Tag Archives: persuasion

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Web Delivered Sales Presentations: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Sam is stuck in a grind. He works for a large software company, delivering web based sales presentations day in and day out. Like most large organizations, this company has specialized roles in the overall sales process. His role is to present his solution, and then, if the prospect is interested, he hands the lead to a field rep. . His company has a well developed marketing automation solution so he gets plenty of appointments for sales presentations. He could deliver them in his sleep and often does. He told me he dreams about delivering sales presentations as a recurring nightmare. He’s bored, feels like he’s got more potential than this assignment, and worse, the conversion rate for these prospects is trending down so the answer seems to be to do even more of the same just to keep up.

When Sam related his story to me, I conjured up a vision of one of those dystopian movies filmed in sepia tone where dozens of other young, smart and talented sales professionals are chained to their desks enduring the same grueling process day after day. 

We talked about his career goals and what would make his current assignment more fulfilling. Then we reviewed his current sales presentation.  It was supplied by the marketing department, included very slick looking graphics and followed a familiar pattern:

  • Let me tell you about my company…
  • Let me impress you with the logos of our Fortune XXX customers…
  • Now let me tell you how this product works…
  • And, lets end by talking about next steps.

I was tasked with delivering this format as a young sales person, have witnessed it in full swing at dozens of companies around the world, and just this week, subject to it when I expressed interest in a new technology solution. 

It reminds me of the quote attributed to many including Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein (while neither probably actually said it), “The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

I suggested we turn his grueling process into a more engaging dialog and have fun experimenting with different ways to implement it. Here’s what we did to the format:

  • A discussion about the problems and challenges the customer has getting the job done with the current solution. (The variation was starting with a blank slide to have the buyer lead the list, versus a partially filled out list to let the seller lead the dialog and encourage the buyer to add to it.)
  • A discussion about how these problems roll up to create executive level headaches. (Which I call “business issues”) For example, how a broken process delays the time to market for a new product or increases development costs. (Again, varying having the buyer lead or having the seller lead and guiding the buyer to supplement the dialog.)
  • A discussion about how these problems are impacting the business in terms of time or money. With the dialog lead variation option as well.
  • Segue to how the seller’s solution addresses the identified problems. Specifically tailoring the presentation to the problem list.
  • A short overview of a similar customer with similar problems and the resulting outcome. (Try the logo slide here as another variation.)
  • A dialog about who else is impacted by the problems identified.
  • Next steps.

After the first day, Sam called to tell me the results. Some of his observations included how the day flew by, how he was looking forward to each new meeting, and how much more dialog oriented the meetings were versus monologue centric. 

After about 30 days, Sam noticed that his choice to lead each diagnosis subject with examples or let the buyer lead was most productive based on the apparent presence of even keel attitude or lack thereof. If they were even keel he would lead, if they sounded like they had done their homework and were really serious about a purchase, he would encourage them to lead.

Now came the interesting part. Sam reported that after 90 days of this experiment, his conversion rate (from interest to purchase) almost doubled, he was told he was on top of the list to take on the next open field assignment, and he no longer experienced recurring nightmares about sales presentations!

If you’re one of those people stuck with a marketing presentation that doesn’t fulfill you, or a sales leader trying to get more performance out of your team, try this and let me know how it goes.

 

 

 

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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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“I’m Sorry, We Don’t Have The Budget”

This is my favorite objection… Ever!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bad Sales Presentation vs Great Sales Presentation

It was an unusual trip to Japan. I began the trip from San Francisco with a valid passport, only to find when I landed that it had expired as I crossed the international date line – even after two airline employees checked it! As a result, I had the privilege to spend the next four tedious hours with an immigration official. After a collaboration with an airline representative, I was eventually allowed to continue my business trip as long as my first stop was to the US Embassy for a new passport.

I didn’t get to my hotel bed until 2:00 am.

The next morning I was standing bleary eyed in front of the head of all electronic development for Toshiba Semiconductor. I pulled out my binder of about two hundred overhead transparencies (yes, it was a long time ago), and his eyes grew three or four times their size. “You’re not going to go through all of those slides, are you?” he asked while glancing at his watch. 

I smiled and let out a small chuckle. “No”, I replied, “That’s the marketing material. I only have four slides for you.”

He visibly relaxed a little, sat back in his chair, and said in perfect English, “This I have to see.” turning his head slightly up and away in apparent disbelief.

After I spent about 20 minutes on my four slides, he spent the following hour peppering me with questions, which prompted me to pull out ten to fifteen additional slides from the marketing deck. At the end of our meeting he declared that I was a presentation samurai, and demanded that we have dinner that night. That’s when I was introduced to a custom where the person on your right keeps your drink filled to the top for the entire dinner. Lucky for me, my flight wasn’t until four pm the next day.

After consulting with over 80 technology companies, I find the pattern is pretty standard. The typical marketing deck for sales has a predictable pattern (with minor variations):

  • We, We! (All over ourselves) This section talks about the history of the vendor’s company, their size, their locations, their market dominance or enviable spot on a Gartner Quadrant, and usually includes a customer logo slide for good measure. It’s all about the vendor. (I realize this is for credibility building, but its premature. The customer doesn’t care who you are until they conclude that you might be able to help them.)
  • More We’ing. Now they move into their product(s) overview. Lots of acronyms, complex slides, and pseudo framework pictographs intended to make it look like their products all work together. (Unfortunately, the problem is rarely defined, so the customer either can’t figure out if they need your solution or how you are different from the last vendor with a similar set of complex solution slides.)
  • Case Studies and Testimonials. Ranging from name dropping to detailed technical case studies, they are usually missing some variation of the most important details like the customer problem set, the impact on their business, and the result. 

In contrast, here’s what I did for my new found friend at Toshiba:

  • The Situation. I described a change in the macro situation that should interest them. In this case, there was a dramatic industry wide shift in the size of silicon inter-connects (the actual connection between devices on a silicon chip), going from microns down to nanometers. (A 1000 to one ratio) 
  • The Problem. Next I explored the problems the situation created for design teams like Toshiba. Everything they knew about circuit design and troubleshooting had just been disrupted. The inter-connects would now act like someone peppered millions of new devices into their design, causing fluctuations in performance outside of specification, leading to head scratching, trial and error problem solving on a massive scale across a chip that could have millions of inter-connects.
  • The Impact. Plain and simple, I talked about the competitive disadvantages if they didn’t make the shift, followed by how the new situation would impact design schedules, time to market, feature trade offs, and other relevant business issues. 
  • The Success of Others Just Like Them. This is where I share a story or two about other companies that Toshiba could relate to, and how we helped them overcome the same challenges. (Yes, this is the case study or reference story, but it comes after the situation, problem, and impact development, and reiterates the situation/problem/impact framework for the case study company.)

In my first twenty minutes with Toshiba, I didn’t talk about our company or our products. I talked about the problems Toshiba will be experiencing and how they would impact their business results.

The following hour I did answer questions about our products, how they worked together, how many support people we had in Japan, and lots of other details that were already available in the standard marketing deck. But in this case, the audience was primed to want the information.

I suggest you conduct a quick inspection. Pull out the most recent deck you’ve used in a customer presentation, or if you’re a sales leader, ask one of your sales people for one. Most important on the list for retooling, check to see if the situation/problem was defined by slide three or four (at the most). If not, simply add a situation/problem definition slide followed by an impact slide and you will have upped the horsepower on the compelling aspect of your presentation by 100%.

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

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Turn a Boring Corporate Presentation Into a Compelling Sales Presentation

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

It was a case of the unpersuasive corporate deck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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Are You Overcomplexifying Your Sales Opportunities?

Our hiring model was no longer working for us. As the largest player in the Electronic Design Automation market, we had developed an unconscious hiring model which was primarily dependent on taking the best sellers from our two main competitors. They were largely Electrical Engineering types who had migrated to sales. After a period of time, this process  left us with only “B” and “C” players to recruit.

Out of necessity, I issued a mandate. From that point forward, we could hire from outside our industry, but they had to be “A” players. Taking a play from “Good To Great”, by Jim Collins, I defined “A” players as anyone with an aptitude for learning. I suggested we look at their SAT scores as a guide.

One of the first hires we made with our new model was Jack Bartell. I called him the band-aid sales guy. He came to us from Baxter International, and had been selling general medical supplies to hospitals. Jack had a Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State in Marketing/Finance. This was a radical departure from the hordes of electrical engineering types we had amassed over the years.

Jack validated our new direction within a few short months. He uncovered, developed and closed an opportunity for something north of a million dollars. While not at the high end of our largest deals, it was noteworthy for its size, breadth of products and short sales cycle time. Not to mention the best ramp up example we had ever witnessed.

During a debrief of the sale, I asked Jack how he managed to pull off such a feat in such a short time period. He said,

“Kevin, I quickly realized I could never be an expert on these complex electrical engineering solutions we sell, so I decided to become a problem expert. After talking to a lot of experts around the organization, I made a list of the problems we help solve. I would literally take out the list, and ask my new prospects if any of the problems hit close to home for them. When they resonated with any set of problems that were worth solving on their side, I would assemble the team of experts from our side to help them understand how we addressed the problems. That’s how I found this opportunity.”

What I learned from Jack is becoming a problem expert is a lot easier than becoming a solution expert. There are other dynamics at play as well: Jack’s prospects were happy to help him out as a new guy trying to learn the ropes, and the solution experts he brought in were better prepared to connect with the customer’s problems based on Jack’s pinpoint diagnosis. In general, the interaction dynamics around this type of dialog were less contentious and more collaborative than the “show up and throw up” pitches used by most of the other sellers in the organization..

I applied this problem expert model for Dell when they were struggling to branch out from PC sales to include servers, storage and services in their selling efforts. After we switched from drowning their sales people in useless specifications, and focused on the problems we wanted to surface that create the need for servers, storage and services, they cited a 26% increase in their attach-rate in just 30 days. That fueled the growth of a $15 Billion business for Dell.

Over the years, the problem expert model has proven itself over and over for myself and my clients. Cisco has used it to dramatically reduce ramp up times for new hires. Imprivata, a single sign on provider, used it to navigate through the 2009 economic decline with 47% growth. While WindRiver Systems (now a division of Intel) used it to learn how to combat free open source competition while growing revenue 19%.

After all these years, I’m still amazed to find mature companies saturating their sales people with solution information. If you are a new hire trying to navigate a complex learning curve, a sales leader worried about ramping up a horde of new hires, or a product marketing expert frustrated by the lack of sales adoption for an exciting new technology, the problem expert model can add tremendous value to overcoming these challenges.

Thanks Jack!

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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Buyer Psychology In Times Of Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 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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Challenge Buyers With A Provocative Question

When I first began my sales effectiveness consulting career, I made a list of 20 people as my starting prospect list.  They were all people I had established credibility with while working as colleagues.

Jeff was very high on my list. He was previously a general manager for a product division at my former employer. He was now CEO of a successful, high growth company. Better still, his current administrator, Pam, used to be my administrator at one point in time.

I prematurely concluded it should be easy to get on Jeff’s calendar.

When I called Pam, she was exuberant while catching up. But when I asked to get on Jeff’s calendar, her answer surprised me. She said the earliest she could put me on his calendar was four months away. My brain was racing. I know Jeff had to be busy, but four months? So I asked Pam, “why the long wait?” Her reply, “we have an IPO pending, and Jeff’s instructions were to push any meeting requests off that were not directly tied to the IPO”. I acknowledged the need to prioritize, and accepted the meeting four months away.

Then I pulled up my favorite search engine.

I was looking for any analysis on the IPO, and I hit the jackpot right away. Not as an investment, mind you, but as fodder for a provocative question. The first analysis I read by a major investment firm summed up the situation. It said that while this particular company had successfully penetrated a lucrative market, it had failed to penetrate other market segments.  Their perspective highlighted a significant risk for a major downturn in the value of the stock within 12 months should this problem not be fixed. Given their notoriety and stature in the investment market, it was likely that Jeff knew about their analysis.

Besides Pam, Jeff had also recruited Joe from our former company. Joe was a senior HR executive, who was not known for turning down a free lunch. So I got on Joe’s calendar for lunch later in the week.

My plan was risky, but it paid off. Even though Jeff was busy, I figured he had to eat lunch. The size of their company didn’t warrant a cafeteria, so I was hoping that Jeff would have to depart through their lobby to get to his car for a bite to eat. I showed up for my 12:15 lunch appointment with Joe at 11:45 to camp out in the lobby. Lucky for me, Jeff’s Jaguar was parked in the front of the building.

Sure enough, at just about noon, Jeff came striding into the lobby on his way out of the building. From my perch on a couch, I waved and said, “hi” to Jeff. He smiled and greeted me warmly, but did not break his stride. I asked him if he had a minute to talk. Amusingly, he said, “no, but call Pam and get on my calendar, we should catch up.”

That’s when I got provocative.

I nodded my head at his suggestion to call Pam and added, “ok, but can I ask just one question?” Jeff lifted his chin with a nonverbal gesture to proceed, but continued his gait. I pulled the trigger with, “so what’s going to happen to your IPO stock price if you can’t break into other market segments?”

I could hear Jeff’s foot plant. He stopped, turned to me with a quizzical look on his face and asked, “Is that something you can help us with?” I said, “yes”. Jeff sat down on the couch with me for a 10 minute conversation about how I could help his sales team break into other market segments.

As you have undoubtedly heard by now, the Internet gives your prospects’ the advantage in shopping for solutions without your involvement. As a result, sales professionals have to challenge the buyer’s vision of the problem set to expand their perspective and re-engineer the vision to the seller’s advantage. However, I would also add that getting their attention is the first part of the vision re-engineering obstacle.

The next time you have a prospect that won’t engage, try this three step process:

  1. Use the Internet to your advantage. Try to uncover a looming issue that’s likely to have visibility at multiple levels. Perhaps it’s a product that’s late to market, or a cost to revenue ratio that’s much higher than the competition. Something that has a potential fallout. (See my article about finding Business Issues for more ideas.)
  2. Develop your provocative question in advance. Start with “what happens if…” and fill in the rest with the unresolved issue. Try it out on a friend first. See if it causes them to want to engage, or to run. If it’s too provocative given your rapport with the intended recipient, you can tone it down. Conversely, if it’s too mild, you can always add more power to it with the words, “to you”. For example, adding to my question for Jeff: “what’s the impact to your IPO stock price, and to you, if you can’t break into other market segments?” The dagger hits closer to the heart, but requires a lot of existing rapport to pull it off without ruffling feathers. .
  3. Then apply. It might have to be over the phone, or email if you can’t get to them live. And you might have to preface it with the context of your past attempts to get their attention, and/or curiosity. For instance, “I know you said that you were too busy to talk, but something has piqued my curiosity…”

Your objective is not to get the answer. It’s to get their engagement in a conversation. Jeff never answered my question, nor did I need the answer.  But he did engage me in a conversation on the topic and subsequently introduced me to other stakeholders who needed help with the problem.

Finally, Joe popped up promptly at 12:15 in the lobby and we had a nice lunch.

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 Confused Buyer Leads To Higher No Decision Outcomes

There were four people on the other side of a blind web meeting. As the call unfolded, I knew I had a confused buyer on my hands.

While I rarely run into a confused buyer, my clients experience it on a daily basis. The reason I don’t witness it often is that I typically engage the VP of Sales as my first contact. It’s rare to find one that is confused about what he or she is trying to achieve and the problems that are contributing to their challenge. On the other hand, most of my client companies sell to IT or some other technical organization where their first point of contact is usually at an implementer level and unaware of the business challenges or objectives for the organization.

I was put in contact with this task team charged with finding a sales methodology for their organization. When I asked them to describe the sales challenges they would like to overcome with this initiative, it was like one of the current presidential political debates. No one could answer the question directly, but they all had something to say.  Most commonly it was a complaint from their individual perspective about some other organization: marketing material is bad, internal approval process is horrendous, our customers are competing with us, and the like. When I tested for challenges like selling across the product line, facing new competition, getting to more powerful stakeholders and the like, there weren’t any takers. (And believe me, I did my homework on this organization!)

Not having clarity on the problem definition would seem bad enough, but then one of the team members dropped a bomb on my lap that my customers also run into every day. He asked if they could spend half a day with me to dig into the depths of our offering. On the surface, a request to engage in a deeper evaluation can sound like there’s genuine interest in a solution, but in reality, it’s the death spiral of the snake and prey about to begin.

Lacking a cohesive agreement on the problem definition, each stakeholder is likely to prefer a different solution based on their individual perspective, resulting in a chaotic buying process. Further, the invisible problem statement also makes it impossible to develop the value proposition to weigh against other uses for the money, leading to a drawn out process, or more likely, a no decision. When I brought the lack of a cohesive problem definition to their attention, one of the stakeholders recognized the implication and suggested a step to develop the problem definition.

My strategy is to encourage the development of the problem definition by including the ultimate decision maker and myself in the process. If they can’t or won’t, I will consciously limit my exposure to a potentially huge time sink.

For those of you selling to infrastructure or operations organizations, I suggest a checkpoint before you begin the evaluation process. Try to answer these two questions:

  • Can you clearly articulate the problem definition and would the buying team agree?
  • Would the decision maker agree?

If the answer is “no” to either of these questions, be cautious about engaging in an evaluation process unless you have time and money to burn. This unproductive buying behavior is rampant and is the biggest contributor to the common 40% to 60% no decision results most professional sales organizations tolerate.

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.