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[September 13, 2004]

Beyond References

By Dianna Sadlouskos
Phelon Consulting Services

Leverage Your Key Success Customers for More Effective Sales


In my experience participating in and supporting enterprise sales organizations, a few universals truths have become apparent. Effective selling starts with relationships, but is grounded in the ability to quickly establish credibility.


How prospective and existing customers view you is important to not only how much they buy from your company, but how quickly you can close a deal. Being the go-to person—the trusted business advisor—is the hallmark of every successful sales rep. The bad news is that getting there’s not always easy, especially in today’s economy when buyers aren’t listening, much less buying.


Selling has reached a heightened level of difficulty, especially in an environment where there is overwhelming competition and so much noise in the market about ROI (news -alert) and shareholder value. As we mentioned in previous articles in our Beyond References Series, battle-weary CIOs and other technology buyers are content with the status quo. Breaking out of the status quo mindset requires CIOs to move past the fear and high risk of making the wrong decision. The good news is that you can increase the likelihood of becoming a trusted business advisor, and of breaking the status quo by effectively informing your solution selling process with strategic and tactical customer leverage activities.


Leveraging reference customers changes the dynamics of your relationships with prospective and existing customers: it seamlessly moves you from “sales rep” to “advisor” by highlighting the breadth and depth of your knowledge and experience. (This means that customers answer the phone and, in many cases, will pick up the phone and call you.) After all, as a buyer, whom would you be more likely to trust? A sales rep spouting the same “solution-selling” advantages and benefits as every other rep out there, or an advisor who demonstrates knowledge by providing real-world successes of their solutions at work with actual customers that had similar challenges and business goals to your prospects?


Now exactly how you effectively leverage customers to become a trusted business advisor depends on where you are in the buying cycle, so let’s look at a simplified version in which your goal is to move the prospect from awareness and interest to consideration, purchase and loyalty. And in doing so, you will move from “rep” to “advisor,” minimize the need for lengthy and expensive proofs of concepts and technical demonstrations, and even better, accelerate and positively impact your sales.


Leverage Customers to Generate Awareness and Interest


Despite solution selling efforts, which are supposed to help create buyers in difficult markets, maintaining the status quo is still in vogue among buyers of enterprise products, services and solutions. That means latent pains stay latent. Active pains are set aside until they, too, become latent. So how can you break through the noise that reverberates in the selling environment? How can you tap into your Customer Reference Program brain trust to better position yourself as an expert business advisor while generating awareness and interest? The goal is to get the prospect enraptured in the story, moving away from price and selling software or boxes. Your arsenal of tools are plentiful: case studies, success stories and best practices to name a few. It’s about the ability to understand the prospect’s vision and then tie it back to proven and demonstrated action.


Successful sales professionals trust and credibility by demonstrating, over time, the depth and breadth of expertise, and ability to listen and articulate a solution. Share customer success stories, press and other reference activities that allow you to demonstrate, not tell, how other customers have successfully implemented your company’s solutions. And don’t just call on prospects and customers with something to sell—call to share industry-relevant information and news your customers and prospects can use.


One of the biggest challenges facing sales reps who sell large enterprise solutions is time. To meet monthly, quarterly or annual quotas, reps must make sure they have profiled, prospected and engaged the “right” potential customers—without getting stuck in endless, expensive cycles that ultimately go nowhere. Leveraging customer references in this phase of the process allows you to hone in on prospects that share similar challenges as those faced by your existing customers. Customer case studies and ROI models, as well as your own industry knowledge, allow you to illustrate key metrics that resonate with like prospects.


For example, if your key existing customers are CIOs, you know that the same messaging, trends, challenges, metrics, and successful solution executions that attracted them will resonate among like buyers. Because your successful customers were concerned with scalability, revenue creation, customer satisfaction and cost reduction, like prospects will appreciate your first-hand knowledge of how your solution impacted others in those areas. Showcase your past successes and expertise to provide value from the very first contact with prospects—the sooner you initiate these types of conversations during the buying cycle, the faster you will qualify your company and establish yourself as a valued advisor. And the faster you qualify your solution and establish trust, the more you earn and the more time you save.


Leverage Customers to Facilitate Consideration


Once a prospect expresses interest and becomes a qualified lead, mobilize your company’s arsenal of customer leverage tools to move the prospect to the next stage in the buying cycle. If you’ve been diligent about creating touch points with prospects and customers during the awareness and interest stages, chances are high that they will begin to see you not just as a “rep,” but as a knowledgeable business advisor. You may not be completely “trusted” at this point, but that, too, will come. At this stage in the buying cycle, being a business advisor means mobilizing your company’s internal resources to demonstrate proven solutions and reduce perceived risk to the buyer.


A variety of activities might occur during a prospect’s consideration phase. For instance, suppose your buyer issues an RFP (Request-for-Proposal). We’ve all heard the horror stories about wasted time and resources on RFPs. Every rep familiar with solution selling knows that any effort expended on an RFP may well be in vain unless you’re in column “A”; unless your own sales team moved the prospect from latent to active pain and helped build a solution vision. To present a solution that exceeds your prospect’s requirements, mobilize your customer reference program’s success customers. Leverage customers to demonstrate the business value of your company’s solution. Leverage like customer successes to fill your RFP with undeniable and intriguing proof points.


Again, your goal here is to become a trusted business advisor, to remain at the forefront of your customer’s mind in the face of competing solutions. Proof points such as implementation best practices, ROI and TCO studies are all tools that fuel a full court press in moving the sales opportunity to purchase.


Leverage Customers to Close the Sale


Your prospect has narrowed the list down to two finalists—your company is one of them. Your customer’s priority is to measure value by evaluating costs, benefits, time to implementation, etc. And it’s during the finals when customer leverage gives you the greatest edge over your competitors by demonstrating value through customer successes.


Closing the sale is not about adding another win to your scorecard nor is it about successfully demonstrating how you’ve made customer references available to your potential buyer. Closing the sale is about building a sustainable level of trust with a prospect; it’s about helping the prospect see the genuine benefits of establishing a long-term relationship with your company. Customer leverage is also dependent upon relationships. Successfully demonstrating to your prospects how your company has built mutually beneficial relationships with its strategic customers by forecasting and responding to needs can accelerate the decision-making process in committing to the sale.


Sales reps that showcase successful customer solutions at work will outpace close competitors. Look at it from a prospect’s eyes. All else being relatively equal, which company would you rather buy from? The one that respects and treats customers as the vitally important strategic assets they are, or the one that offers reference calls, and no more? Leverage your customers. Become the go-to business advisor and expert in your space. That’s how business is closed.


Close the Loop: Leverage Your Newly Satisfied Customers


Your role as trusted business advisor does not end once you close the sale. A win is the beginning of a new phase in the evolution of your relationship; it’s where your success may loop back and serve you and your company repeatedly. Leveraging customers helps you become a trusted business advisor. Becoming a trusted business advisor allows you to win. Wins then become company assets—assets you and others within your company may leverage to accelerate sales in like situations. Ultimately, reps that win—companies that win—are those that fold success customers into reference programs for future leverage purposes.


Dianna Sadlouskos is a Principal of Phelon Consulting. Dianna Sadlouskos has 20 years experience in helping public and private sector organizations optimize performance through development and execution of business, information technology education, and marketing strategies. In addition to being a Principal at PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting, Ms. Sadlouskos most recently held positions at Microsoft Corporation and IBM Corporation. She may be contacted at [email protected]



Like what you've read? Go to past Beyond References columns.

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