BLOG: SELLING IN THE BREAKTHROUGH ZONE

Is your thought leadership really “thought followership”?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 19-Apr-2018

It seems as if everybody wants to be a thought leader nowadays, and to publish insights that are going to somehow miraculously transform market perceptions and make the sales process easier.

A growing share of marketing budgets is being directed towards this goal and being used to create, publish and share white papers, executive briefings, blog articles, events, podcasts, videos, webinars and the like.

But there’s a problem: if (as I believe it should be) the primary purpose of these “thought leadership” investments is to cause the consumer of the information to think differently, the vast majority of this investment is utterly wasted.

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Why should your customers migrate to your new solution?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 16-Apr-2018

If - like many of the clients I work with - you are an established enterprise software company, it’s likely that your initial success will have been based on selling a perpetually licensed on-premise solution.

And even if you’ve developed a new cloud-based version of your application, it’s likely that many of your customers will still be running on your older on-premise platform. You probably want to move them on to your new solution.

But what’s the best way of achieving this? The natural inclination of most technology-based businesses is to sell the advanced capabilities of their shiny new solution.

But some compelling recent research has concluded that this is a potentially costly mistake...

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In search of the perfect sale...

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 4-Apr-2018

Is there such a thing as a “perfect sale”? A sale in which we got the highest possible price in the shortest possible sales cycle with the least possible effort, and in which our customer got far more than they hoped for whilst spending far less than they feared?

Complex B2B sales are complicated. They involve multiple stakeholders, some of whom may have conflicting objectives. They often involve multiple solution options, some of which might have completely different approaches. They are rarely if ever friction-free. They typically include “do nothing” as a common potential outcome.

Under these circumstances, seeking perfection might seem like an impossible dream, and maybe it is. Maybe perfection is better seen as a journey, rather than as a destination. But what if we saw the challenge instead as reducing imperfection, or eliminating avoidable error?

If we adopt the latter thought process, then maybe - just maybe - we can turn an impossible dream into an achievable goal…

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The compelling case for hastening slowly

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 28-Mar-2018

In “The Tortoise and the Hare” Aesop describes a race between a slow-moving tortoise and a fast-moving over-confident hare. Despite the skittish hare racing ahead at first, his slow-but-steady competitor arrives at the finishing line ahead of him.

This widely-told ancient fable has been used to make the case for “more haste, less speed”, to support the biblical observation that “the race is not to the swift” and to reinforce the virtues of persistence and perseverance.

The lessons can be applied to many aspects of life - not least of which the sales process. It’s my observation that many so-called “sales closing problems” actually have their roots in “opening problems” and the failure to do sufficient upfront discovery…

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Establishing (& amplifying) our customer’s value gap

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 22-Mar-2018

If we boil it down to the basics, there is one over-riding reason why our customers accept the need for change rather than sticking with the status quo: because (with or without our help) they perceive a large and growing value gap between their current situation and their future aspirations.

When this value gap is small and stable, they will be inclined to avoid the cost and risk of change and they will inevitably have other higher-priority projects that they will be more inclined to plough their scarce time, energy and money into.

But when this value gap is large and growing, when the pain, cost and risk of staying the same is perceived to be far higher than even the inevitable costs and risks associated with any significant change project, they will be inclined to make action a priority.

That’s why establishing, influencing and wherever possible amplifying our customer’s perceived value gap is such a critical element of any successful complex B2B sales campaign…

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Are your sales people suffering from value vagueness?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 20-Mar-2018

Whether they are involved in winning new business or seeking to retain or expand existing business relationships, one of the key things that every member of your sales organisation needs to understand is how they establish unique value for each existing or prospective customer.

In the case of new business, this is about the future value that your prospective customer believes they will derive from implementing your solution. In the case of existing business, it is about the actual business value they have already derived from using your solution.

This is nothing to do with having superior features or functions: it is about the superior business outcomes that your solutions enable your customers to achieve. You’d hope that understanding this would be baked into the DNA of any competent B2B sales person.

But all-too-often, when I ask sales people how they create tangible business value for their customers, their answers turn out to be disturbingly vague…

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The many dimensions of diversity in B2B sales

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 15-Mar-2018

If - as many scale-ups are - you are on a mission to challenge the status quo and get your prospective customers to think differently about their critical business issues, you would be wise to ensure that you are accommodating diverse perspectives and experiences within your own organisation.

I’m not talking about the conventional demographic dimensions of diversity - of age, sex, race, religion or the like - but about encouraging diversity in the way your teams think about the issues, challenges and opportunities that your organisation is facing both now and in the future.

The world in which we are competing is changing far too fast for organisations to embrace a Taylorist “One Best Way” approach that assumes that rigid thinking or standardised processes are capable of delivering anything close to an optimal outcome.

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Sales training: should we emphasise technique or thinking?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 13-Mar-2018

I’ve been talking about the long-term impact of conventional sales training programmes with clients, and their experience seems to be patchy to say the least. One obvious conclusion is that if sales training is to have any chance of being effective, it must be continuously reinforced once the delegates are back at work.

At minimum, this means embedding the principles taught on the course into the sales people’s day-to-day sales tools and CRM platform. It requires that first-line sales managers actively promote the required approach in their regular mentoring of their teams, and in their regular review of progress.

These seem to be the absolute minimum basic commitments that are necessary to ensure that the sales people benefit from the investment you've just made in training. But there’s still usually something missing: most sales training courses focus on technique - but technique by itself won’t get your sales people very far if they are not thinking clearly.

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The issue with generic "unique value propositions"

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 9-Mar-2018

If you were foolish enough to listen to some B2B marketers and agencies, you might conclude that the simple act of developing a generic “unique value proposition” for your organisation would somehow automatically make you more relevant to your prospective customers.

Well, the idea might possibly work in some B2C or very simple B2B environments, but the very thought is a complete nonsense in any complex B2B sales situation. Every customer situation is different. Every stakeholder has different motivations. Every opportunity has specific nuances. Generic platitudes are not enough.

What may seem unique and relevant to one customer is likely to be completely irrelevant to another (apparently quite similar) prospective customer. If you spend a moment thinking through the implications, it becomes obvious that anything intended to appeal to the crowds is unlikely to sound anything other than high-level and vague to any specific customer.

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The sorry state of sales due diligence

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 1-Mar-2018

Successful start-ups tend to follow a predictable pattern: they identify a problem that needs solving, develop an innovative solution, find their first few customers and then seek to expand beyond their early adopters and exploit the full potential of a mainstream market they have so far merely scratched the surface of.

Geoffrey Moore described the particular challenges of expanding beyond the first wave of early adopters in his masterly “Crossing the Chasm”, and it’s a path many apparently promising companies have attempted to follow - with, it has to be acknowledged, widely varying degrees of success.

The initial investments in these organisations have tended to focus on building a viable product, but the next focus of investment (typically “B” round and beyond) is on scaling the business, and on the investment hypothesis that revenues will grow at least proportionally to the increase in sales and marketing resources.

And that - unfortunately - is where things can often break down. Investors are very used to doing their financial due diligence. They can build complex and sophisticated business models. They can normally get a pretty good sense of the character of the management team. But it seems to me that they often struggle to apply the due diligence required to accurately assess whether they are about to invest in a truly scalable sales process.

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