Stop striving for sales perfection!

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 10-Jun-2019

Given the inevitable complications and unique considerations involved in any complex sales environment, it’s hard to imagine that we could ever execute a completely “perfect” sale.

Unlike a typical manufacturing environment, which seeks to produce highly replicable solutions with standardised raw materials, rigidly defined process stages and accurately measurable quality inspection criteria, many aspects of a complex sale are unfortunately either unknowable or uncontrollable.

This is particularly true if we are selling to a new customer for the first time, or if our customer is making an unfamiliar purchase. The complexities are further amplified if there are multiple stakeholders involved in the decision-making process (as there almost inevitably are).

But if perfection is unattainable, what can we do to systematically improve outcomes? The answer lies in a simple concept: we must systematically identify and eliminate the avoidable sources of error that bedevil any complex sales environment...

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What is your Customer’s Minimum Viable Problem?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 29-May-2019

The concept of a Minimum Viable Product is common in the start-up community. It is normally regarded as an initial release of a product that has just enough features to satisfy early adopter customers and provide feedback for future product development.

The concept has parallels in the case of your customer’s Minimum Viable Problem. This is a business issue, opportunity or threat that is significant enough to justify action, but manageable enough to allow a straightforward buying decision.

This is a particularly critical concept for many B2B sales organisations who are faced with opportunities that initially appear to have momentum, but which subsequently fail to convert because of one of two important reasons...

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Podcast: The Art, Science + Engineering of Sales Management

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 23-May-2019

I recently recorded a wide-ranging conversation about the art, science and engineering of sales management with Michael Webb of Sales Performance Consultants Inc.

Michael was one of the first people to make the case for applying a data-driven, continuous performance improvement approach to sales and marketing, and is the author of the Shinto Prize winning "Sales Process Excellence".

We covered a number of topics in our podcast, including the difference between flexible sales frameworks and rigid sales processes, why buyers are going non-linear on us, why the act of planning is more important than the plan itself, why most "value added" sales strategies are nothing of the sort, and why most sales people are entirely justified in hating the CRM systems they are forced to use...

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A tale of greed - and reckless disregard for the customer experience [updated]

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 15-May-2019

I hope you will forgive me this rant, but in addition to allowing me to vent my frustration, I believe the story contains some important messages and lessons...

French Air Traffic controllers earn around €106,000 euros – around three times the average French wage. Despite this and an impressive range of other benefits (including job security), they are so dissatisfied with their lot that they are prepared to strike on a regular basis without regard for their impact on the population it is their duty to serve.

Their motivation appears not to be driven by principle or a concern for safety, but by pure bloody mindedness and arrogant greed. As a relatively small number of individuals, they clearly seem to have a remarkable leverage and disproportionate power over the lives of hundreds of thousands of regular citizens.

They struck last Thursday. I was one of many swept up in the ensuing chaos, and it proved an interesting example of chains of failure of both systems and people – resulting in the customer experience being even worse than that caused directly by the strike. I’m writing this while are events are still fresh in my mind - heading back from Barcelona after a 12-hour delay which could - if left to the carrier Vueling - have been 36 hours or longer.

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Why you need a Vision Story and a Value Story

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 8-May-2019

The best sales people and the best content marketers are often great storytellers. They have the ability to craft compelling narratives that persuade their potential customers to want to buy.

But can the same story architecture work at both the macro (market-wide vision) and micro (specific customer value) level? The two story types clearly need to be related but my experience suggests that there are some important differences...

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The Persuasive Power of a Mutual Action Plan

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 6-May-2019

As Gartner and others have frequently pointed out, B2B buying decisions are often complicated. If the problem to be solved is a new one, rather than a familiar repetitive purchase, the buyer (or, more likely, buying group) may not be completely clear about what they want to achieve, or how they need to achieve it.

Many sales methodologies define a series of steps in the form of a close plan that needs to be completed by the sales person in order to move the sale forward. But unless the prospective customer is engaged in the exercise, these often drive sales activity without guaranteeing any significant progress from the buying side.

This is why Mutual Action Plans are such a powerful concept: they establish mutual agreement between the buyer and seller about the steps they intend to take - individually and jointly - in order to progress the buying journey and make the best possible purchase decision...

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Is your differentiation based on features or outcomes?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 17-Apr-2019

It’s a fundamental principle of value-based selling that whenever a prospective customer is unable to establish any meaningful difference between the options open to them, they are likely to choose what they perceive to be the cheapest or safest option.

If we are neither of these, our chances of winning their business are dramatically reduced, and so if we are determined to compete on value rather than price, we need to differentiate our offering in a way that is perceived to be significant by our potential customer.

Unfortunately, many technology-based businesses fall into the trap of believing that they need to take a “value-added” approach when positioning their products or services - but then do so in a way that is often irrelevant or unattractive to their prospects...

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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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