Tag Archives: consultative selling


What Clint Eastwood Would Say About Selling

Remember the movie “The Gauntlet” with Clint Eastwood? He’s been ordered to pick up a prisoner and deliver her to the courthouse a few hundred miles away. What he doesn’t know at the time is that he was selected to fail. As the plot progresses, it seems like everyone is out to kill him. The conspiracy runs right up to and includes the police commissioner.

The same goes for sales reps that are chartered to sell consultatively, or in current vernacular, as a challenger. It’s almost as if everyone is against them as well. From the moment they finish their introduction to a consultative selling model, it’s as if the world is against them.

Imagine this scenario that plays out every day all around the world. A successful sales person has just completed the world’s best consultative sales training workshop and they are anxious to engage their first prospect to practice their newly acquired knowledge.

The first obstacle they encounter is the customer. The first words out of the contact’s mouth are usually something to the effect of, “so what does your product do?” If a seller is particularly tenacious and holds her ground by asking to understand more about the customer’s business, it’s not uncommon to hear the prospect elevate the defense by stating, “you don’t need to know that, just tell me what your product does”. We used to call these prospects “See-Mores”, as in “let me see more”. A very seasoned consultative seller can navigate past a See-more, but the new consultative seller will need some help and guidance, especially if they run into multiple See-more’s.

Let’s talk about the second obstacle. Clint’s character, Ben Shockley, was chosen for this job because his lone wolf behaviors had produced many failures in his career. Like Ben, many sales people can be their own worst enemy. When their product expertise is the primary source of their value to a prospect, their strength becomes their weakness. At the first sign of a difficult consultative dialog, many reps will readily fall back to educating on product capabilities. Worse, when the prospect provides positive feedback for an deep dive on the product capabilities, the sales rep internalizes it as good behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth. Focusing on the product keeps access to other stakeholders to a low level, and hands over the only thing the prospect values too early in the process.

Now let’s go to the wolf in sheep’s clothing: the sales manager. Unfortunately, this person was usually given a battlefield promotion for selling more product than the next rep, but that doesn’t often translate to possessing consultative selling skills. They are often ill equipped to role model the expected behavior and are equally inclined to forego more extensive diagnostic dialogs under the pressure of a looming quarter end. Many are also not prepared or developed to coach effectively. They tend to fall back on “watch how I do it”, only to role model the best product centric habits. While it seems intuitive that the sales manager plays the most critical role in transforming a product centric seller to a consultative centric seller, they are a leading reason many sales reps’s fall back to previous behaviors.

Now the invisible enemy; consider the company that is expecting the seller to suddenly begin consultatively selling and reap the rewards of larger orders in shorter time periods with greater forecast accuracy. Unfortunately, their marketing messaging is still touting product capabilities, their recognition and reward systems still incentivizes old behaviors, their leadership hasn’t defined success in a very tangible way or probably didn’t attend the same training experience, and their solution training is still product centric. Imagine moving to a foreign country to learn a new language, but everyone speaks nothing but your primary language. You’re not likely to learn very much.

The transformation of a single sales person to sell consultatively includes many enemies, most of which are unconscious about undermining success. The transformation of an entire sales organization only magnifies the problem.

So how did Clint finally deliver on his promise? He had help. You may remember that his former partner helped him with information and coaching. For a sales team to succeed with this task, they need help as well. They need help from their manager, from their company, and from their customers. Further, each of these players needs help. The company needs to become aware of how their processes and ecosystem support old behaviors, not new ones. The manager needs to be developed to be a better coach and role model. And the customer needs to understand why engaging in a different dialog is in their best interest. Lastly, the rep needs to know about these traps in their quest so they can more effectively navigate the challenge.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. 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.


There Are Two Types Of Value Propositions

Have you ever heard the story about the six blind men and the elephant? The one touching the trunk thinks its a banana tree trunk, the one touching the ears thinks its a large hand fan, the one touching the legs thinks its a pillar, the one touching the stomach imagines it to be a wall and the one touching the tail said it was a snake. Value propositions depend on your viewpoint, and the best one is the one that aligns with the customer’s situation.

A few years ago, I was conducting a series of opportunity reviews for Cisco. One of the highest profile opportunities they wanted my help on was Hertz, the rental car organization. The opportunity size was significant, but internal visibility had become a negative. The forecast item had slipped from month to month for several months and senior sales leadership was pressuring the entire chain of command for closure. Needless to say, the sales team was very interested in getting this engagement off of the table.

After covering the background and the history of activities with Hertz, I peeled back the onion with questions about the value proposition. The person in charge of the account was very confident in his reply, “We have documented a significant reduction in their cost of ownership with our solution”, he explained. He went on to detail numbers that were quite impressive. When he finished, I asked, “is this your value proposition or theirs?”

The quizzical look on his face answered my question.

I put my pen down and dug in. I suggested he pretend he was the CEO of Hertz. “As the CEO of Hertz,” I continued, “tell me what the single biggest issue is that you were banging your fist on the table about during your most recent executive staff meeting.” I was trying to create a scenario that he could envision. He looked at me and nodded his head, “That’s easy, its market share.” He continued, “They want to be number one in their industry, but are stuck in the number two position.” I asked him how he developed this perspective, and he explained that he had read about it in multiple articles and verified it through conversations with different stakeholders in the Hertz organization.

I was quiet while I let his observation sink in.

I could see the revelation roll over his face. Then he shook his head and concluded, “Cost savings is our value proposition, not theirs.”  

I continued, “So what’s the risk to your sales cycle if we’re pushing one value proposition, but the decision maker is on the lookout for another?” The account manager nodded his head and replied, “it’s probably going to get pushed out until the business issue I cited is relevant, or the primary issue has been resolved.”

I followed the train of thought, “Now tell me, how does your solution help them with improving market share?” He curled his lower lip under his teeth and proceeded to rationalize the connection to their interest in providing a better Internet shopping experience, directly connecting to problems with their current network architecture.

The two different value propositions both have their place in the sales process. The selling organization should use their value proposition, in this case – reducing total cost of ownership, to establish credibility and generate interest, but they should use the buyer’s value proposition – increasing market share – to harness their motivation to change. This seller was using the selling value proposition for both. Unfortunately, if they don’t happen to align, it can result in no decisions or delayed decisions, as was the case here.

In my previous post on buyer behaviors, I revealed the six questions decision makers will want answered before they sign off on large purchase requisitions. Two of the questions, “Why change?” and “Why now?” are intended to tease out the relationship of the purchase to the current business issues demanding the decision maker’s attention. If the seller or the buying sponsor miss this connection, the decision maker tends to put the decision on hold, while they look for other recommendations to address the current business issues at hand.

The Cisco team went back to Hertz with a revised proposal highlighting market share as the key driver for the purchase. They were happy to report they closed the order later that month.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. 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.


Are You Overcomplexifying Your Sales Opportunities?

Our hiring model was no longer working for us. As the largest player in the Electronic Design Automation market, we had developed an unconscious hiring model which was primarily dependent on taking the best sellers from our two main competitors. They were largely Electrical Engineering types who had migrated to sales. After a period of time, this process  left us with only “B” and “C” players to recruit.

Out of necessity, I issued a mandate. From that point forward, we could hire from outside our industry, but they had to be “A” players. Taking a play from “Good To Great”, by Jim Collins, I defined “A” players as anyone with an aptitude for learning. I suggested we look at their SAT scores as a guide.

One of the first hires we made with our new model was Jack Bartell. I called him the band-aid sales guy. He came to us from Baxter International, and had been selling general medical supplies to hospitals. Jack had a Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State in Marketing/Finance. This was a radical departure from the hordes of electrical engineering types we had amassed over the years.

Jack validated our new direction within a few short months. He uncovered, developed and closed an opportunity for something north of a million dollars. While not at the high end of our largest deals, it was noteworthy for its size, breadth of products and short sales cycle time. Not to mention the best ramp up example we had ever witnessed.

During a debrief of the sale, I asked Jack how he managed to pull off such a feat in such a short time period. He said,

“Kevin, I quickly realized I could never be an expert on these complex electrical engineering solutions we sell, so I decided to become a problem expert. After talking to a lot of experts around the organization, I made a list of the problems we help solve. I would literally take out the list, and ask my new prospects if any of the problems hit close to home for them. When they resonated with any set of problems that were worth solving on their side, I would assemble the team of experts from our side to help them understand how we addressed the problems. That’s how I found this opportunity.”

What I learned from Jack is becoming a problem expert is a lot easier than becoming a solution expert. There are other dynamics at play as well: Jack’s prospects were happy to help him out as a new guy trying to learn the ropes, and the solution experts he brought in were better prepared to connect with the customer’s problems based on Jack’s pinpoint diagnosis. In general, the interaction dynamics around this type of dialog were less contentious and more collaborative than the “show up and throw up” pitches used by most of the other sellers in the organization..

I applied this problem expert model for Dell when they were struggling to branch out from PC sales to include servers, storage and services in their selling efforts. After we switched from drowning their sales people in useless specifications, and focused on the problems we wanted to surface that create the need for servers, storage and services, they cited a 26% increase in their attach-rate in just 30 days. That fueled the growth of a $15 Billion business for Dell.

Over the years, the problem expert model has proven itself over and over for myself and my clients. Cisco has used it to dramatically reduce ramp up times for new hires. Imprivata, a single sign on provider, used it to navigate through the 2009 economic decline with 47% growth. While WindRiver Systems (now a division of Intel) used it to learn how to combat free open source competition while growing revenue 19%.

After all these years, I’m still amazed to find mature companies saturating their sales people with solution information. If you are a new hire trying to navigate a complex learning curve, a sales leader worried about ramping up a horde of new hires, or a product marketing expert frustrated by the lack of sales adoption for an exciting new technology, the problem expert model can add tremendous value to overcoming these challenges.

Thanks Jack!

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. 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.


Buyer Psychology In Times Of Crisis

It was mid January. When Steve began the PowerPoint overview of his annual sales plan, I wasn’t expecting any surprises. Steve was one of the top performers nationally, and was always very consistent in forecasting and productivity. But something was out of place on a spreadsheet showing projected bookings by account. 

After several years of consistently booking over a million dollars a year with a division of Unisys in the San Diego area, Steve’s revenue projection for the year was a big fat zero. Nada. Nothing. 

When I asked about the anomaly, Steve was prepared. He described a tumultuous situation at Unisys. This was at the time when PC sales were exploding, but the by-product was a slow down in orders for higher end computing solutions. This particular division of Unisys designed mainframe computers for large scale enterprise applications. They were caught in a market transformation. As a result, they were in the process of scaling from five different products down to one. Now, Steve explained, they had too much of our electronic design products on hand, leaving them over saturated with our software. He was basically crossing them off of his list.

“I wonder what the psychology of the organization is at Unisys as a result?” I pondered out loud. Steve knew the answer. He told me they had even bigger problems now. Since the writing was on the wall for pending layoffs, all of their best people were shopping their resumes for employment options. “Unisys could be a ghost town in a couple of months”, Steve explained. “If they can’t do something to stop the exodus of their best people, they won’t be able to ship their one remaining product.”

I smiled and said, “then you have a gold mine on your hands.”  Steve looked at me quizzically, and I suggested he set up a meeting with the General Manager of this Unisys division. I was confident we could help solve both problems.

Steve set up the meeting with the GM, and he confirmed what Steve had learned from hallway gossip. They were already losing people, and the GM said his number one concern was about losing his best people and missing deadlines for the remaining product set. In anticipation of his confirmation we had prepared a very tailored solution. We suggested the GM sell us his design organization (for one dollar, it turns out), and then enter into a design services contract with us to deliver his key product on time. In essence, his team would change jobs to a high growth, attractive and stable company without changing offices. Plus, we had enough growth in our services business to employ everyone on his payroll, negating the need to job shop for those on culled product designs. The contract would net my organization $75M over a multi-year period; the largest transaction in our company history.

Since that transaction took place, I’ve grown to appreciate buyer chaos from a selling perspective. Here’s what I learned about buyer psychology in a crisis situation:

  • The door is open. It’s much easier to get on someone’s calendar if you connect your topic to their current crisis. Although it seems counter-intuitive, it’s also much easier to get sponsorship to the top when the house is on fire. People become desperate for solutions when the world is falling apart around them.
  • Don’t sell what you have, sell what they need. Situational crisis creates other problems. Spend some effort to understand the new problems arising as a result of the crisis, this may enable you to sell products or services you normally overlook.
  • Creativity is welcome. There were tax and write off implications for Unisys which resulted in the buy out of the organization for $1. They couldn’t write off the monetary loss of the good will of several hundred employees without a tangible exchange, but they didn’t want price to slow down the process with a protracted negotiation.
  • Politics take a back seat. In normal buying situations, politics can muddy the waters considerably, creating delays and slowing adoption of new solutions. In crisis, the usual political instigators tend to want to get into any feasible lifeboat. 

Next time you’re prospecting, consider placing the companies in chaos at the top of your list.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. 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.


Six Buyer Questions Relevant To Every Culture

Years ago, I worked for a great sales manager named Pete who told me selling was different in different parts of the country. He grew up in New Orleans, while I was from Los Angeles. After I teased apart his perspective, I came to understand his point was that customs are different. For example, he would have a hard time closing a large sale in the south if he failed to take a client out for dinner. Whereas, for me on the west coast, getting a buyer to dinner is a challenging task and not usually viewed as a requirement. My clients in Japan have told me that getting a meeting with a senior buying executive in their culture requires having a same level executive or higher from the selling side. In many other cultures, that helps, but its not a requirement. After having conducted business in over 40 countries around the world, I have no argument with Pete’s observation, however, what I have found is that buyers have consistent behaviors regardless of culture or customs. (As I write this article, I’m in client’s office near  London, reviewing opportunities from Russia to South Africa and places in-between.)

Over the years, I’ve literally asked thousands of people from around the world to share the questions they would need answers to before funding a large purchase. Translated from many languages, the core questions are universal among buyers around the globe regardless of culture:

  1. Why should we change?
  2. Why now?
  3. Why this alternative?
  4. What’s the impact?
  5. Who does it impact?
  6. Who can we trust?

The first question is really about impetus. It includes the identification of people/process/technology problems and the connection to the current business issues the executive staff is trying to overcome. When connected together, they form an effective argument for change. Left unconnected, the argument for change can be overshadowed by more effectively articulated options – resulting in no decisionoutcomes for the poorly articulated purchase requests. I’m reminded of a sales person who told me his software sale was delayed because the client wanted to build a parking lot. In that case, someone successfully argued the scaling of the company was being hampered by a lack of employee parking, easily overshadowing the weak plea from engineering for a better code development platform that was not connected to the scaling issue, but could have been.

The second question is about aligning priorities. This is achieved by connecting the people, process and technology problems identified to a business issue that has the attention of the executive staff. If it connects to a business issue that isn’t on the minds of senior leaders, it’s at risk for being delayed until the business issue elevates in priority (if ever).

Weighing alternatives is a multifaceted question. At first glance, it seems like a simple differentiation question, which it encompasses, but can go even further. As pointed out above, it can also be about alternative uses for funds. Or it can be a “make versus buy” question. And lastly, its a test of the current approach, assessing if they can get by with the current solution, albeit potentially lacking. 

Impact is about value.  The return on the investment will need to align with the metric that has their attention, so it’s context relevant. While one company may be focused on improving revenues, the next company may be more concerned about reducing costs. Developing a value proposition that will motivate action requires attention to the customer’s current business issues as the focal point, and it’s their metric, not the seller’s metric that matters.

“Who does it impact” also has multiple levels. The first implication is about sizing the solution. For example, does the problem set impact one person or a hundred? The second implication can be a funding question. For instance, if it impacts sales and marketing, who is going to pay for it? And finally, there’s a political implication; if it does impact sales and marketing, can they collaborate to succeed with the new solution.

Lastly, the question of trust comes in many forms and includes many time consuming activities on the part of buyers and sellers. On-site product evaluations are educational for the buyer, but overall they are a test of trust and credibility. If your product has severe bugs or other quality problems, your credibility suffers and so does the trust.  Reference checks and now social media posts are a test of trust and credibility. Your existing customer list is a testimonial to the trust others have put in your company. Most buyers execute multiple credibility checks to evaluate your trustworthiness.

Although you may have thought of a question that’s not on my list, I’ve typically found its either simply stated differently but aligns with one of the questions above, or its a packaged combination of two or more of the core questions. For example, “what’s the ROI?” is really a concrete example of the “impact?” question. And, “why should we buy the premium provider?” is really a combination of “why this alternative?” and “whats the impact?” providing a means to weigh the added value of their differentiated capabilities. (But please add yours to the comments below if you’d like to dialog about it!)

I’ll leave you with one last thought. This list is potentially the most important list a sales professional can keep front and center. If you are helping your buyers to answer these questions effectively, you are enabling them to buy faster, buy bigger, and insure a measurable return to their business. Conversely, if you are not helping them answer these questions effectively, you’re leaving your opportunity open for risk. Just one unanswered question on their part can lead to a delayed decision, a no decisionoutcome, a loss to a competitor or a loss to a better use of funds.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. 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.


How To Differentiate

Years ago, I worked for a start up company that carved out a niche in the electronic design automation field with a new product. As the only player in this niche it was like shooting fish in a barrel. It seemed like all I had to do was show up and demonstrate the product, then collect purchase orders. (Ok, it was tougher than that, but it was more about need creation than competitive differentiation.)

When one of the big players in the overall design automation market decided to compete with us, our general consensus was we were three years ahead of them on development, so they couldn’t be much competition. Wow, were we wrong!

One by one, all of my largest target customers started talking about the offering of this particular competitor. Not one to stand around, I did my homework on their product. “But…” I would say in my defense, “they don’t have this capability, or that capability.” Unfortunately for me, it seemed like no one was listening. I started losing orders and growing in frustration.

Then one potential buyer helped me out by accident. When he brought up the competitor’s name, I listed a number of important capabilities they were lacking. His response, “So what, why would I care about those capabilities? Their base product does everything I need, and it’s less expensive than yours.” I pointed out several problems he had identified in his current development process, then I connected those problems to my unique capabilities, challenging him to decide if he could do without solving those problems. Long story short, he bought my solution at a 50% premium over the new contender.

His basic question of why should he care, helped steer me to the most important part of the conversation; his problem set. Then it dawned on me, the key to differentiation is identifying the problem, not the capability.  I repeated this process with every new prospect and turned my win ratio dramatically in the right direction.

Coincidentally, during the same time frame, I witnessed this connection from a buyer’s perspective for myself.

On a lazy Saturday afternoon, I took my (then) four year old son along with me to run some errands. I had recently purchased a new television, and now my focus was on a surround sound system to compliment it. We stopped in the local Best Buy store, only to find too many choices. There were probably 15 different models on display. I was trying to make heads or tails of the differences by reading the summary spec sheet listed next to each one, while my son was getting antsy to leave. They had the less expensive models close the floor, with the more expensive models placed at eye level. I was bobbing up and down making notes on a piece of scratch paper, but it was too much information to process especially with my impatient son in tow.

The sales attendant stepped up to me and asked, “trying to figure out which one is the best value?” I sheepishly nodded my head, and he added, “I can help you with onequestion.”  He looked down at my son, then looked back at me. “Do you ever envision yourself entertaining guests on the patio with some nice background music, while the kids are in the family room watching TV?” I nodded in light of the obvious answer. He pointed to one system on the rack and said, “there’s only one system that will let you do both at the same time.” He got me. I walked out with the most expensive system in the store.

The lesson I learned from these two experiences is that no matter how many differentiators you have, the only ones that count are those that can be tied to problems the buyer is, or can anticipate, dealing with in their environment.

If you are a new salesperson, or you’re dealing with some formidable competition, here’s a simple exercise you can run on your own, or even better, with your whole team. Make a list of your top five differentiators for a particular product or solution. Then make a list of the customer problems each differentiated capability can address. Try to word the problems with problem sounding adjectives. Words like, “difficulty with”,  “lacking”, “frustrated by”, and the like. This will insure that you are articulating the problem and not just rephrasing the capability.

For example,

(Capability) I teach sales teams how to differentiate more effectively.

(Problems to surface) Are you having difficulty winning against lower priced competitors? Are you frustrated by your win/loss ratio in a crowded market? Are your new product introductions taking too long?

In your next discovery meeting, if the buyer doesn’t bring up the problems you’ve identified, try to surface them yourself, just like the Best Buy sales person did for me. When you get to the capabilities part of the discussion, connect each important differentiator back to a problem you discussed earlier.  I’m confident you’ll find more buyers who resonate with your differentiators.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. 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.


The Best Sellers Are Curious

One of my new customers hired an outside consulting company to survey their customer base. They wanted to identify how their solution has impacted their customers’ business results. The information uncovered is impressive to say the least: Significant improvements in a variety of productivity measurements, corresponding decreases in antiquated, time wasting activities, and an overall improvement in employee morale to name just a few indicators.

Unfortunately, many of their sales people have used the results of the survey as a way to broadcast their value proposition to their prospects. Why is this a bad thing? It has stripped away their curiosity.

Instead of asking the prospect which metric is most important to them, some of their sales people are simply showing the results of the survey in hopes that each prospect will adopt the survey results as their own potential value proposition. While there is an appropriate time for the use of this information, it’s not during the value proposition development.

I call this the “push or pull” problem. They want to push the value proposition of others, rather than pull the value proposition out of the prospect to motivate them to take action.

Since I’ve already illustrated the first case, let’s explore the latter. The prospect’s value proposition is based on the goals set for them, missed opportunity, shortfalls in visible areas, or the resulting personal ramifications in all cases. For instance, in many cases, when I conduct a sales call on a chief revenue officer, one of the questions I ask them is the difference between their quota last year and their quota this year. The difference is the foundation for the value proposition that will motivate them to take action. Then I ask them to describe the selling challenges that will make closing that gap difficult. I usually hear things like ramp up time for new hires, not selling across the product line, small transaction values and more.  With this information, I can link my capabilities to their selling challenges and ultimately to their value proposition, not the value proposition of my other customers.

One of my current customers provides analytics to video on demand providers. Their customers include HBO, NBC, AT&T and others. One of their current prospects is a large entertainment provider in Europe. To quantify the value proposition for this potential client they asked the following questions:

  • What is your current subscriber churn? Answer: over 17% per year.
  • What should it be? Answer: They’d be happy to cut it in half, to 8.5%
  • What is their current subscription revenue? (I’ll say $1B to keep the client identity confidential and the math simple).

Putting pencil to paper, under these circumstances this prospect has an $85M churn problem. (0.085 x $1B) When asked what contributes to the churn, the prospect cited content and quality as the primary problem areas; both of which this solution provider can help them to identify and address. In comparison, the cost of their solution is miniscule compared to what’s on the table for the client. The difference can be a powerful motivator for action if it can be articulated.

So when do we use the value proposition of other clients?

My first sales manager told me there is always a sale within a sale. First you have to sell the prospect on making a change (their value proposition), then you have to sell them on you as the best alternative. That’s when the success with other customers can be used to differentiate you over alternatives. The list of other customer successes is a better tool for differentiating and establishing credibility, not necessarily value. A friend of mine cites the acronym YMMV, your mileage may vary, as the reason pushing value doesn’t effectively motivate most people to action. They know they have a different situation than your other clients.

The next time you’re facing a new prospect, get curious. I’m certain you’ll sell more.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. 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.


I Dare You To Make A Mountain Out Of A Mole Hill! You’ll Sell More

Imagine walking in to a bank to deposit a check. As you enter the building, you notice several customers lying face down with their hands on the back of their heads. The teller is standing behind the counter, wide eyed, and nervously asks, “Can I help you?”

Do you:

  1. Continue walking to the teller kiosk to finish your transaction, silently rejoicing about the lack of a line?
  2. Assume it’s an earthquake drill, drop on the floor and place your hands over your head until notified the drill is over?
  3. Turn around like you forgot something, proceed to your car, and call the police from a safe distance?

I see sellers encounter an analogy of this situation every day. The I.T. group in a company reaches out and informs a sales representative they’re interested in adding more users, upgrading with an add on product, or replacing their current solution supplied by a competitor of the seller. They also usually request a detailed quote.

Do you:

  1. Take charge by suggesting a demo to start the conversation, agree to a lengthy evaluation, and add an “upside” item on your forecast? (See “A” above.)
  2. Send the quote and follow up later? (See “B” above.)
  3. Ask “Why, Why, Why?[1]” Do some research about their business issues, looking for a way to create a larger opportunity and justify the purchase in the face of internal competitive uses of funds? (See “C” above.)

After conducting countless opportunity reviews with dozens of technology companies, I’m pretty certain most overlook option “C”. The most common answer I hear when I ask about their prospect’s current Business Issue is some variation of “They need a new product.” This indicates to me, either a) they don’t know what a business issue is or how it impacts buying decisions, b) don’t know how to uncover and identify a business issue, c) haven’t bothered to check and just fill in some dribble to provide an answer when asked, or d) all of the above.

Let’s start with the premise it’s worth your time and energy to find the current business issues capturing the attention of your customer’s senior management. The business issues drive buying behaviors, prioritize one potential purchase over another, increase the scale of purchases, facilitate access to more powerful stakeholders, and compel faster decisions, among other things.

Every, and I mean, every, company has business issues that have the attention of senior management. It might be a focus on cost management as a result of investor pressure. It could be a merger integration that’s not meeting expectations. Product delays due to broken processes. Revenue declines in the face of a changing competitive landscape. Scaling challenges as the result of unbridled success. Or, a handful of other positive or negative issues that can be leveraged to improve the perception of your strategic contribution, create a larger opportunity, or fuel a faster purchase. I check my own perception of a business issue by asking myself, would their CEO talk about this in his/her staff meeting? I can be reasonably certain there have not been many CEO’s who ask their e-staff, “do you think we need more <insert your solution> for the staff?”

The point is, continuing on without stepping back to assess the current business issues and connecting our solution to their business issues, puts us at greater risk for a long sales cycle, a no decision due to funding a seemingly more important initiative, or a smaller pilot purchase. Conversely, if we do integrate the potential impact of addressing their most important business issue into our messaging, we have significant upside for a larger purchase, better justification to improve the sense of urgency, and broader access to stakeholders who care about addressing the issue.

So why aren’t more sales people electing to execute on “C”?

I can only think of two answers. Either, it’s because they haven’t questioned their own ingrained habits leaving them unaware, or they think the extra work doesn’t merit their time.

Assuming you, the reader, are one of these people, and you want to learn how to sell bigger deals with fewer no decision outcomes, my suggestion is to make a pact with your manager to help you break your old habits. This takes frequent review, reflection, self-assessment, feedback and a change in tactics. Ask your manager to review your most important opportunities with you on a regular basis. Strike that; demand a regular review! Ask them to challenge you on your understanding of your key prospect’s current business issues. Show them how you uncovered it, and how you confirmed it with your prospect. A change in behavior is more likely if you have to answer to someone else regarding your activities.

If you conclude that it’s more busy work and not worth the effort, I suggest you at least try it. It only takes five minutes with a computer mouse to understand the issues facing a specific company.

Let’s walk through a real life example to demonstrate how little time it takes and the information you can glean.

As I sit at my desk writing this, I look down and see a business card from a local company I’m prospecting. I use my trusty business issue finder, otherwise known as a computer mouse, and visit their website. The first thing I see is a banner announcing their intent to acquire a social media solution for their portfolio. I quickly check their latest financial reports and among positive results in bookings and revenue, they have a $17 million quarterly GAAP loss with a $46M loss year to date. Checking Wikipedia I see they have acquired four other companies in the last 18 months. This exercise took all of five minutes.

If this company was your prospect, could you incorporate the integration challenges of five acquisitions and the associated loss of $46M ytd into your pitch? If you were a senior executive in their company, would you be open to discussions with another company who said they could positively impact the integration of the acquisitions, and reduce operating costs with their solution?

Next time you think about one of your prospects, ask yourself, “so what’s the big issue?” I’m certain you’ll find something that will elevate your strategic value, improve your messaging, give you a topic to prioritize their buying initiative, and add a new dimension to your selling skills.

[1] “Why do you want to upgrade/replace/enhance/buy?” “Why is this purchase important?” “Why now?” Continuing with “why?” until you found the business issue that’s driving the request, the people who are impacted by the problem, and the urgency of the request based on the impact of not solving the business issue.

*** Please “like” this post or forward it to anyone you know looking for an advantage in selling.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. 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.


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 kevin@enterprise-selling.com. 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 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.