Solution Selling: 3 Killer Secrets to Success

Here’s some really good news.

First off, if you’re selling a solution or service of any kind, the chances are your competitors are doing a pretty terrible job. 

How do I know that for sure? 

Simply because the people they’re selling to tell me that 9 out 10 sales meetings, presentations, sales discussions or sales pitches they get are dreadful.

The main complaint is that for the customer it’s very rarely a useful, insightful and productive conversation. More often than not, it’s a death by PowerPoint boast about turnover, number of employees and a meaningless page of “big name logos” followed by a series of banal and self-serving “discovery questions” which all too rapidly are followed by a clumsy “feature blast” and product pitch that almost inevitably will end with a trail close of some sort or other.

The customer is left feeling they’ve just wasted the last hour of their life, they’ve answered the same questions they always get asked and they’ve actually learnt or achieved nothing of tangible value that will help them in their role or with any of the things that challenge them day-to-day.

So how can you make sure you’re not the next “terrible” “solution” selling product pusher who walks through the door?

How can you stand out as being someone they are keen to open up to, are happy to meet again and someone they would choose to do business with over and above everyone else that’s knocking at their door?

Well here are 3 Killer Secrets to Success that come directly from the very people you’re trying sell to…pay attention… they WANT you to know this stuff:

1. You are NOT providing them with a SOLUTION 

Whether you like it or not your beautifully packaged “solution” is simply a component as far as your customer is concerned. What you happily present as a complete package of products or services in reality has to fit into and alongside all manner of other such “packages” and myriad other internal and incumbent systems or processes that the person you’re selling to  has to consider, deal with and integrate, in order to get ANY value at all out of what you’re offering.

Interestingly, not only do I KNOW this from having been told it by senior level decision makers over the years, but it is also backed up in extensive research by the Corporate Executive Board in their seminal book The Challenger Sale, which evidences that in buying a “solution”, it is in fact the CUSTOMER that has to do all the work to customize your “solution” to integrate it into all the other elements they need to consider, BEFORE they can derive any value from it at all.

So what do you need to know?

  • Understand that the customer’s “problem” is bigger than your “solution”
  • Prepare your proposition by considering this up front. How will you help the customer to buy and what do you need to incorporate in your offer to make what you’re presenting, easy to for them to implement?
  • In the sales meeting or presentation make your INTEREST and UNDERSTANDING of your customer’s need to integrate your solution clear. Ask probing and empathetic questions that EVIDENCE you “get it”.

2. DON’T Ask them “What Keeps you awake at night?”

I know most sales people consider this to be a great way to get the customer to “open up” about where their pain points are. I can assure you that the same sales people haven’t got a clue that it not only drives your customer nuts, but it is actually damaging your chances of making any real progress.


  • Because it’s the same uninspired “out of the text-book” question that every other “clockwork” sales dummy they see that day will ask.
  • It evidences that you haven’t got a clue about the person you’re speaking to. That you haven’t bothered to research them or their company or their industry enough to be able to ask anything even a little bit more tailored.
  • It shows that to you, they are simply part of the “numbers game”. One more “pitch on the list” one more “no” on route to a “yes”. Do you think that makes you look like someone who could add value to the customer or someone they can’t wait to leave?
  • Most Importantly though…it will get you the same answer the customer has given to every one of your competitors who’s been dumb enough to ask it! You won’t get any real insight, you won’t get any deep understanding of how you can position your offering to add real value, create real differentiation and to be able to sell at the highest price. You’ll just join the list of competitors selling something that can now be boiled down simply to price.

So what should you do or ask?

I suggest you aim for a conversation rather than a presentation. I suggest you do your homework when you develop your proposition (that’s the marketing bit) so that you can offer real insight and I suggest you make sure you’ve done your research on the people you’re meeting before you meet them. Design and discuss an idea or insight with them that both evidences your understanding of the wider issues and challenges THEY face, and enables them to think and talk expansively about how they might use it, change it, incorporate it into their business. You and THEY will get a good deal more from a meeting when you do this than if you turn up with a “solution” you need to “punt” at the first sign of any “need” you can match it to.

Again, The Challenger Sale is great at helping you explore this. I also use the Business Model Canvas and of course SureFire Excellence for preparing propositions that make this work brilliantly and open up much bigger opportunities more quickly.

3. Who’s really BUYING?

It probably goes without saying (I hope) that in most instances and where you’re selling a complex or big-ticket service or solution, there will be more than one person or department involved in the decision to buy.

A well constructed value proposition will provide the sales person with the tools they need to engage and talk confidently to each and every member of the  Decision Making Unit. It should also enable the sales person to make the proposition relevant, valuable and a priority decision for each party too.

The real key here though is to understand how the decision process really works. And be aware…it’s changed since you last looked at it. Again (and I’m not on commission here!) but the Challenger Sales research evidences that post recession, just about all big-ticket decisions are now made by consensus. Be clear, that’s important. A few years ago when you were selling to one “department head” or VP you could be sure if you closed them, the deal was done.

Not any longer. Now even the most senior of decision makers will reach out to their peers across the business as well as down into their team to gain consensus before going ahead. Buyers (as individuals) are now highly risk averse. So be prepared.

Here are a few pointers:

  • ASK and understand how the decision is to be made up front.
  • Determine (and you should do this when you develop your proposition) how you will HELP your customer to take and sell YOUR Proposition UP and across into the business.
  • Make sure you know and understand what the CFO/FD’s top priorities are this year. Unless what you’re selling addresses one of those, you will be in for an uphill battle.
  • Find out what the CFO/FD (The business) sets as their “hurdle rates” – this is important. These are the terms or criteria set by the CFO/FD for any business case or proposition that comes across their desk for approval. If your proposition doesn’t get over the hurdles, it doesn’t even get to first base.

Those are the top three things I think you need to know and consider when selling solutions.

What do you think?

PS: I can help you think differently about your sales and marketing approaches. If you’d like more insight, ideas and support get in touch.


5 brilliant sales and marketing tools you need to know about

I’ve probably got one of the best jobs in the word. Honestly, I love it!

I have a business that allows me to spend my days working with companies to help them find smarter, quicker, more sustainable ways of growing their business. Sure we may use different terms of reference, we may call it new business generation or key account selling or proposition development or any and all of those things. And the company I work with could be an SME or a start-up, but it can just as easily be a household name enterprise. Guess what…they all have broadly the same problems and face roughly the same sorts of challenges.
That’s all great and it keeps me very busy indeed, but so what?

Well it also means that I work with and come across no end of absolutely brilliant companies, great new tools and fantastic content and ideas that I think you, my prized and highly valued reader (stumble across(er)/stalker/passing interest(er)/competitor) really ought to know about.

So I thought I’d take a few moments to share a few of them with you now. I hope you find them useful.Oh and for the cynical among you, you will notice no affiliate links here…no money changes hands…this is all just honest goodness!

1. Pipeliner Sales

This is a fantastic new Pipeline monitoring and management solution that (for once) was designed with the sales person in mind. Really easy to use for both the sales teams and those that manage them, this simple system uses drag and drop inputs to provide easily understandable and configurable dashboards and reports. I use this with a growing number of my clients. If you want to know more, get hold of Richard Young, he’s the UK MD and a thoroughly decent chap too…

 2. Digi-Products.Com

An easy way to build, personalize, send, track and monitor digital content of pretty much any kind.

Digi is deceptively brilliant. I’ve been using it and recommending it for years. Over that time the wonderful founder and CEO, David Boyland (officially the nicest bloke you’ll ever meet) has developed it into one of the cleverest tools on the market today. Don’t make the mistake many marketing people do of thinking you can already do this stuff…you’re missing the point. Digi is great for lead generation and supporting the sales dialogue, for managing internal communications and even for tracking proposals and invoices. For the marketing team, it’s brilliant for giving everyone access to standard collateral that they can personalize to suit each requirement without messing with the brand guidelines! Oh….it may save you a fortune on creative costs too!

 3. Salesformics

Be quick to get in on the beta deal for this one. I have to say I predict a riot with this product. It should turn the CRM and Marketing Automation world upside down. Guess what…it was designed to be easy to use by people like you and me. It does everything you would want it to do….but it’s really easy to use. Better than that, it’s not some old-time, clunky CRM tool that’s had a few knobs and whistles added to bring it up to date. This is a product built and designed specifically for the market we all work in today. Stewart Rogers is the Head of Product, he too is a top chap and he’d be happy to give you a demo! Ask him to show you the segment marketing and workflow processes…it’s so easy even I am interested enough to do it…and I really hate using these things.

  4. NearDesk

NearDesk is as genius as the man who founded it, Tom Ball. A really simple card, internet site and soon to come app, that provides you or your sales team with access to a desk and office facilities by the hour pretty much where ever you are in the UK. What’s better still is that it strips out all that wasted time and resource invested in processing expense claims for desks, space, WiFi and coffee! Each person simply swipes in and out and all the invoices are consolidated and itemized and sent to your office once a month for processing. It’s growing like Topsy and so it should, it’s brilliant. I’ve got a NearDesk card, have you?

  5. CopyBlogger

Without doubt the most informative and well constructed resource for anyone interested in content and digital marketing. It’s (mainly) free so I suggest you check it out. And if you blog for a living or if you want to improve the effectiveness of the content you produce, I’d recommend you look at their Scribe solution too.

I hope you find the time to check them out…and I hope you find them useful. Let me know.

Next time I’m feeling philanthropic I’ll pick some more to tell you about.

Meantime, you can check out one of mine.

Buzz Building

 Along with a very talent friend of mine Rick O’Neil of Look Touch Feel, I have created a completely free 12 week course in digital marketing. So far it’s going really well. We’ve even got a well-known TV celebrity as one of our first thousand subscribers..I don’t suppose he needs much help, but it’s fun to have him along for the ride!

So if you want some really practical tips and advice on how to get your digital and content marketing going then you’ll find it here. Of course some people prefer a one to one workshop on site…we do that too and for those that aren’t quite sure what they need we’ve put in an easy and honest self-assessment. Finally, there is of course, the option for those who are just far too busy to do it themselves…so we do it for them.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Sales & Marketing – Still a dark art for many SME’s

It doesn’t matter how great your product or service is…if people don’t buy it you’re in trouble.

And for a great many small and medium-sized companies, that’s the real elephant in the room.

You could be a fantastic company of accountants or have the best software development team for miles around and no doubt you’re excellent at what you do, what ever it is you’re producing or delivering.

That’s why it’s so frustrating for companies who are simply struggling with bringing in new business in a consistent and predictable manner.

Of course it’s easy to buy “marketing services” or “lead/appointment generation” services, you only need to throw a stick out of your window and you’re bound to hit a marketing agency or a digital guru of some description. They will of course be only too happy to sell you what it is they do.

That’s actually where your problems usually start. 

I’m not for one moment suggesting the agency or service provider is not good at what they do, or that they are anything other than well intention-ed. I am suggesting however that many SME organisations aren’t actually sure what it is they really need and therefore what they really ought to buy and from whom.

For many, marketing (and in some instances sales) is a real afterthought or seen as a necessary evil and certainly an overhead.

That means that they almost always leave doing anything about it until it’s too late…

Too Little Too Late

And then it’s a case of too little budget and far too little time to do anything about it.

Of course, what ever service provider you bring in at that stage will “fail”.

Marketing is “the long game”, it’s a discipline that requires skill and investment and time. If you give it that, then it won’t cost you a fortune and it will work. If you confuse it with magic…and expect it to pull a rabbit out of the hat in no time at all and for no money invested, then you will be very disappointed indeed.

You don’t need to spend a fortune on marketing or to panic and push out vast campaigns at enormous cost while you cross your fingers and hope for the orders to come in.

You need to plan to invest in an intelligent, progressive and iterative dialogue with your audience. If you do that well enough and consistently enough you will be amazed how little you will need to spend on turning that audience from educated and interested into a sale and maybe even an advocate.

Small Businesses need help with Digital Marketing

Too many small and medium-sized businesses (SME) run the risk of being left behind simply because they have no idea how or indeed if, they should be embracing things like content marketing, digital marketing and social media marketing.

Traditional and more established businesses and professions have resisted the temptation to get drawn in or to jump on what looks to be a bandwagon, but the truth is that today customers find, research and select the people and companies they choose more often than not based on some sort of internet research.

Sure that “internet research” might mean a simple Google search or a recommendation from a friend or colleague via Facebook or LinkedIN but it’s just as likely to mean reading a well placed and well written article on a subject they’re interested in.

With such a wealth of information, advice and opinion at their fingertips, prospective customers can arm themselves with product or service knowledge, supplier and price comparisons and pretty much everything the need to know to narrow down their search to just a few potential providers.

On that basis how would you or your organisation fare?

A well designed and consistently and competently executed Digital Marketing program will act like a magnet, positioning you in prospective customers’ minds and pulling informed and qualified buyers to your website.

It can be confusing. It looks like there’s a lot to learn, a lot to achieve and potentially even a lot of money to be wasted if you don’t know what you’re doing.

So where should you start?

Could you do it yourself and when is it right to outsource it to the professionals?

To help you address those very questions, I’ve teamed up with a technical and creative expert in the space, Rick O’Neil and together he and I have developed a completely free and entirely comprehensive on line course for anyone looking to develop their own digital marketing, content marketing or social media marketing program.

You can sign up for it here

For those who would prefer a workshop to discover what it all means and how to do it yourself, you can find it here

If you think “Sod it, life’s too short and I want the experts to do it” you can find the outsource option here

AND…if you really don’t know what you should do….here’s a ready reckoner to help you decide.

I hope it helps!

Where do the big deals get done?

Where do you think the really big deals get done?

If you want to win the really big deals. If you want to command the premium price and if you want to build mile-high barriers to entry for your competitors, then you need to be on the inside looking out, rather than the outside looking in.

Metaphorically speaking, most organisations invest all their time and energy running round the outside of the building trying to pick off a few easy wins and hoping that by process of osmosis and hard work, they will eventually make their way in and beyond the reception desk and maybe into the elevator and just maybe into an office or two.



And when they get there, what they find is that they now join the long queue of their competitors who have also been on the same journey and invested them same effort and resources to get to the same place.

And then what?

Then they all have the same conversations with the same sort of people about the same sort of stuff. And it doesn’t matter if your “thing” is better, or faster or does more stuff …you will now be lobbying for your rightful share of mind and share of the same budget and eventually (if you’re lucky) you may just get a chance to under-cut the competitor in front of you.

Great job…


In an office of someone no one else gets to speak to, another company is shaking hands on a huge deal that you and your fellow competitors never had a clue about. Price will be premium and never in question and customer will never for one moment have considered that there may be other companies out there he should approach as an alternative.


The company he’s shaking hands with never planned to get into the elevator and to join the queue to pitch an alternative to the person with the budget for the known and well understood  requirement.


Instead, that company invested in a very real and very deep understanding of the customer. It found and learnt about the problems, ambitions, challenges and drivers that were core to the customer but would make no sense at all to the competitors looking from the outside, simply trying to find a quick way to sell their products or services. It sought to work with and help the customer address one singular but significant problem.

That problem was so close to the customer that “solving it” hadn’t yet been tasked out to the various departments to “go and find me a X”….that would mean all those in the queue could have a go at pitching for it.

It never got that far.

It never left the boardroom at all.

And of course, having solved that one seemingly arcane but significant problem, the company is able to extend their engagement and open up the rest of their products and services as a trusted adviser/partner or collaborator. They will go on to build deeper, wider and higher barriers to entry and the queue of reps in the hall way will be left with less and less to fight over.

If you’re looking for the big deals at the premium prices, they are not to be found where all your competitors are looking.

Being on the “inside” doesn’t require decades of investment and years of research or countless hours at networking events.

It requires a different approach to your preparation and the way you develop your proposition. Most of all it requires a willingness to stop doing what everyone else is doing and assuming if you know a few buzz words and few hot buttons “it’ll do”…because it won’t.  You’ll sound like an opportunist and you’ll be given your place in the queue behind all the other competitors.

This week I have seen one organisation moving from a position of “also ran” to one where they could be the “supplier of choice” in a vast and hugely profitable market simply by taking this approach.  It will have cost them a great deal less and was in fact a great deal quicker than the usual approach they would have taken to “join the queue”.

I suspect you could achieve that too.










Be relevant – be specific – be quick about it

Check this out as a sales pitch:

“We are brilliant at IT. We’ve got loads of big customers and loads of staff and more offices than you. What ever you want or need when it comes to IT you should come to us because we’re brilliant. We are better than you at it. We are probably a bit better than our competitors (or at least we will try harder) and we have great brochures, oh by the way – what keeps you awake at night?”

Are you sold?

I didn’t think so.

This, however, is what 99% of the propositions customers hear sound like to them.

Well actually they really sound a bit more like “blah, blah, IT, blah, IT, blah, staff, blah, you, blah, blah, blah – same old question at the end”.

Not only do these sorts of propositions net very little and have little impact, they are also highly forgettable and what’s worse entirely interchange-able. So “you” could be anybody, from any company, with any product or service.

Assuming you want the end result of your conversation with a customer to net you a positive and enthusiastic next step, lock-out for your competitors and a ring-fenced and highly profitable opportunity for you, can I suggest you re-think how you’re presenting your proposition?

No one buys IT (insert your “thing”).

People are looking to achieve a desired outcome for themselves or for their business and they are looking for ways they can achieve that desired outcome as quickly, cost effectively and in as risk-free manner as possible.

The desired outcome is where their focus is, it’s where the budget sits and it’s where you will get their attention. 

People will pay the company who can help them achieve that outcome. 

Is that what you can do?

Is it?


Well tell them that then.

They don’t care about anything else.


If you’re really smart, you’ll also check out this article from HBR about the end of Solution Selling – it’s Gold Dust and it’s what I help companies do. 

To my total delight one of the sales people I asked to read it this week, did…and to his delight he put it into immediate use in front of a high value and high-profile prospect and it worked.

See – I do know what I’m talking about, honest.

You may also enjoy this article I wrote for Surefire Excellence about being credible in your market…


Big News – Prospects MAY be Human

I don’t expect global recognition or a knighthood for pointing out the blindingly obvious, but it doesn’t hurt from time to time to be reminded that the people you want to connect with, engage, sell to or “reach out” to are in fact as individual, diverse, weird, worried, driven, motivated, nuts, stressed, arrogant, confident, busy, lazy, overworked, underpaid or hugely successful (take your pick) as you are.

It’s a fact. They too are real live, breathing humans.

When they go home they do things just like you do. Like make the dinner, pick up the kids, walk the dog, do the ironing, watch the soap opera…

If you’re careful and observant you may even see one or two of them out and about. In the supermarket or at the cinema. They will have the same debates as you and I do with our family or partners about what we will eat this evening or what we’ll do at the weekend.

The problem is that if you allow yourself to, it’s very easy for Marketing to see your prospects or your customers as a Unique ID on a CRM system or an “inbound, unqualified lead” or perhaps more so today they will be simply an MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead) or an SQL (Sales Qualified Lead).

Sales are just the same. They often see the prospect or client as The IT Director, The CFO, The Office Manager of the Head of HR.

Interestingly these are not the same labels these people would naturally apply to themselves.

Add into that the “Buyer Persona” that you’ve spent time and energy crafting and all of a sudden your poor prospect or customer is not only an MQL /Head of HR but you have now applied all sorts prejudices and generalizations to them – issues/drivers/challenges/etc.

Of course there’s a good deal of logic in segmenting and organizing your data, after all we’re all trying to build a “Customer Factory” right? (Ash Maurya) but when you’re doing that, keep in mind that the same Unique Codes and Matrix categorizations are being made about you too. And how comfortable are you that you fit neatly into any one of those boxes yourself?

I suspect you’d have something to say about limiting you and all your dynamism, enthusiasm, professionalism, personality and capability to a Unique ID and a deal cycle status.

Funnily enough Customers and Prospects are real people. It will pay you to remind yourself of that from time to time.

You might also enjoy this from Hiscox  it will help you understand how to work better with your clients. I liked it!

Avoiding the website project car crash

A word to the wise.

It is best to decide what it is you now do and for whom you now do it BEFORE to think about designing or commissioning a new website.

If you use the process of designing your new website as a means of defining your new strategy (!) it will cost you a fortune, take for ever and actually force you into compromising your strategic thinking.

In practical terms it usually gets compromised because every time you refine your strategy you have to re-think your site map and after a while people get bored of doing that and it drives the agency nuts and so you compromise just to get the website up.

And that’s nuts.

It happens all the time folks.

If you decide that your current site no longer reflects what you do, I suggest you invest some time in working out what it is you do and for whom you do it without any consideration for how a new site will look or work.

Only once you have that in place should you consider how you’re going to bring your perfectly crafted proposition to your beautifully defined target audience.

Marketing’s Most Important Role?

There’s something really quite strange that happens in organisations of all sizes all over the planet all the time.

Marketing people (very intelligent ones too) get into rooms with white boards and start planning who the company should target and what they should target them with.

They will each have their own approach and model (you hope) and they will happily discuss and debate the next marketing initiative for as long as they are able until they are happy that they have it all mapped out, the next great “big idea”.

The really good ones will have invited some sales people to the discussion too (although this is rare as sales people tend to think this sort of thing is for the “coloring in department” and marketing people think that the sales folk won’t get it).

Either way, in matter of a few meetings out comes the latest initiative and quite probably a brand new value proposition and set of sales and marketing messages.

All good then..?

Well maybe, but what if I told you that 9 times out of 10 this was all just one big fat self-deluding guess. 

It feels great to tick the boxes, produce the messages and get the programme out. Everyone gets a pat on the back and sits back and waits for the orders to roll in.

Sometimes they do.

Most of the time they don’t or (what’s probably worse) what comes in is not what you expected at all, in fact every order is different and needs a different set of services, skills and products to serve it and likely they will deliver cash at different rates and profit that’s all over the place too.

In most instances it just doesn’t really deliver what you expect it to. I know personally of global corporations who spend vast sums on programs that net no business at all – I bet you do too.

So what’s the problem?

Well there’s a little more to it than meets the eye…but…guess who wasn’t invited to the planning meetings or workshops. Guess who’s input and views and experience you didn’t take into consideration.

Strangely the last person organisations are happy to talk to when it comes to building new programs or propositions, is the customer.

It’s bizarre. It’s actually as if the marketing team are afraid to ask to meet with and speak to the customers or even perhaps that it didn’t dawn on them to ask at all.

I met with a very senior executive from a global corporation last month who told me that often his team would come to him and say “what do you think about this value proposition?”. And his answer was “why do you care what I think?”…”One thing I can guarantee you is that I am never going to buy it”. “Have you asked any customers?”. …..

More Sales People = More Sales….. Right?

I’ve just finished one of the sorts of conversations that stop you dead in your tracks.

I had been discussing a particular challenge I come across a lot in companies of all sizes today. It usually starts with, “We just need more sales” and usually ends with…”So we’ve hired some more sales people“.

There are some standard variables to this such as “my sales people are rubbish” ….and then the stock answer “So we hired some more sales people“.

“My sales people are chasing too many low value deals”….”So we hired some more sales people”…etc.

The problem with this approach is that in time the new sales people end up in the same position as the old sales people who you will remember are “rubbish” and “chasing too many low value deals”.

Of course when you stand back and look at it, it’s pretty obvious that at least in some instances it may not be a sales problem at all. In fact in my experience it is invariably not wholly a sales problem.

Good sales people are smart, commercially savvy, driven, focused, hard-working, intelligent and successful.

They are not – magicians. No, honest, they’re not (not even if they tell you that they are).

No matter how smart, commercially savvy etc…they are they will need you to have done your thinking first if you want them to succeed. 

You will need to provide them with a compelling, robust, differentiated and competitive proposition and tell them what a good customer looks like and where they can find them. If and when you do that, they will turn on the magic. Until you do, they will be just as “rubbish” and “busy” as the old ones you’re so annoyed with.

So back to my conversation….it went like this….

ME: “So in order to make the step change in top line growth they’re looking for, what did they do?”

Consultant: “They went out and hired a load more sales people”.

ME: “What are these people going to sell and to whom?”.

Consultant: “They’re going to work on that”.

ME: “When?”

Consultant: “Well there’s nothing in the budget for that”

Me:”Right” “So when are they expecting to see a return for their investment in these new sales people?”

Consultant: “Well the pressure’s on from day one really”.

Me:”So the equation goes need more sales = buy more sales people?”

Consultant: “er..Yes. I guess that was it really”.

Me:”That sounds like an expensive and time-consuming way to lose money and market share”.

Consultant: “Yes. I told them that”. “They said they didn’t have any budget for getting their marketing planning in shape this quarter”.

Me: “Don’t tell me, they said they need to sell something first?!”.

Consultant: “Yep”.

Good Grief Charlie Brown.

FYI – If you get your marketing planning in place (your proposition, your target market, your differentiation, etc.) first. Then you can hire sales people and they should stand every chance of being successful. If you skip that pretty vital step…then all your sales people will fail and it will cost you a fortune.










4 Signs that your marketing program sucks

…and the likely root causes that you will need to address.

How ever effortless large agencies, successful brands and world leading enterprises may make it appear, devising marketing programs that work consistently, is tough and involves a lot of hard work – sorry.

Of course just getting any old marketing campaign out the door is relatively easy, quick and can be pretty-much free. No one wants what a campaign like that delivers though, because on the whole it’s not very much all. It doesn’t stop people doing it though. Some cool design, a catchy tag line, an enormous email database and a flash new tool to pump it out and off you go.

It feels great to press the “go button” on a campaign that makes you look cooler, smarter and slicker than you probably really are AND to know it’s doing its bit to invade the Inbox of thousands of unsuspecting recipients too.

But chances are you’ll be waiting a very long time indeed if you expect the phone to ring off the hook, your website to crash with orders and inquiries and the sales director to be dancing round the office proclaiming that yet again, “Marketing has saved the day!”.

So let’s assume you are one of the good guys, one of those who really want to do the right thing and that despite your very best efforts, things are not quite going to plan.

What are the most common signs or symptoms that something’s not right and what are the likely underlying root causes?

Any of these familiar?

Symptom Likely Root Cause (high level).
You’re seeing increased competition You haven’t defined the market segment (the types of organisations) in which you can differentiate and dominate – profitably – well enough.
Sales Cycle is longer and drops out too often You are in too late to the sales process/engaged too low down the food chain/you are being used as a price benchmark.
You are being squeezed on price/sales people are discounting The prospect doesn’t recognize the value in what you’re offering – you’ve not made the business case compelling enough.
Order value to low/no portfolio selling Sales people don’t have what they need from you to be able to access and sell further up the chain. They will sell what is easy and doesn’t challenge their credibility. If they can’t explain the value under pressure…that could be your problem not there’s.

These four are really common (and of course it’s a good deal more complex than this but…). It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the fault lies with sales but in reality…nine times out of ten…the problem starts a good deal further back in the marketing and program planning.

Get under the bonnet of these and you will be able to engineer much more effective programs first time. And if and when you see any of these symptoms you know where to start looking for the root cause…you will (I guarantee you) be a good deal further forward than your competition.



Just ask yourself – “Am I a cow?”

A strange question I know. And I expect if you’re reading this, the answer is most likely to be no (cows with Internet access are rare).


Then ask yourself if you’ve got and are you using all the tools and techniques your competitors are?

Then ask yourself the cow question again.

Cows follow each other.

They usually all end up in the same place.

It’s not a happy end.

Cows are gentle and docile. They tend to be followers, not leaders.

You can and should change the game, change the rules and change your direction.

It is usually, quicker, less costly and a good deal more effective to think differently about your approach to sales and marketing.

Here’s an insider tip: Your customers would be delighted if you brought them innovation

And another: Your competitors don’t know how to.

One more: Your customers don’t want you to ask them what keeps them awake at night – it really annoys them and doesn’t help them to tell you.

Oh go on then, just one more: Your competitors don’t know that…so they keep on asking that question….just like everyone else.

Re-think your customers likely problem for them. Re-design your approach to helping them address it, so that only you can deliver the solution.

…I’ve said too much already.

No point in telling the cows…..

Talking Turkey – Scot Mckee

If you have a vested interest in the future commercial success of your business (and I hope you do), then you need to do the following:

1. Read this blog.

2. Buy this book.


1. Scot McKee is not a turkey. He just talks it. Straight down the line, in between the eyes or as he would say “right in the goolies”. 

Scot is a living, breathing, walking, talking and sometimes shouting example of why organisations that sell business to business need to get to grips with what a brand is and does and means and the implicit value of differentiation. I suspect most of you don’t know him (yet), but you should; and here’s why.

Scot helps businesses that sell to other businesses to realise, optimise and capitalise  on what it is about them that their customers come to know, trust and value. He helps organisations understand that what they are and have is a Brand and then he helps them develop and exploit the value of that brand in a way that is quite possibly unique in the B2B world.

What’s most interesting about him is that he does this in a way that makes perfectly logical sense to those who consider themselves “not marketing”. He talks in plain English (sometimes really plain English!), in commercial terms and he presents his approach in a manner that everyone around the boardroom table and across the company can understand and contribute to.

In today’s hyper connected world, when it is easy to get side-tracked and distracted by “new” and flash and cool stuff, Scot provides the perfect tonic and roadmap that makes it easy for business owners and leaders to understand and engage in.

If you’re in the B2B business, today I don’t think you have a choice about whether to engage in developing your “brand”, you’re already up to your neck in it, whether you know it or not.

If that’s the case you could do a great deal worse than checking out Scot McKee and his company BirdDog and….

2. buying his latest book: Creative B2B Branding (no, really). You can find it on Amazon here. (and for your reassurance) I am not on commission or doing the “affiliate” thing. I can just tell you that in the last 20+ years of working in this space, this is without question the clearest, most entertaining and pertinent explanation of what a Brand is and means to B2B AND what you can and should do about it. It’s highly irreverent (thank goodness) and provides  entirely practical and straightforward advice.

Of course you’ll find a lot of free and very entertaining stuff on his site and blog too.

Why am I telling you all this?

I like what Scot does and how he does it. It is rare to find someone so well differentiated and bold in their approach and I applaud him for both things. He also makes me laugh out loud…and that’s all together more important.




Solving the “Sales Problem”

I think it’s fair to say that just about every organisation I work with or come across would consider that in one form or another they have a “sales problem”. It doesn’t really matter if the organisation is multi-national an SME or a start up; the MD, CEO or SVP will all be faced with the continual challenge around how to improve their sales performance.

Of course the way they express it will differ and to be frank ranges from “my sales people are rubbish” to “my marketing is not working but if my sales people could only get in front of the right people…”.

The symptoms (the things they feel and experience and can tell me about) are pretty common, across the board, regardless of the size or complexity of the organisation.

Typically they will include one or all of these:

  • We’re just not seeing enough people/making enough calls
  • We’re not in front of the right people
  • Typical deal value is dropping
  • Sales people seem to sell what ever the customer wants and not what we can actually deliver
  • Margins are down year on year
  • Deal cycles are longer
  • Sales are dropping out (we’re losing slowly)
  • We’re seeing much more competition and it’s coming from everywhere
  • I don’t know what the sales team are doing
  • …my sales people don’t get it
  • ….my marketing is not delivering

There are also common responses:

  • Fire one, some or all of the sales team
  • Fire the marketing person/team
  • “DO MORE” marketing
  • Manage by spreadsheet – set call rates, visit rates and make the team deliver on volume of visits
  • Hire another sales person who claims to have the right connections and can fast track your success

I am 45 and that means I’ve been helping companies solve their sales and marketing challenges for over 20 years. I can assure you that in all that time, these symptoms have not changed and the common responses still don’t work.

What might surprise you is that the root cause of all of these problems (and I have hard, empirical data to evidence this)  is almost certainly not where you would expect it to be. Equally the common responses and resolutions are almost certainly never going to work (and I have evidence for that too!).

The good news is that the solution in most instances involves simply re-orientating the way you, your sales and your marketing team see and address the problem. Then identifying and prioritizing small but critical actions and changes so that you can optimize the whole process of attracting and winning new and profitable business. In most instances it involves spending less than you are now to achieve a good deal more!

As with most things the answer is not to follow the herd and knowledge is a very powerful thing.

So what do I recommend?

Think a little differently, unravel the traditional Marketing and Sales relationship, re-think what a “good” customer looks like and how and where you might find them and then what it is you are going to say to them that will make sure that yours is the only conversation they are taking seriously.

Intriguing isn’t it.

I suppose what’s likely to get you to take it more seriously is that the whole approach is underpinned by some scarily frank and rigorous research (circa 6,000 companies) and of course about two decades of dealing with the same issues almost every day!

Content Marketing: Silver Bullet or Next Red Herring?

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand or spent your time doing wholly more worthwhile things like actually talking to customers, you won’t have missed the hype and bluster that’s going on the in market  today about Content Marketing.

In essence Content Marketing is an acknowledgement that today pretty much all “direct” and “cold” approaches don’t work or are at least hugely inefficient. The reason they don’t work is that today people do most of their pre-purchase research on line or via social media sites like LinkedIN etc. So in effect, Content Marketing is about helping people find you, your company, product or service based on you providing relevant, interesting and timely content in a manner they can find and read in their own time; as opposed to you breaking their  door down and demanding an in depth conversation about what it is you want to sell.

Thank goodness, about time and of course it’s something we’ve all been saying for well over a decade.

So that’s great then it must be a Silver Bullet?

No. It’s very red and quite herring-shaped. Why?

Simply because if you’re not careful you switch all your efforts and resources from “bashing the phones” or “spamming out emails” to “generating tomes, info graphics and stuff” that people don’t, won’t and CAN’T read.

And you know, just like Direct Mail or Email campaigning, it will feel good for 24 hours or so after you’ve produced something beautiful and then pressed then “go” button on a massive mailing list…but chances are, the outcome will be the same. Very little.

The problem is that getting stuff out the door was never an issue. Making stuff look and sound great was never and issue either.

The real challenge was, is and has always been, getting the right person at the right time to read, understand and act.

Nowadays that person has a bit more than an “in tray” (for people under the age of 30 that’s something you had on your desk where things people put in a post box with your name on, arrived) to distract them; more than one email account to occupy them and significantly more resources, facilities and means of communication through which to do their own research and make their own decisions.

What’s not changed?

They still have (in the main) two eyes and two ears and 24 hours in the day…and they have no choice but to ignore, delete or reject 99.999% of “stuff” that comes their way.

How do you ensure you are the 0001% that actually gets read and acted upon?

So yes, producing intelligent, engaging and informative content is very much a worthwhile pursuit (unlike older mediums), it has a cumulative effect as it is referenced and archived on line (BTW- That can be a bad thing too!).

However, before you get beavering away with your latest missive, white paper or witty info graphic, I suggest you spend some time doing the bit pretty much 100% of your competitors don’t, won’t or can’t. That is, understanding precisely who it is you need to engage, precisely what it is they prioritize as their burning issue  and why, how and what it is you do that can help them achieve their objective better than any one else.

If and when you can truly answer those questions comprehensively, then you can start to plan how to reach them, what they are searching for, what they need to read and how they need to read it and therefore what you need to produce.

Then you have a Content Marketing plan. Until then…you’re destined to go back round the “inevitable cycle of marketing doom and disappointment” only this time you may be accompanied by a strange fishy smell.






Who are you trying to convince?

In today’s hyper-connected society we are beyond noise. As individuals we are already learning to filter out distractions and irrelevant information and there are new tools coming out everyday that help us filter our filters…(!) – Take a look at for example, a very smart initiative that enables you to first aggregate your connections (of all flavors  and then filter them). It changes the way people like me work, research, think, reach-out and communicate. Strangely and rather brilliantly it means I am able to comfortably work and engage with ever-increasing volumes of data, resources and links and yet almost by the day, be more focused more informed and more in-depth.

So like most people I am one of those who will miss anything mass but will instantly engage with anything that is tightly aligned to my immediate needs interests or requirements.

In any one hour I can be working across any number of industries, be in and out of tens of news sources, drop in and out of myriad “conversations”, transact business with multiple clients, work in multiple guises and progress multiple projects…and still find time to comment on a funny Facebook post, update Twitter, accept another LinkedIn invite and maybe even speak to someone!

So what?

Well I am like most people today. We are all actually more focused than we’ve ever been. We are better at cutting out the noise than ever before.

So how do you actually reach, engage and convince decision makers today…if we all agree mass marketing is dead…how do you get focused?

Seth’s latest blog is (annoyingly as ever) spot on: Marketing is about Change

It’s really (really) tough to get businesses to move away from the perceived comfort of “doing lots of stuff”. Most will pay lip-service to the idea of niche focus but on the whole there is still huge fear about being the first person to suggest…doing a lot less….

Of course this is about being seen to fail, fear of missing “something”, fear of looking stupid.

Funny though…if you say “people buy from people” everyone will yawn and mention “Motherhood and Apple pie” …and yet few companies have worked out that perhaps that means we need to communicate with and to people rather than AT JOB ROLES  if we want them to buy….

I use the Business Model Generation /Canvas process a lot in my work and thinking. The Customer Empathy Map is part of that. You may find it useful too. Check it out here.

Knowing when people will buy…that’s cool

Imagine if you could predict when a person or a group of people are likely to buy something. Or perhaps do something, specific. What if you could have a real-time view of how your company, your product or your offering was being received in the market right now. What if you could know when to place a trade or sign a deal or launch a new initiative.

What could you do with that information?

Put yourselves in the shoes of an online retailer looking to get one step ahead of the competition and achieve sales before anyone else.

Or a Global brand that wants to understand how it’s prospects and customers are likely to react to the launch of a new product or service.

How about a PLC or a Government body who wants to know how and when to make an announcement and then to understand immediately how it’s being received and specifically what people are doing about it.

Brands who want to see who the counterfeiters are, retailers who want to know where to place their next shop, or where and when to launch their latest product.

Better still what about an investor or trader looking for that critical few seconds head start on the market to place the right trade.

Cool isn’t it.

There are myriad tools out there today that offer some kind of “media monitoring”….but I think I may have stumbled across something very special indeed. Something I think could blow the market wide apart and certainly sets a new standard for helping organisations make decisions on real-time sentiment and intent data.

I’ll tell you about them because they’re new and interesting and very very clever and frankly, I think you deserve to know about them.

Check out  or give me a call/drop me a line if you’d like to get connected or learn more..




Demand Generation – Building your business intelligently

I recently wrote an article for SureFire looking at what must be one of the most common issues for organisations of all sizes today – Demand Generation. I.e. generating new business opportunities.

It doesn’t really matter if you’re a multi-national or a small local business. Finding a way to generate consistent new business opportunities cost effectively is tough. The problem is that when business is thin on the ground everyone simply “turns up the volume” and invests every penny they’ve got in “shouting” louder than the competition in a bid to be heard.

Tempting though it might sound, it’s mug’s game.

There will always be someone with deeper pockets who can “out shout” you and can keep investing in doing that long after you’ve burnt through every penny you’ve got to spare.

So what are the options for an SME in today’s market:

1. Join the bun-fight, jump in with both feet and be prepared to lose all that you have.

2. Think differently, work on what you’re selling and to whom you’re trying to sell it. Make sure you’ve “innovated” around your product and service offering, look to optimise what you do currently and seek out those “blue ocean” opportunities where only you can play. Engineer your proposition so that you can respond to market and competitor challenges and take advantage of new opportunities as they present themselves.

If you engineer your proposition you will be able to out “market” and out “position” your competitors far more easily, quickly and cost effectively than if you simply try to “out shout them”. What’s more fun is they won’t have a clue how you’re doing it!

If you’re interested in learning how to do this, drop me a line. We’ve developed some tools and processes to help businesses do this rapidly, cost effectively and without the need for lots of expensive external consultancy. We even have a free, anonymous and no obligation trial assessment for those who are keen to explore it in more detail and you can find that here. Why not try it out and get in touch to find out more…



London – GOLD! For Innovation.

I’m very lucky. I get to work with really innovative, inspirational and entrepreneurial people and ideas every day of the week. Some of the ideas that come across my virtual desk are just plain bonkers, others are just plain brilliant and there are a few that I can sense from the very outset are going to bring a lasting and fundamental change to the way we live and work.

Tom Ball is one of those entrepreneurial people and his latest initiative NearDesk is one which I think is breakthrough and you should take it very seriously indeed.

If you or your organisation has people who work in or near London you must by now be aware of the wonderful but chaotic sporting  event that is about to land on us this summer?

Transport for London are asking commuters to think again about coming into London at all over the period as the already overcrowded transport system looks set to implode and the roads leading into London and of course out to areas like Eton (rowing) etc are equally likely to be a nightmare.

The predicted figures are jaw-dropping and the anticipated delays and impact on business are nothing short of significant.

While there will be some who will be able to take holiday or easily work from home, it’s anticipated that there will be many for whom that’s simply not an option – kids on school holidays, shared accommodation, poor connectivity etc.

How are companies planning to cope with that?

Whole departments could be effected. What about the HSE regulations about people working from home if they’ve not done so before?

Tom however is not a man to sit back and let this opportunity for innovation pass him by. He’s pulled together an outstanding solution based on a simple and universal concept of being able to work NEAR home in properly designed facilities.

Sounds simple doesn’t it?

It is, but it’s beautifully executed and of course beyond the games this summer it is set to revitalise local communities, finding a home in libraries, schools unused public sector buildings and even pubs, clubs and restaurants. Mary Portas eat your heart out.

If there were an Olympic medal for innovation (and perhaps there should be) there’s no question that Mr Ball and his NearDesk solution would be on that podium and I dare say there’d be a chance of a gold there too.

Check it out and if you’re planning for the summer in London and keeping the lights on in your business, get in touch with them too!

Discounting? Product Creep? You’re in trouble…

A sure sign that things are “going south” is when sales people are discounting to get the deal or having to pad the proposition with all manner of “bolt on” add-ons in an attempt to differentiate.

How often is that happening in your organisation?

Marketing’s job is to maintain the margin by differentiation – really, that’s it.

Adding more stuff confuses the customers (and confused customers don’t buy) it also erodes the margin. Discounting is a mug’s game and it’s only a matter of time  before you’re out of the game all together.

If you spot any of these two things happening, you need to act fast.

Good old-fashioned marketing will do the trick…remember that?