Is it possible in B2B IT to talk mostly about the customer and very little about us?
When I first started in tech, I thought it was a hard thing to do because I bought into the mistaken belief that in B2B selling, it’s all about our products and services, our long history, our offices around the globe and our prestigious clients.
The world of B2B tech sales has changed since the 90s, but in my opinion, we still need to get better at making it all about the customer.
But can we make it 90% about the customer and 10% about us in all our interactions with current and prospective customers?
I think we can, most of the time. It’s hard work, and like the development of any meaningful relationship, you have to want to get to know your customer on a deeper level. You have to be super curious about what’s important to them and see things from their perspective. You have to be knowledgeable about their industry and its trends and, if you’re a technical subject matter expert, you also have to continually learn about innovations that have the potential to transform their business operations.
Doing all of this would make it easier to talk and write about the customer 90 per cent of the time and only talk and write about us 10% of the time. Okay not always possible when answering technical questions in a sales proposal. Or is it?
Even when being asked to describe the features of your tech solution, it’s possible to put the customer in the foreground. To help with that, I’ve compiled 20 ways we can make it all about them while still advancing our objectives to market or sell our products and services.
20 Ways To Make It All About Them
When Meeting Customers In-Person Or Online For The First, Second Or Third Time
1. Ask good questions, then shut up and listen. Ask more questions, then shut up and listen. I mean really listen, don’t interrupt, don’t second guess. (I give this advice more to me than to you, Dear Reader).
2. Ask many more questions relating to an answer the customer gives you to see if you can discover what’s beneath the iceberg.
3. If they ask you the classic, “Tell me about you/your company,” answer, “What would you like to know?” You can add, “because I’d rather touch on things about us that are relevant to you”.
4. During any stage of your relationship with buyers, if they ask you to talk or write about the benefits or value of your solution, it’s no good being generic. Saying, “we have hundreds of customers that benefit from our best of breed security technology platforms” means nothing. It would mean something if you then added, “How this would benefit your company in your industry is that…” Now you’re making it all about them.
When Crafting Sales Or Solution Messages, Written Or Spoken
5. Your website: the Home page of your website should be 95% about the client, that is almost all of it communicates how you can help them, and if I haven’t done that on my site, you can pull me up on it. On the Home Page, you only need a short statement about you with a link to the About Us page, and even then, your About Us page should let the reader know why your experience, credentials and background serves their aims or meets their needs.
6. Prospecting emails or calls are a science, and the techniques are changing all the time. To make it all about them, keep it short, tease prospective customers with a possible benefit and don’t mention you, but if appropriate, briefly mention how a client is succeeding because of your product or service. What I’m learning about nurture or cold emails is that it’s all about protecting and respecting your prospect’s valuable time. Get obsessed with that before you send them a long-winded introductory email that’s all about your unique solution and company.
7. The executive summary: The first line of an executive summary in a sales proposal should be about the client, not you! I’ve mentioned this numerous times, and it boils down to always start your executive summary by providing a fresh point-of-view about their situation. Just don’t start by saying, “Thank you for this opportunity…” or, “This is our response to ABC.”
8. Written technical content: To make it all about them, start the first sentence of any new paragraph with a benefit statement, not a summary of features. For example, instead of, “The characteristics of our cloud computing offer include, resource pooling, on-demand self-service, easy maintenance, security, availability and pay as you go…, say, “To help you safely and securely meet new and urgent business demands while lowering your IT costs, cloud features include...”.
9. Technical presentations: As the solution lead having to introduce the technical presentation, start by telling a story or painting a scenario of how your technical solution meets the business objectives of your customer. All members of your team tasked with talking about their module, or technical area of expertise should start with a benefit statement, then functionality, and end with a benefit statement supported by proof.
10. Product demonstrations: Don’t give a product demonstration in isolation of your audience’s unique business environment. That’s boring, and you might introduce modules or features not relevant to them. Product demos are ripe for storytelling approaches, like having your team play the role of your audience going about their work communicating in business language, showing how easy it is to fulfil their responsibilities using your solution.
11. Emulate their language/phrasing/keywords: Get to know the customer’s website, annual reports, news items and brochureware to pick out phrasing, industry terminology or important quotes said by their executives. If you’re getting ready to respond to a Request For Proposal (RFP) write up a list of their key phrases or words you can naturally include inside your response. And, if you’ve had meetings or workshops before you write your proposal, take note of the customer’s communication style to emulate it in your response. Of course, do all of this subtly and with care. The point is if you speak their language and infuse your response with some of their in-house speak, super words and idioms, they will feel like it’s all about them.
12. Begin and end with the customer: Any sales presentation you’re asked to give (especially to the executive team of the customer), always starts with the customer and ends with the customer. I recently talked about this here. Never begin by presenting the Agenda for the meeting or introducing your team first. Sounds counter-intuitive but your first slide or the first words that come out of your mouth need to be something compelling and relevant as to how you’ll help the client overcome a problem or realise a business objective. And if you know their Big Mission or future vision, start there. It creates incredible energy and makes the buying team feel it’s all about them.
13. Talk about your solution or service in relation to the customer’s industry. For example, how you sell an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP ) solution to publishers should be different to how you sell it to a pharmaceutical company. They may both use an ERP system, but they will use it differently. If you take the time to customise your offer to fit the culture and language of an industry, you’re making it all about the customer.
14. Speak to the objectives/desires/pains of individuals: To truly make it all about them, customise features, benefits and value to what it means for users, departments and leadership. Be as specific as possible. What does it mean for the CEO, CIO, CFO, CMO, CSO, board members, etc.? The danger of not making it all about key roles is that one or two influencers or decision-makers won’t see the value and may derail your deal.
When Wanting To Communicate Exceptional Value
Make it all about the customer by getting obsessed with finding the real value of your product, solution or service to them. Apart from asking the customer directly, it’s a matter of asking yourself these five questions:
15. “In what way does our solution or service help the customer solve xx problem and achieve xx objective?”
16. Can our solution or service help the customer solve a problem we can see that they can’t see?
17. What is the customer’s biggest block to being successful in the future? (status quo, fixed mindset, toxic culture, slow to change, lack of innovation?)
18. “What capabilities and results is the customer looking for, and what part do we play in helping with that?”
19. What capabilities do they need (that we have) that they haven’t acknowledged or asked for yet?
20. “And the benefit of that is?” Apply this question up to ten times when reviewing benefit statements. For example, “our digital transformation solution will help you deliver a better customer experience”, and the benefit of that is, “increased customer spend”, and the benefit of that is, ”sales will quadruple”, and the benefit of that is, “more profits” and the benefit of that is, “ability to aggressively expand”, and the benefit of that is, “competitive dominance”, and the benefit of that is…” become the market leader”, and the benefit of that is, “opportunity to innovate”, and the benefit of that is, ”new product and service lines”, and the benefit of that is? While my example is simplistic, you can see how continually asking, “and the benefit of that is?” can lead you to more specific, deeper or broader value points.
While it might be a challenge to talk or write about our customers more than about us, it shouldn’t be if we spend time getting to know them. And if we don’t know them then numbers 1 and 2 in this list become majorly important to execute forthwith!
When it’s time to talk about us, we need to err on the side of brevity. We need to practise communicating our promise of value concisely and precisely because when it comes down to it, the customer wants you to get back to talking about them as I wrote about in this article.
You have the floor or the ten pages to talk about you: please don’t go on and on, endlessly blabbering about your solution, and remember, even when you’re talking about you, make it all about them!
Let’s work to follow the 90/10 formula as much as possible.