Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sales for smarties: goodbye solution selling, hello insight selling.

Preamble: birth of a salesman?
I'm not skeptical of sales pitches. I'm paranoid of them. The words "can I help you?" typically evoke anger and avoidance in me, even when I need help. When I walk onto a show floor, I avert eye contact with anyone eager to put the spin on me. I haven't been much better with sales in my day job, either, despite the fact that I've done a fair amount sales enablement over the years. And the fact that marketers tend to dismiss sales hasn't helped my attitude any.

But I'm changing. Partly it's that digital has put me in the driver's seat. These days, it's unlikely that I can be 100% hoodwinked, and salespeople seem to know that. And partly it's that I've now worked with salespeople who are not only incredibly smart, but who are authentic, sophisticated, and, yes, helpful. Very, very helpful.

Now I sometimes not only embrace the enemy, I want to join him or her. Sometimes. More to the point, I want to understand what makes sales tick. So hence why July is officially "sales for smarties" month here at 9 3/4. If any of you have the scoop on state-of-the-art sales, please jump in.

Sales Topic 01: selling not just an answer, but also the question.
The new issue of Harvard Business Review is chock-full of smart sales thinking, plus one personal transformation. The article The End of Solution Sales has flipped my professional perspective upside down. And not just my perspective on sales, either. I now think about marketing, and even business as a whole, differently.

Everyone involved with B2B has asked the question, "What keeps our potential customer up at night?" And after we think we've decoded that, we've all tried our damnedest to spin the best-sounding solution to that insomnia invoker. We desperately want to be the Ambien in their lives.

But they know what's keeping them up. As the article points out, these customers are armed to the teeth with information about that--just like I am now when I shop. So instead, effective sales people now crack what should be keeping those customers up--or even better, thrilling them--but isn't because they don't know about it yet. In other words, you're not merely answering their questions. You're coming up with new questions, ones that your organization can answer.

The authors call this transformation away from solution sales "insight selling." I'm tempted to rename it Donald Rumsfeld selling, since it reflects his brilliant "there are things we don't know, we don't know" statement. (And no, I'm not being sarcastic.) But whatever it's called, it's mighty smart strategy, for sales or otherwise.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

If insight is the answer, be sure of the question.

I'm a bit under the weather today, dizziness and lightheadedness my primary symptoms. So I've spent much of the day curled up on the bed with Freakonomics. I read most of it when it first came out, which was likely the first time I experienced novel looks at data. But even though I enjoyed it as a fun, interesting non-fiction read, it had no impact on my view of the world. Only poets and Toni Morrison could do that back then.

But now it's a different story.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How Brad Pitt has helped me on the path to statistical enlightenment.

Actually it's that Brad Pitt led me to the film Moneyball, which led me to the book Moneyball, which led me to the uncanny wisdom of Bill James and his sabermetrics. I'm not really a baseball fan, let alone one who tracks stats. But I'm a huge fan of breaking free of seemingly unquestionable ways of looking at numbers to find new, more insightful and effective ones. And Michael Lewis's exploration of the A's approach to baseball is all about innovative statistical perspectives, especially those originating with Bill James.

Here's a quick synopsis of the book from Wikipedia:
The central premise of Moneyball is that the collected wisdom of baseball insiders (including players, managers, coaches, scouts, and the front office) over the past century is subjective and often flawed. Statistics such as stolen bases, runs batted in, and batting average, typically used to gauge players, are relics of a 19th century view of the game and the statistics that were available at the time. The book argues that the Oakland A's' front office took advantage of more analytical gauges of player performance to field a team that could compete successfully against richer competitors in Major League Baseball (MLB). 
Rigorous statistical analysis had demonstrated that on-base percentage and slugging percentage are better indicators of offensive success.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Data analytics: hard numbers don't equal hard facts.

The zeitgeist in my world right now is that if it's measured, it exists. I'm not down with this zeitgeist, especially not in my fuzzy digital B2B marketing universe. Not because of a standard-issue "it's a feeling, man" liberal arts stance. At least not entirely. It's more because I worry that we digitally-oriented marketers often look at the data we collect through the wrong lens, leading us to believe we have answers when we don't even have the right questions.