Tag Archives: qualified prospect

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The Number One Challenge For All Sales People: Access to Power

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, help you find at least one identified 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 below:

Seller A: “We have the most advanced framework providing a highly scalable solution, used by 450 of the Fortune 500. Can I schedule some time on your calendar to discuss this in more detail?”

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.

The good news is that every organization can learn to create a tailored messages and 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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There Are Two Types Of Prospects…

Mary runs a sales development team for a technology company based in San Francisco. She was previously employed by another customer of mine, so we had some positive working history. Her boss was breathing down her neck and demanding results. She asked me to listen in to phone calls her reps were making to identify the problem.

After listening to multiple calls by various reps, I codified their process into the following:

  • Hi, my name is <Name>
  • I work for <Company Name>
  • We are the leader in <Solution Definition>
  • I’m calling you today because <Ask>

I pulled her team together, wrote this list on the board, but made two changes. The first was that I put all of my information in the brackets, such as, “Hi, my name is Kevin Temple, I work for ESG,” and so forth. The second change I made was I added another step, “I help SDR’s who are frustrated by low hit rates, phone hang ups, and escalating pressure to improve results”.

Then I asked them one by one to vote for the one topic that would cause them to want to talk with me. Unfortunately for my ego, it wasn’t my name, my company name, or my consulting practice description; but I knew that before I asked the question.

Without exception, they all selected the added line, “I help SDR’s who are frustrated by low hit rates, phone hang ups, and escalating pressure to improve results”. When the realization sank in, I saw the heads slowly rise and fall with understanding. Then I asked them to apply the same thing to their prospecting.

Before you run full blast forward with this notion, I should explain there are two types of prospects;those that don’t know they have a problem that can or should be solved, and those that know they have a problem and are looking for a solution. In either case, the problem set is the key to getting their attention.

In the first category, the prospect is more likely to resonate if they are approached with a problem they would recognize. It turns out this is much easier than it may sound. I’ve found there’s a variation of Pareto’s law at play here; about 80% of prospects for any specific solution have a predictable overlapping problem set. It’s even stronger for prospects within the same market vertical. For example, one insurance company probably has a very similar problem set as the next insurance company. Its simply a matter of identifying the problem set.

My approach to the problem identification task is to make a list of the best capabilities of the solution/product/service, and then identify the problem that each capability solves. For instance, let’s say you sell services, or services that augment your technology solution. Most service capabilities include installation, customization, and training. There are typically three problems that connect to these service capabilities:

  1. Lacking enough resources to get the job done.
  2. The current resources lack the skill or knowledge to get the job done.
  3. The current resources would provide more value by working on core activities, not secondary activities like installation or roll out.

The objective is to use these problems as the interest generating topic. It may take a little trial and error to find the top three for your list, but in short order you can have a very succinct list of attention getting problems to use in your outbound prospecting activities.

As you recall, the second set of prospects are those that know they have a problem and are probably seeking a solution. These people tend to be the ones that have visited your website, downloaded a whitepaper, attended a webinar, read certain periodicals, and the like. They are actively identifying themselves as prospects. In essence, they’re saying “I know I have a problem, now I’m trying to find out who solves it better then anyone else.”

In this case, our objective is to use the problem set to either make our differentiators stand out, or expand the problem set to tee up our differentiators in other areas of our solution. In this second case, the process is the same. Make a list of your differentiated capabilities in all major solutions, then identify the problem each one addresses. The seller uses the problems that link to clear differentiators in the core solution, or differentiators that link to secondary solutions to expand the criteria. For example, one of my current customers’ provides solutions for identifying the origin for open source software code that ends up in a software product. Their attention getting problem probe might sound like this:

Almost all software developed today has open source software aggregated from outside sources. While many development teams understand there are legal licensing implications (core solution problem target) that can result in huge financial liabilities, many are not aware of the number of security vulnerabilities (expanded problem set to differentiate against lesser solutions) that are being introduced by this process.

When Mary’s group edited their voice scripts to leverage the most common problem set they address, their hit rate for conversations tripled, and their pipeline almost doubled within 30 days.

What are your salespeople using to get attention?

And do they identify which prospect type they are engaging?

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Do You Qualify a Prospect, or Create a Qualified Buyer?

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 an existing line item in a budget. 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. I’ve organized it into a formula for making it easy to remember:

Customer Qualification = Vision x Impact x Power x Proof

Vision

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.

Impact

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.

Power

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 (See Vision above), and that it is the best solution to resolve their challenges and contribute to resolving a critical business issue (See Impact 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.

Proof

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 particular time frame? 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.

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A Formula For Overcoming “No Budget”

Laura had strawberry hair and a freckled complexion. She was the only administrator for a small start-up company I joined. It was my first day on the job and she took a seat on the other side of my desk. She let a smirk grow on her face and then announced, “boy are you stupid”. Taken aback, I just squinted my eyes and asked, “what do you mean?”

“All of the previous salespeople quit. No one has been able to sell this product for two years. You have the distinction of being the only sales person now. Do you think you know something they didn’t?” She prattled.

I just smiled and said, “we’ll see”. But I have to admit, she had me rattled. During the interview process there was no indication there was a lack of sales or that all of the sales people had resigned. (Of course, I didn’t think to ask specifically on either topic.)

My first sales call was on Lockheed Missiles and Space (as they were called then). They had five copies of our software and had been evaluating it for close to nine months, so I went to check in on the situation.

I sat down with Paul, a lead engineer for Lockheed and identified by my predecessor as the sponsor for the purchase. When I asked how the evaluation was going, he pulled out a list of items three pages long.  I looked through his list and noticed that most of the items were product enhancement requests, with very few bug fix requests. He said my company had made progress on the list, but there was still a long way to go. He tried to give me hope by pointing out they had reserved budget for the purchase early in the next fiscal year; five months away.

Having spent a few years in software sales, I had seen this behavior before. There was only one way to test it, but it’s a low downside gamble, so I said, “OK, it looks like you’d prefer to wait for the perfect product. In that case, I’ll have to pull the evaluation copies out today and get back to you when we’ve made more significant progress with your product enhancement requests.” His eyes opened wide and the shock rolled across his face. He stammered, “but wait, you can’t, we’re in the middle of a project”. That was the answer I was hoping to hear.

As I came to find out, Paul’s team was troubleshooting the power supply hardware for the Hubble Space telescope. This one critical piece of hardware was not performing to specification and holding up the whole show for the Lockheed contract. Paul was confident our software would help them identify and correct the problem.

If he had any hope of keeping the software past the end of the day, I suggested he take me to his boss. Twenty minutes later, I was sitting across the desk from his boss. Tony was a very senior project leader for Lockheed, and although it seems like a lowly title, his total budget allocation for his part of the project was probably north of a hundred million dollars. 

I laid out my case for reallocating budget to my software. They were behind on the delivery of a very high profile project, which could result in millions of dollars in contract penalties. They had spent months evaluating our software and had concluded that it was capable of helping them identify and fix the problem. The only thing left to do was cut a purchase order.

Four days later I had the first purchase order in my company’s history in my hands. The first person I showed it to was Laura. I would have thought a two hundred and fifty thousand dollar purchase order would have at least merited a comment, but no, Laura flipped her hair back, smiled and walked away. It took me a few more months before I started to understand Laura’s sarcastic sense of humor. 

A few days after I received the Lockheed order, my sales manager, Brian, pulled me aside and said that one of the board members wanted to take me to lunch to celebrate the order. Brian was concerned that my success might cast a bad light on the leadership team since they hadn’t generated any business previously, so he asked me to be very careful with what I said during my lunch.

MJ was with a silicon valley venture capital firm and a significant investor in our company. She was in the early stages of a long battle with MS, but still very ambulatory. (The next time I would see MJ, she would be in a wheelchair.) She kept her raven colored hair short, and dressed in traditional silicon valley business casual manner; black slacks, flats and a light colored blouse.

We shared a little chit chat about our respective backgrounds and then MJ asked about the Lockheed order. She wanted to know how I did it. When I told her the story I just shared with you, she said I needed to “codify it” and share it with the rest of the sales people in the company (when they were hired). When I asked what she meant by codify it, she said, “break it down and put it into a formula”. To this day, I don’t know if she meant it literally or figuratively, but I went ahead and developed a formula to describe the sale.

If you’ve ever been frustrated to hear the words, “we don’t have the budget to purchase your solution”, take note. I seemed to have based my entire sales career on selling leading edge products that never had the luxury of established customer budgets so this formula became invaluable to me..

Overcoming No Budget (ONB) = Vision x Impact x Power x Proof

There are three components to Vision: The Current Business Issue (CBI), the underlying People/Process/Technology (P/P/T) Challenges, and your Capabilities. If you can help your prospect see how your Capabilities can address their P/P/T Challenges which helps to resolve a Current Business Issue they care about, you have created a Vision. In the Lockheed example, the power supply wasn’t meeting design specs (Challenge), which was causing a delay in meeting contractual obligations (CBI). Our software was capable of identifying which electronic components were causing the power supply to fail under a range of conditions.

Impact is simply the value of addressing the business issue. In this case, there were contract penalties worth millions of dollars looming over Lockheed’s head.

Power is about getting the buy-in and priority of the person who can allocate or re-allocate funds to the purchase. In this case, Tony, the project manager, had the authority to reallocate budget to purchase my software.

Proof is the process of validating the solution’s capabilities, usually through an evaluation, but in some cases with less time intensive activities like demonstrations. After nine months of playing with our software, Paul was well versed on what it was capable of doing.

The final observation I’ll share with you about the formula is regarding mathematics. You’ll see that each component of the formula is accompanied by a multiplication factor. There are two corollaries at play here. The first is the more effectively each component is established the higher the outcome. In other words, the size of the transaction increases with better execution in each discipline. While this is a great lesson in itself, the second corollary is the most valuable to me. It’s the impact a Zero has on multiplication. This means that if only one component is a zero, the whole equation goes to zero. Or more specifically, you lose the sale to a no decision.

In reality, I’ve never lost a sale to “No Budget”. However, I have lost a sale because I couldn’t differentiate my capabilities in light of their challenges or business issues. On occasion I’ve lost because I couldn’t uncover the impact of not taking action. I’ve also lost because I couldn’t establish the Vision with the person who could re-allocate budget. And, I’ve lost because my products were not able to perform as advertised under close scrutiny: But never because of lack of budget. 

The next time you hear, “we don’t have any budget for a purchase like this”, pull out this formula and see what’s missing to determine if you can do anything to overcome the zero(s) in the equation.

Missed Kevin’s other posts on Sales Agility? Take a look at his most recent posts here.

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.

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When To Walk Away From A Prospect

For those of you that experienced it, you would probably agree the financial meltdown of 2008-2010 was not a fun time for most in the profession of sales. 

During the meltdown, one of my former colleagues, Tom Brigiotta, Senior Vice President of Sales for Imprivata Inc., reached out to me with a conundrum. He said even though the financial meltdown was in full swing, they were experiencing more leads than ever before, but not surprising, their conversion ratio was progressively worsening. He wondered if I could help them navigate the situation.

After talking to several people on his sales team, we rationalized the uptick in MQL’s (marketing qualified leads) as a combination of their recent investment in better marketing automation and lots of people who now had excess time on their hands. It appeared the economic slowdown left many IT people with more time to research solutions but less budget to spend. Translation: They were getting flooded with tire kickers.

As I’ve reflected on in past articles (No Decision Takes Twice As Long As Wins), a prospect that doesn’t buy actually robs you twice. First because you spent time with them and end up with nothing to show for it, but worse, they rob you of the time you could have spent with a prospect that was better prepared to buy.

No matter how well your organization defines qualification, most sellers tend to view “interest” as the dominant qualification question. Unfortunately, in tough times, every interested prospect seems like a rare commodity so there’s a heightened tendency hang on for dear life to the detriment of the seller. Imprivata was no exception, which meant they were spending too much time with interested contacts who couldn’t buy. As a result we decided to take the opposite tack and implement a disqualification process.

We broke down the disqualification process into these questions:

  • Can the contact articulate the problems they were trying to solve? (Or in the absence thereof, agree that a suggested set of problems were relevant and important to address.)
  • Could the contact articulate the cost of not solving the problems? (Or conversely, the value of solving the problems.)
  • Could the contact articulate the business issues that currently had the attention of their senior executives? (The goal is to align the purchase with the current focus of the senior decision maker, otherwise the chance for a no decision outcome increases, especially in a tight market.)

In the event that a contact could not positively answer one of more of the questions above, we posed one second level question to determine if any more time should be spent on the dialog:

  • Can they bring someone into the discussion who could answer these questions?

If the contact refused to bring another person into the conversation and could not represent any answers to the first three questions, they were to be put back into the marketing lead automation system and the sales person was to move on to the next lead. The goal was to filter out the tire kickers and find prospects who were better prepared to buy in the tough economic conditions.

The result was astounding. Imprivata closed 20% more transactions that year than they did prior to the economic melt down, and their average contract size improved by 19%. My analysis led me to conclude the increase in contract size was due to the contact’s ability to more effectively articulate the value proposition in their internal justification. Even though most sales leaders were biting their nails at that time, Tom told me this experience was the most fun he’s had as a sales leader. 

Currently we find ourselves in a different place economically. But even though the market is much healthier, it’s possible to find yourself with the same problem. Too many leads that seem to be interested, but not enough that will pull the purchase trigger. If that sounds familiar to you, then make note of the questions above and apply a disqualification process to your MQL list. I’m sure you’ll find yourself with a more manageable list of prospects that are ready to buy effectively.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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No Decisions Take Twice As Long As Wins!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at 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.

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Reducing “No Decision” Outcomes: The Forensics of Selling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your inspection should include evidence of:

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

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

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at 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.

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