BLOG: SELLING IN THE BREAKTHROUGH ZONE

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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Discovery - the foundation of B2B sales success

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 27-Feb-2018

What’s the single most important stage in any complex B2B sales process? Is it the “close”? The commercial negotiation? The delivery of the proposal? The product evaluation? The solution demonstration? The credentials presentation?

Depending on what we are selling and who we are trying to sell it to, these can all represent significant events in our sales campaign. But there’s one activity that - at least as far as I am concerned - is critical to any complex B2B sale.

It’s the discovery process. What we do, what we say and what we accomplish during this initial period of our customer engagement establishes the foundation for everything that follows. If we do it well, we create a platform for success. If we screw it up, we may never be able to recover.

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Are your sales people leading with gain or pain?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 20-Feb-2018

Most B2B-focused sales people have been taught that it’s more effective to promote the projected “benefits” of their solution than to subject their prospects to a tediously detailed presentation of the features of their product or service.

There’s a natural tendency to want to emphasise the upside - to seek to persuade the prospect of the positive consequences of a decision to implement their solution. But this focus on potential gain runs the risk of ignoring some of the most important elements of B2B buying psychology.

B2B customers are only too well aware that any change involves risk, and that the management of change is a difficult and complicated mission. Faced with potentially risky decisions, they often default to sticking with the status quo - even if choosing to change could bring the possibility of future benefits.

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Targeting prospects who are “trying but struggling”

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 13-Feb-2018

An uninformed and superficial review of the principles of “challenger®️ selling” might lead some people to conclude that it depends on introducing a problem or opportunity that our potential prospect has never previously given any active consideration to.

But even assuming that these projects don’t fall at the first hurdle and that we can turn them into an active opportunity, these “previously unconsidered initiative” projects - particularly if they are dependent on new budget being found - can often result in complex, lengthy and often ultimately unsuccessful sales cycles.

I’m not suggesting that such projects are always likely to end in failure - but they are far from the only way in which we can successfully challenge our customer’s current thinking. There are many other ways in which we can bring fresh perspectives to our prospects in a way that has a good chance of being rapidly accepted and implemented...

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Encouraging our sales people to think...

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 7-Feb-2018

One of the primary benefits of a traditional university education used to be, as well as educating you in one or a number of specialisms, that it taught you how to think. I can’t help thinking that with the growth of vocational subjects and a relentless expansion of the tertiary education sector that some of this focus on learning how to think has somehow been lost or diluted - and yet employers have identified critical thinking skills as an increasingly important foundation for their future workforce.

We need an increasingly well-educated workforce - but are our educational systems preparing them properly when it comes to how they think about the world around them?

This is an issue that affects all sectors and not just the sales profession - but I am convinced that the ability to think critically is a vital attribute for top sales performers in increasingly complex and nuanced B2B buying environment and that we as sales leaders need to do more to encourage it…

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Are you selling "me-too" or "breakthrough"?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 1-Feb-2018

Have you ever wondered why so many apparently promising B2B sales opportunities end with the prospect deciding to either stick with the status quo or choose the cheapest from a set of apparently similar options? Or why even if they do have a preference, the customer is often only willing to pay a very modest premium for what they see as no more than a "slightly better" solution?

This is essentially a problem of differentiation - or the lack of it. When every vendor appears to be addressing apparently similar needs with apparently similar solutions, it's no wonder that prospective customers behave in a confused or risk-averse way.

Adopting a more professional sales approach can help a little - it can potentially increase your win rates and sometimes it can help you earn relatively modest additional margins.

But if that's not enough for you - if you expect your sales organisation to do much better than that - you've got to take the discovery process far beyond what your prospective customer thinks they may currently need and equip your sales people to systematically uncover unrecognised or undervalued problems or opportunities that your solution is uniquely capable of addressing.

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Situational awareness - a critical factor in B2B sales

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 30-Jan-2018

As regular readers will know, I’ve been a long-standing advocate of establishing repeatable sales processes, but please bear with me while I take what might appear to be a contradictory position: In today’s typical complex B2B sales environments, there is no such thing as a universal “one best way” of handling every sales opportunity.

There is simply too much variation from one opportunity to the next in both our prospect’s particular circumstances and in the specific competitive environment for a fixed and unyielding formula to work every time. The same is true of sales methodologies: there is no one universally applicable “best” sales methodology.

Every one of the commercially available sales methodologies has both areas of strength and potential “blind spots”. Each is in practice more suited to certain sales environments and situations than others. There is no such thing as a universally efficacious sales methodology, even within a single sales organisation.

Given this, what are sales leaders to do: give in to anarchy, and let every sales person work it out for themselves? Abandon attempts to establish replicable processes and methodologies? There is (as you are probably hoping) an effective alternative approach…

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