I wasn’t in the audience at the time, but the very first time I saw the video of Steve Jobs presenting the iPhone to the world I was in...
Zero to One: Notes on Startups or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel via Tom Tunguz
This was a snippet from Tom’s blog post. Lean Startup and the startup world often say product wins and discount the value of marketing and sales. But in fact history has shown us that the best product does not necessarily win, it is the company with the best execution to take the market that wins. If you want to dominate a market, create a superior sales and marketing engine. The product will get there, but do not wait for the product to be “ready” or good enough.
No amount of process, people, or product will help if the messaging is not working
Good messaging is like good art; it is hard to define but you know it when you see it. And like art, it can be hit or miss, and more often on the miss side when it comes to early startups. Many folks attribute those startups that start getting traction and achieve scale as being startups that found product-market fit. While that is true, what got them there was the right message which is the crux of finding one’s product-market fit.
Ultimately you are creating a clear explanation as to what your company is and what problem it solves for the market. You unlock that riddle and you will find that you open a lot of doors. In that sense, your sales messaging is the master key for your particular market that works for the segments you have defined.
How does this differ from marketing messaging? It shouldn’t, at least by much. Marketing however has a much broader audience to reach out to, which includes partners, analysts, investors, competitors, industry groups, and even customers and broader market. They are the catch all and so they are coming from messaging at a brand level.
Most of what marketing creates should still align with what sales does, but sales are focused on one audience only; prospects. So the messaging needs to be crisp, clean, and jargon free. The point is that anything that creates questions or concerns or roadblocks in the minds of prospects should be removed, and that includes messaging that could likely confuse potential customers.
Messaging is such an important topic that I made the next NYC Enterprise Sales Meetup all about that one thing. It will be a panel of sales and marketing experts in the B2B enterprise market talking about and sharing their thoughts and tips for crafting great messaging. If you are struggling with or have questions about how to craft messaging or what you even say to prospects to get their attention, then this meetup at Work-Bench on Tuesday, September 23 6 PM is for you.
Before I close out this post though, I thought I would jot down a few thoughts of my own since I am going through the same challenges now with my startup. Here are some things to consider:
Eleanor Roosevelt (via kennyherman)
Too many sales deals die a premature death due to gatekeepers, tire kickers, and others that have little power in the organization. Do not let them get in your way and find the right people, those that have the power to make the deal happen.
I was planning on writing something that helped break out the differences between the elevator pitch, the unique selling propositions (USP’s) and value propositions. Then I came across the exact same post written last year by sales guru Jill Konrath, which is pretty solid, so I am reposting here in its entirety down below.
One key point here is the difference between a USP and a Value Prop, which most times confuses folks. When you are selling B2B enterprise solutions, USP’s are the equivalent of check box items in an product evaluation. Sure, they help “differentiate” from the crowd, but at the feature level and without any context. Just because something is different does not mean it is better for the prospect. That is why Jill states that USP’s provide little value in the B2B sales campaign.
The Value Proposition is much more useful in the early sales cycle, because it hits upon results and gets closer to the perspective of the customer. Having hard numbers helps, but not absolutely necessary, particularly when you are still early in the product development cycle and return on investment (ROI) is difficult to measure. The point though is that a good value proposition should be relevant to the prospect’s need and demonstrate the type of upside that makes your solution a worthwhile investment.
Without a strong value proposition, it’s much harder to sell your products or services in today’s economy, much less even get in the door of big companies. But what is a value proposition? And how is it different from other commonly used terms?
A value proposition is often confused with an “Elevator Speech” or a “Unique Selling Proposition.” It’s essential to understand the difference between these terms because their purposes and sales impact are very different.
An elevator speech is a short, 1-2 sentence statement that defines who you work with (target market) and the general area in which you help them.
About 10 seconds long, it’s used primarily at networking events to attract potential clients and stimulate discussion. The following elevator speeches show you how some people describe what they do:
- “I work with small businesses who are struggling to sell their products or services into large corporate accounts.”
- “We help technology companies effectively use their customer information to drive repeat sales.”
- “I help small-to-medium sized manufacturing companies who have difficulties with unpredictable revenue streams.”
Unique Selling Proposition
A unique selling proposition (USP) is a statement about what makes you and your company different from other vendors.
Its primary value is to create competitive differentiation. A USP is often used in marketing materials or in talking with customers who are ready to buy.
Here are a few good USP examples:
- We specialize in working with financial institutions. (Specialty)
- We guarantee service in 4 hours or your money back. (Guarantee)
- We use a unique tool called SureFire! to analyze your critical needs. (Methodology)
Helping customers understand your USP is imperative when they’ve already decided to make a purchase decision. But USPs have absolutely no impact when customers are satisfied with their situation or when they’re frustrated but haven’t yet decided to change. USPs are far more effective in the business-to-consumer market than in business-to-business sales.
A value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible results a customer gets from using your products or services.
A strong value proposition is specific, often citing numbers or percentages. It may include a quick synopsis of your work with similar customers as a proof source and demonstration of your capability. Here are a couple examples to stimulate your thinking:
- “We help large companies reduce the cost of their employee benefits programs without impacting benefit levels. With the spiraling costs of health care today, this is a critical issue for most businesses. One of our recent clients, a large manufacturing company similar to yours, was struggling with how to reduce spending in this area. We saved them over $800,000 in just six months. Plus, they didn’t cut any services to their employees, nor did their employees have to pay more.”
- “I help technology companies who are launching an important new product into the marketplace – and need it to be successful to achieve their sales forecast. Where I help my clients is in the often dropped hand-off between marketing and sales. As a result, they’re able to more easily meet projected sales goals and significantly shorten time-to-profitability.”
Both the elevator speech and the USP are cousins of the value proposition, but there is one vital difference: they lack the punch of a value proposition when selling to the corporate market.
Everyone has that picture in their head of the prototypical sales rep. Not the used car salesman image, but the one of the über successful sales person. Tall good looking, outgoing, and probably athletic. Of course, having known many sales people over the years, the reality is there are all shapes and sizes and personalities. The only commonality that ties sales people together is an unhealthy appetite for accepting rejection and an incredible well of persistence. Otherwise, most sales people are all over the map.
Recently Jason Lemkin of EchoSign fame came to NYC to spend some time meeting with various SaaS startups founders. He also gave a few talks which I was grateful to have the opportunity to attend. One of the reoccurring themes I picked up from his talks was the idea of hiring athletes whether to manage product or to run sales.
Now you might think that hiring athletes seems to be a bit of stretch. Let’s face it, many folks in tech do not exactly hue to the ideal of being athletic. Besides what does being an “athlete” have to do with closing long and complex deals for nascent innovations offered by startups? Well, not much because if experience is any guide, one’s ability to do triathlons or bench press stacks of weights does not translate to quote killing, sales comp smashing performance.
However, I look at the comment in another way. It is not about the physical body, but the mental ability. The athlete has intense focus and discipline. The athlete has clear and specific objectives. The athlete is results driven. The athlete is relentless in improving and iterating and practicing. The athlete does not back down from the challenge, but instead tackles it head on.
That is the model of the modern sales rep. In a day and age when building chummy relationships and getting by purely from one’s network are gone, there needs to be a better way for sales people to succeed. It is not by being the classic relationship builder and simply working hard only goes so far. Running purely on gut feel is too high risk in high stakes sales opportunities. On the other hand though, being too data oriented and detailed can stifle the initiative and creativity needed to break into new accounts.
The new model of sales is the idea of being a “challenger”. This is not meant in a confrontational way, but as a way of introducing new ideas that changes the perspective of the prospective client. Those new ideas are novel and contrary to industry currents, are pertinent to the audience being pitched, and are always tied back to value. In short, the sales person better be well prepared long before introducing themselves to the potential customer.
What is responsible for spawning this different approach to sales? It is mostly a function of greater information available to customers through analysts and Internet sources as well as the growing complexity of enterprises themselves. This has created better educated customers that are both in control of the sales process and have higher expectations of the vendor sales teams.
So the type of sales people you need are athletes, but the mentally tough kind that have the discipline and perseverance to succeed. Sales is the toughest of jobs in a company which is why it is the highest paid position, but also the one with greatest turnover. It is no mistake that many famous quotes by athletes work so well in a sales context like this one from Michael Jordan:
I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, >I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over >and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
That could be any sales rep that is prospecting, hitting the streets, and banging on doors. It is drudgery and thankless and often humiliating. It is not a job that one takes if you need instant gratification or to be always liked. You wear rejection nearly every single day and it is enough to wear out the most seasoned professional. And that it why it is so crucial to hire the “athletes”, the ones that can push through the down periods to get to the high points.
One note before closing however on the physical side of being an athlete. Many sales people forget that they not only have a sales quota to smash, but they also have their bodies to care for. This is something that I have personally been negligent of since jumping back to the entrepreneur side. It is easy to push things too far to the point of causing serious harm to one’s health. Unlike money or relationships, your health is not something you can ever get back.
The best athletes recognize the importance of balance between pushing oneself hard and rest. The best sales people understand the need for hard work but to also get adequate rest with interspersed with down time in order to rejuvenate. If it is good enough for top athletes, then it is good enough for any sales person.