From the CCS® Sales Blog

May 2015

Viewing posts from May , 2015

Sales Tips: 7 Reasons Sales Training Fails

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

covering-eyes-1I had the pleasure last week of meeting with a company that is proactively evaluating their company sales process even though they are currently making their revenue targets. Many times I’m contacted by someone whose house is already on fire and they are looking to buy insurance.

Despite the proactive nature of this recent meeting, I still felt compelled to share with this organization some lessons I’ve learned over the past 20+ years of helping companies define and implement a company-wide sales process.

Namely, I find that there are seven (7) fundamental reasons that sales training initiatives fail:

1. No real management commitment to change.

  • While some senior management think they are setting the proper tone by kicking off a workshop, it is like nails on a chalkboard when I hear them say something to the effect of, “If you take just one thing away from this training…” Think about the message that’s just been sent. What has been effectively communicated to the group is that this is about tactical skill development, not organizational change.

  • The other sure sign of failure is when the first line sales managers refuse to participate in the same training they expect their salespeople to embrace. I often hear comments such as “This is good for my people. I don’t need to go through it though.”

2. No integration with Marketing or Support.

  • The reality of the situation is that anyone who touches the customer, even if it is once removed via the creation of messaging (e.g. product marketing) must be in lockstep if change is going to happen and consistency is going to be the standard.

3. It’s education, not training.

  • Think about it. What do you do if you want to get better at something? You practice. Salespeople only have two opportunities to practice their craft. They can role-play with a manager or a coach who can guide them through the learning process, or they can practice on an innocent prospect who might have spent some money with them. No role-plays = no skill development. I often see training classes with a single lead instructor and 30 students. At various times they will do breakout sessions where the students are told to “go off and role-play” with no facilitation. These typically devolve quickly into 30-minute group chats.

4. The training is generic – “you connect the dots.”

  • To introduce a completely new process to someone, expect them to learn it, and then expect them to connect the dots on how it relates to their everyday selling reality is simply too much to ask. Whether it’s customization in advance or integration of their products and services into the learning experience through group exercises, the student needs a clear vision of how this will help them moving forward.

5. Your CRM system doesn’t support the process.

  • Salespeople have to feel they are getting value in exchange for information. That’s why many CRM initiatives fail as well. If, as a salesperson, I have to input 37 data fields just to create a new “opportunity,” chances are I’m only going to do it when I absolutely have to. This means that management has no real visibility into the pipeline and is why sales forecasts are so often inaccurate.

6. No follow-on reinforcement.

  • Two, three or four days of training followed by “good luck and Godspeed.” If management doesn’t have a proactive plan of not only how they are going help their salespeople actually implement a new approach but also how they are going to consistently reinforce what has been learned, the knowledge and skills have a very short half-life. It’s well documented that even under the best of circumstances, students will only retain between 20 and 35 percent of what is covered in the training.  Whether it is via technology or good old sales management, the learning shouldn’t stop when the training is over.

7. No consequences – managers don’t inspect what they expect.

  • In at least some cases, this relates directly back to reason number one. If adherence is viewed as optional, salespeople will typically only adopt the parts they “like,” which usually aren’t the ones that help the company drive meaningful change.

There’s a lot of “drive-by training” that takes place out there. Don’t be the next victim.

sales training workshop

Sales Tips: How to Respond (and Not Respond) to “What Do You Do for a Living?”

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

Image courtesy of Stock Images at

During initial social meetings, a common icebreaker is asking people what they do for a living. Telling people you’re in Sales usually leads to the follow up question:  What do you sell? In most cases sellers happy-hourmake mention of products they sell. This may not be a great direction to take the conversation.

How NOT to Respond
For example, my response could be: I sell sales training. I suspect someone unfamiliar with selling wouldn’t ask any follow up questions related to my profession and my response might cause an awkward silence. Anybody having some knowledge of selling would be likely to ask what type of training, who attends, do we offer distance learning, etc. To me, sharing facts about what you sell is pedestrian fodder.

What You SHOULD Say Instead
An alternative would be to offer a positioning statement that attempts to elevate conversations. My response could have been: I help organizations identify and share best selling practices so they can meet revenue targets. I hope you’d agree that positioning statements more readily lead to conversations about outcomes that organizations or executives are hoping to achieve.

A significant step in becoming proficient at B2B sales is the realization that you may sell offerings at user levels, but more accurately your job is enabling executive buyers to achieve desired business outcomes through the use of your offerings. These are the people that can fund initiatives.

Related: 5 Tips for a Better Response to “What do you sell?”

Sales Training Workshops

Sales Tips: How to Document Value and Avoid “No Decision”

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

New sellers are taught how to beat competitors. A Sales Benchmark Index survey found sellers win 24% of proposals issued and lose 24% to other vendors. Surprisingly, they also found 30% of opportunities are lost when buyers decide not to spend the money, and 22% of companies choose to develop in-house solutions.

sales tips for avoiding no decisionFour common reasons for “no decision” outcomes are that sellers fail to: 

  1. Uncover business goals
  2. Create visions
  3. Gain access to power
  4. Negotiate evaluation plans

I wanted to focus on a fifth reason: Failure to agree and document value for buying committees.

Most sellers are unaware of the internal competition for funding initiatives within prospect organizations. If a CFO has 5 requests each for $100K but can only approve 3 of them, most likely the offerings providing the highest paybacks will be funded. A student selling accounting software to heating oil distributors realized during a workshop he lost a recent sale because the business owner decided to buy a delivery truck instead. Without documented value it can be difficult for a seller’s internal champion to secure funding.

While better than nothing, many vendor value propositions are forced upon prospects. Given prior experience with seller/vendor hype, assume a buyer discounts potential savings they’re told they’ll realize by half. If the offering requires implementation effort, assume the buyer doubles the cost. If this happens the buyer (assuming twice the cost and half the savings) and seller are off by 400% in their perspectives of value.

How to Document Value
I have no intention of making salespeople accountants that present ROI’s to senior financial executives. That said, competent sellers can help buyers create simple cost vs. benefit analyses for proposed expenditures. This can be done by calling on committee members and uncovering the business outcomes (goals) they want to achieve. Wherever possible, sellers should have each buyer provide baselines reflecting where they are today without the offering and have the buyer quantify how much improvement he or she believes can be realized. Sellers can and should share industry statistics and results other clients have achieved, but it’s critical that each buyer decides what improvements are possible.

After getting the perspectives of committee members, sellers can summarize total costs and projected benefits in a few pages. If there are significant upfront costs, I would focus on the cost vs. benefit in year 2 after those costs are defrayed. Divide the total potential benefit by 12 to allow buyers to see the monthly cost of delaying decisions.

Taking these steps allows sellers to address the two reasons for “no decision” outcomes:

  1. It’s harder for committees to decide not to buy if the potential value has been agreed upon and documented.

  2. The savings per month highlight the cost of delay. Buyers may realize lost savings while creating in-house solutions that should be considered as being part of the development costs.

Making committees aware of value won’t ensure wins. That said it should enable salespeople to reduce the painful 52% frequency of going the distance only to lose to no decision.

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Sales Tips: Empower Rather Than Sell

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<h1>Sales Tips: Empower Your Prospects, Don’t Sell Them</h1>
<p><em><span style=”font-family: georgia, palatino; font-size: 14px; color: #152d53;”>By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – <a href=”” style=”color: #152d53;”>The Sales Training Company</a></span></em></p>
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Sales Tips: Empower Your Prospects, Don’t Sell Them

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

Image courtesy of Janoon at

helping-buyers-buySince launching CustomerCentric Selling® in 2002, we’ve tried to have vendors take buyer perspectives. In doing so, it is important to be aware of the widespread, unflattering stereotype of salespeople that is largely based upon negative B2C experiences early in our lives.

The perception of both sellers and buyers is that selling is convincing, persuading and overcoming objections. Having commission in play helps drive the logic that sellers willingly commit sins of omission, hype or outright lying to have buyers spend money with them. In broadly applying the stereotype, buyers fail to realize most B2B sellers strive for long-term relationships with buyers and want them to be satisfied with every purchase they make.

Recognizing the buyer-seller relationship is badly broken, from the start CCS® has offered a new definition of selling: Asking questions to help buyers understand how to use seller offerings to achieve desired business outcomes. Inherent within this definition is that a seller’s first objective in calls is to have buyers share business goals they want to achieve (or business problems they want to be able to address). Our clients have shared instances where buyers have complimented sellers in providing superior buying experiences. They prefer being empowered rather than being sold.

The rush of inbound Internet activity caused vendors to assign Marketing the task of nurturing visitors into leads that will be passed onto sellers. In many cases without fully understanding the implications, the integration of Sales and Marketing that had been anticipated for decades started to become a reality. As with most changes, challenges have arisen.

The Internet has allowed buyers to become less dependent upon sellers for information about offerings. My view is that these visitors (more accurately labeled researchers if they can’t fund new B2B initiatives) are dictating how they want to be treated. In the process, they’ve become more sophisticated. Put another way, they are more aware and leery of vendor attempts to manipulate them into buying.

The issue of avoiding stereotypical selling behavior now extends to Marketing’s role in promoting offerings. Historical “push” strategies employed by Marketing organizations attempted to sell rather than empower people. In the same way buyer experiences have become important during buying cycles, the same standard is being applied to Marketing approaches. People want the ability to buy rather than being sold.

Sales and Marketing are often after-thoughts when new offerings are ready to be announced. Product Development (furthest away from customers) creates what it thinks customers want. Marketing and Sales are then told to devise strategies and approaches to achieve market share/revenue targets. Bringing offerings to market this way conflicts with Stephen Covey’s simple and timeless wisdom: “Start with the end in mind.” Having to generate revenue may cause the first concern about: Who will buy and why?

“Pull” Marketing strategies are only possible if offerings reflect buyer/market needs. Now that both Marketing and Sales are shaping buying experiences, it’s time to consider that having enterprises view customers through a common lens is more important than ever.

Centering Product Development on customers and buyers requires a common vocabulary and overarching framework so that Sales, Marketing and Product Development have offerings buyers want to buy. Early in the process all three groups should: 

  • Create a Targeted Conversation List™ identifying the Key Player titles that will be involved in buying decisions.
  • Agree on a menu of business outcomes for each title that can be addressed with offerings.
  • Have Product Development focus their efforts on creating capabilities that allow the defined business outcomes to be achieved.
  • Gear Marketing efforts toward the business issues of Key Players
  • Agree on Sales Ready Messaging® to empower sellers to have conversations with Key Players about only the relevant features to achieving desired outcomes. 

This approach can allow reduced friction and finger pointing between the silos of Product Development, Marketing and Sales. It also allows companies to do more than just pay lip service to the critical objective of being “customer-centric.”

The market would welcome this approach. Vendors that deliver it have tremendous upside. With things being relatively equal I always lean toward the better seller as having the best chance to win. The concept of Marketing also being directly involved points toward the overall buying experience being the potential differentiator.

2017 sales training workshops

Sales Tips: How to Manage Buying Committees

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

Image courtesy of Stock Images at

buying-committeeWhen managing buying cycles with committees, sellers are often guilty of starting and staying with one person too long. In our workshops, we show there are 3 phases of buying cycles:

  1. Solution development where buyers understand their desired outcomes, why they can’t be achieved in the current environment and what specific capabilities they need to achieve the outcomes. Ideally Phase 1 is done with Key Player executives.
  2. Evaluation is often done with mid-to-lower levels that must determine if the “solution” will work in the organization’s environment. During this part of the buying cycle, product evaluations, implementation issues, cost vs. benefit, vendor evaluations, etc. must all be done.
  3. Commitment is Phase 3 in which the vendor of choice is determined and the executive committee must overcome risk, and if everything moves forward then final pricing must be negotiated.

B and C Players have a tendency to sell serially. By that I mean they try to take the first buyer they encounter through the process without getting others involved. In extreme cases, they’ll go so far as to generate proposals when other committee members are likely not ready. If they attempt to read them, they most likely will not understand why they should move forward.

A Players take their Champions (usually initial contacts), get them through Phase 1 and then ask for access to the other Key Players that will be involved in making buying decisions. By doing so, each Key Player has their unique “solution” and the enterprise view of value is the sum of all value established. Once Phase 1 is complete with a buying committee, the seller has a much better chance of working with mid-to-lower levels that will want to get into detail about offerings that is far more granular than initial discussions with Key Players.

Key: Taking all Key Players through Phase 1, negotiating a written Sequence of Events with them to define the steps and timeframes in making a formal recommendation, and then presenting the content of the proposal to Key Players in Phase 3, minimizes the chances of sellers trying to take one member of the buying committee through the entire sales cycle.