MERGE eases you into the front row of a master class on the art and science of the complex sale, taught by one of the "most successful marketers" in financial services. No matter how good you are (or think you are) as a relationship builder, rainmaker, consultant or closer, pick up the head-snapping nuggets of practical wisdom spread across these pages.
MERGE reveals a five-step surefire sales process long forgotten, overlooked, or never learned by so many professionals in finance, insurance, legal, real estate and other high-value professions. Don't miss it this time. Your business, your clients depend on the high-water mark of your greatness.
Praise for MERGE
"MERGE offers the insight of one of America's best and most successful marketers in the financial services industry. Read it before your competition does."-Peter D. Quinn, Senior Vice President, Wells Fargo Bank - Executive Benefits
"Bill MacDonald has done a superb job of merging theory and practical application of sales and marketing-how he actually made his theories work in practice. MERGE is a book all up-and-coming sales and marketing executives should read, well-written, and easy to read."-Jim Ellis, Dean, University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business
"MERGE details the mistakes commonly made by consultants in marketing services. Bill's five-step process can be used successfully, no matter the market. The principles are transferable and powerful. He's done a superb job of making his book relational and practical. Every consulting professional will benefit from reading this book."-Guy Baker, Immediate Past President, The Million Dollar Round Table, Managing Director, EMI Consulting
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MERGESimplify the Complex Sale in Five Surefire Steps
By William L. MacDonald
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 William L. MacDonald
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEveryone Sells
Practically everything we do involves some form of selling. Asking friends for dinner. Requesting a credit line extension at the bank. Changing financial advisors. And all selling, by its nature, anticipates (even expects) some sort of change to occur.
Someone will buy our product. Someone will upgrade to the premium version. Someone will refer our service. Someone will switch competitors. Someone will pay us for what we do. Selling is the commercial spine of society. Without it, the muscles of the economy would freeze up and atrophy.
But people generally dislike change. And don't want to think they're being sold. Yet selling is an honorable profession. I relish the quote, "Nothing happens until something sells," a derivative of the classic Einstein statement, "Nothing happens until something moves."
Consider that 34 gigabytes of content moves through the American mind every day. More than 100,000 words march past our curious eyes and ears in a single 24-hour period. Where did these bytes and words come from? People generating ideas, thinking, doing, selling.
To be sure, we exist in an enormous, undulating bubble of pure sales energy anchored by a web of communication channels ranging from television, radio and the web to simple word-of-mouth exchanges. In reality, change is the DNA of selling.
At the Gates of Commerce
But has selling changed to reflect our over-communicated lives? After all, the Internet has leveled the playing field. Prospects can do all their homework online, comparing competitive offerings quickly and easily, until points of differences virtually disappear. While consumers commoditize, we the sellers of services scramble for higher ground. We've become a nation of well-armed, well-informed consumers. And consumers are at the gates of commerce, in charge and in control.
In the words of satirist Ben Stein, "Sales—when done right—is more than a job. It is an art. It is a high-wire act. It is, as Arthur Miller immortally said, being out there 'on a smile and a shoe shine.'"
Assuming your Cole Haans are polished and your pearly whites are showing, what do you need to succeed in sales today? What does it take to surge to the top? What skills are required to perform at the peak of this challenging and honorable profession?
Historically, the selling of financial and professional services has been a product sale, bound up with hard-closing techniques and the earmarks of a high-volume transaction. Offer a product. Find a ripe client. Price it right. Ask for the order. Close and move on.
Now in the era of financial planning—assets under management, fees for service and value perceptions—the selling of financial and professional services most often rises or falls on trust, which is not now, and never will be, a commodity.
The ability to sell sustainably is governed by direct and indirect influences. Direct influences include the disciplines of methodology, procedures, tools, systems, metrics and structure—what I call the atmospherics—which propel activity through the pipeline with the energy of a well-defined, replicable process to mold every engagement into a result, a sale. This process flow is essential to longer concept sales such as executive compensation and benefit solutions.
Indirect influences, or the softer skills, are the most difficult to achieve in a climate where the public trust has eroded. During these times, outstanding sales producers must rank even higher in authenticity, authority, rapport-building, credibility, likeability and emotional intelligence—characteristics that engender trust, which we address in detail in subsequent chapters.
Many thousands of books have been written on what it takes to surge to the top in sales. Certainly, trustworthiness is at the top. And while I may not add a new nugget to the pile, I can offer a quick composite of the qualities I observed working with successful sales leaders mano a mano.
Sales Leader Snapshot
Expertise in business operations
Grasp of business trends
Impeccable knowledgeable in the niche
Deep understanding of prospect need
Authentic likeability factor
Mastery in forging relationships
Adept at nurturing lasting relationships
Skill to balance behavioral differences of multiple decision makers
I have discovered that the very best don't just sell products and services or solutions, and they don't berate the competition trying to sell similar concepts. They choose to play at a much higher level by identifying previously unidentified opportunities. Most of all, they create value and added solutions to their client's situation. In turn, they achieve significantly higher levels of success than others. And they use all of the characteristics mentioned above.
Keep it Simple
To succeed in sales today, you must form relationships with executives at the top of the organization and meet them under favorable conditions. Understand how top executives think and what they need so you can communicate relevant information and provocative ideas. And you must be positioned well, with a marketing strategy that is consistent with and complements your sales process.
Keep in mind that in complex sales, we are dealing with busy people, who are overwhelmed with many pressing issues. Overwhelmed people can't take in, sort through, or make sense of massive amounts of data on products and services they can't see an immediate need for. You must communicate with these decision makers in a simple and straightforward manner and stay focused on adding value by helping them to resolve an issue or achieve a goal.
The business of sales is no longer a numbers game. Things have changed:
Simplicity has recently emerged as a major factor in sales success
Prospects see you as irrelevant if you present information about your products and services or solution before you understand their business and its challenges
Technical presentations are out and value creation is in
I have witnessed many salespeople present three- to four-inch proposals with tons of data on their products features and benefits, only to learn it is the fastest way to extend the sales cycle or to lose the opportunity completely. You will be far more successful making fewer high-quality calls, meetings and presentations.
If you asked 100 different sales managers what they look for in sales leaders, no doubt you'd hear 100 different answers. My list is only a snapshot and jump-off point to the Grand Prix in 21st century selling—agility to respond with perpetual change. There is only one way to respond with perpetual change, and that is to master the MERGE Process, and bring together sales and marketing for a shorter sales cycle.
The MERGE Process reduces risk, improves quality, permits experimentation, drives sales, and manages change. In upcoming chapters, I am going to help you develop and follow a straightforward process for marketing and selling financial services—or any type of professional service—that produces repeatable results and creates a place for client trust to grow and sustain itself.
It is a deceptively simple process that has made me millions of dollars.
It will for you, too.
Chapter TwoDare to Differentiate
Setting Your Firm Apart
The financial and professional services industry constantly wrestles with the numbing sameness of commodities. From insurance to investments and planning to advisory, products and services quickly blur before the eyes of the average buyer because there is no real differentiation from one offering or one advisor to another.
"A commodity is simply a product waiting to be differentiated," claims Professor Philip Kotler, a world-class thinker on marketing. Ask a consumer why he buys one term insurance product over another. Ask another why he relies solely on his company 401(k) plan and does no supplemental investing on his own. Ask a small manufacturing company why it does not offer an executive benefits program, even though this is a proven, sure path to competitive advantage. For some, it is a question of cheapest price. For others, it is lack of time to understand the product. For many, the differentiated value was never explained clearly.
Failure to Value
In one revealing study, 40 percent of 200 buyers of consulting and professional services admitted that service providers did not understand their needs; 32 percent claimed the service providers did not convince them of the value they could expect to receive from the service provider.
In Chapter 6, we discuss the core value of research and preparation for your initial client meeting. An essential key to a successful meeting is how clearly you understand the value gap or pain point felt by your client and whether your product or service differentiation eases that pain.
Professor Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School in his book Competitive Advantage—Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance proposes that though a firm can have a myriad of strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis its competitors, there are two basic types of competitive advantage a firm can possess: low cost or differentiation. These elements, combined with the scope of activities for which a firm seeks to achieve them, lead to three generic strategies for achieving above-average performance in an industry: cost leadership, differentiation and focus. The strategy has two variants, cost focus and differentiation focus. The generic strategies are shown in Chart 1.
Pulling from Porter's thinking, I'll summarize his key points going forward. Cost leadership is perhaps the clearest of the three generic strategies, wherein a firm sets out to become the low-cost producer in its industry. The firm is broad in scope and serves multiple industry segments, and may even operate in related industries. Firm size typically shapes its cost advantage.
The origins of cost advantage depend on industry structure and take many forms. They may include economies of scale, proprietary technology or better access to raw materials. How you cost out the value of an activity is often subject to economies or 'diseconomies' of scale. Economies of scale arise from an ability to perform activities differently, more efficiently, and in greater volume. These economies also capture the ability to amortize the cost of intangibles such as R&D, money management, accounting services or client administration, and also over greater sales volume.
Diseconomies of scale are often present in many financial and professional services, which are dependent on fast-response times and creative individuals who may not perform well in large organizations. To achieve cost leadership, one must carefully examine every aspect of firm activity, look for opportunities to reduce cost, and then pursue of all of them on a consistent basis.
The second generic strategy is differentiation. In this strategy, a firm works on a unique position in its industry as defined by, perceived important by, and valued by buyers. As the firm meets client needs, it is rewarded for its distinctiveness with a premium price—only if it is truly unique at something or perceived as unique. Differentiation can be based on the product itself, the delivery system by which it is sold, the marketing approach, and a broad range of other measurable factors.
The third generic strategy is focus. This strategy is quite different from the others because it relies on choosing a narrow competitive scope within an industry. The firm selects a segment or group of industry segments, then tailors its strategy to serve those segments only. By optimizing its target strategy, the firm can build a sustainable competitive advantage.
Using Porter's framework for financial and professional services, once you have defined your differentiation as he suggests, there are only three ways your firm can show competitive advantage:
1. Exclusivity. Offer a product or service no one else has the capability to offer, and then communicate its value with conviction and repetition. Recognize that product differentiation is difficult to sustain as competitors copy and eventually improve on your value. Know, too, that product differentiation is often unnecessarily complex, full of jargon and technical terms. Be absolutely sure you do not confuse the client with all the extraneous glitter, the bells and whistles, or he may miss your exclusive offering altogether.
2. Process. It is not enough to do most things a little better than the competition. You can, however, gain advantage by how you deliver your service or produce your product. Differentiate with a process that helps you explain that "it is not what you do that makes you different, but how you do it that gets better results for your clients." Use selected references to increase the credibility of your statement differentiator.
3. Value. Distinguish your value proposition. When your product or service is similar, find a competitive advantage based on the effectiveness of your value presentation. Explain it in a clear and compelling way, and motivate your prospect to take action. This can be accomplished when you thoroughly understand prospect issues and clearly articulate your value proposition.
Accountants, brokers, consultants, executive recruiters, financial advisors, and lawyers can all appear the same in each vertical niche. Each may offer roughly the same services for about the same price. If a client believes your products and services are essentially the same as everyone else's, he can exert tremendous downward pressure on price. I see this reality frequently in financial services because financial instruments are not easy to understand.
Clients tend to oversimplify the decision process to overcome the perceived complexity of the choice they face. This is inevitable when you lead with a product instead of a focus on client needs. Simply put, the product is not the thing—mutual fund insurance, accounting, law—it is the process for solving the client's needs.
Your value proposition is precisely how you differentiate. And there are hundreds of points of value in business offerings. We define a value proposition as the offering that describes the quantifiable benefits received from buying your product or service. It is created by a review and analysis of the benefits, cost and value that an organization can deliver to its clients.
Neil Rackham, the author of SPIN Selling believes that a value proposition statement should consist of four main parts: Capability, Impact, Proof and Cost. Capability is what you do and how you do it. Impact represents the benefits or differences your capability will make. Proof is what evidence substantiates your impact. Cost is the cost (or risk) of your capability and impact. See Chart 2 below.
You may differentiate value on communication, customer service, your process or consistent delivery of results. You may differentiate on efficiency, exclusivity or flawless execution, but you must be able to prove it, and demonstrate the impact it will have on your prospect. The creation of a value proposition is part of your strategy. Your value proposition is your firm's internal blueprint to ensure that all of your marketing messages are consistent, inside and outside of your organization.
Well-regarded consultants Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersma refer to value disciplines in differentiation. You can aim for product leadership, operational excellence or client intimacy, for example. You can position and differentiate around a key attribute, benefit, application, or category. Other possibilities include:
Best quality Best performance Most reliable Most convenient Safest, fastest Best value for the investment
More for Less
Kotler breaks down five value propositions that define themselves by their names: More for More; More for Same; Same for Less; Less for Much More; and More for Less. Today, given the intense pressure on price, service firms may be well advised to adopt a more for less positioning and emphasize differentiation around proof of that more. If successful, you could eventually justify premium pricing, or more for more.
Excerpted from MERGE by William L. MacDonald Copyright © 2011 by William L. MacDonald. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Dare to Differentiate....................5
Your Go-To Market Strategy....................15
The MERGE Process....................41
Preparing for Initial Contact....................67
Multiple Decision Makers....................79
A Measure of Trust....................123
Inking the Deal....................129
Once the Sale is Made....................139
A Parting Thought....................147
About the Author....................149