The other day, I was having breakfast with a frustrated executive. He had just reviewed a playbook that had been developed and was being launched to sales. It was the result of an effort between product management, marketing, and the sales enablement team.
There was a lot wrong with the playbook. The biggest problem was it was strictly product focused. It educated sales people about every function, feature, feed, and speed of the products, not overlooking the most minute detail (don’t forget to talk about the 20 colors….) One of the most worrisome aspects of the playbook was the comparison between their products and those of the competitors.
Apparently, in every category, their products were far superior to the competition. It had no weaknesses and each of the competitors was tremendously flawed. At least according to the people who developed the playbook.
As we talked about the problem, there was basically nothing right about what was being done. If the sales teams started using the playbook to drive their sales strategies they would have been embarking on a losing strategy.
The good news and the bad news is this company isn’t alone, too many organizations playbooks drive losing strategies with the customer. Let’s dive into some of the problems:
- It’s unrealistic for our products to be significantly superior to all the competitors in every category. As much as we love our products, we have to be realistic in assessing their strengths and weaknesses. After all, our customers are comparing our solutions with competition. They will always find things they like about the alternatives and things they don’t like about ours. If we don’t equip our people with a realistic assessment of our products and the alternatives, we will never be credible in engaging the customer.
- Who cares anyway? Increasingly, our customers are doing their research on the web. By the time we are shortlisted, we are likely to be one in three alternatives they are considering. Any of the alternatives can solve the customer’s problem! Consequently, having more features, functions, bells and whistles, having product superiority in some areas doesn’t make a difference to the customer. They simply don’t care; if we are in consideration, our product solves their problem—as do the other two alternatives they are considering. Focusing on who has the most features and functions is irrelevant to the customer. As a result, winning the business must be about something else.
- If our products are table stakes, how do we win? It’s just a small shift in perspective, but customers really don’t care about our products, they care about solving their problems. If we engage customers in discovering, defining, and addressing their problems; we focus on what’s most important to them. It profoundly changes the discussion and customer engagement. It no longer becomes about product superiority, features/benefit lists—it’s about how the solution solves the customer problem and helps them achieve their goals.
- Focusing on our customers’ problems and how we help solve them enables us to focus on the aspects of our solutions that are most important to them. We don’t waste our time or the customers’ on those things that are irrelevant or unimportant. Our competition will continue to present lists of features/functions, but the customer simply doesn’t care.
- We will encounter some customers who develop their checklists, ticking off the lists of features, functions, feeds and speeds. In part, they do this because we have trained them to do this. But we have the opportunity to shift their points of view. By focusing on their problems, how they solve their problems, and how they achieve success, we move them off the checklist comparisons to what’s most important to them.
Too often, we disadvantage ourselves by focusing on presenting our products, differentiating them, and claiming superiority based on capabilities we think are important. Product management, marketing develop playbooks and endless content about our products. From the very first prospecting conversation, sales people focus on pitching products.
Sales becomes much simpler when we start with the customer. All our enablement programs, marketing content, playbooks. All our sales strategies must start first with the customer, understanding what’s important to them, what they want to achieve, and how we can help them achieve their goals. The product/solution becomes the vehicle by which they achieve success.
And we don’t even have to be the best or have the longest list of features and functions. We only have to be the people the customer relies on to solve their problems!