People often skip the first step of building an effective sales strategy. That first step is to build a persuasive, bulletproof narrative that will grab people’s attention, get them to question existing solutions, and ultimately convince them that not using your product is costing them.
This narrative will be the guiding message that will be used for all marketing collateral such as presentation slides, spoken messaging, website copy, videos, and so on.
There are a variety of methods to create your customer-facing narrative. I recommend the Problem – Solution – Specifics framework.
- Identify the problem.
- What are the existing solutions and what’s your solution?
- What are the specifics of your solution?
Let’s dive deeper into these questions.
1) “What is the problem and who has it?”
You need to clearly identify the pain point you’re solving so your audience can quickly evaluate whether or not the issue pertains to them.
In the case of my company, TalentBin, our problem statement was, “Technical recruiting is hard. It’s hard to find software engineering talent that has the relevant skills, and even if you can find them, getting in contact with them is tough. And once you’ve found and contacted talent, keeping on top of all those conversations can be a huge time suck fraught with dropped balls, all leading to slower hire times and raised cost of hire.”
For the HubSpot CRM, the problem statement might be, “B2B sales is hard. As a rep, you have multiple conversations going at once, multiple deals in the pipeline, and you have to manually log all those interactions into your CRM. That means less time spent selling, which makes it more difficult to hit your quota. For managers, it’s difficult to know how productive your reps are, how many calls they’re making, and how many deals they’re closing — and if they aren’t closing deals, what they’re doing wrong. Worse yet, you don’t have a clear view of your pipeline. These issues lead to underperforming teams and missed forecasts.”
A good test to determine if you’ve nailed your problem statement is to pose it to someone in the industry. It’s a good sign if you ask, “Have you encountered this?” and that person not only says yes, but can have deeper conversation about it.
Equally important is identifying the person who has the problem and is looking to solve it. In B2B sales, there’s usually a specific person whose job is to solve the problem you’re surfacing. Your goal is to identify that person.
Job titles are often good indicators of who makes the decisions. Let’s use HubSpot CRM as an example. The system focuses on improving on rep efficiency and managerial insight. While a rep may want to work more efficiently, she likely won’t decide if the company will implement a new CRM. The person who would have the final say in implementing a new CRM platform would be a manager, director, or VP of sales.
2) “What are the costs associated with this problem?”
Understanding the costs associated with the problem will help you frame an argument for why prospects should pay for your solution. There are three types of costs.
1) Concrete Costs
In the case of data storage solutions, more data is needed for every employee that’s added to an organization, and that means more money. This is a very specific cost. If your solution can minimize this cost, then you can identify the specific amount of money you can save the buyer.
In this case, implementing your solution would decrease the customer’s cost by a concrete amount.
2) Opportunity Cost
In the case of sales software, an opportunity cost would be missed deals in a given time frame due to low rep efficiency.
For example, using their current CRM, a rep might close eight deals a month with an average deal value of $8,000. But if that rep were to use a new CRM that improves efficiency, he would be able to close close 10 deals — resulting in $16,000 in additional revenue.
3) Qualitative Cost
These costs are much more difficult to quantify. For instance, information technology vendors often sell the value of increased agility — users would be able to help clients capture more business opportunities more quickly. While that may be true, it’s not as direct or powerful as concrete or opportunity costs.
You need to understand the costs of the problems you’re addressing, so you can position the value of solving them with your solution.
3) “How do people solve this problem and why are current solutions not good enough?”
Sales conversations will often touch on why your solution is better than what the prospect currently uses. It’ll be difficult to have that conversation if you don’t know about current solutions and their shortcomings. There are three types of conversations here.
1) The prospect doesn’t think the solution is worth solving.
One of the most common roadblocks is a prospect who thinks, “We don’t need to solve that problem.” Your challenge is to convince them that it’s worth solving by showing them the costs of not solving it.
2) The prospect hacked together a solution.
In the case of TalentBin, the problem that technical recruiters have is discovering and engaging with software engineers that they can’t find on LinkedIn or Monster. Some recruiters have a process that includes Google search to discover engineers on Twitter, GitHub, and StackOverflow. They then reach out and follow up via email. But while the system works, it isn’t the most efficient.
In these cases, you need to address why their existing process is flawed and how your solution can make that process 10X easier, faster, or cheaper.
3) The prospect is already paying for a solution.
These are the most advanced prospects because they’re already paying for a solution — likely made by one of your competitors. This may be discouraging, but it’s a good sign because it shows the organization is willing to pay to solve the problem.
The more mature a space, the more solutions there may already be. And the more you know about other solutions and their upsides and downsides, the better.
The only way to build an authoritative narrative is to become credible in the industry. That means recognizing the strengths in existing solutions and being able to speak intelligently about them. A deep understanding of competing solutions will help you position your narrative in the larger context of the market.
4) “What has changed that requires a new solution?”
In product innovation, there’s often a change in the market or technology that opens the door for new solutions to crop up. It’s important to understand the causes of that change and explain how your solution fits into the evolving market. That change will be crucial to how you frame the new opportunities that have opened up for your prospects.
For instance, in the case of CRM, the rise of modern-designed, user-first software provided an opportunity for HubSpot to create a CRM offering that was far less clunky than previous generation SaaS CRMs.
5) “How does the new solution work?”
A good way to clearly explain your solution to prospects is to use existing solutions that your prospect understands as anchors to compare with your product.
For HubSpot CRM, this explanation would sound something like, “Similar to what you know and love about CRMs, but easy to implement, intuitive to use, and reduces the amount of repetitive work you need to do. Reps will actually use it because it fits in with their current processes, making them better at their jobs, and providing managers with better insight to team productivity and sales pipeline. By the way — it’s free.”
Provide Proof of a Better Solution
When comparing your solution against another product, your message may be as simple as “Our offering does more X” or “Our offering requires less Y.”
This is where you can guide the conversation based on your deep understanding of the problem, market, and existing solutions. You may be able to point out that competitors share the wrong metrics.
For the recruiting space, the key metrics are generally cost per hire, time to fill an open role, and quality of hire, but some competitors cite metrics such as “we have 200 million profiles!” It sounds interesting, but it doesn’t help recruiters find quality candidates.
Third-party validation is another way to present your product’s superiority and lend credibility to your claims. This could include customer count, customer testimonials, deep dive case studies, press and analyst coverage, and so on. This isn’t a core part of the narrative, but is a means to say “these people agree with us.”
Put It All Together
Now you have to put all these pieces together to create holistic view of the complete narrative. Again, the narrative exists separately from the media you end up using to communicate it. Regardless of the channel, you need to be able to tell a coherent story.
Test yourself by experimenting with an elevator pitch. Based on your interaction with the listener, as they ask questions on certain points, you can expand or condense your narrative.
Here’s an example.
The Hubspot CRM Narrative
What is the problem and who has it? B2B sales is hard. As a rep, you have multiple conversations going at once, multiple deals in the pipeline, and you have to manually log all those interactions into your CRM. That means less time spent selling, which makes it more difficult to hit your quota. For managers, it’s difficult to know how productive your reps are, how many calls they’re making, and how many deals they’re closing — and if they aren’t closing deals, what they’re doing wrong. Worse yet, you don’t have a clear view of your pipeline. These issues lead to underperforming teams and missed forecasts.
What are the costs associated with this problem? If a rep has multiple conversations going on and forgets to follow up or send a proposal, it can mean losing tens of thousands of dollars each year. If reps are spending a lot of time manually logging emails and calls, they’re missing out on potential deals and conversations. For sales managers, not being able to measure rep productivity, identify weak points in the pipeline, or forecast accurately translates to lost revenue opportunities. That could mean missed quarters and negative stock impacts.
How do people solve this problem and why are current solutions not good enough? Reps are using ancient, clunky contact managers or last-generation CRMs that are difficult and time-consuming to use. These tools weren’t designed to seamlessly keep track of customer relationships and maximize rep efficiency. These last-generation CRM systems are difficult to set up and hard to use — taking up time and money rather than helping reps make more money. As a result, reps don’t actually use the CRM which, in turn, makes it difficult for their managers to be successful.
What has changed that requires a new solution? Prospects now work faster than ever before and expect more personalization in sales outreach. Companies that use legacy CRMs aren’t agile enough to keep up with this change in the buyer’s journey. They’re focused on selling rather than helping the buyer. This shift called for a lighter, faster, easier-to-use CRM that enables more personalization so reps can match their selling process to the buyer’s journey.
How does the new solution work? Hubspot CRM provides a rep-first CRM that was built to reduce the work for reps so they can focus on having more conversations and making more deals. It has gone through various iterations on design and user experience to be intuitive and easy to use. It also provides various integrations with other tools reps may use, allowing them to work efficiently individually and as a team.
Proof of a Better Solution. Because the software automates much of the manual work previous CRMs required, you get reps who are logging information as much as 3X — 10X as often as on legacy CRMs. That not only reduces the potential for lost opportunities — as you can see by the 20%-50% increase in win rates for reps who adopt Hubspot CRM — but also makes for more accurate forecasts for the sales manager. We’ve seen a 30%-50% reduction in missed forecasts for managers whose teams use Hubspot CRM.
Bake The Narrative, Then Make Collateral
Once you’ve formed your narrative, take the story and distribute it in various formats for easy consumption. In general, this will take the form of sales collateral for prospects, but the same narrative will get recast for press contacts, analysts, partners, and even investors and acquirers.
If you don’t have that narrative nailed down, all the collateral in the world won’t do you a bit of good. It’ll just be shiny nonsense. Nail your narrative first.
Editor’s note: This post has been excerpted from Founding Sales: Sales for Founders (and Others) in First-Time Sales Roles by Pete Kazanjy, TalentBin founder. It is republished here with permission.