Why untested assumptions will kill your Q4 closes

Posted by Bob Apollo on Sun 22-Nov-2015

It's the 22nd November, we're well into Q4 and for many organisations - and many B2B sales people - that haven't yet achieved their 2015 revenue goals, it's the most critical period of the year.  In practical terms, we've probably got 4 weeks of active selling time - 5 if we're lucky. In the US, the Thanksgiving holiday is about to eat into that precious time.

You're probably still depending on a number of deals to make your number. Now more than ever, you've got to rely on your sales people to execute flawlessly, and hope that your prospects do what you want them to do.

But if that hope is based on assumption, rather than a mutual commitment to an agreed close plan, you had better prepare to be disappointed. Let's not forget that hope is not (and should never be) a strategy. A number of clients have found the following checklist invaluable when determining whether the deals they are depending on have a real chance of closing - so that they can address the weaknesses before it is too late. I offer them to you in the hope that you might find them equally useful...

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Complex Sales: the #1 rule when responding to RFPs

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 18-Nov-2015


Unless, of course, you have played a significant role in shaping the prospect’s requirements and the timing and contents of the RFP comes as no surprise. Or if you’re unfortunate enough to be selling into a government department that is only allowed to buy that way*.

If you’re in a regular commercial complex b2b sales environment and the RFP arrives out of the blue, even if you can convince yourself that you could be in with a chance, it’s almost certain that you are simply column fodder, invited in to make up the numbers. The statistics are painful...

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Never mind the Sharks - what about the Piranhas?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 12-Nov-2015

The most dangerous competition in B2B sales often comes from an unexpected quarter. I fondly remember working at SCO in early 1990’s, when we held 85% of the UNIX-on-Intel market - an astonishing share of an established market. Of course, we didn’t simply rest on our laurels. We anticipated that our competition might come from the top down - vendors like Sun, HP or IBM bringing their offerings down to our price point, or from the bottom up - Microsoft turning NT into a rock solid commercial platform (which it eventually became), and we defended our territory with these threats in mind.

But it turned out that our most dangerous competition - one that would overwhelm a once-dominant market leader in a few short years - came from an unanticipated quarter - the Open Source movement. The real threat wasn’t well established vendors with well understood business models like HP, Sun, IBM or Microsoft after all - it was a handful of visionary companies who were able to completely disrupt the market with a revolutionary business model. It turns out that we were so worried about the Sharks that we ignored the Piranhas. The lesson is just as relevant today…

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Learn from the Best, Move the Middle, Recycle the Rest (and Hire Smarter)

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 4-Nov-2015

According to Sales Benchmark Index, across the industry as a whole, 83% of sales revenues are generated by only 13% of the sales population. And even if the asymmetry within your own sales organisation is less pronounced, it’s a reasonably safe assumption that there is some sort of significant imbalance between the best and the rest. 

Now, some element of this can be explained by the time taken to ramp up new hires. But the larger part of the explanation is likely to come from a combination of hiring people who were never likely to make the grade in the first place, an inability to fully realise the potential of your otherwise-competent sales hires, and a failure to learn all you could from the winning habits of your top sales performers.

In short, if sales organisations are to bridge this sales performance gap, they need learn from the best, move the middle, accelerate the inevitable - and hire smarter.

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B2B sales: which opportunities are REALLY likely to close in 2015?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 29-Oct-2015

It’s coming up to the end of October, and if you’re in high-value, long-decision-cycle, multiple-stakeholder enterprise sales, it means that you effectively have a month-and-a-half of selling time before everything starts to slow down or stop for the holiday season.

It’s important to avoid surprises: it turns out that there are a handful of critical opportunity criteria that your B2B sales people MUST pay attention to if they are going to have a real chance of closing deals this year, rather than have them slip into 2016…

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Never Mind the Sales Process - What About the Buyer’s Journey?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 27-Oct-2015

When organisations talk about their sales process, they are usually thinking in terms of a sequence of sales activities, typically encapsulated in a series of pipeline stages, which are designed to move a prospect from first contact to a successful sale. There’s overwhelming research to prove that having a formalised sales process has helped many organisations to improve sales performance.

But if my recent observations are anything to go by, many well-established sales processes seem to have something of a blind spot when it comes to two absolutely critical elements of successful B2B selling: what is the prospect doing and thinking at each point in their buying decision process, and what can we do to recognise where they are and facilitate their onward journey?

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The Challenger Conundrum: What If Marketing Isn't Up to the Challenge?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 26-Oct-2015

As regular readers will know, I’m a great fan of the principles set out in the best-selling “The Challenger Sale”. But there’s an unspoken difficulty: what if the smarter members of the sales team “get it”, but marketing is not yet ready or able to support the initiative. Do you have to admit defeat, or wait for things to change? Not necessarily...

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The keys to fast, effective market entry into new geographies

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 23-Oct-2015

There’s no doubt that for many North American based companies, expanding into Europe is an attractive option. Sections of the European market (and particularly the UK) have often been enthusiastic early adopters of new or innovative technologies. There are similar - often greater - opportunities for UK and European companies entering the North American market.

When planned and implemented effectively, entering new geographies can provide the impetus for a significant acceleration in global revenue and market share growth - and of course delaying the process can run the risk of opening the door to competition.

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The 3 Critical B2B Sales Pipeline Metrics

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 21-Oct-2015

How healthy is your sales pipeline right now? And what steps are you taking to progressively improve its fitness? Just as your own doctor might measure your body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure before putting you on a personal fitness regime, a pipeline doctor would want to understand your qualified pipeline value, average sales velocity and average sales win rate - and how these factors had changed over time - before coming up with their diagnosis. Here’s why these three measures are so important…

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Sales Forecasting Essentials - get your definitions right

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 12-Oct-2015

There’s nothing more frustrating for a sales leader, a CEO or a Board of Directors than a continued inability to come up with a revenue forecast that consistently hits the target numbers. But - as anyone who has had the responsibility knows only too well, accurate forecasting is a tough task.

That’s particularly true in complex sales environments with multiple variables. And it’s a sad truth that there are no magic wands. But - as I hope to prove in this occasional series on the essentials of effective sales forecasting - there are some basic foundations that need to be laid.

At the most basic level, forecasters - and everyone they depend on for data - have to work off a common set of definitions about what exactly they mean by various forecast categories. It sounds like it ought to be simple, but I’ve been exposed to far too many sales environments where even this most basic objective has not been achieved...

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