Why you need IP
We’ve all heard that we need to work ‘on’ our business and not ‘in’ our business. This sounds like a good idea, but what does it really mean in practice? In the context of succession and exit planning, one of the key indicators that a business is exit ready is that the business will continue to run and even grow without the day to day input from the owners. This requires that the business is structured and everyone knows the extent of their accountabilities and how functions will be delivered so that they are consistent, repeatable and reliable. Every time a task is performed, it is done the same way. In other words, your business is systemised.
As a client once said to me; “The more I work in my business, the less it’s worth!”
But how do you apply a ‘systems thinking’ approach to a sales role when it is generally accepted that great salespeople are creative and they need to think on their feet? The perception is that salespeople are successful because of their creativity. Some go so far as to say that they are born and not made.
There is another option but it requires a bit of alternative thinking because the approach doesn’t follow the status quo. In fact, it actually challenges conventional wisdom about the sales process and that good salespeople are born. Have you ever noticed how you make your purchasing decisions – Do you only buy from people or known brands that you trust or are you open to persuasion by a slick sales process? Most people say that they don’t enjoy being on the receiving end of a salesperson who is trying hard to convince you to buy for one reason or other. We all hate that feeling of being sold to.
Trust is always part of the equation of a sales process where you are solving problems for your prospective client and having some IP that explains your proposition will help you to build trust faster. The existence of this IP will help you to build trust with your prospective client so that they will feel comfortable that you are the best solution to solving their problem. In contrast, the most common way for service-based professionals is to talk about how much experience they have at solving this problem and that they have the best people that have done it many times before over many years. They are basically trying to convince their prospective client that they are very good and they have the best people who are highly trained, blah, blah, blah, I’m sure you know what I mean because you have been on the receiving end of this ‘spray and pray’ approach many times before. How does it feel to be on the receiving end of this type of sales process – like you are being sold to?
Remember that salesperson’s dilemma
” We all love to buy but we hate being sold to”
The problem for the business owner who is locked into this approach to selling is that the success of the sales function comes down to how good the people are – you become dependent of hiring, motivating and keeping top-quality experienced salespeople and you are now caught in the cycle. I have learned to recognise a business caught in this cycle when they tell me something along the lines of “I can’t grow this business because I can’t get or can’t afford the good people”.
“You need IP!”
But I’m sure you have been in a situation where it felt like the salesperson totally understood you and your needs – they were helping you to buy rather than selling to you and it is an enjoyable experience.
How did they create this experience for you – what did they do differently. They had IP.
To start the process of thinking about your own IP, let’s define your product as what you sell; the solution to the problem that your customers are experiencing. Your sales meeting is where you identify your customer’s need and propose a solution based on your product proposition. Thinking about your proposition in terms of IP requires you need to step back from the detail of doing the work involved to deliver the solution and start considering the context of how the solution is identified. At this point, I’m often told that they do this intuitively and they don’t follow a process. it may help to ask someone to help you to ‘unpack your head’ by asking some basic questions. Other people find it easier to create a checklist of the process steps required to solve the problem. This is a good first step, but you are only part of the way there. IP is a higher level of context than a list, it is usually a model or a framework that can be presented to the client on a single page. You know that you have got it right when you present your IP to someone and their response is; ” that makes so much sense…….now that you describe it like that!”
It is common for someone to begin this process believing that they don’t do anything special or that they don’t have any secret sauce or magic formula to sell and it is then that I explain that there are two types of IP. The first type is what we call ‘KFC’ IP. This where you have a secret recipe that is only available from you. This is a proprietary product and is something that can be and needs to be protected through trademarks, patents etc. The second type of IP is ‘Subway’ IP. This is where you have developed a process or a model for solving the client’s problem. Your whole sales team is trained in how to use the model and they present it consistently so that the experience of seeing it is very similar, regardless of who presents it. When you achieve this consistency, your business will become known for this process or methodology and it will start to form part of your brand. Having a process that is consistently followed means that your client outcomes are consistent, repeatable and reliable. This reputation will help to attract new clients and they will be drawn to your business for your known process (IP) meaning that you no longer solely rely on only the top talent to achieve sales. Your business now relies on your ability to train the IP which puts the control and the success of the process back into the business. The creativity of the sales individual comes into play when they need to adapt the model and apply it to each situation so that it feels personal for the client.
The benefit of using IP is that it positions the business as credible and it gives the prospective client comfort that you are not winging it or making it up as you go along. Your business must be experts in the solution because you developed the IP and this gives a very different sales experience compared to a salesperson who is trying to convince you based on their key people, knowledge and experience.
What difference would this make to your business?
Your sales process is now focussed on showing the prospective client how adapting this IP to their situation will solve their problem. You are now in a conversation about how the process will be used in their business rather than trying to convince them based on your skills and experience alone. By definition, having a process shows that your business can solve their problem. You have done this so many times before that you were able to model it.