Category Archives: Marketing

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B2B Selling: Five trends from 2016 and predictions for 2017

One of the joys of our business is that each day we get to work with some of the smartest sales and business leaders on the planet. While our job is to train their sales teams, we often learn as much as we teach. With this in mind, there are a handful of themes that gained traction in 2016 and we expect will have an even greater impact on enterprise selling in 2017:

Customers are more empowered than ever. Buyers are in control and they know it. This isn’t new, but it’s accelerating at an increasing rate. The implications are more and more clear, with some enterprise sales leaders reporting that buyers are as much as 90 percent of the way through their journey before they ever talk with a sales rep. Data sheets and solutions briefs are no longer a starting point for sales conversations, and the salespeople who fail to adapt to this dynamic are simply not going to make their numbers. Sales people need to become masters at reframing the problem set to differentiate their offering in the face of often unknown competition.

CEOs will increasingly abandon incremental changes in favor of big shifts. A 2016 study by KPMG says that four out 10 CEOs expect to be running significantly transformed companies in as little as three years. Our clients tell us market, competitive, regulatory and pricing challenges are forcing them to adapt quickly. And that leaders no longer have the luxury of time to see how their strategies play out. In short: the race will be won by those who adapt and move fast.

Tech spending will slow and the fight for budget will intensify. Gartner predicts sluggish growth in IT spending through 2020. Gartner also predicts that in 2017, the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO, yet another indication that technology spend is shifting from the IT organization to lines of business. Sales organizations will need to adapt to smaller budgets by getting stronger at justifying the need for their solution. And they will need to develop the skills to navigate across customer organizations, new buying stakeholders and budget centers.

There will be more turnover of senior executives as CEOs look to spark growth. The average tenure of a CMO in Silicon Valley is about 18 months, far less than for B2C companies. We’re betting the axe won’t be limited to marketing, with leaders in sales, IT, product development and other areas on a short leash as well. Sales professionals are used to the perform or perish model in their own careers, but will need to learn to adapt faster to a changing landscape of buyers, competitors and influencers.

New roles and functions will become the locus of power and budget in the pursuit of growth. Old titles and portfolios are giving way to a new C-suite populated with executives responsible for revenue, digital transformation, privacy and security. Old customer entry points and buying processes are likewise being replaced by new centers of power and budget, which will vary from customer to customer. Sales professionals will need to become adept at understanding and managing the new buying landscape.

And one more: sales leaders will demand even more from salespeople. It’s true, the goalposts have always moved, so why is this a prediction? We see a new urgency driven in part by the need to capitalize on recent investments in sales force automation, sales performance management, sales enablement and related technologies. Our clients are telling us they will be placing more emphasis on change management and skills development to drive more productivity and effectiveness from their teams.

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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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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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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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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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RFP Strategies

No matter what you call it, RFP, RFI, or RFQ… the success rate for winning unsolicited requests for proposals are dismal. If a buyer sends out 10 bid requests for an RFP, statistically each vendor only has a 1 in 10 chance of winning. That’s much worse than a normal 1 in 3 win rate for most line items on an average sales rep’s forecast.  But if the RFP is rigged for a single vendor, then all the other vendors have zero chance of winning.

So, back to the question, do you bid? I’ll say it depends. I’ve helped many companies improve their RFP win rate, usually very dramatically. But the strategy is very heavily dependent upon knowing which RFP request to ignore. The best way to ascertain if you should walk is to test the RFP. Here are a few of my favorite test points:

Posture

“As the leader in an industry that is growing dramatically, we don’t have the luxury to respond to unsolicited RFP’s. If you would like to evaluate our solution for your needs, we’ll need to engage in a dialog about your business in a more direct manner.”

One of the best methods for increasing your win rate and reducing wasted sales cycles on unwinnable RFP’s is to posture you way out of the process altogether. Although ideal, this strategy usually only works for the leaders in an industry and has to be truly aligned with a buying frenzy.

One of my clients recently hosted a prospective CIO customer during a headquarters visit. After the VP of Sales gave a very energetic overview, the CIO implied that the next step would to tender an RFP for response. The VP of Sales responded with a solid posturing strategy, “As you know, our technology is in the perfect storm of opportunity, market leadership, and high growth. We don’t do RFP’s, we can’t afford to.” The CIO responded, “Yeah, I can see your point. OK, we’ll skip the RFP and go direct to an evaluation phase.” That’s how posturing is supposed to work.

Test their Resolve and Intention

Of course, not everyone is a market leader in a perfect buying storm, and when a quota has to be met, every opportunity should be evaluated. (Notice I said evaluated, not pursued.) I suggest a series of tests to determine their intentions about your solution and to improve your position should you decide to pursue.

The Shadow Story

I worked with an experienced sales management professional who had a saying, “An RFP is the shadow of the story.” What he meant was when you receive the RFP it’s focused on the requirements. What’s missing are the reasons behind the RFP. What unresolved business issue is driving the RFP? What specific people/process/technology challenges were linked to each solution requirement? How big are these problems in terms of money, lost opportunity or other value proposition?

The first place to test an RFP is to ask the prospect if they can share the story behind the RFP. If they refuse, you’re not on solid ground. But if they agree, you have some indication that you are needed in their RFP process either as their first choice (good footing) or an important price/functionality reference point (not so good).

This is your opportunity to not only understand the story behind the RFP, it’s also a chance to change it. This is where the next test comes into play.

Adding Challenges and Requirements

If you have the opportunity to hear the story behind the RFP, you have an opportunity to change the story. This is where you look for problems or challenges that have not been identified, link to your differentiators, and have value for the prospect. There is always something they overlooked.

If they accept the suggestion to change the RFP to incorporate the challenges and associated required solution capabilities you suggested, you have another favorable data point. If they refuse, you have a negative data point.

Reprioritizing Challenges and Requirements

Sometimes you have a capability that differentiates your offering. Look for the opportunity to get a priority ranking of key capabilities. If you have a differentiator that is low on the list, ask about the pain associated with the challenge it addresses. The more pain the higher it should be on their priority list. Conversely, look for competitor’s differentiators. If they are higher on the list, a review of the pain (or lack thereof) behind the associated challenge could help to lower the priority of a capability that you can’t address as well.

If the prospect engages you in the reprioritization dialog and responds favorably to suggested changes in priorities, you have another favorable data point. If they refuse, note the negative data point.

Trade Offs

There will be occasions where you can’t address a capability as described in the RFP, or you address it differently. This is where you request a trade off. You’re trying to get the customer to accept an alternative capability or trade a different capability for the one they specified. If they accept, your position is stronger, if they reject the request, you have another negative data point on your position.

Stakeholders

Another test is to request access to the stakeholders that would benefit from the solution. If they allow the request, you have a stronger foothold, and you may be in a better position to influence changes to the RFP. If they deny the request, you have another data point that may indicate your solution is not valued. If you do get access to the stakeholders, that’s your best chance to re-engineer the list of requirements by bringing up challenges they didn’t anticipate. (see above)

Date of Submission

Another good test point is to ask the prospect if you can be late for the submission date, whether you need it or not. If they agree to accept your submission late, it may be an indicator that you are valued in their RFP. If they reject your request, you have another data point that doesn’t indicate a position of strength.

Conditional No-Bid

At one point in my sales leadership career, my sales team came to me with a very comprehensive RFP tendered by a large corporation. The sales team wanted to secure a large technical team to spend several weeks assembling our response. I said, “No”.  One of our competitors was the incumbent in the account and we had no role in building the specification for the RFP. So I asked for an audience with the RFP committee. My sales team relayed the request and the RFP committee agreed to meet with me.

During the meeting I requested the story behind the story. They declined to share any information. Then I asked if they could extend a longer period of time for our response.  They said if we wanted to compete, we had to play by their rules. Then I asked for access to the stakeholders that would benefit from the purchase. Once again they said, “No”.

I walked away from that meeting with the feeling that we were not their favored vendor. When I got back to my office, I wrote a contingent no-bid letter. I addressed it to the CEO of the company.

In my letter, I explained that we were the leader in our industry, that we were excited about the opportunity to potentially add value to their business, and so on. But, I explained that without more information about the circumstance that brought this requirement to the surface, we could not possibly tender a proposal that would hit their business needs as well as we probably could. I suggested that if the circumstances were to change, and they were willing to share the information, we would be happy to submit a proposal, but in the meantime, we had to decline the RFP. This is what I call a contingent no-bid. I leave the door open, but decline under the current conditions.

A few days later I received a phone call from the CFO of the company. He said the CEO had asked him to get back to me personally. He told me that there was no budgeted purchase planned. He also explained that this group of people were in-between projects and were being funded by a training budget until they were assigned to a project. In other words, there was never going to be a purchase. He apologized for the confusion and asked me if there was anything else he could do for me. I said, “yes, there is!” I asked for a meeting with the CEO and the CFO to simply describe how we could address their business challenges better than the vendor who was currently supplying their solution. He said he would look into it. (I eventually got the meeting). More importantly… I asked him to please not share the information he just disclosed with the other vendors involved in the RFP. He laughed and said he would let it run another 30 days before shutting it down.

A contingent no-bid is an effective test for determining if the prospect needs your response. If they do, they will call you back and attempt to talk you into the response. If they don’t, you were not going to win, and best case, you were only there for pricing comparisons. Better still, if worded correctly, it leaves the door open if the circumstances change.

Improving Your RFP Hit Rate

The quest to improve your RFP hit rate is highly dependent upon setting a goal to NOT reply to blind unsolicited RFP’s. If you can posture your way out of responses you’ll save a lot of resources and project yourself as the most attractive solution. But if you have to reply to win, you can use the strategies listed above to improve your position and test the reality of your chances for winning. If the tests indicate a weak position, you should feel good about walking away from the situation before you invest any resources into the response. After all, if there’s no way for you to win, the unsolicited RFP robs you twice. First because you can’t win this deal, but they also rob you of the time you could have spent on any opportunity that you could have won.

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Sales Agility: Cross Selling

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. But the good news is it can be learned at an individual contributor level and at the organizational level.

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.

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.

I’ll share a real life example.

Years ago, I received a call from Brian Powers, the director of training for Dell at the time. Brian said my name was handed to him by a Gartner representative. 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 an instant across three new product lines!

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.

I was taught a lesson by a stereo sales person a long time ago. When I went to buy a home entertainment system, I was confused by the long system specification lists displayed in front of each product. The seller approached me and asked if I was overwhelmed by the choices. I acknowledged I was. He glanced down at my then five year old son, standing next to me, and said, I could ask you one question that will make this very easy to figure out. He had my attention. He asked, “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. I went home with the most expensive system he had.

With that lesson in mind, here’s what we did to reshape Dell’s outcome. First we broke down each major product into a set of need creation questions. These questions come from analyzing the problems that can be solved by the new product, not the capabilities. 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.

As humans have evolved, we’ve developed pattern recognition for identifying problems, not solutions. We learned to identify a predator, feel the temperature change, or stop at the edge of a cliff with very little coaching. The answers to 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 incent 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 publically 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 $15B contributor to their business. This is an 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 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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Selling Technology: Coal Miners in a Gold Mine

Years ago, I had the privilege to meet Hank Johnston, a former EDS executive. Hank was recruited as a board member for our technology company. Our CEO sent him my way to learn about our sales organization. When Hank showed up to my office, I thought it must be a joke. He had jeans, boots, a plaid shirt with snaps, and a belt buckle that screamed “Texas”. (Not the word, just the size.) In the end, Hank taught me a lesson about judging a book by its cover, and a lot more.

Hank sat down and proceeded to explore our sales model and the outcomes. I could tell by the grimaces, raised eyebrows, and head shaking he wasn’t impressed with our approach or key metrics including average contract value, large deal size and discounting practices.

When he was done grilling me, he said, “Kevin, do you mind if I make an observation?” I gave a nod with my head, Hank continued, “Y’all are a bunch of coal miners in a gold mine!”

I’m sure my face was red with anger. I felt certain he insulted our sales organization, and every fiber in my body was on fire with rage. Before I had the chance to blurt out something I would regret, somewhere in the frontal lobe of my mind, a simple question formed; “What do you mean by that?” To this day, I’m still surprised I said it out loud given the strong emotional reaction I was experiencing. Hank smiled his approval at my curiosity.

Hank went on to paint a verbal picture that has stuck with me for years. He said, “Every day your sales people go to work through this long, dark tunnel in order to hack a few hundred dollars’ worth of coal out of the walls. On their way, they keep tripping over these large yellow rocks. In order to make their path smoother, they kick the yellow rocks out of the way. What they don’t realize is those yellow rocks are gold. They’ve been mining coal for so long they don’t recognize gold when it’s staring them in the face.”

Hank could tell I “got it”. He smiled as the concept cemented itself in my mind. Then, we engaged in a longer conversation about how to turn coal miners into gold miners. Although Hank got up and left my office, my journey had just begun. Our coal mining sales organization transformed into a gold mining team within a few short months.

In retrospect, we executed on a major exercise in sales agility. We learned to call on more powerful stakeholders outside of I.T. We learned how to leverage a wider product portfolio and introduce services as a game changing differentiator in the face of competition. And we learned how to uncover the value proposition that could motivate our new stakeholders to take action on our behalf. As a result, our largest deal sizes quadrupled, discounting dropped by 50%, and we continued on the path to raise the average productivity per rep from $1.4M per year to over $10M per year.

In the years since my introduction to Hank, I’ve had the privilege to bring these lessons in sales agility to sales teams around the world. Cisco learned how to box Juniper into a corner by bringing the conversation to the business side of the opportunity. Dell used it to expand the product line into servers, storage and services, successfully executing a multi-billion dollar growth opportunity. And most recently, Polycom has used it to learn how to create opportunities outside the grasp of I.T., delivering market share gains in a business surrounded by free alternatives.

In a recent example, Polycom engaged a regional bank and asked about the biggest problem they were facing in their business. The executive in the bank was happy to share. They had 110 branches, but only about 50 loan officers. If a potential customer walked into a branch looking for a loan, there was almost a 50% chance they would walk out without any help. Polycom proposed installing video conferencing in every bank, making a loan officer available in every circumstance. After a short time period, they discovered that one loan officer could actually support upwards of ten branches and still generate more business than sitting in one branch by themselves. The bank was able to restructure their staffing, saving millions, and improved their loan business substantially. That’s gold mining!

If you look at a typical operating statement for most publicly held companies, I.T. is usually allocated about 2% of the overall budget. Compare that to upwards of 50% of revenue allocated for the combined sales, marketing and general administration budget. Where would you rather hunt for a sale? Most technology sales organizations sell to I.T. as if it’s the only way. As a result, they spend tons of resources on long evaluations, face a high number of no decision outcomes, get small orders, and not a single thank you for improving the customer’s business.

Is your sales team ready to learn how to gold mine?

Kevin Temple is the founder and CEO of The Enterprise Selling Group, the leader in delivering sales agility and measurable results to sales teams around the world. 

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What Sigourney Weaver Would Say About Selling: The Alien Competitor

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You remember the movie “Alien” with Sigourney Weaver playing the protagonist Ellen Ripley? She’s trapped inside a spaceship with a highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature that stalks and kills the crew of a spaceship. The crew battles the alien several times, only to be knocked off, one after another while the beast grows and grows until it’s over seven feet tall and immensely strong.

Like the alien that Ripley rarely sees, there is a hidden foe challenging every sale we work on. It too, seemingly hides out of view in the shadows, grows rapidly and can eat other sales campaigns without any witnesses.

The Alien I’m referring to is the “alternate use of funds” sometimes camouflaged as a no-decision outcome. Your sponsor reports back that they decided not to do anything at this point in time. Part of you is relieved you didn’t lose to one of your direct competitors, but the other part of you is in despair about working so hard on an opportunity, only to lose twice. The first loss is the time you spent on the opportunity with nothing to show for it, and the second loss is because you could have been working on another opportunity that had the ability to make a purchase.

However, unlike a real no decision, where the prospect isn’t compelled to purchase your solution, in the case of an alternate use of funds, or alien use of funds as I’ll call it, your sales campaign is squashed by a more important issue. It gobbles up the funds intended for your sales campaign and your forecast accuracy along with it.

Recently, in a follow up conversation for a win/loss analysis we were conducting for a client, we called the contact of a forecasted opportunity that was reported as a “no decision” and removed from the forecast. When we spoke to the contact, he elaborated that although he communicated they weren’t going to buy any solution like the one sold by my client, the real reason they didn’t make a purchase was because their general manager decided to cobble together several buckets of unspent budget to fund the building of a new parking lot. As a result, the sales campaign my client ran for several months was dead.

It may seem like it’s impossible to fight an unseen competitor like a parking lot, but don’t despair, just like Ripley, we can neutralize or defeat the predator. The key is to uncover and understand the current issues that have the attention of the prospect’s senior executives. I call these Current Business Issues (CBI). Every company has one or more CBIs they need to address. For the lucky ones, it’s usually a good kind of problem, like scaling issues such as hiring more staff, finding outsourcing options to meet the demands of a popular product, or a new parking lot to accommodate the many new employees they’ve hired to expand a new business line as in the case above. For the not so fortunate, there’s a roulette wheel of common issues; difficulty getting products to market, cost management, new competitors and so on.

The way to neutralize the alien is to get your solution connected to a CBI. As the satirist Thomas Carlyle once said, “Our great business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” We need to seize the relevancy power of the CBI to elevate the priority of our sales campaign and prevent the Alien Use of Funds from sucking the blood out of our campaign.

In the parking lot example, if the seller knew that scaling was the primary CBI, he could have retargeted his messaging to connect to that topic rather than cost savings, as was the theme of his generic, one size fits all, sales campaign. I call this more productive approach agile selling.

So how does one uncover the CBI without planting a listening device in the boardroom? It’s much easier than it seems. In most cases, CBIs are born from outside pressure; unsatisfied investors, new competitors, disgruntled customers, new government regulations and such. All of which publish their expectations in some form. Most of these instigators can be uncovered with the Internet. A few simple search terms like “problems”, “issues” or “challenges” combined with the name of the company can usually turn up several potential issues to leverage. It’s advisable to run the issues by your contacts to confirm the relevance. Also keep in mind, the I.T. department may not be aware of the issues, so branching out to personnel on the business side is valuable.

So let’s say you’ve uncovered a potential CBI, now what do you do with it? We need to align it with your solutions. If you sell an enterprise solution it probably delivers multiple value propositions. It probably helps to reduce costs; get something completed sooner, enables higher throughput, or some other positive outcome. It’s a matter of connecting the CBI to a set of underlying challenges or problems that your solution can address. It’s also valuable to tie in the key metric the customer has attributed to their CBI and is watching closely. Then it’s a matter of publicizing the value proposition in several communications; emails, proposal summaries, and presentations. Eventually, your message will make its way to the top, even if you can’t.

After working with many companies around the world to improve their key selling metrics, I have witnessed this discipline work very well and some cases where it was not implemented well. Most often, the poorly implemented attempts were due to a wishful CBI, meaning the seller proposed a CBI that he/she assumed everyone cared about, with a corresponding metric obtained by averaging out several prior customer successes. Unfortunately, this is like stabbing in the dark. Most of the time you won’t hit anything, but the one time you do compels one to keep stabbing blindly. Keep yourself honest and find out what current business issues your prospect is pressured by, confirm it, then use it to align your solution to the most compelling topic in their closed meetings.

Let’s get back to the title of this piece. If we did get a chance to ask Ms. Weaver, or more properly, Ripley, about combatting our alien, I envision her saying, “be agile, pick the right weapon, be diligent, and don’t give up.

Kevin Temple is the founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group. Kevin has consulted for companies like Cisco, Dell, Polycom, Gartner, VMware and many others. His specialty is helping companies achieve a measurable improvement in key selling metrics like average contract value, largest transaction size and others. The Enterprise Selling Group is a world leader in sales training, sale enablement and sales effectiveness. www.enterprise-selling.com

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What Makes A Post Go Viral? A Lesson For Sales And Marketing Professionals.

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Recently, 7000 New York Times articles were analyzed to determine what common elements were found in those that went viral. The results can be a great instructional guide for sales and marketing professionals that are striving to have their message heard above the cacophony of Internet noise.

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. 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, recent 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.

What’s your current sales or marketing message? And what components of viral propensity does it contain?

Help make this article viral by forwarding a copy to your colleagues! All of them.

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.