Category Archives: Proposals

Blog

The Trump Effect On Enterprise Selling

This is not a political opinion piece. I’m not commenting on policies in favor or against the new administration. I’m simply spotlighting a challenge and an opportunity in sales given the current transition in power.

The inspiration for this article came recently while listening to Jim Cramer’s show called Mad Money, where he evaluates investment opportunities and makes recommendations on buy/sell actions. The segment that caught my attention was focused on the Trump effect on Wall Street. Also a non partisan assessment of the ups and downs on Wall Street related to recent policy announcements with some insight into investment opportunities. It got me thinking about the effects of recent policy changes on sales people and sales campaigns.


The most obvious implication is for sales people who sell healthcare solutions or solutions to help companies comply with regulatory requirements. Both of these topics are front and center for the new administration which is likely to cause prospects in these categories to go into “wait and see” mode. For sales leaders in these segments, no decision outcomes are likely to increase and create havoc on forecasting and close ratios.


Secondarily are companies or industry segments that are spotlighted but have not yet experienced a policy outcome. This includes pharmaceuticals, companies with foreign manufacturing, and potentially even travel related businesses. There may be others in the weeks to come.


The point I want to make is that now is the time for sellers focused on these industries to pivot from their standard operating procedure. For example, when the dot com bubble went bust in 2002, Cisco’s sales retracted about 15%. But their closest competitors reported a 30% reduction in sales. Cisco pivoted while their competitors stayed the course. In the face of a frozen market, Cisco consciously branched out from their focus on IT and began a campaign to call on the C suite to compel investment into networking to deliver business results, not just implement updated infrastructure which was the focus of most IT purchases prior to the bust. Their pipeline from non-IT centric opportunities grew by 300% and mitigated the sales retraction that would have happened had they not pivoted. (As you may have guessed, I was consulting with Cisco on this pivoting strategy at the time.)


If you are selling into a market that might freeze like a deer in the proverbial headlights due to potential changes in policy, here are some practices you might want to sharpen:


1. Identifying the compelling reason to change. Whether your sales proposal is battling other uses for funds, or trying to unstick a frozen buyer, being meticulous in uncovering, articulating and confirming the reasons for change are of paramount importance. This means identifying the people/process/technology problems the buyer is experiencing, connecting these underlying problems to C level topics I call business issues (time to market, cost management, competitive differentiation, and more.), and calculating the cost of not taking action. The three components of a compelling business proposal are critical for overcoming the distractions of potential policy changes or mitigating the impact of an actual policy change if the business proposition is compelling. This orientation requires the seller to get out of a capabilities focused dialog and into a problem hunting, value articulation and stakeholder threading dialog.


2. Incorporate more powerful stakeholders.  As Cisco found out, the more powerful the stakeholder the less difficult it is to compel action in the face of uncertainty. Lower level stakeholders tend to get scared and withdraw during times of crisis, so they need help overcoming this natural behavior mode. An Agile seller will announce the requirement to incorporate more powerful stakeholders as a result of concerns about wasting time given policy implications, and hold the line if pressured to relent. Use the potential waste of time as a reason to bring more powerful stakeholders into the conversation.


3. Qualify, Qualify, Qualify. When markets freeze, your time allocation becomes critical. As I’ve said before, a prospect that won’t buy robs you twice. First they rob you of the time you spent with them with no results to show, and second they rob you of the time you could have spent with a different prospect that was in a better position to buy. In times of crisis, BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timing) is no longer a viable qualification model. The Agile seller shifts to a disqualification model. In effect they put the buyer in the position of having to convince the seller that they will buy even under unusual circumstances. In 2009, at the height of the great recession, Imprivata, a provider of single sign on solutions used this model to separate tire kicking prospects that had too much time on their hands and no money to spend from those that were willing to help Imprivata sell more effectively. Their business grew 47% during the worst year of the recession. The secret to their disqualification process? See items 1 and 2 above. Or read more here.


In a nutshell, the new administration is and will probably continue to create crisis in specific industry segments. The Agile seller will learn to use the situation to compel their contacts to collaborate more effectively given the obvious potential for wasting time. And they’ll take the opportunity to sharpen their selling skills and turn adversity into an advantage. 

Blog

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.

Blog

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.

Blog

“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.

Blog

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.

Blog

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.

Blog

Buyer Psychology In Times Of Crisis

It was mid January. When Steve began the PowerPoint overview of his annual sales plan, I wasn’t expecting any surprises. Steve was one of the top performers nationally, and was always very consistent in forecasting and productivity. But something was out of place on a spreadsheet showing projected bookings by account. 

After several years of consistently booking over a million dollars a year with a division of Unisys in the San Diego area, Steve’s revenue projection for the year was a big fat zero. Nada. Nothing. 

When I asked about the anomaly, Steve was prepared. He described a tumultuous situation at Unisys. This was at the time when PC sales were exploding, but the by-product was a slow down in orders for higher end computing solutions. This particular division of Unisys designed mainframe computers for large scale enterprise applications. They were caught in a market transformation. As a result, they were in the process of scaling from five different products down to one. Now, Steve explained, they had too much of our electronic design products on hand, leaving them over saturated with our software. He was basically crossing them off of his list.

“I wonder what the psychology of the organization is at Unisys as a result?” I pondered out loud. Steve knew the answer. He told me they had even bigger problems now. Since the writing was on the wall for pending layoffs, all of their best people were shopping their resumes for employment options. “Unisys could be a ghost town in a couple of months”, Steve explained. “If they can’t do something to stop the exodus of their best people, they won’t be able to ship their one remaining product.”

I smiled and said, “then you have a gold mine on your hands.”  Steve looked at me quizzically, and I suggested he set up a meeting with the General Manager of this Unisys division. I was confident we could help solve both problems.

Steve set up the meeting with the GM, and he confirmed what Steve had learned from hallway gossip. They were already losing people, and the GM said his number one concern was about losing his best people and missing deadlines for the remaining product set. In anticipation of his confirmation we had prepared a very tailored solution. We suggested the GM sell us his design organization (for one dollar, it turns out), and then enter into a design services contract with us to deliver his key product on time. In essence, his team would change jobs to a high growth, attractive and stable company without changing offices. Plus, we had enough growth in our services business to employ everyone on his payroll, negating the need to job shop for those on culled product designs. The contract would net my organization $75M over a multi-year period; the largest transaction in our company history.

Since that transaction took place, I’ve grown to appreciate buyer chaos from a selling perspective. Here’s what I learned about buyer psychology in a crisis situation:

  • The door is open. It’s much easier to get on someone’s calendar if you connect your topic to their current crisis. Although it seems counter-intuitive, it’s also much easier to get sponsorship to the top when the house is on fire. People become desperate for solutions when the world is falling apart around them.
  • Don’t sell what you have, sell what they need. Situational crisis creates other problems. Spend some effort to understand the new problems arising as a result of the crisis, this may enable you to sell products or services you normally overlook.
  • Creativity is welcome. There were tax and write off implications for Unisys which resulted in the buy out of the organization for $1. They couldn’t write off the monetary loss of the good will of several hundred employees without a tangible exchange, but they didn’t want price to slow down the process with a protracted negotiation.
  • Politics take a back seat. In normal buying situations, politics can muddy the waters considerably, creating delays and slowing adoption of new solutions. In crisis, the usual political instigators tend to want to get into any feasible lifeboat. 

Next time you’re prospecting, consider placing the companies in chaos at the top of your list.

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.

Blog

Sales Agility: How To Tailor A Sales Message

The first quarter of the year is usually a slow start for most enterprise focused sales organizations. But it also tends to kick our behinds into gear as we grasp the required ramp to reach the year end goal. If this resonates with you, I’d like to focus you on one initiative that will produce better sales results, and provide the fuel for your accelerated ramp requirements. The best part is it’s easy to implement, especially for time strapped sales people and sales leaders.

We’ve been hearing it for a few years now. CEB’s research says the top performing sales people tailor their sales messages to their prospects. If you’re not tailoring your messaging, there’s a potential windfall waiting for you.

On the other hand, if your team is using the “spray and pray” model, where one message fits all audiences, you’ll find the result of not tailoring sales messages is a high ratio of “no-decision” outcomes. I’ve run across numbers as high as 60% of the pipeline in some businesses, while the norm is about 40%. As a subset of this, delayed decisions are also costly when it comes to improving sales productivity, and also relate to a lack of tailored messaging. Bottom line, if the prospect has trouble understanding the need to change given their situation, or can’t clearly articulate it to their colleagues, they either can’t make a decision to change, or it gets delayed. Tailoring the sales message around their specific situation is critical for delivering better sales results.

Before we get started, let’s narrow the task down to a manageable and productive thrust. There are several levels of tailoring: You can tailor to the industry, tailor to the company, or tailor to the job title or function. You can also tailor to the individual, but that requires insight into their personal values, focus, passion and more. For this article, I’ll focus on tailoring to a company. This level of tailoring helps with the first step, getting in the door. It also helps the contact identify and more clearly articulate the reasons for change to their colleagues, resulting in fewer no decision outcomes.

The place to start is with the Internet. I start with three basic research tasks:

  1. Identify any recent changes to their operating results, good and bad.
  2. Take a look at their press releases for good or bad news.
  3. Perform a specialized Internet search on their company name combined with a few chosen adjectives.

Recently, I conducted this exercise on a prospect and it took a total of about five minutes. But the results were invaluable.

I’ve decided not to disclose the name of the company that I’ll use to illustrate my results as they are an early stage prospect for my business. I can only imagine the number of my competitors calling them after reading my post, and since I don’t have the contract nailed yet, I’ll take the safe route.

The first place I visited was their “Investor Relations” section of their website. Like most public companies, they post their financial results for their shareholders. Not three days before, they released their 2014 annual report.

I quickly scroll down to page 33 where I find their operating results. The first thing that catches my attention is they have almost quadrupled revenue from $12M to about $44M in one year. That’s impressively good news, but I didn’t stop there. Looking further down, the next eye catcher is operating expenses. The cost of sales has almost doubled from $32M to $62M, outpacing their revenue generation. This also indicates they’ve probably hired a lot of sales people from one year to the next. Their General and Administrative (G&A) costs have also doubled from $9M to $19M: Another indicator of hyper growth and an expansion of employees in other departments.

Since an annual report is a comparison of one year to the previous and may already be out of date, my curiosity compels me to check their current job postings to see if their hiring pace has changed. As it turns out, they are still in a rapid expansion mode. There are over 20 open sales openings listed in a variety of locations with around 100 postings in all categories combined.

I scan the remainder of the annual report to see if anything else catches my attention. As with all public companies, they are required to compare their shareholder return to a general investment in the stock market. The graph catches my eye. It shows their IPO price of a year ago, $40 per share, compared to the current price of $7.81. This causes me to conclude there’s probably a good deal of pressure on the executive staff to address this problem. (Even Elon Musk has to pay attention to this fundamental eventually.)

Next I turn to their news center. This doesn’t turn up anything useful to me. Like most companies, this is more of a marketing take on the trends and opportunities in their industry. It’s not really focused on their issues or problems. However, I never overlook it because sometimes something useful pops up like a recent merger or new regulatory requirements that may impact their business.

Lastly, I perform a problem and opportunity oriented Internet search. I like to use their company name and combine it with positive and negative adjectives. I’ll use words like “problem”, “issues”, “concerns” and the like. If that doesn’t pan out I’ll try some opportunity oriented business words like, “merger”, “partnership”, or “regulations”. I typically look only on the first page of results as any past this point are probably dated. This time, an article dated a few months earlier pops up. It details their announced partnership with a complimentary leader in their market. Although not too interesting to me, it would be interesting to other sales professionals selling collaboration tools. I make a note to pass a lead on to my customer, Polycom.

Not a bad return for a five minute investment. I now know they have a shareholder return issue, which is probably putting pressure on cost management or revenue growth, the latter being my hope. I also know they are spending more on sales than the company is generating in revenue, so I’m confident they should be open to ideas about reversing this ratio. I also found they have scaled the sales organization rapidly and are continuing on a fast clip. Combining this with the diverse locations of their job postings, I’d venture to bet they have a ramp up challenge, something I can help with in many ways.

This simple step arms me to have a productive conversation with their Chief Revenue Officer. Although I could have easily put this person on my standard email nurturing cycle and check in with them after they followed a link to some valuable content on my website, I find a much higher hit rate if I find something compelling and use that to start a conversation directly.

But I don’t stop there. I’ll use this information throughout my sales campaign. In the event I’m invited in to deliver a presentation to a larger stakeholder group, I use it to frame my presentation and drive a dialog to uncover related or additional problems. I also use it to frame my proposals. Even though I specialize in teaching sales professionals how to access decision makers more effectively, I’m also impacted by geographic separation or the calendars of overwhelmed CEO’s or other decision makers. In this event, I want my proposal to sell for me, framing my solution around the global, high level problems every executive in their organization would like to see addressed.

In short, I tailor my message to the issues they currently have on their table.

So why don’t more sales people make this simple investment and improve their results? I think it has to do with habit and an ill placed value on the shortest path to closure. They mistakenly believe the sooner they can talk about their product or service, the faster the decision will be made. However, as in Aesop’s fable, going slower can make you the winner.

If you’re a sales leader, I suggest a simple assignment to prove the value of this minor change in modus operandi. Ask your team to perform this level of research on just three prospects each and share the results at your next staff meeting. Chances are, most will find something compelling which puts your solution in a more strategic light.

LIMITED OFFER: I am offering to demonstrate this process for a select number of sales leaders and their teams using your own prospects. If you’d like to have a web demonstration at your next staff meeting, please contact me with the information below.

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 training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

Blog

What Sigourney Weaver Would Say About Selling: The Alien Competitor

alien3_14
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

Blog

The 12th Man In Sales: The Hidden Competitor

Image

If you’re not familiar with the 12th man on defense, its a reference to the audience noise level that gave the Seattle Seahawks a major home-field advantage this past season in the NFL. It suggests there is one more defensive player than the 11 allowed on the field.

Selling also has a 12th man or woman, that plays against you or your team. Although we often think of competitors as the other alternatives in our industry, the 12th man is the competitive use of funds for other initiatives. When your opportunity is submitted as a purchase requisition for sign off, there may be one or more purchase requisitions competing against it for limited funding. It could be an application for a different department, additional headcount, or even a new parking lot… as one of my client’s discovered in a recent loss.

So after engaging with your contacts, successfully differentiating your solution, navigating a positive outcome on a Proof of Concept and committing an expensive amount of resources and time, you’re now up against a competitor you know nothing about. Worse, the sponsor of the competitive requisition may be a better sales person than your champion or sponsor. Research indicates that up to 30% of sales opportunities lose to the 12th man. In some cases it only means a delay until a new quarter or new budgeting cycle, but in some cases the loss is permanent. In either case, when you are trying to optimize your time and resources to reach a goal, this can be a costly proposition.

So how do you mitigate this hidden competitor? The first step is to arm your champion with an effective Executive Summary. I find that most sales people either don’t use an Executive Summary or they provide a “selfie” and label it an Executive Summary. (A selfie is a description of the seller’s own company and product. See our previous post on the topic.) The absence of an Executive Summary or an ineffective “selfie”allows the 12th man an opportunity to better position themselves on the playing field and connect more effectively with the executive sign-off authority.

An effective Executive Summary should include:

  • An overview of the current and relevant business issues the prospect’s company is facing. For example, recent acquisitions, difficulty managing costs, new competitors, and so on. Remember, you’re trying to connect with a signature authority! So capture the subjects that are of interest to them now.
  • A overview of the relevant problems or challenges that you will be able to resolve and contribute to the resolution of the business issue(s). For example, broken processes, manual processes, limited staffing resources, capacity limitations, and more. I call these the People/Process/Technology challenges. Many times, the sign-off authority doesn’t know the scope of the problem set or the implications of the problems.
  • Identify the impact of taking or not taking action. The former is an opportunity, the latter is a cost. The most relevant impact is one cited by the customer themselves; “we have a goal to reduce costs by 15%”, or “the acquisition cost was over $100 million”, or, “our product revenue is down 10% due to new competition”. Sometimes the best we can do is an intangible impact: “potential lawsuits”, “regulatory fines”, or “loss of credibility”.
  • Provide proof in the form of a reference story or quote. If they follow you’re logic on why buy something, why buy from you, and why buy now, the last question they have will be “can we trust them?” Supply them with a brief story about another customer who had the same business issues, problems and credible payoff/cost results. Lacking this, an analyst quote may help.

The best situation is where you or your team can deliver the executive summary in person. But if that’s not possible you should create an Executive Summary that can sell for you, or better equip your sponsor to sell on your behalf. Leaving out the Executive Summary gives the 12th man the opportunity to do a better job of connecting their solution to the business issues the sign-off authority is interested in addressing.

Kevin Temple is founder and President of The Enterprise Selling Group. Kevin works with companies around the world to improve their sales and marketing practices and increase revenue. The Enterprise Selling Group is the leader in sales transformation.