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Conversations That Win the Complex Sale: Using Power Messaging to Create More Opportunities, Differentiate your Solutions, and Close More Deals

Conversations That Win the Complex Sale: Using Power Messaging to Create More Opportunities, Differentiate your Solutions, and Close More Deals

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by Erik Peterson, Tim Riesterer

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Win more deals with the perfect sales story!

“Power Messaging is a foundational element in our global marketing campaigns and sales training programs. We believe the concepts are core to engaging in customer conversations that are focused on their outcomes and what they want to achieve.”

—Karen Quintos, CMO and SVP, Dell Inc.



Win more deals with the perfect sales story!

“Power Messaging is a foundational element in our global marketing campaigns and sales training programs. We believe the concepts are core to engaging in customer conversations that are focused on their outcomes and what they want to achieve.”

—Karen Quintos, CMO and SVP, Dell Inc.

“The concepts outlined in this book are critical skills to building a world-class presales organization.”

—Ken Hamel, Senior Vice President, Global Solutions and Presales, SAP

“Our new messaging, using the approaches presented in this book, is great and is being widely used by our sales team. We’ve never had a year end sales meeting with content that was met with such widespread acceptance and enthusiasm.”

—Jerry D. Cline, Senior Vice President, Retail Sales and Marketing, AmerisourceBergen Drug Company

“The best salespeople sit across the table and make change easy for their customer by creating a succinct story and vision for what to change, how to change it, and how it will impact customer results. An enterprise focus on sales messaging, using the concepts in this book, is the hidden secret to driving incremental sales productivity and overwhelming customer success!”

—Ken Powell, Vice President, Worldwide Sales Enablement, ADP

“The Power Messaging techniques in this book are the foundation of how our marketing team creates our sales messages, as well as the process our field sales teams use for delivering that message in a unique and compelling way. At Kronos our results are a reflection of the power of the tool.”

—Aron Ain, CEO, Kronos

About the Book:

In today’s highly competitive world of complex sales, commoditization of your brand is one of the greatest dangers. You must differentiate yourself from the competition—or you will lose out. And the way to do that is through customer engagement. Rather than sell your own corporate story and brand message, you need to tell customers their story—the one in which they are the heroes and they achieve success.

Erik Peterson and Tim Riesterer have been developing and honing their Power Messaging sales technique for more than 20 years, and now they reveal all their secrets in Conversations That Win the Complex Sale.

Presenting a catalog of facts or playing 20 questions with prospective customers is the surest way to lose the sale. Peterson and Riesterer provide the tools you need to recraft your message into a compelling story that wins more deals.

With Conversations That Win the Complex Sale, you’ll learn how to:

  • Differentiate yourself from the competition by finding your “Value Wedge”
  • Avoid parity in your value propositions by creating “Power Positions”
  • Create a message that can literally double the number of deals you close
  • Spike customer attention and create “Wow” in your conversations
  • Prove all your claims without resorting to lists of boring facts and statistics

Your competitors are out there telling their own corporate story—a story customers don’t want to hear. Now is the time to seize the moment. This book is the one and only source you need to reframe your sales story and turn the tables on the competition by fully engaging their would-be customers.

Conversations That Win the Complex Sale helps you create and deliver messages that customers care about, giving your brand the clear edge in today’s crowded markets.

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McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
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Using POWER MESSAGING to Create More Opportunities, Differentiate Your Solutions, and Close More Deals


Copyright © 2011 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-07-175258-9

Chapter One

Intentions and Instincts: Why You Need This Book

Babe Ruth began his baseball career using a 54-ounce bat. That's a big bat. For those of you who are not familiar with what's "normal" for baseball bats, most professional baseball players today use a bat that weighs between 31 and 35 ounces.

From the beginning of his career, Ruth was a remarkable hitter. He first led the league in home runs in 1918, when he hit 11. And then he led the league in home runs in 11 of the next 13 seasons. Arguably his best hitting season was 1927, when he hit 60 home runs. He hit more home runs that season than all but two teams.

That year, the bat he used weighed only 40 ounces.

That's right. Even though he started his professional baseball career as a feared hitter, he didn't become the greatest hitter of his generation, and arguably the greatest hitter in history, until he dramatically changed his approach to hitting, reducing the weight of his bat by more than 25 percent.

Why did it take him so long to realize that he needed to reduce the weight of his bat?

Because it went against his instincts.

His instincts told him that to have the power he needed to hit home runs, he had to swing the heaviest bat he could carry and still make contact with a pitch.

In fact, you can understand why he would think that the heavier the bat, the better. It just makes sense, doesn't it? You must get more power from swinging a heavy bat than from swinging a light one, right? I mean, it's obvious!

It turns out that it's wrong. Most of us share that instinct, but it's wrong.

To hit for power, you also need to think about bat speed.

Now, you're not going to hit home runs with a toothpick, but most people's instincts tell them to put too much emphasis on bat weight and not enough emphasis on bat speed.

Baseball isn't the only activity where your instincts lead you down the wrong path.

There was a famous experiment in which people were assigned the task of being either a "tapper" or a "listener." The tapper's job was to tap out the tune of 1 of 25 famous songs, like "Happy Birthday." The listener's job was to guess the song that was being tapped.

Before the experiment started, the tappers were asked to predict how often the listener would guess the song correctly. The tappers predicted that the listeners would guess the song correctly about 50 percent of the time.

But when the experiment was conducted, a surprising thing happened. The listeners guessed the song correctly less than 3 percent of the time!

Why did the listeners do such a poor job? Well, it turns out that while the tappers could hear the music in their own head, to the listeners it just sounded like a disconnected series of taps.

But really, this isn't about the listeners doing a poor job. What this is really about is the bad instincts of the tappers.

It was the tappers who assumed that the listeners would do much better. It was the tappers whose instincts were wrong.

This is a book about your sales instincts and how they are killing you when it comes to sales. Just like Babe Ruth, you can still be successful even though your instincts are leading you astray. But if you want to be the best in the world, you need to learn where your instincts are right and where your instincts are wrong.

You see, when salespeople fail to achieve their potential, it's almost never because they are lazy, and it's not because they aren't doing their best.

If you're like the vast majority of the salespeople on the planet, your intentions are great and your effort is great, but your instincts are wrong. They are taking you down the wrong path.

And you are often delivering a message that your customers just don't hear. At least, they don't hear it the way it sounds in your head. They don't hear the tune you're playing.

That's the core, radical idea that's at the heart of this book.

If you can take having some of your instincts challenged . . . If you can be open to hearing your message the way your customer hears it . . .

You can make a remarkable change in your sales performance.

The approach and techniques in this book have been shaped through 20 years of delivering our Power Messaging workshops. During that time, we've worked with tens of thousands of salespeople in 56 countries. The companies that use this approach range from high-tech to lowtech and have familiar names like GE, Oracle, Volvo, and Amerisource Bergen.

Here's how this book is going to help you make the changes that you will need to make if you are to succeed in today's sales world. It is divided into three sections:

What needs to change. Recognize the forces that are changing the selling environment, and learn several major new concepts for the way you approach prospects and customers. These concepts include the following:

• How to create more opportunities by bringing bad news

• Why playing 20 Questions with your prospects isn't the answer

• How to provoke your prospects to create more opportunities

• The often ignored opportunities already in your pipeline that can make all the difference

• The approach to loosening the status quo with a distinct point-of-view pitch

Finding your story. Learn why your message needs to be more than just compelling facts, and how to shape your message into a story that wins more deals. This goes beyond ordinary value propositions to give you a specific approach to finding your winning story. It includes

• How to differentiate yourself in crowded markets by finding your Value Wedge

• How to avoid parity in your value propositions by creating Power Positions

• How changing one word in your message can double the number of deals that you close

• What a great message has in common with Star Wars and the Harry Potter books

Making your story come alive. Go deeper into the science and art of customer conversations, and learn specific techniques for making yours simpler, more memorable, and compelling. Here you'll learn about

• The hammock—why your customers go there, and how it kills your conversations

• How to spike customer attention and create "wow" in your conversations

• The real decision maker in every deal and how you sell to it

• Why salespeople overuse facts and figures and how you can do better in proving your claims

• Where presentation skills training misses the point

If you're a student of these techniques, this book will give you depth that it's not always possible to get to in the two-day course, as well as a refresher on the core concepts. And we welcome you back.

If you're new to the ideas in this book, you will never look at selling the same way again.

It's time to get started.

Chapter Two

Overcoming the Status Quo: Your Biggest Competitor

Have you heard the ancient story of Buridan's donkey? It refers to a hypothetical situation in which a donkey is placed precisely midway between two identical piles of hay. The donkey stands there contemplating his options and is paralyzed with indecision.

Unable to make a rational decision to choose one haystack over the other, the donkey finally dies of starvation.

This, of course, is impossible to believe. A donkey that was standing between two piles of hay would not allow itself to starve to death. It would pick a pile and start eating.

The story of Buridan's donkey was used to mock a philosopher named Jean Buridan. Buridan believed that people would always choose the option that represented the greater good. If they were faced with two options that were very similar, they would wait until it was clear which one was better before picking one.

If you take this idea to its most ridiculous possible conclusion, you end up with the story of Buridan's donkey.

The problem with this is that, in general, Buridan was right. When people are faced with a choice between two things that appear very similar, they will in fact put off making a decision until it is clear to them which one is better. You've heard this referred to as "paralysis by analysis." When you're facing any kind of decision that's a bit complex, you'll put off making that decision until you're sure which choice is the best.

If you can't determine which choice is the best, and if you can put off the decision without experiencing a lot of pain (obviously dying would be so painful that you couldn't put off the decision, which is why the donkey story is ridiculous), you'll put it off every time. It's a natural human reaction—one that's backed up by good scientific research.

So in most cases, Buridan was right. And his theory illustrates what you might be doing to your prospects and customers when you speak with them. As you read in the first chapter, your intentions may be right, but your instincts concerning how to go about relating to your prospects and customers might be wrong.

Bombarding your prospects with messages on me-too products and services not only confuses them, but can leave them paralyzed with indecision.

Unsure about where they should invest their money, time, and energy, your prospects make the safest choice—no decision. Meanwhile, there is a business problem that is going unsolved.

Making No Decision Can Be Fatal for Your Pipeline and Your Revenue

When you engage a prospect in a sales process, do you see it as a linear process? At some point, it has an end. The prospect will choose either you or them (your competitor), right? Not really. The truth is that those are not the only two end points. There's another option, no decision, which is chosen all too often.

A banking technology company we worked with analyzed the number of stalled deals in its customer relationship management (CRM) system. It was able to determine that nearly 40 percent of deals were ending up with no decision. Industry average statistics placed that no decision rate at 20 to 30 percent. But, in the case of this customer, it was 40 percent. We've had other clients tell us that the number of stalled deals in their pipeline is as high as 60 percent.

The Competitive Bake-Off

The competitive bake-off can get pretty bloody. It's a pitched battle of You vs. Them. One moment you're up; the next moment you're down. Throughout the process, there's a "spec war" going on. You gain the upper hand with one feature, but the competition meets your feature and raises another.

You're trying to incrementally outmaneuver your competition. But you and your competition are often having a very similar dialogue with the prospect. It's no wonder, then, that up to 60 percent of prospects choose to stay with the status quo.

What's interesting is what happens when you put real numbers to this.

Let's go back to the banking technology company example. The company told us that out of 100 deals, it wins about 35, the competition wins about 25, and approximately 40 go to no decision. As an aside, this client also told us that this market share split has been the same for the past 10 years. The company has been battling the same competitors, trying to claw and inch its way to a higher market share, but things have more or less remained static.

So, there are two clear opportunities here. One is to take away more deals that you're losing to your competition. The other is to stay out of the dead end of no decision and win more of those prospects, as well. This book will show you how to do both.

Your battle for differentiation is often as much about changing the status quo as it is about beating your traditional rivals. [There's an exception to this rule. In a few rare instances, you might be selling a solution that virtually never ends in no decision. An example would be salespeople who sell certain types of software, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. Once a prospect decides that he's going to buy an ERP solution, he's eventually going to pick one. However, if that's your world today, the techniques in this book will still help you.]

What do you think the odds are that you will take one of those 25 deals away from the competition? Or do you think there is a better chance that you can loosen the grip on one of the 40 that made no decision?

There's potentially more opportunity in moving prospects out of no decision than you've been able to get in the last 10 years going head to head with competitors. That's why for most salespeople, the biggest competitor is actually the status quo.

You Need a Distinct Point of View

Your first step is to realize that many of your prospects are not actually in a sales cycle, they are still determining whether they need to buy anything at all. Think of yourself as stepping back from the bloodbath that is the competitive bake-off or spec war. Instead of having a conversation that uses a competitive matrix to compare you with your competitors, you need to start having conversations that provide your prospect with a fresh insight into how she can do business better.

Senior executives tell us that the era of "playing 20 questions"—where every sales rep comes in with the usual list of assessment questions—is over. One Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at a major technology company told us, "You'd better be able to tell me something I don't already know, about a problem I didn't even know I had, if you want to get a meeting with me."

You need to earn the right to ask questions by sharing insights. So, you'd better be prepared with insights, big ideas, or a unique perspective—whatever you call it, you'd better get some.

This book will go into specific detail on how your conversations need to change. And it will provide numerous techniques, examples, and exercises to help you make that change. One of the first concepts you will learn is how to find your distinct point of view. This will help you beat your competition and stay out of the no-man's-land that is no decision.

A distinct point of view is a well-choreographed prospect conversation that is designed to grab the prospect's attention, challenge his current assumptions, and convince him to consider making a change.

It's a deliberate approach to changing your customer conversations in a way that puts you in the position of sharing useful insights. It helps your customer see around the corner at what challenges are headed his way and provides him with a way out. Consider this your "distinct-point-of-view" pitch.

Here's a quick overview of the distinct-point-of-view concept. It contains five important components:

1. Grabber. Share a key industry fact or finding that is relevant to a core business objective, but that is new and fresh to the prospect. Use it to create engagement and dialogue about what the prospect is seeing in her business. It will also become a third-party validation point for the rest of your point of view.

2. Pain. Shock your prospect by telling her of an unknown or underappreciated problem that is threatening her core business objective. Show her how this problem may be putting her strategic objectives at risk, or how her company might be missing out on a bigger opportunity. The key is linking this to something that will get you a seat at the executive decision-making table.

3. Impact. Identify the closeness and urgency of the problem. Make sure that you quantify the personal, business, and financial impact of ignoring the problem or the upside of doing something differently. Your customer needs to know that the world is changing, that the changes are coming fast, and that neither the status quo nor the current vendor is going to get her there.

4. Contrast. Present a new way to look at or address the problem that is implicitly tied to your solution, and make sure to contrast it with the way your prospect is doing things today. Align your unique strengths as the best way to solve the problem and eliminate the pain. But, be clear about how this is different enough from the way the prospect is doing things today that it is necessary to consider making a change.

5. Proof. Rebuild the prospect's confidence by sharing a quick story that shows a before-and-after situation in which you helped a similar company by implementing your new way of solving the problem.

This approach moves you out and to the left of the bake-off and puts you in a position of guiding the customer buying cycle. It enables you to change the entire trajectory of the customer conversation, the opportunity, and the deal (see image). You are now advancing up and to the right rather than wading directly into the bake-off battle. In doing so, you are changing the status quo to favor you and your point of view. And you are separating yourself significantly from your traditional competitors because you've taken the prospect conversation to an entirely different level.


Excerpted from CONVERSATIONS THAT WIN THE COMPLEX SALE by ERIK PETERSON TIM RIESTERER Copyright © 2011 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Erik Peterson, Vice President of Strategic Consulting, Corporate Visions, helps companies and salespeople around the world win at the three-foot level—when they’re sitting across the table from their most important prospects. Companies such as GE, AmerisourceBergen, and Oracle have sought his help to create their simple, differentiated, and memorable story. Peterson has delivered consulting, keynotes, and messaging skills workshops to more than 10,000 salespeople in 13 countries, and he leads a team that’s delivered this work in 56 countries around the world.

Tim Riesterer, Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President of Products and Consulting, Corporate Visions, is a recognized thought leader and practitioner in the area of marketing and sales messaging. His first book,
Customer Message Management, focused on increasing a marketing department’s impact on selling by providing customer-relevant, salesready messaging and tools that salespeople will actually use. Now, he’s turned his attention to salespeople themselves and what actually happens when they are in front of the customer with their lips moving.

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