Tag Archives: sales effectiveness

Take the 30-Second Survey on Dual Screen Selling

A number approaching “all” of B2B sales cycles start with a web delivered sales presentation.  This holds for both inside sales teams and also field sales reps.  Yet, according to our clients, few sales professionals of either stripe take full advantage of the interactive capabilities of web conferencing platforms to better qualify and engage customers on the other end of the second screen.  Nor are they executing critical sales process steps.  And according to those clients, opportunities are compromised and lost as a result.

There is no sign that dual screen selling is going to slow down any time soon.  Since it will continue to be with us, we’re curious about your experience with typical B2B sales challenges and the dual screen environment – take our 30-second survey (for sales leaders and sales professionals) and we’ll report back on what we learn from your colleagues and peers.

Bad Sales Presentation vs Great Sales Presentation

It was an unusual trip to Japan. I began the trip from San Francisco with a valid passport, only to find when I landed that it had expired as I crossed the international date line – even after two airline employees checked it! As a result, I had the privilege to spend the next four tedious hours with an immigration official. After a collaboration with an airline representative, I was eventually allowed to continue my business trip as long as my first stop was to the US Embassy for a new passport.

I didn’t get to my hotel bed until 2:00 am.

The next morning I was standing bleary eyed in front of the head of all electronic development for Toshiba Semiconductor. I pulled out my binder of about two hundred overhead transparencies (yes, it was a long time ago), and his eyes grew three or four times their size. “You’re not going to go through all of those slides, are you?” he asked while glancing at his watch. 

I smiled and let out a small chuckle. “No”, I replied, “That’s the marketing material. I only have four slides for you.”

He visibly relaxed a little, sat back in his chair, and said in perfect English, “This I have to see.” turning his head slightly up and away in apparent disbelief.

After I spent about 20 minutes on my four slides, he spent the following hour peppering me with questions, which prompted me to pull out ten to fifteen additional slides from the marketing deck. At the end of our meeting he declared that I was a presentation samurai, and demanded that we have dinner that night. That’s when I was introduced to a custom where the person on your right keeps your drink filled to the top for the entire dinner. Lucky for me, my flight wasn’t until four pm the next day.

After consulting with over 80 technology companies, I find the pattern is pretty standard. The typical marketing deck for sales has a predictable pattern (with minor variations):

  • We, We! (All over ourselves) This section talks about the history of the vendor’s company, their size, their locations, their market dominance or enviable spot on a Gartner Quadrant, and usually includes a customer logo slide for good measure. It’s all about the vendor. (I realize this is for credibility building, but its premature. The customer doesn’t care who you are until they conclude that you might be able to help them.)
  • More We’ing. Now they move into their product(s) overview. Lots of acronyms, complex slides, and pseudo framework pictographs intended to make it look like their products all work together. (Unfortunately, the problem is rarely defined, so the customer either can’t figure out if they need your solution or how you are different from the last vendor with a similar set of complex solution slides.)
  • Case Studies and Testimonials. Ranging from name dropping to detailed technical case studies, they are usually missing some variation of the most important details like the customer problem set, the impact on their business, and the result. 

In contrast, here’s what I did for my new found friend at Toshiba:

  • The Situation. I described a change in the macro situation that should interest them. In this case, there was a dramatic industry wide shift in the size of silicon inter-connects (the actual connection between devices on a silicon chip), going from microns down to nanometers. (A 1000 to one ratio) 
  • The Problem. Next I explored the problems the situation created for design teams like Toshiba. Everything they knew about circuit design and troubleshooting had just been disrupted. The inter-connects would now act like someone peppered millions of new devices into their design, causing fluctuations in performance outside of specification, leading to head scratching, trial and error problem solving on a massive scale across a chip that could have millions of inter-connects.
  • The Impact. Plain and simple, I talked about the competitive disadvantages if they didn’t make the shift, followed by how the new situation would impact design schedules, time to market, feature trade offs, and other relevant business issues. 
  • The Success of Others Just Like Them. This is where I share a story or two about other companies that Toshiba could relate to, and how we helped them overcome the same challenges. (Yes, this is the case study or reference story, but it comes after the situation, problem, and impact development, and reiterates the situation/problem/impact framework for the case study company.)

In my first twenty minutes with Toshiba, I didn’t talk about our company or our products. I talked about the problems Toshiba will be experiencing and how they would impact their business results.

The following hour I did answer questions about our products, how they worked together, how many support people we had in Japan, and lots of other details that were already available in the standard marketing deck. But in this case, the audience was primed to want the information.

I suggest you conduct a quick inspection. Pull out the most recent deck you’ve used in a customer presentation, or if you’re a sales leader, ask one of your sales people for one. Most important on the list for retooling, check to see if the situation/problem was defined by slide three or four (at the most). If not, simply add a situation/problem definition slide followed by an impact slide and you will have upped the horsepower on the compelling aspect of your presentation by 100%.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

Six Buyer Questions Relevant To Every Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

How To Differentiate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example,

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

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

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

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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 Best Sellers Are Curious: Part Two

Last week, I wrote a post about the advantage of uncovering the prospect’s value proposition instead of pushing the value proposition of others onto the prospect. As a result, I received an outpouring of personal notes from my readers asking for more on the topic of sales curiosity.

For this post, I’ll explore how curiosity can project your solution as more strategic to your prospects.

Years ago, I was selling an engineering automation solution. I had been in contact with a company called Sundstrand that makes flight data recorders. You know, the indestructible black box that tells the story of any commercial airplane accident. (If you’re like me, you may have even wondered at least once; why don’t they make the rest of the plane out of the same stuff?)

After months of fending off my diligent follow up, my lead contact suddenly became very interested in my solution, and wanted to borrow our software to evaluate the capabilities. My curiosity kicked in, so I inquired about the sudden change in interest level. My contact side-stepped the question and focused the dialog on how fast we could get the software installed on his computer. I could have chosen to go with the flow, but sensing his level of urgency, I leveraged the moment.

“Because we have a finite amount of technical support”, I explained, “my management will only allow so many evaluations at any one time”. This would put him on a waiting list that might be three or four weeks out. However, I shared with him, I had successfully reshuffled the list to get evaluations started right away when I was able to explain to my boss how it might help the customer’s business.

My contact took a deep breath through his nose, exhaled, and proceeded to share the background. They were late on a project for Boeing, as a result they were already being docked $1M in contract penalties. His boss had been fired over the flap, and he wanted to show his new boss that he was on top of the problem. He was certain our software could help him chase down the problem, avoid the next late penalty and ultimately keep his job.

I nodded my head in acknowledgement, and said I think I could get his evaluation re-prioritized, but added that it would help if his manager would reiterate the situation to my manager. We prepped our respective chain of command, coordinated the phone call for the next day, and I upped the ante.

During the call with his manager, I suggested we send our best engineer along with the software to help chase down the design problem they were experiencing, eliminating a potential learning curve delay. In return, if we successfully identified the problem, we asked them to commit to buy the software and pay for our engineer’s time as a service fee. Although my contact was obviously annoyed he wouldn’t be the sole hero, his manager thought it was a prudent suggestion and agreed.

I had a purchase order in my hand on day seven after the initial conversation. In retrospect, I realized that had I simply loaned him the software for evaluation, he would have found the solution to his problem, relieving his motivation, and then sat on the purchase decision until the end of the quarter when he could pressure me for a discount.

Here’s what I learned: There are three questions to leverage curiosity and uncover the strategic issue. They are “why?”, “why?”, and “why?”. For instance: “Why are you interested in our solution?” “Why is that problem important to your senior management?” And, “Why is that issue more important than other issues on their plate?”

The first why will usually uncover the problem. The second why will uncover how the problem has created a business issue, which is what management is focused on. And the third why will usually get the value of solving the business issue surfaced to help justify and prioritize the purchase.

With these answers, you should have a very powerful value proposition that shines a light on your strategic contribution, not just your differentiated capabilities.

Lastly, should you find yourself talking to a prospect that didn’t come to you, start by explaining the most common problems your solution helps to address. (Not your capabilities!) If the prospect resonates with any of the problem definitions, follow your curiosity with at least two more “why” questions to uncover the connection to a current business issue and the strategic value of your solution to this particular prospect.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

The Best Sellers Are Curious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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.

Funnel Building: Increasing Average Contract Value

In my last post, I reviewed the connection between building a larger sales funnel and the skill of disqualifying prospects that can’t buy. For this article, I’ll share some insight into another funnel building skill which helps those who may not have the luxury of having too many prospects.

Years ago, I worked for an organization that was mired in a sales productivity sand trap. For several years, the average productivity per rep was stuck at about $1.4 million in software sales. As a result, we were faced with a challenging dilemma: either add people to grow the company – a very expensive option, or learn how to grow our deal size. Due to our limited market size, we ruled out the strategy to sell to more customers since they didn’t exist, and we considered focusing on shortening sales cycle time, but ended up getting that with the deal size increase as an added bonus.

The strategy that emerged was to use professional services to grow our deal size. This intitiative taught us how to grow our average contract value with both software and services while shortening our sales cycle. The key was targeting new stakeholders in our existing opportunities. Specifically, we began a company wide effort to include the business stakeholders into our opportunities. Prior to this initiative, we limited our contacts mostly to the technical side of the house.

In my sales training and consulting business, I see this self-limiting behavior frequently. The actual end user or IT will engage in a dialog about a solution, and the seller concludes this is who they should spend their time on. Unfortunately, these contact types have limited budgets, limited political power, and are compelled to NOT rock the boat; consequently, smaller deals result. Conversely, business people are steeped in a culture of rocking the boat, looking for growth opportunities, typically monopolize power in many organizations, and have larger budgets. (Most companies allocate 1-2% of the budget on IT, while sales and marketing get upwards of 50%). The opportunity is to learn to tap this reservoir for your sales initiatives. If you do, you will see growth in your average contract value.

As a starting point, here are three skills I suggest you adopt:

1. Change your vocabulary.

The first skill set to master is learning how to speak to different cultures. If your technical contacts typically want to talk about bandwidth, analytics, quality, throughput, or any topic that has a technical flavor, you have to limit those adjectives to that audience. The business culture uses terms like revenue growth, new product introduction, customer acquisition, and differentiation, to name a few. Take some time to connect each of your technical capabilities to business problems and issues. Then use their vocabulary to get their attention, build credibility and gain access.

2. Understand that nurturing and expectation setting will be required.

Just yesterday, one of the sales people in a client company told me cold calling on the business side wasn’t working for him. I wasn’t surprised. The business stakeholders aren’t aware of his company or his solution, so they naturally avoid engaging as a standard calendar management tactic. I suggested he take a three step nurturing approach to the targeted business stakeholders. First, inform them you are working with others in their company on an initiative that will have an impact on business results they may be interested in. But don’t ask for anything yet! Just let them know that you thought they should be aware of the initiative. If it’s an important topic to them, they’ll do some investigating. I call this creating hallway buzz.

Your communication may sound something like this: “Hi Joan, I’m reaching out because I’m working with your IT organization (John Doe) on a solution for the <insert problem in their vocabulary> that is impacting your <revenue, cost management, or some other business issue> results. Based on your role, I thought you might be interested. Let me know if you have any questions about the project.”

It’s very common at this point to get your hand slapped by the technical contact. They’ll get an inquiry from the business stakeholder as a result of your communication, and in turn, demand that you limit your communication to them. They do this from either a place of insecurity, habit of control, or many other common personal agenda related reasons including avoiding visibility on a non-budgeted project.  This is where expectation setting becomes critical. You’ll need to become comfortable setting boundaries with your technical contacts. I suggest describing your modus operandi and rationalizing the action with your company’s learning experience; it might sound something like this, “I’m sorry this activity was upsetting to you. We’ve found the best successes include engaging the business stakeholders in the dialog, whereas the opportunities that end up in no decisions usually exclude them from the conversation. I thought it would make sense to start that dialog, don’t you?” Ideally, you can steer the conversation to a collaboration agreement on the topic and put the hand slap behind you. In any event, your goal is to continue to include the business stakeholders in the dialog and the best case is when your technical sponsor sees the light and agrees to collaborate on their inclusion.

If they aren’t convinced with the operating rationale, it doesn’t hurt to help them see how it will help them personally. As an extreme example: “Joe, if you want to become CIO someday, you’re going to need to get comfortable engaging the business stakeholders in your initiatives, perhaps we can use this opportunity as a chance to collaborate together to help you build this skill.” Or less extreme, “Joe, you mentioned your frustration with how small the budget was for this project, doesn’t it make sense to see if someone else might be willing to add some funds to your initiative?” (Research from CEB indicates that the best sponsors are the ones that mobilize other stakeholders into the conversation, so it’s in your best interest to coach your contacts if needed.) Of course, whatever rationalization and personal interest tactic you take will require your judgement based on the context of your discussions and your rapport.

If you navigate this first stage of the nurturing process (and technical contact control effort) successfully, you are ready for stage two. At some point, when you’ve gathered enough information about the relevant problems their organization is experiencing, how much it’s costing them, and how that relates to key business issues they are focused on, you (or your now collaborative technical sponsor) should reach out to the business contact again to confirm this is a value proposition that is accurate and worth pursuing. (Notice, you haven’t asked to meet the business stakeholder yet. You’re nurturing the relationship with value before asking for time.) If you’ve done a good job gathering the information and articulating it in their vocabulary, don’t be surprised if they ask for a conversation at this point.

Here’s an example, “Hi Joan, reaching out to follow up on the XYZ project. After a series of investigative reviews we’ve identified a value proposition that I’d like to verify from a business perspective. We’ve found that a database problem has resulted in about 14% of your customers abandoning their website purchase process prior to checkout due to frustration. As a $100M company, the simple math says this is about a $14M issue. Wondering if you see it the same way or think it’s not worth solving in light of other issues. Your perspective would be valuable to me in my allocation of resources.”

Even if they don’t respond with a suggestion to discuss at this point or point you to another contact they delegate with the responsibility, you have another nurturing opportunity. I recommend a follow up communication to see if they would be interested in understanding the business proposal you will be submitting. I also suggest that you (or your collaborative sponsor) offer to invite them to the formal meeting with the technical team, but offer to provide them with a 15 minute executive overview if they don’t have time for the one to two hour meeting with the rest of the evaluation committee.

Guess which one they usually prefer? In the event they elect to go to the technical meeting, they can be a great resource for keeping the business proposal focused on the outcomes instead of price. I suggest using their presence as the rationale for starting with the executive summary identified below.

I’m sure you can imagine there are other ways to deliver value and build credibility with information in your nurturing campaign. I’ve only highlighted a few, but the idea is to build your credibility without a major ask too early. However, at some point you may need it. If you’ve done a good job and navigated the pushback from the technical team, you should be in a position for a big “ask” if the circumstances aren’t in your favor. “Hi Joan, I’m reaching out to ask for some help on the XYZ project. I’ve run into a <budgeting shortfall, prioritization problem, or other IT roadblock> that I could use some coaching on. Can I get 10 minutes of your time to share the details and see if you have any ideas for eliminating the $14M problem we’ve identified with your online storefront?”

If you’ve navigated this successfully, you will likely find yourself with a more powerful ally in your quest to close your opportunity. Along with the more powerful ally comes wider discretion over fixed budgets, the insight to reprioritize for business reasons, and a more willing sponsor to take you to even more powerful stakeholders should the need arise.

3. Restructure Your Pricing Proposal to be a Business Proposal.

Remember the suggestion to invite the business stakeholder to the proposal presentation, or offer to summarize it for them individually? The key to success on this topic is to structure it like a business proposal, not a solution overview and price quote. The executive summary should include the key problems uncovered, the impact of solving or not solving the problems in terms of revenue, cost reduction, or other tangible return, and the relation to the current business issues of the senior management. The technical details should follow last. The executive summary should not be a summary of your company’s history and solution overview as a majority of technology proposals tend to exemplify. 

Your goal should be to develop a proposal that compels action – not negotiation.


The example situation I described at the beginning of this article grew average productivity of sales people from $1.4M to over $10M in a five year time span, largely due to targeting more powerful stakeholders.

Although none of these tactics are foolproof, with practice, and anticipating the hand slap response, you’ll find your access to more powerful stakeholders (obstacle removers) improving along with your average contract value and sales cycle. Asking for forgiveness in light of a well thought out rationale can relax many ruffled feathers. I would also suggest practicing on your new relationships versus your long term customer relationships. New relationships tend to allow more leeway than longer established relationships where behaviors have been cemented in tradition. Also, as many who have learned to integrate two culture selling into their practice have told me, it’s a lot more fun to sell to the business side of the house!

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.