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SELL THE DIFFERENCE: Establishing your Unique Solution Value

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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4 things you need to know about B2B buying decisions

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 2-Aug-2017

If you think it’s hard to sell, you might want to spare a thought for your potential customers: depending on which research you look at, the majority (around 2-in-3) of their buying decision processes end with them deciding to do nothing at all, and sticking with the status quo.

There is, of course, a connection between our challenges as sales people and our prospective customers’ challenges in reaching a consensus about whether they really need to change and, if so, what they need to change to and which solution represents their best available option.

If you’re determined to do a better job of assessing and influencing your prospect’s intentions, here are 4 key things you need to know about how buying decisions are actually made…

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Who is our Primary Project Sponsor?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 27-Jul-2017

It’s in the nature of complex B2B sales that the buying decision process is likely to be complicated, with multiple stakeholders, diverse and often-competing agendas and often-hidden influencers and gatekeepers.

So it’s no surprise that most sales methodologies encourage us to find a coach, champion, change agent or (in a registered term popularised by the clever folks behind the “Challenger Sale”) Mobiliser®.

It’s a recognition that if we are to win, we need to work through others - that we need to find someone to act as our advocate internally. But being a good advocate for our solution often isn’t enough…

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B2B Sales: what level are we talking at?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 25-Jul-2017

Most high-value complex sales require that we engage with multiple stakeholders at different levels in the customer. If we start at with a contact at the operational level, even if we successfully sell them on the need for action and the advantages of our solution, they will often have to persuade others - usually a combination of their peers and their superiors - before a buying decision can be finalised.

And if we start by successfully engaging a contact at the strategic level that we persuade to buy-in to our vision, it’s pretty much inevitable that in this age of collaborative, consensus-driven decision-making that they will at some point pass us down to people at the operational level so that they can conduct a more detailed evaluation on their behalf.

Wherever we start our conversation, it is always wise to remember some classic advice: “we end up talking to the person we sound like”…

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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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