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…

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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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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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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…

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Creating a new axis for SPIN® Selling [updated]

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 16-Jan-2018

Like many people of my generation, I was brought up on SPIN® Selling. It’s a little chastening to reflect on the fact that the book was first published nearly 30 years ago, but it (as Neil Rackham himself pointed out in a recent APS conference) remains a highly relevant element of the complex B2B sales toolkit.

For those new to the topic (and as a refresher for this who aren’t) the original SPIN® research identified that sales people used 4 key question types:

  • Situational questions
  • Problem questions
  • Implication questions
  • Need-Payoff (value) questions

Compared to the average sales person, top sales performers demonstrate a dramatically different balance between these 4 question types. There’s no doubt that mastering SPIN® sales questions is a key factor in achieving consistent sales success.

But after working with a number of organisation that have embraced SPIN®, and having re-read Rackham’s book, I’m forced to wonder if there isn’t room for a 5th question type…

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Self-awareness and self-honesty in complex B2B sales

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 10-Jan-2018

Other than an appropriate level of product knowledge, what are the key attributes of a good B2B sales person? Interpersonal skills? Emotional intelligence? Business expertise? Curiosity? The ability to build rapport?

These are all critically important to modern B2B sales. I can’t imagine hiring anyone into a new sales role that didn’t exhibit these attributes to some degree or another, together with a commitment to continued self-improvement and personal development.

Hopefully, you feel the same way. But I want to highlight another couple of attributes that seem to me to be of central importance.

They are self-awareness coupled with self-honesty, and it’s hard to demonstrate one without the other. We don’t want our sales people fooling either themselves or us. But it’s not just a matter of encouraging these virtues. As sales leaders, we need to ensure that we do not unknowingly or unthinkingly suppress them…

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Where is your prospect in their buying journey?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 2-Jan-2018

One of the main reasons why apparently well-qualified sales opportunities fail to close or move forward is that the sales person is so intent on pursuing their sales campaign that they fail to accurately diagnose where their prospect is in their buying journey.

This misdiagnosis is at the heart of many common current sales challenges, particularly when opportunities fail to close when predicted.

The problem can exist regardless of whether or not the sales person is following a defined “sales process”, although it’s interesting (and somewhat disturbing) to observe that some poorly designed sales processes actually serve to obscure this critical piece of information.

It ought to be obvious, oughtn’t it, that if we don’t know where our prospect really is in their buying decision process, the chances that we are going to make the best possible decisions about how to pursue the opportunity are pretty remote.

That’s why accurately diagnosing the current state of our prospect’s buying journey is so important…

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10 of the best from 2017...

Posted by Bob Apollo on Sat 30-Dec-2017

As you reflect on 2017, and as your thoughts turn to what you seek to achieve for yourself and for your organisation in 2018, I hope that you might find some of our more popular articles helpful in shaping your thinking.

2017 has been a year in which the typical buying process for complex B2B sales has often become even more complicated, taken even longer and all-too-often resulted in a decision to stick with the status quo and do nothing.

It's been a year in which the gap between the top sales performers and the rest has often continued to widen, and in which it has taken even longer for the average new sales hire to become fully productive.

But it's also been a year in which new lessons have been learned and new skills mastered, and in which the best sales organisations have continued to make impressive progress...

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