A Sales Story for Our Time

frustrated-manWhen Matt finished the meeting, he was angry. His biggest customer just told him that she had placed a big order with a new supplier.

“You know it’s not you. I like working with you Matt. How long are we working together? It’s been a long time.” Said Joanne, the EVP Operations at DeepEarth Oil, “But Mandy Adamson at Innopartners – she blew us away. I know they are a little more expensive than you, but Mandy agreed to share her vision with the whole executive team as well at our next exec QBR. She helped me think about this company – this industry really – in a whole new way.“

Matt knew Innopartners. He beat them in most competitive situations – even with brand new customers. His solution was superior to theirs, and he certainly did not expect them to unseat him. This was deeply aggravating. Mandy Adamson? Matt thought he knew most of the sales team there, but he had not come across the name Mandy Adamson before.

And yes, he was angry too; angry at himself for listening to Jack, the Chief Marketing Officer at JKHiggs Global. “Just present Dynamix14 this way and focus on the energy saving. That’s our key differentiator.” he said, “And be sure the customer knows that we’ve been in this market longer than anyone else.” He was going to have a reality check conversation with Jack as soon as he got back to the office.

When Matt checked his phone, he was glad to see a message from his friend Tom. Before Tom left to start his own business, he and Matt had been in the trenches together for seven years and had become good friends. Now that Tom was building his new business he had little time to socialize.

Turning the corner as he walked towards his car, the sky darkened and Matt was buffeted by a chill wind. Under grey skies, he looked for something to brighten the day. Dialing Tom, hoping he’d be free for lunch or a coffee, he wondered what Tom would think about what he planned to say to his CMO Jack later.

“Has your chandelier popped a bulb? Is your brain past its ‘Best Before’ date?” Tom’s colorful speech always amused Matt, and he always enjoyed spending time with him, but this time, sitting in the Starbucks across from his ‘starter-upper-sorry-we-don’t-have-a-coffee-maker’ office, he was disappointed in his reaction to his suggestion.

“Look, Jack has been following the same path now for far too long. But the world has changed. Customers know more about our business than we do about theirs and introducing a new product with just a datasheet and a Features & Benefit list isn’t working. This approach is costing us business, and Jack is costing me money. Someone needs to put his lack of market understanding in front of the Executive Management team meeting.”

Tom took off his glasses, and rubbed his eyes slowly. This was getting tense, and Matt had that I-don’t-care-what-anyone-says look. Time to diffuse things a little. “Ok, so what you’re saying is that Jack is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. But even if that is true, is this the best way to solve things? Do you really want to lead a witch-hunt against Jack. This is not a Jack issue, it is a strategic company issue. ”

“Tom, I thought you’d understand,” Matt responded. “Jack, and the rest of the marketing team think that just because they’ve spoken to the analysts and done some market research, that they can tell us how it works in the field. But they rarely get in front of customers, and meeting with customers everyday is what we do. I’ve been successful selling ever since I came to JKHiggs, but now, I am losing to competition when I should win.”

“Ok”, Tom interrupted, “let’s look at this calmly. From what I heard, the marketing team is delivering more sales collateral than ever before, and built a really cool micro-site for Dynamix14. You can’t criticize their work-rate. What exactly are you saying?”

Matt took a long sip from his Americano, and sat back in the soft leather chair. “Ok, I admit I’m getting some leads; that’s not my problem, and I know marketing is investing heavily in brand awareness. There are more marketing materials than we have ever had in the past – but even if I could find the piece I need, I am still going to get my butt kicked if the competition is helping the customer to … how did Joanne at DeepEarth put it? – ‘help me think about my business in a whole new way’. We don’t know how to do that. We have not figured out how to connect our solutions to the customer’s business, and you know what, that’s actually the issue here. We have spent all of this time on our ‘Sales and Marketing Alignment Project’, when in fact we should have been thinking about the customer first. Henry in Engineering gets this stuff. Customers love him – he knows more about the impact we can have better than anyone on the planet. If we can get him in front of more customers, then maybe that will help. That’s what I need. That’s the answer.”

“Look Dude, you’ve nailed the problem – but not the solution. Henry doesn’t scale across 400 reps. If you think the marketing department at JKHiggs is going to help you solve this, then I’d like some of what you’re smoking. Your job is to sell. Do the research yourself. Use Google. Buy Henry lunch. If Jack is filling the top of the funnel, that’s just as much as you can expect. I wish I had someone hand me leads. Now, my dear friend, don’t be a whiner. Accept that your meeting today wasn’t great, but dust yourself off. Learn more about your customer’s industry and get back in the saddle.”

“I don’t know Tom” Matt sighed, “ I hear what you’re saying and I know you have my interests at heart, but customers are getting smarter and more knowledgeable all of the time. They are using social media to educate themselves on everything that’s going on; not just with us, but with our competitors, their industry and other companies like them. It’s not my pipeline volume I’m worried about; it’s my sales conversion rate and the pipeline velocity. If JKHiggs doesn’t sort this out, we will lose our position in the market and that will make my job harder. Marketing is investing in the wrong place, and something needs to be done about it. I think Jack needs a good dose of reality.”

Tom stood up and dropped his empty coffee cup in the trash. “Listen, I’ve got to get back to the day job. But ask some of the other guys what they think before you take on Jack, or maybe call the guys over at Innopartners and see if they have any openings. They seem to have figured it out.”

… and that’s where it ends.

(Depending on your input below we can find our what happens in the meeting between Matt and Jack.)

-o-

According to a recent Forrester Research report, only 36% of executives believe that sellers can have a valuable conversation with them about their business. The reality is that communicating value is no longer the job of the sales person. Buyers can learn all they need to know online. Winning sellers are those who can create value for their customers by helping them learn about the business issues they should be caring about.

Buyers value sellers who can offer a unique valuable perspective on the market, use their experience with other similar companies to help then to avoid potential land mines, and educate them on new issues that they should consider.

This is not just a sales issue. It is not just a marketing issue. It is not just a sales and marketing alignment issue. It is truly a customer alignment issue that can be easily solved with a little bit of strategic thinking. Most companies already have in-house the knowledge they need to describe the customer’s business, their typical goals, pressures and problems that they are trying to solve – and why they built their products in the first place. But those tools are rarely in a format that’s easy accessible and readily consumable by sales. (Here’s something to consider.)

What do you think? Do you think Matt is right? What about Tom’s perspective? Does Matt’s situation sound familiar to you?

Remember, we have not heard Jack’s side of the story yet.

 

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