I was recently asked by a colleague to weigh in with my thoughts on a conversation in the LinkedIn ED 2.0 Group talking about the importance of selling skills in the economic development profession. I was happy to do so, because understanding how to sell effectively in any industry is a key to success.
I recall a panel discussion on branding I participated in several years ago. The panel consisted of myself and two consultants who specialized in helping communities create branding programs. In the audience was an economic development professional from a small community with a limited budget. She asked the panel a simple, but provocative question – “How should I best invest my community’s money?”
I answered first and explained that my experience as a brand builder was that branding takes time and costs money. Without adequate resources to do the job right, it is often best not to initiate a branding effort. My counsel was to take the limited budget and invest it in creating the strongest selling program possible for her community. My two panel colleagues proceeded to disagree and advised her to invest in better understanding her community’s key point of competitive difference.
Even though it was a few years ago, I remember the exchange very clearly and often reflect on it. I still stand by the counsel I gave that economic development professional. But, I have come to realize that there is a genuine under appreciation for the importance of mastering sales skills in the economic development community, and the impact it can make on capital attraction and job creation. Unfortunately, the prevailing belief is that the only way to win a capital investment deal is to provide the greatest amount of incentive dollars. Rarely is there adequate time invested to understand the investors real needs and put together a win:win proposal that leverages the unique strengths of a community to address the investors business challenges and set the company up for maximum long-term success. Instead of establishing a genuine partnership, most community proposals establish a landlord:tenant relationship. Such a relationship misses the opportunity for creating interdependence and instead makes the relationship fungible.
One key to effective selling is in understanding your community’s (or product’s) benefits and how to overcome barriers to accepting those benefits. I authored a blog post on how to identify your community’s (product’s) benefits. You can read it by clicking HERE. I thought I’d follow it up with a discussion on how to overcome benefit barriers.
Overcoming The Three Barriers
There are three typical barriers to accepting a benefit you claim for your community (or product). The key is finding the right kind of insight in each case to help you overcome the specific barrier.
Doesn’t Want What You Offer
If the capital investor doesn’t want the unique benefits your community offers, then you need an insight into how to make the benefit more important and desirable.
Here are four questions to get answers to –
How can the benefits you community offers help the company avoid failure?
How can the benefits you offer help improve the company’s bottom line performance?
When is the most important moments when the benefits your community offers would be critical to have?
Who will notice the presence or lack of the benefits your community is offering?
Doesn’t Believe What You Are Offering Is Real
If the capital investor doesn’t believe your community can deliver the benefit, then you need an insight that will help you understand how to build credibility.
Here are two questions to get answers to –
Is there a clear understanding or a misperception on exactly what the unique benefits my community is offering are?
Who would the capital investor trust or believe better than me that my community can actually deliver the benefits my community is promising?
Believes Already Has What You Are Offering
If the capital investor believes she/he already have the benefits your community offers, you must get them to admit when their current (or a competitor’s solution) may fall short, or who would notice if their current solution fails to deliver.
Here are three questions to get answers to –
When do companies like this one fail and why?
What is the standard of performance this company’s competition is achieving and how can your community help them close the gap?
Who would notice if the company falls short on performance and how can the benefits of locating in your community minimize the risk?
Investor at The Center
The challenge with overcoming benefit barriers is that you need to put the customer needs at the center of your focus. Simply repeating the benefits louder or more frequently in the face of skepticism isn’t going to be successful. You need to see the situation through their eyes and provide the right kind of information to create a perception and behavioral change. It requires work, empathy and understanding. It also requires confidence and the willingness to walk away if it appears you are trying to force the proverbial square peg into a round hole.
Everything I have shared above can be described as either consultative selling or collaborative selling. In my opinion, this is the selling method most suited for economic development (and any other complex selling situation). Here are a couple links you may find helpful to learn more about consultative and collaborative selling –
Journal of Accountancy Yes, we can and should learn from the Accounting profession.
What Are Your Thoughts?
What has your experience been with consultative or collaborative selling? Any tips on how to be successful, or watch-outs on some of the pitfalls? What selling method does your Organization utilize? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.
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