I have always been someone who leaped before I looked. Impulsive, I believe is the word my teachers wrote on my report cards. Then in 6thgrade I had a wise but gruff old science teacher who made me slow down and watch experiments. He let me fail by trying to rush them but never got angry. He would just hand me a new set of supplies and tell me to start over. On a field trip he assigned each of us to find a plant species and record it. I spent the whole day searching for my plant only to find out at the end of the day it wasn’t native to our area. When I questioned why he had sent me on this fruitless journey only “your search often needs to be wider than your own back yard and your plant is report will be to teach your classmates to seek what they can’t yet find”. I am pretty certain my 12 year old self rolled her eyes but I never forgot that lesson. So today in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week and Mr Reynolds who taught 6thgrade science at Columbus Middle School let’s talk about the value of teaching through sales and marketing.
In B2B our sales cycle is one that tends to be long and often requires educating customers on the ROI and value at many levels of the organization and in various departments. Being an excellent teacher who is willing to adapt to different learning styles is practically a requirement to weave the maze of customer engagement that is required to close most deals. Let’s think of our prospects not as potential customer for a moment but as current students and identify their learning styles.
1. The Subject Matter Expert
Every company has someone internally who is already known as the expert on your product type before vendors ever walk in the door. Sometimes because he/she previously worked for a vendor or has developed street cred in the organizations as the go to resource.
Lesson Plan: If your SME worked for a competing vendor or with your own product some time ago then the goal is just to bring their knowledge up to date and provide side by side comparisons either of your product vs competitors or the enhancements made to show the product benefits since the SME last used it. Case studies will be of use only if they are with companies in the same industry and company size. The SME already has a firm grasp on their perceived business problem but will want to know how their competitors’ are approaching it.
2. The Short Attention Span Roadblock
We have all been engaged in the sales process where there is that one person who seems to have amnesia and needs to be “reminded” before each step in the process why you are meeting and what you are trying to accomplish.
Lesson Plan: Develop short easily digestible highly customized “refreshers” for this person that you can send 24-48 hours before each meeting that reviews where you have been and what step in the process you are now in. Brainshark is amazing for this! If you haven’t used it please look into it now. It is a great way to create voice over powerpoints to bring back up to speed your Roadblock as well as keep in the loop key players who missed your meeting.
3. The Researcher
Want to find out if your prospect is a researcher? Mention casually that you shopped for a car or a major appliance over the weekend before your meeting. If they offer to loan or email you the last 3 years reviews in that category from Consumer Reports then you know what kind of student you are dealing with!
Lesson Plan: Case Studies, White Papers, Analyst reports are all ways to sway your researcher. They feed off of information overload and won’t make a decision until they feel they have done an adequate job of looking at the problem from all angles. Don’t hide from the competition. Acknowledge them and differentiate. This is a situation where knowing your competitions collateral as well as your own can pay huge dividends. Offer to send them your competitors white paper with your own margin notes added. To the researcher you want to appear consultative and not competitive!
I also want to point out that Researchers and SME’s are not the same thing but are often hard to differentiate in early meetings. The SME has preconceived ideas about you and your competitors from the onset. They don’t want to be convinced by having you dump your collateral in their lap. They won’t read it anyway. SME’s need to be sold on new features and upcoming enhancements to tip the scale in your favor.
Once you know what kind of student you are dealing with you can, like my science teacher Mr. Reynolds, implement the correct lesson plan to open your students eyes in a whole new way!
Can you run across other prospect "students" beside these three types? What lesson plans did you use on them?
About the Author: Heather has spent the past 15 years advocating for the customer perspective in her approach to software development and product marketing. Her penchant for collaboration is what drew her to the Savvy B2B team. Read more of Heather's posts here or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.