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The Outcome-Centric Selling Blog

Avoiding the Value-Added Trap

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 5-Nov-2019

An earlier version of this article was first published in the November 2019 edition of Top Sales Magazine.

Every sales organisation likes to believe that what they are selling is valuable. But there are many interpretations and definitions of what value really means. In practice, of course, the customer’s opinion is the only one that really matters.

One of the most common claims made by salespeople, the sales organisations they work for and the marketing departments responsible for positioning their company is that they offer “value-added” solutions, or that they have a “unique value proposition”.

Companies can sometimes get away with these claims in B2C or simple B2B environments.

But in complex B2B sales environments, this “value-added” language often turns out to be a smokescreen for trying to persuade customers that they require more functionality than they really need and as a justification for paying more for the proposed “solution” as a result...

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Assumptions kill opportunities

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 1-Nov-2019

I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on a number of QBRs with my clients, and as an outside observer I’m struck by how common it is for salespeople to make untested assumptions that directly affect the accuracy of their sales forecasts and the outcomes of their sales opportunities.

It’s all-too-easy for salespeople - particularly if they have relentlessly positive personalities - to fall into the assumption trap, and to confuse hope with evidence. It’s easy to project past experiences onto current situations, and to assume that they will lead to the same results.

And it’s all too easy (to draw upon one of my recent articles) for salespeople to succumb to avoidable errors of ignorance or application. The conclusion is clear: assumptions kill opportunities. So how can sales leaders create an environment that avoids these mistakes?

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The why, how, what and who of sales checklists

Posted by Bob Apollo on Wed 30-Oct-2019

When Harvard Medical School Professor (and BBC Reith Lecturer) Atul Gawande published his “Checklist Manifesto” nearly 10 years ago, it soon became apparent that the application of simple checklists - which have transformed patient outcomes in healthcare systems around the world in recent years - had implications far beyond the world of medicine or aviation.

There are many parallels between the worlds of medicine and sales, not least of which the idea that both surgeons and salespeople often tend to have a very high regard for their personal capabilities and a natural distaste for working within what they see as over-rigid systems that prevent them from practising their craft.

Checklists have been recognised as essential contributors to aviation safety for decades. But it turns out that the disciplined application of checklists in sales and medicine also have profound benefits for everyone concerned - for both the practitioners and the patients (or customers in a sales environment) ...

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Sales perfection is impossible!

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 24-Oct-2019

There are so many potential variables and unknowns in any complex B2B sales environment that the idea of running a completely perfect sales campaign feels like an impossible dream (or more accurately a hallucination).

That’s why rigid sales scripts, standard sales presentations and canned product demonstrations are largely ineffective in convincing the modern prospect to move forward with you - they expect more than that from you.

But it is entirely possible - and I would argue, very necessary - to focus on avoiding predictable and preventable errors when pursuing a sales opportunity...

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Please tell me something I don’t already know

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 21-Oct-2019

Corporate Visions recently hosted a webinar on how to gain access to business executives. Their findings were based on a series of realistic simulations intended to identify which messages senior business executives were most likely to respond to (there’s a link to their conclusions at the bottom of this article).

Their research compared the impact of a range of different messaging approaches, including product value, ROI, provocative insight and competitive benchmark-led models in an environment where the vendor was vaguely familiar but not particularly well-known to the prospective customer executive.

I’ll leave you to review the detailed conclusions, but for me the most profound take-away was the idea that when considering whether to invest their time busy executives need to believe that, by taking the proposed call or meeting, they will learn something they don’t already know...

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The most important thing a proposal needs to sell

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 10-Oct-2019

When your salespeople submit a proposal, it should always represent the natural culmination of a series of value creating conversations with their potential customer.

The contents should not come as a surprise. The recommendations should reflect an already established set of agreements with the key stakeholders. So why are so many sales proposals so ineffective?

One of the obvious reasons is that they were submitted as a blind response to an unexpected RFP and did not actually reflect any meaningful dialogue with the prospect (I’ve explained why this is so unproductive here).

But a less obvious but unfortunately all-too-common explanation is that the proposal has failed to sell the thing that is almost always most important to the ultimate decision-makers...

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Selling against the status quo

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 8-Oct-2019

You’re probably all too well aware of the statistic that the majority of apparently well-qualified complex B2B buying journeys end with the potential customer either deciding to do nothing or to change nothing.

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RFPs: how to avoid being column fodder

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 24-Sep-2019

The term “cannon fodder” is used as a somewhat dismissive description for soldiers who were regarded by their generals as expendable and were forced to fight against often hopeless odds in order to achieve an often-unrealistic military goal. First used in the 19th century, the term came to exemplify the trench warfare of the First World War.

You might think that no well-informed, rational soldier would willingly volunteer for such duties. Yet many salespeople find themselves in somewhat similar although less terminal situations, fighting against hopeless odds in a struggle they are predestined to lose.

After licking their wounds, some are even crazy enough to return to the same unfriendly battleground time and time again. I am, of course, referring to the situation in which these “column fodder” salespeople choose to respond to unexpected RFPs in the typically unjustifiable hope they may somehow get lucky and win.

But to mix military and sporting metaphors, they are hardly playing on a level playing field. Another vendor is often already in pole position (“Column A”) and all the other hapless bidders (in all the other columns) are often only there to make up the numbers or satisfy a procedural purchasing requirement…

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Helping your customer make sense of complexity

Posted by Bob Apollo on Tue 3-Sep-2019

Making a buying decision has never been more complicated. Your customers have access to an overwhelming amount of information - often inconsistent, and frequently false or incomplete. They seek consensus when making buying decisions - but have to somehow align a growing number of stakeholders with often conflicting priorities.

And they have to navigate an increasingly complex and non-linear buying journey that often twists and turns and is as capable of going sideways or backwards as it is going forwards in response to new information, new circumstances or the involvement of new members of the decision group.

Faced with this complexity, we shouldn’t be surprised that sales cycles are lengthening, that win rates are declining or that the most common outcome of even an apparently well qualified sales opportunity is for the customer to decide that their easiest path is to simply stick with the status quo, after all...

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How likely is your customer to take action?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Mon 8-Jul-2019

One of the most significant mistakes any sales person can make is to assume that their prospective customer is inevitably going to buy something, and that the only remaining questions are what, when, and who from.

Some purchases are admittedly inevitable - for example when an organisation needs to guarantee a source of raw materials for an essential process. But the vast majority of business purchases are discretionary in some way or another.

It’s no wonder that - according to a wide range of research - the most common outcome of a potential B2B buying exercise is actually a decision to “do nothing” and to stick with the status quo.

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