Category Archives: Sales Methodology

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Sales Agility: Selling Around I.T.

Y’all a bunch of coal miners in a gold mine!”

The words stung when they first rolled off of Hank’s tongue. I felt like it was an insult to our sales team, but rather than show my irritation, I asked Hank to clarify what he meant.

Hank was a new board member brought on to help our software company revitalize its lost growth luster. He smiled his approval at my curiosity, and explained. “Every day your sales team comes the work, it’s like they walk through a long dark tunnel to spend the day hacking away at the wall to generate a few hundred dollars’ worth of coal. On their way through the tunnel, they keep tripping over these large yellow rocks, so they kick them out of the way. What they don’t realize is those rocks are made of gold.” His Texas accent only made the analogy more powerful for me.

Hank was explaining that selling to IT was like coal mining. He continued by pointing out our own IT department had a budget equal to 1% of the company’s planned spending, while our sales department had 26% of the overall budget. His point was well made. We were working like dogs to scratch a living out of selling to IT. And they never had a kind word for us in return.

I spent the next nine months leading our sales team to be more agile in selling to the real stakeholders in their accounts. It didn’t happen overnight, but the results were mind blowing. Our largest deal size before Hank spoke up were in the $1M -$3M range. Within a few months we were booking $15m – $20M deals.

Although selling to General Managers and CEOs seems like a no brainer, we had to overcome years of ingrained habits to succeed. Here’s a short list of the challenges we faced in this particular situation:

  • Our messaging was tailored to I.T., not CEO’s.
  • I.T. did not have the mojo to sponsor us to the business side, nor did they want to.
  • Most of the business leaders who would benefit from our solution had no idea who we were.
  • Our sales people lacked the confidence to take on a new stakeholder conversation.

Sound familiar? Almost every technology company I’ve helped since then faced the same set of challenges.

Here’s how we overcame these challenges and became gold miners.

  1. We profiled the problems faced by the executives in our major target verticals. This means capturing their business issues, underlying problems, potential impact of changing in dollars, and the connection to our solution. We drilled this into our sales team, even requiring them to become certified in this type of dialog.
  2. We created new messaging that focused on the business issues, problems and impact that we could deliver to these new stakeholders with stories to illustrate real life examples.
  3. We went through an exercise to calculate how much value we contribute to the world on an annual basis. Without an exception, every sales rep came to the same conclusion. We delivered billions in cost savings and revenue acceleration, yet we were only billing about $200M at the time. We implemented this exercise to build the confidence within our sales people to carry their message to more powerful stakeholders.
  4. We challenged our sales people to take this message to three senior leaders in their accounts. We tracked and measured the initiative. Almost every sales person uncovered an opportunity that over shadowed previous projects. This alone fueled their appetite to prospect even more opportunities outside of IT, and created a workforce of gold miners.

In addition to the deal size growing tremendously, we had several other benefits emerge as well. Our discounting practice dropped by over 30%. Our breadth of products per transaction jumped dramatically, and our services bookings jumped from $2M the year prior to over $98M in less than nine months. This initiative revitalized our growth to the 30% range and took us to the billion dollar revenue mark in a few short years.

Although changing a culture to target business leaders outside of IT seems like a sales challenge, it’s really a leadership challenge. I’ve worked with many technology companies on this challenge, and the one common denominator for success with this level of agility is leadership.

Do your sales managers need to become sales leaders?

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. 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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What Sigourney Weaver Would Say About Selling: The Alien as a Competitor

You remember the movie “Alien” with Sigourney Weaver playing the protagonist Ellen Ripley? She’s trapped inside a spaceship with a highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature that stalks and kills the crew of a spaceship. The crew battles the alien several times, only to be knocked off, one after another while the beast grows and grows until it’s over seven feet tall and immensely strong.

Like the alien that Ripley rarely sees, there is a hidden foe challenging every sale we work on. It too, seemingly hides out of view in the shadows, grows rapidly and can eat other sales campaigns without any witnesses.

The Alien I’m referring to is the “alternate use of funds” sometimes camouflaged as a no-decision outcome. Your sponsor reports back that they decided not to do anything at this point in time. Part of you is relieved you didn’t lose to one of your direct competitors, but the other part of you is in despair about working so hard on an opportunity, only to lose twice. The first loss is the time you spent on the opportunity with nothing to show for it, and the second loss is because you could have been working on another opportunity that had the ability to make a purchase.

However, unlike a real no decision, where the prospect isn’t compelled to purchase any solution, in the case of an alternate use of funds, or alien use of funds as I’ll call it, your sales campaign is squashed by a more important issue. It gobbles up the funds intended for your sales campaign and your forecast accuracy along with it.

Recently, in a follow up conversation for a win/loss analysis we were conducting for a client, we called the contact of a forecasted opportunity that was reported as a “no decision” and removed from the forecast. When we spoke to the contact, he elaborated that although he communicated they were not going to buy any solution like the one sold by my client, the real reason they didn’t make a purchase was because their general manager decided to cobble together several buckets of unspent budget to accommodate the need for more parking space. As a result, the sales campaign my client ran for several months was killed dead by a parking lot.

It may seem like it’s impossible to fight an unseen competitor like a parking lot, but don’t despair, just like Ripley, we can neutralize or defeat the predator. The key is to uncover and understand the current issues that have the attention of the prospect’s senior executives. I call these Current Business Issues (CBI). Every company has one or more CBIs they need to address. For the lucky ones, it’s usually a good kind of problem, like scaling issues such as hiring more staff, finding outsourcing options to meet the demands of a popular product, or a new parking lot to accommodate the many new employees they’ve hired to expand a new business line as in the case above. For the not so fortunate, there’s a roulette wheel of common issues; difficulty getting products to market, cost management, new competitors and so on.

The way to neutralize the alien is to get your solution connected to a CBI. As the satirist Thomas Carlyle once said, “Our great business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” We need to seize the relevancy power of the CBI to elevate the priority of our sales campaign and prevent the Alien Use of Funds from sucking the blood out of our campaign.

In the parking lot example, if the seller knew that scaling was the primary CBI, he could have retargeted his messaging to connect to that topic rather than cost savings, as was the theme of his generic, one size fits all, sales campaign. I call this more productive approach agile selling.

So how does one uncover the CBI without planting a listening device in the boardroom? It’s much easier than it seems. In most cases, CBIs are born from outside pressure; unsatisfied investors, new competitors, disgruntled customers, new government regulations and such. All of which publish their expectations in some form. Most of these instigators can be uncovered with the Internet. A few simple search terms like “problems”, “issues” or “challenges” combined with the name of the company can usually turn up several potential issues to leverage. It’s advisable to run the issues by your contacts to confirm the relevance. Also keep in mind, the I.T. department may not be aware of the issues, so branching out to personnel on the business side is valuable.

So let’s say you’ve uncovered a potential CBI, now what do you do with it? We need to align it with your solutions. If you sell an enterprise solution it probably delivers multiple value propositions. It probably helps to reduce costs; get something completed sooner, enables higher throughput, or some other positive outcome. It’s a matter of connecting the CBI to a set of underlying challenges or problems that your solution can address. It’s also valuable to tie in the key metric the customer has attributed to their CBI and is watching closely. Then it’s a matter of publicizing the value proposition in several communications; emails, proposal summaries, and presentations. Eventually, your message will make its way to the top, even if you can’t.

After working with many companies around the world to improve their key selling metrics, I have witnessed this discipline work very well and some cases where it was not implemented well. Most often, the poorly implemented attempts were due to a wishful CBI, meaning the seller proposed a CBI that he/she assumed everyone cared about, with a corresponding metric obtained by averaging out several prior customer successes. Unfortunately, this is like stabbing in the dark. Most of the time you won’t hit anything, but the one time you do compels one to keep stabbing blindly. Keep yourself honest and find out what current business issues your prospect is pressured by, confirm it, then use it to align your solution to the most compelling topic in their closed meetings.

Let’s get back to the title of this piece. If we did get a chance to ask Ms. Weaver, or more properly, Ripley, about combating our alien, I envision her saying, “be agile, pick the right weapon, and don’t give up.

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 is a world leader in sales training, sale enablement and sales effectiveness. www.enterprise-selling.com