BLOG: SELLING IN THE BREAKTHROUGH ZONE

Why our sales discovery process must always be two-way

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 13-Jun-2018

I’ve written before about the critical importance of the discovery process in complex B2B sales. It’s a favourite subject, and with good reason - in my experience the quality of initial discovery is a vital predictor of subsequent sales success.

But it’s critically important that the discovery exercise doesn't just involve us asking the prospective customer a series of questions that are primarily aimed at helping us to qualify the account, the contact and the opportunity.

If discovery is seen by our prospect as only being for our benefit, it’s all-too-easy for these discussions to descend into a relentlessly one-directional “20-Questions” process that can easily discourage our potential customer from continuing the conversation.

Read More

Why your salespeople should never do product demonstrations

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 7-Jun-2018

I imagine we’ve all sat through at least one of these at some stage of our careers: a software demonstration that is nothing more or less than a relentless and apparently never-ending stream of product features thrown out at the audience in the misguided hope that at least some of them might prove relevant or attractive.

It’s a horrible and unproductive tactic: assuming that our prospective customer hasn’t already zoned out, it places responsibility on them to imagine whether this or that widget might have any relevance to something that is important to them.

This seems to be a particular problem for technically-orientated demonstrators: they are often so proud of how clever their product is that they can’t resist introducing yet another feature of function. There’s no story, no coherence, and no respect for the audience.

Yes, demonstrations - at the right time, and in the right context - can be a vital element of a successful sales cycle. I just believe that there’s a much better way of achieving this than doing a conventional product demonstration...

Read More

How do you create value for your customers?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 29-May-2018

With relatively few exceptions, most companies want to be seen to be focused on value, rather than price. You can understand why: in most markets there is only space for one or at most a very few “cost leaders”.

You can see the trend reflected in the number of organisations that claim to have a “value added” strategy. But these positions are often adopted without any clear understanding of how they actually create genuine value for their customers.

More often, their “value added” claims are really intended to justify why they are entitled to charge a premium for extended feature sets and capabilities, most of which only a minority of customers actually end up using.

The rest are left feeling that they are probably being asked to overpay for things that they don’t actually need...

Read More

Is your thought leadership really “thought followership”?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 19-Apr-2018

It seems as if everybody wants to be a thought leader nowadays, and to publish insights that are going to somehow miraculously transform market perceptions and make the sales process easier.

A growing share of marketing budgets is being directed towards this goal and being used to create, publish and share white papers, executive briefings, blog articles, events, podcasts, videos, webinars and the like.

But there’s a problem: if (as I believe it should be) the primary purpose of these “thought leadership” investments is to cause the consumer of the information to think differently, the vast majority of this investment is utterly wasted.

Read More

Are your sales people suffering from value vagueness?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 20-Mar-2018

Whether they are involved in winning new business or seeking to retain or expand existing business relationships, one of the key things that every member of your sales organisation needs to understand is how they establish unique value for each existing or prospective customer.

In the case of new business, this is about the future value that your prospective customer believes they will derive from implementing your solution. In the case of existing business, it is about the actual business value they have already derived from using your solution.

This is nothing to do with having superior features or functions: it is about the superior business outcomes that your solutions enable your customers to achieve. You’d hope that understanding this would be baked into the DNA of any competent B2B sales person.

But all-too-often, when I ask sales people how they create tangible business value for their customers, their answers turn out to be disturbingly vague…

Read More

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.

Read More

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…

Read More

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.

Read More

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…

Read More

Harnessing the power of hindsight...

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 18-Jan-2018

Sales opportunities can go so wrong in so many different ways. Sometimes, they go wrong due to events or circumstances that were genuinely unpredictable or completely beyond our control.

Sometimes (more often than some sales people might care to admit) they go wrong because of circumstances or events that we really should have known about or could have anticipated.

But all-too-often they go wrong because we failed to find out something we ought to have known until too late in the process, or failed to do something that best practice shows us would have improved our chances of success.

To misquote Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’s classic “Against the Wind”, those are the times when we wished we knew then what we know now…

Read More