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Questions about the Level 4 Value Creation Approach to Sales

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
September 9, 2019

Anthony:  All right. So here we are, in the arena, different kind of in the arena, now not interviewing a guest but being interviewed by Beth, who’s going to ask me some questions that we get frequently about Eat Their Lunch and Level Four Value Creation and my general approach to sales, which is different and does cause people to question what I’m saying and what we think they should be doing. So, let’s go ahead and get started talking about some of the questions and how we can help people think about this so that they can sell in a what I would call, the 21st century way of selling. It’s a new time and the evolution of sales means that things just keep getting trickier, so you got to keep pace here.

Beth:  Yeah, it’s really true. We get a lot of questions. The one I think you get a lot is about your approach you recommended at Eat Their Lunch. We talk a lot about the creating value and the four levels, so maybe the best place to start just everyone has context is what are the four levels of value and really why should people even care about this idea?Win customers away from your competition. Check out Eat Their LunchEat Their Lunch

Anthony: Well, they should care because I wrote it in a book but, no, the thing about the four levels that was interesting to me as I was trying to find some way to explain to people how you approach sales tends to fall into one of four categories. And some people who over index on results, they just produce better results, they tend to start from one side of the conversation and somebody else starts from the other side. So the four levels generally fall into categories like this. Level one means, I’m an account on my company’s history and my product. That’s what’s going to do the selling for me. I’m not the value proposition, I’m not the value creator, you’ve got to trust that my good company that’s been around for all these years is what’s going to create value for you and our products and services are going to create value for you and look at this proof.

Anthony: I can even show you logos and big companies just like yours. And level one ultimately means you’re going to be perceived as a commodity because of it’s just the product and there’s nothing more to it. Then I’m going to look for price because there’s nothing else to look at and evaluate. Level two means you have a good experience, which means great support, great service. You sold me your product and you also gave me a whole bunch of problems when I have that and I need somebody to help me with that, and I may even have a contract to have certain support, and it’s a level up from level one. So you’re at level two, but level two includes level one. So you can’t be like, “We’re really good at support but our product’s still terrible and it won’t work for you.” You need both of those together to get to level two.

Anthony: Level three is where we’ve been commoditized for, I’m going to say probably 30 years. So I can create a tangible result for you and my competitors can. And I have an ROI calculator and you have an ROI calculator and we both can turn it into a spreadsheet. And what I would call level three now is reactives. You tell me you have a problem, I’ll solve it for you. That’s different. It’s not like level four at all because you’re assuming that I can go in and say, “What’s keeping you up at night?” And get your dissatisfaction and solve that for you. But everybody does that. So now that level of value, even though it’s the third highest level of value that we can see right now, is still commoditized. So it’s still not enough for you to be differentiated. Not Easily anyway.

Anthony: Level four is strategic and it means that you’re going to enter into a conversation about what’s the strategic outcome. And I love this quote from Theodore Levitt from Harvard Business School. He was a marketing professor there and he said, “People don’t buy drills, they buy holes. And if we could have the hole without having to buy your drill, they’d be happy not to buy the drill. They’d be happy not to know that it’s yellow. They’d be happy not to have to buy drill bits and all these other things. They just want the hole.”

Anthony: And I think for most of us when we come in, we’re in enamored with our product or our service and we want to talk about those things because we’re hyped up about it and we know that we can make a difference for people. But level four is actually the place right now where you can find the differentiation as a salesperson and you don’t have to rely on all of the earlier levels of value. even though you’re going to get to them at some point. So those are the four levels of value and what we know and what we can see is that when people come in and they’re super strategic, they’re leading with insight, they’ve got advice, they’re consultative, they tend to produce better results than people that come in at level one and identify themselves as a commodity.

Beth: Well, and it’s interesting because you teased my next question here a bit, which is when you lay out the four levels, that makes complete sense. But people are really concerned about this approach and I’m curious as to what you see, why they’re concerned and what that all means.

Anthony:  Well, their concerns come from a couple things. So when you start talking about having business acumen and understanding what I call the super trends, and the reason I call them super trends and not just trends is because you’re looking for things that are going to impact your client’s business, that are broad enough to have significant implications for them. So if you think about a couple of examples, so think about the taxi industry when Uber launches. And they’re not concerned, they don’t think anything of it because the taxi industry has worked that way for a long time, but the trend there is, there are unused resources that haven’t been organized. There’s black cars all over the place in major cities that don’t have enough work, and with an app where somebody can go on and organize those black cars and get them to the people that they need them, is an existential threat to the taxi industry.

Anthony:  And in New York it is right now. It’s very hard to sell a medallion in New York city because they’re not worth very much anymore, and that’s the kind of thing. So what is the trend? When the smartphone came out, it didn’t look like an existential threat to anybody, but it ends up being an existential threat to a whole bunch of people. And these trends that we look for, we’re looking for things that are going to cause your clients or your perspective clients to have to change something in the next, let’s call it 18 to 24 months. So people are concerned, well what about these trends? Doesn’t my customer already know what all these trends are? Aren’t they already aware of all these things? Aren’t they already doing something about them? So they’re concerned about that.

Anthony: They’re also concerned about the idea of just being consultative. And they don’t frame it that way when they say it to me, but they’re concerned about being consultative and they say things like, “Well, you would have to be a Bain consultant or from McKinsey or something to be able to talk about these trends.” And the truth of the matter is you wouldn’t. You’d have to have access to a computer and Google to go out and find the trends and read about them, and then decide which ones make sense in your client’s world. Which ones are going to have the biggest impact on their business over let’s just say 24 months? And then what can you do to help them? So you’re not concerned just about super trends, the things that are big like, in Eat Their Lunch, I talked about 11,000 baby boomers retiring every day. And people are stunned by that number, but that’s what the number is.

Anthony: So 4.3 million people retire every day because they’ve decided to leave the workforce in their late 60s or 70s, which means you need 358,000 new jobs just to be able to backfill the baby boomers. And we’re creating 220,000 jobs a month, so there’s still a giant gap being opened up. But if somebody cares about talent, then that’s a trend that might be impactful for them. Their concern is really are we overstepping our boundaries? Are we out of our depth? Do we have the right to come in and share these ideas? And the answer is yes. Even though I know it’s scary for people if they haven’t been taught or trained or explained how to do these things.

Beth: Yeah. And I think too what you bring up is very interesting in the fact that there are things like trends you can find from Google when you can do your research, but we’re also filled with incredible insights that our clients would really find valuable that we don’t even recognize. We’re going to address that in a little bit. Another thing that I think is really helpful for people to understand when it comes to this framework, you talk a lot about entering from the right instead of the left. You want to help explain what you mean by that?

Anthony: I thought you were going to stop with just you talk a lot.

Beth: Well, sometimes.

Anthony:  That would have been a true statement too. Yeah, so the thing about where you are and where you start, if you start, “Well, let me introduce myself and my company and let me try to provide proof that I belong in this conversation that’s outside of what I bring to the conversation,” then that we call starting from the left. You’re starting at level one and you want to be strategic and you want to be a trusted advisor, but you’ve already identified yourself as something less than that. And once you start opening up a conversation about things that aren’t really interesting to your client, then that’s who you are to them and you get a limited amount of time.

Anthony: I’ve written about this on the blog. The gift of time from your client is a magnificent gift that you should absolutely appreciate enough to do your homework and to come in with something relevant to say. And what we call that approach is we call it coming in from the right, which means you’re coming in from level four and you’re working backwards to three, two, one, instead of starting at one and trying to get to four. So you come in and you start talking about these are the things that we’re observing happening in the market right now. These are the things that we think are going to be implications for companies and people that don’t change. These are our recommendations based on our views and values as to where this market’s going, and we’re right on the intersection, but we’re right on the line between what we do and our client’s business.

Anthony: So we’re right they’re saying, “These are our recommendations.” And if you’re thoughtful about this and you just reflect, you tend to know what your clients need to do before they need to do it. And that’s where you become a trusted advisor. So there’s no reason in my mind to hold that till later in the conversation. You start with what’s most important than what’s most relevant, because you’re supposed to be consultative, you’re supposed to be coming in and advising, you’re supposed to be giving your client the best recommendation to get the result that they want, and if you’re not doing that, then I would argue that you’re irrelevant. You’re not useful to me because the conversation that we’re having isn’t about what I really want and what I need to get done.

Beth: Yeah, and it’s interesting because when you lay this framework out, and you’re talking with a client and it’s very easy to say like, “Okay, here’s my level one. It’s my product and two is my experience, and three is return on investment, and four is that creating… being insight driven, creating value.” I always have that aha moment when I’m chatting with someone where they go, “Wow, we’re really just playing at level one or two” and then the wheels start turning. It’s, “How do I get to level four?” So, as you look at the framework that you laid out in Eat Their Lunch, how do you take this idea and then make it very practical and tactical? What does that look like?

Anthony: You know what? That wasn’t an easy thing to do. It was harder than I thought when I started writing the book, and what I’ve found is that you have to break things into their component parts to make them digestible. So if you’re going to approach selling this way, you start with the super trends and you just look to say, “What’s going on in the world?” And once you capture the trends, you’ve got some idea about what that impact is going to be for your clients. So you start looking at what are the facts? What are the things that I can see that prove that this is true and that it’s going to have an impact? And I think that most people don’t do the work to look at that and say, “Okay, so I’ve got this trend, I’ve got facts, I’ve got proof that it’s going to impact their business. And then what’s the implication?” What’s the implication?

Anthony: If there’s no implication, I heard a sales person say to me, “One of the interesting trends in my world right now is that all these billionaires like Musk and Bezos and Branson are now trying to go to outer space.” Okay, great, but what impact does that have on your client? And this particular person said, “Listen, my client advertises in the biggest places they can and they would love to have their logo on the side of a Musk or a Branson spaceship.” And I said, “If you can tie that implication like who gets to go first there, then maybe it makes sense. But what you’re looking for is something that’s going to give them either an opportunity or it’s going to cause them some sort of problem or some sort of challenge. You’re looking for things that are going to compel people to take action.”

Anthony: And then you have to think about a couple other things. What are your views and your values? What do you believe is good and right and true? Where do you think their market’s going or your intersection between your market and their business? And then what is your recommendation based on what you believe to be good and right and true? And I think that’s part of what concerns people when they see a framework like this is, “Wait, we have to have an opinion about this?” Yeah, you have to have an opinion because you’re the one that’s coming in to give your best counsel to your client. It’s not enough for them to tell you what they want because you’re supposed to be the expert in what you do, and you’re supposed to be serving them by creating value and teaching them how to think about it.

Anthony:  If you’re waiting for your client to say something to you about this is what we think we want, that’s a level three approach and just about anybody could take that call, and my guess is if that’s your strategy, you’re going to be subject to a lot of RFPs. We already defined our problem, we’ve already decided what we want, you just fill this out and say yes to everything that’s in the RFP, and if we find that your price is the lowest, we’ll probably hire you. Not a great strategy.

Beth:   No, it’s not. And I… as you were talking there, what I started thinking about was, it’s like when you go buy a house. When you buy a house, you’re very much looking at the aesthetics and whether it is your real estate agent or it is the person who comes in you expect. What you really need to be focused on are the big items. The roof, the furnace, the air conditioner, because your aesthetics are what… that’s an emotional buy. We don’t really want to care about the real meat of the house, and that’s really what you’re talking about. Talking about these sales reps and leaders, having those insights that can prevent them from not being able to create the future that they want. Correct?

Anthony: Right. That’s right. Yeah. You’re absolutely trying to help them create the future that they want or maybe one that they can’t even see yet until you show up and you start explaining to them where the market is and what’s going on and how they should be responding.

Beth:  Yeah. Well, and it’s interesting because we’re kind of on the same path here as we’re talking about, you have this belief about concerns being real to the prospect who has them. You also have this idea that sales reps often fear the wrong danger. So, I’m curious to what you would say about what fears do prospects concerns reveal, and then what do you think sales rep should be afraid of?

Anthony: It’s interesting because I think if you just even start with the very first interaction from a sales person, let’s say they’re making a cold call. And they call and say something like, “I’d love to stop by introduce myself, tell you about my company and learn a little bit about you. Which works better? Wednesday at 11:00 or Thursday at 2:00?” So we give them the alternative of choice, close from 1974 or something like that. I don’t even know how old that is. It’s pretty old. And the fear for the client is you’re going to waste my time. So the concern is you’re going to waste my time. So that’s what prospects are afraid of, but they don’t say it that way. They say something like, “Could you mail me some information?” Or they say something like, “We’re really busy right now. We’re not interested in changing.” Anything to get out of that call specifically because they didn’t hear any trade of value.

Anthony: So their concerns tend to be around that at the early stages, and then later on it’s very scary to change. So the devil I know, I can’t get the result I want right now, but I’ve figured out all the work around, skied my business running, and now you’re coming in and telling me I have to do something different. Well, now I have to step into the unknown. So now I’m concerned, is my team going to go along with me? Are we actually going to be able to execute? Are you the kind of sales person that signs a contract with disappearing ink? And a disappearing ink means, as soon as I sign the contract, you disappear and I never see you again when things get rough, because you don’t want to be accountable for the result. So those tend to be their concerns.

Anthony: The concerns for salespeople tend to fall into the wrong category. So when you show them a framework like Eat Their Lunch, their concern is, I’m afraid I might overstep my boundary. But their real fear should be, I’m irrelevant and I’m not interesting and I’m not bringing enough value to this person for them to be able to move forward with me. That’s really what their real fear should be. It shouldn’t be that I am overstepping a boundary and it should be that I’m not a value creator. And look, there’s a lot of salespeople, there’s a lot of people who are really good at this.

Anthony: There are people who have been practicing sales this way for decades, and we know it’s what works and we know it’s what allows you to differentiate yourself. So if you’re going to fear something, fear not working hard enough to create value, not doing enough to really be a subject matter expert or what I call a 52% SME. So you’re more than half of a subject matter expert and you can talk to any stakeholder, whether it’s the CEO, CMO, or the person that actually uses your product with no fear that you’re going to be outflanked in any conversation with anybody because you’re a subject matter expert. That’s the real fear.

Beth:  Well, and I think too, when you were talking a bit about, you’re talking to different levels, why don’t you also talk about how you need to address these different levels in terms of each level stakeholder has a different fear and there’s a different way to address them. It’s not like you can just identify the singular problem and say, “Okay, I’m going to give this answer across every stakeholder because it’s very different.” Why don’t you talk a little bit about how you look at those stakeholders and deal with this fear issue?

Anthony: Yeah, that’s a good question. One of the things that confuses people about the four levels of value is they’re like, “I’m just going to play at level four.” Okay, good, I support you there. But you have to remember, when you go to the end user, let’s say you sell a SAS product and you’re talking to the end user who’s actually going to use your product from day to day, and you start by saying, “Let’s get into a really strategic conversation about where your company’s going to go in the next 24 months.” That person is like, “I just need the software to work.” Can you help me get the result that I need from your software?”

Anthony:  They’re not concerned about the strategic vision of the company. They’re concerned about, can I execute with your product? When you get up to level two, let’s say you are a SAS company, then you start to get in ancillary stakeholders who say, “Look, you have to be easy to do business with. I need single sign on,” or something like that. “I need you to integrate with my CRM. I need you to make this easy for me.” And so level two starts to matter very much to that group. Level two tends to matter to management as well. Like, “I need you to be easy to do business with so we can work together.”

Anthony: Level three tends to be for managers and leaders. Is this going to work? Is it going to be functional? Are we going to be able to execute this once you install it? And then level four tends to belong to management and leadership, which is where we going, and then how do you help us get there? So in a post I wrote, I was talking about a conversation that I had with someone who was talking about data.com and their competitors, and I started talking about the different ways that you might talk about that.

Anthony: So you might say, “I have the biggest database with phone numbers and emails at the lowest price, then you’re one.” But you might also just as easily with the same products say something like, “I can help you acquire clients with the highest lifetime value faster than you’re acquiring them now.” And that’s a strategic outcome. So, who cares about the database? A lot of people have phone numbers and emails. A lot of people are easy to do business with. A lot of people can integrate with your CRM, but not many are going to show up and say, “I can help you find the highest lifetime value customers and acquire them faster than you are now.” Okay, that’s strategic.

Anthony:          And that to me sounds like what I want to buy if I’m a leader. I’m not trying to buy data, I’m trying to buy faster results. So when you start talking in the language of faster results, you now look really interesting to me. You’re much different salesperson than the one that comes in and starts talking about the size of their database and the phone numbers and their emails, because we’re not trying to buy phone numbers. We’re back to, they don’t want a drill, they want a hole. So what’s the hole? The hole is acquisition of the right customers faster.

Beth: Yeah. And before we leave this topic, let’s talk about one other thing here, and it goes back to the stakeholders and the things that people are afraid of. We always put things in context of current state and future state. You want to talk a little bit about that and what that means to those various stakeholders?

Anthony:  Yeah. The current state, future state thing is a really important concept for people to understand, and I don’t see too many sales people or sales organizations that actually frame things that way. And the first thing about current state is, where are you now and what’s possible for you that you don’t tap? So how do we look at where you are and say, “Wait a second. This current state is untenable.” And the challenge that people have with that is unless you can put the context into that conversation. So you’re talking about the trends, you’re talking about the implications you’re talking about why they need to change and how they need to change, unless you can identify that current state in a way that says, “Look, it’s at risk, it’s untenable, you need to start changing,” then there’s not a reason for people to do anything different than what they’ve been doing up until that point.

Anthony: And I think one of the challenges when people look at this framework and they say something like, “Wow, do they really care about the trends?” Well, some of them and others they don’t. But do they care about the implications of missing something and ending up not producing the results they want? Yeah, they do. And especially at the leadership level, they definitely care about that. In fact, senior leaders, the thing that they’re most afraid of is not knowing something that was available to them if they would have had a conversation about that before it happened. That’s what they’re most fearful of. I didn’t know and I didn’t act fast enough. This is why throughout all of history, there have always been trusted advisors. So if you read the Bible, if you read history books, you’re going to find out there were a bunch of kings and pharaohs that surrounded themselves with people who knew things they didn’t know, so they didn’t end up causing themselves more problems by not taking action soon enough. So that’s part of it.

Anthony: And then the future state really matters. Like where do you need to go? Where do you need to go to take advantage of what’s going on right now, or to at least avoid the challenges that might harm your business? So if you’re not helping a client go from that current state to the future state, what is it that you’re working on? There’s nothing else for you to work on. That’s really where the action is, and that’s really where the conversation is.

Beth:  Well, and you bring up something else, which is there’s this power of information. And for a very long time, I would say in the last 20 years, it’s really been picking up speed is that there’s information everywhere. I just Google and I find what I need to know, and I always say that there is this danger of your prospect. They only know as much as either they have read or someone has told them, which is pieces and parts. So there’s a big disparity between the buyer and seller. And talk a little bit about why that is true and not true and how we deal with that as sales reps.

Anthony: Yeah. If you go to WebMD and you type in all your symptoms, you’re going to come back and find out that… in my case, I have ovarian cancer. And I go to my doctor with my own diagnosis and she says to me, “I don’t think that that’s true, but I’m happy to run some tests just to see.” And you can go and find information, but information is not the same as insight, and information is not the same as wisdom. And it’s not the same as what we call situational knowledge, which means the experience that tells you that this is good and right and true and this probably isn’t. Or this is better in this circumstance and this probably isn’t. But there’s still information disparity. And right now, if you go to LinkedIn and you read the prognosticators and pseudo experts as Mike Weinberg would call them, you’re going to find a whole bunch of people that say all the power has shifted to the buyer.

Anthony: They know everything that you know, because they can read your website. Well, on my website, you probably do can’t find out everything I know because there’s 4,085 posts there. So there’s a lot of what I believe and know in that particular place, but it would take you something like 240 hours to read all those posts, and you may not want to go to the trouble to do that. For most people on their sites for their business, there’s content there, there’s certainly information there, but there’s not necessarily wisdom there, and there’s not necessarily the insights, and the trade-offs, and the situational knowledge that a salesperson has. And this is one of the fears that causes people to have a, I guess, some hesitancy in about approach like this. And here’s why they think, “Well, my client knows more than me.” And they can go out to the Internet and read all about companies like ours and they can start to decide what they want, without me having to be there.

Anthony: And you’re wrong. So the truth of the matter is, your client knows more about their business then you do. And they should. They work in that business. They make decisions for that business. They may know more about their vertical than you do. They may have worked in that industry for a very long time, they might have incredible situational knowledge, but at the intersection where your business serves their business, you should know more than they know. And why is that? Because let’s take for example, somebody who buys like enterprise resource planning software. They buy that. They want to buy that one time in their life and never buy it again, because it’s like a quadruple bypass, a brain surgery, a colonoscopy and a root canal at the same time. You do not want to rip the whole guts of your business out and then have to replace that, so you don’t want to make mistakes at this.

Anthony: If you bought it twice in your lives, you would still be unhappy buying it the second time. It’s just not something that you buy very frequently. And I’m using this to make an example. If I sell ERP, if that’s what I do for a living, I’ve done it hundreds of times. My company has done it thousands of times. We have a depth of experience and situational knowledge that says, “This is a better choice for you than that.” Well, how do you know that? Because we tried it 56 times this way in the past and we can’t make it work in your vertical. This is the best way we have to make it work for you and here’s what all our experience tells us is the right answer.

Anthony: So they’re buying that experience that you have, that situational knowledge that it’s impossible for them to have unless they’ve actually done that role and worked in that business. So they have maybe the same experience that you have, but it’s highly unlikely. Most of the time they buy what you sell infrequently. And because it’s infrequent, they can’t possibly have the situational knowledge. So you’re leaning, not just on trends, but you’re leaning on views and values and your experience, and your ability to help them make trade-offs and make good decisions about what they’re going to do.

Beth: Well, and this is what complicates purchases. Decision making. It’s where things get paralyzed. This is a great example of where an RFP goes wrong. I actually was talking with someone last week and she had told me a story about how a year ago she had gone and bought some software, thought it was the right one, come to find out the information she bought it on wasn’t quite correct, and so she’s very quietly, because the contractor is up as replacing it with something new, and she’s crossing her fingers with better insight now. So the whole idea that having that insight that you have, that you’ve learned, that your company has learned, to be able to share with your prospects is really invaluable for them because they generally don’t know it.

Anthony: Yeah, that’s the truth. They generally don’t know and they’re trying to make a good decision, but when they go out on their own and they don’t get the help that they need, and they don’t have somebody really walk them through that, you end up with situations like this where they are buyer’s remorse, because they really weren’t helped by a competent salesperson that could give them the right advice as to what to buy or not to buy.

Beth: Well, and the other part of it is you and I have been in this a really long time and sales is just constantly evolving. And it has changed dramatically even from 2008, which was really the catalyst from moving from transactional to having to be a lot more strategic. You write and speak about this a lot and I’m curious as to what is it really mean? And more importantly, what are the implications for sales people, sales leaders, and really we look at the whole sales organization to be able to keep up with the evolving change of sales?

Anthony: Yeah, it’s a good question. My view is, on that, there’s really just two strategies that are emerging or have emerged. And one I call super transactional, which is amazon.com. You can not out transact amazon.com, or Alibaba, or one of those kinds of places where they’ve taken all the friction out of buying so much so that my kindle says I have 1400 books on there because Amazon’s algorithm is so good and there’s no friction. So they pop something up in front of me and say, “Anthony, we think you would like this book because you like these other books.” And I say, “Well, you’re right. I would like that book.” And I buy it. There’s no friction. I don’t have to go to a bookstore, and more and more things are getting dragged into that gravitational pull of how do we become super transactional? And I think when you look at Silicon Valley, everybody there, their ethos is, “Let’s just print money. We’re going to transact everything. We’re going to make everything so frictionless that you can just say yes.”

Anthony: And it’s working in a lot of cases. So if you think about amazon.com that’s a good one. My children don’t really have pizza delivered, but they use DoorDash and Uber Eats and Grubhub, and they have all kinds of things delivered because there’s resources available. Somebody organized the resources to go pick things up and now everybody delivers food now. So it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be a pizza place to deliver. Everybody delivers because you’ve got these resources being used that way. The second approach though, I would call super relational as opposed to super transactional. And this means, it’s a complex decision. You need somebody who understands how to help you make that decision. You don’t make it frequently enough and it’s significant for you.

Anthony: And where that gravitational pull is dragging people is towards greater advice, greater insight, greater understanding about how to make the right recommendations and help somebody get the result that they want. And I think for a lot of people they saw, my friends, Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson published something that said, “Relationship selling is dead when the challenger sale came out.” And basically, they were using relationship in a particular way. And that was essentially, if all you think that you have is a friendship where I like you and you like me, you’re wrong. And they’re exactly correct about that.

Anthony:  The way I would describe it though, super relational means, your relation is not only do I like you? Do I know you? Do I trust you? All those things don’t matter because you’re trying to create a preference to work with you, but the truth of the matter is you also have to create business value for me. And if you don’t create business value for me, then we can be really good friends, but I’ve got to find somebody else who can help me with my business because you’re not offering to do that for me because you don’t have the business acumen, the situational knowledge, and you’re not showing up with advice. You’re not showing up as a consultative salesperson.

Beth: I think there’s one other thing that we could talk a little bit about here that lines up with this and that is we have moved to a whole process of decision by committee. It’s not how I initially started, it was very easy to get a couple of people and get them together and now it’s really, really decision by committee, but more importantly, what I think a lot of sales people don’t really recognize is that, let’s just say there’s 10 stakeholders, all 10 can kill that deal. But only one or two of them can actually say yes to it. So how do you address that with the evolution of the sales?

Anthony:  You have to have a framework. And then Eat Their Lunch in chapter seven and eight, there’s a framework that’s outlined is how do you look at them, and then what are some of the decisions that you make? What do you do with an opponent? And an opponent would be somebody who you would describe as having very high engagement, and absolutely wants to do anything but work with you. So a preference to work with anybody or anybody who’s not you, and opponents are tricky. So do you bring them in early on? And my answer would be, if you have an executive leader who’s willing to say, “Listen, we’re going to let you speak your piece, but we’re still moving forward this idea,” then maybe you bring them in. Or do you set them to the side and say, “Wait till I build a consensus and then we’ll deal with that individual.”

Anthony: There’s not a right answer here because it’s contextual and you have to look at it and decide what to do, but it’s tricky. And if you don’t have the framework for deciding what’s this person’s disposition? How do I look at them? Are they an ally or are they neutral? Are they an obstacle? Are they an opponent? Are they what we call the CEO of the problem? The person who is actually going to be the one that has to say yes and make some recommendation that may even be signed by somebody higher up because you’re right? It’s all about consensus now, but it’s tricky for salespeople. And if you don’t have a framework, chapter seven enable give you one that will allow you to at least look at these things and say, “How do I make sense of it and how do I figure out what I should do in these scenarios?” So it’s a very, very tough challenge for people and from my view, no one’s provided them with any guidance on this up until now.

Beth: And that’s really true. We see it a lot. We see the whole challenge in terms of, here’s the right framework, here’s the methodology, here’s the process, people are wanting to do better. So in that context, what do you believe that people should do to improve their approach? If there were some serious solid takeaways, what does that look like?

Anthony: Well, there’s a few things. So the first thing I would say is, the one thing that has been talked about least and needed the most, is business acumen. And it’s you have to be a business person now and we’re really good at sales acumen. I can teach you to cold call, I can teach you to overcome objections, I can teach you these things, but it’s hard to make you interested in business. But if you were interested in business, and you’re reading, and you’re listening to CNBC instead of a country radio, or Howard Stern or whatever you listen to, if you would listen and you’d start paying attention and then start reading business books and business magazines and start thinking about the conversations that you’ve heard and what you’ve learned about other businesses and how to make those decisions, and you start capturing that, that’s where all the action has gone.

Anthony: There’s a lot of people that can do all kinds of things that we would call sales acumen, but business argument is a differentiator. The second thing that’s a real differentiator, I call situational knowledge. Some people call it situational awareness, some people call it experience, but I call it situational knowledge because what that means to me is that you’ve seen this before and you’ve seen people make different decisions and get different results, and so your knowledge about the context of the situation that the client’s in, starts to be the ground and the foundation of how you give people advice. Why would you tell somebody to do this instead of that?

Anthony: Well, because when they do the first thing and not the second thing, the results are terrible. Even though their friends are doing it and it’s wonderful for their friends, but the context is different. So, those two things, if you could just focus on how do I become a better business person? How do I become more consultative? And there’s a lot of confusion about what the word consultative means. It doesn’t mean not high pressure, it doesn’t mean not the hard sell, even though those things are true, it doesn’t mean that you ask really good questions, even though it’s really useful to ask really good questions. It means to counsel people on the decisions that they make in their business. So you consult, you provide advice, and you can’t be a trusted advisor without trust and advice. So you have to work really, really hard on the business acumen piece now

Beth: Why don’t you give someone an example of what business acumen actually sounds like? Because I know that there is a confusion or challenges around what does that exactly sound like? So do you want to just lay out something that would help people understand that this is really what we’re talking about and what’s really required to sell today?

Anthony: Yeah, I mean if you were to even just go back to the conversation we were having about level four, saying something like, “Beth, in your industry right now, what we see is that it’s crowded, it’s very difficult to cut through the noise. And if you’re going to acquire the customers with the highest lifetime value faster, one of our strongest recommendations would be that you look at an omni-channel approach, because an omni-channel approach is going to allow us to help you identify those clients and message them with the exact message that’s going to allow you to acquire them faster, and also to acquire the clients that are going to stay with you longest.”

Anthony: So if you don’t know that and you can’t have that conversation, then you’re missing a lot of what consultative selling sounds like. And it’s important that you get that. So that’s… it’s just a critical factor. Anybody can say, “My company’s been in business for 72 years and we’ve got this product set and here’s our features and benefits.” That part’s easy to do now. And the evolution of sales that we were talking about, the evolution is that, it’s moving away from super transactional and towards super relational. So you either have these skills or other people that have them are going to be able to eat your lunch.

Beth:  Right. And really what you’re highlighting there, and this is the thing that I think most people struggle to get their arms around, is that they have a lot of incredible insights. They have seen customers make bad decisions, they know the mistakes they’re making, they know the areas that they’re not really thinking through or the questions that they should be asking but aren’t, and that’s really where you start coming up with having that strong point of view and having those insights that allow people to make a much better decision. That’s really what you’re after. You’re after the ability to help them make a decision that is really going to create the future they’re looking for.

Anthony:  Exactly. And the best strategy right now, is one that’s based on insight in ideas, and not based on, “Let me prove to you that my company’s a good company and that you should trust me because of that.”

Beth: Yup, exactly. Well, now I have one more question for you and I’m going to bust your chops a little bit. You always talk about that there are no rules in sales yet. You keep writing all these posts with these rules and we’re talking about rules today, and so I’m curious, you like your rules, but you didn’t really like anybody else’s rules, what are you really getting at?

Anthony: You’re out of line. You’re completely out of line. Yeah, I do. I tend to write about rules and there really are no rules. Everything is contextual, and I think one of the challenges for salespeople when they go and they look for advice, is a lot of times you’ll see things like never cold call, or always send two emails before you call. There’s all these rules that in context probably make sense sometimes. I don’t know what times that is, but there are some things that I would say are just such good rules of thumb that you should follow them. Like you have to get business acumen and provide advice and you can’t be consultative if you’re not going to give people really good advice about what they should do. It doesn’t matter what your approach is, even though you’re really a nice person, you’re trusted, if you’re not dispensing the advice, you’re not consultative.

Anthony: And I think one of the things that I’m most concerned about is that for a long time you could be a know nothing. You didn’t have to be a business expert, you didn’t have to care about business to be a sales person, but now you do. And all those kinds of things are emerging as sort of the rule sets that we’re playing with right now, and I think that when people look at any of the rules that I’ve written, I’ve written a couple of things. I’ve written the new rules for B2B I know recently, and I wrote the rules for consensus.

Anthony: Even though I don’t believe there’s any rules, I do have to say something to get people’s attention to focus on the things that seem to be most important right now, and the only rule that I’m going to share with you right now is, I’m allowed to write rules, posts if I want to, even though I believe that there are no rules and you have to know them all because it just… it works to get people to pay attention and look at things. So a little bit of that, just making sure that people read it

Beth:  Well. And I know you well enough to know that a rule today might be a different rule tomorrow because we’re constantly trying to ebb and flow with what the environment dictates. And so I expect more rules from you.

Anthony:  You will get them much. Sure.

Beth:  Well, that’s all I have for you.

Anthony:  All right, well, thank you. That was great.

Beth: Very good. Well, we’ll have another one of these coming up, so please pay attention because we will start posting these very regularly.

Anthony:  All right, here we go. I’m hitting stop.


Post by Anthony Iannarino on September 9, 2019

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino

Anthony Iannarino is an American writer. He has published daily at thesalesblog.com for more than 14 years, amassing over 5,300 articles and making this platform a destination for salespeople and sales leaders. Anthony is also the author of four best-selling books documenting modern sales methodologies and a fifth book for sales leaders seeking revenue growth. His latest book for an even wider audience is titled, The Negativity Fast: Proven Techniques to Increase Positivity, Reduce Fear, and Boost Success.

Anthony speaks to sales organizations worldwide, delivering cutting-edge sales strategies and tactics that work in this ever-evolving B2B landscape. He also provides workshops and seminars. You can reach Anthony at thesalesblog.com or email Beth@b2bsalescoach.com.

Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn, X or Youtube. You can email Anthony at iannarino@gmail.com

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