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What Clint Eastwood Would Do After A Consultative Selling Workshop

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

The same goes for sales reps that are chartered to sell consultatively. (Insert your favorite: Solution Selling, Value Based Selling, Challenger Selling, etc…)  It’s as if everyone’s against them as well. From the moment they finish their introduction to a consultative selling model, it’s as if the entire world is against them.

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

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

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

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

Now the invisible enemy; the seller’s own company. Its ironic the company is expecting the seller to suddenly begin consultatively selling, while unfortunately, their marketing messaging is still touting product capabilities, their recognition and reward systems still incentivizes old behaviors, their leadership hasn’t defined success in a very tangible way and probably didn’t attend the same training experience, and their solution training is still product centric. Imagine moving to a foreign country to learn a new language, but everyone speaks nothing but English. You’re not likely to learn very much.

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

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

 

The Enterprise Selling Group provides sales transformation strategy, planning and execution services. If you’d like more information about successfully transforming your team to a consultative selling model, please visit our website at www.enterprise-selling.com

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The Proposal that Sells Itself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Disqualifying Can Increase Sales

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

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

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

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

We had four disqualifying questions for inquiries:

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

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

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

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

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