How can L&D professionals better sell themselves to the C-Suite?
Many of us in the learning profession are consummate communicators and yet, when it comes to selling ourselves, we often fall short. In the current economic climate, sales skills are more important than ever before for both in-house L&D teams and consultants alike. Here are three ways to sell your service better.
L&D professionals have historically found it difficult to ‘sell’ themselves to C-suite decision makers. Communicating the value of what you do as a learning professional can be difficult when you are actively engaged in the day-to-day process of the job. What’s more there are many misconceptions about what L&D can do among leadership teams that need to be addressed.
Whatever you’re selling, there are natural communication barriers that need to be overcome. Buyers have a short attention span and a strong desire for you to get to the point as quickly as possible, whilst being clear on ‘what they will get for the money’. When it comes to selling a more intangible offering such as L&D, then we face a potentially greater issue as it becomes harder to demonstrate tangible value and justify the price.
Consider how you can demonstrate that you have achieved results for other clients: case studies; testimonials; social proof; statistics.
To make matters worse, if your leadership team (your buyers) find it difficult to connect with the value you are offering them, then you, as the salesperson, might also find it difficult to convey value and be as confident as you would like to be.
Fear not, however – these issues are common and there are three ways to overcome such hurdles and bring some tangibility to your sales conversations:.
1. Focus on the end result
The classic issue facing any salesperson is that their buyer is focused on the end result. This is the reason they are buying from you in the first place; your offering is simply a vehicle to get them there. When you're heavily engaged in what you're 'selling', you are more inclined to talk about your services rather than the desired end result and this disparity between features and benefits is compounded when your offering is intangible by nature.
With this in mind, your messaging both online and offline needs to lead heavily with the tangible benefits your service will offer. Consider the real world, contextual difference your offering will make to your C-Suite and the wider business and then help create a vivid image of what to expect when the work your proposing is complete.
Then consider how you can demonstrate that you have achieved results elsewhere. Do you have case studies? Testimonials? Social proof? Statistics? Leading with tangible, real world results will it make it easier for the buyer to see the value of your offering and make it feel more tangible (and attractive).
Consider the difference between a personal trainer who is focused on selling hours in the gym and one who asks if you are looking to achieve six pack abs or bigger arms. Being specific about the end result makes the second person more appealing to engage with.
Define the end result your C-Suite want to achieve. Look at current and past examples of the real-world impact of your work: how did it make them feel/think/perform/change?
Use this to create a vivid image, whilst using real world evidence to demonstrate your work.
2. Focus on your methodology
By definition, a service-based business needs to sell and differentiate on how they deliver value to their buyer. After all, it’s your service and the implementation of how you work that will deliver the result they are after.
Defining, naming and illustrating your process of working is a powerful way to convey your ability and experience in your particular sector.
Whether you have it documented or not, you will likely be working to a methodology or a particular process already. Defining, naming and illustrating your process of working is a powerful way to convey your ability and experience in your particular sector.
Consider one supplier who has no defined process of working and another who works to a ‘4 Step productivity Framework’. Not only does the defined process imply experience and capability, it also provides structure and clearly illustrates how the service outlined will be carried out.
Use a defined process of working to punctuate and structure every stage of your conversation with your leadership team. Then you can take their myriad concerns and challenges and slot them into a neatly defined process that exudes confidence, certainty and expertise – three things your 'buyers' will be looking for.
3. Consider the consequences
If your C-Suite are looking for an end result, then it makes commercial sense that everything they do is geared to that outcome.
It’s your job to make all outcomes clear to your buyer and remind them of the negative consequences they face if they don’t take action.
Any delay in making a decision or not taking action will have an associated cost, but this may not be immediately obvious to your leaders.
It’s your job to make all outcomes clear and remind those at the top of the negative consequences they face if they don’t take action. This can often be the motivation they need to proceed.
Your CEO is looking to achieve a specific improvement in a productive area of the business and for every % of improvement there will be a tangible ROI associated with it.
Work with them to understand the tangible ROI they are looking to achieve. With some simple calculations you can confirm that an improvement of x% might mean £x, or that a delay of x days might be a cost of £x.
Placing things in a real world context (rather than using abstract concepts) helps to connect your 'buyer' to the consequences of their actions and helps their decision making.
Focus on the contextual, real world difference your offering makes, then explain the methodology you will use to get there.
Selling an intangible offering such as L&D can present some unique challenges and make it more difficult to convey the true value of your offering. To counter these potential issues, focus on the contextual, real world difference your offering makes, then explain the methodology you will use to get there.
Finally, don’t be afraid to remind your leaders of the negative consequences they may face if they don’t address their challenges or delay taking action.