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Selling To The C-Suite
FROM BULLETPROOF SELLING:
C-suite executives, by definition, are charges with solving strategic problems. That means salespeople targeting this type of decision maker have to understand the world they live in and the challenges they’re dealing with. The product features and specs that might wow a mid-level manager or someone charged with using your product or service won’t be as effective with a C-suite executive.
In order to understand the strategic challenges our decision makers in the C-suite are struggling to solve, we first have to understand the strategic value our products and solutions offer. From Chapter 5:
A MAJOR PART of the Marines’ jobs in Iraq was to patrol local neighborhoods and keep them secure. Our opponents quickly realized they could do more damage to our personnel by avoiding direct engagements and simply planting explosive devices on the side of the roads we traveled on. Less risk to them, more risk to us.
Because a 40-millimeter mortar round with a bunch of colorful wires laying on the side of the road is a clear indication of danger, these improvised explosive devices would often be camouflaged. This made them hard to spot and led to a lot of false-positive identifications. If something looked like a disguised bomb, we’d halt an entire convoy to investigate. A patrol could be held up for hours because the lead driver spotted something that could be a problem.
What happened next in these situations was no less impressive than watching a team of snipers clear a building – troops would unload from their vehicles and take up defensive positions on either side of the road, run to the tops of nearby buildings, and do everything they could to proactively meet a potential ambush.
And then we’d wait. For what? For the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team to arrive. These men and women had the especially dangerous job of getting close enough to confirm whether what we spotted was indeed a bomb. If so, their job was disarming it or blowing it in place. They were masters of communicating and leveraging their value – something that many salespeople have replaced with product specs and pricing sheets as their primary sales tools.
Thinking back, watching these EOD teams work was the first time I saw how a salesperson could assess the situation, recommend value-added solutions, and get to work delivering them in a systemized way.
If these EOD technicians had been like most salespeople, they would chat all of us up upon arrival until they discovered who had the most rank, and then negotiations would begin, whereupon we’d all be regaled with the history of bomb disposal. Then the EOD team would open up their bag of goodies and display all the ways they could disarm a bomb or destroy it. At that point, they’d select their tools and get to work. Once done, they’d offer the bomb as a souvenir to the decision maker so they’d have a memento of the great work the bomb disposal team had done. And of course, before departing, they’d be sure to ask if the convoy commander knew of any other units in the area that might be encountering bombs so the EOD team could … you know … get referrals.
That would turn what should be a half-hour mission into a multi-day affair. The EOD teams figured out something vitally important salespeople should remember when communicating with prospects – no one cares about how something solves a major problem. What folks care about is how fast and effectively the problem can be solved. Unless speed and effectiveness are impacted, it does not make sense to talk about upgrades, upsells, or which colors something comes in.
What actually happened when the bomb disposal team arrived to one of our halted patrols? And what can our salespeople do to model the way they communicated value?
First, the EOD team would immediately locate and speak with the ranking officer, ensure troops were pushed out to a safe distance in case of an intended or unintended detonation, and confirm that civilians were cordoned off from the potential blast area. Then, the team would get to work providing the benefit they existed to provide: allow the mission, in this case the patrol, to be accomplished as quickly and safely as possible.
The EOD teams were Bulletproof salespeople, even though they’d rightly claim to be experts at simply blowing stuff up.
If that example doesn’t get you thinking about how to connect your salespeople with the value your company exists to provide, here’s another:
Linda is a solopreneur and running a nutritional consultancy, a fancy way of saying she teaches people what to eat and drink in order to perform better. One of her prospects was the local police department, but she was having trouble convincing their police chief to let her present to his officers. The police officers were busy, worked in a stressful job, and were infinitely more concerned with staying on the right side of the law than they were with what they ate in their patrol vehicles, donut jokes aside.
When I asked Linda what the benefit of her talk was, she began telling me about how eating refined sugar led to early onset diabetes, poor energy levels, etc. I encouraged her to think of this from the perspective of her decision maker – the person with the ability to cut a check for nutritional advice.
I asked, “What is top of mind for a police chief, the things they think about and are most concerned with?”
Some answers she came up with:
Following policies and procedures during traffic stops
Maintain proficiency with weapons and arrest techniques
Abiding by HR policies
“Those are good,” I told Linda, “but let’s go deeper. What’s the one thing that could happen in the course of a given day that would ruin a police chief’s mood even if everything else went right?”
She decided that obviously, it would be if one or more of their officers didn’t make it home.
“Right!” I said. “And can you link nutrition to better decision-making, enhanced focus, response time, and better memory?”
“Yes!” she replied.
“Great, then that’s the value you’re talking about the next time you speak to the police chief – increasing the chances all their officers survive their next shift.”
No surprise, she got the gig.
What happened was not magic; it was simply examining the benefits of the service she offered, not from her perspective but from the perspective of her prospect. She needed to identify the biggest need of her prospect and build a bridge from her expertise, product, or service to that goal.
Trigger: Standing up a Bulletproof campaign system.
Bulletproof Impact of This System: Understanding how your product or service creates change in your clients’ lives and businesses. Allows your salespeople to expand their potential customer profile across industries, identify the most pressing need in their prospect’s lives, and position your product or service as a solution. Overcomes the ‘show up and throw up’ method of selling and positions salespeople for strategically oriented, solutions-based sales.
This is an exercise that is essential for entrepreneurs and those providing intangible services, but it’s also valuable for product-based sales teams to examine the actual value provided by what they sell. It’s these value statements that will form the bulk of sales scripts, generate discovery questions, and improve the closing ratio of proposals (all systems we’ll reveal in coming chapters).
It’s an old adage that people don’t buy features – they buy benefits. Yet few sales teams, and even fewer solopreneurs, take the time to define the value their product or service provides, and even fewer prioritize communicating that value in their sales conversations. Because we’re preparing salespeople for the most challenging environments they might encounter, it’s not enough to just train them on remembering product specs. They need to be versed on the solutions their products or services provide and be able to communicate them to busy, distracted decisions makers. Instead of assuming prospects want to know all the features of a product or service, Bulletproof salespeople take the time to learn about their prospects’ needs first. Only when a clear match between prospects’ goals and a way their product or service can deliver the solution should salespeople attempt to sell.
Let’s examine how to do that for what you’re selling so we can get to the heart of the value your company’s products or services provide. That value will be woven into all of the sales conversations, outreach systems, templates, and marketing material that we’ll walk you through creating in upcoming chapters.
Start by mapping out the below columns and their titles on the top of a sheet of paper. Set aside an entire sheet as you’ll need the space: