Tag Archives: no decision

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. 

“I’m Sorry, We Don’t Have The Budget”

This is my favorite objection… Ever!

Actually, I’d like you to think of of it as an invitation, not an objection. So it’s my favorite buying invitation, ever! I’ll explain…

Every seller has heard “lack of budget” as an excuse on multiple occasions. When I conduct workshops on being a more agile seller I gather the most frustrating sales challenges from the audience. Lack of Budget is usually in the top five.

Let’s start by translating what it really means. When a contact says, “we don’t have a budget for this”, they’re really saying, “I don’t have the authority to change the budget.” This means someone else has the authority to execute a reshuffle of the budget.

Now comes the interesting part: The agile seller uses lack of budget as an invitation to meet the real budget authority and sell larger deals.

A while back, I had a LinkedIn message exchange with a former colleague of mine, Steve Flannery. Our quick exchange reminded me of a time when Steve tackled this challenge in spades. I recall reviewing his “year in advance” forecast with him during a Q1 Ops review several years ago. During the review Steve revealed his largest customer, Unisys, would not be spending any money on our solution in the coming year. They were dropping from spending over a million dollars a year to zero – nada, zilch. When I asked why, he described a situation where Unisys was consolidating from five product lines down to one and laying off personnel, leaving them saturated with our software solution. He ended his story with the words, “so they slashed the budget”.

I suggested it was an invitation to meet with the person who slashed the budget.

Steve set up a meeting with the General Manager of this particular Unisys division. When Steve met with the GM, he found the situation was even worse that he previously understood. As a result of waves of personnel layoffs, their best remaining people were shopping their resumes and were likely to jump ship. That meant the GM wouldn’t have enough of the right people to get their only remaining product line to market.

This opened up an opportunity for our services, and Steve ended up closing a $75M contract to insure the one remaining product line succeeded.

Here’s what I learned from Steve’s experience:

  1. If there’s a big problem lower in the organization, it’s probably more painful higher up.
  2. Budget is an amorphous solid. If you forgot your high school chemistry, an amorphous solid is one that can change shape, usually by adding some heat.
  3. The Agile Seller uses lack of budget as a reason to meet with the person who can reshape a budget.
  4. An effective problem diagnosis can create a larger opportunity with the person who has the authority to move money around.

Let’s exit Steve’s example, and talk about the everyday, ordinary selling campaign. Can a seller still use lack of budget as way to get to a decision maker and overcome the obstacle? The answer is yes, if…

If… the seller does an agile job diagnosing the problem set and uncovers the impact of not taking action. When done effectively, the contact will usually respond positively to a request to collaborate together to get the purchase funded, including taking the message to more powerful budget holders.

So the next time your hear “no budget”, translate it in your head as an invitation. It’s an invitation to diagnose effectively, meet other stakeholders and create a larger opportunity.

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.

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.

Challenge Buyers With A Provocative Question

When I first began my sales effectiveness consulting career, I made a list of 20 people as my starting prospect list.  They were all people I had established credibility with while working as colleagues.

Jeff was very high on my list. He was previously a general manager for a product division at my former employer. He was now CEO of a successful, high growth company. Better still, his current administrator, Pam, used to be my administrator at one point in time.

I prematurely concluded it should be easy to get on Jeff’s calendar.

When I called Pam, she was exuberant while catching up. But when I asked to get on Jeff’s calendar, her answer surprised me. She said the earliest she could put me on his calendar was four months away. My brain was racing. I know Jeff had to be busy, but four months? So I asked Pam, “why the long wait?” Her reply, “we have an IPO pending, and Jeff’s instructions were to push any meeting requests off that were not directly tied to the IPO”. I acknowledged the need to prioritize, and accepted the meeting four months away.

Then I pulled up my favorite search engine.

I was looking for any analysis on the IPO, and I hit the jackpot right away. Not as an investment, mind you, but as fodder for a provocative question. The first analysis I read by a major investment firm summed up the situation. It said that while this particular company had successfully penetrated a lucrative market, it had failed to penetrate other market segments.  Their perspective highlighted a significant risk for a major downturn in the value of the stock within 12 months should this problem not be fixed. Given their notoriety and stature in the investment market, it was likely that Jeff knew about their analysis.

Besides Pam, Jeff had also recruited Joe from our former company. Joe was a senior HR executive, who was not known for turning down a free lunch. So I got on Joe’s calendar for lunch later in the week.

My plan was risky, but it paid off. Even though Jeff was busy, I figured he had to eat lunch. The size of their company didn’t warrant a cafeteria, so I was hoping that Jeff would have to depart through their lobby to get to his car for a bite to eat. I showed up for my 12:15 lunch appointment with Joe at 11:45 to camp out in the lobby. Lucky for me, Jeff’s Jaguar was parked in the front of the building.

Sure enough, at just about noon, Jeff came striding into the lobby on his way out of the building. From my perch on a couch, I waved and said, “hi” to Jeff. He smiled and greeted me warmly, but did not break his stride. I asked him if he had a minute to talk. Amusingly, he said, “no, but call Pam and get on my calendar, we should catch up.”

That’s when I got provocative.

I nodded my head at his suggestion to call Pam and added, “ok, but can I ask just one question?” Jeff lifted his chin with a nonverbal gesture to proceed, but continued his gait. I pulled the trigger with, “so what’s going to happen to your IPO stock price if you can’t break into other market segments?”

I could hear Jeff’s foot plant. He stopped, turned to me with a quizzical look on his face and asked, “Is that something you can help us with?” I said, “yes”. Jeff sat down on the couch with me for a 10 minute conversation about how I could help his sales team break into other market segments.

As you have undoubtedly heard by now, the Internet gives your prospects’ the advantage in shopping for solutions without your involvement. As a result, sales professionals have to challenge the buyer’s vision of the problem set to expand their perspective and re-engineer the vision to the seller’s advantage. However, I would also add that getting their attention is the first part of the vision re-engineering obstacle.

The next time you have a prospect that won’t engage, try this three step process:

  1. Use the Internet to your advantage. Try to uncover a looming issue that’s likely to have visibility at multiple levels. Perhaps it’s a product that’s late to market, or a cost to revenue ratio that’s much higher than the competition. Something that has a potential fallout. (See my article about finding Business Issues for more ideas.)
  2. Develop your provocative question in advance. Start with “what happens if…” and fill in the rest with the unresolved issue. Try it out on a friend first. See if it causes them to want to engage, or to run. If it’s too provocative given your rapport with the intended recipient, you can tone it down. Conversely, if it’s too mild, you can always add more power to it with the words, “to you”. For example, adding to my question for Jeff: “what’s the impact to your IPO stock price, and to you, if you can’t break into other market segments?” The dagger hits closer to the heart, but requires a lot of existing rapport to pull it off without ruffling feathers. .
  3. Then apply. It might have to be over the phone, or email if you can’t get to them live. And you might have to preface it with the context of your past attempts to get their attention, and/or curiosity. For instance, “I know you said that you were too busy to talk, but something has piqued my curiosity…”

Your objective is not to get the answer. It’s to get their engagement in a conversation. Jeff never answered my question, nor did I need the answer.  But he did engage me in a conversation on the topic and subsequently introduced me to other stakeholders who needed help with the problem.

Finally, Joe popped up promptly at 12:15 in the lobby and we had a nice lunch.

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 Confused Buyer Leads To Higher No Decision Outcomes

There were four people on the other side of a blind web meeting. As the call unfolded, I knew I had a confused buyer on my hands.

While I rarely run into a confused buyer, my clients experience it on a daily basis. The reason I don’t witness it often is that I typically engage the VP of Sales as my first contact. It’s rare to find one that is confused about what he or she is trying to achieve and the problems that are contributing to their challenge. On the other hand, most of my client companies sell to IT or some other technical organization where their first point of contact is usually at an implementer level and unaware of the business challenges or objectives for the organization.

I was put in contact with this task team charged with finding a sales methodology for their organization. When I asked them to describe the sales challenges they would like to overcome with this initiative, it was like one of the current presidential political debates. No one could answer the question directly, but they all had something to say.  Most commonly it was a complaint from their individual perspective about some other organization: marketing material is bad, internal approval process is horrendous, our customers are competing with us, and the like. When I tested for challenges like selling across the product line, facing new competition, getting to more powerful stakeholders and the like, there weren’t any takers. (And believe me, I did my homework on this organization!)

Not having clarity on the problem definition would seem bad enough, but then one of the team members dropped a bomb on my lap that my customers also run into every day. He asked if they could spend half a day with me to dig into the depths of our offering. On the surface, a request to engage in a deeper evaluation can sound like there’s genuine interest in a solution, but in reality, it’s the death spiral of the snake and prey about to begin.

Lacking a cohesive agreement on the problem definition, each stakeholder is likely to prefer a different solution based on their individual perspective, resulting in a chaotic buying process. Further, the invisible problem statement also makes it impossible to develop the value proposition to weigh against other uses for the money, leading to a drawn out process, or more likely, a no decision. When I brought the lack of a cohesive problem definition to their attention, one of the stakeholders recognized the implication and suggested a step to develop the problem definition.

My strategy is to encourage the development of the problem definition by including the ultimate decision maker and myself in the process. If they can’t or won’t, I will consciously limit my exposure to a potentially huge time sink.

For those of you selling to infrastructure or operations organizations, I suggest a checkpoint before you begin the evaluation process. Try to answer these two questions:

  • Can you clearly articulate the problem definition and would the buying team agree?
  • Would the decision maker agree?

If the answer is “no” to either of these questions, be cautious about engaging in an evaluation process unless you have time and money to burn. This unproductive buying behavior is rampant and is the biggest contributor to the common 40% to 60% no decision results most professional sales organizations tolerate.

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.

Jury Duty Can Help You Sell More: Disqualifying Prospects

If you noticed my lack of posting last week, it’s because I was called up for jury duty.

The dread was palpable when I saw the envelope with the familiar red stripe across the top of the envelope and the bold “Jury Summons” label. In my household, it seems like I always get a jury summons every two years. Nobody else in my family ever seems to get one.

The thought of a week in a courtroom was not a pleasant one. But I know it’s my civic duty and I’ve drilled the concept into the heads of my now adult children, so sucking it up was the only answer.

The courtroom was filled with 78 potential jurors in this criminal DUI case. The process for selecting, or rather, deselecting potential jurors was arduous and repetitive. But something caught my attention about the people they let go.

While many people were granted deferments for a variety of scheduling problems, there were at least three categories of people that were outright dismissed from duty:

  • The Heavily Biased
  • The Poor Communicators
  • The Quiet Type

The heavily biased were drilled by the judge to qualify whether they truly were heavily biased or just trying to get out of the assignment. Most, who started with a claim of bias, eventually capitulated to the judge’s expert grilling and said they could weigh the evidence and reach a verdict of not guilty or guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Only two were let go with a claim of bias, but around ten people originally claimed they were.

There were three poor communicators. One gentlemen who simply shrugged and quietly smiled at almost every question the judge asked, a trauma nurse who would take two or three whole minutes in silence while formulating her response to each question, only to spur the judge to dig in more after an incomprehensible answer, and the unfortunate guy who apparently enjoyed the 60’s a little too much. He sounded a lot like the present day Ozzy Osbourne if you know what I mean.

Although I was grateful for the dismissals of the poor communicators, and I developed an appreciation for how skilled the judge was at disqualifying bias, the quiet type dismissal caught my attention the most.  These people did not raise their hand when either the prosecutor, defense attorney or the judge asked a group question. When asked questions directly, they gave very brief answers. No elaboration whatsoever. At a high level I could discern they weren’t inarticulate. The speed of their response and vocabulary were strong indicators. They also didn’t announce any bias one way or the other, yet they were dismissed by either the prosecutor or the defense in round after round of peremptory challenge. (No reason has to be given by either party, but each side is allowed a certain number for juror dismissal.)

Then it dawned on me. They couldn’t get a gage for how that person was feeling. They were holding their cards too close to their vest, and neither side of the case wanted to take a chance on the quiet type.

So what does this have to do with sales?

The biggest productivity challenge and frustration for most professional sales people is the no decision outcome. Our research indicates the three largest contributors to a no decision outcome are:

  • Inability of the prospect to articulate or agree on the problem set.
  • Inability of the prospect to articulate or agree on the value proposition.
  • Inability or refusal to mobilize other more powerful stakeholders into the dialog.

All three of these behaviors are often masked with silence, short but nonproductive answers, redirection, or outright refusal to engage on the subject. In other words, they operate like the quiet type juror. You can’t tell what they are thinking; they keep the information to a minimum, and end up wasting your time.

The next time you’re sitting across from someone who won’t discuss their problems, can’t estimate the value of resolving the problems, and/or refuses to bring others into the conversation, remember the prosecutor that is trying to sell his case beyond a reasonable doubt. Then politely excuse yourself from the conversation and move on to someone who is better prepared to buy.

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 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 Biggest Challenge in Sales: The Unknown

I was conducting a coaching session yesterday with a sales rep in one of my client accounts. He’s relatively new to sales, having transitioned from the customer side to the supplier side, but he’s learning fast. After guiding him through some opportunity reviews, I asked him to share his perspective on the toughest challenge he’s identified as a professional seller. He said, “It’s the uneasy feeling of not knowing.”

Having spent my career in sales, I had to agree. But I wanted him to know that he didn’t have to dangle in the wind as often as he was.

Here are the top three tactics I shared with him for reducing the unknown:

1. Anticipate the problem. I suggest something I call “conditional access”. If you’ve ever engaged a high level stakeholder who acknowledges a need but wants to hand you off to a lower level contact to validate your offering, this is a valuable tactic. When they suggest you continue the dialog with one of their underlings, acknowledge the direction, but ask for access back if something should go awry. Then document it in your email recap. I’ve never been turned down on the request, and have enjoyed the benefit on the occasion I’ve had to call the higher level contact when my calls were not being returned at a lower level. Many times it’s a matter of reinforcing the sense of urgency from the leader, which is more powerful if it comes from their lips.


During a contentious telephone call with a rude purchasing agent a few years ago, I acknowledged that we had reached an impasse and suggested we call the General Manager that initiated the discussion with me. The purchasing agent actually said she didn’t think he’d take my call. She was completely caught off guard when I added him into the call, and became very compliant after he reinforced how important it was to get the contracts sorted out that day. Had I not lined up the conditional access beforehand, the alternative would have been to spend a couple of weeks leaving voicemails for the purchasing agent who would have happily watched me sweat until I met her demands.

 2. Confirm, confirm, confirm. Confirm the problem set in writing after your first dialog. Confirm the value proposition in terms of the cost of not making a decision in writing. Confirm the evaluation process in writing. Confirm every agreement you make along the way. If your contact goes quiet or won’t share some information that you need to understand the buying process more clearly, recall one of the agreements to refresh their memory on the priority of the initiative.

One of my sales methodology students, a sales representative at Cisco, shared the results of this tactic. Near the end of particularly harrowing quarter, the point of contact for his most important opportunity said they were going to delay the purchase until the next quarter simply because they had too much going on. He nodded his head in disappointment, and said, “ok, I understand, but I can’t get this picture out of my head.” He piqued the buyer’s curiosity, because the buyer asked, “what picture?” The Cisco rep replied, “I have this picture in my head of you rolling a wheel barrel full of cash out into the parking lot, dumping it over, and setting it on fire. You told me that you were burning way too much money supporting a constantly failing network.” The contact nodded his head at the reminder and placed the order that day.

3. Fan out. If you find yourself selling to one set of stakeholders, say IT for instance, and you convince yourself they are the right people since they have the budget, have purchased something similar before, and have demonstrated interest, your setting yourself up for the queasy feeling of the unknown sometime in the future. The point is, they can become easily distracted by the fire fight of the day, and they are probably buying your solution to satisfy their customer, another set of internal stakeholders.

When the phone calls go unanswered, your best bet is to have already made friends with the stakeholders on the business side of the house. If they have a vested stake in your solution, they are most likely to give you some timely insight or rattle a door if asked.

Also, if the infrastructure contact wants to keep the order size small due to budget constraints, a well-placed supporter on the business side can probably fatten the budget with other discretionary funds. Keep in mind most IT organizations get 1-2% of the company budget, while General & Administration (including marketing and sales) get upwards of the 50% of the budget.

In summary, the learning opportunity is to plan ahead for the uneasy silence. Everyone gets distracted, most people find it easier not to reply than having an awkward conversation when the situation changes, and most IT people adjust to a tight budget by squeezing the seller, not the end customer who would rather have the proper solution. Incorporate the conditional access, confirmation habit and fanning out as a daily practice and you should see the number of unknowns diminish and your forecast accuracy improve.

*** 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.

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.

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 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.