From the CCS® Sales Blog

February 2016

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Sales Tips: 8 Signals That Your Buyer Is Ready to Close

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

sales tips for closingI’ve had several sales executives and CEOs tell me “My salespeople can’t close.” I always wonder if they realize the problem may be that their reps can’t sell.

Prematurely asking for the business puts undue pressure on buyers. However, it’s common practice because sellers have monthly, quarterly, and annual numbers they are responsible for.

But the best selling efforts can mean there is no need to close. If a seller covers all of the eight items listed below, and the buyer realizes there is a cost of delaying their decision, there are instances where they will volunteer to buy.

Before earning the right to close I believe decision makers should:

  1. Know the price.
  2. Be aware of the business outcome(s) they want to achieve.
  3. Know why they can’t achieve outcomes without the offering.
  4. Be able to articulate capabilities needed to achieve outcomes.
  5. Know the full cost of buying and implementing offerings.
  6. Be aware of the scope of implementation.
  7. Know the cost vs. benefit.
  8. Have a sense of how the offering compares to those of competitors’ both in capability and price.

If all of these items have been covered, buying should be the logical last step of a sales cycle. 

Premature closes (when one or more items have not been addressed) can abruptly change buyer relationships as sellers go from consultative sales to high-pressure tactics. Even if successful, sellers often have to discount or make other concessions to incent buyers. The worst outcome is that sales are lost because buyers are offended by aggressive closing tactics.

In workshops I often ask students to tell me when they can be sure it’s time to close without pressuring buyers. This question causes the room to get quiet for several seconds. My answer is that it’s time to close when buyers have everything they need to make buying decisions — the eight items listed above.

How to Set Up a Perfectly Timed Close

One of the best ways to orchestrate a perfectly timed close is to see if you can review a draft proposal with the decision maker or buying committee. Being granted this opportunity is a strong indicator that you’re likely to win the business. After the draft content has been reviewed, the salesperson should incorporate changes in the final proposal.

Once the changes are made, and the decision maker or committee confirms they’re in line with their expectations, this actually is the first time a seller has earned the right to close. The seller can simply ask, “I can deliver the proposals next week, but since nothing will change, would you like to go forward with our recommendation today?”

In my mind, a buying cycle is much like a play. If the first two acts are awful, a fantastic ending won’t salvage the show. Unfortunately some sellers think they can close any order regardless of how poorly the selling effort has gone.

It may not happen often that a buyer volunteers to buy instead of being pushed by a salesperson to close. But when it does happen, it feels awfully good for both sides, and it reflects a well-executed buying cycle.

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Sales Tips: Why You Should Put Your Pipeline on a Diet (Now)

By Jessica Bledsoe, Primary Intelligence

The scariest words you can deliver to a sales rep: Trim. Your. Pipeline.

The pipeline is the heartbeat of an organization, but it’s the lifeblood of a sales rep. It’s the fuel for hitting quota and making money.

So, why would anyone want to trim their pipeline? Shouldn’t we always chase more pipeline?

No. I’d like to argue a bloated pipeline is worse than no pipeline. (Almost.)

First, let’s define “bloated.” A bloated pipeline is full of deals with a low probability of closing. The number of deals is less important than the quality of deals. To put it another way, a bloated pipeline is full of deals you can’t win.

The Dangers of a Bloated Pipeline

The Dangers of a Bloated Sales PipelineTo dive deeper into the matter, let’s look at the ripple impact of a bloated pipeline:

1. Sales confidence

As deals slip and wins are sparse, sales confidence dips with the sales rep, sales leaders, and even other departments like marketing and finance. This could lead to turnover – what rep wants to stay with you if they’re not succeeding?

2. Inaccurate forecasting

Forecasts are used by reps, sales management, and executive teams to predict upcoming revenue, plan expenses, and make hiring decisions. Most importantly, forecasting is used to guide strategy and gauge success. Forecasts are always a best guess, but wildly inaccurate forecasts are dangerous and a waste of time.

3. Delivering a poor buyer and brand experience

How much time can you really devote to understanding a buyer’s needs, responding to questions and requests, and delivering a strong solution when you have 100 deals in the hopper?

4. Sales support burnout

In most companies, delivering a sale requires time and resources from multiple people and departments. Why have, for example, your legal team review contracts that have very low probability of closing? A bloated pipeline bloats the full cost of sale directly and indirectly.

What Management Thinks About Your Fat Pipeline

What Management Thinks About Your Fat Sales PipelineI spoke about this topic with Lance Davis, Primary Intelligence’s Vice President of Business Development. Lance has managed sales teams for more than 10 years at companies such as Novell, Concentrix, and Infor.

Lance highlighted a specific danger of a bloated pipeline that newer sales reps need to consider. “When I see a bloated pipeline, it tells me as a manager that the rep doesn’t value their time and doesn’t understand their business,” he said. “It’s a waste of time to review their pipeline each week because as a manager you don’t know what’s real and what’s not. It reflects poorly on the rep.”

Lance explained he would rather have a rep who closed three out of four deals than one who closed five out of 20. “Even though the second rep is technically closing more deals, their win rate is much lower and their forecast is not reliable,” he said.

In the end, Lance explained, a rep with a bloated pipeline is “only cheating themselves” and hurting their paycheck. “You only have a certain amount of time during the day. Why waste your time on unlikely deals?” he said.

Signs Your Pipeline Needs a Diet

Signs Your Sales Pipeline Needs a DietSign 1: Deals are not progressing

I asked Lance how he spots a bloated pipeline. “It’s full of deals that are not progressing,” he explained. “One metric I often look at is pipeline velocity. It tells you how fast deals are moving from one stage to the other. You expect bigger deals to take longer, but when smaller deals are moving at the same pace as those larger deals, you know it’s time to move on from the opportunity.”

Another sign of a deal that’s not progressing: the quality of the conversation. If recent sales activity is  stuck in the “checking in” phase instead of progressive conversations, the deal is in trouble.

Sign 2: Poorly qualified deals

I recently analyzed 10 of our lost deals in 2015. We had introduced demographic scoring to serve as an initial quality check on the likelihood of the prospect being a good match. The scoring was created based on known demographic characteristics of the “ideal client” (i.e.: common characteristic of our current strong clients).

Of the 10 lost deals, only 2 met the demographic scoring requirement. Imagine if the remaining 8 deals had been disqualified earlier. Could the time spent on those 8 unlikely deals have been ceded to more likely candidates?

Sign 3: Low win rate

This is an obvious but painful sign. Sure, many factors can contribute to a poor win rate that might be out of your control – competitive pressures, product issues, poor reputation, etc. – but when your win rate is lower than the company average, alarms go off. It’s natural to point the finger at your sales process and style, but it’s more important to ask: Was I really giving enough focus to these deals to have a chance to win? Was I stretched too thin? Did I ever have a chance of winning?

Sign 4: Low value deals

A common sign Lance told me he looks at is a high volume of low value deals. Every pipeline is full of a range of deal sizes, but when your average deal size is well below the average, Lance said it’s a sign you’re focusing on short-term wins rather than sustainable deals and customers.

In a recent Primary Intelligence analysis of more than 5,000 deals, buyers reported on average spending about the same time to make a $100k purchase decision as a $1M purchase decision. Put another way: it could take you just as long to sell $1M as it does $100k. I know where I would be spending my time.

Start Jogging Today

Start jogging to trim sales pipelineAs you start the journey to a healthier pipeline, ask these excellent questions about every deal in your piepline, as created by Ken Thoreson of Acumen Management. Ken suggested they be a staple of every weekly forecast review meeting.

  • What is their decision process? Do you know every step?
  • When do they want to be implemented or have our systems ready to go?
  • Who is involved in the decision?
  • Do they have a business need?
  • Are they listening to you?
  • Do they have funding?
  • What are the next two steps?
  • Who or what else are they considering?
  • When is the next board meeting?
  • What are they doing for you?
  • Do you know your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Do you know their decision criteria?
  • Do you have an excellent closing strategy?

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Sales Tips: How to Respond to “I Need a Better Price”

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Sales Tips: How to Respond to “I Need a Better Price”

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

sales tips for pricing and discounting“I need a better price.” Many sellers find this request difficult to handle. It’s a great buyer question that often elicits “knee-jerk” discounting. I’d like to suggest a way to respond.

A few years ago, I coached a seller and manager through closing an order with a prospect. $960K had been quoted for their offering. A “coach” within the IT organization told the seller $850K was budgeted, the CIO would make the decision by Friday, and the seller should consider reducing the price.

In a conference call, the sales manager discussed bidding $850K or lower if necessary. My first question was whether the seller was “Column A” (the vendor of choice)? He thought he was but knew a competitor was bidding. My recommendations:

  1. Leave the price at $960K.
  2. Ask to bring his manager to a meeting with the CIO late Friday afternoon.

I explained that if the seller could get the meeting, it made me confident he was Column A. It also seemed unlikely the CIO would let the seller bring his manager if he was going with another vendor. The meeting was set. I asked them to let me know the outcome.

They were able to close the transaction Friday for $960K. Had they re-quoted $850K they would probably have gone even lower. Once sellers start discounting, smart buyers press for and often receive further concessions.

In reviewing this situation later, I realized that if the seller was “Column B” and discounted, it was unlikely he would have won. The buyer would have used his discounted price to negotiate the best deal possible with the vendor of choice.

The terms “always” and “never” seldom apply to selling, but I believe sellers should always negotiate as though they’re Column A. If asked for better pricing, sellers can respond: Am I the vendor of choice and is price the last obstacle to doing business? If the answer is anything but yes, my suggestion is to reply:  You haven’t finalized your decision yet. If you decide I am the vendor of choice, I’d welcome an opportunity to finalize an agreement.

Here’s a slight variation if the person requesting better pricing is not a decision maker — after asking if you are the vendor of choice and not getting a positive response: If you decide we are the vendor of choice, I’d like to bring my manager to meet with (the decision maker) and you to see if we can reach an agreement.

This approach takes courage, but buyers will come back to Column A and the starting point for negotiations will be the original quote. If you discount, the likely outcomes are:

  1. The business will be awarded to another vendor and you’ve left a low price on the street.
  2. The buyer calls you back. Negotiations start at a lower price, and the buyer hopes for further discounts.

The suggested approach should deliver better outcomes than discounting regardless of whether you’re Column A or B.

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Sales Tips: OOPS – Are You Closing the Wrong Person?

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

sales tips for closing right buyersAnybody that has seen the movie Glengarry Glen Ross will remember Alec Baldwin’s role as a high-powered sales manager addressing a tired group of salespeople. His advice to “always be closing” probably caused many B2B sellers to cringe. B2B salespeople that use high-pressure tactics risk alienating their buyers.

Vendors and salespeople don’t seem to realize that people prefer to buy rather than be sold. While most applicable to B2C sales, the “always be closing” mentality has unfortunately become part of the general sales stereotype. But B2B selling is different. It most cases it isn’t a single “hit and run” order as is the norm in B2C transactions. Buyer expectations of results after implementation, potential future add-on business, and relationships with sellers are often in play. 

Much is said and written about closing. As a point of clarification, my definition of closing is when sellers ask buyers to buy. Two of my major concerns are that sellers try to close non-decision makers and/or close before buyers are ready to buy. I’ll address this first problem now and cover the issue of premature closing in a follow up post.

What Happens When You Close The Wrong Person

Sellers should identify the decision maker by asking another stakeholder who would sign off on this project or whose budget would fund the initiative. However, many non-decision makers overestimate their own importance or are hesitant to introduce salespeople to executives, making it difficult for salespeople to reach the true decision maker.

Getting to the Decision MakerAnd if sellers fail to gain access to decision makers, two different scenarios may play out — neither of them good.

First, the salesperson might issue multiple copies of their proposal and hope that the decision maker will read and understand the potential value of the offering. As you might expect, this is the worst way to close. Few executives will read multiple page proposals. And if they do review your proposal, they’re probably just thumbing through to the back to learn the price. The cost will undoubtedly seem high since they have no conception of the product or service’s value.

Being unable to reach higher levels also prompts sellers to ask people who aren’t authorized to make buying decisions. In my opinion, this is an awkward situation that can be demeaning for a prospect. There are even cases where sellers make the mistake of negotiating with non-decision makers, only to find when they eventually get to the right person that the true negotiations start at the already discounted price quoted previously.

How to Meet a Decision Maker

If you haven’t met the decision maker I’d suggest two actions:

  1. Ask the person who gave you the decision maker’s name if they can accompany you on a call with him or her. This approach allows your champion to summarize progress to date at the start of the call.
  2. Express a compelling reason for wanting to meet the decision maker. If at all possible, suggest some business outcomes and potential value you would like to discuss in a meeting.

In B2B sales, failure to gain access to decision makers dramatically reduces the chances of winning the business. The phrase “time is money” is especially applicable to salespeople. If sellers are willing to spend their time on an opportunity they should maximize their chances of winning the deal by gaining access to decision makers during, and most importantly, at the end of buying cycles.

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Sales Tips: How to Apply Common Sense to Sales

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

When creating CustomerCentric Selling®, we created a list of thirteen (13) core concepts that serve as cornerstones to our sales process. The first was: No goal means no prospect. Put another way, if a buyer doesn’t share a goal or admit a problem they’re willing to spend money to achieve or address there is no opportunity for a salesperson to pursue.

sales tips for applying common senseMany people said it was just stating the obvious. My preference is to say that we’ve tried to apply common sense to Sales. In the very complex business environment that has and continues to evolve, common sense seems to be a rare commodity and that people aren’t always sure how to apply. 

14 years after launching CCS® there is an entirely new area to consider this simple wisdom with interactions with people that can’t buy. Back in 2002 we suggested attendees to many tradeshows were “tire kickers” and would be poor entry points to start buying cycles for complex and expensive offerings. When sellers were given “bingo cards” to contact people that came to a vendor’s booth, their interests were primarily about products rather than business outcomes that could be improved. 

Fast-forward to 2016 and I am pleased to report there seems to be far fewer tradeshows my clients choose to participate in. That said, many inbound web inquiries have become the equivalent of those bingo cards. Instead of walking tradeshow floors, researchers can now do product research via the Internet. The major thing that’s missing is the ability to do “adult trick or treating” in picking up various trinkets from other vendors.

It seems long overdue that vendors realize the following conditions make it highly unlikely that people scoring high enough on website activities are good entry points: 

  • Your offering is fairly expensive (>$50K)
  • Your offering is complex
  • Significant implementation effort is required (potential professional services needed)
  • A visitor’s interest is only learning about product specifications
  • No business outcomes with potential value have been identified

If and when sellers becomes involved it will be necessary to qualify these “opportunities” by: 

  • Having the researcher serve as a Champion to grant you access to a higher level.
  • Having the researcher state a goal the organization has.

Without goals/problems that can be addressed by an offering, buying cycles haven’t begun and prospects shouldn’t be in a seller’s pipeline. 

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Sales Tips: Sales Doesn’t Need More Product Experts

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

sales tips for business experts not productSalespeople are expected to be product experts, but senior executives have neither the time nor inclination to acquire significant amounts of product knowledge. They’re busy and simply want to understand the potential value that can be realized with a product or service. Despite this fact, companies continue to provide extensive product training to sellers. 

Old selling habits linger. But selling realities are changing. 

Having started my career with IBM, I’ve witnessed the shift from product to business focus in sales firsthand. A large factor in IBM’s troubles in the early ’90’s was their reliance upon selling to CIOs that for decades had purchased technology with little regard for cost vs. benefit. New announcements created knee-jerk first day orders. But in the late ’80’s clients started to more closely scrutinize IT expenditure, and technology buying decisions migrated to business executives.

What caused the company’s sales slump? In the end, the consensus was that IBM salespeople had lost the ability to have conversations about business issues with non-IT executives. In 1993 IBM took the unprecedented step of hiring an outsider, Lou Gertsner, as CEO. He shifted the culture to focus more on business issues rather than product issues.

The Evolving Role of Sales Requires Business Experts

With this in mind, I found the results of a recent Software Advice study encouraging. The research analyzed job qualifications for sales directors, and the top three undergraduate degrees required for job applicants were as follows:

  1. Business (42%)
  2. Marketing (23%)
  3. Engineering (12%)

Sales executives with business degrees could start to steer organizations toward business issues rather than product knowledge.

From my perspective, business acumen is a requirement of the modern salesperson. Whether opportunities begin reactively with inbound inquiries from mid-level staff or proactively through prospecting, I believe competent sales professionals must:

  • Understand different vertical markets and be able to position their offerings in ways that align with them.
  • Share ideas with executives as to how to improve business results. 
  • Help clients understand how they compare with industry best practices. 
  • Understand the impact that improved results can have on a company’s financials. For example, one of our clients found that by having sellers reduce discounting by 10%, they would realize an additional $.23 earnings per share. 
  • Work with buying committees to assess early in buying cycles if there will be enough potential value to offset the cost of offerings.
  • Present business cases rather than just proposals.

The days of leading with product are a thing of the past. Reducing the emphasis on product training would allow more time to arm sellers with a better understanding of business issues for the verticals they call on. Failure to adapt to this new reality will often result in losses or no-decisions.

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Sales Tips: How to Turn a “No Decision” into a WIN

By Connie Schlosberg, Primary Intelligence

When a software client grew frustrated with their dismal results from efforts to improve sales, they knew they needed to find out exactly what their buyers wanted. They were confident their clients liked the software, and that it was superior to the competition, but they couldn’t figure out why their win rate was not higher.

The client’s top executives and sales manager told us that they wanted to learn how to improve sales practices. They just didn’t understand where they succeeded and where they failed. The sales teams blamed the pricing or missing features, but none of them requested feedback from their buyers.

sales tips for no decisionOnce we started discussing sales opportunities with their buyers, the sales manager realized how much more relaxed buyers are when discussing the deals and how receptive they are to offering valuable feedback. The sales manager said, “You got to the real story and shared it back with us in a language that [we] can understand…that can feed into all of our decision making.”

Because of these improvements they have been able to maintain a 100 percent annual growth rate.

You, too, can have great success in closing more sales—including pre-empting a possible “no decision”— by applying the same principles this company used to your program.

Improve Your Win Rate With Better Buyer Intelligence

This software client’s win rate significantly improved with buyer feedback. The marketing folks are now armed with the intelligence they need to craft messages, which highlight the benefits of their software. The client discovered additional features that buyers desired. Now the company offers these new features by partnering with other organizations that can help fill in the gaps.

How did they get there?

We not only analyzed their competitive wins and losses, but those opportunities where the buyer opted out of selecting any solution. Our client couldn’t understand why some buyers would go through the evaluation process, but then decide to keep their current software. We noticed that many of their buyers needed to update their current procedures before any new solution could be adopted. Basically these buyers were putting the cart before the horse, resulting in a “no decision”  that caused the buyer to postpone the decision until a later date.

Don’t think “No Decisions” are Lost Causes

Now knowing why “no decisions” typically happen with their buyers, the sales team developed specific techniques to use with these buyers that have greatly reduced the chances of the buyers postponing their purchase decision. The sales team has found that when they assist the buyer in this process, they have a better chance of closing the deal.

The company makes a conscience effort to distribute buyer feedback throughout the company. This includes the sales representatives, sales managers, marketing, product management, and customer support teams. The CEO feels they have a real understanding of what buyers are saying about them: “By staying on top of understanding this critical customer feedback, [it] has really helped us to continue to grow our organization so rapidly.”

This client is consistently responding to what they learn from their Win Loss Analysis program and making appropriate changes throughout the company.

“We’re trying to constantly improve multiple processes, so multiple things are getting changed along the way — every month, every quarter… Input that we’ve received from Primary Intelligence has allowed us to sustain our ongoing close to 100 percent growth year after year.”

What You Can Do:

We know how much effort you put into a sales opportunity. It’s frustrating to work on a sale only to find out the buyer made no decision at all. Here are some recommendations you can apply to help avoid “no decisions” in the future.

Be flexible. Check your sales approach. Are you being flexible with your offering? Are you meeting the buyer’s needs? For example, are you offering the client a solution built for a large-sized company when they have less than a 100 employees?

Make it easy to purchase from you. Sometimes, the buyer may have been ready to purchase but the sales process was too confusing. When our Director of Industry Insights, Carolyn Galvin, was a program consultant, she interviewed a “No Decision” respondent. She said, “It was apparent our client’s sales team completely missed the mark, selling a product that didn’t exist, changing pricing and licensing terms numerous times and without logic, and requesting introductions with senior executives to further the sales team’s own agenda. When asked if her company would consider evaluating our client at a later date, the respondent sighed and replied, ‘Right now, we’re just trying to get over the post-traumatic stress of it all.’”

Get the decision makers on board as quickly as possible. Having the right people involved with the discussions from the start will help decrease the sales cycle and make it easier for the buyer to make a decision.

sales tips for understanding buyer needsFind buyers’ pain points. Tapping into buyers’ pain points could prompt them to make a decision sooner. It’s key to tie your features to how they solve their specific issues. Think concrete, not abstract. “Our security system ensures 24-hour surveillance of your property. We have a security team of 20 licensed security specialists working around the clock using state-of-the-art equipment to ensure your safety.” versus “We’ll watch your building.”

Look to the bright side when your buyer decides not to purchase any solution.  You may feel there is nothing positive about a “no decision.” After all, you didn’t win. Treat this “no decision” as a possible win in the future. Here’s some advice from Program Consultant Ralph Nielsen:

“No decisions can be just as important as the losses, and in some cases, they may be even more valuable because they could turn into wins. They have just put the decision on hold, so we can discuss why and what our client can do when they open it up again in the near future. I usually call these gold nuggets, because there is immediate potential in some cases. We can provide our clients with the leverage and understanding they need to get it over the goal line and turn that no decision into a win. For the ones that don’t have immediate potential, we can still help them understand what is causing their prospects not to move forward, and see if there is anything our client could be doing differently.”

sales tips to winPlan a Course of Action:

One of the secrets to staying on top with your sales game is to always be in a mode of action planning. Here are few tips.

Gather detailed information. The more information you can obtain from your buyers, the more likely you’ll have the necessary repository needed to produce an effective action plan.

Leave no stone unturned. One interview with a buyer may seem futile to discover anything worthwhile. However, one opportunity may reveal something useful that may have gone unnoticed before. This one tidbit may be the keystone to the root cause of why you’re losing and may help with prioritizing your action plan.

Involve senior leadership.  Be sure to invite your senior leadership to your sales debriefs/meetings. We encourage our clients to include their C-level executives to attend our Discovery sessions. Program Consultant RoxAnne Loosle, shared “During a discussion, it was decided that there was still an opportunity to present a better product/solution to the client, who had not finalized its decision. An action plan was developed to present the product and repair the damage done. It’s important to ensure that debriefs include the product leaders and sales leaders who can commit to actions and will hold the group and themselves responsible for completing them.”

For a replay of our Webinar with Primary Intelligence, “How Sales Teams Can Win MORE Opportunities through Understanding Buyer Needs,” CLICK HERE. For more information about Primary Intelligence, please visit: 

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