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The Inflexion-Point Blog: VALUE SELLING STRATEGIES

Hope is not a strategy - and ignorance is no excuse

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 15-Apr-2019

Why do apparently promising sales opportunities go wrong so often? Why do close dates speed past, get reset and then repeat the cycle? Why do so many sales forecasts bear so little relationship to reality?

Rick Page, founder of The Complex Sale offered sound advice in the title of his deservedly best-selling book: “hope is not a strategy”.

To which I’m inclined to add “and ignorance is no excuse”.

Page was right. Hope is not, and can never be, an effective strategy. The word should have no place in our sales vocabulary. But I’ll wager that the H-word is still being used every day in countless conversations between sales people and their managers.

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Sales Opportunity Qualification or Qualifiction?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 4-Apr-2019

Accurate opportunity qualification is perhaps the single most important foundation for success in complex B2B sales environments. In the absence of an up-to-date and accurate assessment of the specific circumstances of each of their active sales opportunities, sales people are doomed to waste significant amounts of time and energy pursuing deals that they are never likely to win, or are never likely to do anything, or would not be worth winning.

As a consequence, many sales organisations have attempted to implement a standardised approach to qualification. But creating qualification guidelines by itself isn’t enough. The criteria must be consistently, thoughtfully and honestly applied, and not regarded as a “box-ticking” exercise.

An inadvertent typo (“qualifiction”) in a recent client opportunity review session served to remind me that qualification must always be based on fact and not on fiction or - as seemed to be the case on that occasion - on comfortable but unjustified assumptions.

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Familiar vs. Unfamiliar Purchases

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 27-Mar-2019

Sales consultants often make the distinction between transactional and complex sales. Transactional sales - whatever their value - tend to have a relatively simple buying journey, are associated with lower decision risk, and involve fewer stakeholders. The decision is often regarded as tactical rather than strategic, the information required to support their decision is often straightforward and based on specification, price and delivery and the decision-making process itself is typically linear.

Complex sales, on the other hand, tend to be subject to a complicated and often non-linear buying journey, tend to have a higher decision risk, and involve a larger decision team. The decision is often regarded as strategic, the information on which decisions are based is usually complicated and sometimes contradictory, and there is a very real possibility that the potential customer may - after devoting significant effort to the exercise - simply decide to stick with the status quo.

But after observing a large number of complex sales environments, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is another significant factor at play - and that is whether the customer is involved in a familiar or unfamiliar purchase...

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Understanding Your Customer's Decision Journey

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 26-Mar-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 reality of 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 are rarely 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.

As Gartner have identified, rather following a perfectly straight path, complex customer decision journeys typically 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.

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A Progressive Approach to Sales Opportunity Qualification [that isn't BANT]

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 21-Mar-2019

Like a growing number of other commentators, I have come to believe that the traditional BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe) approach to sales opportunity qualification is fundamentally flawed and not fit for purpose when it comes to complex B2B sales.

The fact that over 40% of purchasing projects are ad-hoc rather than formally budgeted is, as I argued in a recent blog, yet another nail in the coffin of this outmoded and discredited methodology. But if not BANT, what can you use instead?

Any alternative approach has to take into account the fundamentally non-linear nature of B2B buying decisions, particularly when they relate to solving a new and unfamiliar problem (as opposed to repeat purchases of well-known commodities).

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Over 40% of projects are ad-hoc: another nail in the coffin of BANT

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 11-Mar-2019

It surprises and shocks me how many sales organisations still regard BANT as a practical way of qualifying sales opportunities. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it dates back to the steam-driven days prior to the emergence of the Internet, SaaS and modern buying behaviours and stands for Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe.

Now, at some point, any significant purchase decision probably requires all four elements, but using BANT as an early stage qualifier is madness - something that is reinforced by recent research by Gartner that revealed that over 40% of software buying efforts were ad-hoc rather than formally budgeted in advance.

That means any sales person insisting that leads are “BANT” qualified before they are prepared to engage with them is missing out on nearly half of their potential opportunities - and by the time that all four BANT boxes can be ticked, other more astute salespeople are likely to have reached out to the prospect and influenced their thinking...

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From Sales Process to Buying Journey

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 5-Mar-2019

The idea of a “sales process” has been around since long before I was offered my first sales role. The concept has been heavily promoted by the mainstream sales methodology vendors and adopted with varying degrees of effectiveness by many sales organisations.

But I’m not sure it was ever an appropriate metaphor and with the emergence of an increasingly well-informed customer community the idea that a complex B2B sale can be distilled down to a step-by-step sales process seems increasingly at odds with reality.

This is particularly the case for unfamiliar, strategic purchases where the customer may have no recent past experience of the various considerations involved. As Gartner recently pointed out, the customer decision journey for these sorts of purchases is inherently non-linear and sometimes verging on the chaotic...

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If you really want to shorten your sales cycle, slow down!

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 20-Feb-2019

If the conversations I’ve been having with sales leaders recently are anything to go by, our sales pipelines are full of opportunities that start off looking like they are going to end up in a quick sale, but then get stuck somewhere in the middle (or towards the end) of the process.

And if my observations accurately reflect the underlying reason, then it’s worth us reining in our sales people’s natural enthusiasm and helping them to recognise that they will be more effective in shortening their sales cycle by slowing down their initial interaction with the customer.

It’s a subject I’ve referred to before, but it’s worth returning to again. If our customer acknowledges a need that we know we can address, it’s a natural (but wrong) reaction for a sales person to want to explain how they have a “solution” for their customer’s problem.

This tendency to premature elaboration (and the associated temptation to demonstrate and propose our solution as soon as we can) may initially give the impression that the sales cycle is moving forwards, but it all-too-often simply stores up avoidable future delays...

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Successful Selling = Intelligent Choices, not Fixed Formulas

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 12-Feb-2019

I’ve just spent a few minutes completing the annual survey from one of the world’s most widely respected sales training organisations. Of course, I haven’t yet seen the results, but I was intrigued by the implications behind a number of the questions.

There appeared to be a strong implied endorsement of the value of adopting a structured sales process – a theme that is promoted by many of the established sales methodologies. But I’ve come to believe that this is now an outdated approach, particularly if taken to extremes.

In fact, the very word process is unhelpful. It implies linearity and a “production-line” approach to selling - which as any observer of complex buying decisions will know is completely at odds with how typical buying decisions are actually made...

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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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