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Sales Tips: 5 Things to Do NOW to Avoid Year-end Stress

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

The days are getting noticeably shorter. That means summer is winding down and sellers will soon be in the last quarter stretch run to meet or beat quota. This is a good time to have sellers take a hard and realistic look at where you’re likely to wind up for three reasons:

  1. They still have “runway” with 4 months to get where you want/need to go.
  2. If they wait until November or December salespeople will always find a way to make their numbers, but often by being overtly optimistic in having to close virtually everything they’re working on. Sales managers know how unlikely that will be.
  3. How sellers finish this year can have a great impact on their 2019 achievement. If they must close everything in the pipeline they may have to face the reality of having 2019 effectively be a 10-month year.

2018 year-end

1. Take a hard look at your pipeline opportunities.

A good place to start is to have a hard look at each opportunity in the pipeline today and answer the following questions in trying to determine if you may be “Column A” (the vendor of choice):

  • What is the highest level that you’ve had access to?
  • What outcomes are they hoping to achieve and is there sufficient value to justify the expenditure you are asking them for?
  • Whose numbers were used to create budget?
  • Who is your competition and what level have they been able to call on?

2. Remove the stale, dead weight.

If you have opportunities where quotes or proposals have been out there for more than 45 days, consider withdrawing them. If decisions are going to be made prospects like to have all vendors competing so they can have leverage in negotiating the best price. Let’s assume you have not gotten to decision maker levels. The conversation can go something like this:

My quote was issued over 45 days ago and no decision has been made. You indicated Sally Jones would make the decision. Can we meet with Sally because I’d like to offer a cost vs. benefit to estimate potential payback. I just don’t want to spin my wheels on this transaction. 

Unlike fine red wines, proposals have half-lives.  As each day passes a seller’s chance of getting that business erodes. Better to try to qualify or disqualify them rather than continue to hope they may close.

3. Negotiate Sequence of Events (SOE).

Once the pipeline has been given a sanity check do you have or will you be able to negotiate Sequences of Events with customer and prospects? This means allowing the buyer to estimate a timeframe for making the decision and then the seller negotiating a written document with steps and estimated dates that culminate in making a recommendation (providing a written proposal).

4. Look for new, hidden opportunities.

Try to determine what new opportunities you can uncover. If sales cycles are too long, take a hard look at any add-on transactions that you may be able to close. Typically, when dealing with customers legal documents are already in place and sell cycles are considerably shorter.

5. Crunch the numbers.

If you want to minimize the stress of year end crunches for 2019 and beyond treat each month as a small closing and track where you expect to be in the future. If your annual quota is $1,800.000 your monthly target is $150,000. Next estimate a typical length of sales cycle. If it’s 4 months, then multiply your monthly target by 4. This means you will expect to generate $600K over that period. Now divide that figure by the decimal equivalent of your close rate. For example if you have a 50% win rate on opportunities ($600K)/(.5) means your target is $1,200,000 if you are YTD or better against quota. Let’s say in January a seller was $50K short the revised target would be $1,300,000 (double the short fall and add it to the target).

By doing what amounts to 12 small closes during a year, sellers are far less likely to wind up scrambling at year-end. YTD calculations are trailing indicators, effectively a look in the rear view mirror. The calculations I suggested are leading indicators in always knowing the revenue needed to get or remain YTD in the future.

The two most significant drivers in these calculations are win rate and length of sell cycle. For the example above by increasing win rate to 66 2/3% and decreasing average sales cycles to 3 months means the target for a seller YTD or better becomes $676,000.

Starting at Key Player levels and building strong cost vs. benefit analyses will often mean shorter sales cycles.

Sales Tips: Where You Start Impacts the Outcome

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

The quality of a salesperson’s life in pursing opportunities is highly dependent on their starting point in the organization.

Starting Point in Opportunities

I hope you would agree that starting at Key Player or decision maker levels is likely to result in:

  • higher win rates
  • larger transactions
  • shorter sales cycles

Starting at low levels and trying to climb the corporate ladder can be hard rock mining. Each new person may have the ability to stop the product evaluation. My general rule is:

  • When calling at high levels, sellers should try to avoid asking questions the buyer may not be able to answer as you run the risk of being delegated downward.
  • When calling at lower levels, asking business-oriented questions that the prospect can’t or doesn’t want to share is a reasonable tact to take.

Sellers and buyers should want to avoid wasting time. If a seller’s contact can’t identify areas of value the seller can ask if he/she could introduce them to a person that can. I think it’s important that buyer and seller consider early on if the benefits would provide adequate justification to warrant a purchase.

If and when a prospect will share desired business outcomes they may be willing to serve as a champion in granting access to other stakeholders that have additional areas of potential benefit.

Sales Tips: How to Respond to “Best and Final” Pricing Requests

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

How should sellers reply when they are not going to win a transaction but are asked for a “best and final” number? Some respond with the lowest possible price with the thought being they may be able to steal the business (unlikely) or at least make it a skinny deal for their competitors. It’s not a tactic I endorse.

I believe floating aggressive prices can come back to haunt sellers if and when the roles may be reversed in the future. It would be awkward if a seller’s customers got wind of pricing that was lower than what they paid.

best and final pricing

My suggestion when asked for best and final pricing is to ask:

“Am I the vendor of choice and is price the last remaining obstacle?”

  • If the person asking is not a decision maker, indicate that he/she, the decision maker, your manager and you would have to meet to see if the transaction could be completed.
  • If the person asking for better pricing says you are not yet the vendor of choice you can respond:

“It sounds as though you have more work to do in finalizing your decision. If I become the vendor of choice at that time we can all meet to see if we can come to terms. For now, let’s leave pricing as an open item.” 

Some positive things happen by taking this approach:

  • You avoid putting low ball numbers on the street
  • The “buyer” hasn’t gotten what he or she wants
  • It makes sense for both parties not to negotiate unless you are Column A

Always and never don’t usually apply to sales, but my suggestion is to always act as though you are Column A when asked for better pricing. If you are, buyers will come back to you. If you’re not, you keep your dignity by not getting dragged into a discounting death spiral.

Sales Tips: Who Is Calling On Whom?

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Geoffrey Moore has written several books on product life cycles and when different types of companies are likely to buy.

  • Early market buyers comprise about 15% of a buying population. These companies want to be on the cutting edge of technology and can endure product pitches, determine how they can use offerings and make quick decisions. They don’t need a long list of references, reassurance nor much help from sellers. They buy quickly. If offerings fail to meet expectations they view it as a cost of doing business and are onto the next offering.
  • 85% are mainstream market buyers comprised of the early majority, late majority and laggards. They buy only after offerings have received market acceptance. They are cautious in wanting to avoid making mistakes so that “no decision” is a common outcome of their long buying cycles. Unlike early market buyers, product pitches will fall on deaf ears. This amounts to inept sellers calling on buyers that don’t understand how offerings can be used

Calling on Executives

A survey by Sales Benchmark Index found 87% of sellers are B and C Players. If you do the math (.85 late market) x (87% B/C Players), you realize:

74% of the time you have sellers leading with product to buyers that are unable to see usage and value.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that after exhausting early market buyers many companies struggle to get their share of the mainstream market business. In a single word the difference between A vs. B/C Players is patience.

A Players uncover desired business outcomes, help buyers understand the barriers to achieving them by doing a diagnosis and then present only relevant capabilities that address the barriers.

Companies that codify and teach B/C Players to emulate calls A Players make can increase and accelerate revenue from the mainstream market. It amounts to migrating sellers from product to business outcome sales.

Sales Tips: Avoid Negotiating with Buyers Unless You’re “Column A”

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

A common ploy buyers use toward the end of buying cycles is having someone (often a non-Key Player) request a “best and final” pricing. Smart buyers with multiple vendors in the mix will negotiate with Column C to use their price against Column B, all in an attempt to get the best possible price from Column A, their vendor of choice. Some buyers may just fabricate pricing.

Some salespeople see this as an opportunity to win the business with aggressive pricing. In my experience, vendors selling non-commodity offerings can seldom discount their way into becoming Column A.

sales negotiation tips

In selling, the words “always” and “never” seldom apply but I’d like to make a case that sellers should always negotiate as though they were Column A.

When asked for a “best a final” I suggest asking the buyer if you are the vendor of choice and if price is the only obstacle.

  • If you are told the buyer is not yet to that point, consider responding as follows:It sounds as though you haven’t finalized your decision yet, so let’s leave pricing as an open item. If I become your vendor of choice we can see if we can come to terms.

If the person asking for a better price is a non-Key Player, try to avoid negotiating with a messenger. When asking if you are the vendor of choice, suggest that if you became the vendor of choice you’d have to get your manager and the Key Player involved in finalizing the transaction.

  • If you aren’t the vendor of choice you will at least kept your dignity and pricing in tact. Any number you provided would have been used as leverage with Column A. If you are the vendor of choice they will come back to you and you start at the original price quoted rather than a discounted best and final they will try to further whittle down.

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: Why Do a Demo?

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

With the advent of online conferencing, the cost of doing demonstrations is considerably less than it was decades ago when sessions were done either at customer or vendor sites. The question I’d like you to consider:

What is the purpose of doing demos?

When and Why Do a Demo?

In my opinion, the only reasons are to prove relevant capabilities or to do proof in exchange for access to other people that would be involved in buying committees.

Please note: Prior to doing demos, buyers should have visions of the capabilities they need to achieve their desired business outcomes. If need development has not been done, the result will be dreaded “spray and pray” demos where buyers are subjected to a barrage of features that are not relevant to them.

Ultimately, demos don’t sell, salespeople do.

People asked to do demos should be provided the following information:

  • Names and titles of attendees
  • The desired business outcomes of the prospect company
  • Barriers to achieving the outcome (shortcomings in their current environment)
  • Capabilities that address barriers that must be shown to the buyers

Keep in mind demos are proof of the capabilities sellers have helped buyers realize they need.

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: 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