A feedback mechanism that enables the strategy conscious sales professional to maintain an effective position in the face of every contingency because it shows, every time it’s used where you are shaky and where an alternative position may be needed.
Because they enable you to test and reposition yourself in the face of change, you should always consider red flags positive, not negative. Ideally, they serve not only as road hazard signals but as signposts to opportunities that you might have overlooked without them. The best salespeople understand that a strategic analysis without red flags is one without opportunities. Like our programme participant who discovered I don’t even have a prospect top people welcome their red flags. They know that without the constant checking of position that these devices offer it’s very easy to fall into a fool’s paradise.
Sales hazards like road hazards are most dangerous where they’re un-flagged and hidden. That’s why people who are afraid or embarrassed to identify what’s wrong with their positions always get run off the road . They allow themselves to feel blindly confident right up to the moment when the sale falls through and they’re thrown into blind panic. If you think back to the euphoria panic continuum that we introduced, you’ll recall that being euphoric just like being in panic means you’re out of touch with reality. The red flag early warning system, by forcing you to uncover what’s hidden keeps reality visible.
When you know a red flag is there, you then can work to eliminate the problem that it identifies You do that by using a principle we call leverage from strength . Leverage from strength can be considered the better half of the red flag technique. It’s what enables you to turn the weaknesses uncovered by your red flags into opportunities for strategic improvement.
Before you can use this principle effectively, you have to understand what we mean by strengths. To many people in sales, a strength is any feature or benefit that they can crow about; any aspect at all of their product or service that an objective observer might think of as a plus. That’s a mistake. At Miller Heiman we don’t believe that any product or service has inherent benefits only benefits as the customer perceives them, in a particular situation and at a particular time. To us it makes no sense to say that a given product, service or solution is objectively better than another. Whatever you’re proposing to your customer it demonstrates a real advantage only when the customer sees it that way, when he or she perceives the value that you’re bringing to their business.
Given this subjective and customer oriented perspective it’s not surprising that we are very precise (some clients have even called us picky) in our definition of strategic strengths. In Strategic selling, and in all Miller Heiman processes a, true strategic strength meets the following criteria:
That is enables the customer or prospect to identify a difference between the solution you’re offering and all alternative options. It’s fine to say that the personal computer you’re selling has four billion megabytes of random access memory, but if every other PC on the market does too, then your RAM capacity is not a strength as we define it. In addition even if you’re the only supplier who can offer that alleged advantage, you have a strength only if this matters to your customer. If the customer doesn’t see why your difference makes a difference to him or her, then your snazzy feature or benefit may be worthless.
The use of strength increases your chances for success in the immediate sales objective for which you’re setting a strategy. If it doesn’t do that, by definition it isn’t a strength. As we‘ve said position is just another term for strategy, and the point of strategy is to help you understand where you are, so you can take steps to move yourself and your company towards the close. Thus anything that increases your understanding of the selling situation – provided it’s also a relevant area of differentiation – might be seen as a strategic strength. Anything that inhibits your understanding should be seen as a red flag.
That is it matters to the customer with regard to the specific sales objective you’re pursuing right now, what we’ve called your single sales objective. In setting out strategic action plans, we always focus on one manageable piece of business at a time. Those plans have got to incorporate strengths that are just as focused. If you’re a clothing supplier and your down jackets are widely acknowledged to be the warmest in the industry that may well be strength when you’re selling to retail chains in Scandinavia. It probably won’t be if you’re cracking a new market in the Caribbean.
By measuring your areas of supposed advantage against these three criteria, you’ll be able to determine which ones are in fact strengths. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to use them as leverage against your red flags.