Category Archives: Sales Leadership


Six Buyer Questions Relevant To Every Culture

Years ago, I worked for a great sales manager named Pete who told me selling was different in different parts of the country. He grew up in New Orleans, while I was from Los Angeles. After I teased apart his perspective, I came to understand his point was that customs are different. For example, he would have a hard time closing a large sale in the south if he failed to take a client out for dinner. Whereas, for me on the west coast, getting a buyer to dinner is a challenging task and not usually viewed as a requirement. My clients in Japan have told me that getting a meeting with a senior buying executive in their culture requires having a same level executive or higher from the selling side. In many other cultures, that helps, but its not a requirement. After having conducted business in over 40 countries around the world, I have no argument with Pete’s observation, however, what I have found is that buyers have consistent behaviors regardless of culture or customs. (As I write this article, I’m in client’s office near  London, reviewing opportunities from Russia to South Africa and places in-between.)

Over the years, I’ve literally asked thousands of people from around the world to share the questions they would need answers to before funding a large purchase. Translated from many languages, the core questions are universal among buyers around the globe regardless of culture:

  1. Why should we change?
  2. Why now?
  3. Why this alternative?
  4. What’s the impact?
  5. Who does it impact?
  6. Who can we trust?

The first question is really about impetus. It includes the identification of people/process/technology problems and the connection to the current business issues the executive staff is trying to overcome. When connected together, they form an effective argument for change. Left unconnected, the argument for change can be overshadowed by more effectively articulated options – resulting in no decisionoutcomes for the poorly articulated purchase requests. I’m reminded of a sales person who told me his software sale was delayed because the client wanted to build a parking lot. In that case, someone successfully argued the scaling of the company was being hampered by a lack of employee parking, easily overshadowing the weak plea from engineering for a better code development platform that was not connected to the scaling issue, but could have been.

The second question is about aligning priorities. This is achieved by connecting the people, process and technology problems identified to a business issue that has the attention of the executive staff. If it connects to a business issue that isn’t on the minds of senior leaders, it’s at risk for being delayed until the business issue elevates in priority (if ever).

Weighing alternatives is a multifaceted question. At first glance, it seems like a simple differentiation question, which it encompasses, but can go even further. As pointed out above, it can also be about alternative uses for funds. Or it can be a “make versus buy” question. And lastly, its a test of the current approach, assessing if they can get by with the current solution, albeit potentially lacking. 

Impact is about value.  The return on the investment will need to align with the metric that has their attention, so it’s context relevant. While one company may be focused on improving revenues, the next company may be more concerned about reducing costs. Developing a value proposition that will motivate action requires attention to the customer’s current business issues as the focal point, and it’s their metric, not the seller’s metric that matters.

“Who does it impact” also has multiple levels. The first implication is about sizing the solution. For example, does the problem set impact one person or a hundred? The second implication can be a funding question. For instance, if it impacts sales and marketing, who is going to pay for it? And finally, there’s a political implication; if it does impact sales and marketing, can they collaborate to succeed with the new solution.

Lastly, the question of trust comes in many forms and includes many time consuming activities on the part of buyers and sellers. On-site product evaluations are educational for the buyer, but overall they are a test of trust and credibility. If your product has severe bugs or other quality problems, your credibility suffers and so does the trust.  Reference checks and now social media posts are a test of trust and credibility. Your existing customer list is a testimonial to the trust others have put in your company. Most buyers execute multiple credibility checks to evaluate your trustworthiness.

Although you may have thought of a question that’s not on my list, I’ve typically found its either simply stated differently but aligns with one of the questions above, or its a packaged combination of two or more of the core questions. For example, “what’s the ROI?” is really a concrete example of the “impact?” question. And, “why should we buy the premium provider?” is really a combination of “why this alternative?” and “whats the impact?” providing a means to weigh the added value of their differentiated capabilities. (But please add yours to the comments below if you’d like to dialog about it!)

I’ll leave you with one last thought. This list is potentially the most important list a sales professional can keep front and center. If you are helping your buyers to answer these questions effectively, you are enabling them to buy faster, buy bigger, and insure a measurable return to their business. Conversely, if you are not helping them answer these questions effectively, you’re leaving your opportunity open for risk. Just one unanswered question on their part can lead to a delayed decision, a no decisionoutcome, a loss to a competitor or a loss to a better use of funds.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at 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.


Winning the Hearts and Minds of Your Sales Team

My first job as a professional sales representative for a major computer company was more like a roller coaster ride than a career step. During the first 12 months I had five different sales managers. (The first one was committed to a mental health facility by his family, which led to second guessing everything I learned from him.) The subsequent managers were never in the role for more than a couple of months for a variety of reasons.

When number six showed up, the entire team released a collective sigh of frustration. Bob was a former clothing textile sales professional, not the normal profile for this computer company of 60,000 employees. I’m sure all of us drew some opinions about his ability to survive as a square peg in a round hole.

Bob spent the first few days asking a lot of questions. He wanted to know what was working and what wasn’t. He showed a lot of interest when I complained about  the call reports we were required to fill out every Friday. I explained that each of his predecessors followed company policy by holding us accountable for the weekly report. It would take a couple of hours to fill out, and for the most part, the previous managers wouldn’t even look at it. They would just file them in the row of filing cabinets in the hallway. I wasn’t the only one frustrated by this valueless activity. He heard the same thing from most of the sales staff.

(The information I left out of my complaint was I had been occasionally photocopying the same report and altering the date, just to see if the last manager would catch it. He didn’t.)

When Monday morning rolled around, we all showed up for Bob’s first 8:00 am staff meeting. We could all see through the glass wall into the hallway. Bob was talking to a couple of men with hand dollies. When he wrapped up with them, he came into the staff meeting and started with a summary of what he had learned the previous week: The team hadn’t achieved quota for three quarters in a row, the technical support team felt under appreciated, and we had failed to land a single account for a new product that was showing promise with other sales teams within the company, among other things.

What happened next caused all of us to gawk. One by one, the moving crew began to cart the filing cabinets out of the hallway and out of the office. The person to my left and the person to my right both simultaneously nudged my shins with their shoes under the table as if I was missing the spectacle. Bob, paused for a minute to let the vision sink in, and then announced that he was putting an end to the weekly report. Instead, he said, he wanted to join each of us for three sales calls a week to have some fun and learn the business.

As the meeting progressed, the filing cabinets were completely removed. Bob wrapped up the meeting with some positive comments about how much he was looking forward to working with each of us.

No less than four people stopping by my desk that morning to comment on how much they liked the new boss. “I think he’s exactly what we need around here”, was the common sentiment.

When Bob joined me for a sales call on a new prospect the next day, I was actually surprised that he didn’t say anything the whole meeting. The previous manager would have taken over the sales call by minute five.

When I got to the point in the discovery meeting where I asked about stakeholders who should be included in the dialog, I took my pad of paper and slid it across to my prospect with a pen. I asked if he could outline them in an org chart so that I could better understand where they fit in the organization. The prospect nodded his head and proceeded to draw the org chart for me, adding notes on relevant character attributes of each stakeholder as he went along.

I wrapped up the meeting after building an action plan with the prospect. Bob and I shook hands with the prospect on the way out of the building and silently walked back to the car. When we got in the car, the first thing Bob said was that he learned something very valuable from me during the sales call. I was a little taken aback, being used to sales managers that started a debrief with a critique. However, my curiosity was piqued, so I asked what that would be. He said he wouldn’t have thought to hand the pad and pen to the prospect to write down the org chart, but witnessed how naturally the contact accepted the task and added even more insight into the story.

When I asked if there was anything I could have done better, Bob said he thought the sales call was really productive, and asked if I minded sharing the story about the the org chart with the rest of the team. He concluded by observing that he might have missed something while he was taking notes. He asked how much money the problems I uncovered were costing this company. I replied that we didn’t explore that subject, so he just nodded his head. I thought it was a good question so I made a mental note to myself to follow up with that subject in my next meeting.

Bob continued this process with everyone in the office. As I found out from hallway chit chat, he didn’t take over calls, and started each debrief with a compliment. My org chart example wasn’t the only positive example he shared during the next staff meeting. Everyone received a compliment about something that went well during their sales calls.

During my subsequent sales calls with Bob, I never missed the opportunity to uncover the value proposition associated with each problem set. That’s when I learned something powerful about asking, rather than telling. I took ownership for the question since I didn’t have the answer. Had Bob told me what I missed, it was likely that I wouldn’t have taken ownership for the question as much as I had.

Bob continued with this pattern of listening, asking questions and complimenting success. He also engaged on other activities that further cemented our loyalty to him like removing obstacles, brainstorming on strategy, and breaking bread with us. The team would stretch their achievements for Bob on a regular basis, accomplishing quota that quarter and every quarter thereafter until I departed the organization for my first start up experience.

Although I learned even more from Bob, here’s a summary of what Bob taught me about winning the hearts and minds of your sales team in just a couple of weeks:

  • Be a good listener. It doesn’t mean you have to take action on everything. Part of the process is allowing the venting to occur and strategically picking roadblocks to remove or assignments to cull based on context and payoff. 
  • Symbolism. Take action on the team’s behalf in a demonstrable way. I label the filing cabinet removal as “symbolism” of change. The more visual the symbolism of change, the more profound its impact.
  • Coach by asking, not telling. Bob demonstrated how to coach by asking good questions to help me uncover the holes for myself, not by telling me what I missed. In my own leadership roles, I’ve noticed the more a sales person takes ownership for a hole in their process the more likely they achieve a higher result in the future.
  • Catch them doing something right. A small compliment shared in front of others goes a long way to building trust and rapport.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at 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.


How To Sell YUGE Deals

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames
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 a video collaboration solution 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?



The Biggest Challenge in Sales: The Unknown

I was conducting a coaching session yesterday with a sales rep in one of my client accounts. He’s relatively new to sales, having transitioned from the customer side to the supplier side, but he’s learning fast. After guiding him through some opportunity reviews, I asked him to share his perspective on the toughest challenge he’s identified as a professional seller. He said, “It’s the uneasy feeling of not knowing.”

Having spent my career in sales, I had to agree. But I wanted him to know that he didn’t have to dangle in the wind as often as he was.

Here are the top three tactics I shared with him for reducing the unknown:

1. Anticipate the problem. I suggest something I call “conditional access”. If you’ve ever engaged a high level stakeholder who acknowledges a need but wants to hand you off to a lower level contact to validate your offering, this is a valuable tactic. When they suggest you continue the dialog with one of their underlings, acknowledge the direction, but ask for access back if something should go awry. Then document it in your email recap. I’ve never been turned down on the request, and have enjoyed the benefit on the occasion I’ve had to call the higher level contact when my calls were not being returned at a lower level. Many times it’s a matter of reinforcing the sense of urgency from the leader, which is more powerful if it comes from their lips.


During a contentious telephone call with a rude purchasing agent a few years ago, I acknowledged that we had reached an impasse and suggested we call the General Manager that initiated the discussion with me. The purchasing agent actually said she didn’t think he’d take my call. She was completely caught off guard when I added him into the call, and became very compliant after he reinforced how important it was to get the contracts sorted out that day. Had I not lined up the conditional access beforehand, the alternative would have been to spend a couple of weeks leaving voicemails for the purchasing agent who would have happily watched me sweat until I met her demands.

 2. Confirm, confirm, confirm. Confirm the problem set in writing after your first dialog. Confirm the value proposition in terms of the cost of not making a decision in writing. Confirm the evaluation process in writing. Confirm every agreement you make along the way. If your contact goes quiet or won’t share some information that you need to understand the buying process more clearly, recall one of the agreements to refresh their memory on the priority of the initiative.

One of my sales methodology students, a sales representative at Cisco, shared the results of this tactic. Near the end of particularly harrowing quarter, the point of contact for his most important opportunity said they were going to delay the purchase until the next quarter simply because they had too much going on. He nodded his head in disappointment, and said, “ok, I understand, but I can’t get this picture out of my head.” He piqued the buyer’s curiosity, because the buyer asked, “what picture?” The Cisco rep replied, “I have this picture in my head of you rolling a wheel barrel full of cash out into the parking lot, dumping it over, and setting it on fire. You told me that you were burning way too much money supporting a constantly failing network.” The contact nodded his head at the reminder and placed the order that day.

3. Fan out. If you find yourself selling to one set of stakeholders, say IT for instance, and you convince yourself they are the right people since they have the budget, have purchased something similar before, and have demonstrated interest, your setting yourself up for the queasy feeling of the unknown sometime in the future. The point is, they can become easily distracted by the fire fight of the day, and they are probably buying your solution to satisfy their customer, another set of internal stakeholders.

When the phone calls go unanswered, your best bet is to have already made friends with the stakeholders on the business side of the house. If they have a vested stake in your solution, they are most likely to give you some timely insight or rattle a door if asked.

Also, if the infrastructure contact wants to keep the order size small due to budget constraints, a well-placed supporter on the business side can probably fatten the budget with other discretionary funds. Keep in mind most IT organizations get 1-2% of the company budget, while General & Administration (including marketing and sales) get upwards of the 50% of the budget.

In summary, the learning opportunity is to plan ahead for the uneasy silence. Everyone gets distracted, most people find it easier not to reply than having an awkward conversation when the situation changes, and most IT people adjust to a tight budget by squeezing the seller, not the end customer who would rather have the proper solution. Incorporate the conditional access, confirmation habit and fanning out as a daily practice and you should see the number of unknowns diminish and your forecast accuracy improve.

*** Please “like” this post or forward it to anyone you know looking for an advantage in selling.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at 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.


Sales Leaders: Its Closing Time!

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

I’ll introduce two very valuable tools, 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 identifying something that will help improve your chances of closing on time, such as meeting with the final decision maker sooner, 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.

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.

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


No Decisions Take Twice As Long As Wins!

Our firm recently completed an analysis of the pipeline statistics for a large software company. Like many of the companies we perform this service for, the most revealing statistic to them was the time it takes to reach a No Decision outcome. For those of you that might be new to the term, a No Decision is the result of a sales engagement where the buying team “decides” not to buy anything. Some refer to it as a decision not to decide. There have been lots of statistics published about the percentage of No Decisions in the average pipeline; it’s not uncommon to see No Decisions make up 40-60% of most enterprise selling pipelines. But the fact that they take twice as long to conclude was mind blowing to this sales team as well as others.

Early in my career a sales manager told me No Decisions rob you twice. First because you don’t get paid for the work you did, and second because you could have worked on another opportunity that you could have won. Since then, I’ve updated that perspective. You actually get robbed three times over since you could have worked on TWO other more probable opportunities in the same timeframe AND you didn’t get paid for the one you did work on!

So why do they take longer to conclude? I think there are two primary factors. First, the buying sponsor has some level of commitment to the solution, but lacks the ability or argument to mobilize and convince others – so they keep trying. But they keep their voices down to the mutual detriment of both parties. If you’ve ever heard a buyer say, “I’ll bring it up, but now is not the right time.” You were hearing the telltale sign of a No Decision in process. If the argument really is compelling, now is the time to bring it up! 

The second reason is the seller’s reticence to qualify engagements out of the pipeline. The continued engagement of the sponsor seems like a positive buying signal so they keep investing time and resources. However, they would be better served by frequently qualifying the engagement against some common indicators of a successful outcome, and taking the appropriate steps to back burner the opportunity if they don’t make the cut. These should include:

  • Has there been a clear identification of the problems to be solved?
  • Has the impact of taking or not taking action been clearly identified in terms of money?
  • Do the problems contribute to a business issue that currently has the attention of more senior management? (Versus a business issue we think they should be concerned about.)
  • Does the sponsor mobilize other more powerful stakeholders into the conversation?

Recently, a client of ours implemented this type of “qualify out” process and ended up closing 20% more transactions per rep AND witnessed a 19% increase in average contract value! The first metric was not a surprise. Spending less time on engagements that have no chance of closing should produce more success, but my curiosity was piqued when we found the average contract value improved as well.

My rationalization of the outcome centers on the influence of the qualifying questions. By doing a better job of articulating the problem statement, the impact of not taking action and the connection to current business issues, the opportunity gained more visibility and better sponsorship. As a result, the natural tendency to start with a small pilot trial was enhanced with a higher sense of urgency to resolve the problems and deliver a business impact resulting in a higher initial spends.

If your pipeline is suffering from a high percentage of No Decision outcomes or you’re looking for a way to improve revenue results in general, I’d suggest a qualify-out initiative. At a minimum, you should see an improvement in win rates, but don’t be surprised if your average contract value improves as well.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at 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.


3 Ways To Increase Your Average Contract Value

The first quarter of the year is traditionally and seasonally the lowest producing quarter for most B2B sales organizations. We thought this would be a timely subject for many sales teams.

One of the easiest ways to improve revenue production in sales is by increasing the order size for each transaction. Research indicates that it takes less effort to sell more to a committed customer than a new prospect. Over the years, I’ve helped many companies measurably increase their average contract value with some simple steps. Here are three profitable options for increasing your average contract value with examples from companies you may recognize.

1. Upsell/Cross Sell. Although this is a commonly known strategy, most sales people struggle with this skill set. The reason they struggle is capability knowledge saturation. If the demand isn’t naturally there for secondary products or solutions, they won’t spend the time or energy learning a new set of capabilities as a way to optimize their brainpower. Consequently, these additional revenue sources lay untapped.

We’ve found if the seller is focused on the problem set versus the solution capability details, they can be much more effective in cross selling and upselling while minimizing their neuron load. For example, consider the software sales professional that has professional services as an additional revenue source. Rather than push a data sheet describing their professional services capabilities, arm them with three simple problem probing questions that create the need for professional services.

  • Now that you’ve decided on the software solution, I’m curious, does your IT team have the resources to install and configure this solution in the timeframe you need to have it up and running?
  • If they do have the resources, do they have the skills and knowledge required to install or configure this software in such a short timeframe?
  • Should your IT staff be burdened with this installation, or should they be focused on more strategic initiatives?

Dell used this strategy to introduce a much broader solution portfolio including servers, storage and services. They tracked a 26% increase in their attach metric, and ultimately built a new revenue stream measured in billions.

2. Deliver a real proposal with two options. Most proposals are not proposals. They’re more accurately described as a price quote with a gracious cover letter or an overview of the vendor’s capabilities, history and success. I’ve heard this referred to as We- We’ing all over themselves. A vendor centric overview does nothing to help the sponsor sell the initiative more effectively and worse, often drags out the sales process while the decision maker seeks answers the sponsor is not prepared to address.

In lieu of the less effective price quote approach, we recommend delivering a real proposal that includes an executive summary of the business issues facing the customer, the underlying people/process/technology problems impeding the resolution of the business issue(s), and the impact of taking action (or not taking action). We also suggest including the configuration requested by the sponsor as well as an optional configuration recommendation based on the business issues, problems, and/or impact identified. What happens is interesting. This type of proposal can actually sell for the seller when it’s presented to the decision maker. Contrast this to the sponsor that is ill prepared to persuade a decision maker to part with some money using a simple price quote. And moreover, if the business issue identified is actually compelling to the decision maker (meaning they are under scrutiny to address the business issue), they will usually lean toward the configuration that will do a better job of resolving the business issues at hand causing the purchase size to increase.

Cadence Design Systems, a leader in Electronic Design Automation, used this strategy to boost their revenue growth from a yawning 6% to an enticing 30%.

3. Disqualify Opportunities More Often. Although this seems counter intuitive, the science behind this strategy is straightforward. In short, working on prospects that can’t buy robs the seller of time that could have been spent on an opportunity that can buy, and can buy bigger. Alternatively stated, putting some engagements on hold frees up the seller to pursue other opportunities that can produce higher revenue.

One of our clients, Imprivata put this strategy into play and tracked a 19% increase in average contract value AND a 20% increase in the number of transactions closed per rep.

Here’s how it worked. When a lead came to the seller from their marketing automation process, the rep was instructed to ask three simple pre-qualifying questions:

  • Could the contact articulate the problem that could be solved by the vendor?
  • Could the contact articulate the impact of the problem in dollars or time?
  • Would the contact be willing to bring other stakeholders into the conversation?

If they received negative responses to all three of these questions, they were instructed to send some information and put the prospect back into the marketing automation nurturing process.

A negative answer for any of the first two questions could be overridden by a positive answer to the third question. The logic being that other stakeholders might be able to provide the answers to the first two questions, but the process had to be repeated with each additional stakeholder.

From a transactional perspective, the answers to the pre-qualifying questions armed the seller with more powerful information to make the case for a larger purchase. Combining this with the focus on prospects that were in a position to make an effective case for a purchase, the number of transactions increased as well.

As you look to improve your pipeline for Q1, consider implementing one of the strategies. These strategies work. But we advise you to implement only one at a time. Over burdening your team with more than one strategy can backfire.

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 specializes in sales training, sale enablement and sales effectiveness to improve the sales agility of sales teams worldwide.


Sales Agility: Selling Around I.T.

Y’all a bunch of coal miners in a gold mine!”

The words stung when they first rolled off of Hank’s tongue. I felt like it was an insult to our sales team, but rather than show my irritation, I asked Hank to clarify what he meant.

Hank was a new board member brought on to help our software company revitalize its lost growth luster. He smiled his approval at my curiosity, and explained. “Every day your sales team comes the work, it’s like they walk through a long dark tunnel to spend the day hacking away at the wall to generate a few hundred dollars’ worth of coal. On their way through the tunnel, they keep tripping over these large yellow rocks, so they kick them out of the way. What they don’t realize is those rocks are made of gold.” His Texas accent only made the analogy more powerful for me.

Hank was explaining that selling to IT was like coal mining. He continued by pointing out our own IT department had a budget equal to 1% of the company’s planned spending, while our sales department had 26% of the overall budget. His point was well made. We were working like dogs to scratch a living out of selling to IT. And they never had a kind word for us in return.

I spent the next nine months leading our sales team to be more agile in selling to the real stakeholders in their accounts. It didn’t happen overnight, but the results were mind blowing. Our largest deal size before Hank spoke up were in the $1M -$3M range. Within a few months we were booking $15m – $20M deals.

Although selling to General Managers and CEOs seems like a no brainer, we had to overcome years of ingrained habits to succeed. Here’s a short list of the challenges we faced in this particular situation:

  • Our messaging was tailored to I.T., not CEO’s.
  • I.T. did not have the mojo to sponsor us to the business side, nor did they want to.
  • Most of the business leaders who would benefit from our solution had no idea who we were.
  • Our sales people lacked the confidence to take on a new stakeholder conversation.

Sound familiar? Almost every technology company I’ve helped since then faced the same set of challenges.

Here’s how we overcame these challenges and became gold miners.

  1. We profiled the problems faced by the executives in our major target verticals. This means capturing their business issues, underlying problems, potential impact of changing in dollars, and the connection to our solution. We drilled this into our sales team, even requiring them to become certified in this type of dialog.
  2. We created new messaging that focused on the business issues, problems and impact that we could deliver to these new stakeholders with stories to illustrate real life examples.
  3. We went through an exercise to calculate how much value we contribute to the world on an annual basis. Without an exception, every sales rep came to the same conclusion. We delivered billions in cost savings and revenue acceleration, yet we were only billing about $200M at the time. We implemented this exercise to build the confidence within our sales people to carry their message to more powerful stakeholders.
  4. We challenged our sales people to take this message to three senior leaders in their accounts. We tracked and measured the initiative. Almost every sales person uncovered an opportunity that over shadowed previous projects. This alone fueled their appetite to prospect even more opportunities outside of IT, and created a workforce of gold miners.

In addition to the deal size growing tremendously, we had several other benefits emerge as well. Our discounting practice dropped by over 30%. Our breadth of products per transaction jumped dramatically, and our services bookings jumped from $2M the year prior to over $98M in less than nine months. This initiative revitalized our growth to the 30% range and took us to the billion dollar revenue mark in a few short years.

Although changing a culture to target business leaders outside of IT seems like a sales challenge, it’s really a leadership challenge. I’ve worked with many technology companies on this challenge, and the one common denominator for success with this level of agility is leadership.

Do your sales managers need to become sales leaders?

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.