Tag Archives: qualification

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Sales Agility: "No Budget"

This is my favorite objection! Ever!

Ok, it’s not really an objection, it’s an invitation. So it’s my favorite buying invitation,ever!

Every seller has heard “lack of budget” as an excuse on multiple occasions. When I conduct AgileSelling workshops 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 does have 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 couple of days ago, I had a LinkedIn message exchange with a former colleague of mine, Steve Flannery. Our quick exchange reminded me of a time when Steve had overcome this challenge in spades. I recall reviewing his year in advance forecast with him during a Q1 Ops review. 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.

Steve ended up closing a $75M contract for services 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.

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Sales Agility: Gaining Access to Decision Makers

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from sales people is the frustration of being held at arm’s length from the actual decision maker. In the course of my sales effectiveness consulting career, I have helped countless sales people overcome this challenge on a consistent basis, and many of my client companies have gone on to establish executive access as a cultural norm and competitive advantage. Access to power is a sales agility challenge. It takes an effort to tailor a message that will resonate with the power person, and motivate the sponsor to take you there.

Let’s break this challenge down into one simple concept. You will be taken to the person you sound like. If you sound like a technical person, you will be sent to the technical evaluator. If you sound like a VP, you will eventually be taken to the VP. If you sound like a CFO, your request to meet the CFO will be earnestly considered.

Your messaging should be crafted to interest the person you want to access. If you unconsciously repeat your sales messaging without crafting it, you will find yourself stuck at the same level of every organization you approach, usually an evaluator level.

Crafting a message sounds easy right? Unfortunately, most people get into a habit, and are not self-aware of their own behaviors. Let’s test our self-awareness and our agility in crafting a tailored message.

Here’s a simple test: Take a pen or pencil and jot down the most critical business issue facing your top prospect.

If you don’t know it, and can acknowledge you don’t know it, that’s the first step in self-awareness. Go to their website and look at their recent press announcements. Look for business problems. Next, go to your favorite search engine, type in their company name with an added word like “problem”, “issues”, or “challenges”. See what pops up. Then look at their operating statement. Are they any numbers that are worse than they were the year before? Do any of their numbers look worse than their closest competitor? Going through this five minute exercise will usually give you a better understanding of their business issues, find at least one business issue you can contribute to, and will prepare you to craft a compelling message that attracts more powerful stakeholders.

If you think you know the business issue, and the answer has any of your solution description in it, you’ve shot yourself in the foot. Nine times out of ten, when I ask a seller to describe the business issues’ facing a prospect, their answer is a solution request, “They need our XYZ product…” or, “They’re not happy with the competitive solution and want to evaluate ours.” In either case, the seller is seller focused, not customer focused. Until they become self-aware of this orientation, they cannot craft messaging that will attract decision makers.

Let’s assume you found the most current business issues facing a company. Now write down the top three to five problems they have addressing this business issue. The unaware seller will usually describe the situation with answers that don’t specify problems, such as, “They have 50 offices.” or “their existing solution is out of date.” These answers might insinuate a problem, but they don’t explicitly disclose a problem. They need to articulate the problems more succinctly, such as, “They have so many offices, management can’t scale to cover them all effectively.” Or, “Their existing solution caps out at 50 users, and they have several hundred requiring access at the same time.” Most executive buyers don’t have the time or the first hand usage experience to be able to connect situational information to a problem that is impeding the resolution of their business issues. An agile seller is specific in the problem diagnosis.

Lastly, describe the business issue in terms of impact. Most sellers want to describe the quantified benefit of their solution through the eyes of other customers. “Research shows our customers’ produce 15% more widgets than their competition.” While this is a valuable proof statement, validating your success, it does not equate to their value proposition. Instead, quantify and confirm their business issue from their perspective. “From what you’ve told me, your cost of sales are 18% higher than your competition, creating a $75 million profit problem. Who would be interested in solving this issue?”

When you can string these three topics together, you’ll find doors opening to more influential stakeholders. Contrast Seller A and Seller B:

Seller A: “We have the fastest widget in the industry, used by 450 of the Fortune 500.”

Seller B: “I noticed your new product revenue is down 22% over last year, complicated by a lack of skilled talent, longer development cycles, and the currency crisis in Europe. Who in your organization would be interested to hear how we can address these problems?”

Seller B has crafted a tailored message that is customer focused and does not rely on a solution description. They have a much higher chance of being taken to more stakeholders than Seller A.

Access to power is an agility challenge that requires self-awareness, some research, and an effort to deliver a message that fits the customer’s issues and problems. Falling into the pattern of talking about your product without the context of the customer’s parameters, will box you into an evaluator level dialog.

Are you agile enough to learn how to create a tailored message and use it to gain access to decision makers?

Kevin Temple helps sales teams optimize their behavior and improve revenue outcomes. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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Sales Agility: Cross Selling

Almost every sales leader is familiar with this problem. Pareto’s law, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule, applies to most sales organizations. Eighty percent of their revenue comes from less than 20% of their solution portfolio. If you combine this with Forrester’s research finding it’s five times less expensive to sell to an existing customer than a new one, you will probably reach the conclusion that selling across the product line to existing customers should be a major component of any revenue growth strategy. Unfortunately, most sales teams lack the agility to execute on this skill set. But the good news is it can be learned at an individual contributor level and at the organizational level.

There are two factors that dictate the agility of a sales organization when it comes to selling across the product line. First, the learning model they apply to the challenge, and second, the accountability factor.

Left to their own devices, most organizations unconsciously apply the same failed learning model for new products. They shovel facts and capabilities at the seller, load on a couple of reference logos and call it a day.

Unfortunately, most sellers, even the brightest, hit learning saturation and can’t digest nor retain this information. Worse, this information does very little to prepare the seller to create need for the target product or differentiate in the face of competition.

I’ll share a real life example.

Years ago, I received a call from Brian Powers, the director of training for Dell at the time. Brian said my name was handed to him by a Gartner representative. He was calling to get my input on a cross selling challenge they were facing. At that time, Dell was in transition. They were attempting to fuel revenue growth by adding servers, storage and services to their solution line up. This was not a single new product addition; they were expanding their portfolio dramatically in an instant across three new product lines!

When I asked to see their training materials, I would describe them as glorified data sheets. They were attempting to shovel facts and specifications into the minds of their sellers, thinking this was going to get the job done.

I was not surprised to hear the initiative was not meeting expectations.

I was taught a lesson by a stereo sales person a long time ago. When I went to buy a home entertainment system, I was confused by the long system specification lists displayed in front of each product. The seller approached me and asked if I was overwhelmed by the choices. I acknowledged I was. He glanced down at my then five year old son, standing next to me, and said, I could ask you one question that will make this very easy to figure out. He had my attention. He asked, “do you envision entertaining adults in one room or on the patio with some nice music while the children are kept occupied in another room with a movie or TV show? I said yes. He then pointed to the system at the top of the shelf and said there was only one model that could do both. I went home with the most expensive system he had.

With that lesson in mind, here’s what we did to reshape Dell’s outcome. First we broke down each major product into a set of need creation questions. These questions come from analyzing the problems that can be solved by the new product, not the capabilities. For example rather than asking, “Would you like services to install a consistent operating system image on all 200 PC’s you’re buying?”, we had them alternatively define a problem set first. “Does your support team run into problems when the operating system installs are not consistent across the organization?” This creates the need for the solution by focusing on a problem rather than the solution itself.

As humans have evolved, we’ve developed pattern recognition for identifying problems, not solutions. We learned to identify a predator, feel the temperature change, or stop at the edge of a cliff with very little coaching. The answers to each of these problems took much longer to learn, pass on, or execute with consistency. From a learning perspective, problem identification is a more productive learning model than solution definition. This applies to sales as well. As exemplified by my stereo example, the seller only had to remember one problem definition to make the sale, versus digesting hundreds of specifications for comparison.

But learning isn’t the only obstacle. Accountability is as well.

Customers don’t typically demand the secondary products in a seller’s portfolio. Worse, if a seller spends time on a new product and gets beat by a competitor, they shy away from a similar time investment to insure they spend time on the in demand products.

In order to apply some level of accountability to cross selling, some teams stratify the quota by product line. Some incent with SPIFF’s. While others simply set expectations, measure, provide feedback and reward in other, non-financial ways. The success of any accountability strategy is highly dependent on the culture of the organization and leadership bench strength. Dell’s approach was the latter of the three. They maintained visible scoreboards, and publically acknowledged the success of the early adopters.

In any case, the learning model needs to be supported by an effective accountability model that compels application and rewards outcomes.

Within 30 days, Dell was able to track a 26% increase in their “attach” metric, an indicator of multiple products being sold in each transaction. This fueled their new product sales which grew to become a $15B contributor to their business. This is an example of a large organization learning to become agile again.

How well does your team sell across the product line? Do they need to improve their cross selling agility in order to continue reaching revenue growth expectations?

Kevin Temple helps sales teams optimize their behavior and improve revenue outcomes. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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The Proposal that Sells Itself

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Even the best sales people can’t get to every decision maker. But your proposal can. Do a check up on your proposal format. Does it convince a sign-off authority to sign the purchase requisition and place an order, especially if you can’t be there?

After reviewing literally hundreds of “standard” proposal formats sent out by a large variety of big and small companies, it’s not surprising why so many sales teams have a hockeystick quarter end. From my perspective, most proposals are little more than a price quote.

I’m talking about the “proposal” that has a nice cover letter thanking the prospect for the opportunity and an overview about how this vendor is the leader in their field. This is followed by a price quote and overly generous discount with a time expiration coincidentally connected to the end of the quarter. Then some sort of terms/conditions agreement, license agreement, services SOW, and so forth.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the decision maker. You have a list of questions you need to have answered before you sign off on the proposal… maybe something like this:

  •         Why do we need this solution? (What business issues is the customer facing and what are the underlying problems that are not currently being addressed by the existing solution?)
  •         Is this vendor the best alternative? (Can we do it ourselves, or is there another vender with similar capabilities at a lower price? Or, what makes this vendor special?)
  •         Do we need to act now? (Versus other alternative uses of the funds or especially with other more pressing issues?)
  •         What’s the potential savings or reward for making this change? (ROI? Competitive advantage? Lower cost of ownership? Or, what disappointing metric will this help us to overcome? Etc…)
  •         Who will this solution benefit? (Are there other parts of the organization that could chip in? If we broaden the purchase could we save/earn even more?)
  •         Can we trust this vendor? (Will it work? Can they support us? What’s their track record look like? Did you try it out? Do others that we respect us it?)

The question is does your proposal help them answer these questions and make a decision? Worse, the first question they ponder that doesn’t get answered gives them the excuse to push back and ask the sponsor to do their homework.

I know what you might be thinking; these questions should have been answered during the discovery and evaluation process. I’d agree, but often times they are not, and even if they are, that doesn’t guarantee the final decision maker was involved in the transfer of this information. That means the seller would have to depend upon their inside champion to articulate the answers to these questions, but we all know hope is not a strategy! Your next thought might be, “the proposal should be delivered to the decision maker by the seller so all of these questions can be answered directly”. Again, I agree, but unfortunately, not the case most of the time.

If you’re sucking wind through your teeth thinking about your proposal format,  I recommend a set of simple changes.

The easiest and most effective way to address your current proposal format in this light is to structure the cover letter to address these questions. I recommend a format for the letter that includes:

  •         The business issues uncovered during discovery. (A quick review of their latest earnings statement or recent press releases can provide some insight if you missed this step during your discovery process.)
  •         The underlying people, process, or technology challenges that are currently impeding the business issue. Word these with problem oriented adjectives: difficulty with, challenged by, or lacking. i.e., “Difficulty with multiple manual processes that are error prone.”
  •         The impact of not taking action. Sizing the cost of, or lost opportunity for each challenge and the associated business issue. Or, identify the current state of the metric they care about, and the potential. i.e., “The goal is to reduce costs by 15%, but it currently stands at a 5% reduction.”
  •         Connecting your unique capabilities to actual challenges the prospect has acknowledged. The only way they can determine if you are the best alternative is to identify challenges they care about that can’t be solved by others as well as you can solve them.
  •         Identifying the stakeholders you have included in your analysis to allow them to confirm the organizational opportunity.
  •         Specific usage example, citing another similar but respected company with similar business issues, similar challenges, and actual accrued results. (This structure of success story is often shortened to simple name dropping, prompting the buyer to take a small pilot step first.)

As the sales leader, I also recommend that you inspect every proposal for this structure. Your inspection will underscore your commitment to making this a discipline, and if your sales people can supply the information for all of these components, they will have undoubtedly conducted a more thorough discovery process. You kill two birds with one stone.

You should see a decrease in stalled decisions or no decisions, a measurable increase in your win rate, and interestingly, a smoothing of your hockeystick. After all, if the prospect’s decision maker has all of their questions answered, and it’s a compelling proposition, there’s no need to sit on the proposal until the end of quarter.

The Enterprise Selling Group helps commercial organizations tune their sales and marketing disciplines to improve revenue results. Kevin Temple is the founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group.  

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Disqualifying Can Increase Sales

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Last week, I wrote about developing qualified opportunities. This week I’ll tackle the other side of the coin. When should you disqualify an opportunity?

Many sales people get a frightened look in their eyes when the subject of disqualification comes up. I’ve heard more than one sales leader describe it as “they try to wrestle everything to the ground”. It’s an unspoken truth that many sales professionals don’t practice disqualification at all.

But the fact of the matter is that 30-40% of all enterprise sales opportunities end in no decision. Worse, when a sales person works on an inquiry that can’t buy, they get robbed three times. First they lose the time they worked on the inquiry without a reward. Second, that time could have been spent on a real opportunity that could buy. And third, the opportunity they missed might go to a competitor. When you think about it, disqualification should be a common practice!

Imprivata is the leader in Single Sign-On technology. They make it easy and secure for Healthcare professionals and others to access a range of applications with one sign on. When I first met the team, it was a pleasure to see their marketing team was doing a great job with lead development. Too good in fact. Their sales people were getting swamped with leads, and at that time, they didn’t have an automated way to score leads for better digestion. So we tackled the problem with a simple disqualification process.

We had four disqualifying questions for inquiries:

  1. What business issues are currently getting executive attention in their company? This question helps determine if there is alignment with the seller’s solution, or misalignment. For instance, if the seller’s solution saves money, but the prospect company is focusing on new competitors entering the field, their message might get lost in the weeds.
  2. What problems were compelling the evaluator to reach out to Imprivata? People don’t really buy capabilities, they buy things that resolve problems. If they can’t identify the problem, they’ll have a hard time convincing their boss to spend money when there are other well articulated problems to address.
  3. What’s the impact of the problems and the business issue? Again, if they can’t articulate the value of addressing the problem set, they will have a difficult time getting signatures to spend money, especially if other buying initiatives do a better job of articulating value.
  4. Will they introduce the seller to other stakeholders? Recent research indicates that sponsors who will mobilize other stakeholders into the conversation are more likely to succeed in selling your solution into their organization. Conversely, contacts that refuse access are more likely to end in a no decision.

If the answer was negative in all four categories, the seller would put the contact on an automated nurturing feed, and offer to get back in a few months. Notice they aren’t dropping the prospect, they’re really re-prioritizing them down the list. If they had some positive responses, but some blanks, the contact’s willingness to help address the unknown information was used to determine which bucket they were assigned. The key to this successful disqualification process was having a largely objective way to determine who should be de-prioritized. This alleviated the compulsion to tackle everything to the ground with some solid logic.

Imprivata tracked their results. They cited a 20% increase in deals closed! Curiously, they also cited a 19% increase in the average contract value. In hindsight, selecting opportunities that could better articulate their business issues, underlying connected problems, and economic value tended to execute larger transactions. In effect they got a double win out of disqualifying.

If your team is really busy, but still struggling to hit the numbers on a consistent basis with high participation from all members, it might be time to consider implementing a disqualifying initiative.

The Enterprise Selling Group helps commercial organizations tune their sales and marketing disciplines to improve revenue results. Kevin Temple is the founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group.  

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Is It How To Qualify A Prospect, Or Develop a Qualified Prospect?

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When I started selling years ago, my first sales manager coached me to qualify an opportunity by asking if there was a budget allocated to my product or service.  That was his entire definition of a qualified opportunity. Even worse, I was hired as specialist selling a new “revolutionary” product, so there were no budgets developed or allocated for my product. With his definition, not a single prospect I had targeted was qualified.

Since then, I have had the privilege to sell many more disruptive technologies that didn’t have the luxury of a healthy budget tide to smooth the waters. So I’ve developed a much more refined vision of qualification which doesn’t necessarily include a question about budget in the direct manner described above. My perspective is that qualification is a spectrum of potential positions.  Ultimately, the best qualified opportunity is one that has just given you a purchase order, and anything less than that is somewhere on the spectrum of being developed into a qualified opportunity. I have a grouping of four buckets that help determine the level of qualification of the opportunity.

The first checkpoint involves the level of synchronicity between the prospect’s view of their problem and our solution as the answer. In other words, do they view my solution as the best way to address their challenges and contribute to resolving a critical business issue?  If they don’t view my solution as the best, or that it will address their challenges, or that it will contribute to resolving their current business issue, than this qualification component is weak. This also implies that I must confirm their view on these subjects as part of my qualification process.

The second component is directly related to their sense of urgency and priority for my sale.  My objective is to develop or uncover the impact of taking action or not taking action in order to help the prospect motivate themselves to take action.  If I don’t explore this dialog, I have hampered my ability to heighten their motivation to take action, and my ability to qualify their intent.

Next is the stakeholder and authority aspect of a decision.  The qualification of an opportunity is directly dependent upon the ultimate decision maker deciding he or she sees the impact of your solution as having a significant priority (second component above),  and that it is the best solution to resolve their challenges and contribute to resolving a critical business issue (first component above).  Qualification of this category also requires that the decision maker has discretion over funds and can allocate budget if none exists. Further, this category should also take into account the backing or opposition of the purchase by other stakeholders who can sway a decision maker.

Finally, the last bucket incorporates their decision process.  Do I know their decision criteria?  Have they verbalized when the decision must be made and why that timeframe?  Do I have these items confirmed back in some written form? The confirmation of the subject is the highest level of qualification for each individual category. So how does this help a sales person sell more?  The major contribution is to provide a guide.  If the seller is setting out to answer the questions I’ve outlined, they will actually be doing a better job of facilitating a purchase.  This reduces the contribution of “no decisions” to the outcome of a forecast in two ways.  With this process, some opportunities can be moved from a “no decision” outcome to a winning decision, usually by helping to illuminate the connection to the impact and the current business issue.  Further, disqualifying opportunities that have no chance of making a decision allows the seller to focus their efforts on opportunities that do have a solid chance of being won.  It’s a tragedy to miss a perfectly good opportunity because the seller was focused on a deal that never had a chance of being won.  That’s two losses in one.

ESG provides qualifying and disqualifying training that will improve sales, decrease sales cycles and differentiate you from lower cost alternatives. For more information, visit our website at www.enterprise-selling.com and  read our most recent white papers on Enterprise Selling and Sales Transformation