Are your sales people leading with gain or pain?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 20-Feb-2018

Most B2B-focused sales people have been taught that it’s more effective to promote the projected “benefits” of their solution than to subject their prospects to a tediously detailed presentation of the features of their product or service.

There’s a natural tendency to want to emphasise the upside - to seek to persuade the prospect of the positive consequences of a decision to implement their solution. But this focus on potential gain runs the risk of ignoring some of the most important elements of B2B buying psychology.

B2B customers are only too well aware that any change involves risk, and that the management of change is a difficult and complicated mission. Faced with potentially risky decisions, they often default to sticking with the status quo - even if choosing to change could bring the possibility of future benefits.

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Targeting prospects who are “trying but struggling”

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 13-Feb-2018

An uninformed and superficial review of the principles of “challenger®️ selling” might lead some people to conclude that it depends on introducing a problem or opportunity that our potential prospect has never previously given any active consideration to.

But even assuming that these projects don’t fall at the first hurdle and that we can turn them into an active opportunity, these “previously unconsidered initiative” projects - particularly if they are dependent on new budget being found - can often result in complex, lengthy and often ultimately unsuccessful sales cycles.

I’m not suggesting that such projects are always likely to end in failure - but they are far from the only way in which we can successfully challenge our customer’s current thinking. There are many other ways in which we can bring fresh perspectives to our prospects in a way that has a good chance of being rapidly accepted and implemented...

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Encouraging our sales people to think...

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 7-Feb-2018

One of the primary benefits of a traditional university education used to be, as well as educating you in one or a number of specialisms, that it taught you how to think. I can’t help thinking that with the growth of vocational subjects and a relentless expansion of the tertiary education sector that some of this focus on learning how to think has somehow been lost or diluted - and yet employers have identified critical thinking skills as an increasingly important foundation for their future workforce.

We need an increasingly well-educated workforce - but are our educational systems preparing them properly when it comes to how they think about the world around them?

This is an issue that affects all sectors and not just the sales profession - but I am convinced that the ability to think critically is a vital attribute for top sales performers in increasingly complex and nuanced B2B buying environment and that we as sales leaders need to do more to encourage it…

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Are you selling "me-too" or "breakthrough"?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 1-Feb-2018

Have you ever wondered why so many apparently promising B2B sales opportunities end with the prospect deciding to either stick with the status quo or choose the cheapest from a set of apparently similar options? Or why even if they do have a preference, the customer is often only willing to pay a very modest premium for what they see as no more than a "slightly better" solution?

This is essentially a problem of differentiation - or the lack of it. When every vendor appears to be addressing apparently similar needs with apparently similar solutions, it's no wonder that prospective customers behave in a confused or risk-averse way.

Adopting a more professional sales approach can help a little - it can potentially increase your win rates and sometimes it can help you earn relatively modest additional margins.

But if that's not enough for you - if you expect your sales organisation to do much better than that - you've got to take the discovery process far beyond what your prospective customer thinks they may currently need and equip your sales people to systematically uncover unrecognised or undervalued problems or opportunities that your solution is uniquely capable of addressing.

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Situational awareness - a critical factor in B2B sales

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 30-Jan-2018

As regular readers will know, I’ve been a long-standing advocate of establishing repeatable sales processes, but please bear with me while I take what might appear to be a contradictory position: In today’s typical complex B2B sales environments, there is no such thing as a universal “one best way” of handling every sales opportunity.

There is simply too much variation from one opportunity to the next in both our prospect’s particular circumstances and in the specific competitive environment for a fixed and unyielding formula to work every time. The same is true of sales methodologies: there is no one universally applicable “best” sales methodology.

Every one of the commercially available sales methodologies has both areas of strength and potential “blind spots”. Each is in practice more suited to certain sales environments and situations than others. There is no such thing as a universally efficacious sales methodology, even within a single sales organisation.

Given this, what are sales leaders to do: give in to anarchy, and let every sales person work it out for themselves? Abandon attempts to establish replicable processes and methodologies? There is (as you are probably hoping) an effective alternative approach…

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Decoding your prospect's buying decision mode

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 23-Jan-2018

Are your prospects Satisfied with the Status Quo, Painting by Numbers, Pursuing a Vision, Busy Going Nowhere or Searching for Guidance?

I recently wrote about the phases B2B prospects tend to go through as their buying decision process evolves, and the need to align our sales and marketing tactics accordingly. Of course, our prospect’s journey is rarely linear: at any point they can choose to move forwards, revert to a previous phase, go around in circles, put the project on hold, or abandon the journey altogether.

But the phase our prospect has reached in their buying journey isn't the only thing we need to be aware of when it comes to understanding their likely buying behaviour: we also need to determine whether or not they have a clear goal in mind, and whether or not they have a clear process for deciding how to achieve that goal.

This isn’t as crazy as you might think: one of the primary reasons that so many buying journeys end in “no decision” is that the exercise either lacked a clear goal, or a clear buying decision process, or both. Or the ultimate decision makers in the customer might actually have been satisfied with the status quo all along…

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Guest Article: Sales Process or Sales Methodology?

Posted by Dave Brock - Guest on Fri 19-Jan-2018

I've had a number of new clients approach me trying to get their heads around the difference between a sales process and a sales methodology. It can be somewhat confusing to understand the differences, and sales training vendors don't always make the distinction clear.

Do you need one or the other? Or both? And if so, how do they relate to each other?

I can't think of anyone better equipped to answer this question than my friend Dave Brock of Partners in Excellence, and he's very graciously agreed to let me re-publish his excellent article on the subject.

Over to you, Dave...

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Harnessing the power of hindsight...

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 18-Jan-2018

Sales opportunities can go so wrong in so many different ways. Sometimes, they go wrong due to events or circumstances that were genuinely unpredictable or completely beyond our control.

Sometimes (more often than some sales people might care to admit) they go wrong because of circumstances or events that we really should have known about or could have anticipated.

But all-too-often they go wrong because we failed to find out something we ought to have known until too late in the process, or failed to do something that best practice shows us would have improved our chances of success.

To misquote Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’s classic “Against the Wind”, those are the times when we wished we knew then what we know now…

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Creating a new axis for SPIN® Selling [updated]

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 16-Jan-2018

Like many people of my generation, I was brought up on SPIN® Selling. It’s a little chastening to reflect on the fact that the book was first published nearly 30 years ago, but it (as Neil Rackham himself pointed out in a recent APS conference) remains a highly relevant element of the complex B2B sales toolkit.

For those new to the topic (and as a refresher for this who aren’t) the original SPIN® research identified that sales people used 4 key question types:

  • Situational questions
  • Problem questions
  • Implication questions
  • Need-Payoff (value) questions

Compared to the average sales person, top sales performers demonstrate a dramatically different balance between these 4 question types. There’s no doubt that mastering SPIN® sales questions is a key factor in achieving consistent sales success.

But after working with a number of organisation that have embraced SPIN®, and having re-read Rackham’s book, I’m forced to wonder if there isn’t room for a 5th question type…

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Self-awareness and self-honesty in complex B2B sales

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 10-Jan-2018

Other than an appropriate level of product knowledge, what are the key attributes of a good B2B sales person? Interpersonal skills? Emotional intelligence? Business expertise? Curiosity? The ability to build rapport?

These are all critically important to modern B2B sales. I can’t imagine hiring anyone into a new sales role that didn’t exhibit these attributes to some degree or another, together with a commitment to continued self-improvement and personal development.

Hopefully, you feel the same way. But I want to highlight another couple of attributes that seem to me to be of central importance.

They are self-awareness coupled with self-honesty, and it’s hard to demonstrate one without the other. We don’t want our sales people fooling either themselves or us. But it’s not just a matter of encouraging these virtues. As sales leaders, we need to ensure that we do not unknowingly or unthinkingly suppress them…

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