From the CCS® Sales Blog

December 2014

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Sales Tips: 4 Qualifiers for Handling Researchers

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

Featured image courtesy of Stock Images at FreeDigitalPhotos.Buyer or Researchernet

Recent studies would have you believe as much as 80% of buying activities are complete before salespeople are involved. For complex B2B transactions I struggle to accept this statistic and wanted to suggest two (2) separate and distinct activities that must be completed before B2B buying decisions are made

  • Product/offering research and evaluation
  • Cost vs. benefit or ROI analyses to justify potential expenditures

For complex B2B offerings, research is done mostly by non-Key Players wanting to learn about offerings without sellers influencing their requirements. They devour information posted on vendor websites. If they get serious about offerings, they solicit feedback from people about experiences with vendors and offerings by leveraging social networking. This can provide validation because vendors control website information.
Cost vs. benefits or ROI’s are created to determine if potential expenditures are likely to provide adequate payback (reduce costs, increase revenues, increase profits, etc.) to warrant expenditures. Input from Key Players is needed to create enterprise views to quantify the potential improvement in business metrics for stakeholders.
The sequence in which these 2 activities occur goes a long way toward determining how likely it is that buying cycles end in buying decisions. I’d like to discuss how sellers initiate opportunities and then revisit inbound inquiries from researchers.

Buyer or ResearcherThe Good
Buying cycles initiated proactively by competent sellers start at Key Player levels. Calls are focused more on business outcomes than offerings. Early on it is determined whether the potential benefits justify the time needed to evaluate offerings. If it does, sellers call on lower levels to have more detailed product discussions, understand how business is conducted without the offering, determine how it could be implemented and do a cost vs. benefit analysis. If there’s a fit proposals are presented to Key Players who decide whether or not to buy.

The Bad
Less competent sellers take bottom up approaches. Entry points at lower levels learn about products. If traction is gained, sellers try to access other levels. They talk with many people that can’t say yes (buy) but can say no. If sellers can’t reach higher levels, Key Players’ first exposure to their offerings will likely be in proposals. In these cases, sellers rely upon lower levels to do internal selling with Key Players.

Bottom-up selling makes long sell cycles and lower win rates more likely. A Sales Benchmark Index study concluded 52% of sales cycles result in “no decision” meaning that no vendor is awarded the business. This statistic causes me to wonder what percentage of “buying cycles” initiated by researchers result in no decision.

4 Qualifiers for Handling Researchers
Inbound inquiries from prospects that have done extensive research more closely resemble bottom-up vs. top-down selling approaches. Best practice selling would target higher levels as entry points. This allows early qualification (or disqualification) of opportunities.

Here are questions to consider if and when knowledgeable researchers ask sellers to get involved:

  1. Are Key Players in the organization aware research has been done?

  2. What business goals have been identified?

  3. Has budget been allocated?

  4. Has a cost vs. benefit sanity check been done?

I agree that it’s possible for product evaluations to be 80% complete before sellers are involved. However if the 4 questions above cannot be answered affirmatively, how can 80% of buying activities be complete?

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Sales Tips: 3 Ways to Take Control of Your New Year

By Frank Visgatis, President & Chief Operating Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

sales tips for success in the new yearAs we enter a new year, most salespeople and sales organizations spent the recent holiday season in one of three (3) modes:

1. The Happy Camper – Through a combination of proper planning and consistency of execution, the previous year is already “done” from a revenue attainment perspective, and now it’s time to relax and charge the batteries so you can rocket out of the gate in Q1.

2. The Hail Mary – You’re doing everything you can possibly think of to somehow bring in every last bit of revenue in an attempt, albeit usually a futile one, to make the number for the year.

3. The Dead Man Walking – With the recognition that nothing will salvage the year at this point and worse, prospects don’t look good for the New Year, resumes are being polished and LinkedIn is experiencing a spike in activity.

So, the question is: What mode are you in?

My hope is that you fall into the first category. However, if this is you, you are the exception and not the rule. If that’s in fact the case, if you fall into either of the two latter categories, what is going to change this year?

Will marketing finally get their act together and start sending you decent leads?
If marketing could consistently generate high quality, well-qualified leads from prospects who are ready to buy, why do we need salespeople? Wouldn’t a website and an 800 number do the trick?

Will your product suddenly get better?
Don’t count on it. Even if it does, the days of product features being competitive differentiators are gone.

Will management finally “get it” and bring down the price point to something more “reasonable”?
Unlikely. Even if they did, all that means is that you would have to exponentially increase your volume of transactions to make the same amount of money you tried to make this year. For example, if you couldn’t close 10 deals at 100% of the price, what would lead you to believe that you can close 20 at 50%? 

I apologize if my assessment seems a bit harsh. However, I also know that you can proactively address each of the aforementioned issues.

3 Ways to Take Control
1. If you aren’t happy with the quality of leads that you’re getting from Marketing, remember that the helping hand you need is probably at the end of your own arm. Instead of waiting for the phone to ring, start dialing it instead. It is only the salespeople who consistently and aggressively prospect for new business, even if their pipeline is already full, who are the ones who sleep well at night.

2. If price is an issue, then that simply means that insufficient value has been established. Prospects focus on cost when there is no value. Remember that the cost of pain always has to be greater than the cost of change. Unless and until the prospect understands that it is costing them more to do things the way they currently do them versus what you are asking them to spend, price will always be the issue.

3. Finally, if you can’t differentiate yourself using what you sell, think about differentiating yourself by the way you sell. Rather than being the stereotypical salesperson eager to do a demo as soon as possible, think about focusing on your prospect’s business goals and objectives, first and only introducing product once you understand their desired business outcomes and how you can help them get there.

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Sales Tips: How to Combat the Discounting “Squeeze”

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

0-discount-squeezeI was working with a client a few years ago and saw the CEO and CFO in a meeting to discuss pricing on a transaction for a large prospect. I soon learned they had been negotiating for over two weeks. Over that time the pricing had eroded to the point where they were actually having a conversation about whether the transaction would be profitable!

After asking a few questions it seemed clear that they were the vendor of choice and were in a death spiral of discounting. My suggestion was they had to say “NO” to making any further reductions. They pushed back to my suggestion until I told them that if the price was reduced any more, then they should consider withdrawing.

Within a few days the transaction was finalized, but it was painful to consider how much money they likely had left on the table. A common buyer tactic is extending negotiations over several meetings. As time goes on, prices erode and as the ends of months, quarters or years draw near, sellers face time pressures to close transactions. Once discounting starts, it’s difficult to stop as you are continuously squeezed to make further concessions.

Combat the “Squeeze” with the “Get-Give”
In our negotiation module we teach sellers how to withstand a maximum of three (3) requests for lower pricing and then utilize a “get-give” approach so that any concessions are offered conditionally after buyers have agreed to give something the seller has asked for. If transactions don’t close, sellers can take what the buyer agreed to give and the concession offered in return off the table.

This technique can prevent the discount death spiral that buyers orchestrate so well.

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Sales Tips: Avoid “Commission Breath”

By Gary Walker, EVP of Channel Sales & Operations, CustomerCentric Selling®The Sales Training Company

Image credit to David Broberg from BizJournals.com

College-Football1A while ago, CBS 60 Minutes did a segment on Alabama football coach Nick Saban. He’s one of the best coaches in college football, having now won four BCS championships with Alabama in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015, and another with LSU in 2003. He attributes his team’s success to following and executing what he calls a football process. He insists his players not look at the scoreboard or focus on the win, but instead to focus on executing their individual assignments, perfecting their skills, and each offensive play that allows them to move the ball systematically, yard by yard down the field, and ultimately score. They practice their process for hours on a daily basis. That is the Alabama football process.

CustomerCentric Selling® (CCS®) is a sales process that salespeople can be taught to execute, and manage to, that allows them to consistently outperform their competitors. However, what gets a salesperson into trouble is when they shortcut or abandon their sales process. For example, picture this:

You engage with a prospect that simply says, “Prepare a proposal with pricing and have it to me by Monday. We need to make a decision.”  Presented with what you think will be a quick sale rather than take the time to follow your sales process, you abandon your process, and simply acquiesce to their request. What happens? You lose. Why? You failed to execute. In football parlance, you attempted to throw a ‘hail Mary pass’, a low percentage play, and it was batted down at the line of scrimmage. 

When a salesman chooses to simply focus on the close and abandons all of the steps in the sales process that lead to the close, I’ve heard it said that they have “commission breath”. Commission breath is the exact opposite of sales process execution. Salespeople who focus on what their prospect is trying to accomplish and follow their sales process outperform those that don’t. It’s that simple. Always remember, process guarantees results.

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