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The Inflexion-Point Blog: VALUE SELLING STRATEGIES

Targeting your most valuable sales opportunities

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 27-Sep-2018

Many B2B sales and marketing organisations have an unfortunate habit of wasting huge amounts of time and energy pursuing "prospects" that are unlikely to ever become valuable customers, often because there is no common company-wide consensus about which opportunities everybody should be prioritising.

Allowing your organisation to treat every inbound opportunity equally - or encouraging them to respond to every RFP you receive - is agross misuse of valuable resources.

That's why defining, identifying and pro-actively targeting your most valuable opportunities is the essential foundation of any successful value selling initiative. These opportunities must satisfy three critical criteria: they must have the potential to buy something that you are offering, they must be willing to buy from your organisation, and the effort required to win their business must be worth it.

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14 critical activities every sales person needs to master

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 27-Jun-2018

Whenever we attempt break down the key success factors in managing complex B2B sales opportunities, it soon becomes apparent that there are a number of critical activities that need to be mastered between the first contact with a potential customer and the conclusion of a successful sale.

And when we go on to compare the differences between our top sales people and their less-effective colleagues, it is usually equally obvious that the competence and skill with which they perform these critical activities has a profound impact on their outcomes.

Over many years, and following dozens of sales effectiveness assignments, I’ve identified 14 critical factors that seem to have a consistently important impact on sales success. I wonder how my experiences compare with yours?

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Our prospects are qualifying us, too...

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 21-Jun-2018

Just as the discovery process is best thought of (and most effective) as a two-way exercise, so is the closely-related opportunity qualification process. We can think of qualification as one of the key outcomes of an effective discovery process.

Many sales people tend to behave as if qualification is something they do to rather than with a prospective customer, but we need to recognise that our prospect is also trying to qualify both the nature and seriousness of their problem and our credibility as a potential solution provider.

Just as top sales people have too much respect for their own time to waste it chasing poorly qualified “opportunities” that are either never likely to close or never likely to buy from us, our most valuable potential customers are also trying to qualify whether the problem is worth bothering about and whether we are a credible source of the necessary expertise.

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12 key sales qualifiers

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 10-May-2018

Early, accurate qualification is critical to success in complex B2B sales. It allows us to identify the opportunities that we have a real chance of winning, and it allows us to quickly eliminate poorly qualified deals from our pipeline.

In my experience (and hopefully yours as well), one of the key factors that separates top performing sales people from the rest is that they have too much respect for their own time to waste it pursuing opportunities they are never likely to win.

They qualify hard, and they qualify early, while their less confident colleagues cling on to prospects that by any rational analysis are never likely to close - and waste a huge amount of their time (and that of their colleagues) in the process.

For years, the default mechanism for qualifying sales opportunities was BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe) - but it is now so inadequate and inappropriate that I shudder when I hear of sales teams that are still using it. Here’s why...

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Self-awareness and self-honesty in complex B2B sales

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 10-Jan-2018

Other than an appropriate level of product knowledge, what are the key attributes of a good B2B sales person? Interpersonal skills? Emotional intelligence? Business expertise? Curiosity? The ability to build rapport?

These are all critically important to modern B2B sales. I can’t imagine hiring anyone into a new sales role that didn’t exhibit these attributes to some degree or another, together with a commitment to continued self-improvement and personal development.

Hopefully, you feel the same way. But I want to highlight another couple of attributes that seem to me to be of central importance.

They are self-awareness coupled with self-honesty, and it’s hard to demonstrate one without the other. We don’t want our sales people fooling either themselves or us. But it’s not just a matter of encouraging these virtues. As sales leaders, we need to ensure that we do not unknowingly or unthinkingly suppress them…

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Why having a budget isn’t always a positive qualifier …

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 28-Nov-2017

John Holland of CustomerCentric Selling® makes an interesting point in a blog article. Many sales people who have been brought up on an over-literal interpretation of BANT may believe that the absence of a budget for a project should be a reason to disqualify an opportunity.

This may be valid in simple transactional sales, but in complex high-value discretionary B2B purchases our interpretation of the apparent presence or absence of a budget needs to be much more nuanced. Firstly, it’s important to distinguish between a project-specific formal budget and a source of funds that can be reallocated from other priorities.

As John points out, if there is no clear source of funding, it’s almost certainly a sign that we are operating at too low a level and that our current contact does not have the authority or ability to act as a power sponsor. If a project is important enough, a power sponsor will always be able to find the money (by shifting it from another pot).

Counter-intuitively, if a project-specific project budget does already exist, it may be a sign (and a warning) that another vendor is already making the running, and that they may have set the prospect’s expectations not just in terms of cost, but also functionality.

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Are your sales people hitting the accelerator too hard?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 8-Aug-2017

There’s abundant evidence to show that when sales people rush the all-important discovery stage of a complex B2B sale they store up a bunch of problems for the latter stages of the sales cycle - and often find that that the deal ends up stalling or (to continue the motoring metaphor) that they spin off the road long before reaching the finish line of a successful sale.

It's clear that the old adage “more haste, less speed” applies just as strongly to selling as it does to many other aspects of our lives. When we look at what experienced, effective sales people do differently to their less productive peers, we see that they tend to move more deliberately and slowly during the early stages of the sale, and invest more time in deeply understanding the dynamics of the deal.

This has been borne out by a series of analytic assessments of sales performance: all other things being equal, a deliberate and thoughtful approach to discovery allows effective sales people to identify and eliminate poorly qualified opportunities early in the process, and to create the foundation for swifter progress through the remaining stages of well-qualified deals.

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Is your prime customer contact a budget maker, shaper, taker or faker?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 28-Jun-2017

Note: I updated this article after first publication to acknowledge the existence of "budget fakers" in addition to budget makers, shapers and takers.

Most sales methodologies stress the importance of identifying whether a budget exists, and a naïve interpretation of the BANT qualification framework [Budget, Authority, Need, Timeframe] might imply that unless a current and adequate budget exists, it’s not worth trying to sell the prospect anything.

This is, of course, a silly and narrow-minded perspective if you aspire to do anything more than take orders against already well-defined and formally funded needs. Many complex B2B sales come to a successful conclusion even though there was no formal budget at the initial point of contact.

If the problem is critical enough or the opportunity attractive enough, if the issue is urgent enough and if the problem owner is powerful and influential enough, budget will be found. But there are relatively few people with the power to conjure money out of thin air.

That’s why it’s so important that we assess whether our current prime contact is a budget maker, a budget shaper, a budget taker or (least staisfactory of all) a budget faker…

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ADOPTED: a far better way to qualify complex sales opportunities

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 17-Aug-2016

One of the fundamental capabilities that distinguish top sales people - and top sales organisations - from the rest is their ability to accurately qualify sales opportunities from a relatively early stage in the sales process.

Effective qualification is important in any sales environment, but it’s absolutely critical in high-value complex sales situations with multiple stakeholders, where man-months of precious resource can easily be wasted pursuing opportunities that were never likely to buy anything or if they did, were never likely to buy from us.

Traditional approaches to sales qualification - like the over-simple BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe) are utterly inadequate to reflect the dynamics of today’s complex sales opportunities. Fortunately, there are far better ways of dealing with the issue…

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Weeding out weak opportunities (and improving sales forecast accuracy)

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 10-Aug-2016

How can B2B sales people (and the sales organisations they work for) identify and engage the prospects that are most likely to buy from them?

In even the most successful B2B sales organisations there is always a significant fall-off between the number of qualified sales opportunities that enter the top of the sales funnel and the number that eventually emerge as customers.

In less effective sales organisations this fall-off from top to bottom of funnel is significantly higher - and often happens later in the sales cycle, compounded by the number of “zombie deals” that have somehow managed to remain in the sales pipeline despite showing no recent signs of life.

If we’re destined to lose, then we had better lose early - before we have invested significant resources in pursuing a set of opportunities that are never likely to buy from us. But that takes discipline, and a determination to ruthlessly weed out weak opportunities...

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