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The Outcome-Centric Selling Blog

Asking the Right Questions (and more)

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 12-Sep-2023

This article first appeared in the September edition of Top Sales Magazine ...

The ability to ask the right questions, in the right way, at the right time, has always been one of those critical sales skills that separate the best salespeople from the rest.

In a SPIN?

“SPIN® Selling” by Neil Rackham - based on a huge volume of original research - identified four different key question types and proved that top-performing salespeople use them in ways that drive very different outcomes. Here are Rackham’s 4 original questions, which I have redefined to reflect today’s sales environment:

  1. The first type, situational questions, involve gathering important information about our prospective customer’s current situation, circumstances, environment, and future trends
  2. Problem questions are about uncovering our customer’s current and potential business issues - the things they need to fix, avoid, or achieve
  3. Implication questions are about exploring the impact and consequences at an organisational and personal level of the issues they have acknowledged
  4. Need-payoff (also called need-value) questions are about confirming the value of dealing decisively with the issues as well as the distinctively superior outcomes that our approach can deliver

The SPIN® Selling book implied, but did not explicitly name, a fifth question type that has also proved to be very important:

  1. Commitment questions, which allow us to establish whether our prospect is ready to make a significant commitment that will advance their buying decision journey (and our sales process)

These commitment questions are, I believe, the axis around which all the other question types revolve - and are key to qualifying the opportunity, moving it forwards, and measuring our progress.

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Navigating the transition from salesperson to sales manager

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 7-Sep-2023

A version of article was first published in the September 2023 edition of the International Journal of Sales Transformation ...

For many successful and ambitious salespeople, their first move into sales management is perhaps the defining moment in their career. Some will succeed. Some will fail. Some will make the move and then wish they had never abandoned the simpler life of a salesperson. And some will remain perfectly happy avoiding the move and continuing in their role as a successful salesperson.

I’d like to look at this critical transition from three perspectives: how should sales leaders identify and evaluate potential first-time sales managers, how should salespeople evaluate the move as a career step, and what should newly appointed sales managers do in the first 90 days to lay the foundations for their future success?

Identifying and evaluating potential first-time sales managers

It goes without saying that any candidate for sales management must have demonstrated a track record of success as a salesperson. Sometimes, that’s the primary consideration - appointing the current top performing salesperson as the new sales manager. But being a good salesperson, although a necessary attribute, is only one of a number of qualities that are required in a successful sales manager.

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Selling to today’s real decision-makers

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 11-Jul-2023

This article was first published in the July 2023 edition of Top Sales Magazine (link below).

Salespeople have traditionally been advised to “sell to the decision-maker(s)”, and while this may seem like common sense, the way in which B2B decision-making has evolved makes this advice more complicated (and more nuanced) than it might at first appear.

Whilst identifying and engaging a single final decision-maker may be relatively easy in some (not all) simple, low-value transactional sales, most high-value significant purchases involve multiple stakeholders, all of whom have an influence in the decision process - and the latest research suggests that this number is growing.

When the ground-breaking “Challenger Customer” was first published in 2015, it reported that the average size of the stakeholder group was 5.4. Subsequent research by Gartner and others has progressively increased this average number to 10 or more. Some particularly complex situations involve even more stakeholders.

Why is this? Why is it no longer enough to base our sales strategies on “selling to the C-level”? That particular strategy may have sold a lot of books by authors who published creative variations on that particular theme, but I was never persuaded that it was ever a universally effective approach, and I’m absolutely convinced of that now.

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What are tomorrow’s most important sales competencies?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 7-Jul-2023

This article was first published in the latest edition of the International Journal of Sales Transformation under the title “Complexity will save salespeople”.

We’re entering a “brave new world of sales”, fuelled by the convergence of evolving B2B buying behaviours and the availability of AI-based new technologies. Is change the only constant, or do some of the traditional attributes of a successful salesperson remain important?

I think it’s clear that many relatively simple pre- and post-sales transactions are already being automated, with varying degrees of success and customer acceptance, and we have to assume that this trend will continue to accelerate, and that the role of the traditional transactional salesperson will continue to decline.

But it also seems clear that the situation will be different when it comes to complex B2B buying journeys - particularly when the prospect’s decision to purchase anything at all is discretionary rather than inevitable, and where their particular buying journey involves entering new territory and is therefore unfamiliar rather than something the prospect has successfully mastered dozens of times before...

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Exploring the Art and Science of Complex Sales

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 30-May-2023

I was delighted to be asked to contribute to Membrain’s “The Art & Science of Complex Sales Podcast” with Paul Fuller, and our conversation about taking a Customer-Outcome-Centric approach to B2B sales has just been released.

I think you’ll enjoy the conversation, and hopefully find some things that are directly relevant to what you are trying to do in your own organisation. You can listen to the podcast here, but in the meantime, I want to share a few of highlights...

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B2B Sales Leadership and CRM

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 25-Apr-2023

What role should sales leadership play in their organisation’s deployment of CRM?

A CRM application lies at the centre of the technology stack of most sales organisations. It often represents one of the most significant investments made to support sales effectiveness. And yet both organisations and users often express frustration with both the user experience and the quality of the information and insights that are generated.

Clearly, some CRM platforms are better for a particular purpose than others. Clearly, some are (a lot) more cost effective than others, Obviously, some implementations are far more successful than others. But when you really dig in, many of the issues with CRM are not related to which technology has been chosen, but to the role sales leadership plays in creating the right environment.

To put it bluntly, no CRM implementation can come anywhere near reaching its potential unless the sales leadership of the organisation is actively and visibly committed to its success. And that process starts with establishing the right framework and setting the right expectations in the first place...

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Why it’s time to stop selling 'solutions' - and start delivering outcomes

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 19-Apr-2023

The first wave of B2B selling was product orientated - salespeople were taught and encouraged to think in terms of their product’s features, advantages, and benefits. This inward-focused perspective has, in most sales organisations, been overtaken by a solution-centric approach, which focuses on addressing the customer’s problems.

Many salespeople, and many marketers, are keen to promote their so-called “solutions” - but there’s an obvious weakness in this approach, as well - because the only people who are entitled to call anything a “solution” are the ones who have a problem they are trying to solve - i.e., the customer.

Arbitrarily (and lazily) labelling what we are trying to sell a “solution” clearly fails this test - as any intelligent potential customer can recognise. What our customers are really looking for are positive outcomes, and it is only when these positive outcomes have been proven to have been achieved that they will be happy with their solution.

You see, traditionally minded salespeople typically regard the sale as over when the order is booked. But our customer only regards their buying journey as being complete when they are satisfied that the outcomes they are looking for have been achieved.

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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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