvalue. That differentiates the buyer-centric sales orga-nization from its competitors. And that’s why the com-monsense approach of conceptual, solution-drivenselling is the formula for 21st century success.Robert Miller developed the initial Strategic Selling®program in the early 1970s, and has continued toadd new content and relevant sales courses, all ofwhich were incorporated into Miller Heiman, Inc. whichhe co-founded with Stephen Heiman in 1978. Afterdivesting his ownership interest in 1986, he continuesto work full-time with Miller Heiman today in a consult-ing and advisory capacity, focusing primarily on prod-uct development. © 2006 Miller Heiman, Inc. All Rights Reserved www.millerheiman.com | page
Selling in a Flattened WorldAbout Miller HeimanMiller Heiman has been a thought leader and innovator Download popular research and white papers onin the sales arena for almost thirty years, helping cli- sales performance from our Knowledge Center atents worldwide win high-value complex deals, protect www.millerheiman.com:and grow key accounts, manage talent and optimize • This is Your Wake-up Call:sales strategies and operations. The Sales Talent Crunch • Secrets of Winning Sales OrganizationsWith a prestigious client list that includes Fortune 500 • Protect Your Most Vital Accountsclients, Miller Heiman helps companies in virtually • 2006 Sales Performance Studyevery major industry to build high performance sales Executive Summaryteams that deliver consistent sustainable results • Sales Performance Tipsto drive revenue.Conceptual Selling®Drop the conventional product pitch and learn a betterway to interact with clients that positions your solution forgreater wins.For new prospects and existing clients, Conceptual Sell-ing® is a new approach to an old target that gets you re-peat sales, great referrals and long-term profitable clientrelationships.To learn more, visit www.millerheiman.com.To find out more, visit:www.millerheiman.com/governmentCall us for a free consultation:• North America: 877.678.3380• UK: 0800 132595• Rest of World: +775.827.4411Contact us by e-mail:• firstname.lastname@example.orgVisit our home page for a completeoverview of our company:• www.millerheiman.com © 2006 Miller Heiman, Inc. All Rights Reserved www.millerheiman.com | page 6