Category Archives: Sales Methodology

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.

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. 

Funnel Building: Increasing Average Contract Value

In my last post, I reviewed the connection between building a larger sales funnel and the skill of disqualifying prospects that can’t buy. For this article, I’ll share some insight into another funnel building skill which helps those who may not have the luxury of having too many prospects.

Years ago, I worked for an organization that was mired in a sales productivity sand trap. For several years, the average productivity per rep was stuck at about $1.4 million in software sales. As a result, we were faced with a challenging dilemma: either add people to grow the company – a very expensive option, or learn how to grow our deal size. Due to our limited market size, we ruled out the strategy to sell to more customers since they didn’t exist, and we considered focusing on shortening sales cycle time, but ended up getting that with the deal size increase as an added bonus.

The strategy that emerged was to use professional services to grow our deal size. This intitiative taught us how to grow our average contract value with both software and services while shortening our sales cycle. The key was targeting new stakeholders in our existing opportunities. Specifically, we began a company wide effort to include the business stakeholders into our opportunities. Prior to this initiative, we limited our contacts mostly to the technical side of the house.

In my sales training and consulting business, I see this self-limiting behavior frequently. The actual end user or IT will engage in a dialog about a solution, and the seller concludes this is who they should spend their time on. Unfortunately, these contact types have limited budgets, limited political power, and are compelled to NOT rock the boat; consequently, smaller deals result. Conversely, business people are steeped in a culture of rocking the boat, looking for growth opportunities, typically monopolize power in many organizations, and have larger budgets. (Most companies allocate 1-2% of the budget on IT, while sales and marketing get upwards of 50%). The opportunity is to learn to tap this reservoir for your sales initiatives. If you do, you will see growth in your average contract value.

As a starting point, here are three skills I suggest you adopt:

1. Change your vocabulary.

The first skill set to master is learning how to speak to different cultures. If your technical contacts typically want to talk about bandwidth, analytics, quality, throughput, or any topic that has a technical flavor, you have to limit those adjectives to that audience. The business culture uses terms like revenue growth, new product introduction, customer acquisition, and differentiation, to name a few. Take some time to connect each of your technical capabilities to business problems and issues. Then use their vocabulary to get their attention, build credibility and gain access.

2. Understand that nurturing and expectation setting will be required.

Just yesterday, one of the sales people in a client company told me cold calling on the business side wasn’t working for him. I wasn’t surprised. The business stakeholders aren’t aware of his company or his solution, so they naturally avoid engaging as a standard calendar management tactic. I suggested he take a three step nurturing approach to the targeted business stakeholders. First, inform them you are working with others in their company on an initiative that will have an impact on business results they may be interested in. But don’t ask for anything yet! Just let them know that you thought they should be aware of the initiative. If it’s an important topic to them, they’ll do some investigating. I call this creating hallway buzz.

Your communication may sound something like this: “Hi Joan, I’m reaching out because I’m working with your IT organization (John Doe) on a solution for the <insert problem in their vocabulary> that is impacting your <revenue, cost management, or some other business issue> results. Based on your role, I thought you might be interested. Let me know if you have any questions about the project.”

It’s very common at this point to get your hand slapped by the technical contact. They’ll get an inquiry from the business stakeholder as a result of your communication, and in turn, demand that you limit your communication to them. They do this from either a place of insecurity, habit of control, or many other common personal agenda related reasons including avoiding visibility on a non-budgeted project.  This is where expectation setting becomes critical. You’ll need to become comfortable setting boundaries with your technical contacts. I suggest describing your modus operandi and rationalizing the action with your company’s learning experience; it might sound something like this, “I’m sorry this activity was upsetting to you. We’ve found the best successes include engaging the business stakeholders in the dialog, whereas the opportunities that end up in no decisions usually exclude them from the conversation. I thought it would make sense to start that dialog, don’t you?” Ideally, you can steer the conversation to a collaboration agreement on the topic and put the hand slap behind you. In any event, your goal is to continue to include the business stakeholders in the dialog and the best case is when your technical sponsor sees the light and agrees to collaborate on their inclusion.

If they aren’t convinced with the operating rationale, it doesn’t hurt to help them see how it will help them personally. As an extreme example: “Joe, if you want to become CIO someday, you’re going to need to get comfortable engaging the business stakeholders in your initiatives, perhaps we can use this opportunity as a chance to collaborate together to help you build this skill.” Or less extreme, “Joe, you mentioned your frustration with how small the budget was for this project, doesn’t it make sense to see if someone else might be willing to add some funds to your initiative?” (Research from CEB indicates that the best sponsors are the ones that mobilize other stakeholders into the conversation, so it’s in your best interest to coach your contacts if needed.) Of course, whatever rationalization and personal interest tactic you take will require your judgement based on the context of your discussions and your rapport.

If you navigate this first stage of the nurturing process (and technical contact control effort) successfully, you are ready for stage two. At some point, when you’ve gathered enough information about the relevant problems their organization is experiencing, how much it’s costing them, and how that relates to key business issues they are focused on, you (or your now collaborative technical sponsor) should reach out to the business contact again to confirm this is a value proposition that is accurate and worth pursuing. (Notice, you haven’t asked to meet the business stakeholder yet. You’re nurturing the relationship with value before asking for time.) If you’ve done a good job gathering the information and articulating it in their vocabulary, don’t be surprised if they ask for a conversation at this point.

Here’s an example, “Hi Joan, reaching out to follow up on the XYZ project. After a series of investigative reviews we’ve identified a value proposition that I’d like to verify from a business perspective. We’ve found that a database problem has resulted in about 14% of your customers abandoning their website purchase process prior to checkout due to frustration. As a $100M company, the simple math says this is about a $14M issue. Wondering if you see it the same way or think it’s not worth solving in light of other issues. Your perspective would be valuable to me in my allocation of resources.”

Even if they don’t respond with a suggestion to discuss at this point or point you to another contact they delegate with the responsibility, you have another nurturing opportunity. I recommend a follow up communication to see if they would be interested in understanding the business proposal you will be submitting. I also suggest that you (or your collaborative sponsor) offer to invite them to the formal meeting with the technical team, but offer to provide them with a 15 minute executive overview if they don’t have time for the one to two hour meeting with the rest of the evaluation committee.

Guess which one they usually prefer? In the event they elect to go to the technical meeting, they can be a great resource for keeping the business proposal focused on the outcomes instead of price. I suggest using their presence as the rationale for starting with the executive summary identified below.

I’m sure you can imagine there are other ways to deliver value and build credibility with information in your nurturing campaign. I’ve only highlighted a few, but the idea is to build your credibility without a major ask too early. However, at some point you may need it. If you’ve done a good job and navigated the pushback from the technical team, you should be in a position for a big “ask” if the circumstances aren’t in your favor. “Hi Joan, I’m reaching out to ask for some help on the XYZ project. I’ve run into a <budgeting shortfall, prioritization problem, or other IT roadblock> that I could use some coaching on. Can I get 10 minutes of your time to share the details and see if you have any ideas for eliminating the $14M problem we’ve identified with your online storefront?”

If you’ve navigated this successfully, you will likely find yourself with a more powerful ally in your quest to close your opportunity. Along with the more powerful ally comes wider discretion over fixed budgets, the insight to reprioritize for business reasons, and a more willing sponsor to take you to even more powerful stakeholders should the need arise.

3. Restructure Your Pricing Proposal to be a Business Proposal.

Remember the suggestion to invite the business stakeholder to the proposal presentation, or offer to summarize it for them individually? The key to success on this topic is to structure it like a business proposal, not a solution overview and price quote. The executive summary should include the key problems uncovered, the impact of solving or not solving the problems in terms of revenue, cost reduction, or other tangible return, and the relation to the current business issues of the senior management. The technical details should follow last. The executive summary should not be a summary of your company’s history and solution overview as a majority of technology proposals tend to exemplify. 

Your goal should be to develop a proposal that compels action – not negotiation.


The example situation I described at the beginning of this article grew average productivity of sales people from $1.4M to over $10M in a five year time span, largely due to targeting more powerful stakeholders.

Although none of these tactics are foolproof, with practice, and anticipating the hand slap response, you’ll find your access to more powerful stakeholders (obstacle removers) improving along with your average contract value and sales cycle. Asking for forgiveness in light of a well thought out rationale can relax many ruffled feathers. I would also suggest practicing on your new relationships versus your long term customer relationships. New relationships tend to allow more leeway than longer established relationships where behaviors have been cemented in tradition. Also, as many who have learned to integrate two culture selling into their practice have told me, it’s a lot more fun to sell to the business side of the house!

Please “like” this post or leave a comment! It helps to spread the word on best practices.

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.

Build a Bigger Sales Funnel: Learn to Disqualify

I know it sounds counter intuitive, but learning to disqualify can help you build your sales funnel faster. If you happen to be one of the many that are hustling to rebuild a year end depleted funnel, this article may help.

Back in early 2009, during the height of the recession, I took on a new client named Imprivata. They deliver single sign on solutions to improve security in the healthcare marketplace. They were perplexed by their situation. After investing a lot of money into marketing automation, they had more leads than ever before, but their close rate was getting worse. It would have been easy to rationalize the decline of their close rate around the impact of the recession, but they wanted to be sure.

In an effort to flush out the answer, we implemented a disqualifying process, and the results were phenomenal. They ended up closing about 20% more opportunities per rep than the year before, and their average contract value increased 19%, all during the most significant economic downturn many of us have ever experienced. (Tom Brigiotta, VP Sales, Imprivata)

To understand how these results were achieved, I’ll start with a basic description of the disqualifying process and then connect it to the outcomes.

For Imprivata, we designed a two tier qualification question set. The first tier included:

  • Can the prospect define the problem set that needs to be addressed?
  • Can the prospect identify the impact of the problems?
  • Can the prospect identify the current business issues of their company or organization?

The problem identification question doesn’t have to be cut and dry. The sales person can also help the prospect develop the problem statement. As an example, if they contact a prospect because they engaged in some marketing automation activity that flagged their interest, the sales person would reach out and begin the dialog. A key part of that dialog would be to ask them why they were looking at this solution, in essence, getting the prospect to verbalize the problem set. If the prospect couldn’t verbalize the problem set, the rep could probe for existing problems: “Do your employees leave their passwords on sticky notes in plain sight?” “Does this pose security challenges?” “Do you have to abide by HIPAA regulations?” The objective is to surface the problem definition to identify the reasons for change and gain agreement on the problem set.

However, if the prospect wouldn’t agree to a problem definition, the qualifying question is rated as a “no” and they move to the second tier qualifying question explained below.

If the prospect could define the problem set, the next question in tier one is intended to uncover the implications of the unresolved problem set and help the prospect rank the problems against others that might be competing for their attention. Again, if the prospect can’t answer the question directly, a set of probing questions could be offered to help the prospect understand the value: “Have you been put on notice or fined for any security violations?” “Have you or your colleagues’ ever lost productive time due to lost or forgotten passwords?” “How long does it take for IT to help reset passwords?”

If the prospect still can’t mutually help develop the value proposition, then the second qualifying question is rated as a “no” and the seller would jump to level two.

Lastly, if the answers to the first two qualifying questions were positive, the prospect is asked to identify the current business issues of their organization. The objective is to connect the problem set to a higher level business issue that has the attention of senior management, which helps justify and prioritize this expenditure against a more circumspect criteria set. Many purchase requests are shot down because they don’t align with senior management’s current agenda. Again, if the prospect couldn’t identify the current business issues, the rep would be prepared to probe with an examples such as: “Most of our customers are focused on… lowering costs, or seeing more patients in each workday, or scaling their operation… do any of these apply to your situation?

As with the first two, if the answer to this qualifying question was rated a “no”, the second tier qualifying question was applied.

Tier Two Qualifying Question: “Can you introduce me to someone who can answer these questions?”

If the contact contact couldn’t answer the first tier qualifying questions, and refused to introduce another stakeholder, the engagement was put on hold, usually by politely putting the contact into another automated marketing nurturing process to be followed up when another trigger was tripped. On the other hand, if they did introduce a new stakeholder, the qualifying process was repeated with the new contact.

So how does this help you build a bigger funnel and sell more? The answer is twofold.

First, most enterprise selling professionals report no decision outcomes as representing 30-60% of their selling efforts. No decisions outcomes are frequently caused by sponsors that can’t effectively articulate the need to change, prioritize the need to change against other initiatives that are competing for the same money, or they fail to align their needs with the current agenda of their superior management who find it easier to ignore requests that lack meat. By removing these contacts from further activities that have no chance of producing a positive outcome like demonstrations or follow up communication, the seller is freeing themselves to pursue other opportunities that can buy.

I’m reminded of the adage taught to me by a sales manager I had early in my career. “When a prospect fails to buy, they have robbed you twice. First they rob you of the time you spent on them, and second, they rob you of the opportunity to spend that time on someone who can buy.”

Secondly, the qualifying questions actually help a buyer buy more effectively which leads to higher contract values. In essence, the answers to the qualifying questions help the contact to shape the problem definition more articulately, justify the purchase more clearly in light of other competing options, and more effectively compel senior management to take action with their own interests. This framework frequently compelled decision makers to expand the scope to include other organizations or stakeholders that weren’t included in the dialog but could benefit from the application.

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

Sales Leaders: Its Closing Time!

It’s that time of year again. If your sales team is trying to close out the year, this article may help you optimize your outcome.

I’ll introduce two very valuable tools, the Mutual Activity Plan and the Close Plan.

The Mutual Activity Plan (MAP) is a document developed with the prospect to identify the activities required to reach a decision. These activities might include meetings with other stakeholders, conducting evaluations, talking with references, proposal reviews and more.  It’s organized with due dates and action owners as if it’s a project plan – because it is a project plan. Further, it’s a “map” to a destination point; placing the order.

The value of the MAP is getting the buying sponsor on board with you with a timeline. Moreover, if they fail to meet an action item, they have broken an agreement of sorts, providing you with the platform to ask, “why?”, or better, ask for something in return.  If they fail to meet a commitment, I suggest identifying something that will help improve your chances of closing on time, such as meeting with the final decision maker sooner, or reviewing the prospect’s internal justification document to add suggestions for example.

Here’s a simple example of a MAP:

Activity                                                                             Owner                  Due Date

Discovery meeting with all stakeholders                 Smith                    11-25-15

Demo for entire team                                                  Smith/Jones        12-1-15

Review with Legal                                                        Smith/Jones        12-7-15

Engage Purchasing                                                       Smith/Jones        12-14-15

Place order                                                                     Jones                    12-20-15

Given the complexity of your sale, the MAP may be short and to the point, or it may be several pages long. The longer it is, the more important it is to establish it as a tool to manage the process to a predictable outcome.

Recently, one of the sales leaders in a client site of mine reviewed the previous quarter closing results for one of his struggling sales people and found that every opportunity that closed had a MAP, whereas, the opportunities that slipped into the next quarter did not have a MAP in place. The lesson for the sales rep: it’s difficult for the prospect to meet expectations if they don’t know what they are.

The Close Plan is the MAP plus the internal activities the customer should not see, or should not be bothered with, but need to be managed to closure. These might include examples such as a credit check on the customer, approvals for special options, new product capabilities that are required, discount approval and more.

I typically see more complex close plans required for professional services or other applications where there are multiple contingencies to address, several internal approvals required, and heavily customized solutions. However, sometimes they are more complex because of the nature of the selling company’s culture or bureaucracy. Regardless, the more internal obstacles you have in the way of closing an opportunity, the more important it is to have a close plan in place.

Finally, having a plan in writing is good, but it also needs to be managed to success. Use the MAP or Close Plan as a review tool to help the sales person make progress on their plan.  Check off items as they are achieved and identify activities with high risk to brainstorm on alternatives and contingencies.

I feel compelled to wish you luck closing out your quarter, but we both know that it comes down to great leadership.

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 training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

No Decisions Take Twice As Long As Wins!

Our firm recently completed an analysis of the pipeline statistics for a large software company. Like many of the companies we perform this service for, the most revealing statistic to them was the time it takes to reach a No Decision outcome. For those of you that might be new to the term, a No Decision is the result of a sales engagement where the buying team “decides” not to buy anything. Some refer to it as a decision not to decide. There have been lots of statistics published about the percentage of No Decisions in the average pipeline; it’s not uncommon to see No Decisions make up 40-60% of most enterprise selling pipelines. But the fact that they take twice as long to conclude was mind blowing to this sales team as well as others.

Early in my career a sales manager told me No Decisions rob you twice. First because you don’t get paid for the work you did, and second because you could have worked on another opportunity that you could have won. Since then, I’ve updated that perspective. You actually get robbed three times over since you could have worked on TWO other more probable opportunities in the same timeframe AND you didn’t get paid for the one you did work on!

So why do they take longer to conclude? I think there are two primary factors. First, the buying sponsor has some level of commitment to the solution, but lacks the ability or argument to mobilize and convince others – so they keep trying. But they keep their voices down to the mutual detriment of both parties. If you’ve ever heard a buyer say, “I’ll bring it up, but now is not the right time.” You were hearing the telltale sign of a No Decision in process. If the argument really is compelling, now is the time to bring it up! 

The second reason is the seller’s reticence to qualify engagements out of the pipeline. The continued engagement of the sponsor seems like a positive buying signal so they keep investing time and resources. However, they would be better served by frequently qualifying the engagement against some common indicators of a successful outcome, and taking the appropriate steps to back burner the opportunity if they don’t make the cut. These should include:

  • Has there been a clear identification of the problems to be solved?
  • Has the impact of taking or not taking action been clearly identified in terms of money?
  • Do the problems contribute to a business issue that currently has the attention of more senior management? (Versus a business issue we think they should be concerned about.)
  • Does the sponsor mobilize other more powerful stakeholders into the conversation?

Recently, a client of ours implemented this type of “qualify out” process and ended up closing 20% more transactions per rep AND witnessed a 19% increase in average contract value! The first metric was not a surprise. Spending less time on engagements that have no chance of closing should produce more success, but my curiosity was piqued when we found the average contract value improved as well.

My rationalization of the outcome centers on the influence of the qualifying questions. By doing a better job of articulating the problem statement, the impact of not taking action and the connection to current business issues, the opportunity gained more visibility and better sponsorship. As a result, the natural tendency to start with a small pilot trial was enhanced with a higher sense of urgency to resolve the problems and deliver a business impact resulting in a higher initial spends.

If your pipeline is suffering from a high percentage of No Decision outcomes or you’re looking for a way to improve revenue results in general, I’d suggest a qualify-out initiative. At a minimum, you should see an improvement in win rates, but don’t be surprised if your average contract value improves as well.

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.

Reducing “No Decision” Outcomes: The Forensics of Selling

I read a quote the other day attributed to Sirius Decisions, the sales research organization. It stated, “71% of sales leaders attribute difficulty in revenue growth to the lack of ability of their sales people to connect their solutions to the business issues of their customers.”

If you’re in the 71% struggling to get over the goal line, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that sales training doesn’t solve the problem – as if that’s news to you. The good news is that Selling Forensics can.

Selling Forensics is the science of examining the work product produced by your sales team. Work products are the distinct communication vehicles developed and delivered to the customer during the sales process. They include presentations, email confirmations, proposals and the like.  Just like fingerprints can reveal who was at the scene of a crime, the work product captures the customer conversation of your sales team for each individual account opportunity, revealing insight into the selling mechanics of the sales person or the entire team if taken in whole.

However, the interesting aspect is that just observing work products can produce positive results. In applied physics, there’s a principle that comes into play whenever anything is measured. It’s called invasive testing, where the test itself can alter the results. For example, consider a scientist trying to measure the temperature of a liquid in a vat. Placing a thermometer into the solution can actually change the temperature of the liquid. If the thermometer is colder than the solution, when inserted it robs some of the energy of the liquid as predicted by the second law of thermodynamics, producing a different reading than the temperature of the liquid prior to measurement.

When a sales leader initiates a work product review, the work product will change. Instead of the laws of thermodynamics, I call this the laws of selling. They are:

  1. The energy exhibited by a sales person is equal to the amount of energy need to just barely get the job done plus the level of oversight on the activity. To improve a sales effort, oversight has to be applied.
  2. When two closed systems come in contact, a buyer’s organization and a seller’s organization, the resulting entropy is equal to the quality of communication exchanged between the two. Buyers are more motivated to change if the seller connects their solution to the buyer’s business issues and challenges.
  3. The entropy of a minimum selling effort is zero if the buyer doesn’t recognize a reason to change. This is why so many sales organizations have 40-60% no decision outcomes. Minimum selling efforts will result in fewer buying decisions.

All kidding aside, inspecting work product and identifying short falls will improve the work product, the quality of communication and ultimately the number of buying decisions made in your favor.

Years ago, a software company called Cadence Design Systems was undergoing a sales transformation. As part of the transformation a decree was made that no proposals could be submitted to a customer until it was inspected and passed the test for three criteria: the business issues of the customer were identified, the underlying people, process and technology problems were reiterated, and the impact of the customer taking or not taking action was cited. The thought was that while the sales person may not be able to access the decision maker, the proposal probably could. They wanted the proposal to sell for them in their absence.

At the beginning of this initiative, almost all proposals failed the test. By day 60, almost all proposals passed the test.  The testing itself changed the outcome of the test. But even better, their average contract value (ACV) increased 38% in just 90 days. They didn’t just close more deals, they closed bigger deals as well.

On a side note, you can imagine the number of conversations this caused that went like this: “My boss won’t let me submit a proposal until I get three questions answered that I forgot to ask. Accompanied by the reply, “ok, what do you need to know?”

If you’re one of those sales leaders that could benefit from your team’s ability to connect the customer’s business issues to your solution, then I recommend an initiative to test your work product. Ultimately, the proposal is the final communication that either captures the compelling reason to change, or demonstrates a minimum selling effort with a price quote wrapped in a gracious thank you.

Your inspection should include evidence of:

  • The current business issues identified and confirmed with the customer.
  • The top three to five underlying challenges or problems that you can solve better than other solutions.
  • The impact of making the decision in their terms, not yours. We’re trying to cite their metrics for achievement, not ours reflecting other customer successes.

I’ve implemented this Selling Forensics initiative at a variety of companies and the result is always the same: average contract values improve and no decision outcomes decrease.

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 training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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Sales Agility: How To Tailor A Sales Message

The first quarter of the year is usually a slow start for most enterprise focused sales organizations. But it also tends to kick our behinds into gear as we grasp the required ramp to reach the year end goal. If this resonates with you, I’d like to focus you on one initiative that will produce better sales results, and provide the fuel for your accelerated ramp requirements. The best part is it’s easy to implement, especially for time strapped sales people and sales leaders.

We’ve been hearing it for a few years now. CEB’s research says the top performing sales people tailor their sales messages to their prospects. If you’re not tailoring your messaging, there’s a potential windfall waiting for you.

On the other hand, if your team is using the “spray and pray” model, where one message fits all audiences, you’ll find the result of not tailoring sales messages is a high ratio of “no-decision” outcomes. I’ve run across numbers as high as 60% of the pipeline in some businesses, while the norm is about 40%. As a subset of this, delayed decisions are also costly when it comes to improving sales productivity, and also relate to a lack of tailored messaging. Bottom line, if the prospect has trouble understanding the need to change given their situation, or can’t clearly articulate it to their colleagues, they either can’t make a decision to change, or it gets delayed. Tailoring the sales message around their specific situation is critical for delivering better sales results.

Before we get started, let’s narrow the task down to a manageable and productive thrust. There are several levels of tailoring: You can tailor to the industry, tailor to the company, or tailor to the job title or function. You can also tailor to the individual, but that requires insight into their personal values, focus, passion and more. For this article, I’ll focus on tailoring to a company. This level of tailoring helps with the first step, getting in the door. It also helps the contact identify and more clearly articulate the reasons for change to their colleagues, resulting in fewer no decision outcomes.

The place to start is with the Internet. I start with three basic research tasks:

  1. Identify any recent changes to their operating results, good and bad.
  2. Take a look at their press releases for good or bad news.
  3. Perform a specialized Internet search on their company name combined with a few chosen adjectives.

Recently, I conducted this exercise on a prospect and it took a total of about five minutes. But the results were invaluable.

I’ve decided not to disclose the name of the company that I’ll use to illustrate my results as they are an early stage prospect for my business. I can only imagine the number of my competitors calling them after reading my post, and since I don’t have the contract nailed yet, I’ll take the safe route.

The first place I visited was their “Investor Relations” section of their website. Like most public companies, they post their financial results for their shareholders. Not three days before, they released their 2014 annual report.

I quickly scroll down to page 33 where I find their operating results. The first thing that catches my attention is they have almost quadrupled revenue from $12M to about $44M in one year. That’s impressively good news, but I didn’t stop there. Looking further down, the next eye catcher is operating expenses. The cost of sales has almost doubled from $32M to $62M, outpacing their revenue generation. This also indicates they’ve probably hired a lot of sales people from one year to the next. Their General and Administrative (G&A) costs have also doubled from $9M to $19M: Another indicator of hyper growth and an expansion of employees in other departments.

Since an annual report is a comparison of one year to the previous and may already be out of date, my curiosity compels me to check their current job postings to see if their hiring pace has changed. As it turns out, they are still in a rapid expansion mode. There are over 20 open sales openings listed in a variety of locations with around 100 postings in all categories combined.

I scan the remainder of the annual report to see if anything else catches my attention. As with all public companies, they are required to compare their shareholder return to a general investment in the stock market. The graph catches my eye. It shows their IPO price of a year ago, $40 per share, compared to the current price of $7.81. This causes me to conclude there’s probably a good deal of pressure on the executive staff to address this problem. (Even Elon Musk has to pay attention to this fundamental eventually.)

Next I turn to their news center. This doesn’t turn up anything useful to me. Like most companies, this is more of a marketing take on the trends and opportunities in their industry. It’s not really focused on their issues or problems. However, I never overlook it because sometimes something useful pops up like a recent merger or new regulatory requirements that may impact their business.

Lastly, I perform a problem and opportunity oriented Internet search. I like to use their company name and combine it with positive and negative adjectives. I’ll use words like “problem”, “issues”, “concerns” and the like. If that doesn’t pan out I’ll try some opportunity oriented business words like, “merger”, “partnership”, or “regulations”. I typically look only on the first page of results as any past this point are probably dated. This time, an article dated a few months earlier pops up. It details their announced partnership with a complimentary leader in their market. Although not too interesting to me, it would be interesting to other sales professionals selling collaboration tools. I make a note to pass a lead on to my customer, Polycom.

Not a bad return for a five minute investment. I now know they have a shareholder return issue, which is probably putting pressure on cost management or revenue growth, the latter being my hope. I also know they are spending more on sales than the company is generating in revenue, so I’m confident they should be open to ideas about reversing this ratio. I also found they have scaled the sales organization rapidly and are continuing on a fast clip. Combining this with the diverse locations of their job postings, I’d venture to bet they have a ramp up challenge, something I can help with in many ways.

This simple step arms me to have a productive conversation with their Chief Revenue Officer. Although I could have easily put this person on my standard email nurturing cycle and check in with them after they followed a link to some valuable content on my website, I find a much higher hit rate if I find something compelling and use that to start a conversation directly.

But I don’t stop there. I’ll use this information throughout my sales campaign. In the event I’m invited in to deliver a presentation to a larger stakeholder group, I use it to frame my presentation and drive a dialog to uncover related or additional problems. I also use it to frame my proposals. Even though I specialize in teaching sales professionals how to access decision makers more effectively, I’m also impacted by geographic separation or the calendars of overwhelmed CEO’s or other decision makers. In this event, I want my proposal to sell for me, framing my solution around the global, high level problems every executive in their organization would like to see addressed.

In short, I tailor my message to the issues they currently have on their table.

So why don’t more sales people make this simple investment and improve their results? I think it has to do with habit and an ill placed value on the shortest path to closure. They mistakenly believe the sooner they can talk about their product or service, the faster the decision will be made. However, as in Aesop’s fable, going slower can make you the winner.

If you’re a sales leader, I suggest a simple assignment to prove the value of this minor change in modus operandi. Ask your team to perform this level of research on just three prospects each and share the results at your next staff meeting. Chances are, most will find something compelling which puts your solution in a more strategic light.

LIMITED OFFER: I am offering to demonstrate this process for a select number of sales leaders and their teams using your own prospects. If you’d like to have a web demonstration at your next staff meeting, please contact me with the information below.

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 training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

3 Ways To Increase Your Average Contract Value

The first quarter of the year is traditionally and seasonally the lowest producing quarter for most B2B sales organizations. We thought this would be a timely subject for many sales teams.

One of the easiest ways to improve revenue production in sales is by increasing the order size for each transaction. Research indicates that it takes less effort to sell more to a committed customer than a new prospect. Over the years, I’ve helped many companies measurably increase their average contract value with some simple steps. Here are three profitable options for increasing your average contract value with examples from companies you may recognize.

1. Upsell/Cross Sell. Although this is a commonly known strategy, most sales people struggle with this skill set. The reason they struggle is capability knowledge saturation. If the demand isn’t naturally there for secondary products or solutions, they won’t spend the time or energy learning a new set of capabilities as a way to optimize their brainpower. Consequently, these additional revenue sources lay untapped.

We’ve found if the seller is focused on the problem set versus the solution capability details, they can be much more effective in cross selling and upselling while minimizing their neuron load. For example, consider the software sales professional that has professional services as an additional revenue source. Rather than push a data sheet describing their professional services capabilities, arm them with three simple problem probing questions that create the need for professional services.

  • Now that you’ve decided on the software solution, I’m curious, does your IT team have the resources to install and configure this solution in the timeframe you need to have it up and running?
  • If they do have the resources, do they have the skills and knowledge required to install or configure this software in such a short timeframe?
  • Should your IT staff be burdened with this installation, or should they be focused on more strategic initiatives?

Dell used this strategy to introduce a much broader solution portfolio including servers, storage and services. They tracked a 26% increase in their attach metric, and ultimately built a new revenue stream measured in billions.

2. Deliver a real proposal with two options. Most proposals are not proposals. They’re more accurately described as a price quote with a gracious cover letter or an overview of the vendor’s capabilities, history and success. I’ve heard this referred to as We- We’ing all over themselves. A vendor centric overview does nothing to help the sponsor sell the initiative more effectively and worse, often drags out the sales process while the decision maker seeks answers the sponsor is not prepared to address.

In lieu of the less effective price quote approach, we recommend delivering a real proposal that includes an executive summary of the business issues facing the customer, the underlying people/process/technology problems impeding the resolution of the business issue(s), and the impact of taking action (or not taking action). We also suggest including the configuration requested by the sponsor as well as an optional configuration recommendation based on the business issues, problems, and/or impact identified. What happens is interesting. This type of proposal can actually sell for the seller when it’s presented to the decision maker. Contrast this to the sponsor that is ill prepared to persuade a decision maker to part with some money using a simple price quote. And moreover, if the business issue identified is actually compelling to the decision maker (meaning they are under scrutiny to address the business issue), they will usually lean toward the configuration that will do a better job of resolving the business issues at hand causing the purchase size to increase.

Cadence Design Systems, a leader in Electronic Design Automation, used this strategy to boost their revenue growth from a yawning 6% to an enticing 30%.

3. Disqualify Opportunities More Often. Although this seems counter intuitive, the science behind this strategy is straightforward. In short, working on prospects that can’t buy robs the seller of time that could have been spent on an opportunity that can buy, and can buy bigger. Alternatively stated, putting some engagements on hold frees up the seller to pursue other opportunities that can produce higher revenue.

One of our clients, Imprivata put this strategy into play and tracked a 19% increase in average contract value AND a 20% increase in the number of transactions closed per rep.

Here’s how it worked. When a lead came to the seller from their marketing automation process, the rep was instructed to ask three simple pre-qualifying questions:

  • Could the contact articulate the problem that could be solved by the vendor?
  • Could the contact articulate the impact of the problem in dollars or time?
  • Would the contact be willing to bring other stakeholders into the conversation?

If they received negative responses to all three of these questions, they were instructed to send some information and put the prospect back into the marketing automation nurturing process.

A negative answer for any of the first two questions could be overridden by a positive answer to the third question. The logic being that other stakeholders might be able to provide the answers to the first two questions, but the process had to be repeated with each additional stakeholder.

From a transactional perspective, the answers to the pre-qualifying questions armed the seller with more powerful information to make the case for a larger purchase. Combining this with the focus on prospects that were in a position to make an effective case for a purchase, the number of transactions increased as well.

As you look to improve your pipeline for Q1, consider implementing one of the strategies. These strategies work. But we advise you to implement only one at a time. Over burdening your team with more than one strategy can backfire.

Kevin Temple is the founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group. Kevin has consulted for companies like Cisco, Dell, Polycom, Gartner, VMware and many others. His specialty is helping companies achieve a measurable improvement in key selling metrics like average contract value, largest transaction size and others. The Enterprise Selling Group specializes in sales training, sale enablement and sales effectiveness to improve the sales agility of sales teams worldwide.