Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Unique Sales Proposition

This is one of the least understood and most over used concepts in sales and marketing. Everyone thinks they have one, few companies do. Here’s why….

A Unique Sales Proposition (USP) must have these characteristics:

  1. First and foremost it must be unique
  2. Second, it has to be easily validated
  3. Third, it must have real intrinsic value to the buyer.

USP’s are situational. What has unique value in one environment may not have any value in another. So one of two things must happen, either the USP changes based on the environment or the seller must target only the environment in which the USP is truly unique and valuable. The second alternative limits the viability of the market. The first alternative widens the target market but required that the seller understand both the unique value of their products or services and the specific value the prospect is looking to achieve. So the USP starts to look like a BBQ Menu; pick one entre, and two side items. Listing the attributes of your products and services is the easy part, getting past the second characteristic is where most fail the test.

Validating your USP is going to be difficult in traditional terms. Companies like to think their UPS is best-in-class service, leading edge technology, the most this, the fastest that, the only whatever…. The problem is can you prove it? More importantly can you prove it prior to the sale in such a way that your competition is left in the cold. This innately means that the USP must be measurable. If I want to state that my product is installed in more companies than any other like product; do I have the third party validated market share data to back up the claim? Is there another study out there that might invalidate my claim? If I claim to have best-in-class service; can I validate it with third party customer care data? Many benefits are just that benefits, they are not USP’s. I may be able to demonstrate that my clients rate my customer service 97 out of 100, but that does not make it a USP. It makes it very good and is an asset, but unless I can validate that my competition cannot meet that, it’s not a USP.

The last point is the logic test. Who cares? I have a good friend whose company has incredible IP based video server technology. It is truly great stuff. It is incredibly fast and has great features. The problem is; who cares. They compete against analog video servers that are half the price in small configurations and most of the video is never viewed. They lead with their gee-wiz technology just to get hammered on price. They try to tout their reliability, but the prospect counters with “I can afford spares”. The real challenge is to find a market that requires very high camera counts and the video is reviewed on a regular basis. Think casinos…. Think major airports….

The point is that every buyer has a unique set of pain that requires a unique solution. The product or service does not have to be unique, just the sales proposition. When your company can document that your product or service can uniquely address their particular problem, you have a leg up on getting the business. This will shorten the sales cycle and could lead to larger margins.

Your USP is not a tag line on your advertising. It is a tangible benefit supplied to a specific prospect in a specific environment. Don’t look for the magic bullet. Look for an arsenal, a smorgasbord of objective tangible benefits that can be used as the situation dictates.

Defensively speaking, look at your competitors USP’s and be prepared to demonstrate how your product can provide the same benefit. It won’t make your product more attractive, but it will reduce the FUD factor.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Selling in the 21st Century

Selling has changed considerably in the last 10 years. Start-ups have embraced this change because they have to. Older companies are just starting to understand it. This change in driving business, has been brought about to a large extent by the movement away from the concept of “Web 1.0” to “Web 2.0”. The major difference in these two concepts is the Web 1.0 was a more traditional push-pull approach. The idea was to attract eyes to your website and then provide value. This is an electronic form of print advertising, except that there is a lot more real estate to use and a wider geographic distribution. Web 1.0 didn’t fundamentally change sales methodologies. Prospects were attracted to the website, were then pre-qualified by filling out a form and passed to sales as a lead.

Web 2.0 changes that dynamic. Web 2.0 is interactive. The website visitor can change the content by commenting on it. They can add their own spin. Two prospects can debate benefits and add insight for each other. Many Web 2.0 demonstration sites allow the viewer to interact with the demo by inputting their own data. They can have a dialogue with the presenter if there is one. Fundamentally, a prospect can experience the first 2 or 3 steps of the sales cycle without engaging a live person. When the lead gets to sales, the prospect is much more informed and qualified.

Using blogs, twitters and wikis as part of the marketing and sales strategy has become more commonplace. Letting the marketplace create marketing content through interaction provides deeper insight. Sales has to adjust to this new medium. As the prospects and client collaborate on new ideas and approaches, Sales has to keep up. No longer can they rely on marketing material printed annually for their source of information. Smart sales people have their own blogs and twitters. They are engaging their market to build relationships and find opportunities. Social networks can provide new knowledge on personalities, backgrounds, priorities. Reference selling through social networks is a growing tool.

Hiring salespeople with a defined rolodex and an aptitude for cold calling is old school and ineffective. There are just too many screening processes available to the prospect. The average buyer in inundated with spam and junk e-mail, not to mention telemarketing calls. They have e-mail filters and incoming call identification to help them manage unwanted interruptions.

Times have changed and companies must change with them. Take the time to reevaluate the interaction between clients, marketing and sales. Look for sales people who have embraced the new technologies and know how to use them to drive performance. Have they defined their social networks and do they know if and how these networks affect their performance.