From the CCS® Sales Blog

sales process

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Sales Tips: Wakeup Call for Sales – Today’s Realities and How to Adapt with Your Buyer

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

At the risk of sounding like my parents, selling seemed so simple 25 years ago. Sales was on its own island and were the keepers of information buyers had to contact if they wanted to learn about new offerings.

Sellers could enjoy “Column A” status for most of the buying cycles before Columns B, C, etc. were brought into the fray late as fodder to provide leverage in negotiating the best price from Column A. Many of my blog posts have discussed how buying has changed, but few organizations have fully understood the implications of Sales 2.0.

Best of breed technology was the trend in the 90’s until organizations started to realize the exorbitant cost of integrating disparate offerings. This was also the time the buzz about integrating Sales and Marketing died because there were so few Success Stories.

ducks in a row

Getting Your Ducks in a Row
In today’s environment sales organizations make their own decisions about sales training or process as marketing does. Product Marketing tries to identify specific market segments they want to reach out to. Product Development (furthest from buyers) attempts to create new offerings that address buyer/market needs. It seems there are several silos making what they feel or hope are good ‘best of breed’ decisions with little or no thought for the other silos’ requirements and how to integrate the different approaches.

Absent a coordinated approach that views revenue generation as an enterprise rather than a sales responsibility, it will be nearly impossible to react in a coordinated and meaningful fashion to the changes in buying behavior.

When choosing a process for revenue generation I’d suggest the following capabilities are needed:

  • For each offering, sales and marketing must agree on the titles that comprise the buying committee.
  • For each title, sales and marketing should agree on desired business outcomes that can be achieved through the use of the offering.
  • Sales and marketing should create messaging for each conversation (title/outcome) to help sellers more consistently position offerings.
  • Standard milestones in the buying process should be developed that can be verified based upon buyer actions rather than seller opinions.
  • A common vocabulary that all four silos use should be agreed on so that customer-facing staff can more effectively articulate buyer/market needs for future offerings.

Organizational changes are necessary and difficult to put into effect, but having all silos understanding one another’s’ responsibilities in revenue generation would go a long way toward making vendors more customer-centric.

Sales Tips: Beware of Your Adversaries

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Committee decisions are exponentially more difficult than single buyer transactions. They are longer buyer cycles and by nature more strategic.

Conversations with first-line managers often identify roles of different people involved in decisions:

  • Who are your coaches that will provide information and do internal selling?
  • Who is your champion that will provide access to Key Players?
  • Who are beneficiaries that see personal value if a buying decision is made?
  • Who will be responsible for implementing the offering being considered?
  • Who will provide funding?

Many internal conversations focus on people that are in the seller’s camp, but I suggest being aware of potential adversaries that prefer a competitor’s offering. These buyers will work as hard as your advocates to steer buying decisions.

head in the sand

Ostriches are known for putting their heads in the sand when in danger. So it is many sellers choose to ignore adversaries.

I suggest:

  • Make attempts to win them over.
  • Failing that, try to neutralize their influence on the ultimate decision.

Having a conversation with your champion about adversaries and how to deal with them can be critical to winning. There may be times when one on one calls won’t be productive and it would be advisable to ask a champion or coach to accompany you on a call with an adversary.

Committee decisions when everyone agrees on the same vendor are rare. Try to evaluate how high in the organization your champion is vs. your competitor’s champion. Execute strategies to win over or neutralize your adversaries.

Sales Tips: Setting the Pace with Buyers

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

It seems that salespeople are always trying to speed up sales cycles. Part of it I suspect is due to the monthly, quarterly or annual pressures salespeople and their managers deal with on an ongoing basis. My general experience is that:

  • Opportunities that are likely to close move at a fairly brisk pace.
  • Those that plod along seem to slowly lead to buyers making no decision.

setting pace with buyers

Start with a SOE

After gaining access to buying committees for large transactions, we suggest negotiating a written sequence of events (SOE) that defines the steps that need to be taken to make a written understanding of buyer needs and the recommendation and pricing to address them.

If buyers agree to the SOE, there are three (3) things that sellers should do:

  1. Ask if this is the right time to commit the efforts and resources needed to evaluate the offering being considered. If, for example there is a pending acquisition, key position that isn’t staffed, reorganization, etc., it will be difficult to proceed with the evaluation and sellers may be better served to resume when the timing is better.
  1. Ask the buying committee their timeframe as to when they would like to receive a written proposal. This allows sellers to align with buyers and remove the temptation to focus on a seller’s agenda (i.e. quarter or year-end) to recognize revenue.
  1. A potential accelerator can be created if value can be established with as many Key Player goals as possible. If these buyers can quantify improvement from baselines (where they are without the offering being considered) the committee may recognize there is a cost of delay.

After potential benefits have been recognized, buyers are incented NOT to drag their feet in doing evaluations.

Save the Infographic below for easy reference:

INFOGRAPHIC_How to Set the Pace with Buyers

Sales Tips: 4 Components of a Repeatable Sales Process

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Henry Ford is credited with creating production lines allowing cars to be built consistently regardless of the staff that assembled them. I’ve worked with consulting companies that wanted to “cookie cutter” engagements because repetition makes people more competent and efficient. It provides the added benefit of being able to identify and share best practices.

repeatable sales process

That said, many people feel sales calls are like snowflakes in that no two are identical. While calls are never identical, there are ways organizations can make them more consistent by defining parameters to provide context.

  1. One of the key components is creating sales ready messaging®:
  • As sellers go higher in org charts, calls become more predictable, largely because the primary focus shifts from offerings/products to desired business outcomes.
  • By leveraging the collective expertise of internal resources, vendors can identify the high level titles sellers must call on to sell, fund and implement a given offering. Many sellers find it helpful to understand what titles they should target.
  • Once titles have been identified, menus of business outcomes or goals can be created for each potential member of buying committees. Ideally the value of achieving the desired outcomes should exceed the cost of the offering. The start of buying cycles can now be defined as a particular title sharing one of more goals from the menus that were created.
  • Each title/goal becomes a conversation sellers should be able to execute. To help them position offerings consistently, Sales and Marketing (and other departments with relevant input) can map only those features/capabilities that are relevant to a title achieving a specific goal.
  • Once the features/capabilities have been defined, packets of diagnostic questions can be created for each capability. These questions allow sellers to uncover needs based upon buyer answers to diagnostic questions. Sellers can then offer only capabilities relevant to achieving the desired outcome. This approach allows sellers to clarify buyer needs and avoid discussing extraneous features/capabilities that would actually be distractions.

I’ve briefly described the process of creating sales ready messaging® to gain more consistent positioning of offerings.

Once messaging has been created, three other components are needed to facilitate consistent execution:

  1. Sellers need a common set of skills. The elephant in many offices when managers try coaching sellers is that they ask them to perform tasks they don’t know how to execute. This makes them likely to fail.
  2. Milestones for different types of transactions should be defined. The steps should vary based upon the size and complexity of offerings. One size does not fit all. Whenever possible, achievement of milestones (based upon sellers executing messaging) should be determined by buyer actions rather than seller opinions.
  3. After executing sales ready messaging® prompters, sellers can imbed answers to five debriefing questions in correspondence to buyers. These letters or emails allow managers to ensure opportunities are qualified and grade the pipeline.

In order to have sales process defined milestones, consistent positioning of offerings, a standard skill set and the ability of managers to audit pipeline by reviewing correspondence with buyers are required. Sharing best practices can provide organizations sustainable competitive advantages.

Sales Tips: The Value of Process

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Soon after starting my sales career I became aware there was a staggering list of things I needed to learn. The biggest challenge I faced was securing appointments with owners of small businesses. In retrospect I’m not proud to admit that my objective when making initial calls was to see if I could get a second call with prospects. My logic was that a follow-up probably meant the first call went reasonably well. I lacked the wisdom and experience to understand the difference between sales activities and progress. I had no concept or a sales process.

CRM is everywhere and yet there are some salespeople as inept as I was that are required to provide input into the system.

I’m trying to imagine what entry a seller would make after getting a buyer to agree to a second meeting. Sellers are under pressure to get a number of prospects in their pipelines. In my experience as a sales manager, once “opportunities” entered the pipeline the ones that didn’t close stayed much longer than they should have. I believe it’s incumbent upon vendors to provide measurable outcomes for calls so that managers can determine if milestones are met and that opportunities in the funnel are qualified.

sales process

Almost regardless of the type of skill, a standard process or approach gives people a better chance to succeed. Assume you’re playing a round of golf and after a few holes start slicing badly. A friend you’re playing with has the cell phone number of one of the most famous teachers in the world and offers to call him to see if he can remedy your slice. Oddly enough because the best instructor has never seen you hit a ball, you’d be better served to call the driving range pro you’ve used. At least he or she has an idea of what your swing looks like.

Process provides structure and allows people to understand if they’re succeeding or failing.

I wish I had know a few basic milestones earlier in my sales career:

  • Buying cycles begin when buyers share goals/admit problems they’re willing to spend money to achieve/address.
  • A champion will provide access to Key Players (the people sellers have to call on to sell, fund and implement their offerings).
  • An opportunity is qualified if a buying committee agrees an evaluation of a seller’s offering is warranted and is willing to negotiate an agreed to plan of activities that leading up to making a written recommendation (usually a proposal).

The first milestone provides sellers a sanity check and is a derivative of one of the core concepts of CCS®: No goal means no prospect.

The other milestones are objective and allow managers to grade opportunities based upon buyer actions (is the seller getting access to Key Players and can a sequence of events be put in place?) rather than seller opinions.

With no offense intended, having sellers grade pipelines is analogous to allowing inmates run the asylum. Sellers less than YTD will often reduce the bar for qualification. Their primary motivation in “forecasting” is to convince their managers everything will be okay moving forward. Better to give sellers a more realistic view of their pipelines after being graded by their manager