No sales plan survives first contact with the customer

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 6-Feb-2019

Military leaders have long recognised the importance of planning. But they have also recognised that it is the act of planning, rather than the plan itself, that is most important. The Prussian military commander Helmuth van Moltke concluded that “No plan of operations reaches with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy's main force” - often simplified to “no plan survives first contact with the enemy”.

Neil Rackham, author of SPIN® Selling, acknowledged the importance of planning when he concluded that “a consistent finding about successful sales people is that they put effort into planning. Good selling depends more on good planning than any other single factor.”

And to revert back to another military leader, Dwight D Eisenhower believed that “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”. Now, I believe that in some quarters there has been rampant and inappropriate over-application of military metaphors to the sales process. We are NOT in a battle with our customers, nor should think of ourselves as being at war with our competitors.

But we can at least recognise both the power and the limitations of planning...

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The sales methodology that outperforms all others

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 4-Feb-2019

Every established sales methodology attracts its own fan base. Some are fans of SPIN®, others Challenger®, Miller-Heiman, Sandler, Solution Selling® and so on – the list goes on for ages. I’m particularly but not exclusively attracted to "value selling" myself.

Some of these methodologies have even seen fit to act as if their approach makes all others redundant. You may remember the Challenger-inspired and mischievously-titled article in the Harvard Business Review that proclaimed the “The End of Solution Sales”. It was a headline that may have sold a few more copies of their book but otherwise hardly justified the hype.

But amidst all these claims and counter-claims, one approach seems to consistently outperform all the others across a wide range of sales environments…

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Is your sales pipeline full of fatbergs?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 11-Jan-2019

The sewer systems of of our towns and cities are struggling to cope with a phenomenon known as the “fatberg”. These fatbergs are formed by an unappetising combination of oil, grease, food waste and other materials that have no place in the system.

Unfortunately, as these fatbergs harden and grow, they cause obstructions that require specialist equipment to remove. The problem is largely avoidable, it’s obviously a pretty unappetising story, and you may wonder why I’m sharing it with you.

Something very similar is going on in many sales pipelines. They are clogged with so-called opportunities that haven’t moved for ages and are unlikely to close any time soon. And the longer you delay clearing them out, the harder it gets to remove them...

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Selling incremental improvement isn’t enough!

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 4-Jan-2019

If you’re involved in complex B2B sales, and if what you are selling is anything other than an absolute “must buy” necessity, then you all face the same top competitor, whatever you’re trying to sell, and whoever you’re trying to sell to.

It’s the status quo.

Until and unless your customer believes that their current situation puts their future business prospects at risk, they are most likely to conclude that staying with what they know - the lure of the familiar - represents their safest option.

After all, any course of action that involves change also involves risk. And until and unless the risk of sticking with the status quo significantly outweighs the perceived risk of implementing a new and unfamiliar solution, they are likely to “do nothing”.

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Account Based Everything: a foundation for partnership

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 20-Dec-2018

Account-Based Marketing (and its all-embracing cousin “Account Based Everything”) has been touted by its promoters as a miracle cure capable of halting the precipitate decline in conventional marketing effectiveness - and derided by cynical detractors as just another over-hyped trend.

As with most new(ish) trends, the reality is probably somewhere in between.

The essence of the idea - as I have come to understand it - is that rather than pursuing poorly-targeted generic campaigns, we should be progressively tailoring and targeting our marketing messages and sales conversations in a way that appeals to the real priorities of the specific organisations and stakeholders that we wish to do business with.

And in order to achieve that, we need to understand as much as we can about the specific situation, issues, challenges and opportunities of our target audiences. And that, of course, requires that marketing, sales and customer success are in lockstep about who we are seeking to do business with (and why), what really matters to them, how they make buying decisions and how we can help them accomplish their goals...

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The 3* sales pipeline coverage myth

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 18-Dec-2018

I’m no great fan of averages, and I’m no great fan of unsupported rules of thumb, either. Perhaps the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) example is the longstanding urban myth that we need to target 3* pipeline coverage in order to reliably reach our revenue targets.

I have no idea where this came from, although I have a sneaking suspicion that it may have originated from the same source that brought us BANT qualification and other similarly discredited principles. It certainly has no place in any value-selling strategy.

As a number of recent client assignments have proven, there is so much variation in sales environments that the 3* rule-of-thumb can’t be justified by any rational assessment of the underlaying data. The required coverage number clearly varies from one organisation to another...

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Why your pipeline doesn’t need any sales stages

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 27-Nov-2018

This is a subject I’ve referred to before, but an excellent article by Don Mulhern has prompted me to promote a concept that deserves far more attention - and which is driving impressive success in the growing number of sales organisations that have embraced the idea.

Most CRM systems - and most sales methodologies - are based on the idea of the pipeline reflecting a series of sales stages which are assumed to be progressively completed over time. It is also assumed that the further we have progressed through these sales stages, the more likely an opportunity is to close.

Many systems go even further: applying the same default probability to every deal that has reached a certain stage. Even worse, many CRM implementations take the “out of the box” default percentages without ever giving any thought to their accuracy or relevance.

But complex B2B sales are - unsurprisingly - far more complicated than that, and it’s yet another example of how simplistic, statistically derived assumptions that can be made to work in straightforward transactional sales environments don’t apply anything like as effectively to complex buying decisions.

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The illusion of the expert buyer

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 12-Nov-2018

One of the most dangerous mistakes we can make as sales people is believing that our customer – and particularly the sponsor we have been working with – knows how to buy.

This might be a reasonable assumption if our prospective customer is buying a familiar solution in a familiar way – for example a repeat purchase from a well-known source.

But if our prospective customer is looking for an unfamiliar solution: something they have not had to buy before – from an unfamiliar source: a vendor they have no previous relationship with, the assumption of buyer expertise is very dangerous.

Buyer unfamiliarity can represent either an opportunity or a threat – depending on how we choose to respond to it...

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When your customers DO want to speak to a sales person

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 31-Oct-2018

There’s been a great deal of comment – often from people and organisations who frankly should know better – about how today’s B2B customer doesn’t want to engage with a sales person until late in their consideration.

That comment is based on studies and statistics that appear to show that the average potential customer is variously 57%, 60% or more than 70% through their decision-making journey before they see value in a sales conversation.

But no customer is “average”. And those simplified statistics and headlines – supported by naïve and often self-serving interpretations from people and organisations attempting to peddle a particular point of view – hide a much more nuanced reality.

When you dig into the facts behind the facts, a much more complex reality emerges...

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The keys to engaging our stakeholders

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 18-Oct-2018

Our prospective customers are far more likely to want to engage with us if they believe that they are likely to learn something valuable from us. Most sales methodologies stress the importance of asking intelligent questions at the appropriate time and with the relevant context.

But that's not enough - and focusing on questioning and ignoring or downplaying the other essential elements of effective business conversations can make for a very one-sided and unproductive interaction.

If we are to build meaningful rapport with our prospective customers, as well as asking well-chosen, well-timed and high-impact questions we also need to share stimulating insights, tell relevant stories and come to the conversation well-equipped to answer our prospective customer's predictable questions...

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