Tag Archives: disqualify

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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. 

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Do You Qualify a Prospect, or Create a Qualified Buyer?

When I started selling years ago, my first sales manager coached me to qualify an opportunity by asking if there was a budget allocated to my product or service. That was his entire definition of a qualified opportunity! Even worse, I was hired as specialist selling a new “revolutionary” product, so there were no budgets developed or allocated for my product. With his definition, not a single prospect I had targeted was qualified.

Since then, I have had the privilege to sell many more disruptive technologies that didn’t have the luxury of an existing line item in a budget. So I’ve developed a much more refined vision of qualification which doesn’t necessarily include a question about budget in the direct manner described above. My perspective is that qualification is a spectrum of potential positions. Ultimately, the best qualified opportunity is one that has just given you a purchase order, and anything less than that is somewhere on the spectrum of being developed into a qualified opportunity. I have a grouping of four buckets that help determine the level of qualification of the opportunity. I’ve organized it into a formula for making it easy to remember:

Customer Qualification = Vision x Impact x Power x Proof

Vision

The first checkpoint involves the level of synchronicity between the prospect’s view of their problem and our solution as the answer. In other words, do they view my solution as the best way to address their challenges and contribute to resolving a critical business issue? If they don’t view my solution as the best, or that it will address their challenges, or that it will contribute to resolving their current business issue, than this qualification component is weak. This also implies that I must confirm their view on these subjects as part of my qualification process.

Impact

The second component is directly related to their sense of urgency and priority for my sale. My objective is to develop or uncover the impact of taking action or not taking action in order to help the prospect motivate themselves to take action. If I don’t explore this dialog, I have hampered my ability to heighten their motivation to take action, and my ability to qualify their intent.

Power

Next is the stakeholder and authority aspect of a decision. The qualification of an opportunity is directly dependent upon the ultimate decision maker deciding he or she sees the impact of your solution as having a significant priority (See Vision above), and that it is the best solution to resolve their challenges and contribute to resolving a critical business issue (See Impact above). Qualification of this category also requires that the decision maker has discretion over funds and can allocate budget if none exists. Further, this category should also take into account the backing or opposition of the purchase by other stakeholders who can sway a decision maker.

Proof

Finally, the last bucket incorporates their decision process. Do I know their decision criteria? Have they verbalized when the decision must be made and why that particular time frame? Do I have these items confirmed back in some written form? The confirmation of the subject is the highest level of qualification for each individual category.

So how does this help a sales person sell more? The major contribution is to provide a guide. If the seller is setting out to answer the questions I’ve outlined, they will actually be doing a better job of facilitating a purchase. This reduces the contribution of “no decisions” to the outcome of a forecast in two ways. With this process, some opportunities can be moved from a “no decision” outcome to a winning decision, usually by helping to illuminate the connection to the impact and the current business issue. Further, disqualifying opportunities that have no chance of making a decision allows the seller to focus their efforts on opportunities that do have a solid chance of being won. It’s a tragedy to miss a perfectly good opportunity because the seller was focused on a deal that never had a chance of being won. That’s two losses in one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When To Walk Away From A Prospect

For those of you that experienced it, you would probably agree the financial meltdown of 2008-2010 was not a fun time for most in the profession of sales. 

During the meltdown, one of my former colleagues, Tom Brigiotta, Senior Vice President of Sales for Imprivata Inc., reached out to me with a conundrum. He said even though the financial meltdown was in full swing, they were experiencing more leads than ever before, but not surprising, their conversion ratio was progressively worsening. He wondered if I could help them navigate the situation.

After talking to several people on his sales team, we rationalized the uptick in MQL’s (marketing qualified leads) as a combination of their recent investment in better marketing automation and lots of people who now had excess time on their hands. It appeared the economic slowdown left many IT people with more time to research solutions but less budget to spend. Translation: They were getting flooded with tire kickers.

As I’ve reflected on in past articles (No Decision Takes Twice As Long As Wins), a prospect that doesn’t buy actually robs you twice. First because you spent time with them and end up with nothing to show for it, but worse, they rob you of the time you could have spent with a prospect that was better prepared to buy.

No matter how well your organization defines qualification, most sellers tend to view “interest” as the dominant qualification question. Unfortunately, in tough times, every interested prospect seems like a rare commodity so there’s a heightened tendency hang on for dear life to the detriment of the seller. Imprivata was no exception, which meant they were spending too much time with interested contacts who couldn’t buy. As a result we decided to take the opposite tack and implement a disqualification process.

We broke down the disqualification process into these questions:

  • Can the contact articulate the problems they were trying to solve? (Or in the absence thereof, agree that a suggested set of problems were relevant and important to address.)
  • Could the contact articulate the cost of not solving the problems? (Or conversely, the value of solving the problems.)
  • Could the contact articulate the business issues that currently had the attention of their senior executives? (The goal is to align the purchase with the current focus of the senior decision maker, otherwise the chance for a no decision outcome increases, especially in a tight market.)

In the event that a contact could not positively answer one of more of the questions above, we posed one second level question to determine if any more time should be spent on the dialog:

  • Can they bring someone into the discussion who could answer these questions?

If the contact refused to bring another person into the conversation and could not represent any answers to the first three questions, they were to be put back into the marketing lead automation system and the sales person was to move on to the next lead. The goal was to filter out the tire kickers and find prospects who were better prepared to buy in the tough economic conditions.

The result was astounding. Imprivata closed 20% more transactions that year than they did prior to the economic melt down, and their average contract size improved by 19%. My analysis led me to conclude the increase in contract size was due to the contact’s ability to more effectively articulate the value proposition in their internal justification. Even though most sales leaders were biting their nails at that time, Tom told me this experience was the most fun he’s had as a sales leader. 

Currently we find ourselves in a different place economically. But even though the market is much healthier, it’s possible to find yourself with the same problem. Too many leads that seem to be interested, but not enough that will pull the purchase trigger. If that sounds familiar to you, then make note of the questions above and apply a disqualification process to your MQL list. I’m sure you’ll find yourself with a more manageable list of prospects that are ready to buy effectively.

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

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Jury Duty Can Help You Sell More: Disqualifying Prospects

If you noticed my lack of posting last week, it’s because I was called up for jury duty.

The dread was palpable when I saw the envelope with the familiar red stripe across the top of the envelope and the bold “Jury Summons” label. In my household, it seems like I always get a jury summons every two years. Nobody else in my family ever seems to get one.

The thought of a week in a courtroom was not a pleasant one. But I know it’s my civic duty and I’ve drilled the concept into the heads of my now adult children, so sucking it up was the only answer.

The courtroom was filled with 78 potential jurors in this criminal DUI case. The process for selecting, or rather, deselecting potential jurors was arduous and repetitive. But something caught my attention about the people they let go.

While many people were granted deferments for a variety of scheduling problems, there were at least three categories of people that were outright dismissed from duty:

  • The Heavily Biased
  • The Poor Communicators
  • The Quiet Type

The heavily biased were drilled by the judge to qualify whether they truly were heavily biased or just trying to get out of the assignment. Most, who started with a claim of bias, eventually capitulated to the judge’s expert grilling and said they could weigh the evidence and reach a verdict of not guilty or guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Only two were let go with a claim of bias, but around ten people originally claimed they were.

There were three poor communicators. One gentlemen who simply shrugged and quietly smiled at almost every question the judge asked, a trauma nurse who would take two or three whole minutes in silence while formulating her response to each question, only to spur the judge to dig in more after an incomprehensible answer, and the unfortunate guy who apparently enjoyed the 60’s a little too much. He sounded a lot like the present day Ozzy Osbourne if you know what I mean.

Although I was grateful for the dismissals of the poor communicators, and I developed an appreciation for how skilled the judge was at disqualifying bias, the quiet type dismissal caught my attention the most.  These people did not raise their hand when either the prosecutor, defense attorney or the judge asked a group question. When asked questions directly, they gave very brief answers. No elaboration whatsoever. At a high level I could discern they weren’t inarticulate. The speed of their response and vocabulary were strong indicators. They also didn’t announce any bias one way or the other, yet they were dismissed by either the prosecutor or the defense in round after round of peremptory challenge. (No reason has to be given by either party, but each side is allowed a certain number for juror dismissal.)

Then it dawned on me. They couldn’t get a gage for how that person was feeling. They were holding their cards too close to their vest, and neither side of the case wanted to take a chance on the quiet type.

So what does this have to do with sales?

The biggest productivity challenge and frustration for most professional sales people is the no decision outcome. Our research indicates the three largest contributors to a no decision outcome are:

  • Inability of the prospect to articulate or agree on the problem set.
  • Inability of the prospect to articulate or agree on the value proposition.
  • Inability or refusal to mobilize other more powerful stakeholders into the dialog.

All three of these behaviors are often masked with silence, short but nonproductive answers, redirection, or outright refusal to engage on the subject. In other words, they operate like the quiet type juror. You can’t tell what they are thinking; they keep the information to a minimum, and end up wasting your time.

The next time you’re sitting across from someone who won’t discuss their problems, can’t estimate the value of resolving the problems, and/or refuses to bring others into the conversation, remember the prosecutor that is trying to sell his case beyond a reasonable doubt. Then politely excuse yourself from the conversation and move on to someone who is better prepared to buy.

Please “like” this post or leave a comment! It helps to spread the word on best practices.

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

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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 kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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Build a Bigger Sales Funnel: Learn to Disqualify

I know it sounds counter intuitive, but learning to disqualify can help you build your sales funnel faster. If you happen to be one of the many that are hustling to rebuild a year end depleted funnel, this article may help.

Back in early 2009, during the height of the recession, I took on a new client named Imprivata. They deliver single sign on solutions to improve security in the healthcare marketplace. They were perplexed by their situation. After investing a lot of money into marketing automation, they had more leads than ever before, but their close rate was getting worse. It would have been easy to rationalize the decline of their close rate around the impact of the recession, but they wanted to be sure.

In an effort to flush out the answer, we implemented a disqualifying process, and the results were phenomenal. They ended up closing about 20% more opportunities per rep than the year before, and their average contract value increased 19%, all during the most significant economic downturn many of us have ever experienced. (Tom Brigiotta, VP Sales, Imprivata)

To understand how these results were achieved, I’ll start with a basic description of the disqualifying process and then connect it to the outcomes.

For Imprivata, we designed a two tier qualification question set. The first tier included:

  • Can the prospect define the problem set that needs to be addressed?
  • Can the prospect identify the impact of the problems?
  • Can the prospect identify the current business issues of their company or organization?

The problem identification question doesn’t have to be cut and dry. The sales person can also help the prospect develop the problem statement. As an example, if they contact a prospect because they engaged in some marketing automation activity that flagged their interest, the sales person would reach out and begin the dialog. A key part of that dialog would be to ask them why they were looking at this solution, in essence, getting the prospect to verbalize the problem set. If the prospect couldn’t verbalize the problem set, the rep could probe for existing problems: “Do your employees leave their passwords on sticky notes in plain sight?” “Does this pose security challenges?” “Do you have to abide by HIPAA regulations?” The objective is to surface the problem definition to identify the reasons for change and gain agreement on the problem set.

However, if the prospect wouldn’t agree to a problem definition, the qualifying question is rated as a “no” and they move to the second tier qualifying question explained below.

If the prospect could define the problem set, the next question in tier one is intended to uncover the implications of the unresolved problem set and help the prospect rank the problems against others that might be competing for their attention. Again, if the prospect can’t answer the question directly, a set of probing questions could be offered to help the prospect understand the value: “Have you been put on notice or fined for any security violations?” “Have you or your colleagues’ ever lost productive time due to lost or forgotten passwords?” “How long does it take for IT to help reset passwords?”

If the prospect still can’t mutually help develop the value proposition, then the second qualifying question is rated as a “no” and the seller would jump to level two.

Lastly, if the answers to the first two qualifying questions were positive, the prospect is asked to identify the current business issues of their organization. The objective is to connect the problem set to a higher level business issue that has the attention of senior management, which helps justify and prioritize this expenditure against a more circumspect criteria set. Many purchase requests are shot down because they don’t align with senior management’s current agenda. Again, if the prospect couldn’t identify the current business issues, the rep would be prepared to probe with an examples such as: “Most of our customers are focused on… lowering costs, or seeing more patients in each workday, or scaling their operation… do any of these apply to your situation?

As with the first two, if the answer to this qualifying question was rated a “no”, the second tier qualifying question was applied.

Tier Two Qualifying Question: “Can you introduce me to someone who can answer these questions?”

If the contact contact couldn’t answer the first tier qualifying questions, and refused to introduce another stakeholder, the engagement was put on hold, usually by politely putting the contact into another automated marketing nurturing process to be followed up when another trigger was tripped. On the other hand, if they did introduce a new stakeholder, the qualifying process was repeated with the new contact.

So how does this help you build a bigger funnel and sell more? The answer is twofold.

First, most enterprise selling professionals report no decision outcomes as representing 30-60% of their selling efforts. No decisions outcomes are frequently caused by sponsors that can’t effectively articulate the need to change, prioritize the need to change against other initiatives that are competing for the same money, or they fail to align their needs with the current agenda of their superior management who find it easier to ignore requests that lack meat. By removing these contacts from further activities that have no chance of producing a positive outcome like demonstrations or follow up communication, the seller is freeing themselves to pursue other opportunities that can buy.

I’m reminded of the adage taught to me by a sales manager I had early in my career. “When a prospect fails to buy, they have robbed you twice. First they rob you of the time you spent on them, and second, they rob you of the opportunity to spend that time on someone who can buy.”

Secondly, the qualifying questions actually help a buyer buy more effectively which leads to higher contract values. In essence, the answers to the qualifying questions help the contact to shape the problem definition more articulately, justify the purchase more clearly in light of other competing options, and more effectively compel senior management to take action with their own interests. This framework frequently compelled decision makers to expand the scope to include other organizations or stakeholders that weren’t included in the dialog but could benefit from the application.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile in their disqualifying process 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.

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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 kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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Reducing “No Decision” Outcomes: The Forensics of Selling

I read a quote the other day attributed to Sirius Decisions, the sales research organization. It stated, “71% of sales leaders attribute difficulty in revenue growth to the lack of ability of their sales people to connect their solutions to the business issues of their customers.”

If you’re in the 71% struggling to get over the goal line, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that sales training doesn’t solve the problem – as if that’s news to you. The good news is that Selling Forensics can.

Selling Forensics is the science of examining the work product produced by your sales team. Work products are the distinct communication vehicles developed and delivered to the customer during the sales process. They include presentations, email confirmations, proposals and the like.  Just like fingerprints can reveal who was at the scene of a crime, the work product captures the customer conversation of your sales team for each individual account opportunity, revealing insight into the selling mechanics of the sales person or the entire team if taken in whole.

However, the interesting aspect is that just observing work products can produce positive results. In applied physics, there’s a principle that comes into play whenever anything is measured. It’s called invasive testing, where the test itself can alter the results. For example, consider a scientist trying to measure the temperature of a liquid in a vat. Placing a thermometer into the solution can actually change the temperature of the liquid. If the thermometer is colder than the solution, when inserted it robs some of the energy of the liquid as predicted by the second law of thermodynamics, producing a different reading than the temperature of the liquid prior to measurement.

When a sales leader initiates a work product review, the work product will change. Instead of the laws of thermodynamics, I call this the laws of selling. They are:

  1. The energy exhibited by a sales person is equal to the amount of energy need to just barely get the job done plus the level of oversight on the activity. To improve a sales effort, oversight has to be applied.
  2. When two closed systems come in contact, a buyer’s organization and a seller’s organization, the resulting entropy is equal to the quality of communication exchanged between the two. Buyers are more motivated to change if the seller connects their solution to the buyer’s business issues and challenges.
  3. The entropy of a minimum selling effort is zero if the buyer doesn’t recognize a reason to change. This is why so many sales organizations have 40-60% no decision outcomes. Minimum selling efforts will result in fewer buying decisions.

All kidding aside, inspecting work product and identifying short falls will improve the work product, the quality of communication and ultimately the number of buying decisions made in your favor.

Years ago, a software company called Cadence Design Systems was undergoing a sales transformation. As part of the transformation a decree was made that no proposals could be submitted to a customer until it was inspected and passed the test for three criteria: the business issues of the customer were identified, the underlying people, process and technology problems were reiterated, and the impact of the customer taking or not taking action was cited. The thought was that while the sales person may not be able to access the decision maker, the proposal probably could. They wanted the proposal to sell for them in their absence.

At the beginning of this initiative, almost all proposals failed the test. By day 60, almost all proposals passed the test.  The testing itself changed the outcome of the test. But even better, their average contract value (ACV) increased 38% in just 90 days. They didn’t just close more deals, they closed bigger deals as well.

On a side note, you can imagine the number of conversations this caused that went like this: “My boss won’t let me submit a proposal until I get three questions answered that I forgot to ask. Accompanied by the reply, “ok, what do you need to know?”

If you’re one of those sales leaders that could benefit from your team’s ability to connect the customer’s business issues to your solution, then I recommend an initiative to test your work product. Ultimately, the proposal is the final communication that either captures the compelling reason to change, or demonstrates a minimum selling effort with a price quote wrapped in a gracious thank you.

Your inspection should include evidence of:

  • The current business issues identified and confirmed with the customer.
  • The top three to five underlying challenges or problems that you can solve better than other solutions.
  • The impact of making the decision in their terms, not yours. We’re trying to cite their metrics for achievement, not ours reflecting other customer successes.

I’ve implemented this Selling Forensics initiative at a variety of companies and the result is always the same: average contract values improve and no decision outcomes decrease.

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.

Missed Kevin’s other posts on Sales Agility? Take a look at his m

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Is It How To Qualify A Prospect, Or Develop a Qualified Prospect?

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When I started selling years ago, my first sales manager coached me to qualify an opportunity by asking if there was a budget allocated to my product or service.  That was his entire definition of a qualified opportunity. Even worse, I was hired as specialist selling a new “revolutionary” product, so there were no budgets developed or allocated for my product. With his definition, not a single prospect I had targeted was qualified.

Since then, I have had the privilege to sell many more disruptive technologies that didn’t have the luxury of a healthy budget tide to smooth the waters. So I’ve developed a much more refined vision of qualification which doesn’t necessarily include a question about budget in the direct manner described above. My perspective is that qualification is a spectrum of potential positions.  Ultimately, the best qualified opportunity is one that has just given you a purchase order, and anything less than that is somewhere on the spectrum of being developed into a qualified opportunity. I have a grouping of four buckets that help determine the level of qualification of the opportunity.

The first checkpoint involves the level of synchronicity between the prospect’s view of their problem and our solution as the answer. In other words, do they view my solution as the best way to address their challenges and contribute to resolving a critical business issue?  If they don’t view my solution as the best, or that it will address their challenges, or that it will contribute to resolving their current business issue, than this qualification component is weak. This also implies that I must confirm their view on these subjects as part of my qualification process.

The second component is directly related to their sense of urgency and priority for my sale.  My objective is to develop or uncover the impact of taking action or not taking action in order to help the prospect motivate themselves to take action.  If I don’t explore this dialog, I have hampered my ability to heighten their motivation to take action, and my ability to qualify their intent.

Next is the stakeholder and authority aspect of a decision.  The qualification of an opportunity is directly dependent upon the ultimate decision maker deciding he or she sees the impact of your solution as having a significant priority (second component above),  and that it is the best solution to resolve their challenges and contribute to resolving a critical business issue (first component above).  Qualification of this category also requires that the decision maker has discretion over funds and can allocate budget if none exists. Further, this category should also take into account the backing or opposition of the purchase by other stakeholders who can sway a decision maker.

Finally, the last bucket incorporates their decision process.  Do I know their decision criteria?  Have they verbalized when the decision must be made and why that timeframe?  Do I have these items confirmed back in some written form? The confirmation of the subject is the highest level of qualification for each individual category. So how does this help a sales person sell more?  The major contribution is to provide a guide.  If the seller is setting out to answer the questions I’ve outlined, they will actually be doing a better job of facilitating a purchase.  This reduces the contribution of “no decisions” to the outcome of a forecast in two ways.  With this process, some opportunities can be moved from a “no decision” outcome to a winning decision, usually by helping to illuminate the connection to the impact and the current business issue.  Further, disqualifying opportunities that have no chance of making a decision allows the seller to focus their efforts on opportunities that do have a solid chance of being won.  It’s a tragedy to miss a perfectly good opportunity because the seller was focused on a deal that never had a chance of being won.  That’s two losses in one.

ESG provides qualifying and disqualifying training that will improve sales, decrease sales cycles and differentiate you from lower cost alternatives. For more information, visit our website at www.enterprise-selling.com and  read our most recent white papers on Enterprise Selling and Sales Transformation