Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Good Morning as Manipulation: Establishing Certainty Before Noon

Over my next posts, I will address how the brain's predictable need for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness (embodied in the SCARF model) affects its reactions to sales and marketing communications.

Can you guess what is the most commonly used opening line for presentations occurring before noon?
“Good morning,” of course, delivered with varying levels of energy and inflection.

It is perhaps the safest opening line we can use, instead of risking an interesting, attention-grabbing, riveting opening, we often fall back to a hallway greeting to launch our presentations for multimillion-dollar projects.

But why?
Expressing a common greeting, which is generally followed by introduction of the presenters' names and credentials, plays to a predictable human need, the need for certainty.

“Good morning” is a safe opening because, unless it is said after noon, it is true. It is neutral. It provides a high level of certainty that, in a presentation, we are not getting off on the wrong foot. But whose certainty benefits the most by this?

The speaker's.
The speaker is all nerves and worried about how their presentation makes or breaks the deal. Saying “good morning” is a small form of manipulation that pretends at friendliness, stalls for time, tries to develop accord with the audience on a fleeting reference to the socially accepted way of time telling.

In short, good morning plays it safe.

A professor in one of my early communications course made a strong statement. “All communication is manipulation.”
I remember being very uncomfortable with that supposition, in part because the word “manipulation” is laden with negative connotations: brainwashing, coercion, selfishness. I've come to realize, however, that even my hallway “good morning” greetings to coworkers are, in fact, manipulation.
While not an effort at some Machiavellian power play, even a simple greeting is meant to cultivate an awareness of my presence. It provides a gauge of my temperament. It encourages a like response. Further, the absence of a verbal greeting itself can communicate a statement: I'm in a foul mood; I'm very busy; I'm not feeling well. The unexpressed greeting is also a communication meant to manipulate, whether it's “stay away” or “ask me how I'm doing.”
When an audience of purchasing decision makers hears six groups of presenters, each vying for an important project, each qualified to deliver the contract, each acknowledging that is sometime after midnight but before noon, and that is “good,” none of the groups has differentiated itself out of the chute. Immediately the decision makers in the audience must decide which team wished them a good morning most sincerely, most enthusiastically.
I'm being facetious, of course.
Would your audience be offended if you didn't wish them a good morning? Would they crumple up their score sheets if you, instead, used your very first words to hook their attention?
Of course not. Delivering a great presentation instead of playing it safe proves to your audience that you've done your homework, that you're passionate about your topic, and that you care about your audience.
Now that is a good morning they'll remember.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Are You Gambling with the Marketing Budget on Sales Proposals?

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a one-size-fits-all trick to beating the house with your competitive sales proposals – one that would work each and every time you need to submit a proposal to your customer?
If it was that simple, there wouldn't be a thousand dog-eared used sales books at the local Half Price Books store, assuring readers of sure-fire sales techniques at fire-sale prices.
Here are two quick thoughts about effective proposals that minimize the gambling.

Good Customer Relationships Stack the Deck

This is rule #1.

By the time you receive an RFP, ideally you already have a relationship with the customer. They have told you what their needs are, what their budget looks like, and what their concerns are. They even like you and want to do business with you.

That is the ideal, of course.

The reality is we sometimes receive RFPs out of the blue from customers we've never met – or, worse, dig up the RFPs ourselves on those RFP websites. In those situations, ask yourself: does any of the competition have that ideal relationship already?
Think in terms of “positioning” in proposal world, too. If the competition is positioned, and if they capitalize on it by turning in the right solution for the right price, why would you bother to submit?

I hear some die-hard sales folks say, exasperatedly, “You can't win if you don't play.” They believe that the proposal playing field is level, that their proposal has as good a chance of winning as anybody's – even if they're not a known quantity to the potential customer.

These folks are lovable optimists unblemished by reality. The “you can't win if you don't play” defense is the same you might hear from those hoping to retire from their winnings on scratch-off tickets at the gas station. They're gambling, except they gamble with the marketing budget.

Encourage the proposal gamblers in your organization to get ahead of the next proposal by making some solid customer contacts, and just say no to RFPs where you are out-positioned.
Double Down on Customer Focus
Savvy sales and marketing pros know that customer-focused proposals boost hit rates, and for one simple reason: customer-focused proposals solve a customer's specific problem.

Having written and edited thousands of proposals over the past decade, and having seen what the competition submitted, I can say the tendency of most people new to the proposal world is to use the proposal to expound their company's legitimacy, for example: years in operation; number of employees; corporate charitable giving levels. Save that information for the “About Us” spot on your website.
This is typically followed by a cut-and-paste approach to the product/service offering, which often doesn't clearly and succinctly address the customer's needs, which is the reason your customer needs to receive proposals in the first place.

A proposal should be off the chain, not off the shelf.

A proposal is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with the customer. Talking about yourself and your one-size-fits-all capabilities instead of focusing on your customer's needs is a definite turn-off.

I will temper this post by acknowledging that are plenty of scenarios, especially in commodity proposals, where the opportunity to tailor a proposal is limited. However, it might be worth exploring whether there are opportunities to improve your proposals, thus differentiating yourself from competitors and possibly raising the bar for your marketplace.