From the CCS® Sales Blog

May 2016

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Sales Tips: Time to Revisit Your Sales Process

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Over the weekend I gave thought to changes in buying behavior. It prompted me to wonder if companies have modified their sales process milestones developed in the 90’s and imbedded them into their CRM software? I’d guess few companies have gone through that exercise. I was surprised to realize it’s probably okay but vendors should consider incorporating steps from customer buying processes into their sales processes.

When you step back, a company’s sales process is a roadmap representing the most efficient way to lead to buying decisions. If there is adequate value, this approach provides good outcomes for customers and vendors. If not, it’s better for both parties to find out sooner rather than later. The steps defined years ago are likely still valid. It’s the entry points that may have changed.

sales processLet me over-simplify by outlining a top-down selling process: 

  • Initiate contact at an executive level, uncover desired business goals, determine the capabilities that can allow goals to be achieved, quantify value, and gain access to other people that would be involved in the buying decision.
  • Interview stakeholders to quantify value and then present an enterprise view of estimated cost vs. benefit to the executives interviewed.
  • If potential value is sufficient, work with lower levels to get granular about offerings, implementation, support, etc. This amounts to a detailed product evaluation to determine fit and cost.
  • Present a proposal with a detailed cost vs. benefit analysis and ask the buying committee to make a decision.

Selling doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. Both parties continue only if sufficient value warrants the commitment of resources to proceed with the evaluation. Deep product dives without strong businesses cases make no sense.

Since Y2K, many changes in buying behavior have been fueled by a desire to avoid being taken advantage of by sellers and vendors. This was made possible by the volume of product information posted on websites (vendor opinions) and social networking that provided buyers transparent information from trusted people about offerings, service, support, etc. I believe researchers have made life more difficult for their companies and vendors invited to participate in product “bake-offs.”

researchersSales cycles begun by researchers diverge from the optimal sequence of a sales process and often skip steps. When prospect companies begin product evaluations, mid to lower level staff start doing searches in a given space to identify vendors to evaluate and begin to determine which features/capabilities should be part of their requirements list. 

Ironically this behavior mirrors the selling behavior of mediocre salespeople. They start at low levels and engage in premature product discussions. Since launching CustomerCentric Selling® in 2002, we’ve said the most common reasons for “no decision” outcomes are:

  • Failure to identify desired business outcomes
  • Failure to create visions of the capabilities needed to achieve outcomes
  • Failure to identify value
  • Failure to gain access to power
  • No agreed-upon plan for how offerings will be evaluated 

Competent sellers recognize that when contacted by researchers it’s likely they will have to: 

  • Learn the high-level requirements and determine if their offering provides them.
  • Learn the enterprise business goals and the value of achieving them.
  • For each goal, learn what capabilities relevant to achieving the goal have been identified.
  • Do a thorough diagnosis to uncover new capabilities.
  • Qualify a champion to provide access to Key Players.

These sellers realize the entry point (product evaluation) is further downstream than it should be. It will be necessary to go backward before moving forward if the buyer is willing. The selling steps are the same, but the order has changed. It will be more difficult to gain access to Key Players. Without a champion, walking away from opportunities may well be the best course of action.

While well intentioned, researchers and mediocre sellers waste their organizations’ time, effort and resources. They vary from the prescribed approach defined in a sales process. Product evaluations should only be done after adequate potential value has been identified. This approach benefits both parties. 

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Sales Tips: WHY Do Sellers Lose?

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Understanding Sales LossesOften times after a painful loss (large transaction/long sales cycle), sellers will be asked to find out why they lost in hopes of getting smarter about things to do or avoid. While that all seems to be logical, it is difficult to find out why a seller loses.

Informing sellers that they’ve lost in an odd way is analogous to trying to make a clean break from someone you were dating in school. The person who wants to end the relationship tries to leave little room for discussion. One of the more effective techniques in achieving this goal was for the person wanting to end the relationship to say, “I’m not good enough. You deserve better.” or another commonly used excuse, “It’s not you, it’s me.” This leaves virtually nothing to talk about or discuss, is self-deprecating and places no blame on the person being dumped.

In a similar fashion when a company has evaluated 4 vendors and chooses the winner, they have to deliver bad news to the other 3 vendors and want to do it in a way that closes things down quickly. To start, a white lie softens the blow: “We’ve chosen another vendor but wanted you to know it was a difficult decision and unfortunately you came in second.” While usually unaware, it’s as though all eliminated vendors wind up in a 3-way tie. The most common reasons given are: 

  • “The pricing was very close. If only you had been a little cheaper.” Some sellers take this at face value and blame price for the loss. When you step back, had you been the vendor of choice you would have been given a chance to ”sharpen your pencil.” In my mind the only time sellers can blame price for losses is when the buyer gave them a number that they couldn’t meet.
  • Another way to let sellers down is to say: “It was a hard decision. If only you had (a feature name) this could have had a different outcome. That’s why I chose Vendor A and you were a close second.” Once again it may be time to step back. If you spend a great deal of time in this opportunity and didn’t realize there was a key feature that you were missing, then this opportunity wasn’t qualified.

Beyond that there are times when the feature cited wasn’t the cause of the loss. My view is that many sellers file loss reports and are relieved to be able to pass along features as reasons for losses. Sadly, there are occasions where changes in offerings are made that won’t make much of a difference.

One of my Partners says in all of his years in selling, he has never met Column C. Most of the time I believe the primary reason opportunities are lost is that sellers get out-sold. Rest assured, few if any buyers would share that with a salesperson. Most people will choose to avoid uncomfortable conversations.

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