There is a lot of buzz lately about “creating a personal brand”. The funny thing is, you already have one. Good, bad or indifferent. It’s there. You have developed a brand through your interactions with others and how you do what you do everyday. So why is this important? Because your brand may not resonate, seem valuable or be what it should be. And when others are trying to decide who to have on their team, who to hire, who to “follow” your brand may do the deciding for them.
So what is it? It has been defined as,
“…the process by which individuals and entrepreneurs differentiate themselves and stand out from a crowd by identifying and articulating their unique value proposition, whether professional or personal, and then leveraging it across platforms with a consistent message and image to achieve a specific goal. In this way, individuals can enhance their recognition as experts in their field, establish reputation and credibility, advance their careers, and build self-confidence”.
Wow, that is a mouth full.
Your personal brand goes beyond reputation, although reputation is a very important part of it. A positive brand is how others perceive your unique value. Much of how people perceive you will depend on the way you articulate what you do. This doesn’t mean you should become a braggart. It means that you will need to create a brief and more powerful answer to the question, “What do you do?” This may seem like a lot of work and a bit contrived, but if you look at how people brand themselves on social media sites like Twitter, you will see that personal branding is now the new normal. To develop a description of what you do that communicates a unique value proposition, you will need to go beyond your function and examine how you add value to your organization or customers.
Sometimes articulating what you do can be difficult because of the complexity of your job. Many people are working for companies that have complex organizational functions, products or services that are difficult to understand. Even people who work within the same company may not know what you do. After they hear your title, division and function they politely nod their head and say, “Sounds interesting.” But they don’t want to seem “out of the loop” so they hand you a card and walk away or change the subject. When there is complexity, you not only have to communicate your value, you also need to keep it simple.
Or, you could have the opposite problem. Your job could seem so mundane and simple to understand that it appears to have a “brand” already. Don’t let this be you. Any person, in any job, can create a positive and powerful brand.
What is your unique value proposition?
Let’s take a look at an example. Imagine we are at a networking event and ask a new contact what they do and they reply, “I sell computers for XYZ”. What does this tell us about the person, their job or company? Nothing really. We know they are in sales. If it is a large organization, you probably know something about the company and the company brand and we assume the rest.
If you can’t articulate what your value is, then it may indicate you or your company should start rethinking your business or role. But more than likely it just means that you haven’t thought about it this way. It takes time and a bit of experience to evaluate how you are being perceived and how to communicate your value.
Continuing with our PC computer example, let’s say this person is an inside sales person that sells PCs as well as many other products to larger companies. They could tell customers, “I am an ISR and I call on large accounts in the financial sector selling a variety of products including PCs. I am responsible for 10 million dollars in sales.” It’s accurate and to the point. So what is wrong with this description? Well first of all, what the heck is an ISR? We can guess that it means Inside Sales Representative but it doesn’t really describe what you do. It just lets us know you work indoors and probably on the phone. You call on large accounts? That is nice to know but it doesn’t really tell us that you have any responsibility outside of maintaining a quota. You mentioned 10 million dollars. That number is impressive but it might be well below expectations in your role. How do we know if that is important? What makes what you do important?
So how do you describe your value in a way that ANYBODY can understand?
To begin, ask yourself these questions:
- What do I do for my customers that makes their life easier or better (internal or external customers)
- What if any problems do I solve for customers?
- What if any quantifiable measure can I attach to what I do? Do I save people money? Time? Energy? If so how much on average?
- How can I describe that in an honest, accurate way?
For example, our PC Inside Sales Representative could say this confidently:
“I help customers acquire technology that improves their bottom line. When customers use my services, they save an average of 20% in total cost of operations.” It’s a much more accurate and powerful statement. If you are able to quantify your value, you become memorable.
The same principle applies to how you position your company. In this example, you could just say, “I work for a PC company.” Simple, yes and BORING. If you are passionate about what you do it sure doesn’t seem that way!
To project passion and support a better brand for your company, ask yourself these questions:
- Why do customers use us? What do they like about us?
- What quantifiable benefit do they usually gain by buying our products/services?
- How are we different than our competitors?
Then, use your answers to craft a short, description like those below:
“We help companies lower IT acquisition and implementation costs—typically by 20 percent or more—by negotiating directly with major IT vendors for better pricing and by offering turn-key installation and service programs.”
“We are different from others because we make complex technology easy to buy and to use.”
Now the real test. Try your message out with a teenager and see if they “get it”. Most teenagers don’t mince words. You will get immediate feedback and perhaps a few facial contortions. Don’t be discouraged. It’s a process.
“Selling Solutions” can be a very effective method for ensuring your customer is getting the most value out of what you have to offer. However, many sales leaders implement “solution” selling in order to fit more of their products into the pitch. Meaning, they aren’t really selling solutions, they are cross-selling or up-selling more products or services. To sell solutions effectively, one must understand the specific problems that you are solving, and their potential costs.
Questions to Ask Before Using A Solution Selling Strategy
- Can you describe how this suite of products or services work together to lower costs or improve productivity? (Improve revenues, satisfaction, ease of use, decrease labor costs, glitches, frustrations etc.)
- Does my solution solve a problem our customer’s will relate to?
- In purchasing the entire solution, can the customer realize more value than buying specific products or services individually? If so, how?
- Are you able to articulate the benefit of the solution vs. a la carte offers that may be easier to implement?
- Will the solution you are proposing create a longer and more complex sales cycle? Is that ok?
- Will the solution provide you with a competitive barrier or advantage?
- What customer or industry knowledge am I missing? How can I get a clear understanding of my customer’s problems and the costs associated with them?
- Can I present this solution’s benefits from the customer’s point of view?
- Who else will need to be involved in the decision making process with a broader solution?
- What additional departments may need to buy into this solution?
- What is the budget for a solution?
- Does the ROI help the customer to justify going off budget?
- Does your solution lock them into a user experience very different from what they are doing now?
- How can you mitigate the risk of change? (Training, try and buy, demos, on-site implementation etc.)
- Does our solution make it harder to integrate into current practices? If so, how can we make it easier?
Are you selling an “End-to-End Solution”?
What does the customer expect from an end-to-end solution? If they choose to do business with you, they won’t have to go anywhere else? This isn’t usually the top of mind need or pain point. Customers are not sitting around thinking, “I wish I only had one vendor that could supply all of my products or services”. Typically customers would prefer a little more competition to keep vendors on their toes. The true value of end-to-end is that customers won’t have to buy from a variety of suppliers and figure out how to make it all work together. If your end-to-end solutions are designed to achieve a seamless experience and can guarantee these products will work together to achieve the customers’ objectives then you are providing real value. Otherwise, “End-to-End” is a la carte. You are more like a one stop shop. There is nothing wrong with that approach. However your value is limited to the convenience of shopping. And, if your solution is proprietary, then you are also asking your customer for a much larger commitment and decision. If this is the case, you will have to mitigate the risk of this decision by showing how it will create better interoperability, less hassel or still provide choice if needed. Now or sometime down the line.
What we have concluded from working with thousands of coaches, managers and sales people is that coaching feedback needs to be specific, focused on behavior and provided in a timely fashion. When we ask people about the coaching feedback they receive, the reviews are mixed. The comments we hear sound something like this:
- “She tells me when I am not doing a good job.”
- “I have been told that I take too much time with each customer.”
- “Coaching is for people that are not making their numbers. Right?”
- “My manager wants me to close more, but I am not really sure what that means.”
- “I have regular one-on-one meetings but not a lot of feedback.”
- “I never get coached. I am a top performer”.
- “We don’t have sales coaches, just managers.”
- “We get regular sales tips and trainings from our manager.”
- “My manager wasn’t as good a sales person as I am.”
How do you ensure coaching feedback supports improved performance?
- Consistently reinforce positive behaviors as well as improvements. Managers tend to err on the side of corrective feedback. Provide a balance.
- Make sure you provide specific observations of behaviors that affect performance. If you are giving opinions based on personal experience or style your feedback may not actually support results. If your feedback is too vague it is left to interpretation.
- Be sure to keep advice focused on the future as they can do nothing about what just occurred. For example, “Next time you open a call, you could ask the customer if there is anything they would like to add to the agenda, that way you will ensure you are on the right track.”
- Get validation. Ask your sales person if the feedback you are giving them is helpful. It doesn’t matter what you think if they don’t like or understand what you are saying. Make sure it is hitting the mark.
- Positive reinforcement and advice for improvement does not always have to be given at the same time. If the expectation is that you will always give both positive and negative feedback then people tend to wait and listen for the criticism. The reinforcement can get lost. Think of feedback as bank account. You will make deposits (positive feedback) and withdrawals. If you are overdrawn, performance can start to suffer.
How to Give Positive Feedback More Effectively
Many sales managers think they are providing positive feedback when they say, “Hey great job today!” It’s nice to hear, but it doesn’t tell your sales person what they are doing well. If you want to reinforce behaviors that contribute to higher performance – be specific. For example, “I observed three things you did in that meeting that drove a successful close. The first was the way you validated the customer’s acceptance throughout the call by getting feedback. By asking, “What do you think about that?”, you were able to uncover concerns and address them effectively. The second was the qualifying question you asked about decision making. By knowing how they were going to make this decision you were able to close for the next step to advance that process. And lastly, you summarized the key points agreed to in the meeting and suggested the next step confidently. The result was the customer was comfortable in committing to you.”
1. Customers only care about you if you care about them
It is amazing how many sales training programs and managers teach an adversarial approach to customers. This rarely works and it makes selling a chore for both the customer as well as the sales representative. More and more customers are seeking self-serve mechanisms to avoid the selling experience altogether. Don’t be sales “road kill”. Be concerned about your customers, their industry, the trends in their business and you will be in a much better position to add value.
2. Have a purpose for every interaction
Customers do not have time to chew the fat with you. They are busy and if you are successful, so are you. The key to creating an effective purpose is “EMPATHY”. To make your purpose compelling to the customer, you will need to express it in terms that are tied to something they would like to achieve. To do this effectively, you will have to see the world from the customer’s point of view without necessarily having the luxury of talking to them. So, how do you do that? Learning more about the customer’s industry, their potential pain points or opportunities for them in the marketplace by conducting research can help you to create an engaging purpose. This doesn’t mean that you say, “Bob I’d like to talk to you about your pain points.” This sounds dumb doesn’t it? You will be much more compelling if you can state your purpose with some hint at how they could save time, money or improve revenue, productivity, creativity by spending time with you.
3. Be relevant or be gone
Many sales people we work with have one goal when selling to businesses; to get to that top executive. They learn gate keeping techniques to get an appointment but do not have a clue as to how to be relevant at that level. The result? A kick downstairs is the best case scenario, the worst case scenario is you get a few minutes into your meeting and the executive excuses himself for a phone call to never return. Sales people think that the best case scenario is a win! Hey I got kicked downstairs by the CEO. That is a great reference! The problem with that thinking is that you have blown a great opportunity to partner with this company at a strategic level. If you have that type of product or service, be prepared with relevant strategic conversation at the C level if you are going to go there. If you lack the confidence, knowledge or skills to conduct this type of discussion, then bring someone in your organization who can. It will be a great learning opportunity!
The same point can be made at any level of the organization. If you are speaking with a technical user or a financial buyer, you must be relevant at that level. There is nothing more frustrating than listening to a sales person that can not tailor information to whom they are speaking.