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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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One Reason Buyers String You Along: And How To Turn It Into Your Advantage

Michael came to me with an interesting situation. He had a prospect that clearly identified a need (they said their customers’ were beating them up over a problem with their product that Michael could help them solve), they also told him that he was their top choice, and there was a budget line item that could be tapped for this purchase. They originally said they would be placing an order in two weeks, but since then, several months had passed. In the meantime, the prospect continues to engage, but has focused Michael on explaining and addressing one technical question after another, with no end in sight.

I asked Michael how the company was doing, business-wise. His quizzical look encouraged me to explain further. “Are they profitable and growing or are they struggling in any part of their business”, I added. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “they’re fine”. I pulled up a browser, performed a search, found their financial reports and reviewed their most recent quarterly filing. The results cited an $11 million loss as well as a 17% decline in revenue for the product set related to Michael’s contact.

Michael squinted as if he was processing this information, but remained silent. So I asked him, “if you were the CEO of this company, had to report a profit loss and a significant decline in revenue for a key product segment, what would you be doing?” Michael grimaced and replied, “I’d be pinching pennies”.

“Exactly” I replied in support. Michael nodded his head and said, “so I guess I should drop this prospect and look for another to replace it”, seeking my agreement.

“On the contrary”, I replied, “you’re in the driver seat now, and should leverage the opportunity.” I went on to suggest Michael sit down with his contact, review the financial results to gain agreement the opportunity was on hold because of the current financial predicament. When he gains agreement, I suggested he offer to collaborate on a strategy. If, in fact, they were getting beat up about a shortcoming in their product, this could probably be the reason for the revenue decline. The strategy would be to approach upper management with Michael’s solution as a way to reverse the revenue decline and address the profit problem. In effect, Michael’s solution could be projected as a strategic solution to a concern the CEO’s is anguishing over.

Companies are like people. When a crisis hits, most behave very predictably; usually to their detriment. Often times, they need help seeing a way out of their crisis, but more importantly, if you have the key to the solution, you have power. The challenge is to thread the subjects together and convince your sponsor to take you up the chain to gain buy-in. I’ve found that sponsors are much more likely to open the door to upper level management in a crisis situation than they are in an even keel situation.

Personally, I’d rather sell to a prospect in crisis over a prospect that is fat and happy.

However, it’s not always evident there’s a crisis, especially with lower level contacts. Worse, they may decide it’s better to string you along rather than tell you they’ve been put into a spending freeze, hoping time will eventually heal the situation. But as the saying goes, “hope is not a strategy”.

I encourage you to look up the financial news and recent press releases for your top opportunities, if not all. Then put yourself in their shoes to anticipate their behavior. You may find that your solution is exactly what they need to address a strategic problem versus a tactical problem, and that puts you in the driver seat to request access to more senior level decision makers.

After all, there’s really no such thing as a spending freeze. They’re still paying the light bills and other necessary expenses. It’s better described as a stringent prioritization initiative. Your job is to help them see how your solution should be re-prioritized in light of the current crisis.

For a very interesting story about this subject with a huge payoff, read my previous post entitled Buyer Psychology In Times Of Crisis.

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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What Clint Eastwood Would Say About Selling

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, or in current vernacular, as a challenger. It’s almost as if everyone is against them as well. From the moment they finish their introduction to a consultative selling model, it’s as if the world is against them.

Imagine this scenario that plays out every day all around the world. A successful 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 the contact’s 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”. We used to call these prospects “See-Mores”, as in “let me see more”. A very seasoned consultative seller can navigate past a See-more, but the new consultative seller will need some help and guidance, 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 lone wolf behaviors had produced 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. 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 equally inclined to forego more extensive diagnostic dialogs under the pressure of a looming quarter end. 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; consider the company that is expecting the seller to suddenly begin consultatively selling and reap the rewards of larger orders in shorter time periods with greater forecast accuracy. 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 or 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 your primary language. 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 about 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 players needs 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.

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.