Forget the how and focus instead on the why

It always pays to start big, then think small

[Image courtesy of Anna Vignet at Flickr Creative Commons]

I was chatting not so long ago with a salesperson who was frustrated.

He was trying to engage senior decision makers by talking in a language they understood. But the marketing folks back at base weren’t supplying him with materials that pressed the right buttons.

“It’s not the how I need – it’s the why. That’s what will get them sitting up and listening,” he said with a sigh.

His company produces an enterprise software solution that deploys clever algorithms to analyse and optimise…

Hmm. Let me start that again.

His company helps their clients cut costs, eliminate wastage, prosper in a tight market with global economic uncertainty, and streak ahead of the competition. 

Now that’s a better story, but it’s still not the why.

Every company wants to do all of those things. And every B2B solution provider claims they do those things, so the story ends up being more compelling, but still quite generic.

So we need to take it one level higher.

What issues are his clients facing? What’s the cost of not taking action? Why should they turn to his company for a solution? What are their competitors doing? Where is the marketing going? What are the latest trends? Are they going to be left behind if they don’t act? Where are the hidden threats?

Or put another way, why should they care?

Simple is as simple does

There’s always a temptation when you talk to – or write for – clients to dive into the detail. After all, that’s what will differentiate you from the competition, right?

You’ve got such a great story to tell, and you’ve spent the last six months living, eating and breathing the detail of your product or service. Why would you not want to put it all out there? 

The answer is simple: people don’t do detail. You don’t, I don’t, nobody does. We start at the top and work down – but only if we’re interested and engaged, and need detail to justify our choice. 

For the second time in six months, a simple message has triumphed over the complex detail. Donald Trump has swept to power, sending shockwaves across the US and the world, just as Brexit did back in June.

‘Make America great again’ was the why, as simple and effective as ‘Vote Leave, Take Control’ was in the summer.

The how may be somewhat more complicated after January in the US, and March in the UK (if Article 50 is triggered), but the why made people sit up and care.

And go out and vote.

Swipe right

But let’s leave the heady world of politics behind for the moment, and return to our salesperson.

Clearly the clever algorithms and whizz-bang analytics aren’t setting his target audience on fire. Cutting costs, increasing efficiency and all those good things would get him a bit more facetime with prospects, but he needed to pull back and find a better way in.

“Pretend you’re speed-dating the prospect,” I said. “The buzzer is going to sound very soon, and you need to get them to want to see you at the end of the night. Tell me how you’d hook them.”

Ever one to take up a challenge, the salesperson was happy to play along. And one by one, the killer arguments just kept on coming. 

Clients in this sector are short on working capital, so they have no manoeuvring room if there are new competitive threats or an economic downturn. They’re having to cut back their R&D, so they have no new products coming down the line. They don’t know in detail which clients or sectors are the most profitable, so their efforts aren’t targeted. They’re in a precarious financial position, and often go for short-term gain that might cause long-term pain.

“I can fix all of these things,” he said with a big smile. “But isn’t that the buzzer?”

I almost asked him for his number. But instead, I gave him the list I’d been writing down while he was in full flow.

He’s now given it to his marketing department, who are finally on board with the idea that it sometimes pays to start big, then think small. They’re drafting top-level thought pieces that show clients they ‘get’ them and their world.

Now they know the why, they can leave the how for later, when the relationship is a little further down the line. 

This could be the start of something big. Next time I see the salesperson, I’ll ask him if his clients are swiping right

Somehow I think they just might be.

Sales and the art of motor-car maintenance

Selling is like a love story. Make sure yours has a happy ending.

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at

Some years ago, I thought I’d found the one.

Yes, the one garage that truly understood me, and my lack of technical sophistication. The one mechanic who was in tune with what I needed, and didn’t hold out false hopes or far-fetched dreams.

Every time I took my car there, the bill was less than I expected. But that’s not all. There were little touches that made me think he really cared. Extras that I hadn’t asked for, and things fixed that I didn’t even know were broken.

And all at no extra charge.

They were small things, and just a moment’s work for somebody who knew what they were doing, but they made a difference. And truth be told, I’d have paid a lot more than I did, simply for the feeling that I was in a mutually beneficial relationship.

He won, I won. We had a future together.

We shared our problems. In my case, they were mostly mechanical. In his, financial: he mentioned he’d moved house, had another kid and got some unexpected bills. Times were hard, he told me.

I commiserated, but thought no more of it. Until the next time I visited.

(Grease) monkey business

This time, the bill was higher than I expected. Not only that, there were some other things he’d spotted that needed attention. They were serious, he told me, and shouldn’t really be left. So I agreed, and ended up with a bill almost three times what I was used to.

Oh well, I thought. These things happen. It’s just the once.

Except it wasn’t. The next time, it was other small niggles that couldn’t be left unrepaired. There was much sucking of air through teeth, and standing back to get a better view of the impending disaster that was my car.

The free extras had stopped. The paid extras had kicked in. I went from a feeling of being in safe hands to one of being exploited. And then one day I left the abusive relationship, and found a mechanic who understood me.

If my story sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve got one just like it.

The nice coffee shop that turned nasty. The hairdresser who hiked her prices with no warning. The gym that refused to offer you the same deal as new members. The list goes on and on.

Trust takes a long time to earn, but is very quick to lose. Change the service, push your prices up, behave out of character and your clients get twitchy.

Buying – just like dating – is difficult and stressful when you’re faced with with a stranger, which is why people stick with what they know. Until that changes. Until you change it:

  • You raise your prices because you need more revenue. (Hint: find new customers instead.)
  • You change your offer because it’s been too popular. Or you discontinue it for the same reason.
  • Your response is ‘you should have read the small print’ when somebody complains.
  • You stop being flexible and bending rules when you know you could (or should).
  • You forget that clients are humans just like you, and that you can hurt their feelings (which hurts your bottom line).
  • You behave unpredictably or unreliably, and they realise they can no longer trust you to be predictable or reliable.
  • You take them for granted.

Spanner in the works

It takes a lot to win a client, and not very much to keep them (do what you do well, keep up your standards, and make them happy). But it takes very little indeed to lose them, when you lose sight of what matters.

Selling is like dating – you’re looking for a long-term relationship. But when it’s over, it’s over, and they’re not coming back – so make sure you keep them, by getting all the little things right.

If you don’t, there’s always another mechanic with a cheeky grin and a winning way.

And those all-important extras.