Effective Sales Guides: Top Six Tips

Effective Sales Guides: Top Six Tips

“I…sell elevator buttons. I specialize in the fourth floor…I’m such a good salesman that I could sell one of my fourth-floor elevator buttons to the owner of a three-story building.” – Jarold Kintz

Although selling elevator buttons is a tough business, Mr. Kintz is unlikely to benefit from sophisticated sales tools to close his deals. But in the competitive world of selling business solutions, an effective sales guide is crucial. In this post, we describe our top six tips for effective sales guides. In our next post, we’ll describe the eight specific types of information you should include in your sales guide.

Unlike Mr. Kintz, why do you need an effective sales guide?

  • A sales guide educates your sales force on how to position and sell your offerings to the prospects most likely to buy.
  • It functions as a reference tool, organizing details for just-in-time access to help sales people feel in control of the sales process.
  • It helps build confidence in your offering so that sales people feel comfortable presenting it to customers and confronting the competition.
  • It motivates your sales force to sell.

Here are six ways you can make the most of your sales guides.

Involve the Sales Force

Many marketing departments develop sales guides without any input from their “customers” – the sales force. The result is a document that is disconnected from real-world challenges. To develop an effective sales guide, marketing needs to understand how customers buy (i.e., how a sale takes place) and how sales people sell. So take a lesson from product development and talk with your sales force before you begin. Identify a willing cross-section of your sales force, and pick their brains to learn what they consider most useful – and most frustrating – in sales guides they’ve used in the past. These frank conversations may yield insights that will surprise you and reshape your sales guide strategy, as well as help bridge the gap (if any) between sales and marketing.

Provide Adequate Competitive Information

Sales guides often paint a too-rosy view of the company’s competitive position, or contain outdated competitive information. Look at it from the sales team’s perspective – how would you like to go to war with inaccurate data on your enemy’s strengths, weaknesses, and position relative to your own?  So give the sales force what they need to win. Provide an unbiased summary of who they’re up against, how your company compares, and how they can win in tough competitive situations. Be honest about an offering’s weakness relative to the competition, and explain how to handle those vulnerabilities when talking to prospects.

Motivate Your Sales Force

Sales people face tremendous pressure to produce. Their jobs are often on the line, so they naturally seek out the fastest, surest route to reaching their sales quota. The problem is, the easiest route may be what’s familiar – the existing product line, rather than what’s new. Your challenge, then, is to motivate the sales force to sell your new offering. An effective sales guide “sells” sales people on the new offering by including revenue potential of various kinds of deals and customer success stories that help build the offering’s credibility to the sales rep, as well as to customers.

Respect the Sales Force’s Time

Sales people are constantly bombarded with information about products, changes, upgrades, special offers, etc. The last thing they need is a lengthy, disorganized document that doesn’t help them find important information when they need it. So strive to develop a concise, easy-to-use sales guide. Be choosy about the information you include. Organized your content by thinking about the natural flow of questions a sales person would ask about a new offering.  Put yourself in their shoes. Make it easy for sales people to look up what they need quickly. Use charts and tables and make it interesting to read.

Provide Unique not Generic Marketing Messaging

Generic messaging blurs the differences between your offerings and those of your competitors. It also can cripple the sales forces’ ability to position your offering for different industries and audiences. Sales people need a concise product definition, a unique value proposition, and a succinct elevator pitch, developed with consensus from product management, sales, marketing, engineering, and communications. If appropriate, tailor the messaging for different buyer profiles. Otherwise the sales force may struggle to communicate the offering’s competitive advantages. Next week, we’ll provide more on specifically what information we recommend that you include in your sales guide.

Choose the Right Writer

Sales people often complain that sales guides contain too little information to be useful, or too much technical detail to bother reading. Many sales guides fall short due to the biases and background of the writers. When written by marketing staff, sales guides may shy away from technical detail. When written by technical staff, messaging information may be ignored. Neither group may understand the sales process or have extensive writing experience.

The sale guide writer needs to translate technical information into simple, accessible prose, be familiar with the sales process, and have a marketing bent. If none of your employees have this combination of skills, or if the ideal candidate doesn’t have the bandwidth to complete the project quickly, you may want to consider outsourcing the writing to an experienced sales guide developer. A contractor may be able to focus on rapid, high quality completion. What’s more, outsiders can sometimes be more effective than employees because they have no turf to protect; they’re only interested in getting the job done well.

What do you think of our tips for effective sales guides?  What tips would you add?  We’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

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