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Sales Tips: Losing Slowly – 6 Signs That All Is NOT Well

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

You would enjoy a lavish life style if you were on the PGA tour and finished second in each golf tournament you entered. In stark contrast a salesperson that came in second on every opportunity would have to live on their base salary and make frequent job changes. By its nature selling is a winner take all proposition. There are no parting gifts or consolation prizes.

During a workshop I taught, a CEO had an epiphany he shared with his team:

Most of his salespeople had an annoying habit of losing slowly.

warning-signBy that he meant they worked on many opportunities that had little chance of closing. These deals remained in their pipelines (pipe dreams) to make it appear as though the numbers could be made.

Sellers ultimately must decide which opportunities to pursue. Competent sellers understand the difference between activity and progress.

The worst possible outcome of sales cycles is going the distance and losing, whether it be to another vendor or to no decision.

In many cases, sellers fail (or are afraid) to see signs that all is NOT well:

  • Buyers already had budget in place, often provided by “Column A” vendors
  • Buyers already had determined their requirements
  • Sellers had limited or no chance to influence the requirements list
  • Sellers couldn’t gain access to Key Players
  • Sellers couldn’t establish value
  • Proposals issued months ago hang in their pipelines

Many sellers fail to realize buyers may need pricing/proposals from other vendors to make comparisons or to leverage pricing to get a better deal from the vendor of choice.

If access to Key Players isn’t granted, sellers do have the option to say they are unable to make a recommendation without first understanding the needs of Key Players.

This can become a “quid pro quo” of gaining access in exchange for submitting a proposal. If buyers refuse to grant access, it allows sellers to lose more quickly and look for better opportunities to work on. This is consistent with the core concept of “bad news early is good news.”

A question for your consideration: Over the last 12 months, how many opportunities have you chosen to walk away from? My hope is that the time you would have spent losing could be spent finding winnable opportunities.

A final parting thought: After Column A is awarded the business, Columns B, C, etc. are often told they came in second. It’s the most expedient way to let them down without rehashing why they lost.

When in doubt, save the below infographic for easy reference:

INFOGRAPHIC_6 signs that all is not well

Sales Tips: 5 Steps to Quantifying Value for Buyers

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

In initial calls it is important for sellers to conduct them in a way that helps buyers conclude they are sincere and competent. In my mind these are pre-requisites for having buyers share their business goals (or problems) so that potential value can be determined.

establish value

Once a goal has been shared, sellers should try to perform these five (5) steps to quantify value for buyers:

  1. Establish base lines. For example, if a VP of manufacturing wants to reduce scrap a seller should ask what percentage of production must be scrapped and/or what dollar amount that represents.
  1. Ask questions to determine if there is a trend and that by projecting a year ahead buyers could see increased benefits. Sellers can pose questions such as:
  • What was your percentage of scrap last year?
  • Have scrap percentages been increasing?
  1. Help buyers understand the barriers to achieving the goal that can be addressed by features or capabilities of the offering being discussed.
  1. Based upon the barriers the buyer shared, offer the specific capabilities that address them and ask if they would empower them to achieve their goal.
  1. If a buyer agrees, the seller can try to quantify benefit by asking: If you had these capabilities how much improvement do you think you could realize?

Remember: Establishing value can be a competitive differentiator.

Sellers that focus on goals, baselines, trends and quantifying improvement can instill a greater sense of urgency to take actions that can result in higher win rates.

Save the infographic below for easy reference.

INFOGRAPHIC_5 Steps to Quantifying Value for Buyers

Sales Tips: Responding to “What Do You Sell?”

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

A quick insight into how sellers view and position their offerings can be gotten by asking a simple question:

What do you sell?What do you sell?

It’s a question sellers should be prepared to answer whether in social settings or sales calls.

Many sellers feel this question is an invitation to describe offerings and launch into product pitches. This is due in part to the extensive product training they receive, but responding in this manner isn’t likely to get conversations started. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that leading with product is unlikely to move the ball forward.

If I were asked what I sold and responded with: I provide sales training and consulting, it could elicit the following reactions:

  • A yawn
  • What type of training do you do?
  • How much does your training cost?

None of these responses is headed in a positive direction. I suggest any references to offerings should be avoided.

In 20 words or fewer, share an outcome that you help clients achieve.

In my case it could be:

I help organizations identify and share best practices of their top performing salespeople.

It won’t always lead to conversations but I’ve succinctly answered the question and am more likely to have discussions about outcomes before any product discussions.

You may want to create a positioning statement so that you’ll be better prepared with an answer to what should be an innocuous question.

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: How to Maintain Key Player Access

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

maintaining key player accessInitiating opportunities at high levels offers several potential advantages to salespeople:

  • They can take prospects from latent to active need by uncovering desired goals.
  • They can enjoy the benefits of being “Column A” from the start.
  • Key Players can fund can find funding for unbudgeted initiatives.
  • Discussions about capabilities can be done at a conceptual level.
  • Transactions can be larger because buyers are not budget-constrained.
  • Buyers will self-qualify themselves.
  • Shorter sales cycles.
  • Higher win rates.

In my previous blog post, I raised the issue of when “ugly” conversations take place. By “ugly” I mean very product-focused discussions that involve lower level staff asking esoteric questions about things Key Players would not be interested in.

The later in buying cycles ugly conversations take place the better for sellers. They are important and necessary conversations.

If and when delegated to lower levels it is important that sellers maintain connections to the Key Players they’ve called on.

After calling on mid and lower levels, sellers will be much more familiar with a prospect’s current way of doing business and the specific capabilities buyers need to achieve their goals. Being delegated by Key Players is a “get” for them and a “give” from sellers that have to commit time and potentially technical staff for ugly meetings.

PRO TIP: When delegated to become the “eyes and ears” for Key Players, my suggestion is that sellers should request that they be able to keep higher levels apprised of their findings as they work with lower levels to better understand the companies needs at far more granular levels. Without such access some opportunities fall under their own weight because executives are no longer involved.

Sales Tips: When to Make “Ugly Calls”

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

As a salesperson one of my best customers was a large insurance company in downtown Boston. Their CIO was an astute businessman who wasn’t very current with technology. He depended upon his staff to handle technical details. The company had two IBM mainframes whose performance was bottlenecked because processor memory (Bill still referred to it as “core”) was maxed out. This meant that programs had to be paged out of memory to disk drives that were orders of magnitude, slower devices and significantly increased user response times.

At the time, upgrading a processor was a seven-figure decision.

buyer meeting

I met with Bill and discussed the potential of using a device that could address the performance issues immediately and allow the company to defer processor upgrades for at least a year. I asked if he would consider it. He said he would and wanted to know the estimated cost. I shared with him that it would be $250K per processor. He quickly realized the short-term performance benefits would more than offset the cost. The ability to defer purchasing new mainframes that were trending to be cheaper with future announcements made the decision a financial slam-dunk. He then asked me to schedule a call with to Tom, his technical guru, who was by far the smartest person in the organization.

The business case had been made and now it was time for a technical evaluation of my offering.

I brought my top Systems Engineer for the meeting with Tom that lasted about two hours. He wanted to know specs of the auxiliary storage, how it would be supported by IBM’s Operating System (it emulated an IBM disk drive), approximately how much response times would be improved, etc. While I was fairly competent technically, there were blocks of time when they could have been speaking a foreign language. I did my best to understand the gist of the conversation.

At the end of the meeting Tom told us he wanted to run some things past members of his staff but he was comfortable that it was a device that would certainly allow them to address the performance issues and therefore would make IT’s life easier because they could deliver end users the better response times they wanted.

Within a week I had an order for one unit and a commitment that if it performed as advertised they wanted a second unit (which they installed).

ugly sales callsWhen selling technology or any complicated offering it is often necessary to have what I refer to as “ugly” calls.

By that I mean that they are highly product-focused. User-level staff that will be impacted will want to know things about offerings that even salespeople can’t be expected to know. I sometimes refer to ugly calls as “mind-melds” between technical staff of the prospect/customer and vendor.

I believe a seller’s quality of life (and win rate) will be significantly better if executive calls are made to establish potential value so that ugly calls can be deferred until a later time.

It amounts to executing top-down vs. bottom-up buying cycles.

Oddly enough, both buyers and sellers stand to benefit because there will be no need to take the technical staff’s time if a business case can’t be built.

Buyers and sellers are both beneficiaries when agreeing to defer ugly calls.

Sales Tips: 7 Problems with Using the Word “Solutions” with Buyers

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Vendors and salespeople seem enamored with the word: “Solution.”

In my mind the term is vague, usually misused and a terrible waste of three syllables. Whether in marketing brochures, on websites or during sales calls, the phrase “We’ve/I’ve got the solution for you” seems presumptuous and self-serving.

How many buyers actually believe those statements to be true?

Who Can Call It a Solution

Here’s the logic behind my loathing of this word in what I consider seven (7) reasons why it shouldn’t be used with buyers:

  1. A solution is an opinion.
  2. Unless sellers have earned trust nobody values or wants to hear their biased opinions.
  3. Without asking several questions and getting relevant responses it’s impossible to know if a solution exists.
  4. Disregarding the previous point, vendors and sellers always feel they offer solutions.
  5. Sellers hoping to earn commissions should recuse themselves from offering opinions.
  6. The only person’s opinion that has any relevance is the buyer’s.
  7. Sellers must have buyers agree their offering is a solution before they can accurately make that claim.

It may be helpful to define the term. Buyers have “solutions” when they:

  • Have identified a business outcome they want to achieve
  • Understand the barriers that stand in the way of achieving it
  • Are able to articulate the specific capabilities they need to achieve the outcome

Buyers don’t like to be told what they need. Many resent seller attempts to force solutions upon them. In the best case buyers will discount whatever claims sellers make as they’ve come to expect hype.

Remember: The only person who can call your offering a solution is the buyer. Your job as a seller is to help connect the dots in getting them there.

7 Problems with the Word "Solution"

Sales Tips: Always, Sometimes or Never in Selling

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

In high school I was fortunate to have an outstanding Geometry teacher as a sophomore. On some quiz or test questions Mr. Fisher would list statements and students had to provide the answer of alwayssometimes ornever that they felt applied. It caused us to consider all options.

Always or Never in Selling

One of the most fascinating things about selling is how different sales can be.

Because selling is so unstructured in most companies, the terms “always” and “never” seldom apply.

I had a situation with a student years ago that helped me realize an “always” in sales. Chris was worried about a $960K opportunity he was working on. He approached me on Tuesday and told me the CIO would be making a decision on Friday. An internal “coach” had shared with him that $850K had been budgeted and suggested that Chris “sharpen his pencil.”

Over lunch with Chris and his manager I asked if he was “Column A.” He felt he was in as he had initiated the opportunity and Column B, a large player in the space had gotten in much later. Chris’ manager had already said they could meet the $850K price and be even more aggressive if necessary.

I suggested that Chris call the CIO, leave the price where it was and ask if he could bring his manager in for a meeting on Friday. I told him that if he got the meeting I was pretty sure he was Column A because I didn’t feel a CIO would schedule the meeting if Chris wasn’t going to get the business. Chris informed me awhile later that the meeting was set.

On Monday Chris called. He had gotten a $960K order on Friday. Amazing in that they were willing to go to $850K or lower.

After we hung up I realized if Chris had not been Column A any number he gave would have been used to get a better price from the other vendor. The lesson learned:

A seller should always negotiate as though they are the vendor of choice.

This also means that if you are pressured for better pricing you can respond by asking if you are the vendor of choice and that price is the last obstacle. If the buyer says no you can acknowledge they need to finalize their decision and that if you are the vendor of choice you could try to agree to terms. If you are Column A they’ll come back to you.

Don't just win more.Win BIGGER.