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SELL THE DIFFERENCE: Establishing your Unique Solution Value

Why having a budget isn’t always a positive qualifier …

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 28-Nov-2017

John Holland of CustomerCentric Selling® makes an interesting point in a blog article. Many sales people who have been brought up on an over-literal interpretation of BANT may believe that the absence of a budget for a project should be a reason to disqualify an opportunity.

This may be valid in simple transactional sales, but in complex high-value discretionary B2B purchases our interpretation of the apparent presence or absence of a budget needs to be much more nuanced. Firstly, it’s important to distinguish between a project-specific formal budget and a source of funds that can be reallocated from other priorities.

As John points out, if there is no clear source of funding, it’s almost certainly a sign that we are operating at too low a level and that our current contact does not have the authority or ability to act as a power sponsor. If a project is important enough, a power sponsor will always be able to find the money (by shifting it from another pot).

Counter-intuitively, if a project-specific project budget does already exist, it may be a sign (and a warning) that another vendor is already making the running, and that they may have set the prospect’s expectations not just in terms of cost, but also functionality.

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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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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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ADOPTED: a far better way to qualify complex sales opportunities

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 17-Aug-2016

One of the fundamental capabilities that distinguish top sales people - and top sales organisations - from the rest is their ability to accurately qualify sales opportunities from a relatively early stage in the sales process.

Effective qualification is important in any sales environment, but it’s absolutely critical in high-value complex sales situations with multiple stakeholders, where man-months of precious resource can easily be wasted pursuing opportunities that were never likely to buy anything or if they did, were never likely to buy from us.

Traditional approaches to sales qualification - like the over-simple BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe) are utterly inadequate to reflect the dynamics of today’s complex sales opportunities. Fortunately, there are far better ways of dealing with the issue…

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Weeding out weak opportunities (and improving sales forecast accuracy)

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 10-Aug-2016

How can B2B sales people (and the sales organisations they work for) identify and engage the prospects that are most likely to buy from them?

In even the most successful B2B sales organisations there is always a significant fall-off between the number of qualified sales opportunities that enter the top of the sales funnel and the number that eventually emerge as customers.

In less effective sales organisations this fall-off from top to bottom of funnel is significantly higher - and often happens later in the sales cycle, compounded by the number of “zombie deals” that have somehow managed to remain in the sales pipeline despite showing no recent signs of life.

If we’re destined to lose, then we had better lose early - before we have invested significant resources in pursuing a set of opportunities that are never likely to buy from us. But that takes discipline, and a determination to ruthlessly weed out weak opportunities...

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A question of priorities [and opportunity qualification]

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 4-Aug-2016

Hank Barnes of Gartner recently published a thoughtful post on the need for sales people to see the “big picture” and make a real effort to understand the customer’s perspective and adapt to their situation.

I believe that the issue is of profound importance - and explains why many sales people so badly misjudge the prospect’s appetite for their solutions, and why so many sales forecasts are rooted in hope rather than reality.

As Hank points out, it’s natural for sales people to be narrowly focused on promoting their product or service - without fully understanding or truly appreciating the world within which their prospects prioritise their actions…

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How will Brexit affect sales strategies and tactics in the UK?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Sun 3-Jul-2016

It doesn’t matter which way any of us voted as individuals: the nation has spoken, and impact of the decision to Brexit will inevitably affect anyone who sells for a living in the UK - and any global organisation with a sales presence in the UK.

We’re entering uncertain times, and I suspect that there is going to be a huge difference between sales people and organisation that adapt their sales strategies and tactics to the new realities and the remainder (no pun intended) who carry on as before in the hope that buyer behaviours won’t have changed very much…

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Is this project possible, probable or inevitable?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 3-Jun-2016

We all know how hard it is to accurately qualify sales opportunities. We all know how often even apparently well-qualified opportunities get delayed or abandoned altogether. And you’re probably tired of my quoting the CSO Insights research that fewer than 50% of forecasted opportunities actually close as predicted.

The problem is that the prospect is running to their agenda, not ours. They are driven by their timeframes, not ours. And - most significant of all - they are driven by priorities that inevitably span multiple projects and purchase opportunities - and which can change at a moment’s notice.

That’s why it’s so important that our sales people accurately determine whether the customer’s situation means that the project or purchase we’re discussing with them is possible, probable or so inevitable that it will go ahead as planned come hell, high water or a market meltdown...

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If you’re late to the B2B party, you need to disrupt it!

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 9-Feb-2016

You’ve been invited to a friend’s long-anticipated party. But something delays you along the way, and you arrive late - long after the other guests. What’s your natural inclination? Unless you’re a raving exhibitionist, your inclination is probably to not make too much of a fuss, join quietly, merge into the crowd and play it low key for a while.

That may be a good guiding principle for (most of) our personal lives, but it’s an awful approach if you’re a salesperson arriving late to a prospect’s buying decision process that has already been underway for some time. If you’re late, you need to stand out from the crowd and do your best to disrupt the process. Here’s why…

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Why it’s best to say “no” before your prospect does

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 20-Jan-2016

Many sales people seem to have an abiding fear of hearing the word “no”.

As a result, they go to often-extraordinary lengths to avoid asking questions that might cause the prospect to give them a negative answer that will kill the deal.

But this desire to avoid negative answers usually turns out to be an entirely counter-productive strategy, and here’s why…

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