Tag Archives: sales leadership

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B2B Selling: Five trends from 2016 and predictions for 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How To Close Every Year End Deal

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

I’ll introduce two very valuable tools for managing the closing process more effectively, the Mutual Activity Plan and the Close Plan.

The Mutual Activity Plan (MAP) is a document developed with the prospect to identify the activities required to reach a decision. These activities might include meetings with other stakeholders, conducting evaluations, talking with references, proposal reviews and more. It’s organized with due dates and action owners as if it’s a project plan – because it is a project plan. Further, it’s a “map” to a destination point; placing the order.

The value of the MAP is getting the buying sponsor on board with you with a timeline. Moreover, if they fail to meet an action item, they have broken an agreement of sorts, providing you with the platform to ask, “why?”, or better, ask for something in return. If they fail to meet a commitment, I suggest asking for something in return that will help improve your chances of closing on time, such as meeting with the final decision maker, or reviewing the prospect’s internal justification document to add suggestions for example.

Here’s a simple example of a MAP:

Activity                                                                           Owner                  Due Date

Discovery meeting with all stakeholders         Smith                    11-25-15

Demo for entire team                                                Smith/Jones        12-1-15

Review with Legal                             Smith/Jones        12-7-15

Engage Purchasing                            Smith/Jones        12-14-15

Place order                                                                    Jones                   12-20-15

Given the complexity of your sale, the MAP may be short and to the point, or it may be several pages long. The longer it is, the more important it is to establish it as a tool to manage the process to a predictable outcome.

Recently, one of the sales leaders in a client site of mine reviewed the previous quarter closing results for one of his struggling sales people and found that every opportunity that closed had a MAP, whereas, the opportunities that slipped into the next quarter did not have a MAP in place. The lesson for the sales rep: it’s difficult for the prospect to meet expectations if they don’t know what they are.

The Close Plan is the MAP plus the internal activities the customer should not see, or should not be bothered with, but need to be managed to closure. These might include examples such as a credit check on the customer, approvals for special options, new product capabilities that are required, discount approval and more.

I typically see more complex close plans required for professional services or other applications where there are multiple contingencies to address, several internal approvals required, and heavily customized solutions. However, sometimes they are more complex because of the nature of the selling company’s culture or bureaucracy. Regardless, the more internal obstacles you have in the way of closing an opportunity, the more important it is to have a close plan in place to keep every required activity front and center.

Finally, having a plan in writing is good, but it also needs to be managed to success. Use the MAP or Close Plan as a review tool to help the sales person make progress on their plan. Check off items as they are achieved and identify activities with high risk to brainstorm on alternatives and contingencies.

I feel compelled to wish you luck closing out your quarter, but we both know that it comes down to great leadership and disciplined sales professionals.

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The Number One Challenge For All Sales People: Access to Power

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from sales people is the frustration of being held at arm’s length from the actual decision maker. In the course of my sales effectiveness consulting career, I have helped countless sales people overcome this challenge on a consistent basis, and many of my client companies have gone on to establish executive access as a cultural norm and competitive advantage. Access to power is a sales agility challenge. It takes an effort to tailor a message that will resonate with the power person, and motivate the sponsor to take you there.

Let’s break this challenge down into one simple concept. You will be taken to the person you sound like. If you sound like a technical person, you will be sent to the technical evaluator. If you sound like a VP, you will eventually be taken to the VP. If you sound like a CFO, your request to meet the CFO will be earnestly considered.

Your messaging should be crafted to interest the person you want to access. If you unconsciously repeat your sales messaging without crafting it, you will find yourself stuck at the same level of every organization you approach, usually an evaluator level.

Crafting a message sounds easy right? Unfortunately, most people get into a habit, and are not self-aware of their own behaviors. Let’s test our self-awareness and our agility in crafting a tailored message.

Here’s a simple test: Take a pen or pencil and jot down the most critical business issue facing your top prospect.

If you don’t know it, and can acknowledge you don’t know it, that’s the first step in self-awareness. Go to their website and look at their recent press announcements. Look for business problems. Next, go to your favorite search engine, type in their company name with an added word like “problem”, “issues”, or “challenges”. See what pops up. Then look at their operating statement. Are they any numbers that are worse than they were the year before? Do any of their numbers look worse than their closest competitor? Going through this five minute exercise will usually give you a better understanding of their business issues, help you find at least one identified business issue you can contribute to, and will prepare you to craft a compelling message that attracts more powerful stakeholders.

If you think you know the business issue, and the answer has any of your solution description in it, you’ve shot yourself in the foot. Nine times out of ten, when I ask a seller to describe the business issues’ facing a prospect, their answer is a solution request, “They need our XYZ product…” or, “They’re not happy with the competitive solution and want to evaluate ours.” In either case, the seller is seller focused, not customer focused. Until they become self-aware of this orientation, they cannot craft messaging that will attract decision makers.

Let’s assume you found the most current business issues facing a company. Now write down the top three to five problems they have addressing this business issue. The unaware seller will usually describe the situation with answers that don’t specify problems, such as, “They have 50 offices.” or “their existing solution is out of date.” These answers might insinuate a problem, but they don’t explicitly disclose a problem. They need to articulate the problems more succinctly, such as, “They have so many offices, management can’t scale to cover them all effectively.” Or, “Their existing solution caps out at 50 users, and they have several hundred requiring access at the same time.” Most executive buyers don’t have the time or the first hand usage experience to be able to connect situational information to a problem that is impeding the resolution of their business issues. An agile seller is specific in the problem diagnosis.

Lastly, describe the business issue in terms of impact. Most sellers want to describe the quantified benefit of their solution through the eyes of other customers. “Research shows our customers’ produce 15% more widgets than their competition.” While this is a valuable proof statement, validating your success, it does not equate to their value proposition. Instead, quantify and confirm their business issue from their perspective. “From what you’ve told me, your cost of sales are 18% higher than your competition, creating a $75 million profit problem. Who would be interested in solving this issue?”

When you can string these three topics together, you’ll find doors opening to more influential stakeholders. Contrast Seller A and Seller B below:

Seller A: “We have the most advanced framework providing a highly scalable solution, used by 450 of the Fortune 500. Can I schedule some time on your calendar to discuss this in more detail?”

Seller B: “I noticed your new product revenue is down 22% over last year, complicated by a lack of skilled talent, longer development cycles, and the currency crisis in Europe. Who in your organization would be interested to hear how we can address these problems?”

Seller B has crafted a tailored message that is customer focused and does not rely on a solution description. They have a much higher chance of being taken to more stakeholders than Seller A.

Access to power is an agility challenge that requires self-awareness, some research, and an effort to deliver a message that fits the customer’s issues and problems. Falling into the pattern of talking about your product without the context of the customer’s parameters, will box you into an evaluator level dialog.

The good news is that every organization can learn to create a tailored messages and gain access to decision makers!

Kevin Temple helps sales teams optimize their behavior and improve revenue outcomes. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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What Clint Eastwood Would Say About Selling

Remember the movie “The Gauntlet” with Clint Eastwood? He’s been ordered to pick up a prisoner and deliver her to the courthouse a few hundred miles away. What he doesn’t know at the time is that he was selected to fail. As the plot progresses, it seems like everyone is out to kill him. The conspiracy runs right up to and includes the police commissioner.

The same goes for sales reps that are chartered to sell consultatively, or in current vernacular, as a challenger. It’s almost as if everyone is against them as well. From the moment they finish their introduction to a consultative selling model, it’s as if the world is against them.

Imagine this scenario that plays out every day all around the world. A successful sales person has just completed the world’s best consultative sales training workshop and they are anxious to engage their first prospect to practice their newly acquired knowledge.

The first obstacle they encounter is the customer. The first words out of the contact’s mouth are usually something to the effect of, “so what does your product do?” If a seller is particularly tenacious and holds her ground by asking to understand more about the customer’s business, it’s not uncommon to hear the prospect elevate the defense by stating, “you don’t need to know that, just tell me what your product does”. We used to call these prospects “See-Mores”, as in “let me see more”. A very seasoned consultative seller can navigate past a See-more, but the new consultative seller will need some help and guidance, especially if they run into multiple See-more’s.

Let’s talk about the second obstacle. Clint’s character, Ben Shockley, was chosen for this job because his lone wolf behaviors had produced many failures in his career. Like Ben, many sales people can be their own worst enemy. When their product expertise is the primary source of their value to a prospect, their strength becomes their weakness. At the first sign of a difficult consultative dialog, many reps will readily fall back to educating on product capabilities. Worse, when the prospect provides positive feedback for an deep dive on the product capabilities, the sales rep internalizes it as good behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth. Focusing on the product keeps access to other stakeholders to a low level, and hands over the only thing the prospect values too early in the process.

Now let’s go to the wolf in sheep’s clothing: the sales manager. Unfortunately, this person was usually given a battlefield promotion for selling more product than the next rep, but that doesn’t often translate to possessing consultative selling skills. They are often ill equipped to role model the expected behavior and are equally inclined to forego more extensive diagnostic dialogs under the pressure of a looming quarter end. Many are also not prepared or developed to coach effectively. They tend to fall back on “watch how I do it”, only to role model the best product centric habits. While it seems intuitive that the sales manager plays the most critical role in transforming a product centric seller to a consultative centric seller, they are a leading reason many sales reps’s fall back to previous behaviors.

Now the invisible enemy; consider the company that is expecting the seller to suddenly begin consultatively selling and reap the rewards of larger orders in shorter time periods with greater forecast accuracy. Unfortunately, their marketing messaging is still touting product capabilities, their recognition and reward systems still incentivizes old behaviors, their leadership hasn’t defined success in a very tangible way or probably didn’t attend the same training experience, and their solution training is still product centric. Imagine moving to a foreign country to learn a new language, but everyone speaks nothing but your primary language. You’re not likely to learn very much.

The transformation of a single sales person to sell consultatively includes many enemies, most of which are unconscious about undermining success. The transformation of an entire sales organization only magnifies the problem.

So how did Clint finally deliver on his promise? He had help. You may remember that his former partner helped him with information and coaching. For a sales team to succeed with this task, they need help as well. They need help from their manager, from their company, and from their customers. Further, each of these players needs help. The company needs to become aware of how their processes and ecosystem support old behaviors, not new ones. The manager needs to be developed to be a better coach and role model. And the customer needs to understand why engaging in a different dialog is in their best interest. Lastly, the rep needs to know about these traps in their quest so they can more effectively navigate the challenge.

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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Winning the Hearts and Minds of Your Sales Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at 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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How To Sell YUGE Deals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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I Dare You To Make A Mountain Out Of A Mole Hill! You’ll Sell More

Imagine walking in to a bank to deposit a check. As you enter the building, you notice several customers lying face down with their hands on the back of their heads. The teller is standing behind the counter, wide eyed, and nervously asks, “Can I help you?”

Do you:

  1. Continue walking to the teller kiosk to finish your transaction, silently rejoicing about the lack of a line?
  2. Assume it’s an earthquake drill, drop on the floor and place your hands over your head until notified the drill is over?
  3. Turn around like you forgot something, proceed to your car, and call the police from a safe distance?

I see sellers encounter an analogy of this situation every day. The I.T. group in a company reaches out and informs a sales representative they’re interested in adding more users, upgrading with an add on product, or replacing their current solution supplied by a competitor of the seller. They also usually request a detailed quote.

Do you:

  1. Take charge by suggesting a demo to start the conversation, agree to a lengthy evaluation, and add an “upside” item on your forecast? (See “A” above.)
  2. Send the quote and follow up later? (See “B” above.)
  3. Ask “Why, Why, Why?[1]” Do some research about their business issues, looking for a way to create a larger opportunity and justify the purchase in the face of internal competitive uses of funds? (See “C” above.)

After conducting countless opportunity reviews with dozens of technology companies, I’m pretty certain most overlook option “C”. The most common answer I hear when I ask about their prospect’s current Business Issue is some variation of “They need a new product.” This indicates to me, either a) they don’t know what a business issue is or how it impacts buying decisions, b) don’t know how to uncover and identify a business issue, c) haven’t bothered to check and just fill in some dribble to provide an answer when asked, or d) all of the above.

Let’s start with the premise it’s worth your time and energy to find the current business issues capturing the attention of your customer’s senior management. The business issues drive buying behaviors, prioritize one potential purchase over another, increase the scale of purchases, facilitate access to more powerful stakeholders, and compel faster decisions, among other things.

Every, and I mean, every, company has business issues that have the attention of senior management. It might be a focus on cost management as a result of investor pressure. It could be a merger integration that’s not meeting expectations. Product delays due to broken processes. Revenue declines in the face of a changing competitive landscape. Scaling challenges as the result of unbridled success. Or, a handful of other positive or negative issues that can be leveraged to improve the perception of your strategic contribution, create a larger opportunity, or fuel a faster purchase. I check my own perception of a business issue by asking myself, would their CEO talk about this in his/her staff meeting? I can be reasonably certain there have not been many CEO’s who ask their e-staff, “do you think we need more <insert your solution> for the staff?”

The point is, continuing on without stepping back to assess the current business issues and connecting our solution to their business issues, puts us at greater risk for a long sales cycle, a no decision due to funding a seemingly more important initiative, or a smaller pilot purchase. Conversely, if we do integrate the potential impact of addressing their most important business issue into our messaging, we have significant upside for a larger purchase, better justification to improve the sense of urgency, and broader access to stakeholders who care about addressing the issue.

So why aren’t more sales people electing to execute on “C”?

I can only think of two answers. Either, it’s because they haven’t questioned their own ingrained habits leaving them unaware, or they think the extra work doesn’t merit their time.

Assuming you, the reader, are one of these people, and you want to learn how to sell bigger deals with fewer no decision outcomes, my suggestion is to make a pact with your manager to help you break your old habits. This takes frequent review, reflection, self-assessment, feedback and a change in tactics. Ask your manager to review your most important opportunities with you on a regular basis. Strike that; demand a regular review! Ask them to challenge you on your understanding of your key prospect’s current business issues. Show them how you uncovered it, and how you confirmed it with your prospect. A change in behavior is more likely if you have to answer to someone else regarding your activities.

If you conclude that it’s more busy work and not worth the effort, I suggest you at least try it. It only takes five minutes with a computer mouse to understand the issues facing a specific company.

Let’s walk through a real life example to demonstrate how little time it takes and the information you can glean.

As I sit at my desk writing this, I look down and see a business card from a local company I’m prospecting. I use my trusty business issue finder, otherwise known as a computer mouse, and visit their website. The first thing I see is a banner announcing their intent to acquire a social media solution for their portfolio. I quickly check their latest financial reports and among positive results in bookings and revenue, they have a $17 million quarterly GAAP loss with a $46M loss year to date. Checking Wikipedia I see they have acquired four other companies in the last 18 months. This exercise took all of five minutes.

If this company was your prospect, could you incorporate the integration challenges of five acquisitions and the associated loss of $46M ytd into your pitch? If you were a senior executive in their company, would you be open to discussions with another company who said they could positively impact the integration of the acquisitions, and reduce operating costs with their solution?

Next time you think about one of your prospects, ask yourself, “so what’s the big issue?” I’m certain you’ll find something that will elevate your strategic value, improve your messaging, give you a topic to prioritize their buying initiative, and add a new dimension to your selling skills.

[1] “Why do you want to upgrade/replace/enhance/buy?” “Why is this purchase important?” “Why now?” Continuing with “why?” until you found the business issue that’s driving the request, the people who are impacted by the problem, and the urgency of the request based on the impact of not solving the business issue.

*** 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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Sales Leaders: 3 Ways to Get Your Team Off to a Good Start in the New Year

race-against-life If January marks the beginning of a new fiscal year for you and your team, here are three leadership suggestions that can help your team get started on building a productive funnel.
  1. Define a Personal Quota Now!
It seems like the larger the organization, the longer it takes to distribute new annual quotas. I’ve witnessed some organizations take three or four months to distribute official quotas. The associated sales behavior in the absence of a quota is palpable. It’s no wonder why the first quarter is typically the least productive quarter for enterprise sales teams. My suggestion is to select an interim aggressive growth target. For example, if your company is on a 20% growth trajectory, select a 30% or 40% growth target over the prior year for each personal quota target. Then develop each individual territory plan around this interim aggressive goal; including prospecting targets, call goals and so forth. The idea is to build and execute a territory plan without waiting for the machine to catch up. Then when it does catch up, the likely lower quota that actually gets assigned will feel like a relief rather than unimaginable, and your team will already be firing on all cylinders.
  1. Identify, Develop and Roll Out a Strategic Initiative to Rally the Team.
Remember the adage, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The idea is to select an initiative that is smart, achievable, adds to the success of the team, and moreover, is measurable. It could be a focus on adding services to every sale, or focusing on dominating a certain competitor, or a tactical target to call on three new executives in the largest account as just a few examples. Ideally it develops a muscle that is atrophied on your team, produces a measurable success, and is achievable. Use the initiative to spur action, share information, and further develop your own leadership skills. Here are some key topics to include in your Strategic Initiative Plan and communication: Why: Communicate why the initiative is important, and why it’s good for the team and individual. What: Communicate tangible, measurable goals. How: Communicate how the goals are to be achieved. This might include the identification of new skills, training, reading a book, activities that have not been used before, or teaming suggestions. Consequence/Reward: Don’t forget to tie the initiative to a reward and consequence. It could be a specific SPIFF or a simple lunch on you, but a payoff is critical to the measurement and achievement recognition. Conversely, the consequence should be fair in proportion to the initiative and not arbitrary.
  1. Celebrate Small Victories.
With twelve months in front of you, or three if you’re really quarterly focused, a strategic initiative can lose steam very quickly in the face of everyday distractions. Good leaders celebrate the small victories on the way to success. For example, if your selected strategic initiative is to call on three unfamiliar executives in your key accounts, celebrate success when each team member achieves their first appointment. The idea is to maintain a focus, keep the team motivated, and rise above the noise of the daily din. 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. Missed Kevin’s other posts on Sales Agility? Take a look at his most recent posts here.

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Sales Leaders: Its Closing Time!

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

I’ll introduce two very valuable tools, the Mutual Activity Plan and the Close Plan.

The Mutual Activity Plan (MAP) is a document developed with the prospect to identify the activities required to reach a decision. These activities might include meetings with other stakeholders, conducting evaluations, talking with references, proposal reviews and more.  It’s organized with due dates and action owners as if it’s a project plan – because it is a project plan. Further, it’s a “map” to a destination point; placing the order.

The value of the MAP is getting the buying sponsor on board with you with a timeline. Moreover, if they fail to meet an action item, they have broken an agreement of sorts, providing you with the platform to ask, “why?”, or better, ask for something in return.  If they fail to meet a commitment, I suggest identifying something that will help improve your chances of closing on time, such as meeting with the final decision maker sooner, or reviewing the prospect’s internal justification document to add suggestions for example.

Here’s a simple example of a MAP:

Activity                                                                             Owner                  Due Date

Discovery meeting with all stakeholders                 Smith                    11-25-15

Demo for entire team                                                  Smith/Jones        12-1-15

Review with Legal                                                        Smith/Jones        12-7-15

Engage Purchasing                                                       Smith/Jones        12-14-15

Place order                                                                     Jones                    12-20-15

Given the complexity of your sale, the MAP may be short and to the point, or it may be several pages long. The longer it is, the more important it is to establish it as a tool to manage the process to a predictable outcome.

Recently, one of the sales leaders in a client site of mine reviewed the previous quarter closing results for one of his struggling sales people and found that every opportunity that closed had a MAP, whereas, the opportunities that slipped into the next quarter did not have a MAP in place. The lesson for the sales rep: it’s difficult for the prospect to meet expectations if they don’t know what they are.

The Close Plan is the MAP plus the internal activities the customer should not see, or should not be bothered with, but need to be managed to closure. These might include examples such as a credit check on the customer, approvals for special options, new product capabilities that are required, discount approval and more.

I typically see more complex close plans required for professional services or other applications where there are multiple contingencies to address, several internal approvals required, and heavily customized solutions. However, sometimes they are more complex because of the nature of the selling company’s culture or bureaucracy. Regardless, the more internal obstacles you have in the way of closing an opportunity, the more important it is to have a close plan in place.

Finally, having a plan in writing is good, but it also needs to be managed to success. Use the MAP or Close Plan as a review tool to help the sales person make progress on their plan.  Check off items as they are achieved and identify activities with high risk to brainstorm on alternatives and contingencies.

I feel compelled to wish you luck closing out your quarter, but we both know that it comes down to great leadership.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at 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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Sales Agility: Gaining Access to Decision Makers

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from sales people is the frustration of being held at arm’s length from the actual decision maker. In the course of my sales effectiveness consulting career, I have helped countless sales people overcome this challenge on a consistent basis, and many of my client companies have gone on to establish executive access as a cultural norm and competitive advantage. Access to power is a sales agility challenge. It takes an effort to tailor a message that will resonate with the power person, and motivate the sponsor to take you there.

Let’s break this challenge down into one simple concept. You will be taken to the person you sound like. If you sound like a technical person, you will be sent to the technical evaluator. If you sound like a VP, you will eventually be taken to the VP. If you sound like a CFO, your request to meet the CFO will be earnestly considered.

Your messaging should be crafted to interest the person you want to access. If you unconsciously repeat your sales messaging without crafting it, you will find yourself stuck at the same level of every organization you approach, usually an evaluator level.

Crafting a message sounds easy right? Unfortunately, most people get into a habit, and are not self-aware of their own behaviors. Let’s test our self-awareness and our agility in crafting a tailored message.

Here’s a simple test: Take a pen or pencil and jot down the most critical business issue facing your top prospect.

If you don’t know it, and can acknowledge you don’t know it, that’s the first step in self-awareness. Go to their website and look at their recent press announcements. Look for business problems. Next, go to your favorite search engine, type in their company name with an added word like “problem”, “issues”, or “challenges”. See what pops up. Then look at their operating statement. Are they any numbers that are worse than they were the year before? Do any of their numbers look worse than their closest competitor? Going through this five minute exercise will usually give you a better understanding of their business issues, find at least one business issue you can contribute to, and will prepare you to craft a compelling message that attracts more powerful stakeholders.

If you think you know the business issue, and the answer has any of your solution description in it, you’ve shot yourself in the foot. Nine times out of ten, when I ask a seller to describe the business issues’ facing a prospect, their answer is a solution request, “They need our XYZ product…” or, “They’re not happy with the competitive solution and want to evaluate ours.” In either case, the seller is seller focused, not customer focused. Until they become self-aware of this orientation, they cannot craft messaging that will attract decision makers.

Let’s assume you found the most current business issues facing a company. Now write down the top three to five problems they have addressing this business issue. The unaware seller will usually describe the situation with answers that don’t specify problems, such as, “They have 50 offices.” or “their existing solution is out of date.” These answers might insinuate a problem, but they don’t explicitly disclose a problem. They need to articulate the problems more succinctly, such as, “They have so many offices, management can’t scale to cover them all effectively.” Or, “Their existing solution caps out at 50 users, and they have several hundred requiring access at the same time.” Most executive buyers don’t have the time or the first hand usage experience to be able to connect situational information to a problem that is impeding the resolution of their business issues. An agile seller is specific in the problem diagnosis.

Lastly, describe the business issue in terms of impact. Most sellers want to describe the quantified benefit of their solution through the eyes of other customers. “Research shows our customers’ produce 15% more widgets than their competition.” While this is a valuable proof statement, validating your success, it does not equate to their value proposition. Instead, quantify and confirm their business issue from their perspective. “From what you’ve told me, your cost of sales are 18% higher than your competition, creating a $75 million profit problem. Who would be interested in solving this issue?”

When you can string these three topics together, you’ll find doors opening to more influential stakeholders. Contrast Seller A and Seller B:

Seller A: “We have the fastest widget in the industry, used by 450 of the Fortune 500.”

Seller B: “I noticed your new product revenue is down 22% over last year, complicated by a lack of skilled talent, longer development cycles, and the currency crisis in Europe. Who in your organization would be interested to hear how we can address these problems?”

Seller B has crafted a tailored message that is customer focused and does not rely on a solution description. They have a much higher chance of being taken to more stakeholders than Seller A.

Access to power is an agility challenge that requires self-awareness, some research, and an effort to deliver a message that fits the customer’s issues and problems. Falling into the pattern of talking about your product without the context of the customer’s parameters, will box you into an evaluator level dialog.

Are you agile enough to learn how to create a tailored message and use it to gain access to decision makers?

Kevin Temple helps sales teams optimize their behavior and improve revenue outcomes. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.