In complex B2B sales, stakeholders have more than one dimension

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 22-Aug-2018

In complex B2B sales, there’s a common recognition that multiple stakeholders are almost always involved in the decision-making process. Research by the CEB (now part of Gartner) found that the average number was 6.8 and rising.

In some deals, that number is even higher, and it’s increasingly rare for a single decision maker to be able to drive through a significant business purchase without the active involvement of their colleagues.

Few sales leaders would disagree with the importance of identifying, engaging and assessing these stakeholders. But many sales methodologies take an over-simplistic approach, attempting to categorise these stakeholders along a single dimension...

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Responding to, Reframing or Creating Sales Opportunities?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 16-Aug-2018

Jim Burns of Avitage drew the distinction between finding versus creating sales opportunities in an article on LinkedIn a couple of years back (I’ve included a link to his article below) and I’d like to offer some additional perspectives on an issue that sometimes isn’t given the attention it deserves.

How we deal with a sales opportunity depends the nature of the sales opportunity, how we uncovered the opportunity and how we choose to react to the opportunity.

We have three basic options: to respond to what the customer already believes they need, to attempt to reframe the customer’s thinking about a current need, or to create a fresh opportunity where none existed before.

As you can appreciate, our sales strategies need to vary very considerably between these three situations...

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Avoiding the curse of premature elaboration

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 14-Aug-2018

Apparently, someone once offered a definition for the split second as “the time between a customer giving the merest hint that they might have a need and the sales person rushing to pitch their solution”.

It’s a common problem, and I must credit Mike Bosworth (author of Solution Selling) for being the first person to have the wit and creativity to so memorably describe the condition as “premature elaboration”.

It’s a starkly suggestive phrase, an unfortunately common ailment, and a terribly ineffective way of selling - particularly in complex B2B sales environments where doing a rushed job of discovery can have all manner of negative consequences for the subsequent sales cycle...

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The 7 storytelling secrets of successful salespeople

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 10-Aug-2018

I’ve long believed that top sellers are storytellers. They are able to call upon a rich fund of relevant anecdotes that they use to communicate and persuade far more convincingly than a conventional sales pitch could ever do. And in sharing their stories they encourage their customers to tell their own stories.

As humans, we are wired for story, and have been since long before the days of Homer. Some of us are naturally gifted storytellers, and others have to work on developing this critical skill. But we can all learn to do it well if we have the right framework and are prepared to put in the effort.

But unlike product knowledge or presentation and questioning skills, storytelling skills have rarely been part of the sales training agenda. It’s a subject that has been woefully neglected. The sales profession has been crying out for a guide, and I believe we have finally found one in an outstanding new book from Mike Adams...

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The Problem with Account Plans...

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 7-Aug-2018

Many of the clients I’ve been working with over the past few months have been attempting to implement some form of account planning. Far fewer seem to be happy with the current outcomes.

The symptoms of an ineffective account planning process aren’t hard to identify. Sales people are expected to prepare account plans, but this often has the appearance of a one-off or annual exercise.

Once produced, the plan is rarely referred to and even less frequently updated. There often appears to be little causality or correlation between the plan and the sales person’s actual real-life activities.

In such circumstances, you’ve got to ask the question “why bother?” ...

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Asking good questions isn’t enough...

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 2-Aug-2018

Most traditional sales methodologies stress the importance of asking good questions, and there’s no doubt that the ability to ask relevant and effective questions is a critical sales skill.

Unfortunately, the essential matching skill of actually listening to the customer’s answer, interpreting what they have just said and adjusting what we choose to say and do next gets far less attention than it ought to.

And even training our sales people to be both good questioners and good listeners still isn’t enough, because our customers expect more from us if we are to win the right to continue our conversation with them...

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Of course it matters whether you won or lost...

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 31-Jul-2018

You’ve probably heard some variation of the saying “it matters not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game”. The modern use of the phrase (in a slightly different form) is attributed to the American sports commentator Grantland Rice, but the principles have their roots in the spirit with which the original Olympic Games were conducted over 2,500 years ago.

For anyone in sales repeatedly playing and losing - no matter how well-intentioned - is hardly likely to form the foundation of a successful career. We want to win, but we want (or should want) to win in an ethical, principled manner that sees our customer as a partner and not a combatant.

Systematically learning what works and what doesn’t - and progressively doing more of the former and less of the latter - ought to be the critical foundation of any successful sales organisation. And yet the essential raw materials - in the form of effective win-loss analysis - are all-too-often missing or flawed...

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B2B Sales: Contrast Drives Change

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 25-Jul-2018

Many analysts claim - and many sales people would agree - that today’s most powerful competitor is not another similar vendor, but the status quo. A “do nothing” or “change nothing” decision is now the most common outcome of complex B2B buying decision journeys.

For ongoing purchases, the perceived cost and risk of change tends to give the incumbent supplier an advantage unless their position is eroded by internal or external forces. And for new purchases the same concerns over the impact of disruption mean that the prospective customer is unlikely to change unless the reasons to act are compelling.

Competing against the status quo requires that we establish a clear contrast in our customer’s mind between the negative consequences of continuing on their current trajectory and the positive benefits of embracing the need for change. If we cannot, they are unlikely to change...

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B2B sales: six steps to value

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 19-Jul-2018

One of the biggest frustrations for today’s sales leaders is their sales peoples’ apparent inability to connect the business value of their solutions with the business issues of their prospective customers. It’s not a new phenomenon - we’ve been wrestling with it for years.

We can find an explanation in research reported by Corporate Visions that the average business executive is at least 4 times more interested by business insights than by product features whilst the average sales person is 4 times more confident talking about their offerings than about their customer’s business challenges.

The problem is amplified by the average sales person’s habit of pitching their solution the moment the customer acknowledges a need, rather than continuing to learn about the problem and its implications. Top performers know better. So how does their behaviour differ?

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B2B sales: what should we be measuring?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 17-Jul-2018

If we’re in sales, there are two obvious monetary measures of our success: revenue and margin. Revenue is particularly important for organisations that are primarily concerned with driving top line growth. Margin is particularly important for organisations that are primarily focused on growing a profitable bottom line.

The relative importance of these two metrics can vary according to what type of business and what stage of development we are in, but I can’t recall coming across a B2B sales organisation that hasn’t defined one or the other (or both) as their primary success metric.

But what else should we be measuring?

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