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ESTABLISHING DISTINCTIVE VALUE IN CHALLENGING TIMES

Why Closing Gambits Don’t Work on Large Sales

Posted by James Muir on Wed 25-Mar-2020

James Muir is the best-selling author of "The Perfect Close" - a book that leverages the latest science to show why applying the old counter-productive closing tactics are holding salespeople back. I'm delighted that James has agreed that I can republish the following article as a guest post.

James explains why the traditional crude closing techniques taught in conventional sales training, far from improving our chances of winning a deal, are actually counter-productive in complex high-value B2B sales...

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'Why do we have to spend this money now?'

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 23-Mar-2020

Even before the current crisis, many opportunities that had been confidently forecast by salespeople were failing to close. This was and still is particularly true of strategic decisions that need to be approved by a group of stakeholders rather than signed-off by a single individual.

The number of people involved in these decision-making groups has risen sharply over the past few years. When the Challenger Customer was first published in 2015, the underlying research concluded that the average decision group size was 5.4. Their latest research reckons this has now risen to between 10-11 actively involved stakeholders.

Think about that for a moment: even before the impact of covid-19, it only took one key member of the decision group to ask “why do we have to spend this money now” (or “why do we have to make this change now?”) for the decision to be potentially delayed or put on hold.

Anyone like to hazard a guess as to how often that question is being asked nowadays?

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When the Status Quo isn’t the Status Quo Anymore

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 20-Mar-2020

In most complex B2B sales environments, our most significant and consistent competition typically hasn’t come from another conventional “competitor”: it has come from the status quo. For our customers, status quo is familiar. It is often comfortable. And so they have often failed to be convinced of the need for change unless and until maintaining the status quo has become obviously unsafe.

Competing against the status quo has always been a challenge for salespeople who think of their role as selling their company’s products and services rather than solving their customer’s problems. But even those successful salespeople who have mastered the art of consultative, problem-focused, solution-orientated selling are finding that the world has changed.

In the current environment, little is certain, other than that our prospective customer’s cherished status quo is probably no longer safe. The old assumptions, and the old certainties, no longer prevail. It’s premature to predict exactly what the new normal will look like, but it’s likely that the old status quo will not be restored in exactly the same form...

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Getting the right people on your sales bus

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 13-Feb-2020

In his widely acclaimed Good to Great, Jim Collins shows that lastingly great organisations pay particular attention to not only getting the “right people on the bus”, but also making sure they are in the right seats (= roles) - as well as taking proactive action to get the wrong people off the bus.

This principle - relevant right the way across every organisation - is particularly critical when it comes to the sales function. Sales leaders simply cannot afford to recruit the wrong people, to put people into roles that fail to align with their talents, or to retain people who are either never likely to perform or who might only achieve their goals at the cost of compromising the culture of the organisation.

The potential cost of failure is amplified in any sales role. It’s not just about the cost of hiring or the subsequent wasted renumeration - far more significant is the opportunity cost associated with lost revenue, missed targets, unhappy customers and tarnished reputation.

CVs and claims of past performance are often deceptive. Hiring on the basis of past experience alone rarely guarantees future success. Even inept salespeople can come across well at interview. What can sales leaders do to ensure they end up with a bus full of positive role models?

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Discounting is a sure sign of sales failure

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 18-Dec-2019

For many sales organisations, December is both the end of the sales quarter and the end of the sales year. Individual salespeople and entire sales teams are under pressure to deliver. Unfortunately, many won’t.

In acts of desperation, many believe they need to offer “once-only, never-to-be repeated” discounts to get deals over the line. These may work in undifferentiated markets where buying on price is the norm.

But for complex, considered B2B purchases where “do nothing” or “wait until later” is a credible option the most common effect these discounts have is to reduce or destroy the salesperson’s credibility.

If the customer is intending to buy anyway, all the discount does is to reduce margins and set a precedent for the future (this is particularly damaging to the profitability of recurring revenue business models).

If the customer is not in a position to buy, then putting the customer under pressure will not work in the short term and is likely to damage relationships in the long term.  So, what’s the alternative?

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Stretching your customer's value gap

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 5-Dec-2019

Whenever your customer sees little meaningful difference between their current situation and their future potential, they will be inclined tostick with the status quo.

And whenever they see little meaningful contrast between the various offerings being proposed to them, they will be inclined to buy thelowest-cost solution.

If you are determined to compete on value and not on price, and if you are equally determined to avoid losing potentially winnable opportunities to a decision to "do nothing", you need to establish the strongest possiblevalue gapbetween your approach and all the other options available to them.

To achieve this, you need to recognise that your competitors are not just the other similar vendors that are proposing apparently similar solutions - your true competition includes all the othercredible optionsyour customer might be considering...

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Understanding your customer's decision journey

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 28-Nov-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 realityof 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 arerarely 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.

Rather following a perfectly straight path, many customer decision journeys 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.

Gartner have recently characterised this "long, hard slog" as looking more like a spaghetti bowl than a conveniently linear process...

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Understanding B2B Buying Behaviour

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 26-Nov-2019

In any high-value complex B2B sales environments involving new projects with multiple stakeholders, the buying behaviours and motivations that drive your customer’s decision-making journey are inherently complicated and may be impossible for the average sales person to ever completely understand.

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Avoiding the Value-Added Trap

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 5-Nov-2019

An earlier version of this article was first published in the November 2019 edition of Top Sales Magazine.

Every sales organisation likes to believe that what they are selling is valuable. But there are many interpretations and definitions of what value really means. In practice, of course, the customer’s opinion is the only one that really matters.

One of the most common claims made by salespeople, the sales organisations they work for and the marketing departments responsible for positioning their company is that they offer “value-added” solutions, or that they have a “unique value proposition”.

Companies can sometimes get away with these claims in B2C or simple B2B environments.

But in complex B2B sales environments, this “value-added” language often turns out to be a smokescreen for trying to persuade customers that they require more functionality than they really need and as a justification for paying more for the proposed “solution” as a result...

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Sales people need to act like personal trainers, not bartenders

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 4-Nov-2019

In a recent article for the CEB, Andrew Kent posed the question “Are your reps bartenders or personal trainers?” It’s a great question, a wonderful analogy, and a concept that deserves a broader exposure.

Kent was contrasting the difference between traditional relationship-centred sales people and the positive role models exemplified by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson’s widely-acclaimed “The Challenger Sale”.

The Bartender Profile

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