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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: 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: 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: 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: 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: To Ask or Not to Ask about Executive Insomnia

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Recently I was involved in a discussion about different types of questions sellers can ask during calls to have a buyer share goals (or problems) that can be achieved through the use of a seller’s offering.

We discussed the types of questions that can be asked and the pros/cons of each:

Open questions…

  • PRO: Open questions allow buyers the comfort of going wherever they want in responding.
  • CON: The risk is that buyers can stray from the direction sellers were hoping to go.

Control questions…

  • PRO: Control questions elicit short responses (a yes or no, a number, etc.) that allow sellers to drive conversations.
  • The downside is they can dominate calls if they use too many control questions. In extreme cases buyers can feel like hostile witnesses being cross-examined.

Framing questions…

  • PROS: Framing questions offer the best of both worlds. They start with the words “How do you ___?” Sellers fill in the blank that will provide boundaries as to what areas buyers will discuss. Framing questions require essay answers, facilitate buyers doing more talking and allow sellers to more gently steer conversations in desired directions.

What Keeps Executives Up at Night

Executive Insomnia
Someone then asked if “What keeps you up at night?” was a good or bad question to pose to executives. Before buyers will share goals or problems sellers must establish their sincerity and competence (Steven Covey’s definition of being deemed trustworthy). I feel buyers would be put off if asked this question prematurely.

To elicit meaningful responses, sellers have to earn the right to pose the question.

A safer approach? Offer a brief title/industry specific success story with a goal the seller feels may be relevant to the buyer and ask if they’d be interested in learning more. If a goal isn’t shared, the seller could ask framing questions to establish credibility. If no goal is shared, the seller can offer a menu of goals as a final effort to get a buying cycle started.

This is a gentler approach. If goals aren’t shared, then sellers can provide a menu of goals that have kept other executives awake and ask if any apply to the buyer.