Sales conversation frameworks must be skeletons, not cages

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 20-Jul-2017

I first published this a few years back. I'm convinced it's just as relevant now - maybe even more so. What do you think?

You’ve probably observed a huge difference in conversational fluency between your most and least successful sales performers, and wished that you could bridge the gap between the best and the rest. If you haven’t, I can only conclude that you’ve either worked a miracle with your sales force, or you simply haven’t listened to enough sales conversations recently.

Let’s start with the good news: there is abundant evidence to prove that the appropriate programmes and materials can equip averagely competent B2B sales people to have dramatically and permanently better sales conversations.

But there’s also some bad news: there is no easy short cut. You can’t develop conversational fluency by expecting sales people to follow a rigid predefined script. In any complex sales environment, conversational frameworks need to be skeletons, not cages.

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Is your prime customer contact a budget maker, shaper, taker or faker?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 28-Jun-2017

Note: I updated this article after first publication to acknowledge the existence of "budget fakers" in addition to budget makers, shapers and takers.

Most sales methodologies stress the importance of identifying whether a budget exists, and a naïve interpretation of the BANT qualification framework [Budget, Authority, Need, Timeframe] might imply that unless a current and adequate budget exists, it’s not worth trying to sell the prospect anything.

This is, of course, a silly and narrow-minded perspective if you aspire to do anything more than take orders against already well-defined and formally funded needs. Many complex B2B sales come to a successful conclusion even though there was no formal budget at the initial point of contact.

If the problem is critical enough or the opportunity attractive enough, if the issue is urgent enough and if the problem owner is powerful and influential enough, budget will be found. But there are relatively few people with the power to conjure money out of thin air.

That’s why it’s so important that we assess whether our current prime contact is a budget maker, a budget shaper, a budget taker or (least staisfactory of all) a budget faker…

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Never mind your prospect’s current situation - what about their future direction?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Sat 24-Jun-2017

Most of today’s most popular B2B sales methodologies - including Value Selling, Challenger®, Solution Selling, Consultative Selling, SPIN® selling and many more - recommend that we always take the time to diagnose our prospect’s current pain points before we seek to propose our solution.

These techniques are even more effective when we manage to amplify the pain of their current situation or help the prospect to acknowledge previously unrecognised or undervalued needs that we are particularly effective at addressing.

But simply seeking to diagnose their current situation seems like an inadequate strategy compared with helping them see the future consequences of pursuing their current path as opposed to what they might be able to achieve if they were willing to change their behaviour…

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Visualising the Value Gap

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 16-Jun-2017

One of the key principles of value selling is that unless and until our customer acknowledges a problem that requires action, they have no need to invest in a solution and there is unlikely to be a sale.

But not all problems are equal. The issue could be trivial, significant or critical. The value gap between the prospect’s current situation and their desired future state could be insignificant or so large that action is inevitable.

It’s down to our sales people to help our customer to acknowledge the value gap and either amplify it to the point where they conclude that they simply have to do something or - if we can’t - to accept that they will probably decide to stick with the status quo.

But how can we best guide our customer in first acknowledging and then amplifying the gap between where they are today and where they need to be in the future? In collaboration with our clients, we’ve developed a simple visual tool that I hope you might also find useful…

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McKinsey: It’s time to treat our sales people like customers

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 14-Jun-2017

As a recent McKinsey article points out, as much as half of a company’s value creation rests with its sales force. Their findings confirm what many other researchers have also found - that the sales experience is a top factor when it comes to buying decisions.

But there’s a perhaps unexpected twist: McKinsey’s study also shows that top performing sales organisations pay as much attention to the rep experience as they do the customer experience: in other words, they treat their sales people like customers…

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Why we chose to partner with Membrain

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 5-Jun-2017

Inflexion-Point has just announced a partnership with Membrain to incorporate our Value Selling System® methodology into their groundbreaking sales effectiveness platform for complex B2B sales.

We’re delighted to build on what has been a long-standing relationship, and I thought it might be worth highlighting some of the key motivations behind this important initiative.

Any sales leader responsible for a team of B2B-focused sales people that are selling into a complex B2B buying environment is facing a set of challenges that simply don’t exist in more transactional sales situations. You may recognise some or all of the following issues...

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Why mastering value selling has never been more important...

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 1-Jun-2017

According to research conducted by SiriusDecisions, the #1 sales effectiveness challenge facing today’s B2B sales leaders isn’t product knowledge, lack of demand or basic sales skills: it’s their sales people’s inability to make a clear connection between their product capabilities and their customer’s business issues.

The impact can be seen in longer sales cycles, declining win rates, lower deal values and an increasing number of apparently well-qualified opportunities ending with the prospect deciding to “do nothing” and stick with the status quo.

If you recognise any of these symptoms, my latest on-demand webinar offers a powerful series of field-proven remedies for dealing with this value vacuum…

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A prospect meeting can have only two valuable outcomes...

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 24-May-2017

When I was running my own sales organisations rather than coaching others, I used to get incredibly frustrated with sales people who when asked about a recent prospect meeting replied that it had been “a great meeting” - but when pressed for more detail could not point to a single valuable outcome.

It’s a depressingly common problem - and your prospects feel the same way. They report that fewer than 1 in 5 meetings with salespeople turn out to be a valuable use of their time.

No wonder it’s increasingly hard to initiate a dialogue with a potential prospect, and no surprise that so many opportunities get stuck in sales pipelines with no signs of any progress…

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Filling the Value Vacuum

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 23-May-2017

The precise proportions vary a little depending on what researcher you listen to, but the general conclusion is remarkably consistent: the majority of meetings with sales people generate little meaningful value for the potential customer. They often turn out to be a complete waste of their time.

A big part of the explanation can be found in studies that conclude that customers value business expertise four times more highly than product knowledge but that the average sales person is four times more comfortable discussing product details than having a business issue focused conversation.

Given this imbalance, perhaps it’s no wonder that it has become so difficult to persuade a prospect to accept an initial phone call or a meeting, or to get them to agree to advance beyond the initial stages of a sales interaction. They simply don’t see the value in spending any more of their precious time...

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Would you prefer your sales people to be heroes or pragmatists?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 16-May-2017

What I have to say probably won’t go down particularly well with a sector of the sales improvement community whose primary purpose seems to be to convert every sales person into a superhuman hero capable of leaping customer objections in a single bound.

Well, it might sell books to people hoping for miracle cures, but the approach is neither realistic, practical nor particularly effective. In the complex and complicated of B2B buying these “heroic” techniques are likely to be counter-productive.

There is no miracle cure (and no instant fix) for improving sales effectiveness. It takes focus, hard work, and doing more of the right things with more of the right people in more of the right organisations. And, of course, it means not wasting valuable resources on quixotic quests…

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