Transforming the future by reflecting on the past

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 14-Aug-2017

The philosopher and essayist George Santayana is perhaps best remembered for the aphorism “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Remembering the past is, of course, important - but memories alone are not going to help us achieve a better future state.

More important is what we do with those memories and those lessons learned. As individuals, we’ve all got the ability to learn and adapt - and this is of course what our best sales people do, often on their own initiative, from both their successes and their failures.

They learn to do more of what works, and they learn to avoid doing the things that did not work. Their commitment to continuous self-improvement tends to progressively widen the performance gap between our top sales people and the rest.

But we can’t afford to leave this learning to a handful of enlightened, self-motivated individuals - we need to create an environment in which best practices and winning habits are shared across our whole sales organisation…

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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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4 things you need to know about B2B buying decisions

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 2-Aug-2017

If you think it’s hard to sell, you might want to spare a thought for your potential customers: depending on which research you look at, the majority (around 2-in-3) of their buying decision processes end with them deciding to do nothing at all, and sticking with the status quo.

There is, of course, a connection between our challenges as sales people and our prospective customers’ challenges in reaching a consensus about whether they really need to change and, if so, what they need to change to and which solution represents their best available option.

If you’re determined to do a better job of assessing and influencing your prospect’s intentions, here are 4 key things you need to know about how buying decisions are actually made…

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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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B2B Sales: what level are we talking at?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 25-Jul-2017

Most high-value complex sales require that we engage with multiple stakeholders at different levels in the customer. If we start at with a contact at the operational level, even if we successfully sell them on the need for action and the advantages of our solution, they will often have to persuade others - usually a combination of their peers and their superiors - before a buying decision can be finalised.

And if we start by successfully engaging a contact at the strategic level that we persuade to buy-in to our vision, it’s pretty much inevitable that in this age of collaborative, consensus-driven decision-making that they will at some point pass us down to people at the operational level so that they can conduct a more detailed evaluation on their behalf.

Wherever we start our conversation, it is always wise to remember some classic advice: “we end up talking to the person we sound like”…

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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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Never mind your prospect’s current situation - what about their future direction?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Sat 24-Jun-2017

Most of today’s most popular B2B sales methodologies - including Value Selling, Challenger®, Solution Selling, Consultative Selling, SPIN® selling and many more - recommend that we always take the time to diagnose our prospect’s current pain points before we seek to propose our solution.

These techniques are even more effective when we manage to amplify the pain of their current situation or help the prospect to acknowledge previously unrecognised or undervalued needs that we are particularly effective at addressing.

But simply seeking to diagnose their current situation seems like an inadequate strategy compared with helping them see the future consequences of pursuing their current path as opposed to what they might be able to achieve if they were willing to change their behaviour…

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Visualising the Value Gap

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 16-Jun-2017

One of the key principles of value selling is that unless and until our customer acknowledges a problem that requires action, they have no need to invest in a solution and there is unlikely to be a sale.

But not all problems are equal. The issue could be trivial, significant or critical. The value gap between the prospect’s current situation and their desired future state could be insignificant or so large that action is inevitable.

It’s down to our sales people to help our customer to acknowledge the value gap and either amplify it to the point where they conclude that they simply have to do something or - if we can’t - to accept that they will probably decide to stick with the status quo.

But how can we best guide our customer in first acknowledging and then amplifying the gap between where they are today and where they need to be in the future? In collaboration with our clients, we’ve developed a simple visual tool that I hope you might also find useful…

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McKinsey: It’s time to treat our sales people like customers

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 14-Jun-2017

As a recent McKinsey article points out, as much as half of a company’s value creation rests with its sales force. Their findings confirm what many other researchers have also found - that the sales experience is a top factor when it comes to buying decisions.

But there’s a perhaps unexpected twist: McKinsey’s study also shows that top performing sales organisations pay as much attention to the rep experience as they do the customer experience: in other words, they treat their sales people like customers…

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Why we chose to partner with Membrain

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 5-Jun-2017

Inflexion-Point has just announced a partnership with Membrain to incorporate our Value Selling System® methodology into their groundbreaking sales effectiveness platform for complex B2B sales.

We’re delighted to build on what has been a long-standing relationship, and I thought it might be worth highlighting some of the key motivations behind this important initiative.

Any sales leader responsible for a team of B2B-focused sales people that are selling into a complex B2B buying environment is facing a set of challenges that simply don’t exist in more transactional sales situations. You may recognise some or all of the following issues...

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