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How To Close Every Year End Deal

It’s that time of year again. If your sales team is shifting into gear to close out the year, this article may help you optimize your outcome.

I’ll introduce two very valuable tools for managing the closing process more effectively, the Mutual Activity Plan and the Close Plan.

The Mutual Activity Plan (MAP) is a document developed with the prospect to identify the activities required to reach a decision. These activities might include meetings with other stakeholders, conducting evaluations, talking with references, proposal reviews and more. It’s organized with due dates and action owners as if it’s a project plan – because it is a project plan. Further, it’s a “map” to a destination point; placing the order.

The value of the MAP is getting the buying sponsor on board with you with a timeline. Moreover, if they fail to meet an action item, they have broken an agreement of sorts, providing you with the platform to ask, “why?”, or better, ask for something in return. If they fail to meet a commitment, I suggest asking for something in return that will help improve your chances of closing on time, such as meeting with the final decision maker, or reviewing the prospect’s internal justification document to add suggestions for example.

Here’s a simple example of a MAP:

Activity                                                                           Owner                  Due Date

Discovery meeting with all stakeholders         Smith                    11-25-15

Demo for entire team                                                Smith/Jones        12-1-15

Review with Legal                             Smith/Jones        12-7-15

Engage Purchasing                            Smith/Jones        12-14-15

Place order                                                                    Jones                   12-20-15

Given the complexity of your sale, the MAP may be short and to the point, or it may be several pages long. The longer it is, the more important it is to establish it as a tool to manage the process to a predictable outcome.

Recently, one of the sales leaders in a client site of mine reviewed the previous quarter closing results for one of his struggling sales people and found that every opportunity that closed had a MAP, whereas, the opportunities that slipped into the next quarter did not have a MAP in place. The lesson for the sales rep: it’s difficult for the prospect to meet expectations if they don’t know what they are.

The Close Plan is the MAP plus the internal activities the customer should not see, or should not be bothered with, but need to be managed to closure. These might include examples such as a credit check on the customer, approvals for special options, new product capabilities that are required, discount approval and more.

I typically see more complex close plans required for professional services or other applications where there are multiple contingencies to address, several internal approvals required, and heavily customized solutions. However, sometimes they are more complex because of the nature of the selling company’s culture or bureaucracy. Regardless, the more internal obstacles you have in the way of closing an opportunity, the more important it is to have a close plan in place to keep every required activity front and center.

Finally, having a plan in writing is good, but it also needs to be managed to success. Use the MAP or Close Plan as a review tool to help the sales person make progress on their plan. Check off items as they are achieved and identify activities with high risk to brainstorm on alternatives and contingencies.

I feel compelled to wish you luck closing out your quarter, but we both know that it comes down to great leadership and disciplined sales professionals.

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Control The Buying Process: Gives and Gets

As we roll into the holiday season, its time to think about giving… and getting.

Research by CEB indicates top performing sales people exert more control over the buying process than their colleagues. In this article I’ll share two powerful tools for exerting more control over the buying process which can result in higher win rates and shorter sales cycles.

One of the key premises for control is a healthy balance of give and get. If your buyer values you and/or your solution, they should be demonstrating this by collaborating with you when the process hits a snag. If the balance is heavily lopsided in their favor, you are most likely not their first choice.

Gives and Gets

The discipline to routinely ask for something in return is a powerful control tool when it comes to improving sales results. Consider some of the common requests potential buyers make of you:

  • Can we arrange a demo?
  • Can we install your solution on site for 30 days to evaluate it?
  • Can you provide budgetary pricing?
  • Can we see your five year roadmap?
  • Can we talk to your subject matter experts?
  • Can we talk to a reference?
  • … and more!

Each of these requests presents an opportunity to ask for something in return. I recommend asking for information or activities that will shorten the time to decision. Some examples:

  • Access to other stakeholders, especially those with the power to say yes to a decision.
  • Insight into key metrics that could shed light on the value proposition for making a change.
  • Insight into key competitors and their differentiators that might be important to address.
  • Collaboration on the internal justification document.
  • Confirmation of the current business issues demanding attention in the buyer’s C suite. (This gives you the opportunity to tie your solution to a strategic initiative.)

Keep track of the Gives and Gets outcomes to provide you with a view of the health of your relationship with your buyer. Wins usually have a balanced Give/Get ratio, losses and no decision outcomes are usually biased toward the buyer’s demands with little representation of the seller’s requests. A one sided relationship usually indicates that you are not the first choice, and you are probably being used as column fodder against another preference.

A Series of Formal Agreements

As you navigate your way through the buying/selling process, take notice of the number of informal agreements you establish along the way. For example, which stakeholders you can access, how long the evaluation will take, the decision criteria, when a decision will be made, and so forth. Each of these agreements presents an opportunity to exercise more control by formalizing the agreement in writing. I’ve seen top performers build a list of agreements into something I call the mutual action plan, however, it doesn’t have to be a signed document; it can be a simple email recap with a request to acknowledge the agreement.

The act of formalizing the agreement is valuable in itself for exerting control; however, the most powerful use of the concept comes about when your buyer breaks an agreement. This is when you have the right to ask for something in return! Think of this as a level two Give and Get.

For example, let’s assume you have documented the terms of an evaluation. But now the buyer comes to you and says, “I know we asked for 30 days to evaluate your solution, but we ran into some other distractions that got in our way. Can we extend the evaluation another 30 days to make sure we have ample time to conduct a proper evaluation?“

If you have established a more formal agreement, you should be entitled to ask for something in return. Once again, ask for something that will help you shorten your sales cycle, like access to other important stakeholders, or validation of metrics that can support the need for change.

Conversely, if you failed to document the agreement, you have less ground to stand on to ask for something in return. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask, and it doesn’t mean they won’t grant a return request, but the odds go up for granting your requests when a more formal agreement is in place.

Summary

To shorten sales cycles, reduce the number of no decisions, and set expectations for the dynamics of your relationship, consider using Gives and Gets as well as Formal Agreements to exert more control. Lastly, tracking the positive acceptance or negative denials for Give/Get requests may provide you with advance insight about the outcome of the process.

If you want to change your discipline in this area, consider mounting a poster above your computer to remind you to look for Give/Get opportunities and Formalize AgreementsHere’s an example you can modify to fit your needs.

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“I’m Sorry, We Don’t Have The Budget”

This is my favorite objection… Ever!

Actually, I’d like you to think of of it as an invitation, not an objection. So it’s my favorite buying invitation, ever! I’ll explain…

Every seller has heard “lack of budget” as an excuse on multiple occasions. When I conduct workshops on being a more agile seller I gather the most frustrating sales challenges from the audience. Lack of Budget is usually in the top five.

Let’s start by translating what it really means. When a contact says, “we don’t have a budget for this”, they’re really saying, “I don’t have the authority to change the budget.” This means someone else has the authority to execute a reshuffle of the budget.

Now comes the interesting part: The agile seller uses lack of budget as an invitation to meet the real budget authority and sell larger deals.

A while back, I had a LinkedIn message exchange with a former colleague of mine, Steve Flannery. Our quick exchange reminded me of a time when Steve tackled this challenge in spades. I recall reviewing his “year in advance” forecast with him during a Q1 Ops review several years ago. During the review Steve revealed his largest customer, Unisys, would not be spending any money on our solution in the coming year. They were dropping from spending over a million dollars a year to zero – nada, zilch. When I asked why, he described a situation where Unisys was consolidating from five product lines down to one and laying off personnel, leaving them saturated with our software solution. He ended his story with the words, “so they slashed the budget”.

I suggested it was an invitation to meet with the person who slashed the budget.

Steve set up a meeting with the General Manager of this particular Unisys division. When Steve met with the GM, he found the situation was even worse that he previously understood. As a result of waves of personnel layoffs, their best remaining people were shopping their resumes and were likely to jump ship. That meant the GM wouldn’t have enough of the right people to get their only remaining product line to market.

This opened up an opportunity for our services, and Steve ended up closing a $75M contract to insure the one remaining product line succeeded.

Here’s what I learned from Steve’s experience:

  1. If there’s a big problem lower in the organization, it’s probably more painful higher up.
  2. Budget is an amorphous solid. If you forgot your high school chemistry, an amorphous solid is one that can change shape, usually by adding some heat.
  3. The Agile Seller uses lack of budget as a reason to meet with the person who can reshape a budget.
  4. An effective problem diagnosis can create a larger opportunity with the person who has the authority to move money around.

Let’s exit Steve’s example, and talk about the everyday, ordinary selling campaign. Can a seller still use lack of budget as way to get to a decision maker and overcome the obstacle? The answer is yes, if…

If… the seller does an agile job diagnosing the problem set and uncovers the impact of not taking action. When done effectively, the contact will usually respond positively to a request to collaborate together to get the purchase funded, including taking the message to more powerful budget holders.

So the next time your hear “no budget”, translate it in your head as an invitation. It’s an invitation to diagnose effectively, meet other stakeholders and create a larger opportunity.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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The Secret To Cross Selling Or Up Selling More Effectively

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

For simplicity, the information I’m about to share applies to both up selling and cross selling, but I’ll condense the terms into one for ease of reading.

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

Left to their own devices, most organizations unconsciously apply the same failed learning model for new products. They shovel facts and capabilities at the seller, load on a couple of reference logos and call it a day. (Since we’re in an election year, I thought a little hyperbole might sound familiar.) The crucial point is that capabilities focused training doesn’t promote cross selling as much as the alternative I’m going to explore.

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

A Simple Lesson In Up Selling

I was taught a lesson in up selling by a Best Buy sales person a long time ago. When I went to buy a home entertainment system, I was confused by the complex system specification lists displayed in front of each product. I had a scratch pad in hand and was furiously taking notes, trying to find the best value. A salesperson approached me and asked if I was overwhelmed by the choices. I sheepishly nodded my head in acknowledgement. He glanced down at my then five year old son standing next to me who was not hiding his lack of patience in the matter, and said, “I could ask you one question that will make this very easy to figure out”. He had my attention. He continued, “do you envision entertaining adults in one room or on the patio with some nice music while the children are kept occupied in another room with a movie or TV show? I said, “yes”. He then pointed to the system at the top of the shelf and said there was only one model that could do both. Needless to say, I went home with the most expensive system on display!

Dell Learns to Cross Sell

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

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

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

With the lesson learned from buying a home theater solution, here’s what we did to reshape Dell’s outcome. First we broke down each major product into a set of problem probing questions. These questions come from analyzing the problems that can be solved by the new product, not the capabilities themselves. For example rather than asking, “Would you like services to install a consistent operating system image on all 200 PC’s you’re buying?”, we had them alternatively define a problem set first. “Does your support team run into problems when the operating system installs are not consistent across the organization?” This creates the need for the solution by focusing on a problem rather than the solution itself. It also lowers defenses. Its much easier for a buyer to acknowledge a problem than analyze a complex or expensive addition to their purchase.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 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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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.

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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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What Makes A Post Go Viral? A Lesson For Sales and Marketing

Recently, I published a post about RFP Strategies. It was my most successful post on LinkedIn based on the number of readers, likes and shares. It got me thinking; what makes a post go viral? So I did some research. I believe the lessons learned are important for sales and marketing professionals that are striving to be heard and noticed in a noisy digital world.

In a study on the subject, 7000 New York Times articles were analyzed to determine what common elements were found in those that went viral. Jonah Berger, Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School developed a model based on this research project. He breaks down the key components for creating a viral message into the following four categories:

1. Narrative: A well crafted story line that captivates attention.

2. Practical Value: Providing information that has value to the receiver.

3. Emotion: Causes strong emotional feelings including surprise and happiness.

4: Social Currency: The message makes the sharer seem cool or hip.

Many viral successes leverage more than one component. For example, you may be one of the 300 Million who viewed the “Will It Blend?” video, where Blendtec founder Tom Dickson throws a variety of objects into a blender including golf balls, lightbulbs and an iPad. This post leveraged narrative, emotion, and social currency to reach such high viewership.

In the sales and marketing profession, research by CEB indicates we should be educating our customers with practical value, while common wisdom suggests the best sellers narrate good stories about other customer successes. Perhaps there’s a correlation between sales and marketing messages that resonate and the viral components described above.

My suggestion is to first take a look at my RFP Strategies article and evaluate it against the four components of viral messaging identified above. Then look at your current sales and marketing messaging to see if you have, or could tap into any of the four components of viral messages. Perhaps you can improve the hallway buzz with a few tweaks.

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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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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Turn a Boring Corporate Presentation Into a Compelling Sales Presentation

Mark was a former client of mine. I hadn’t heard from him for a while so I was pleased to get a message from him on LinkedIn. He was wrestling with a problem and asking for my opinion. He had recently taken on a new sales leadership assignment with a large multinational company. His team was not doing well. The were way short of achieving quota and their pipeline was poor. His analysis indicated they could get the first meeting, but the second meeting was elusive. Upon further probing, I found they were using a presentation as a key part of their first meeting, so I asked to take a look.

It was a case of the unpersuasive corporate deck.

I’d like to share what I’ve learned about making a presentation more persuasive, but I should acknowledge it’s right in line with Aristotle’s work on Rhetoric describing Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. So if you have any college flashbacks, good or bad, you can thank/blame me.

Before I begin a summary of how I helped Mark and his team, keep in mind that a persuasive sales presentation is supposed to answer three questions for your audience. “Why Change?” “Why Change Now?” and “Why Us?” Your objective is to heighten their emotional perspective on the requirement for change, and lead them to your solution as the best option given their circumstance. Alternatively, a lack of persuasion translates to leaving it up to the prospect to find the motivation to change on their own. For those who may have forgotten, I’ll remind you of the saying, “hope is not a strategy!”

1. Problem Identification. People are motivated for their own reasons, not yours. A persuasive presentation should start with a focus on the problems they’re having in their business. (Not your company bio, or your client logos! See my post on Selfies). Within the first 3 or 4 slides, there should be a problem identification slide. This is where you get the customer to confirm the problems they’re experiencing in their business. It can be a list of common problems other customer’s have shared. It can be a “situation creates problems” visual, or it could be a blank slide with bullets reminding you to start a dialog about problems. Even better, blank the screen out and have a discussion (In Powerpoint, Ctrl B turns the screen black, ctrl W turns it white). You’ll be amazed at how many people wake up, put down their mobile devices and contribute.  Don’t forget to capture their input in plain view.

Some people have voiced concerns to me about “guessing” with the wrong problems. My answer is that if none of the problems you can solve resonate with the prospect, you should walk away from the engagement and find a prospect that does have problems you can solve. Further, it’s not necessary that all the problems resonate. Just enough to help them answer their first question “Why Change?” and compel them to share problems not listed on your slide.  I’ve also received push back on this suggested activity when the seller feels uncomfortable engaging in a subject that seems obvious to the prospect. “They know what problems they have!”, I’ve heard as an explanation. But in fact, they don’t know all of the problems they have, and they will be grateful when you point out problems that add to their perspective. (This is called delivering insight.) At a minimum, you get credibility points for demonstrating that you understand the problems they’re facing. More importantly, the list of problems becomes your long term motivational carrot and stick. (See item 5 below.)

2. A Compelling Story. This can be an anecdotal story about a company/person similar to your audience, an analogous story about some every day experience, or it can be an foreign land based mythical story. In the former, your story depicts another organization or person in a situation similar. More important is to describe the problems this other character was experiencing… you want them to relate to your character, and problems are their common ground. Then you describe how you solved the problem set and the outcome or payoff for the customer. I call this the Hollywood format, since it follows almost every movie script format ever produced. In the analogy or foreign land story, you are doing the same thing as the anecdotal story; you introduce a character ( your dog, or a giant in medieval times for example), you describe the problem (your dog won’t take his medicine, or the giant is terrorizing the village), you describe how the problem was overcome (your mother suggested wrapping the medicine in peanut butter, or the small child uses his slingshot to fell the giant), and then you draw out your point ( sometimes solutions come from collaboration, or fear can cripple grown warriors) and connect it to your message for the day.

Stories do more than illustrate the “Why Change?” question. They build rapport with the audience and they make you more accessible. They also last longer than your presentation. People can easily forget the details of your presentation, but many will remember a story for months or years. If you can remember the details of a book or movie that you haven’t viewed for years or even decades, you are your own proof that stories have staying power.

3. Build Anxiety. If you’ve done a brilliant job of answering “Why Change?”, your next goal is to answer the question “Why Now?” Your audience needs to be compelled to take action. Although some people are motivated by opportunity, a vast majority are motivated by fear or pain. Your job is to get the audience to experience the pain of not taking action. This can be achieved with a Provocative Question, another story with a disappointing outcome, or a third party prediction.

A Provocative Question is designed to tap the personal ramifications of not changing. It might sound like, “So if the your team misses their milestone delivery date, how does that impact you personally or the group?” Your objective is not necessarily to get the answer, in fact, you may already know the answer. Your objective is to get them to experience the outcome while they are sitting in front of you. Ideally, the receiver thinks through the outcome and comes to some conclusions in their mind such as… “I won’t be getting my bonus.” or, “I’ll have to dust off my resume”, or “There will be some late nights and weekends for everyone.” Basically, you want them to move from the logical reasons for change to the emotional reasons for change. The best answer you can hope for is the prospect asking you, “so how can you help us with that problem?” ..teeing up item 4 below!

If you decide on another story, the structure is the same as above – identify the character, describe the problem – however, now you reveal the lack of action, or a different decision (such as they tried to solve it themselves). Then you describe the outcome. Only this time its pain oriented. Loss of money, competitive disadvantage, personal heat from their boss, etc. Help the audience to feel the ramification for not taking action, or for taking the cheap way out.

In using a prediction, its best to refer or cite an outside source that has credibility. “Gartner anticipates that 40% of businesses will double their cost of application support every year without the use of analytics.” The objective is to get them to experience a pain in the future that has been verified by a credible third party. On a side note, I’ve witnessed lots of corporate presentations with compelling quotes sprinkled throughout. Unfortunately, most presenters fail to leverage the quote, or simply read it aloud. Try engaging the audience around the quote. You might ask, “so does this quote seem appropriate to your situation?” Or, “do you think that number is high or low?” You want to get them to live in the moment of the quote and tap into their emotional drive to help you with your objective to act now.

4. Connect Your Differentiators To Their Problems. Now we want to answer, “Why Us?” When you reach the section of your presentation where you are describing your solution, you want to call out the problem you captured earlier that connects directly to the capability you’re about to disclose.  If you captured their input of the problem definition on a white board or a flipchart, go to that location and circle the problem that your capability addresses. If you captured the list in your notebook, verbally call out the problem again and even better, identify the person who brought it up. “Mike, were you the one that said there was a problem with redundant processes for the team? (Mike nods agreement.) Good, next I want to show you how we address that better than any other solution available.” Make sure you identify when your capability is unique or at least does a better job addressing problems than other solutions, including a DIY solution.

5. Follow Up The Presentation With A Recap And Confirmation Of The Problems. When you captured the list of problems, you weren’t just being a good listener or providing insight by bringing up problems they weren’t aware of; you were also planning for the future. As soon as you leave your presentation, the attention of your audience is pulled elsewhere. It might be dreading the upcoming commute home, or it might be getting back to a project deliverable that’s late. What ever it is, there will be many distractions and they diffuse the power of your persuasive presentation by overwhelming the participant with other thoughts. As days go by, your compelling presentation is lost in the muck. Your job is to remind them of the emotional reaction you created for them. When you type up your follow up thank you email, recap the problems (and impact) you uncovered and seek their buy in that you heard it correctly.

“Hey Mike, thanks for sponsoring the meeting yesterday. Wanted to make sure I shared the input I gathered in case you need it for internal discussions. The group identified three major problems 1) redundant process, 2) no way to understand how their product was being used when bugs occurred, and 3) having to reinvent the wheel for each operating system. They said this was driving up costs by 30%, and delaying releases by 2 months or more (leading to disappointment upstairs). Let me know if I missed anything important or if I’ve portrayed the situation correctly.

Your objective is to remind them of their reasons to change and to change now. But don’t stop here. When they ask for demonstration, start the demonstration with another recap and confirmation. One reason to do this is that things can change, but more importantly, you want to refocus them on Why, Why Now and Why Us. When they ask for a pricing proposal, include the problem list and impact in your cover letter. Remind them again of the reasons to change and the priority for doing it now. (It also helps to sell for you if a unknown stakeholder has to sign off and you lack access to them directly.) Think of it as the movie trailer that gets you excited about seeing a movie again.

Summary

When you master the persuasive presentation format, you’ll see shorter sales cycles, lower no decision outcomes, and better access to other stakeholders. After a great presentation, some will want you to repeat the presentation to their boss, or their boss’s boss. On the other hand, if you deliver the same boring presentation as the next sales person, they will want to shield their boss, take their time sifting through other alternatives, and let other distractions mask the urgency of the initiative.

Lastly, back to the story I started with…We retooled Mark’s presentation with this set of guidelines, and he tracked a 87% increase in pipeline in 90 days. Now we’re working on improving their close ratio. 







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