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The Outcome-Centric Selling Blog

The four pillars of a powerful customer value proposition

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 8-Mar-2023

The following article was first published in the March 2023 edition of the always-excellent Top Sales Magazine - there's a subscription link at the bottom of this article.:

A key theme of this edition of Top Sales Magazine is selling on value rather than price. You might think that having a “unique value proposition” is a key element of achieving this. And in some B2C and transactional B2B environments this might be true. But when it comes to winning business in complex B2B sales environments, the idea of a generic “unique value proposition” is an oxymoron.

The problem - of course - is that every complex B2B customer environment is unique and whilst spouting the same cookie-cutter slogan to every potential prospect might (if you’re lucky) get a sales conversation started, it won’t help us to close the sale.

You see, for a value proposition to really resonate, it must align with each prospect’s specific needs, priorities, and motivations - and it needs to address the 4 questions every B2B prospect expects answers to when they are thinking about embarking on a change programme that involves significant investment or disruption...

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Why should salespeople bother preparing for their customer interactions?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 10-Feb-2023

There’s been a great deal of research into the dynamics of salesperson-customer interaction over the years, and the results are typically pretty depressing. Studies regularly show that prospective customers regard only a small minority of the conversations they have with salespeople as being a valuable use of their time.

It’s not much better from the salesperson’s side: most of the interactions they have with potential customers result - at best - in an agreement to continue the dialogue, with the customer declining to extend the conversation being the most common outcome. Only a small minority of conversations actually result in an advance in which both parties commit to moving forwards in a tangible way.

By the way, I’m not talking about cold calls here, but about potentially meaningful interactions in which the customer has already expressed interest in having a conversation.

The outcome gap between the best and worst sales performers is particularly stark: top performers tend to either advance the sale or disqualify the opportunity as a result of their conversations, whereas weak performers tend to either stumble along with a vague agreement to continue the process at best or (more likely) being disqualified by the prospective customer at worst.

Some of this disparity can clearly be attributed to talent or skill. But I’m happy to agree with Neil Rackham (of SPIN® Selling fame) when he concluded that the biggest single difference between the best and worst sales performers was their commitment to invest in preparation and planning.

I’ve had the good fortune to learn from some top sales performers, and I’ve identified five key things that they consistently do better than their weaker colleagues...

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2 things we always need to know about every sales opportunity

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 1-Feb-2023

Every competent salesperson recognizes the importance of accurately qualifying every sales opportunity.

But I want to suggest two other things that we also always need to know about every sales opportunity - and they relate to the nature of our prospective customer’s buying journey.

These two factors are:

  • Do they consider this to be an inevitable or a discretionary purchase, and
  • Are they embarked on a familiar or unfamiliar buying process?

These two factors have very significant implications for our customer’s buying decision journey, for our sales strategy and process, and for our chances of winning their business - and I’m going to spend the rest of this article exploring the ramifications of these factors.

This post is longer than usual and was originally published on LinkedIn. I’ll also be covering the material in my webinar with the Institute of Sales Professionals on the 7th February - you can sign up here...

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Developing the potential of talented salespeople

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 29-Nov-2022

In my previous article - “hiring salespeople with talent” - I explored the challenges involved in making good sales hires. In this article - first published in the International Journal of Sales Transformation - I now want to explore more of the implications.Now I want to shift attention to some of the key things we need to do if we are to fully develop the potential of the talented salespeople that we have just hired.

You might not be surprised to learn that I believe that this involves understanding each salesperson’s attitudes, behaviours, and competencies in the context of our expectations for the role that we expect them to fulfil - as well as the future roles that we anticipate they might take on as they grow and develop.

Just as there is no such thing as a completely “perfect sale” (at least I have never observed one in any complex B2B sales environment), I believe that there is no such thing as a completely “perfect salesperson”. There is always the potential for improvement in any salesperson. Indeed, I’d suggest that a personal commitment to continuing self-development is one of the defining attributes of a top salesperson...

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Hiring salespeople with talent

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 24-Nov-2022

In my last article, I shared Gartner’s findings about the current war for talent. In this article - first published in the International Journal of Sales Transformation - I want to explore more of the implications.

Finding and recruiting the right salespeople is perhaps the most important role for any sales manager or leader. Hiring the wrong person - or at the other end of the scale, failing to fill the position at all - is costly in so many ways. The wasted recruitment costs are trivial in comparison to the revenues lost and all the other direct and indirect costs and consequences associated with failure.

The recruiting manager is often torn between the fear of missing out [FOMO] and the fear of messing up [FOMU]. Missing out means failing to fill the open headcount. Messing up means hiring someone who subsequently fails in their new role. Neither is a satisfactory outcome. In both cases, the manager is typically still responsible for the quota allocated to the role in the meantime.

To compound the problem, salespeople with proven potential are in short supply. There is a tremendous war for talent. Good salespeople are confident of their own value. They are highly selective when it comes to their choices of role and employer, and they have developed powerful bulls**t detectors. Headline on-target earnings matter less to them than their confidence about the income they will actually earn. Their potential employer’s reputation and culture matter to them, as does their working environment...

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Gartner: Building a high-performing sales team is now harder than ever!

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 22-Nov-2022

Gartner’s latest guidance for Chief Sales Officers [Leadership Vision 2023: 3 strategic actions for success] contains a conclusion that I believe every sales leader will recognize: retaining and building a high-performing sales team is harder than ever.

The challenging economic climate and the increasing expectations of B2B buyers means that mediocre salespeople who lack the necessary attitudes, behaviors and competencies will struggle even more than they might previously have done to win business.

Gartner’s research shows that hiring is taking longer, retaining talent is becoming harder, and new hires are more expensive. They have found that achieving a 10% sales headcount growth often requires 37% new-to-role sellers. In this challenging climate, I believe that great sales organizations will become stronger and weak sales organizations will become weaker, and the gap between these two groups will widen.

No sales leader or CEO wants to be trapped on the weaker side of this growing divide...

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B2B Buyers: from Fear of Missing Out to Fear of Messing Up

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 9-Nov-2022

As Matt Dixon (of Challenger Sale and Challenger Customer fame) points out in his latest book “The Jolt Effect”, B2B salespeople have been preconditioned by most of the established sales methodologies to focus on cultivating their customer’s fear of missing out (FOMO).

The fear of missing out is, of course, particularly significant in discretionary purchases where the prospective customer doesn’t have to buy and believes they could potentially get along just fine by continuing on their current path and doing nothing.

When it comes to discretionary purchases, it is well established that the salesperson has to manage two sales in parallel: the first “sell” involves persuading the customer that they need to change rather than stick with the status quo and the second “sell” involves convincing the customer that the vendor’s approach represents the prospective customer’s best available option.

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Top sellers are storytellers

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 12-Oct-2022

This article first appeared in the October 2022 edition of the International Journal of Sales Transformation, and is reproduced with their permission. The theme of this edition of the IJoST focuses on a topic that is very close to my heart - the critical importance of storytelling in B2B selling:

As human beings, we have evolved over the generations to use stories to communicate - and one of the key factors that now sets today’s most effective salespeople apart from the rest is their ability to share compelling, relevant anecdotes (typically the experiences of other existing customers) that resonate with their prospective customers, stimulate them to think differently, and cause them to take action.

Storytelling is an ancient art, dating back to the dawn of language - and the three core rhetorical skills that underpin compelling and persuasive storytelling can be traced back to Aristotle: ethos (the credibility of the storyteller), pathos (the ability to appeal to one’s audience), and logos (the ability to support one’s assertions through evidence).

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Answering every new customer's 4 key questions

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 29-Jun-2022

If your prospective customer is seriously evaluating a new project that involves both a significant investment and a change to their existing approach or environment, it is close-to-inevitable that they will be seeking clear answers to 4 key questions (and a clear consensus across all key members of their decision-making and approval stakeholder groups) before they will be prepared to make a commitment:

  1. WHY do they need to CHANGE (rather than stay on their current path)?
  2. WHY should they choose YOU (rather than any other option)?
  3. WHY do they need to act NOW (rather than later)?
  4. WHY should they APPROVE this project (rather than a competing investment - who will benefit, and how)?

If there is any uncertainty, ambiguity, lack of substance or doubt about any of the answers, your prospective customer is likely (at best) to delay their decision until things have been resolved, or to abandon their project and stick with the status quo (statistically the most common outcome).

That's why it is so important that salespeople follow a process that ensures that all of these elements are covered in their sales conversations and captured in their proposal to the customer - and it's why we've updated our "why commit" value story framework...

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How can anyone sell value without values?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 17-Jun-2022

I recently participated in a webinar with LeveragePoint on the subject of “establishing a value-centric culture in your B2B sales organisation”. It’s a topic I care deeply about, and I’ve included a link to both the recording and the deck at the bottom of this article.

I thought you might find it worthwhile if I summarise some of my conclusions, and to try to explain why I believe that we cannot successfully claim to “sell value” without demonstrating the necessary values...

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