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So What? Three brutal rules to assess the effectiveness of your sales messages

I used to work for a contact centre company owned by a major US advertising conglomerate and from time to time was invited to various training sessions in swanky offices in London. Nice day out, posh sarnies for lunch, normal glib platitudes from a trainer telling me a slightly different version of what I already knew, or so I thought...

Kevin Byrne, Senior Business Development Manager

On one of these courses, the first task we were given was - here’s a potential piece of business, put together a five minute presentation, with PowerPoint and anything else you want to use. Oh, and the trainer said there was a secret fact he would tell us after we had made our presentation (raised eyebrows all round).

Except it didn’t quite work out that way. As I popped up my first slide about our company’s 40 offices and £100m turnover and made my opening statement to the same effect, he muttered (but loudly)

“SO WHAT?”…in a dismissive tone.

Then he waved me on.

I made two more similar statements and on the third he leaned forward and said again, directly into my face “So what - you have 500 workstations - SO WHAT?

“Well that means we … we… (I nearly said, we.. have a lot of workstations, but sensed that would be fatal) We…are a big reliable company in this field, which is what you need” 

“Why don’t you say that then?”

OK, point taken - a feature is nothing without a benefit, I get it.

He asked me to start again and reorganise the opening statements to be benefits-orientated, which I did. 

Out of the woods? Well no…


After 2 minutes he stopped me:

“Sorry time’s up”

“You said 5 minutes”

“Yes, but my secret fact was that you had to get my attention within a 2 minute time span. Research has shown 2 minutes is the absolute MAXIMUM time needed to make an impact. You were still talking about your business, but I need to know how you will solve my problem. I probably know enough about your business already - why do you think you are here today?

SO, start by saying "The way we are going to help your business, and solve your problem is like this...", straight in, no messing, and you have my attention. If you have lots of ‘impressive’ facts about your business, then put them at the end - that way they will be remembered. But first, grab my attention!

The ‘Reverse it’ Rule


In the afternoon, we were taught another interesting lesson. Every time we came up with a sales statement or message, the trainer reversed it. If it sounded stupid, or something that would never be said, then it was clear that the original sales message was likely to be worthless.

An example

“We are great at customer service”

Reverse it


‘We are awful at customer service”- no company is going to say that.

“We have really experienced repair engineers”

Reverse it

“We have inexperienced repair engineers” – and so on…

How do you fix it?

Well, we looked at a specific example of one company and how they could communicate the fact that they provided great customer service. This company were open 24 hours a day (unusual) and as a software support company, they had remote communications that could be accessed through a mobile phone (at the time quite unusual). So with this information, the words changed to:-

“We give a different level of customer service from all other companies” (and we can show how)

To reverse it might be

‘We work to the best industry standards”

This was an improvement on the original but it wasn’t great. OK, but just OK…

SO, we tried:

‘We give our engineers as many applications as possible to work on as we believe it makes them more flexible and better ad hoc problem solvers”

which might reverse to

“We get engineers to specialise in depth in your product area so they are highly competent and very skilled at following complex diagnostics that need to be rigidly and accurately implemented"

Being less generic and specifying exactly what makes you different, creates a much more compelling message and is much more likely to grab attention within the 2 minute time span. Both versions in this case could be valid, depending on what the client needs and your proposed solution.

The DON’T CARE rule


The third message delivered was equally brutal in a way. You have a great product, it solves a company’s problem, or gives them a new opportunity but, do they care? This is another version of the ‘So What?’ argument, let’s call it the DON’T CARE rule.

If a company has a business model that works, they will focus on the issues central to that business model. If your product doesn’t directly impact one of those central issues, and/or they already have a solution which is doing the same job, it is unlikely that they will care, and it will be difficult to overcome inertia and make them change. In those cases, I think you only have two levers to change - price and ease. If your product solves a problem at (very) low cost (or saves money in a very direct way) and it’s easy to implement and use - then you may have a chance.

Telemarketing


These points really, really resonate in our area of B2B telemarketing.

Telemarketing, as one of the most intensive forms of selling - a live conversation carried out by an agent maybe 25-40 times a day in B2B - is a clear demonstration of all these points in action, only doubled…

Disruptive call: firstly, unlike the presentation, we generally haven’t been invited, so we have to try and understand or make an educated guess about someone’s business problem, and get right into a message about how we solve it. That’s why in our briefing document, we talk about ‘pain points’ - the customer’s problem - rather than ‘features and benefits', and it is right at the start of the document, just as it needs to be at the top of the call.

Short attention span: we have written before about the ‘golden minute’ at the start of a call (if anything it’s shorter). The 2 minutes in a face to face meeting is because it’s an agreed rendezvous, and you get a little leeway. But think of this, if you have ever tried to approach someone you don’t know at a business event, it’s very similar - you need to tell them quickly why you have broken normal conventions, approaching them without an introduction. It is doubled with a call, because it’s easier, metaphorically, to ‘walk away’.

Compelling messages: when speaking to prospective clients, I always ask them about their USP, their strong selling points, and whether these address a real ‘pain point’ for businesses, and I hear “we give great customer service” all the time. It is probably true but it’s the old ‘reverse rule’- every company says that and, if that really is your best selling point, then you are relying on selling to businesses that are getting bad customer service. It’s not quite the needle in the haystack, but it’s close.

Do your prospects care? The other side of this is a sort of ‘product blindness’. People love their business and are passionate about their product, but don’t take enough of a hard look at how central that product is to their prospective customer’s needs. I have a good friend who is a brilliant software engineer and who designed an amazing survey product, a version of Survey Monkey with more advanced features. But those features weren’t necessary, they weren’t CENTRAL to most businesses’ needs - and the 2 levers (price and ease of use) were not available. It was a great product, but expensive and complex. If you want to understand this better in a telemarketing context, read “Must Have and Nice To Have”
 

In Summary


Apply the SO WHAT rule
Apply the REVERSE rule
Apply the DON’T CARE rule

Be honest, and think about what you say in the context of these rules. Better still, ask your present customers and then your prospects about these 3 rules - customers first, because they are buying because of (or in spite of) these factors - and apply what you learn to your prospects. Telemarketing is the ideal channel for this - live conversations and a lot of them in a relatively short time. Then act - whether through telemarketing or any other sales channel.

And here’s the sales plug – TTMC Research, The Telemarketing Company’s Research Division does over half a million surveys per year - we would be glad to advise you on how you might gather this type of insight from your customers, or prospects.

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