Selling sand to Arabia: it all starts with a proposition

Selling sand to arabia proposition

We all know the type; the salesperson that claims he can sell sand to Saudi Arabia. And who’s to say that with a fair wind and a bit of luck, a few haven’t been successful. But that’s no sustainable sales strategy.

On the other hand, a good marketer will identify the few Arabian merchants looking for sand, what size grain in what shade of yellow they’re after, when and why. And that’s because they know that all productive sales conversations all start with a focused, relevant and timely proposition…

How to craft a compelling proposition

The polar opposite of spamming with unimaginative and impersonal email and cold calling, a good proposition will enable you to shift from a sales monologue targeted at thousands, to valuable engagements tailored for a select few that are ready to listen.

Taking fibreglass cabling out of the equation, I’ve limited know-how in marketing sand, let alone in the desert, but with over a decade’s experience of integrated campaigns for disruptive tech companies, we’ve learned a few things along the way about crafting compelling propositions that produce engagement and qualified leads.

Above all else, it hinges on the ability to add real value to a potential buyer. There’s no one size fits all recipe, but there are a few key ingredients to building a proposition that really resonates. Here’s a few of them:

1. Make it highly pertinent

Not only pertinent to the prospect’s environment, but also to the moment in time – be responsive, contemporary and dynamic. Aim for your prospect to view you, and your company, as a trusted resource for valuable insights first and foremost.

When you choose to do that, you can stop going hell for leather just listing the benefits from your product spec (cost reduction, increased productivity etc… right?) that you think the prospect could well do with. Instead, focus your proposition in on the issues that are currently impacting them and be creative on how you express these.

Look externally, not internally for inspiration. How many times do they hear someone’s view, an opinionated one based on real world experience, on the challenges their specific industry is facing. Or someone bringing something new altogether to the table? That new compliance regulation that the FCA is bringing into the industry next year, for example. How George Osborne’s latest budget is set to change the marketplace. The fall out of that news story that’s been running in the FT all week?

By encompassing timely trends from the market and news agenda in your proposition, you can ensure that what you’re saying (and selling) is fresh and relevant in the prospective buyer’s mind. They take notice, they gain interest and they start listening.

2. Be focused and personal

Before refining your proposition, you must first walk a mile in a customer’s shoes. Understand the company’s objectives, competitors, challenges as well as your prospect’s personal ones – what pressure is he under day to day, and what external forces drive that? The value proposition you build can then show itself as a stream of genuine insight to the prospect’s challenges.

The trick here is not to be a generalist. In your prospect’s mind, regardless of industry, they are a specialist in what they do. So must you be. Niche yourself. Better still, niche yourself within your customer’s niche. Find the place where your business’ real capabilities and the prospect’s needs meet, then focus in and personalise.

Personalisation is not a {NAME} at {COMPANY} mail merge. If you’re focused, then you’re tailoring your proposition to that industry sub sector, that company and then that person.

Moreover, adding some personality your side makes a big difference. Personalise it your way – communicating your proposition too formally can undo all that good ‘making it pertinent’ work. Make it one person’s view, and have that person communicate it in a way that is natural, informal and insightful.

3. Validate, validate, validate

With your proposition demonstrating valuable, relevant insights, when accompanied by a real track record, proven references and demonstrable expertise, you’re also viewed as a capable business partner.

It’s all very well telling your own story, but you would say that, right? You must demonstrate your expertise every step of the way and crucially, collate and highlight third party endorsement to prove it.

A good case study, one that looks like your prospective buyer and is tailored to the proposition you’re discussing, sows the seed of trust and relevance like nothing else can. You’ve been there, done it and got results – it’s critical you share that know how openly.

Also, don’t underestimate the value of independently published accounts. Good PR – earned content in influential places on the subject’s your market cares about, written by authors your prospects know and trust – adds serious weight to your proposition and, critically, your ability to communicate it. It says, “this is bigger than just a sales pitch, it’s a debate that has depth and relevance. And it matters to me”.

When all of this is properly packaged, articulated and communicated, it delivers an extremely focused and relevant proposition to the audience; right as they’re working out their problem, short-listing possible solutions and exploring who they can and cannot trust to deliver them.

Building a proposition in practice

This approach recently helped one of our clients, an IT service provider, captivate the financial services marketplace. Thought leadership positioning and content was the key, and any campaign activities needed to concentrate in on communicating expertise and relevance in a very focused, value-added way.

And focus in we did. It was essential to craft a proposition that demonstrated the client’s knowledge of the banking environment and unique understanding of the challenges facing IT teams, while also presenting innovative solutions and referencing latest successes.

And then we really personalised; banking was segmented further to start-up and challenger banks, and the crowdfunding banks within that. Over time, every small, targeted audience segment received a tailored communications campaign of the proposition over time, supported by a stream of fresh self-published blogs, new editorial articles, and personalised case study materials.

The immediate result was a sales team more confident they had a pertinent proposition and all the validation to engage with their target audiences, sounding authoritative, opinionated and relevant. The next and most crucial result was a new sales pipeline that had engaged in our proposition, opted in to more of our materials, for the sales team to follow-up, nurture and convert.

Read full case study >

Remember, the goal is ultimately to enable a prospective customer to be compelled to find you (inbound) or take notice (outbound), and in so doing learn something new about their world and themselves. With seeds of trust sown, you can then move on to encourage them to explore more about who you are, who you’ve worked with and what you can do for them and so on, at a pace that suits their need.

Use these ingredients and you’ll find you’ve built a proposition that is flexible and dynamic to evolve with your prospect’s and the market’s needs, and while you should heed some immediate opportunities and qualified leads, you’ll also make serious long term gains.

If you’ve got some sand to sell and want to talk about building that all-important proposition, get in touch.

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