From the CCS® Sales Blog

April 2017

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Sales Tips: WHY Should Buyers Buy from You?

Sales Tips: WHY Should Buyers Buy from You?

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Selling is a difficult profession. Most sellers earn the majority of their income from commission. Early on in my career I came to understand it was better to be concerned with meeting buyers’ needs rather than hitting quota and earning an adequate level of income. 

Value and PaybackWe’ve all heard advice that we should walk in another person’s shoes in order to understand their actions and motivations. A question that I asked myself as a salesperson and later asked sellers and managers that reported to me was:

WHY should the decision maker buy?  

Most sellers would agree executives want to be confident that they will achieve an adequate payback on their investment. Estimated costs minus estimated benefits represent the potential value that can be realized. 

A glaring problem I see is that many sellers try to impose their wills by telling buyers how much will be saved. 

Most buyers will take the “value proposition” savings and cut them in half because sellers are often guilty of hyping offerings.

Dependent upon the offering, some buyers will double costs because if any implementation effort is necessary, it always takes longer than expected. In such cases this means that sellers and buyers are off by a factor of 400%!  

To change this dynamic, it’s necessary for sellers to:

  1. Identify business metrics that are likely to improve.
  2. Help buyers establish base lines (where they are pre-purchase).
  3. Ask buyers to estimate the improvement they feel is possible. This is a place where sellers can use reference accounts that have achieved strong results, but it is important to allow the buyer to commit to a number that often will be less than what the reference account has achieved. 

The biggest go/no-go decision in buying cycles is value/payback. 

I think buyers and sellers would be better off if they worked on estimating potential payback BEFORE getting into product evaluations. Reality: The primary reason for losses due to “no decision” is inadequate value.

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Sales Tips: Outdriving Your Headlights

Sales Tips: Outdriving Your Headlights

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

My dad was an engineer. After getting my driver’s permit, he cautioned me on driving at night by making me aware that 60 miles per hour equated to 88 feet per second. Taking into account how far away your headlights illuminated objects, reaction time to see them and braking distance it was possible to “outdrive” your headlights. In other words, by the time you saw an object there wasn’t enough time/distance to stop your car.

It has happened a day at a time but in the last 15 years a seller’s job has gotten more complex while their “headlights” haven’t appreciably improved. 

Consider the challenges:

  • Working with buyers that have already researched multiple vendors in a given space.
  • Interfacing with buyers that think they know what they need.
  • No longer being viewed as product experts.
  • Having to call higher to get budgeting as signing limits have decreased.
  • The increasing complexity of offerings as formerly “dumb devices” became/become part of a network within the Internet of Things (IoT).

In 2002, the first CCS® customer was a Canon reseller of printers, copiers and faxes. Their CEO recognized selling standalone devices in commodity price wars was an unsustainable business model. He had the wisdom to add a group of networking consultants to help sellers deliver improved workflow to executives rather than selling a device at a time to IT or Procurement.

He implemented CCS® to give his sellers the skills needed to execute business outcome vs. product sales. The CEO recognized that without sales process, his business plan was analogous to asking sellers to outdrive their selling skills.  

He transformed his business. 

Standalone product sales are becoming less common. Delivering business outcomes to executives today is likely to require selling products, software and services. If you’re a CEO, ask yourself: Am I asking my sales staff to outdrive their selling skills?

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Sales Tips: Before You Negotiate, Ask This Important Question

Sales Tips: Before You Negotiate, Ask This Important Question

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

Dangers of Price ConcessionsWhat would last month’s revenue numbers have been if you could have reduced discounting by just 10%?

Prospects will attempt to get you to make discount concessions simply to allow you to stay in the game or compete for their business.

They don’t know the value of your offering, you don’t know the value of your offering to them, and they are trying to treat you like a commodity.

Only bad things can happen to you if you fall into that trap. If it’s at the appropriate point/step in the sales process, that’s one thing; however, before indicating whether or not you are prepared to negotiate, the question we suggest you ask is:

“Are you telling me that I’m the selected vendor and the only thing you and I need to do in order to bring this purchase to closure today is to agree upon price?”

(Write this question down, I want you to have it with you. I want you to be able to recall what you should do when you find yourself in this situation. Now that I’ve brought it to your attention you’ll find it happens more often than you currently recognize!)

  • Buyer NegotiationsIf they answer YES and you understand them to be the decision maker, and you are prepared to negotiate, then proceed to attempt to close the business.

  • If they answer NO, we recommend the pricing that you have provided remain your price. CAUTION: If you make a concession now it will be the starting point for further negotiations later on in the sales cycle, if you get that far.

You can’t sell to someone who can’t buy. If you agree with this concept, allowing yourself to be drawn into premature negotiations with non-decision makers can result in further requests for concessions from everyone who you will eventually have to meet with. The concession you make to the first person becomes the starting point for the next person. It’s like getting nibbled to death by a duck!

Remember: It’s your prospects’s right and obligation to try to obtain the best possible deal for their company. It’s YOUR right and obligation to get the best possible price for you and your employer. It may be necessary for you to walk away to have the buyer conclude that it is as good as it is going to get. An above-quota salesperson will do this in a heartbeat. Ask a below-quota salesperson to do this and be prepared to break out the defibrillator. The lesson being: It pays to prospect and maintain a healthy pipeline.

If I’ve made a point with you, or if I’ve caused you to take pause and reconsider what you are doing, I would appreciate you sharing this article/sales tip with someone you feel would benefit from reading it. Please share it with a peer or a colleague to pay it forward. Good selling!

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Sales Tips: Avoid the “People Like Me” Mentality in Initial Buyer Meetings

Sales Tips: Avoid the “People Like Me” Mentality in Initial Buyer Meetings

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Forcing RapportHave you ever tried to make someone like you? Turns out relationships evolve over time. Seller attempts to accelerate the process can be awkward. Sales is a profession buyers generally don’t hold in high esteem. When calling at executive levels sellers may feel a buyer’s time is worth more than theirs. Taking Al Franken’s approach can be deadly: 

“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

When meeting buyers for the first time I suggest a good initial objective would be to have buyers conclude you are trustworthy. Steven Covey believed that in order to be deemed trustworthy the other party must conclude you are sincere and competent. I’d like to offer a few suggestions about the first few minutes of a buyer-seller relationship:

  1. Being sincere requires sellers to rise above stereotypical selling behavior. Right after shaking hands most salespeople thank buyers for their time. This means starting relationships as a subordinate. As an alternative after the handshake, say something like:

“I’m glad we could meet today.”

Thank buyers for their time after they’ve given it to you. 

  1. Once the introduction has been made, if buyers don’t initiate small talk sellers must decide whether to attempt to establish rapport or get down to business. My suggestion is for sellers to be quiet for a few seconds to give buyers the opportunity to initiate small talk. If they don’t, give a brief introduction explaining the objectives for the call rather than try to force rapport. There are many instances where rapport will happen after the business portion of calls. 
  1. Establishing competence is the next potential hurdle. Sellers should view executives as peers for the following reasons: 
  • They are subject matter experts and have forgotten more than buyers will ever know about offerings.

  • They (or their companies) have experience helping other executives realize the potential value that can be realized through the usage of their offerings.

I hope these suggestions can allow you to “tee up” opportunities so that the need development that must take place will go more smoothly. Remember: Buying cycles begin when buyers share a business goal (or problem). Executives typically will NOT share goals with sellers they haven’t concluded are sincere and competent.

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Sales Tips: Quarter-end Health Check

Sales Tips: Quarter-end Health Check

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Looking Back at Quarter EndA horrible way to start sales calls with new prospects is to ask: “How’s it going?” 

It is a relevant question sellers ask themselves now that the first quarter has ended. This amounts to looking through the rear view mirror. Sellers and managers take this view on a daily basis but should realize it is a trailing indicator of what has already happened. 

In my mind, if sellers are less than YTD they have ground to make up. That usually amounts to finding new opportunities and may require more business development activities to build pipelines that will make up the deficit. 

It’s important to project where sellers will be at the end of Q2. Many sellers and managers figure they need 2-3 times their quota in their pipelines to feel good about what the future holds. The challenge I see is that if a high percentage of opportunities are at the top of a seller’s funnel, a false sense that “all is well” can result.

Sequence of EventsWithin CCS® a significant milestone is negotiating a written Sequences Of Events (SOE) with members of buying committees. These documents contain the estimated dates of activities that would lead to issuing proposals in a timeframe agreed to by buying committees. SOE’s are typically done for large opportunities. Once in play there is a reasonable expectation of a 50% close rate.

Our guideline for sellers and managers is to:

  • Divide each seller’s quota by 12 to establish the monthly revenue needed.
  • Multiply the monthly quota by the number of months in a typical sales cycle to calculate a targeted pipeline.

A $2.4 million quota means $200K/month will keep a seller YTD. With a 3-month average sales cycle a seller needs to book $600K over that period. With a 50% win rate, a seller needs twice that number, or $1.2 million in opportunities with negotiated SOE’s at any given time. If there is any YTD shortfall it would be doubled and added to the $1.2 million dollar target.

This calculation should be done on a monthly basis and helps sales managers project one sales cycle ahead.

The pipeline numbers for salespeople can be rolled up to the district, region and national sales teams. An important aspect of this approach is that managers can grade opportunities based upon buyer actions. First, there must be written SOE’s in place and secondly managers can monitor activities being completed (or not) that will lead to a close date that has been projected.

While important to know your YTD achievement (the rear view mirror), shifting to a leading indicator (looking a sales cycle ahead) will help keep a sales team on target.

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Sales Tips: Make It About Your Buyers

Sales Tips: Make It About Your Buyers

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Through the years I’ve learned to avoid making eye contact with certain people during social gatherings to prevent them from “locking in” on me. These people are eager to engage with others, but only want to talk about themselves. Attempts to steer “conversations” in other directions are quickly re-routed. In sharing their interests, stories and accomplishments they hardly allow others to get a word in. People that make it all about themselves quickly become tedious.

How different are initial sales calls on executives made by B/C players selling B2B offerings?

A laser-like focus on offerings means providing intensive product training that increases the risk of mediocre sellers dominating calls. Like new parents showing pictures of their first-born, companies mistakenly think it’s all about their products. 

The elephant in a sales manager’s office is that B/C players try to sell things. In doing so they attempt to “educate” executives that have much more important things to worry about. These calls often degrade into product pitches. Some end prematurely when executives either say something has come up so they have to cut the call short or delegate sellers to lower levels within their organizations. Most of these calls are lost opportunities. 

Shift Away from Product and Towards Business Outcomes

To improve alignment with executive buyers, it’s important that sellers be prepared to talk about desired business outcomes specific to buyer titles and how offerings can be used to achieve them. Noun-based product training leads sellers to “lock in” on executive buyers with esoteric information they no interest in learning.

Instead, if sellers:

  • uncover desired business outcomes
  • help buyers understand the current barriers to achieving them and
  • present only the relevant capabilities to address the barriers

Then sellers have a chance to make it more about their buyers before talking about how offerings can be used. 

Discussions of outcomes and usage will be more productive for executives than products and features.

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