Mastering Virtual Web Based Selling Helps Act-On Software Increase Average Contract Value 28% In Less Than Two Months

If you or others in your organization rely on a web meeting platform like WebEx or GoToMeeting to conduct sales calls this article should be very interesting to you. While the advent of web based meeting platforms have improved the efficiency and volume of sales calls, the environment adds challenges to a discipline that relies heavily on reading body language and non-verbal communication. We’re proud to announce the outcome of our project to help Act-On Software improve the results of their web based virtual sales calls!

Act-On Software is the leading provider of marketing automation for fast-growing businesses, helping more than 4,800 brands maximize customer lifetime value. The company relies on an inside sales team that interacts with customers via dual screens and the WebEx web conferencing platform.

Act-On retained ESG to help it increase revenue productivity in a market segment characterized by price sensitivity and a growing number of low cost, low frill competitors. Sales engagements often started with a demo, were limited to a few marketing contacts and resulted in small contracts.

“Our team has improved dramatically at dual screen selling with the help of ESG. They are now qualifying customers better and more quickly, focusing on the drivers of customer value, and connecting our solutions to customer problemsDavid Satterwhite, Chief Revenue Officer

ESG helped Act-On’s reps learn to read customers even when they couldn’t see their faces or read their body language. They became skilled at having meaningful conversations about customer problems rather than monologues about Act-On solutions. They qualified customers better and sold value connected to customer business issues.

The transformation was fueled by management’s commitment to the process, and by a company culture focused on continuous improvement. ESG and Act-On’s sales leadership used the company’s instance of to review sales calls, guiding sales reps to listen more and talk less, and ask the right kinds of questions to expose underlying business needs.

ESG’s dual screen selling coaching methodology, combined with Gong’s sales diagnosis capability and WebEx’s interactive features provided the recipe for increasing Act-On’s ACV.

Ramp Up Time Impacts Revenue Growth

One of the most common sales challenges I hear is ramp up time. Even the best sales organizations can experience 10-15% attrition, and if you add some reasonable growth to the picture, like another 10-15%, they can end up with 30% of their sales staff in some stage of ramp up.

The more complex the solution and the longer the sales cycle, the costlier a ramp up challenge can be.

Unfortunately, the knee jerk reaction by most organizations is to pile on more. But drowning your new sales people in product specs, features and benefits can be counterproductive and slow down their ramp up.

While product knowledge is important, insight from CEB and other research firms indicates customers value and trust sales professionals who understand their problems. Moreover, uncovering a problem is the first step in need creation.

A few months ago, I wrote an article about Jack Bartell, who mastered the art of becoming a problem expert, and used it to sell a huge deal within three months of taking a sales role with an organization that sells very complex design solutions to computer manufacturers. If this subject is important to you or your organization, you’ll find his story compelling.

Several years ago, Cisco engaged me help them with their ramp up challenge. They were experiencing nine to twelve months before their reps were hitting quota level revenue production on a monthly basis. We took Jack’s lesson about the problem expert approach to heart – teaching their new sales people about the problems customers have maintaining and managing their network. The result was a dramatic reduction in their ramp up time, shrinking the 9-12 month ramp up cycle down to 3-4 months depending on their vertical territory assignment. That’s a factor of three or four improvement! Imagine how much revenue that accelerated for a company the size of Cisco.

Cracking the code on ramp up and helping reps get productive is one of the most critical issues for high growth companies.  Please weigh in and let us know what you’ve seen and learned about the topic.

Survey results: love and hate for dual screen selling

The good news is that sales pros love selling over the web. The bad news is sales pros hate selling over the web.

The split is understandable. It’s easier and less expensive to schedule and conduct a web conference than align travel and in person meetings. Yet according to our survey respondents, golden opportunities to engage and qualify customers are missed when the connection is virtual and online.

When selling via web conference:
– a small percentage of sales professionals use the polling and interactive features of their web conferencing solutions to solidify the problem definition
– the majority find it challenging to qualify or disqualify opportunities
– a similar majority think it’s difficult to reach agreement and connect their solution to customer’s underlying business problem

Not surprisingly, few have received web conference-specific training to address these challenges.

For better or worse, selling via web conference isn’t going away. A large percentage of B2B sales cycles will continue to start with a conversation via GoToMeeting, Zoom, WebEx or similar solution.

We’re listening and we’ve got a response: we’re piloting a new program to develop skills for selling via web conference, applying the proven Agile Framework for the online experience. We’d love your input, so please reply to this post or contact us to share your thinking.

Take the 30-Second Survey on Dual Screen Selling

A number approaching “all” of B2B sales cycles start with a web delivered sales presentation.  This holds for both inside sales teams and also field sales reps.  Yet, according to our clients, few sales professionals of either stripe take full advantage of the interactive capabilities of web conferencing platforms to better qualify and engage customers on the other end of the second screen.  Nor are they executing critical sales process steps.  And according to those clients, opportunities are compromised and lost as a result.

There is no sign that dual screen selling is going to slow down any time soon.  Since it will continue to be with us, we’re curious about your experience with typical B2B sales challenges and the dual screen environment – take our 30-second survey (for sales leaders and sales professionals) and we’ll report back on what we learn from your colleagues and peers.

Three Qualities of Top Sales People

I was interviewed recently by, a site dedicated to sharing sales best practices. During the interview, they asked me to identify the top three qualities required by sellers in today’s marketplace. (The full interview is here.)

At first, I thought is was a trick question. Consequently, my mind jumped to “it depends” as my first answer. Every situation is different; with different product capabilities, product quality, market dynamics, buyer personas, marketing support and more. But as I chewed on the question, the answer crystallized. Namely, because situations are so different, and they change continuously, and because sales people tend to change jobs on a frequent basis, the top three sales qualities have to do with staying on top, especially in chaos.

Attribute #1: Agility

Let’s explore some of the many challenges that sales people face, They have to battle competition that can change overnight, deal with ever shortening product life cycles, cross chasms from one buyer type to another, navigate political structures and gain access to more power stakeholders, and adjust their messaging to fit each customer, just to name a few challenges.

All of this translates to Agility being the most valued skill a modern sales person must possess to succeed. The Agile Seller is constantly in learning mode, looking ahead, and customizing their sales messaging for each contact on a consistent basis. They embrace the opportunity to engage unfamiliar stakeholders, modify corporate presentations to become more interactive, and tailor their business proposals to resonate with each individual prospect. In a nut shell, they are in a constant state of tweaking, iterating, experimenting and learning.

Attribute #2: Self Awareness

Border Collies are truly one of the most agile creatures on the face of this planet. And my border collie, Lizzie, is no exception to this generalization. However, as she has aged, I’ve noticed her adapting her skills to navigate the challenges brought on by age.

Where she would once chase her cattle dog friend, Cal, from behind, nipping at his heels to trip him up, she now let’s him run in a circle and times an attack when he’s least expecting it, usually with a flanking move when he looks the other way. She knows that she’s not as fast as she used to be, so she has adapted a new strategy to stay on top of her game.

Just like Lizzie, today’s top sellers have to leverage self awareness to succeed in an ever changing environment. My suggestion is to develop a list of situational awareness topics to check yourself against on a regular basis. For example, here’s the list I use with my clients to help them sell more:

  • Have I mutually identified and confirmed the problem set with this client?
  • Have I identified which of these problems will help me to differentiate my solution?
  • Have I identified and confirmed the current business issues that have the attention of their senior management?
  • Have I uncovered the impact of taking or not taking action in terms of money, time, or intangible results?
  • Have I identified all of the stakeholders who have a say in this purchase and developed a plan to gain access to them?
  • Have I developed a formal plan with my sponsor for proving our capabilities (To mitigate what I call “proof creep”, see Foresight below)

They only sure way to stay on top of change is to check yourself against your current challenges. If you come up short, your self discovered observations will provide you with more motivation to change then having it come from your manager or others.

Attribute #3: Foresight

The best sellers track buying behaviors and plan ahead. For example, most buyers change their minds about common commitments they’ve made to the seller, such as the duration of their evaluation. The Agile seller will document the agreed upon evaluation duration (among other commitments) in anticipation of the buyer changing his or her mind. When the time comes and the buyer asks for an extension, the seller references their agreement, but agrees to change the duration for something in return. Then they ask for something that was denied earlier, overlooked, or presents itself as an opportunity. Examples might include access to more powerful stakeholders, a collaboration on developing the buying justification, or an introduction to a colleague at another company. In any case, the seller knows that buyers change their mind and uses that to maintain control on the buying process.

As another illustration, Robyn is a sales person for a company that I’ve been consulting with for about a year now. She tells me that she has integrated a request to meet with the security organization into her daily pattern. “I started noticing that almost every prospect would go through the whole evaluation phase, get funding approval, and then suddenly realize they had to get the buy in of the security team to make a purchase. Now I ask up front for their engagement to avoid delays in purchases.” Robyn has demonstrated the foresight skill and leveraged it to her advantage.

Please share your ideas on the top qualities a sales person must possess to succeed in your market.

Agile Selling is Like Agile Development, Except it’s Different.

Chances are if you’re in tech, your company is doing agile development.  The engineers are down with stand ups, but what does it have to do with sales?  Turns out, a lot.  And a lot of the same factors that led to agile becoming the way to get things done in development are also taking hold in enterprise sales.

Agile development is in part a response to the unpredictability of customers, their requirements and time pressure.  It values individuals and interactions over strict processes and tools, and customer centricity and collaboration over…not being customer centric or collaborative.

Sound familiar?  A lot of enterprise sales professionals sum up their selling environments as “unpredictable.”  Many are navigating highly dynamic markets, where customers are far more informed than ever before, and where requirements change in the middle of a sales cycle.

There’s often a boatload of internal and corporate unpredictability too.  Companies reorganize more often than before, make acquisitions, forge new partnerships and otherwise move the chairs around the deck to keep up with, let alone stay ahead of, their customers and markets.

Traditional forms of waterfall development gave way to agile development when it became clear the old ways were less and less suited to changed circumstances.  Traditional solution and challenger sales techniques are similarly falling short in changed, highly dynamic selling environments.  For similar reasons as their colleagues in development, enterprise sales professionals are getting more agile.

So what does an agile seller do?  They embrace the change around them.  They know more about their customers and about the real issues that are driving them.  They think customer centric is more than a slogan and live it as a value.  And in the truest sense of the word, they collaborate with their customers.

OK think about this:  you get a marketing qualified lead (MQL), and the customer is asking you for a demo.  Cool.  Well, maybe.  Because starting with a demo takes you down a path where you’re showing the customer what you’ve got.  Which may or may not be what is actually fueling their need. Some call this “premature elaboration”.

Agile sellers qualify their customer.  Certainly to find out traditional qualifiers such as if they’re the decision maker, have a budget and are ready to buy.  They also qualify on the customer’s underlying problem and potential value proposition before ever reaching for the demo.  Only by uncovering the real motivations can you determine whether what you’re showing is really what the customer needs and if they are well prepared to buy.

Agile sellers collaborate with their customer: To map their solution to the customer’s problem.  To map their process to the customer’s process.  And to map the value they deliver to the customer’s value driver.

Agile sellers develop their sense of situation awareness and adapt. They respond to change rather than following a proscribed script.  They iterate constantly and collaborate with their customer to uncover and deliver real impact.

Agile sellers are a like agile developers, but with a number.

Web Delivered Sales Presentations: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Sam is stuck in a grind. He works for a large software company, delivering web based sales presentations day in and day out. Like most large organizations, this company has specialized roles in the overall sales process. His role is to present his solution, and then, if the prospect is interested, he hands the lead to a field rep. . His company has a well developed marketing automation solution so he gets plenty of appointments for sales presentations. He could deliver them in his sleep and often does. He told me he dreams about delivering sales presentations as a recurring nightmare. He’s bored, feels like he’s got more potential than this assignment, and worse, the conversion rate for these prospects is trending down so the answer seems to be to do even more of the same just to keep up.

When Sam related his story to me, I conjured up a vision of one of those dystopian movies filmed in sepia tone where dozens of other young, smart and talented sales professionals are chained to their desks enduring the same grueling process day after day. 

We talked about his career goals and what would make his current assignment more fulfilling. Then we reviewed his current sales presentation.  It was supplied by the marketing department, included very slick looking graphics and followed a familiar pattern:

  • Let me tell you about my company…
  • Let me impress you with the logos of our Fortune XXX customers…
  • Now let me tell you how this product works…
  • And, lets end by talking about next steps.

I was tasked with delivering this format as a young sales person, have witnessed it in full swing at dozens of companies around the world, and just this week, subject to it when I expressed interest in a new technology solution. 

It reminds me of the quote attributed to many including Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein (while neither probably actually said it), “The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

I suggested we turn his grueling process into a more engaging dialog and have fun experimenting with different ways to implement it. Here’s what we did to the format:

  • A discussion about the problems and challenges the customer has getting the job done with the current solution. (The variation was starting with a blank slide to have the buyer lead the list, versus a partially filled out list to let the seller lead the dialog and encourage the buyer to add to it.)
  • A discussion about how these problems roll up to create executive level headaches. (Which I call “business issues”) For example, how a broken process delays the time to market for a new product or increases development costs. (Again, varying having the buyer lead or having the seller lead and guiding the buyer to supplement the dialog.)
  • A discussion about how these problems are impacting the business in terms of time or money. With the dialog lead variation option as well.
  • Segue to how the seller’s solution addresses the identified problems. Specifically tailoring the presentation to the problem list.
  • A short overview of a similar customer with similar problems and the resulting outcome. (Try the logo slide here as another variation.)
  • A dialog about who else is impacted by the problems identified.
  • Next steps.

After the first day, Sam called to tell me the results. Some of his observations included how the day flew by, how he was looking forward to each new meeting, and how much more dialog oriented the meetings were versus monologue centric. 

After about 30 days, Sam noticed that his choice to lead each diagnosis subject with examples or let the buyer lead was most productive based on the apparent presence of even keel attitude or lack thereof. If they were even keel he would lead, if they sounded like they had done their homework and were really serious about a purchase, he would encourage them to lead.

Now came the interesting part. Sam reported that after 90 days of this experiment, his conversion rate (from interest to purchase) almost doubled, he was told he was on top of the list to take on the next open field assignment, and he no longer experienced recurring nightmares about sales presentations!

If you’re one of those people stuck with a marketing presentation that doesn’t fulfill you, or a sales leader trying to get more performance out of your team, try this and let me know how it goes.




The Trump Effect On Enterprise Selling

This is not a political opinion piece. I’m not commenting on policies in favor or against the new administration. I’m simply spotlighting a challenge and an opportunity in sales given the current transition in power.

The inspiration for this article came recently while listening to Jim Cramer’s show called Mad Money, where he evaluates investment opportunities and makes recommendations on buy/sell actions. The segment that caught my attention was focused on the Trump effect on Wall Street. Also a non partisan assessment of the ups and downs on Wall Street related to recent policy announcements with some insight into investment opportunities. It got me thinking about the effects of recent policy changes on sales people and sales campaigns.

The most obvious implication is for sales people who sell healthcare solutions or solutions to help companies comply with regulatory requirements. Both of these topics are front and center for the new administration which is likely to cause prospects in these categories to go into “wait and see” mode. For sales leaders in these segments, no decision outcomes are likely to increase and create havoc on forecasting and close ratios.

Secondarily are companies or industry segments that are spotlighted but have not yet experienced a policy outcome. This includes pharmaceuticals, companies with foreign manufacturing, and potentially even travel related businesses. There may be others in the weeks to come.

The point I want to make is that now is the time for sellers focused on these industries to pivot from their standard operating procedure. For example, when the dot com bubble went bust in 2002, Cisco’s sales retracted about 15%. But their closest competitors reported a 30% reduction in sales. Cisco pivoted while their competitors stayed the course. In the face of a frozen market, Cisco consciously branched out from their focus on IT and began a campaign to call on the C suite to compel investment into networking to deliver business results, not just implement updated infrastructure which was the focus of most IT purchases prior to the bust. Their pipeline from non-IT centric opportunities grew by 300% and mitigated the sales retraction that would have happened had they not pivoted. (As you may have guessed, I was consulting with Cisco on this pivoting strategy at the time.)

If you are selling into a market that might freeze like a deer in the proverbial headlights due to potential changes in policy, here are some practices you might want to sharpen:

1. Identifying the compelling reason to change. Whether your sales proposal is battling other uses for funds, or trying to unstick a frozen buyer, being meticulous in uncovering, articulating and confirming the reasons for change are of paramount importance. This means identifying the people/process/technology problems the buyer is experiencing, connecting these underlying problems to C level topics I call business issues (time to market, cost management, competitive differentiation, and more.), and calculating the cost of not taking action. The three components of a compelling business proposal are critical for overcoming the distractions of potential policy changes or mitigating the impact of an actual policy change if the business proposition is compelling. This orientation requires the seller to get out of a capabilities focused dialog and into a problem hunting, value articulation and stakeholder threading dialog.

2. Incorporate more powerful stakeholders.  As Cisco found out, the more powerful the stakeholder the less difficult it is to compel action in the face of uncertainty. Lower level stakeholders tend to get scared and withdraw during times of crisis, so they need help overcoming this natural behavior mode. An Agile seller will announce the requirement to incorporate more powerful stakeholders as a result of concerns about wasting time given policy implications, and hold the line if pressured to relent. Use the potential waste of time as a reason to bring more powerful stakeholders into the conversation.

3. Qualify, Qualify, Qualify. When markets freeze, your time allocation becomes critical. As I’ve said before, a prospect that won’t buy robs you twice. First they rob you of the time you spent with them with no results to show, and second they rob you of the time you could have spent with a different prospect that was in a better position to buy. In times of crisis, BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timing) is no longer a viable qualification model. The Agile seller shifts to a disqualification model. In effect they put the buyer in the position of having to convince the seller that they will buy even under unusual circumstances. In 2009, at the height of the great recession, Imprivata, a provider of single sign on solutions used this model to separate tire kicking prospects that had too much time on their hands and no money to spend from those that were willing to help Imprivata sell more effectively. Their business grew 47% during the worst year of the recession. The secret to their disqualification process? See items 1 and 2 above. Or read more here.

In a nutshell, the new administration is and will probably continue to create crisis in specific industry segments. The Agile seller will learn to use the situation to compel their contacts to collaborate more effectively given the obvious potential for wasting time. And they’ll take the opportunity to sharpen their selling skills and turn adversity into an advantage. 

B2B Selling: Five trends from 2016 and predictions for 2017

One of the joys of our business is that each day we get to work with some of the smartest sales and business leaders on the planet. While our job is to train their sales teams, we often learn as much as we teach. With this in mind, there are a handful of themes that gained traction in 2016 and we expect will have an even greater impact on enterprise selling in 2017:

Customers are more empowered than ever. Buyers are in control and they know it. This isn’t new, but it’s accelerating at an increasing rate. The implications are more and more clear, with some enterprise sales leaders reporting that buyers are as much as 90 percent of the way through their journey before they ever talk with a sales rep. Data sheets and solutions briefs are no longer a starting point for sales conversations, and the salespeople who fail to adapt to this dynamic are simply not going to make their numbers. Sales people need to become masters at reframing the problem set to differentiate their offering in the face of often unknown competition.

CEOs will increasingly abandon incremental changes in favor of big shifts. A 2016 study by KPMG says that four out 10 CEOs expect to be running significantly transformed companies in as little as three years. Our clients tell us market, competitive, regulatory and pricing challenges are forcing them to adapt quickly. And that leaders no longer have the luxury of time to see how their strategies play out. In short: the race will be won by those who adapt and move fast.

Tech spending will slow and the fight for budget will intensify. Gartner predicts sluggish growth in IT spending through 2020. Gartner also predicts that in 2017, the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO, yet another indication that technology spend is shifting from the IT organization to lines of business. Sales organizations will need to adapt to smaller budgets by getting stronger at justifying the need for their solution. And they will need to develop the skills to navigate across customer organizations, new buying stakeholders and budget centers.

There will be more turnover of senior executives as CEOs look to spark growth. The average tenure of a CMO in Silicon Valley is about 18 months, far less than for B2C companies. We’re betting the axe won’t be limited to marketing, with leaders in sales, IT, product development and other areas on a short leash as well. Sales professionals are used to the perform or perish model in their own careers, but will need to learn to adapt faster to a changing landscape of buyers, competitors and influencers.

New roles and functions will become the locus of power and budget in the pursuit of growth. Old titles and portfolios are giving way to a new C-suite populated with executives responsible for revenue, digital transformation, privacy and security. Old customer entry points and buying processes are likewise being replaced by new centers of power and budget, which will vary from customer to customer. Sales professionals will need to become adept at understanding and managing the new buying landscape.

And one more: sales leaders will demand even more from salespeople. It’s true, the goalposts have always moved, so why is this a prediction? We see a new urgency driven in part by the need to capitalize on recent investments in sales force automation, sales performance management, sales enablement and related technologies. Our clients are telling us they will be placing more emphasis on change management and skills development to drive more productivity and effectiveness from their teams.

Three Suggestions For Building A Sales Funnel In The New Year

If January marks the beginning of a new fiscal year for you and your team, here are three sales leadership suggestions that can help your team get started on building a productive funnel.

1. Define a Personal Quota Now!

It seems like the larger the organization, the longer it takes to distribute new annual quotas. I’ve witnessed some organizations take three or four months to distribute official quotas. The associated sales behavior in the absence of a quota is palpable. It’s no wonder why the first quarter is typically the least productive quarter for enterprise sales teams.

My suggestion is to select an interim aggressive growth target. For example, if your company is on a 20% growth trajectory, select a 30% or 40% growth target over the prior year for each personal quota target. Then develop each individual territory plan around this interim aggressive goal; including prospecting targets, call goals and so forth. The idea is to build and execute a territory plan without waiting for the machine to catch up. Then when it does catch up, the real but comparatively lower quota that actually gets assigned will feel like a relief rather than unimaginable, and your team will already be firing on all cylinders.

2. Identify, Develop and Roll Out a Strategic Initiative to Rally the Team.

Remember the adage, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The idea is to select an initiative that is smart, achievable, adds to the success of the team, and moreover, is measurable. It could be a focus on adding services to every sale, or focusing on dominating a certain competitor, or a tactical target to call on three new executives in the largest account as just a few examples. Ideally it develops a muscle that is atrophied on your team, produces a measurable success, and is achievable. Use the initiative to spur action, share information, and further develop your own leadership skills.

Here are some key topics to include in your Strategic Initiative Plan and communication:

Why: Communicate why the initiative is important, and why it’s good for the team and individual.

What: Communicate tangible, measurable goals.

How: Communicate how the goals are to be achieved. This might include the identification of new skills, training, reading a book, activities that have not been used before, or teaming suggestions.

Consequence/Reward: Don’t forget to tie the initiative to a reward and consequence. It could be a specific SPIFF or a simple lunch on you, but a payoff is critical to the measurement and achievement recognition. Conversely, the consequence should be fair in proportion to the initiative and not arbitrary.

3. Celebrate Small Victories.

With twelve months in front of you, or three if you’re really quarterly focused, a strategic initiative can lose steam very quickly in the face of everyday distractions. Good leaders celebrate the small victories on the way to success. For example, if your selected strategic initiative is to call on three unfamiliar executives in your key accounts, celebrate success when each team member achieves their first appointment. The idea is to maintain a focus, keep the team motivated, and rise above the noise of the daily din.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.