Friday, March 9, 2012

Stop selling and start storytelling – the secret to success in winning MPS deals (and FM deals as well)

This article has appeared on several different blogs and web-sites the past couple of months, and I thought it might be of interest to Reprographers, especially to those who are promoting/selling MPS and FM deals.

To say that I completely agree with the author’s conclusions, about the success of storytelling, would be an understatement. In my prior life (meaning, when I was active in the Reprographics Industry), selling FM’s by “storytelling” was, essentially, my “m.o.” If you truly believe that what you are going to be proposing (or have already proposed) is truly in the best interests of your customer (or prospect) and, if in the past, you’ve already done a great job for a customer who was like the one you’re now working with, then telling “the story” – “before and after” - to your current customer/prospect goes a long, long way towards convincing your customer/prospect that you are not only sincere in your desire to serve his/her firm, but are hell bent on doing everything necessary to help his/her firm succeed. In order to be an effective storyteller, you must be able to do a total recall of experiences from past times and be able to communicate with confidence (but not come off as arrogant!)

Okay, here’s Robert Newry’s article…..

Stop selling and start storytelling – the secret to success in winning MPS deals

by Robert Newry Managing Director and Co-Founder NewField IT

At a recent MPS event, the keynote speaker told an entertaining story about why only a genuine Gucci handbag, at five times the price of a good copy, would satisfy his wife. For him the physical difference was only in the stitching; for her it was the emotional value of the brand. At the time I didn’t see much relevance in the story to our less glamorous world of office printing. Only when running a training course shortly afterwards to a group of ‘wannabe’ MPS sales professionals, I happened to refer to the “story” that a good assessment allows you to tell and the penny dropped. To be successful in selling an MPS programme, you need to be storyteller, someone who can inspire the customer towards an emotional decision, where they choose the competency to deliver over the cost to acquire. Telling a good story is why successful MPS sales people, whether from small or large players, win big deals – often at higher prices too.

Given we are in the business world, the story has to be credible rather than fictional and the skill is in constructing and communicating a compelling proposition. Yet few of the training courses out there teach us how to do this; mostly because storytelling is something we were meant to have learnt in childhood. The problem has arisen out of the legacy of product selling that still permeates our industry. Although the days when selling was about functions and specifications and every sales call ended by giving the customer a brochure are fast diminishing, they have been replaced by simplified data gathering and the customer being left with an impersonal and templated report. Sales managers around the world crave the standard report and automated proposal maker – the only differentiation fast becoming the cover. For me giving a customer an automated and statistic driven report is like turning Snow White and The Seven Dwarves into a description of the daily gemstone output of their mining activities! The clever observer picks up so much more from their assessment and delivers that back to the customer in a meaningful and personalised way, comforting the customer with their understanding and professionalism.

So for those who want to become the “Pied Piper” of their territory here are three fundamentals to get you going.

Every tale should have a twist

Any good storyteller has to grab and keep the audience’s attention. This can only be done by telling them something they didn’t already know and the skilful storyteller will do this by releasing information slowly, hinting always of greater things to come, and creating a desire in their audience to know more. The material for your story line should come from a thorough assessment but the data itself is not the story. I have seen some assessments where the provider believed that the customer would rate the value of the story in direct proportion to the weight of the report! The opposite is usually true. The customer is looking for insights, mini-stories of their own organisation’s inefficiencies, not reams of charts and tables. One law firm we approached proudly told us they had a state of the art document management system, yet when we walked around we could see paper all over the place – the natural by-product of legal activity we were told. Yet when we did the assessment, a few questions revealed that the scanning facilities on each floor were woefully inadequate and the electronic filing structure did not cover all the requirements, so some staff were still storing every paper record as a back-up. After we told stories of blocked fire escapes and overflowing offices, the client was quick to award the next stage of the project. The trick is not simply the extent of the data gathered rather the way you use that data to demonstrate your competency and expertise. Toner storage cabinets become “mini Staples stores” and discarded piles of paper by devices are “security risks”.

Visualise the value

We all know that a picture speaks a thousand words and the best story books are illustrated. Yet, many of the presentations I have seen from providers trying to make their mark in MPS are static MS Powerpoint slides filled with charts and floor plans in the hope that the customer is impressed by the mono/colour split or the volume by department. In a world of touchpads and interactivity the customer is far more impressed by a presentation that projects all the data on a floor plan, where walking distances to coffee machines can be demonstrated and user interviews as well as data can be combined with device volumes to show who are the print paupers and who are the print princes. By doing this the customer becomes engaged in your story and suddenly the situation is no longer a one way delivery of statistics, transforming instead to an active discussion about the challenges and how they might be solved. In such circumstances, the good storyteller is no longer a sales person but an advisor – someone the customer wants to listen to more and trusts now to get the job done.

Personalise the pitch

When my kids were younger, I used to regularly read them bedtime stories. The ones they liked the most were the ones where I added in different voices and tones for each of the characters. All I was doing was personalising what was already a good story, but they loved the way this gave the story an extra edge and made it special to them. A good MPS presentation should be no different (well you can skip the voices!). The customer is comforted when you use their terms, speak about the business in their way and above all show true understanding of their environment. Taking the time to think about the data you have gathered and how that can be presented back in the most meaningful and insightful way will endear you to them. At the end of the day, what do you want your pitch to be – the cheap and cheerful paper-back, read in a monotone or the beautiful hard-back (at twice the price), read with vitality?

In summary, telling a good story is what will impress the customer. But don’t go over the top. We are short-story tellers. Keep all reports to less than 10 pages and any presentation to less than 30 minutes. Go through your upcoming reports and presentations and check that they are personal, compelling and inspiring. Ask yourself each and every time: “Can I make this story any better?” If you have followed the advice above successfully, you should be on course of for a happy ending and with any luck the customer should be asking for a signed hardback!

Robert Newry is Co-Founder and Managing Director of NewField IT, a software and services company that helps both end users and channel organisations implement successful MPS programmes.

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