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The Outcome-Centric Selling Blog

Supercharging our sales conversations

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 27-Apr-2021

This article first appeared in the April 2021 "Supercharging Sales" issue of the International Journal of Sales Transformation.

Given the overall theme of the magazine, I thought it might be appropriate to focus on a topic that has long been a focus of mine - how can salespeople supercharge their sales conversations?

Given that - according to research by Forrester and others - customers report that the majority of conversations they have with potential vendors create little-to-no positive value (and often leave them with a negative impression), there is clear scope to have more impactful interactions.

By the way, the one thing we want to avoid when “supercharging” our sales conversations is to talk more quickly. All of the available evidence shows that top performing salespeople speak slowly, clearly and confidently and take their time to make their points without being verbose....

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Exploding the 3* sales pipeline coverage myth

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 21-Apr-2021

One of the most unhelpful “rules of thumb” in B2B selling is the long standing and widely quoted myth that the benchmark standard when it comes to sales pipeline management is 3* quota coverage.

I’ve struggled to find any original research that justified this - and even if there was any, the concept has been around for so long that any original research must now be well and truly out of date.

This 3* rule of thumb is no more accurate (and not much more useful) than a stopped watch that happens to tell the right time twice a day.

So - what is the optimal level of sales pipeline coverage? If you’re looking for a lazy, simplistic general answer then I’m afraid you’re inevitably going to be disappointed - because the only universally accurate answer is “it depends”...

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Ditching the 'Itch to Pitch'

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 16-Apr-2021

Whether proactively reaching out to potential future customers or responding to inbound enquiries, salespeople and business development reps in complex B2B sales environments often find themselves having to make a large number of contact attempts in order to get a single new conversation started.

Of course, good research and preparation (and a strong, relevant, and distinctive value proposition) can help. But the sense of relief in finally uncovering a potential prospect with an apparently promising issue, need or problem after a series of unsuccessful attempts can often cause the salesperson to rush to present their solution.

This temptation - variously described as “the itch to pitch” or “premature elaboration” - might be understandable, but it is completely the wrong thing to do...

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Refining our customer’s value story

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 25-Mar-2021

Regular readers will know that I have been evangelising the critical importance of customer-specific value stories for a long time. I’d like to take this opportunity to update you on my latest story framework, fuelled by a growing number of client projects in complex B2B sales environments.

Let me start by explaining what I mean by a “customer-specific value story”. Unlike value propositions generally, which tend to be targeted at broad audiences rather than specific organisations, a customer-specific value story is unique to each prospective customer.

Because of this, no two customer value stories are ever exactly the same, even if those crafted for similar organisations who are facing similar issues will often exhibit similar overall themes. But they all benefit from following a similar framework...

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Profit derives from usage - not initial purchase

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 9-Mar-2021

Business customers have become increasingly used to as-a-service models, rather than outright purchase - and many of them have come to prefer it.

It’s hard to think of any reason why new software offerings would not be developed with a Software-as-a-Service model in mind, and many existing upfront licence software offerings have already migrated to SaaS.

This movement is not just about software - a growing range of business offerings, from Aero engines to Zithers (well, OK, guitars but allow me a little artistic licence) are being sold and consumed as a service.

But it’s not just the consumption model that has changed - it’s the profit model. And in an as-a-service world, profit is not guaranteed at the point of purchase, but earned as a result of ongoing satisfied usage...

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The Secrets of Sales Innovators

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 4-Mar-2021

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at length with Jan Ropponen, author of “Secrets of Sales Innovators - how World-Class sellers win Million-Dollar deals”.

Jan’s book is the distillation of an extensive series of interviews with highly successful B2B salespeople - the sort of people whose disciplined approach to selling enables them to make President’s Club every year, through both good years and bad.

The lessons encapsulated in Jan’s book are highly relevant to every B2B salesperson who has the ambition to do even better and is open to learning from their peers - and should be required reading for every B2B sales organisation.

From the first interaction to the successful conclusion of a lengthy and complex buying journey, Jan sets out a set of clear principles that have been proven to be effective in today’s challenging business environment...

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Contrast is critical to B2B sales success

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 2-Mar-2021

I was pleased to be asked to contribute an article to the latest edition of Top Sales Magazine - a regular source of insight for sales professionals - there's a subscription link below. I chose to focus on the importance of contrast in complex B2B sales. I hope you find my perspectives useful:

In any competitive situation, establishing positive differentiation against our customer’s other options is one of the keys to winning their business. But there’s another form of differentiation that is critical to success in any discretionary purchasing environment: the degree of contrast between the customer’s current situation and the better future outcome they are looking for.

It’s probably worth explaining what I mean by a discretionary purchase: unlike an inevitable purchase, where the customer has to do something - such as choosing which electricity supplier to use - a discretionary purchase may never happen. The customer may simply decide to do nothing.

This is important, because the most common outcome of discretionary B2B purchase journeys - and our most powerful competitor - is a decision to stick with the status quo. The temptation to do or use what they already have is even more common in today’s uncertain business climate.

That’s why we need to identify and wherever possible stretch our customer’s “outcome gap” as a core part of our sales strategy...

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The key issues for B2B sales leaders in 2021

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 26-Feb-2021

I was very pleased to be invited by the International Journal of Sales Transformation to contribute an article to their latest edition. The publication is a consistently valuable read for any sales professional, and I urge you to subscribe (I've included a link to their website at the bottom of this piece).

I chose to write about some of the key issues I see facing B2B sales leaders in 2021. I hope you find my observations both relevant and helpful... 

2020 proved to be a challenging year for many B2B sales organisations. Certain sectors powered ahead - for example, anything associated with e-commerce or digital transformation - but many other industries suffered significant declines in demand.

2021 will inevitably bring further challenges. Whilst the emergence of effective vaccines offers some hope for recovery, it would be unwise to assume that these will amount to a magic bullet, or that many sectors will enjoy a rapid return to pre-Covid “normality”.

One thing is certain - the future of B2B selling is not what it used to be. This poses both a threat and an opportunity: those that emerge as winners will need to demonstrate speed, agility and adaptability at both the individual and organisational level.

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“Why are you still working that deal?”

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 27-Jan-2021

In a recent article (Advance or disqualify!), I proposed that salespeople - rather than clinging on to lifeless sales opportunities in the hope of a miraculous and unlikely resuscitation - should politely and professionally disqualify deals where the customer is unwilling to commit to even a modest advance.

I was merely reflecting what I’ve seen today’s most effective salespeople do as a matter of basic personal discipline: they have too much respect for their own time to waste it pursuing opportunities they have no chance of winning, whilst their weaker, less-disciplined colleagues hold on to them until the last possible moment, for fear that abandoning them will make their pipelines appear smaller.

But as René Voorhorst reminded me in his LinkedIn comment on my article, the failure to disqualify is not just an individual sales issue - it’s a sales management issue...

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Advance or disqualify!

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 12-Jan-2021

In his best-selling sales guidebook “SPIN® Selling”, Neil Rackham identified four potential outcomes from every significant conversation with a prospective customer in a complex B2B sales environment: a win, an advance, a continuation or a clear “no sale”. I’ll define these outcomes in a moment.

Given the number of meetings required to close a complex deal involving multiple stakeholders, it should be no surprise that relatively few customer conversations directly result in the immediate confirmation of a win accompanied by an order.

And if the customer genuinely has no interest in buying, having them explicitly decide not to go any further ought to be a relief - because it frees the salesperson to refocus their energies on more promising opportunities.

More worrying are the number of conversations that end in a limbo-like state, in which the customer agrees in principle to continue the discussion but without making any other meaningful commitment. These often lead to false hopes and wasted time pursuing a lost or losing cause.

That’s why I recommend that salespeople adopt an “advance or disqualify” mindset...

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