From the CCS® Sales Blog

April 2015

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Sales Tips: No Goal? No Prospect.

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

goalsWhen launching CustomerCentric Selling® in 2002 the first core concept of our process was: No goal means no prospect. In other words, if sellers can’t get potential buyers to share desired business outcomes (or problems) they’re willing to spend money to achieve (or address), there’s no selling to be done.

This core concept was written well before B2B buyers were leveraging the Internet and social networking to better understand what offerings are available prior to contacting salespeople. We espouse that goals can be shared in two (2) ways:

  1. The better way is directly from Key Players (titles involved in making buying decisions).
  2. By proxy from lower level titles speaking on behalf of senior management or their organizations.

Those of you familiar with the CCS® process appreciate that a Targeted Conversation List™ for offerings identifies both the Key Player titles and for each title, a menu of relevant business goals that can be achieved.

It seems this very simple concept could be used to better define what constitutes a lead in these times when many vendors are awash with inbound activity from levels that are unable to spend unless budget has been approved by higher levels. If a lead were defined as a Key Player (or by proxy by a lower level) that has expressed interest in achieving one of more goals, a number of positive things could take place:

  1. When the lead is passed, sellers can begin by discussing the buyer’s current situation to uncover why the goal can’t be achieved.
  2. In discussing the current situation, sellers can get an idea of the potential value in addressing barriers so that goals can be achieved.
  3. In asking business questions of lower level staff, they often will either be unable or unwilling to speak on behalf of higher levels, so a request for access to Key Players would be reasonable.

Without desired business outcomes, sellers are likely to get dragged into premature and unproductive discussions of offerings and pricing. If Marketing and Sales could agree on Targeted Conversation Lists™, part of nurturing inbound inquiries could be trying to make visitors aware of potential value and payback.

Lower level staff (even with a seller’s help) meeting senior management without established value, often result in dashing any hope that funds will be allocated to new initiatives. While not intended for Internet visitors when written several years ago, the core concept “No goal means no prospect” seems more relevant than ever.

CustomerCentric Selling on Facebook

Sales Tips: New Take on “Always Be Closing”

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

Image courtesy of Glengarry Glen Ross, New Line Cinema

glengarry_rectMaking a decision when buying sales training or process is difficult. Often prospects aren’t focused on the business outcomes they seek. Through the years in this business I’ve often had executives tell me that their salespeople aren’t strong closers. My first inclination (that I keep to myself) is that it’s likely they aren’t very good salespeople.

Part of the problem has been the misguided emphasis people place on closing. Any seller that has seen Glengarry Glen Ross remembers Alec Baldwin’s advice on the ABC’s of selling:  Always Be Closing. If only it was that easy. Wonderful endings to otherwise mediocre plays aren’t going to result in any Tony awards. Frequent closes in B2B sales can be offensive to buyers.

There are several aspects of closing that sellers are either unaware of or disregard because they have their own agendas: 

  1. Before closing buyers should understand their desired outcomes, why they can’t be achieved today, what capabilities are needed, the potential value and the price. In many instances they will want to compare at least 2 other vendors.
  2. It’s demeaning when sellers try to close non-decision makers. It’s awkward to ask for orders if they aren’t authorized to commit.
  3. Sellers make mistakes by not getting in front of decision makers to close. Some reply upon proposals they hope decision makers will not only read but also understand.
  4. Sellers pressure buyers when they close prematurely. Some buyers will be “put off” and may decide not to buy. Those that are willing to buy will almost certainly expect incentives (concessions and/or discounts) for buying sooner than they expected. 
  5. There are few instances in B2B transactions when closing and discounting will work if sellers aren’t the vendor of choice. Some sellers rationalize that is makes sense to discount even if they can’t win because the winning vendors will accept lower prices. I believe putting low-ball numbers on the street can come back to haunt sellers. 
  6. Unfortunately the old concept of selling is alive, if not well. The thought is a seller can convince, persuade and pressure buyers into giving them the business. This flies in the face of the reality that people prefer to buy without high-pressure tactics.

There is an entirely different way to consider the ABC approach. In long buying cycles it is important to gain commitment along the way. Rather than closing for the business earlier in buying cycles, there are other commitments to ask for: access to Key Players, agreement on potential value, an estimated decisions date, agreement of buyers to spend resources in evaluating offerings, having some staff see demos, etc.

Sellers in B2B buying cycles have to get many yesses with the ultimate one being an agreement to move forward. My hope is that sellers are patient enough to wait until they’ve earned the right to ask for the business.

sales training books

Sales Tips: How to Optimize Your CRM for the Full Benefits

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

Image courtesy of Sujin J. at

crm-sales-processVirtually any company using CRM has either implemented generic pipeline milestones or ideally customized them to mesh with their sales processes. Some have taken a step further and have customized milestones for the different types of sales their sellers make. Once in place these milestones become road maps for monitoring the progress of opportunities that hopefully end with buyers making purchases. 

Management’s expectation is that sellers will report progress on these steps on a daily basis so pipeline information is current. Without CRM sellers usually provide updates either when asked to on an ad hoc basis or near month end so managers could finalize forecasts about what was going to close. 

Unquestionably CRM has provided more structure and allows managers at any time to assess the progress and status of opportunities in each seller’s pipeline. There are a few potential issues that companies may not have been considered and I’d like to bring them to your attention:

1. How many of your milestones are subjective? For these milestones you ultimately must rely upon the opinions of sellers under pressure to have pipelines that appear adequate to make their numbers. If a manager tells a seller that by next month he or she needs to get their pipeline up to $X, miraculously most sellers will find a way to get there. As you can imagine, there are no miracles in selling and most likely quality likely took a back seat to quantity in getting to the desired number.

2. Do some of your sellers lack the skills to achieve all milestones? As companies grow and staff up, members of their sales teams bring varied experience, backgrounds and skills. Few companies have given thought to ensuring that sellers have the requisite skills to achieve every milestone within their sales process. Selling problems can be due to skill deficiencies (can’t) or motivational/attitude issues (won’t). Managers can ask sellers to do things they can’t, but shouldn’t be surprised when results are poor.

3. How well do your sellers position offerings? I believe the biggest challenge B2B sellers face is how to make effective 30-minute calls on decision maker levels. There isn’t time for product pitches. If there were product pitches, executive levels won’t tolerate them. It will be important to uncover desired business outcomes and for sellers to discuss only the parts of their offerings that are relevant to achieving them.

CRM offers many advantages to companies. Those that do a better job of implementing them stand to realize the most benefit. Some ways to do that include:

  1. Finding ways to have achievement of milestones be based upon buyer actions
  2. Mapping the required selling skills to the achievement of each milestone
  3. Creating milestones for different types of transactions
  4. Helping sellers with sales ready messaging® for defined titles and business goals

Key: The full promise of technology can only be realized when companies support it with well-defined processes.

sales prospecting workshops

Sales Tips: Asking vs. Telling

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

Image courtesy of Franky242 at

sales training tipsThe stereotype of sellers is nearly universal. The exception I’ve seen is Eastern Europe. Before starting a workshop in the Czech Republic a few years ago, the CEO made me aware that there were no salespeople under communist rule. With the advent of capitalism the job became necessary. Selling was viewed as a desirable career. The stereotype did not apply.

For the rest of the world, who hasn’t had a bad experience with a seller that took advantage of them with lies, hype or omissions? I suspect many of these situations occurred early in our lives in transactional B2C purchases but the stereotype is liberally applied to B2B sellers. 

If you doubt the underlying mistrust of sellers, imagine going into an electronics store to buy a new sound system with no idea what you needed or what was available. A clerk asks: May I help you? Despite desperately needing help, 90+% of people respond: No. I’m just looking. This knee-jerk response is caused by the perception that sellers are more concerned about commissions rather than buyer needs. The stereotype is alive and well.

Making calls with an objective of selling a specific offering causes tunnel vision. If you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail. Sub-optimal experiences for buyers abound. Vendors and sellers don’t seem to realize people prefer to buy rather than be sold. A better objective would be to determine if buyers have a need for your offering. In B2B selling this would be a business outcome with inherent value to the buyer (higher revenue, lower costs, higher margins, etc.).

Once a need is identified sellers should refrain from telling, which amounts to selling. Instead focus on asking diagnostic questions to determine which features of your offering are relevant to the buyer. The last step is to ask the buyer if they had the relevant features, could they achieve the desired outcome. Asking facilitates buying.

A first step in avoiding the stereotype is to scrap the notion that selling is convincing, persuading and overcoming objectives. It would be better for everyone involved if the objective of sales calls was to empower buyers to achieve outcomes through the use of a seller’s offerings. Superior salespeople help buyers buy.

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