HBR: Selling Products Is Good. Selling Projects Can Be Even Better

As building suppliers, we tend to focus on bigger projects such as new homes and commercial buildings. Is your company or yourself focusing on small projects? Are you helping your customers complete their projects? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez.

Selling Products Is Good. Selling Projects Can Be Even Better

In the beginning companies sold products. And then they sold services. In recent years, the fashionable suggestion has been that companies sell experiences and solutions, solving the needs and aspirations of customers.

Companies, indeed, do all of these things. But increasingly, what companies sell are projects. To understand the difference, think of an athletic shoe company, such as Nike or Adidas. A focus on products means a focus on selling running shoes. A focus on experiences might mean they sell you a membership to a local running club. A focus on solutions might mean they figure out how to help you reach your goal weight. While these clearly offer more value than simply selling you a pair of shoes, they also have limitations. Selling products limits the revenues you can make from clients: Unless you are innovating and continually updating your product offering, customer attrition tends to be high, and incentivizing repurchases can be hard. Selling experiences provides intangible benefits that are hard to quantify and measure, often focusing on meeting the needs of one single customer, preventing any mass production. Selling solutions became popular in the early 2000s when customers didn’t know how to solve their problems. But today, in the internet age, people can do their own research and define the solutions for themselves.

A focus on selling projects would mean helping someone do something more specific, such as running the Boston Marathon. Nike could provide you with its traditional sports gear, but in addition it could include a training program, a dietary plan, a coach, and a monitoring system to help you achieve your dream. The project would have a clear goal (finish the marathon) and a clear start and end date.

And that is just one type of project. More so than products, the possibilities with projects are endless.

From Products to Projects at Philips

Consider the evolution of Philips. Founded in Eindhoven, in the south of The Netherlands, in 1891 by Gerard Philips and his father Frederik, it began by producing carbon-filament lamps. Its success was achieved by a culture of innovation and the speedy introduction of new products. Over more than a century of profitable existence, the range of products offered by the company has mushroomed. Today, Philips produces everything from automated external defibrillators to energy-efficient lighting for entire cities. It even applies its smart sensor technology to teeth brushing.

This profusion of products means that Philips is cash-rich, yet sales have stagnated in the last decade, and concerns about the company have been reflected in its stock price. Faced with this changing reality, Philips took a long, hard look at itself. It identified the absence of focus and lack of strategy implementation capabilities as crucial elements that needed addressing. Five years ago, with intensifying competition, the Philips board split the organization into three different companies: Consumer Health, Lighting, and Healthcare.

It then went on to launch “Accelerate,” a program aimed at accelerating growth by transforming each new independent company into a focused organization. At the heart of the changes brought about by the Accelerate program are projects.

Over the years, Philips had become an intricate, blurred matrix. Accountabilities and responsibilities were shared between products, segments, countries, regions, functions, and headquarters. It set out to simplify this convoluted and archaic organization structure.

To do so, Philips put projects center stage. Projects were identified as the best management structure to break up silos and encourage teams to work transversally (end-to-end) in the organization.

As part of this, Philips Health Tech was divided into just three divisions. Essential to making this happen was a substantial increase in the work executed through projects. The shift was from selling customers a few products every year to creating an engaged relationship over decades.

One of the biggest challenges facing Philips Health Tech is that the life expectancy of its products is becoming shorter and shorter. Soon after launch, products are copied by the competition, which means they must be priced more cheaply. Soon, they become a commodity. This removes any opportunity for steady, high margins over the long term. Philips has experienced this even with its high-end health care products. Shifting its emphasis to selling projects rather than products was a strategic response to this problem.

For example, Philips sells high-tech medical devices. In the past it sold them simply as products (and it still does). But now Philips seeks out the projects in which its products will be used. If a new health care center is being considered, Philips will seek to become a partner from the very beginning of the project, including the running and the maintenance of the new center.

Among the results of this project focus at Philips is a partnership with Westchester Medical Center Health Network aimed at improving health care for millions of patients across New York’s Hudson Valley. Through this long-term partnership Philips provides WMC Health with a comprehensive range of clinical and business consulting projects, as well as advanced medical technologies such as imaging systems, patient monitoring, telehealth, and clinical informatics solutions.

In similar long-term partnerships with Philips, hospitals have been able to significantly improve radiology volumes and cut MRI waiting times in half. These organizations are seeing a 35% reduction in technology spending while improving clinical quality.

The Project Revolution

Philips is not alone in using an increased focus on selling projects as a means of disruptive transformation. At Microsoft, the company’s entire focus has shifted to Cloud services, most of which are offered as projects. It now has around 10,000 operating projects. Airbnb, valued this year at $30 billion, recently announced that it will start selling “experiences” — small tourism projects — as a way to create new revenue streams and address the increased regulatory scrutiny in some of its bigger markets. The biopharmaceutical industry is also seeking to work with governments and other purchasers on focused treatment programs, rather than simply offering individual drugs.

Clearly, the shift to becoming a project-driven organization and selling projects rather than products or services presents sizeable challenges to corporations and their business models. Working in projects throughout my career, I have identified these as the important ones:

  • Revenue streams. Revenues will be generated progressively over long periods of time, instead of right after the sale of a product. This will affect the way revenues are recognized, as well as accounting policies and the overall company valuation.
  • Pricing model. New pricing models will need to be developed. It is easier to price a product, for which most of the fixed and variable costs are known, than a project, which is influenced by many external factors.
  • Quality control. Delivering quality products will not be enough to meet customer expectations. Implementation and post-implementation services will also have to be of the highest possible quality to ensure that clients continue to buy projects.
  • Branding and marketing. Traditional marketing has focused on short-term immediate benefits. Marketing teams will need to promote the long-term benefits of the projects sold by the organization.
  • Sales force. The buyer of the project will no longer be the procurement department of an organization. Sales will be pitched to leaders of the business, so the sales force and sales skills will have to be upgraded with strategy and project management competencies.

Stop for a moment and consider what your organization is selling. Is it a project? Increasingly, the answer is clear and affirmative. If not, beware, your products might soon become part of a project sold by someone else.

 

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Why She Buys: The Lesson of Ryland Homes

Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers by Bridget Brennan is a fascinating book which provides a different perspective on selling to women. Below is an excerpt from the book:

The Lesson of Ryland Homes: If the woman doesn’t want it, the man doesn’t get itWhy She Buys.jpg

Myth: Men drive all the big decisions in married households.

Reality: Women are the deal breakers.

You’d be hard-pressed to find an industry more male-dominated than home building. The average home-building company is staffed like a World War II aircraft carrier, at least in its management ranks. But times are slowly changing. While most senior executives are still white and male, these companies are waking to the fact that their real customer are women, and that they’ve been leaving money on the table by creating and selling homes from a male perspective, from underdesigning closets to using sell sheets that focus purely on technical data and architectural blueprints.

The Ryland Group is a $2 billion, publicly traded home-building company-one of the top in its industry-that has changed the way it designs houses, based on a new understanding of who rules America’s roosts. In one of the world’s biggest housing downturns, the company is leveraging its knowledge of the alpha consumer ever way it can.

If you’ve never thought of a home as a product before think again–a new home is the ultimate consumer lifestyle product. For most people, there is no bigger purchase, literally or figuratively. As is the case with all major consumer product categories, women dominate.

“Women influence 91 percent of new home purchases,” Eric Elder, the senior executive who has championed most of Ryland’s female-focused efforts, For several years now, single women have been the fastest-growing segment of the home-buying market, buying twice as many homes as single men. I worked with Ryland on a two-year research project to understand what: women want in a new home. As a result, the company implemented a variety of covert, female-friendly efforts across the company. The goal was to make these changes imperceptible to home buyers, so that women would feel drawn to Ryland’s homes but men would not feel excluded.

DESIGNING WOMEN

As discussed in Chapter 3, when a woman goes off to the workforce, she changes her personal traffic patterns, along with those of everyone in her family. As such, working mothers were the biggest catalyst for modifying Ryland’s floor plans. The company redesigned the common areas Of many of its models so that multitasking moms could keep one eye on the kids and eye on the stove. Windows were built over kitchen sink to provide a direct line of sight to the backyard. Open kitchen/family room layouts were designed with nooks for decks, so that kids could do their homework on the computer or watch TV while Mom looked on from nearby. These designs were an acknowledgment of the “time compression” that occurs within families when both parents work. Instead of parents spending an hour or two helping kids with homework and then making dinner, both activities are now likely to happen at the same time.

Time compression and the blurring of boundaries between work and home means that home isn’t quite the sanctuary it once was. With cell phones, BlackBerry devices, laptops, and the Internet, work is “part of the furniture” at home, too. In an effort to replace what’s been lost, Ryland redesigned its master bedrooms as oases for stress relief. New master suites were designed as retreats for the adults in the house-and in particular, women. “A private, relaxing, reenergizing space is especially important to single mothers, who don’t get much time on their own,” says Elder. Many of Ryland’s master bedroom suites now feature a coffee bar, mini fridge, and lounge area.

WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Modifications to Ryland’s floor plans were just the beginning. The company also embarked on design changes to its neighborhoods. It learned that women don’t view themselves as buying just a house with four walls; they feel like they’re buying an entire community, a neighborhood, a school district, and a lifestyle. Women believe a new house is going to improve their life, along with the lives of everyone in their family. If it won’t, they might as well stay where they are. Subsequently, Ryland began creating more female-friendly amenities in its neighborhood designs, including cul-de-sacs, better street lighting, pocket parks, electronic garage doors as a standard feature, better lighting around home entryways, and secure gated entries in townhouse communities.

EMBRACING PERSONALIZATION

As part of the female-friendly process, Ryland completely overhauled its design centers, the places where customers pick out their options and upgrades after signing a contract for a new home. These centers had a history of being housed in the bare garages of model homes.

“In our industry, picking out home options and upgrades used to be a back-office function,” says Elder. “We’d have a hodgepodge of display cases given to us by random suppliers, with a few samples of products here and there; bad lighting … the whole experience was an afterthought.” It couldn’t be more different now. “We actually embrace the personalization process, when we used to fight it,” explains Elder. “It’s one of the biggest changes that’s occurred at the company, and it’s wholly driven by women.” A senior female executive at Ryland, Diane Morrison, was the force behind the company’s new design centers. She recognized that for many women, the appointment at the design center is the most exciting part of the home-buying process: it is here that they get to pick out all the things that will make the home distinctly their own.

Ryland also broadened the color palettes on its home exteriors, to help women feel that their new home has a unique, personal identity, and to diminish the dreaded “cookie cutter” effect. Instead of offering three exterior colors in a one-hundred-house community, Ryland now typically offers from nine to fifteen.

LESSONS FROM THE COVERT APPROACH

Ryland is a great example of a masculine industry that’s responded to women with subtle design changes that benefit both sexes.

“Every architect that’s designed homes throughout the history of this company has been a man,” says Elder. “Closets used to be leftover spaces that were essentially a door and a hole. Now they are a design element of the home, with functionality built into them. Our sales lobbies, which used to be fairly bare, now have places to sit down, with inspirational reading materials, like home design magazines, and toys for kids. And we’ve changed our merchandising displays so that they are more emotionally charged and filled with pictures of people.”

When the covert approach is done right, men don’t even notice the design elements that have been added for women. , It turns out that men like the idea of having a hot cup of coffee in their master bedroom, too. “From a consumer stand-point, men would live in the garage if they had to,” says Elder with a grin. “Women want the home, and men want the women to get what they want. The great thing for us is that the changes we’ve made have been driven by women but are appreciated by men, too.”

When you appeal to women in a covert fashion, the men find themselves on the receiving end of things they never knew they wanted but are happy to get-and maybe even pay more for the next time. The lesson is this: when you make women happy, you make everyone happy. Women are the leading economic indicators of what people want. Key learnings from Ryland include:

  1. Never underestimate the influence of women in a couples” purchase. Women are the veto vote for buying decisions large and small, from deciding what home to buy to where to eat. The individual who conducts the financial transaction (which can often be the husband) is not always the primary decision maker. If you sell to a lot of couples, figure out the “hot buttons” for both your male and female customers. They may be very different.
  2. Study how the divorce rate and the increased spending power of single women may be impacting your industry. The phenomenon can open new opportunities in product design, as it did with Ryland and its master bedroom retreats, and also in the services that support your product offerings.
  3. A well-crafted, subtle approach attracts women and pleases men, too.
  4. It’s socially unacceptable for men to buy products that are overtly feminine. By being subtle in your appeal to women-through a covert approach-you have the ability to attract both sexes without alienating either one. Married women never want to see their husbands alienated or emasculated. (Not if they’re happily married, anyway.)

HBR: Sales Reps, Stop Asking Leading Questions

What is your approach to selling? Do you use a consultative sales approach? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Scott Edinger.

Sales Reps, Stop Asking Leading Questions

Most executives recognize a need for their sales team to act as consultants and sell “solutions.” But many CEOs would be shocked at how poorly their sales teams execute on the strategy of consultative selling. I recently had a conversation about this with the director of purchasing at one of my client companies who told me: “I can always tell when a rep has been through sales training, because instead of launching in to a pitch, they launch into a list of questions.” Too often, sales teams trying to “do” consultative selling don’t move beyond the rudimentary application of solution-sales principles: “Get the team to ask questions, and then match our capabilities to what the client has said.” So the sales force sits down and makes a list of questions designed to extract information from their prospective clients, in a kind of interrogation. I’ve sat through many sales calls like this, and trust me it isn’t pretty.

To maximize the power of consultative selling, we have to move beyond a simplistic view of solution selling. It’s not about grilling the buyer but rather engaging in a give-and-take as the seller and buyer explore the client’s priorities, examine what is in the business’s best interests, and evaluate the seller’s solutions. Asking questions is part of this engagement process, but there’s a right way to do it. Here are some important pitfalls to avoid:

Avoid checklist-style questioning. A few years ago I was working with a financial services firm that hadn’t seen much success in adopting a solution sales approach. When I watched a few meetings it was easy to see why. The sellers I traveled with did a decent job of asking questions and getting answers, but it felt more to me (and to the prospects, based on their responses and disposition) like they were going through a checklist. As a result, their sales calls felt mechanical and staid. While they gleaned some good information about clients’ needs, allowing them to dovetail the products they were selling into the conversation, there was little buy-in from the prospects they were talking to. There was no sense of shared understanding or that the client had confidence that the seller would be able to help them grow their business. I’ve observed this scenario with both beginner and experienced sellers, as well as senior partners in Big Four consulting firms: when they focus solely on asking questions, they rarely get the information they really need.

Avoid asking leading questions. Nothing falls flatter in a sales call than a question that is clearly self-interested, or makes the seller the master of the obvious. I joke about this in speeches using the example: “If I could show you something interesting, would you be interested?” The kind of questions sales professionals are taught to ask typically focus on drawing attention to client problems, pain points, and sources of dissatisfaction, so the client will then view the seller’s offerings as a solution. It can be useful to explore the buyer’s challenges, but when a seller asks a ridiculous question with an obvious answer such as, “What’s the implication of data center failure?” it can backfire. It’s counterproductive to ask patently manipulative questions because buyers immediately put up their defenses and will be skeptical of the seller’s intentions – and intelligence. Instead, ask questions that demonstrate genuine curiosity, empathy, and a desire to understand. Try to go deeper than uncovering a list of problems to be solved: ask what the buyer hopes to achieve with your product or service, and why this is a priority now.

Avoid negative conversational behaviors. When sellers are myopically focused on persuading a prospect or winning a piece of business, it creates a negative vibe in the relationship. In fact, when we look at what happens in the brain during this kind of one-sided selling interaction, we find that buyers may experience that negativity at a chemical level. In her article, “The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations,” Judith Glaser highlights specific behaviors that contribute to negative chemical, or “cortisol-producing,” and positive chemical “oxytocin-producing” reactions in others. Among the behaviors that create significant negative impacts are being focused on convincing others and behaving like others don’t understand. Precisely the stereotypical behaviors that give sellers a bad name: being too aggressive, not listening, and going on and on about their offerings. Conversely, the behaviors that create a positive chemical impact include being concerned about others, stimulating discussions with genuine curiosity, and painting a picture of mutual success. Masters of the consultative sales approach apply these conversational techniques to their discussions with prospects and clients to create a collaborative dynamic with positive outcomes.

 

The consultative sales approach may seem simple, but it isn’t easy to execute well. Sales people cannot just go to training for a few days and gain mastery of this skill set, any more than an accountant going to a week-long course can emerge with the skills of a CFO. Consultative selling is a fundamental business strategy centered on creating value through insight and perspective that paves the way toward long-term relationships and genuine solutions for your customers. When sellers do it right, that strategy comes to life.

 

Want Success In Your Sales Org? Look to the Middle

Below is a blog post from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, PK Sinha, and Sally E. Lorimer. Is your Sales Manager weak?  This will help strengthen your sales manager and team.

Want Success In Your Sales Org? Look to the Middlesuccessful sales management

To build a great company, it’s important to have strong executives leading the sales organization. But just as in the military, talented top officers can’t make up for weakness in the ranks of frontline leaders, the mid-level managers who are vital in driving day-to-day sales performance. “In any sales force, you can get along without the vice president of sales, the regional sales directors, and the training manager,” a sales leader once told us. “But you cannot get along without first-line sales managers.”

First-line sales managers (FLM) are the most critical players in a sales organization because they serve three important management roles — and successful ones excel at all three.

People manager: They select, build, manage, lead, and reward a team of salespeople.
Customer manager: They participate appropriately in the sales process to drive success with key customers.
Business manager: They act as a conduit for information flowing between headquarters and the field to keep sales force activity aligned with company goals.

Here are some common mistakes that FLMs make in each of these roles, and what sales leaders can do to avoid these mistakes.

As people managers, weak FLMs:

•Hire the wrong salespeople.
•”Feed the chickens but starve the eagles” by spending too much time with low performers.
•Manage by results only and demand improvement without coaching on how to get there.
•Take credit for the team’s success rather than giving others the recognition they deserve.

As customer managers, weak FLMs:

•Fail to put customer needs first.
•Take over customer relationships themselves and undermine salespeople’s motivation and confidence in the process.

As business managers, weak FLMs:

•Spend too much time on low value activities just because they are urgent or within their comfort zone.
•Put off important tasks that keep headquarters and the field aligned.

Sales leaders can strengthen the FLM team and its activities by improving the management support, tools, and training they provide. For example, leaders can enable FLMs in a people manager role by providing coaching tools and training, setting performance standards for how much time to spend coaching high and low performers, and creating a salesperson hiring process with screening tools (e.g. case studies and behavioral interview questions) and training on how to use them. Leaders can also enable FLMs in a business manager role by providing tools and support to make administrative tasks easier.

But most of the mistakes that FLMs make aren’t corrected through better management support, tools, and training. Rather, the mistakes are the result of selecting the wrong person for the FLM job – usually someone who was a great salesperson but who doesn’t have the characteristics to succeed as a manager. Most successful salespeople, even after they are promoted to manager, are driven by a strong motivation for personal achievement. Unfortunately, this can impede their willingness to:

•Let others take the lead with customers, especially when it comes to closing sales
•Show discipline and patience when it comes to dealing with headquarters
•Take a backseat while giving team members credit for success

As a salesperson, you win through your activities; as a sales manager you with through the activities of your people.

Excellent managers are a must if you want to consistently recruit the best sales talent. Remember the aphorism: “First-class hires first-class; second-class hires third-class.” It’s hard to recover from bad hiring, which is why it’s so important to make hiring (or promoting) the right front line managers who’ll oversee so many hiring decisions such a priority.

The post Want Success In Your Sales Org? Look to the Middle appeared first on Harvard Business Review.