BOB's BLOG

SELL THE DIFFERENCE: Establishing your Unique Solution Value

Opportunity qualification is a continuous process

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 17-Oct-2017

If you’re involved in complex, lengthy and high-value B2B sales environments, you can’t afford to regard opportunity qualification as a one-off exercise. You need to think of it as an ongoing process, in which you continually accumulate new learning as well as regularly revalidating any previous assumptions.

The level of resource that you have to invest in winning any significant sales opportunity requires that you make thoughtful decisions about which deals are worth pursuing and which ones should be firmly qualified out.

Top sales performers – in my experience, at least – have too much respect for their own time to waste it pursuing opportunities they have little chance of winning. They tend to be ruthless in their initial qualification, and they are typically very aware of changes in circumstances that could turn a previously attractive opportunity into something that is no longer a valuable use of resources.

So how can we equip every sales person to embrace the same rigorous approach?

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Why little commitments can be better than big closes

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 11-Oct-2017

Whenever a potential client tells me that they believe their sales people have a “closing” problem, I can be pretty confident that the problem actually lies elsewhere. There are a bunch of reasons why the macho “always be closing” mantra no longer works in B2B sales.

Buyers are far more sophisticated nowadays – and they are very alert to any attempts to manipulate them or to bounce them into a decision that they are not ready to make. There are a number of factors behind this, not least of which that significant buying decisions typically require the consent of a number of actively engaged stakeholders, and not just a single decision-maker.

And if the heroic close relies on a one-off, never-to-be-repeated offer, most buyers believe that the same offer (or a better one) is likely to be available next quarter, as well. They will make their decision in a timeframe that suits them, and not that of an increasingly desperate sales person…

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Revisiting the Buyers Journey

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 5-Oct-2017

I can still remember the powerful inspiration I gained from my first reading of Hugh Macfarlane’s “The Leaky Funnel” – the 2003 book that first drew the B2B sales and marketing community’s attention to the concept of the buyer’s journey.

Hugh was the one of the first people to clearly articulate a practical and effective framework for systematically identifying and addressing our customer’s problems rather than simply promoting our products, services or so-called “solutions”.

The strategy clearly works. So why is it, nearly a decade-and-a-half later, that so many B2B sales and marketing organisations still think in terms of driving a sales process (assuming they actually have one), rather than facilitating their prospect’s buying decision process?

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Sell the Difference!

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 3-Oct-2017

Today’s B2B buyers are wrestling with potentially risky decisions and often-confusing options. We shouldn’t be surprised if they decide to stick with the status quo or choose the cheapest of a set of apparently similar solutions.

I hear a growing number of B2B sales leaders asking: how can we do a better job of identifying and engaging the customers that are most likely to buy, standing out from all their other options, and persuading the prospect to commit to our solution?

Here’s what today’s most effective sales organisations have learned: claiming that you have a better solution isn’t enough - first, you have to show how and why you are different

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Selling in the Age of Analytics

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 28-Sep-2017

It would be hard to argue against the idea that we’re living in an age of analytics. For many large organisations selling to the public through B2C channels, analytics has become a critical competitive weapon, whether it’s our favourite online shopping site tempting us to make another related purchase, or our local supermarket ensuring that they don’t run out of ice cream during a heat wave.

But although the adoption of sales analytics might have started with large B2C organisations that have the luxury of large IT departments and teams of experienced data analysts, even the smallest business-to-business sales organisations are now in a position to reap the benefits. It’s no wonder that sales analytics is seen as one of today’s top priority investments for sales teams of all sizes.

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Contrast drives change

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 6-Sep-2017

When you crunch the numbers, the most common outcome of even apparently well-qualified complex sales opportunities is a loss - not to an alternative solution, but to the status quo.

“Do nothing” is today’s most powerful competitor. It’s become the most common outcome because organisations often struggle to build a consensus for change and because the easiest and safest option appears to be to carry on as before.

But the real reason is often because nobody - internal champions and sales people alike - managed to create enough contrast between where the customer is today and where they need to be in the future.

It’s blindingly obvious, when we think about it - contrast drives change

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Drilling into the need beyond the need

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 22-Aug-2017

Theodore Levitt was the first to introduce us to the idea that “people don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole” - and this observation has surely now become one of today’s most relevant and widely quoted sales aphorisms.

It reminds us that our primary purpose, if we are to achieve lasting success in complex B2B sales, is not to sell our products or services but to reliably solve our customer’s problems and satisfy their needs.

But what if the need isn’t that obvious - or if the customer’s perception of their current need is that it isn’t critical enough to justify the case for change?

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Stop confusing “objections” with concerns

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 16-Aug-2017

Almost every traditional book on sales methodologies has a section on overcoming objections. The techniques proposed often seem to be manipulative and self-serving. They often come across like an attempt to outwit the customer.

The problem lies in our choice of words. When someone “objects” to something, they are expressing disagreement, disapproval, refusal or opposition. The language is inherently confrontational. We’re applying the wrong mental model when we label our customers’ legitimate questions as objections - and we’re making it harder to deal with them.

Because, most of the time, our customer’s “objection” isn’t actually a statement of disagreement, disapproval, refusal or opposition - it’s simply an expression of an unresolved concern…

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Transforming the future by reflecting on the past

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 14-Aug-2017

The philosopher and essayist George Santayana is perhaps best remembered for the aphorism “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Remembering the past is, of course, important - but memories alone are not going to help us achieve a better future state.

More important is what we do with those memories and those lessons learned. As individuals, we’ve all got the ability to learn and adapt - and this is of course what our best sales people do, often on their own initiative, from both their successes and their failures.

They learn to do more of what works, and they learn to avoid doing the things that did not work. Their commitment to continuous self-improvement tends to progressively widen the performance gap between our top sales people and the rest.

But we can’t afford to leave this learning to a handful of enlightened, self-motivated individuals - we need to create an environment in which best practices and winning habits are shared across our whole sales organisation…

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Are your sales people hitting the accelerator too hard?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 8-Aug-2017

There’s abundant evidence to show that when sales people rush the all-important discovery stage of a complex B2B sale they store up a bunch of problems for the latter stages of the sales cycle - and often find that that the deal ends up stalling or (to continue the motoring metaphor) that they spin off the road long before reaching the finish line of a successful sale.

It's clear that the old adage “more haste, less speed” applies just as strongly to selling as it does to many other aspects of our lives. When we look at what experienced, effective sales people do differently to their less productive peers, we see that they tend to move more deliberately and slowly during the early stages of the sale, and invest more time in deeply understanding the dynamics of the deal.

This has been borne out by a series of analytic assessments of sales performance: all other things being equal, a deliberate and thoughtful approach to discovery allows effective sales people to identify and eliminate poorly qualified opportunities early in the process, and to create the foundation for swifter progress through the remaining stages of well-qualified deals.

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