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The Outcome-Centric Selling Blog

Advance or disqualify!

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 12-Jan-2021

In his best-selling sales guidebook “SPIN® Selling”, Neil Rackham identified four potential outcomes from every significant conversation with a prospective customer in a complex B2B sales environment: a win, an advance, a continuation or a clear “no sale”. I’ll define these outcomes in a moment.

Given the number of meetings required to close a complex deal involving multiple stakeholders, it should be no surprise that relatively few customer conversations directly result in the immediate confirmation of a win accompanied by an order.

And if the customer genuinely has no interest in buying, having them explicitly decide not to go any further ought to be a relief - because it frees the salesperson to refocus their energies on more promising opportunities.

More worrying are the number of conversations that end in a limbo-like state, in which the customer agrees in principle to continue the discussion but without making any other meaningful commitment. These often lead to false hopes and wasted time pursuing a lost or losing cause.

That’s why I recommend that salespeople adopt an “advance or disqualify” mindset...

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Why being liked should never be your primary motivation

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 6-Jan-2021

It might seem strange - in a season when we traditionally wish goodwill to all men and women - to take the position that salespeople and sales leaders should not have the desire to be liked as their primary personal motivation.

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Has role specialisation in B2B selling gone too far?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 21-Dec-2020

Largely inspired by the work of Frederick Winslow Taylor, and made real by Henry Ford and others, the age of mass production introduced the concept of role specialisation in the pursuit of manufacturing efficiency.

And for a considerable period of time his idea that there was “one best way” had the desired effect - as long as the customer was prepared to accept a standardised product, and often at considerable cost to the job satisfaction of the workers involved.

It also had no need to take account of the feelings of the inanimate objects being produced. A Ford Model-T is unaware of the number of workers that have been involved in its production, or of the hand-offs between them.

The idea of role specialisation appears to have obvious attraction when applied to the sales function, as exemplified by the number of organisations that separate the SDR, sales and account management functions.

But there’s a real problem in taking this concept of role specialisation too far when applying it to sales - because our “production line” (or sales pipeline) isn’t an inanimate, uncaring collection of parts, but a group of sentient human beings who expect and deserve to be treated with respect...

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A New Year Resolution: eliminating wasteful sales behaviours

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 18-Dec-2020

This is the time of year when most of us would benefit from some quiet reflection on what we’ve learned during 2020, and how we intend to apply that learning in the New Year.

It’s fair to say that for most of us the learning opportunities have been dramatic.

For anyone involved in complex B2B sales, the way in which we interact with our customers and prospects has been turned upside down.

Business models that traditionally relied on face-to-face in-the-room interaction have had to rapidly go virtual.

Many of our customers - often the majority - have become understandably more cautious about making major new investments - whilst others (often a minority, but an important one) have seen opportunity in the disruption and have accelerated their adoption of new approaches.

However 2021 turns out in practice, the future world of B2B selling will have irreversibly changed. A Darwinian “survival of the fittest” is already underway at both the organisational and individual level, and the ability to adapt and evolve to changing circumstances is going to be a critical success factor.

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Creating collective value through customised value

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 11-Dec-2020

I recently made what I hope was a compelling case for creating a customer-specific unique value story for every significant customer opportunity.

I now want to turn my attention to a critical complement to every such value story: making explicit connections between collective organisational and customised stakeholder value.

This involves creating an “umbrella” value story that explains why it is in the organisation’s interest to act and aligning this overall story with more tailored value stories for each of the key interested parties.

In this way, we can clearly articulate “what’s in it for you?” for the whole organisation, for key functions and for key stakeholders - and establish the essential connections between them.

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Why do so many trials end up as tribulations?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 7-Dec-2020

I want to give Dave Kurlan of Objective Management Group the credit for stimulating this article. I’ve added a link to his original piece below.

Whilst trials have become an accepted and effective way of selling consumer or personal productivity software tools, many vendors suffer a far lower conversion rate in Enterprise environments.

Whether you think of them as trials, pilots or proofs of concept, these evaluations need to be managed far more carefully for complex software solutions if they are not end up as a frustrating and unsuccessful tyre kicking exercise.

As with so many other aspects of complex B2B sales, failing to prepare and plan typically means that you are effectively planning to fail...

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What’s your customer’s unique value story?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 10-Nov-2020

Generic value propositions, although they might be of some use in persuading potential prospects to make initial contact with you as a potential vendor, aren’t very helpful when it comes to setting your customer’s expectations about the specific value that they will derive from implementing your proposed solution.

Each customer’s circumstances are different, and your value narrative needs to be tailored to their specific situation - and their particular priorities. It also needs to do more than simply communicate the value of your proposed solution - it must also answer the customer’s three critical questions whenever they evaluate any significant investment:

  • Why do they need to change at all, rather than stick with the status quo?
  • Why should they choose you, rather than any of their other options?
  • Why do they need to act now, rather than later?

If any of these questions are incomplete or unsatisfactory, the chances are that your potential customer will at best delay their decision and may abandon the project altogether. And yet far too many sales proposals still focus on answering the second question (“why us?”) while ignoring the first question and paying lip service at best to the third.

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Your customers don’t care about your so-called “solutions”

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 3-Nov-2020

Everywhere you look, sales organisations of all descriptions are promoting their so-called “solutions”. It’s become such an overused term that for years the UK’s Private Eye magazine published a fortnightly column satirising the most amusingly egregious misuses of the word.

Hopefully neither you nor any of the companies you have been involved with achieved your two weeks of fame by being featured in this way. Because it is my fervent belief that your potential customers don’t care for - and aren’t looking for - generic solutions.

I contend that a solution cannot exist in isolation from a clearly defined problem that a customer is determined to address. But a cursory review of sales and marketing literature shows that many of these mismarketed “solutions” are no more than another way of labelling a set of products or services, with no reference or relevance to an underlying problem or opportunity.

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A brief history of sales opportunity qualification

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 27-Oct-2020

The quality and accuracy of opportunity qualification is widely acknowledged to be a key predictor of future sales success - and a critical differentiator between the best salespeople and the rest.

Today’s top salespeople have too much respect for their own time to waste it on “opportunities” they have little or no chance of closing - while their less-effective colleagues often appear to hold on to dead or dying opportunities like a shipwrecked sailor clinging on to a piece of driftwood.

When we analyse relative sales performance, the benefits are obvious: the additional time and effort that top salespeople invest in qualification is more than repaid in terms, shorter sales cycles, greater average deal values and higher win rates.

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Why it’s time to focus on outcomes

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 21-Oct-2020

Note: This article has been adapted from the latest fully revised and updated version of my “Introduction to Outcome Centric Selling” - you can download the full document here.

Complex B2B buying journeys are inevitably complicated. Your customer’s decision process is rarely straightforward or linear. Multiple stakeholders are involved, often with widely different perspectives and priorities. Without strong internal project sponsorship, consensus is unlikely and without consensus, action is unlikely.

These challenges have been compounded by the current coronavirus epidemic. And yet despite all this, a significant number of customers are still investing in new projects, but only when these investments satisfy three key criteria: the project must be strategically relevant, tactically urgent and be capable of delivering rapid time-to-value.

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