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The Inflexion-Point Blog: VALUE SELLING STRATEGIES

A tale of greed - and reckless disregard for the customer experience [updated]

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 15-May-2019

I hope you will forgive me this rant, but in addition to allowing me to vent my frustration, I believe the story contains some important messages and lessons...

French Air Traffic controllers earn around €106,000 euros – around three times the average French wage. Despite this and an impressive range of other benefits (including job security), they are so dissatisfied with their lot that they are prepared to strike on a regular basis without regard for their impact on the population it is their duty to serve.

Their motivation appears not to be driven by principle or a concern for safety, but by pure bloody mindedness and arrogant greed. As a relatively small number of individuals, they clearly seem to have a remarkable leverage and disproportionate power over the lives of hundreds of thousands of regular citizens.

They struck last Thursday. I was one of many swept up in the ensuing chaos, and it proved an interesting example of chains of failure of both systems and people – resulting in the customer experience being even worse than that caused directly by the strike. I’m writing this while are events are still fresh in my mind - heading back from Barcelona after a 12-hour delay which could - if left to the carrier Vueling - have been 36 hours or longer.

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Why you need a Vision Story and a Value Story

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 8-May-2019

The best sales people and the best content marketers are often great storytellers. They have the ability to craft compelling narratives that persuade their potential customers to want to buy.

But can the same story architecture work at both the macro (market-wide vision) and micro (specific customer value) level? The two story types clearly need to be related but my experience suggests that there are some important differences...

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The Persuasive Power of a Mutual Action Plan

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 6-May-2019

As Gartner and others have frequently pointed out, B2B buying decisions are often complicated. If the problem to be solved is a new one, rather than a familiar repetitive purchase, the buyer (or, more likely, buying group) may not be completely clear about what they want to achieve, or how they need to achieve it.

Many sales methodologies define a series of steps in the form of a close plan that needs to be completed by the sales person in order to move the sale forward. But unless the prospective customer is engaged in the exercise, these often drive sales activity without guaranteeing any significant progress from the buying side.

This is why Mutual Action Plans are such a powerful concept: they establish mutual agreement between the buyer and seller about the steps they intend to take - individually and jointly - in order to progress the buying journey and make the best possible purchase decision...

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Is your differentiation based on features or outcomes?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 17-Apr-2019

It’s a fundamental principle of value-based selling that whenever a prospective customer is unable to establish any meaningful difference between the options open to them, they are likely to choose what they perceive to be the cheapest or safest option.

If we are neither of these, our chances of winning their business are dramatically reduced, and so if we are determined to compete on value rather than price, we need to differentiate our offering in a way that is perceived to be significant by our potential customer.

Unfortunately, many technology-based businesses fall into the trap of believing that they need to take a “value-added” approach when positioning their products or services - but then do so in a way that is often irrelevant or unattractive to their prospects...

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Hope is not a strategy - and ignorance is no excuse

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 15-Apr-2019

Why do apparently promising sales opportunities go wrong so often? Why do close dates speed past, get reset and then repeat the cycle? Why do so many sales forecasts bear so little relationship to reality?

Rick Page, founder of The Complex Sale offered sound advice in the title of his deservedly best-selling book: “hope is not a strategy”.

To which I’m inclined to add “and ignorance is no excuse”.

Page was right. Hope is not, and can never be, an effective strategy. The word should have no place in our sales vocabulary. But I’ll wager that the H-word is still being used every day in countless conversations between sales people and their managers.

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Sales Opportunity Qualification or Qualifiction?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 4-Apr-2019

Accurate opportunity qualification is perhaps the single most important foundation for success in complex B2B sales environments. In the absence of an up-to-date and accurate assessment of the specific circumstances of each of their active sales opportunities, sales people are doomed to waste significant amounts of time and energy pursuing deals that they are never likely to win, or are never likely to do anything, or would not be worth winning.

As a consequence, many sales organisations have attempted to implement a standardised approach to qualification. But creating qualification guidelines by itself isn’t enough. The criteria must be consistently, thoughtfully and honestly applied, and not regarded as a “box-ticking” exercise.

An inadvertent typo (“qualifiction”) in a recent client opportunity review session served to remind me that qualification must always be based on fact and not on fiction or - as seemed to be the case on that occasion - on comfortable but unjustified assumptions.

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Familiar vs. Unfamiliar Purchases

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 27-Mar-2019

Sales consultants often make the distinction between transactional and complex sales. Transactional sales - whatever their value - tend to have a relatively simple buying journey, are associated with lower decision risk, and involve fewer stakeholders. The decision is often regarded as tactical rather than strategic, the information required to support their decision is often straightforward and based on specification, price and delivery and the decision-making process itself is typically linear.

Complex sales, on the other hand, tend to be subject to a complicated and often non-linear buying journey, tend to have a higher decision risk, and involve a larger decision team. The decision is often regarded as strategic, the information on which decisions are based is usually complicated and sometimes contradictory, and there is a very real possibility that the potential customer may - after devoting significant effort to the exercise - simply decide to stick with the status quo.

But after observing a large number of complex sales environments, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is another significant factor at play - and that is whether the customer is involved in a familiar or unfamiliar purchase...

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Understanding Your Customer's Decision Journey

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 26-Mar-2019

It’s falsely comforting to think of selling as a process in which one step follows logically after another. But although rigidly defined processes might be the best way of running a manufacturing production line, they completely fail to reflect the reality of any moderately complicated sales environment.

It would be convenient if things were simpler. But the truth of the matter is that in complex B2B sales your customer’s buying processes are rarely linear, compounded by the fact that they are sometimes poorly defined or even if they are well defined are often not well understood by many of your customer's decision team.

As Gartner have identified, rather following a perfectly straight path, complex customer decision journeys typically zig and zag, go backwards as well as forwards, find themselves way off-piste, struggle to achieve consensus, can be redirected on the whim of a single powerful individual or can be abandoned at any stage along the way.

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A Progressive Approach to Sales Opportunity Qualification [that isn't BANT]

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 21-Mar-2019

Like a growing number of other commentators, I have come to believe that the traditional BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe) approach to sales opportunity qualification is fundamentally flawed and not fit for purpose when it comes to complex B2B sales.

The fact that over 40% of purchasing projects are ad-hoc rather than formally budgeted is, as I argued in a recent blog, yet another nail in the coffin of this outmoded and discredited methodology. But if not BANT, what can you use instead?

Any alternative approach has to take into account the fundamentally non-linear nature of B2B buying decisions, particularly when they relate to solving a new and unfamiliar problem (as opposed to repeat purchases of well-known commodities).

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Over 40% of projects are ad-hoc: another nail in the coffin of BANT

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 11-Mar-2019

It surprises and shocks me how many sales organisations still regard BANT as a practical way of qualifying sales opportunities. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it dates back to the steam-driven days prior to the emergence of the Internet, SaaS and modern buying behaviours and stands for Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe.

Now, at some point, any significant purchase decision probably requires all four elements, but using BANT as an early stage qualifier is madness - something that is reinforced by recent research by Gartner that revealed that over 40% of software buying efforts were ad-hoc rather than formally budgeted in advance.

That means any sales person insisting that leads are “BANT” qualified before they are prepared to engage with them is missing out on nearly half of their potential opportunities - and by the time that all four BANT boxes can be ticked, other more astute salespeople are likely to have reached out to the prospect and influenced their thinking...

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