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SELL THE DIFFERENCE: Establishing your Unique Solution Value

The Enduring Relevance of "Crossing the Chasm"

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 26-Oct-2017

With over a million copies sold, Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” guide to marketing and selling disruptive products to mainstream customers is still one of the must-read books for B2B-focused sales and marketing leaders.

One of Inc. magazine’s Top 10 Marketing Books of All Time, its core principles are still enduringly relevant, more than 20 years after its first publication. Now in its third edition, it has of course been regularly revised to reflect the realities of modern high-tech marketing.

For me, the core of the book has always been its simple but effective framework for establishing a compelling and clearly differentiated value proposition, and I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned in reinterpreting Moore’s format for a contemporary audience…

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Opportunity qualification is a continuous process

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 17-Oct-2017

If you’re involved in complex, lengthy and high-value B2B sales environments, you can’t afford to regard opportunity qualification as a one-off exercise. You need to think of it as an ongoing process, in which you continually accumulate new learning as well as regularly revalidating any previous assumptions.

The level of resource that you have to invest in winning any significant sales opportunity requires that you make thoughtful decisions about which deals are worth pursuing and which ones should be firmly qualified out.

Top sales performers – in my experience, at least – have too much respect for their own time to waste it pursuing opportunities they have little chance of winning. They tend to be ruthless in their initial qualification, and they are typically very aware of changes in circumstances that could turn a previously attractive opportunity into something that is no longer a valuable use of resources.

So how can we equip every sales person to embrace the same rigorous approach?

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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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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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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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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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It’s time to reverse engineer our concept of “Thought Leadership”

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 15-Mar-2017

Let’s face it, most so-called “thought leadership” is actually nothing of the sort. Much of it turns out to be a crude rehashing of already widely quoted statistics and crudely disguised product promotion.

All-too-often, it does little or nothing to actually stimulate the reader to think differently or to reconsider their existing beliefs.

Nor - typically - does it cause the reader to want to learn more, or to be prepared to talk to someone who can continue their education.

There are, of course, some notable exceptions. But because every marketing department is seemingly being chartered to throw more and more resources at creating “thought leadership”, its quality and impact - its capacity to shock and surprise - is frequently compromised.

And in complex B2B sales the above problems are merely scratching the surface - because I believe that even if the marketing message is expertly crafted, there’s still a critical missing ingredient…

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In complex B2B sales, you face 3 types of competition

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 23-Feb-2017

Most B2B sales people have a narrow sense of competition. They usually restrict their thinking to other vendors in the same market sector. But this absurdly narrow definition of whom or what they are really competing against is causing them to ignore some of the most significant forces that often stand in the way of a sale.

In complex B2B sales environments, and particularly in those where the purchase is discretionary (where the customer could and often does ultimately decide to simply stick with the status quo) the competitive landscape is much more complicated.

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Closing the gap between your best sales people and the rest

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 22-Nov-2016

Most sales organisations of any significant size suffer from a significant gap between their best and worst performers. If we exclude recent hires from the analysis, sales people typically fall into one of three clusters:

A minority of the sales organisation - rarely more than 20% - are habitual over-performers. A larger number - often 30% or more - are habitual under-performers, with many displaying little evidence that they have the aptitude to improve.

After excluding these outliers, the majority of sales people sit somewhere in the middle: there is some indication that they have the potential to do better, but they have so far failed to consistently and reliably over-perform against their targets.

The middle ground represents a huge opportunity for performance improvement - so what can sales leaders do to narrow this gap between the best and the rest?

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What if all our candidates are imperfect?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 11-Oct-2016

When it comes to political elections, we’re often faced with imperfect choices. But we can’t defer our decision. We have to live with the choice we make on Election Day, whether we choose to vote for someone we are wholeheartedly enthusiastic about, resign ourselves to supporting the least worst option, or choose to abstain.

The nature of politics being what it is, it’s becoming increasingly usual for all of the limited number of candidates to have very obvious imperfections.

Whether we vote or abstain, we have to live with the consequences. But - thank goodness - we’re not forced into having to make the judgements when hiring sales people. We can take as much time as we need, without being forced to make a final decision on a single pre-determined date.

We may have to accept imperfections in our politicians. But we’d be very foolish to recruit any new sales people if we have any significant reservations about how whether they are likely to fit in, or how they are likely to perform…

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