The Future of B2B Selling is Contextualised Technologies

As Morpheus said in The Matrix, “I imagine that right now, you're feeling a bit like Alice. Hmm? Tumbling down the rabbit hole?” Technology is redefining the way B2B buyers and B2B sellers engage before physical world conversations take place. The allure of ‘Social Selling’ is compelling and the necessity undeniable for using platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter. Yet the laws and algorithms that drive the dynamics of loosely connected social platforms are a mystery to almost all of us; and our ignorance makes the productive use of social platforms for attraction tactics in strategic B2B selling a difficult proposition – it’s not easy to create cut-through and strategic connection amidst all the noise.

Social Selling is powerful for B2C and advancements and also relevant for B2B in low margin commoditized environments to drive down costs and also for projecting communication via digital channels. But ‘Social Selling’ is a misnomer in complex solution selling, and we should instead think ‘Social Engagement’. LinkedIn is not a Social Selling platform, it’s a social community engagement platform, human resourcing database, and research and publishing platform. The power of LinkedIn is unprecedented and treating it as an online CV is professional negligence. We must instead create strong personal brands online and we must position as experts delivering exceptional value and insight to attract interest and earn conversations.

Our value in social platforms is therefore defined by our insights, relevance and connectedness. Make no mistake; the fundamental laws of relationship and strategic selling are timeless. For example; people buy from those they like and trust. What is changing however is the ways in which we can create trusted personal brands, extend our market reach, leverage networks, research buyers and engineer introductions. The smartest recognize that the power is not in the platform but in their ability to engage the right network in the right way with high value content. Retweeting and rehashing isn’t enough.

There is a new era upon us and it’s the 4th Industrial Revolution. Those who can execute the timeless laws of selling to create value, leveraging big data, AI, social platforms and mobile apps will reign supreme. There are algorithms that can be leveraged: As an example; LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ are separate and they categorize and rank content in different ways. Yet, I believe it’s possible to make 1 + 1 = 7 if the synergies can be unlocked via networked intelligence.

The brave new world upon us can be summed up in one ephemeral word: context. Engaging with the right stakeholders, at the exact place, in the precise moment in time to help them buy... you. If you like this post, please click the thumbs-up icon under the heading to let me know.

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Only The Customer is Qualified To Define Value

The market determines price and only the customer is qualified to assess value for money. Everything we sell must help customers improve revenue and/or margins; or reduce cost, time or effort; or reduce their serious risk.

The basic equation for value is: Business Value = Benefit minus Cost and this is why it’s so important to ensure all ‘benefits’ are expressed in monetized form wherever possible. Yes it’s true that not all benefits save or make money for our customer. As examples; less stress or risk, improved productivity, less risk in non-critical areas… all of these can be difficult to justify in financial terms. But the language of business is nevertheless numbers, not words, so always ask yourself: How does this benefit drop to their bottom line or improve their balance sheet.

But more sophisticated buyers seek Value For Money (VFM) and beyond Return On Investment (ROI) or Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), they usually have a weighted selection criteria to determine whether a solution is Fit For Purpose (FFP) and from the Lowest Risk Profile supplier.

Think about this formula as you engage with customers who make comparative decisions, contrasting you with your competition. It is essential that we meet the exact requirements and also be perceived as representing the lowest risk. These two factors are then weighed against the total cost of ownership but take the effort to really understand how they assess this internally; don't make assumptions.

All of your assertions concerning value and risk need to be considered from the customer’s point of view… after all, the market determines the price and only the customer is qualified to call something a solution and determine the value to their business.

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Law of Delegation Magnified By Social

We are delegated down to people we sound like. This is an immutable law of selling and if we are to engage at the highest levels we must talk the language of leaders and business owners: Financial outcomes and managing risk; then underpinned by numbers, percentages and metrics for key result areas (KRAs). But B2B sellers in today’s are often delegated or blocked before they can even utter a single word to their prospect. This is because most buyers research, just as sellers do, before deciding to engage.

Imagine you’ve reached-out to a senior executive, you’ve got your value insight all ready to go… rehearsed, punchy, compelling. You call and reach the Executive Assistant or voicemail. What happens when your potential customer or their gatekeeper checks you out on LinkedIn? Hmm… salesperson. All quiet on the eastern front or if you do get a response: “She doesn’t have time to meet you but you can contact Seymour in the basement who will be happy to evaluate whatever it is you're trying to sell us.” The problem gets worse if you approach prospects through social, even using ‘warm introductions’ from your LinkedIn network. Click, click… salesperson, no thanks.

Websites can present attractive facades but LinkedIn creates transparency. Forget trying to project a persona because LinkedIn and social platforms create transparency at every level. You’re selling naked, not just in your network but in your ability to deliver insights and business value. You must be the real deal. You must be the person worthy of the success you seek… no gimmicks, no pretending, no shortcuts. How will you build your personal brand through what Koka Sexton calls Social Proximity? How will you become a thought leader? What is your publishing strategy?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

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Re-gift Some Prospects To Competitors

Come on, admit it – you’re guilty of re-gifting and it haunts you every time you see the person who gave you the gift you secretly rejected. But what if the concept of re-gifting could be applied to strategically improve your sales performance and without any regret? Here is why I think you should consider giving some of your ‘prospects’ to the competition.

Time is the most important resource in sales. Our use of time, more than the number of available prospects in the market, is what constrains performance. The amount of effort required for winning small and more difficult deals is not that much different than the time and effort required in winning larger opportunities when there is value alignment. I see sales people regularly wasting their precious time with ‘prospects’ that represent a low probability of becoming customers. The best thing you can do as a sales person is to intelligently, not lazily, ‘qualify out’ of low probability business so you can invest heavily in the opportunities worth pursing.

The most successful sales people target well and then qualify meticulously. They out-invest their competition on the deals they know they can win. These are the opportunities where you have access to the right relationship to influence and create best value in their eyes, where you can discover and also influence their evaluation and procurement processes. And most importantly, where you can engineer a winning strategy.

How do you decide which prospects to re-gift to your competitors this Christmas? It’s simple – don’t become stuck or delegated down to people who exhibit these traits: They don't know what’s gong on in terms of timing, decision criteria and process. They are disconnected from real power. They endlessly ask for more information. They deny you access to senior stakeholders and decision-makers. They cannot explain the business case. They have no interest in discussing risk. They cannot articulate what the project or initiative needs to deliver in terms of business outcomes.

Be gracious as you cast your unsuitable prospects adrift as part of a deliberate strategy to treasure the time and resources of your organization. Wish them all the very best – it’s a small world and there is every chance they’ll be back if you do it right. Yes, you may also choose to move them into the lead nurture program run by marketing.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

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LinkedIn Centers Key To Outbound Success

Strategic selling is fundamentally defined by the seller targeting the buyer and proactively engaging to create value and set the agenda. Before LinkedIn we would rent databases and engage telemarketers to call and set appointments to build our pipeline. But cold-calling yields have been relentlessly trending down and currently have a success rate below 3%. This is because databases tend to be poor and phones are screened by either voicemail or Executive Assistants.

On the other hand, LinkedIn provides accurate contact information and context for targeting people who make decisions. LinkedIn is the world’s most powerful database for B2B selling with approximately 75% of professionals having LinkedIn accounts in the USA and more than 90% in Australia. These people are motivated to keep their profile up-to-date and accurate because it’s about "personal brand" and credentials. LinkedIn is the database-of-record from heaven for those who want to sell like hell. And Sales Navigator from LinkedIn is a massively powerful tool for both marketing and sales.

Call centers still have a role but if you’re in the world of B2B solution selling (yes solution selling is still very relevant and Challenger works with, rather than replaces it) you need to be making your own connection with the senior executives you are selling to. You need to build relationships and initiate physical world contact after strategically positioning yourself in their network.

Every business should invest in building a LinkedIn Center where sales and marketing come together to create highly targeted campaigns that build communities, engage stakeholders, create conversations and position sales leaders as credible partners. Here is my post/blog on how to do create your LinkedIn Center.

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YOU are the reason they don't care or engage

The Challenger Sale is essential reading for everyone in B2B complex solution selling. In the spirit of what Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson teach, here is my proactive insight for those struggling to create momentum and deliver results. 

You are the reason potential customers don't care.

It's not your company’s crap marketing, poor brand, average products and services, tough market conditions, aggressive competitors, or even the lack of leads you receive, nor is it the fault of your boss who won’t help you or your stupid customers who just don't ‘get it’.

Look in the mirror to see the real problem… it’s you, but you are also ‘the opportunity’ to transform results.

Give yourself a wake-up call, an uppercut, a kick to the groin. Snap out of your apathy and get pissed-off with yourself. Do what it [ethically] takes rather that your inadequate ‘best.’

Success leaves clues so learn the numbers for your industry: How many calls? How many meetings? How many proposals? How many people telling you no for you to then get to a yes? Who do you need to get into the customer organization? What does the conversation need to be about? What business problem are you solving? What’s the business case for implementing your solution? What's their process for making a decision and buying from you?

Become a student of success and accept the reality that your results will not change until you do. Some say 75% of success is determined by optimism. Others say that competence and work ethic is the key. For larger complex selling your ability to create value is important. But here are the four key ingredients for success in any sales role: knowledge, attitude, skill and activity. All four of these must be in play at all times.

You’re the reason they don't buy because you talk about you, your company and your product; rather than them, their industry, their customers, their challenges and opportunities. Your customers care about themselves and they are only interested in talking with you if you can grab their attention and then sustain their interest by being obsessed about them and their world.

Self awareness, accepting responsibility, generosity of spirit and being grateful are keys to a happy and successful life. If you like this post, please click the thumbs-up icon under the heading to let me know.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

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Are Sex and Selling Dirty?

Someone once said to me, “sex is really dirty... but only if it’s done right.” But selling should never be dirty – no lying, no cheating, no duping others in any way. Selling can and should be done with absolute integrity. Values based selling, not to be confused with ‘value selling’ (business case selling), is an essential foundation on which every successful career is built. Our integrity and the strong personal brand that ensues is our most precious asset in professional selling.

But great sex and great selling do have one thing in common. It’s all about giving yourself to the other person; meeting their needs before your own. Zig Ziglar once said: “You can have everything you want if you can help enough people get what they want”…now the sex metaphor is getting a little weird and I’m quoting Zig out of context; he was a monogamous committed Christian.

Never go negative and never throw mud at a competitor. Most importantly, avoid any form of caustic criticism on social media as it leaves a permanent digital imprint that irreparably damages your reputation. Although dirty or negative tactics should be avoided, cunning orchestration is encouraged with thoughtful planning and stealthy execution (no, we're not talking about sex again). All great enterprise sales people are plotters and schemers. Their modus operandi is one of asking insightful questions and listening, careful planning, strategy, validating intelligence and masterful execution. They know the maxim that you don’t learn anything while you're talking. They also don't care who gets the credit so long as they achieve the objective.

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Questions in Selling: Rackham Has Everything You Need

Everything you need to know about using questions in selling can be found in Professor Neil Rackham’s timeless book, SPIN Selling™. His work stands today as the only time in history that University PhD grade research was conducted to analyse how business-to-business (B2B) sales people interact with prospects and customers in the field. In the 1980s they observed 35,000 sales calls done by 10,000 sales people in 23 countries over 12 years and employed 40 researchers. The body of work was peer reviewed and validated. Nothing before or since comes even close to matching the level of transparency and integrity in the research data and findings.

The undertaking was massive and resulted in a selling framework that Huthwaite took to market before being acquired recently by Miller Heiman who are now the largest B2B sales training organization globally. When the research was originally conducted, people thought that the key to sales success was asking open questions rather than closed questions; but the study surprised everyone when they found this not to be the case. Instead, there were four types of questions employed by sales people and it remains the case today. The first type of question sales people use are Situation questions (fact-finding or discovery). The second type are Problem questions. The third type are Implication questions (exploring and deepening the pain). The fourth type are value or benefit questions but that would have created an acronym of SPIV or SPIB. They decided to go with the acronym of SPIN with the N standing for ‘Needs payoff’.

Neil Rackham remains a luminary in the field of professional selling today and SPIN is an evergreen framework for driving sales conversations with prospective customers. Even Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson who wrote The Challenger Sale invited Neil to write the foreword and also contribute within the body of the book (page 82). Here is the SPIN model with some annotation by me in red.

If you need a framework for helping your team have better conversations in the field, I suggest you combine insight selling or Challenger (Corporate Executive Board) concepts with SPIN. Lead with insight to earn the right to ask questions and then use the SPIN framework to structure the conversation. Importantly, don't jump from S to N which is a common mistake made by many salespeople. Leading sales people take the best from various methodologies and create a ‘mash-up’ that they combine with digital and physical selling techniques. It’s not about old school solution, value or insight selling versus new school Social Selling 3.0… it’s combining them all together that creates amazing results.

If you want SPIN selling training, contact Miller Heiman / Huthwaite. Don't deal with people who steal or imitate their IP or have inferior question based approaches. To Neil, thanks for your personal support with my own book and for all you continue to do in professional selling, including your tireless work in making selling a profession recognized through university qualifications.

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The 6 Sins of B2B Social Selling

1. Narcissism and selfishness: Let your content attract people without you pushing or selling. Be a person of goodwill who generously promotes others. Talk about yourself only when you’re providing examples within a quality piece of content. Find kindred spirits online and help build their brand. The law of reciprocity works big-time in social but don't give to get.

2. Acid-washing: Good manners are an important part of all social interaction, including on-line. Being caustic through sarcasm or negativity paints you in a very poor light. If you don't have something positive to say to an individual, don't say anything at all. Click away.

3. Blog-bombing: If someone takes the effort to create a post or blog to contribute to the community or conversation, you should never promote your own competitive products and insert links to your website. This is the behaviour of a blood sucking parasite… think leach.

4. Faking it: Never pay for fake fans or likes. By all means use tools to help you schedule posts and manage social platforms but earn your followers organically.

5. Stealing content: Plagiarism is theft, plain and simple. Acknowledge others any time you knowingly use their ideas or intellectual property. Be original or attribute the source.

6. Spamming followers: Respect people’s time and focus on providing quality insights. Don't post junk and don't push sales messages at people. Pushing high volumes of self-serving content simply alienates people and they turn-off. Less really is more. Leverage the law of attraction.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

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CRM Hijacks Customer Experience Strategy

Customer Relationship Management needs to be a strategy that’s focused on creating the best possible customer experience, supported by well defined processes that are enabled by technology and with everything being driven by managers and staff committed to a customer-centric culture.

In the last few days I have been facilitating focus groups for a research study in Australia being conducted by The Eventful Group who are running a big CRM conference in Melbourne in July 2015. So far we’ve done half-day workshops in three cities with approximately 80 people ranging from senior business leaders to IT system managers. We asked the participants what they believed the biggest challenges and burning issues are in Customer Experience, and we deliberately avoided steering the conversation toward CRM software.

But CRM software quickly emerged as a burning issue and I made the comment that some research states 70% of CRM software implementations fail. I asked for a show of hands: “Who here regards their CRM software implementation a success?” On average, less than 25% and in Brisbane it was approximately 15%. Understand that I am a strong advocate for CRM software and I believe it’s an essential technology for every organization. I was, after all, the Managing Director for a global CRM vendor in Australia before leaving the corporate world in September 2012 to start my RSVPselling consulting business and career as a keynote speaker.

But here is the epiphany I had in working with these focus groups and capturing their issues and insights: Customer Relationship Management has been hijacked by software technology.

A common theme with delegates in these research groups was that they never ask for funding for CRM because ‘CRM as a dirty word’. This is because of the reputation that software projects have for being difficult, expensive and failing to deliver the desired business outcomes. Instead they talk about ‘customer experience’ initiatives and CRM is merely one piece of the puzzle (marketing automation, portals, mobility, social, etc.). There will be a research paper released early next year by The Eventful Group and I’ll post details in advance but here are some of the strongest themes that emerged from delegates:

1. Ensure that your corporate mission and values are aligned with the philosophy of customer-centricity.

2. Create a ‘customer experience strategy’ before anything else and ensure all of the organization is committed to it. Change management and executive commitment are essential.

3. Design quality end-to-end customer experiences focused on processes incorporating the entire customer life-cycle as they engage with marketing, website, social, call center, inside sales and field sales, solution architects, services, implementation, on-boarding and training, support, renewals and upsell or upgrades.

4. Build tailored interfaces and processes for staff, partners and customers and provide relevant interfaces though any channel including web, mobile, call center, field sales or social.

5. Create the right KPIs and clarity in execution and management for every role in your team.

6. Technology should come last and must deliver tailored relevance to empower every interaction.

7. Automate everything possible to drive quality, consistency and efficiency.

Customer Relationship Management should be a strategy, and Customer Experience Management should be positioned above CRM as a technology.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

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How to Build Your LinkedIn Center. Social Selling 3.0

2015 will see the dawn of the rise of "LinkedIn Centers" to steadily replace traditional B2B marketing activities for demand generation and phone based telemarketing for lead generation (in-house or outsourced). Large enterprises are notoriously slow to move so sales people will need to drive this in partnership with sales management and marketing. I recommend building a ‘skunk-works’ team and begin to experiment if you want to lead and avoid being left behind in a Social 3.0 world.

Here is how it can work. Create an initial team of 5 of your best sales people. They must all possess these attributes: already a top performer, committed to building an online profile, tech-savvy, have gravitas and be able to write. Then create a highly targeted list of named accounts within your best verticals; be thorough in your profiling and know what an ideal prospective customer looks like based on customer win review analysis. The team moves into the same physical work area and each is provided with a license, TeamLinked together (LinkedIn's new interconnected referral molecule) and trained on LinkedIn Sales Navigator. This Social 3.0 hit-team campaigns on two fronts:

  1. Engaging LinkedIn communities where the target executives participate or monitor. They become part of the conversation building credibility and precious trust. No creepy stalking, disempowering selling or inappropriate spamming. Most importantly, no sales messages to links being posted to selling websites or marketing videos. They must never mention your company in these forums. The marketing team supports with resources to create research based insights that help earn conversations – in line with Challenger from CEB and ensure everyone involved has read the book and workshopped ideas and actions for creating the necessary insights and resources.

  2. Using LinkedIn as the engine room for trigger event selling by passively looking for Trigger Events. The book Shift, by Craig Elias and Tibor Shanto, is excellent so also ensure the team has read it and identified trigger events for the target customers and markets. The trigger events could be funding, promotion, started at a new company, expansion, etc. The Social 3.0 hit-team engages target prospects at exactly the right moment with personalized powerful relevance (think Selling to VITO by Tony Parinello) to grab attention and secure engagement. It could be via InMail or preferably an old-school letter in a hand-written plain envelope… how’s that for cut-through. The point here is that LinkedIn is perfect for monitoring and capturing trigger events and then engaging with context and credibility.

It is vitally important that the LinkedIn Center team has an embedded marketing resource with them and that they are all physically located together. This is so they can be coached by their manager who sits with them and they can all easily collaborate in each step of the funnel in the research and due diligence process itself. Instead of people on the phone doing outbound calls, the LinkedIn Center works together on LinkedIn engagement strategies, insight strategies and Challenger style provocations (CEB) using evidence-based research content to hook and engage.

All this could be tracked in CRM (Navigator syncs nicely with Salesforce and other CRMs) with custom dashboards for action management and KPI reporting. Automation tools such as Marketo could be fine-tuned by the team along with other front funnel products such as FRONTLINE Selling or Carburetor ( to tap into external lead generation sources be they phone or e-mail based engagement.

Social Selling 3.0 is about powerful mash-ups. In this case:

  • The right individuals with all of the [hard to find] key attributes including Social Selling Index (SSI) scores over 70, collaborating in a skunk-works team. - SSI can be tracked and bonused as a KPI.

  • Sales and marketing collaboration for profiling targets and creating research based insights

  • Insight and Challenger Selling concepts to create conversations in social platforms and communities

  • Trigger Event Selling for monitoring within LinkedIn to create pipeline

  • TeamLink based selling based on referrals driven through the 5-seat molecule which the new TeamLink analytics view shows. In essence, how are you connected via your team by 2nd and 3rd degree to any client prospect.

  • Selling To VITO concepts to grab their attention with old-school panache

  • Manage the complex sale with a meta-framework such as RSVPselling

  • Bring best of breed marketing, CRM and social

  • Sales people, marketing person and manager all sitting together in one open area

Right now, you may be thinking: This is a great theory but has anyone actually done this in the real world… does this actually work? The answer is yes and yes! I’m mentoring someone right now in executing this exact strategy (plus elements they don't want me to discuss right now for competitive advantage reasons) and they are achieving mind-blowing amazing things with less people but using Social Selling 3.0 as outlined here.

Could you dare to implement this within your organization? LinkedIn is the most powerful research, connection and engagement platform on the face of the planet for B2B selling. 2015 could be the year for a quantum shift in strategy, execution and results in your world.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

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Cultural Fit – The Toughest Element in Hiring Salespeople

There is massive latent brand risk in any employee who is a cultural misfit or emotionally disconnected from positive values. For this reason, one of the most expensive mistakes an organisation can make is to hire or retain misaligned staff – especially sales people who face stress and pressure constantly. It is important to manage this commercial risk by understanding that skills are easy to measure and evidence but values often live behind a facade of salesmanship.

Know what you’re looking for beneath the surface of a resume or LinkedIn profile and understand how to penetrate the persona being projected during an interview. It is very difficult to change someone’s personality or values, instead we should seek those who are aligned. Here are characteristics that the best leaders seek when hiring new people:

  1. Guided by solid moral values. They treat others as they wish to be treated and place the well-being of the corporation, team members and customers above personal interests. They never bully or undermine others through gossip, negative politics or passive-aggressive behaviour. They clearly understand what is right and wrong and have the courage to always act with integrity.

  2. Committed to being part of the team. They ensure everyone has a clear understanding of their role. They believe their personal value comes from the timely results they deliver and their positive influence; not from their position, knowledge or qualifications.

  3. Cares about quality in everything they do. They actively listen and ensure understanding before jumping to solutions. Proposals are well written and follow the brief or address the problems articulated. They proof-read everything, including e-mail, before sending.

  4. Driven to achieve results. They focus on what needs to happen daily to achieve outcomes and they treasure their time and respect the time of others. Although they have a bias toward action, they avoid the busy fool syndrome.

  5. Strategic thinker. They listen far more than they talk and they gather intelligence to create insight before making decisions. They consider the politics within an organisation and the various self-interests at play in complex decision-making.

  6. Focused on delivering value. They work intelligently but also know there is no substitute for a strong work ethic. They are committed to delivering tangible results with a focus on the customer’s business case and managing their risk.

Almost everything in this list is an attitude more than a skill. It begs the question: how do you hire for cultural fit and discover the truth about a person’s character? The psychometric tools that measure intelligence and identify dominant personality traits do not address the issues of values and attitudes. To minimise hiring risks it is essential to understand all the relevant factors, including how candidates think and operate. Sales people are especially adept at projecting a polished facade. When hiring sales people, focus on the following:

  • Past performance is an indication of likely future performance. Reject any candidate with a resume that fails to document consistent high performance against targets or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Be weary of people who claim to have achieved great things with past employers yet regularly move on within eighteen months.

  • Assess their LinkedIn and social selling profile for a focus on value and relevance along with a strong network. All this should be evidenced by the groups to which they belong, the posts they publish and the contributions they make to online discussions.

  • Explore their Social Proximity to you within LinkedIn and research them to either eliminate or validate in advance of an interview.

  • Use candidate skills, experience and qualifications to screen individuals out of the process and then obsessively focus on cultural fit with the remaining applicants. Dig deep using behavioural questions and push for real-world examples.

  • Ensure the candidate evidences claimed traits with examples of difficult situations they faced and the challenges they overcame. Ask them about their failures and what they specifically learned.

  • Ask them to define what strategic selling means to them and to provide examples of how they execute, both online and in the physical world.

  • Use reference checking early in the process, not as mere validation at the end. Most importantly, you select and request the referees you want to talk to and reject the ones proposed by the candidate.

How people sell and operate is incredibly important for every business as they represent the brand more than anything else. Hiring the wrong people is a massive mistake so never rush the process. If you have people in your team that you suspect need to be moved out, use my Rule of 24 to help make the decision.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

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The Ingredients For Successful Selling

The ability to sell is especially important in leadership and business because failure creates the most severe problem an enterprise can face – lack of revenue. Almost every commercial problem is manageable except terminally low revenue, and forced cost-cutting inevitably moves a business into negative momentum. Sales people are therefore essential in driving the health of most organizations by providing the revenue needed to employ those in manufacturing, logistics, services, support, finance and administration.

Success in professional selling is dependent on operating in viable markets and being able to offer uniquely differentiated value. There can be no success without these two mandatory elements. On this foundation the sales person can succeed only if they can build good relationships providing accurate understanding of the customer’s requirements and the competitive landscape. The next step is developing strategy for aligning with the political power-base, creating genuine customer value, and dealing with the competition. Finally, the sales person must understand and align to the customer’s selection and buying process.

Whether selling products, services or solutions, all professional sales people must be competent in developing and managing relationships. Beyond this however, the sales person’s value is defined by the level at which they operate. Relationship sellers usually regard themselves as responsive and service orientated but their behavior often manifests as ‘professional visitor’, often with ‘sir-lunch-a-lot’ entertainment expenses. At the low end of this category they are usually trapped in ineffective relationships and function as market messengers reactively responding to existing demand. Tactical sellers operate effectively in competing against the opposition and they are sometimes characterized as hunters or warriors. Transactional sales people, regardless of whether they have a relationship or tactical bias, are rarely strategic in how they operate.

Strategic sales people on the other hand are driven to create value for both customer and seller. They identify significant problems and opportunities, and engineer genuine business value by engaging early at the highest levels within an organization. Strategic sales people leverage strong relationships by aligning to winning agendas and political power. They ask insightful questions and avoid talking too much. Strategic sales people are best characterized as engineers, working with the customer to create a mutually beneficial bias in the requirements. They also ensure they have a balanced pipeline of medium sized short-term deals and large strategic opportunities.

The best sales professionals prioritize activities so as to be effective and avoid the busy fool syndrome by understanding the difference between what is urgent versus the truly important. They are tactically excellent in execution and strategically effective in their positioning and creation of differentiating value. Good strategy is always dependent upon positive relationships for execution. Understanding people and managing their unique needs is therefore essential for selling at the most basic level.

No strategy can succeed without competent execution and selling is a fundamental life skill for positively influencing others. Success demands that you pay attention and be fully engaged so in every meeting; decide to 'be there now, and somewhere else later'. Don’t allow your mind to leave a meeting while your body is present. The seller must be fully there and focused exclusively on the buyer’s needs and preferred method of communication. Be committed to being there for them and completely focused on their concerns, agendas, problems, and opportunities. Be masterful at building rapport, developing trust and gaining accurate understanding.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

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Your ‘Quota Crusher’ Profile Is Hurting You

Jill Rowley advises sales people to avoid the persona of a ‘quota crusher’ and Koka Sexton at LinkedIn says members should go “from resume to reputation” in their use of the powerful B2B social platform. Without doubt, many sales people are projecting the wrong image on LinkedIn by merely using it as their online CV. This is like using a Ferrari to deliver the mail… what a waste. The LinkedIn platform is most powerful when used for research, networking and to engage communities via LinkedIn groups.

Have a look at your LinkedIn profile through the eyes of a potential client. Is your photo professional and friendly? Do you describe what you do in terms of business outcomes delivered for customers? Do you have a credible network with plenty of recommendations and endorsements? Have you published a portfolio of quality thought leadership material? Are you active in the groups or communities that influence your industry?

Here’s how you need to think: You are the product and LinkedIn is the brochure about you. Is it compelling? Do you portray friendly gravitas, strong domain knowledge and customer-centricity?

Using LinkedIn to help secure another job is obvious but the real power is unlocked when you seriously build a personal brand, engage in relevant communities, begin to publish quality original content, and track social proximity and network to previously unimagined levels. But don't damage your brand or diminish the value of LinkedIn by inappropriate spamming, stalking or pitching at people. Respect those who allow you to connect.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

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6 Questions For Sales Qualification and Discovery

I ran a workshop yesterday for one of the best technology companies on the planet and we discussed how to best qualify a prospect. Most sales people are familiar with some of these qualification frameworks:

But qualifying is not just about eliminating time-wasters and nor should these be framed as clumsy closed questions. Just because some of the answers to qualification questions are negative, it doesn't necessarily mean 'walk away'. We should explore whether it makes sense to invest together with the prospective client because maybe we could help them build their business case or positively influence their requirements.

The best sales people blend qualification and discovery to build understanding, trust and to create progression.

No-one likes being 'qualified' by a sales person so we need to nuance our approach by asking open questions that uncover the truth concerning qualification elements. Here are my 6 open questions for digging deeper in a way that encourages the prospective client to engage with you to build trust and understanding:

  1. What happened inside your organisation that caused you to look at investing in this area?

  2. What's the business case for making the investment and changing the way things currently operate?

  3. Who's impacted internally and who needs to be on-board before you can go ahead?

  4. How is the project being funded and, beyond a budget, what sort of funding is already secured... is that enough for the whole project?

  5. Tell me about your timing and process for evaluating and then engaging the right supplier?

  6. When does this need to be implemented and delivering results... why is that date important and what happens if it slips?

These questions enable the seller to focus on how they can help deliver the necessary outcome and manage the buyer's risks. They lead to understanding about budget, decision authority, timing, and whether this decision is really a priority for the buying organisation.

The most important qualification factor is not any of the qualification questions, but instead whether the buyer will engage in a conversation that enables you to develop mutual understanding and trust.

25% of 'qualified' opportunities in CRM systems around the world are lost to client apathy / 'do nothing / the status-quo. Every sales person therefore needs to be able to answer the following three questions from their sales manager:

  1. Why will this customer buy anything at all?

  2. Why will this customer buy from us?

  3. What's our strategy to win and provide best value and lowest risk in the eyes of the buyer?

If the buyer seems intent on keeping you at arms-length and obsessively focuses on features, functions and price... then it's usually a safe bet to politely qualify out. Here are some links to other articles I've written that will also be of interest:

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image: Flickr: Brian Klug - Anonymous Captured

Six Things Politicians Can Learn From Sales

There is more to sustaining the support of the voting electorate than ‘bagging bin Laden’ or ‘shirt-fronting Putin’. Leadership is mercurial stuff and politicians have incredibly difficult jobs living their lives in a fish bowl with rock throwers and trolls everywhere. Worse than this, they face a mountain to climb every day concerning trust. People just don’t believe them because of the endless spin, broken promises, reannouncing old policies, and the disingenuous way in which they drive agendas (smiling and positive but with mud all over your hands).

President Obama is a master orator and his team leveraged social media like never before in creating real cut-through and momentum to rally those who were traditionally disengaged. But even if the American political system allowed for more than two terms, Obama would have almost no chance of securing a third. This is because he has a massive credibility problem – trust is lost when anyone fails to deliver or is perceived to be playing the public for fools.

In Australia, we have a new government in place following the most dysfunctional period of political rule in the country’s history. In 2007, Kevin Rudd won office but before his first term was over, his own party knifed him and installed his deputy, Julia Gillard. But Rudd remained in the background stirring the pot until he eventually had his day of revenge and engineered another ‘night of the long knives’ to overthrow a sitting Prime Minister for the second term in a row. Gillard was jettisoned and Rudd was resurrected in a desperate act by the party to limit losses. Incompetence, popularism and cannibalization were the hallmarks of this era in Australian Politics. The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd period was one where Australia went from having a massive surplus and huge ‘future fund’ war-chest to unprecedented levels of debt and out of control deficits.

Following the dysfunctional incumbent's implosion, the new government in Australia has been in power for less than a year and the honeymoon period is over. Their economic reforms are being blocked because they don't have the numbers in the upper house (senate). They have had success with stopping the tragic loss of life (>1,200 people) from people smugglers trafficking in ‘boat people’ but they’ve lost their way with how they’re communicating economic reform and are hoping that the Christmas break will help them get ‘back on message’.

Politicians can learn much from professional selling and here are some areas for them to consider:

  • Focus on the customer [citizens] rather than the competition [political opponents]. It may be entertaining but attacking the other side is a poor strategy. If you argue with an idiot, observers find it difficult to distinguish between the combatants. Listen to understand rather than for your chance to speak. Listening with empathy is the most powerful form of influence. Make it all about understanding and serving your customers [citizens].

  • Set a vision and agenda for an achievable future while solving problems and managing risk. Make the vision inspiring, and backed-up by competent execution. Avoid using fear as a weapon or to motivate because it loses its effectiveness very quickly.

  • Create emotional connection to every point you make. Rather than lead with information and logic, recognize that people buy emotionally and then rationalize with data. Lead with ‘why’ rather than with ‘what’ or ‘how’.

  • Positively differentiate with your values and by being transparent and straight-forward. Serve with purpose and make sure you are a ‘true believer’. If you have to change a policy or fail on a commitment, simply explain why, say sorry and be clear about what you will do next.

  • Deliver on promises with competence in execution. Strategy without good execution is fantasy. Policy without good execution is a one-term government. Be a person of integrity in all you do but if you cannot implement for whatever reason, then front-up and call it for what it is. Then you can move on.

  • Don't try to sell to those who will not buy. Focus efforts on those who can be swayed. Be gracious and polite to those who are committed to the competition but don't waste time there as it annoys them and frustrates you.

My vision and mission in what I do is to help selling be a profession of integrity and value; and I hope it comes through in my posts. Politics is a tough game with compromise being a constant reality, but it need not be a profession lacking integrity. We must all clearly define what we stand for and surround ourselves with positive people, each with a strong moral compass.

Call me crazy but imagine a world where we had 4 year fixed terms and all sides had to publish their ‘prospectus’ (vision, mission, values and specific policies, commitments and decision frameworks) 90 days before an election. Then after 3 years in power, an accounting firm conducts an audit and publishes the results against the prospectus – a balanced scorecard if you will across all the critical areas. Imagine the change this system could bring if politicians and union leaders were also subject to the same laws governing company directors; where fraud, corruption and misrepresentation resulted in going to jail.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Benson Kuo

Trust Is The Foundation Of Every Sale

Even in large complex selling, it’s individuals who actually make purchasing decisions and they care about value for money and assessing risk. But to even be considered on a short-list we must first earn trust through the way we engage and built on our evidenced credibility, genuine understanding and common values.

If we’ve successfully engaged early to set the agenda, helped build the business case, and influenced their selection criteria and process; then it will have been because of our ability to earn the trust of the customer. Make no mistake, our online reputation – corporation and individual – is critically important because professional buyers and executives do their research before a meeting.

If the lead has come to us, then the customer will be well advanced in their process (anywhere from 50% to 70% along the ‘buyer’s journey’) and our online presence and credentials will have been pivotal in being included on their list of potential solutions.

Whether we’ve arrived early to the dance or not, all the laws of strategic sellingstill apply. The sales person must invest time and energy in gaining, and then demonstrating, an understanding of the customer’s business. Anthony Iannarino describes this as ‘situational awareness’ and it includes becoming aware of their economic and market conditions, internal politics and power-base, problems and opportunities, and most importantly their biggest challenges with their customers. Failing to do the necessary homework before a meeting is a guaranteed way to fail in this regard.

So how do you build trust in a Social Selling 3.0 world where you need to blend online and physical world strategies and activities? It all begins with understanding how sophisticated buyers operate and this formula (informal or codified) is the basis on which they trust.

Trust = (Understanding + Shared Values) x (Capability + Reputation)

Here’s the insight concerning this formula: Most salespeople spend way too much time talking about, and seeking to evidence, capability and reputation. This is the obvious and easy thing to talk about because it’s the thing we know most about and what our marketing department has invested a fortune honing for us. But there is only one thing the customer cares about when it come to us… it is what we can do for them!

Evidencing capability and reputation is important but don’t waste airtime with clients on these topics. Instead use your LinkedIn profile, website and social media presence to tick that box. When you get to engage in a conversation with a customer, make it all about them by focusing on the front-end of the formula: genuine understanding of them, their needs, their constraints, their problems and opportunities, their culture and values.

The best sales professionals focus on gaining understanding and insight rather than pushing features and benefits. They frame what they have to say as thoughtful open questions. They are committed to working in the best interests of the customer and avoid trust-destroying rhetorical questions that are usually perceived as manipulative or redundant.

Plan every sales call and meeting. Lead with insight and strive to talk no more than one-third of the time when engaging with a senior executive. The reason this is so important is that we learn nothing while talking and listening is the most powerful form of influence. Listening and asking insightful open questions are the keys to gaining understanding and building trust in every situation, especially in selling, negotiation and conflict resolution situations.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Terry Johnston

Eight Secrets of Personal Success

Success is about being the person worthy of it (I think the guy in the middle of this picture looks to be the most worthy in the group) and here are eight principles that can make a huge difference in your life personally and professionally.

Expectation: Every act and creative outcome begins as a thought. Although bad luck can occur, we generally receive in life what we expect. Expectations placed on another person can be an enormously positive or destructive influence. Expect the very best of yourself and others, and learn the lessons in every disappointment or challenge.

Focus: We see what we look for. We become and realize what we think about, whether good or bad. Setting goals creates awareness of opportunities when they present themselves. Choose what you focus upon deliberately and wisely. Have written goals with visual representations for creating emotional connections to what you want.

Reciprocity: Also known as the law of attraction. Be the difference you seek – change yourself to change your world and results. If you want better friends you must first be a better friend. We attract what we radiate. Forgive others and don’t keep score. Jealousy, envy, bitterness and revenge all come back on us if we project these caustic emotions on to others. Work hard and be effective. Give and be generous with your time, energy and money. Be genuinely happy for others when they succeed.

Law of Diminishing Returns (Pareto Principle): 20% of activity yields 80% of the results. This immutable law was first articulated by Vilfredo Pareto and is often referred to as ‘the 80:20 rule’. It is to be observed by anyone seeking to operate efficiently and effectively. Where should you focus your time, energy and resources for the greatest return? Be courageous in cutting away unproductive activities and relationships.

Law of Momentum: Positive momentum is difficult to create and easy to lose. Treasure it and pay attention to the key input activities and metrics that ensure success. Be proactively consistent and avoid distractions. Know you KPIs and obsessively focus on them.

Law of Value: Scarcity creates value so embrace the difficult. Be unique in your ability to solve serious problems and achieve high value outcomes. Everything is worth what the market will pay, not what it costs plus a margin. Perceptions of value are defined by the buyer, not the seller. Price is only one element of value and only matters if the buyer wants what you have to offer. Value = Benefit less Cost. Value for money is the buyer’s weighted assessment of ‘fit for purpose’, risk and price.

Allow for the Law of Self-interest: Regardless of what someone promises, people rarely act contrary to their own best interests. Understand their agendas and plan for them to act accordingly as you formulate strategy. For yourself, scramble people's minds by acting in the best interests of others… be a self-sacrificial giver, not a taker. Lead like Mother Teresa!

Workplace Value: Your qualifications, knowledge and position are merely your ‘ticket to the dance’ – no-one really cares. Workplace value is instead defined by a person’s degree of positive influence and the results they deliver – plain and simple; that’s it. Be the change you want to see in the workplace.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Lori Photography

Artificially Intelligent Selling

Sales, the final frontier...

Social, Mobile, Cloud and Big Data have dominated the ‘trend’ conversations in 2014, and all four will continue to gain momentum as change agents in B2B and B2C business. But in 2015 they will be accompanied by three complementary technologies – the dawn of AI (Artificial Intelligence; yes the scary self-learning type), micro predictive analytics (BI leveraging big data) and the maturing of mobility proximity (beacons and geo-fencing). All seven of these elements together coupled with the dawning explosion of sensors everywhere, will represent unprecedented technological synergies and the use-cases are limitless in transformative customer experience. It’s already happening and Amazon is an example.

But almost all the hype around these advancements has missed an important consideration… technology is ushering in an era of distraction and artificial connection. The appearance of connection is not the same as real connection. An ‘always on’ and ‘always connected’ world means no-one is really concentrating and ADD is a constant barrier to meaningful conversation and genuine engagement. There are 1,000 channels but there’s nothing on. The noise is deafening but no-one can hear. The sheer volume of content, channels and workload is killing quality. In short – people are skimming, misinterpreting, clicking away and tuning-out. Miscommunication and misunderstanding is everywhere.

But technology is evolving at a faster rate than any of the creators could imagine. Where could all this take B2B and B2C selling? Could AI and the enabling data sources mean that technology could create relevance in every dimension, even assessing our ‘mood’. When process automation crosses over into automated engagement, then sales people are facing an apocalyptic threat. By 2020, could the majority of salespeople be replaced by AI? If the value of a sales person is defined by providing information and enabling someone to transact; then the answer, sadly, is definitely ‘yes’.

How can sales people avoid digitally driven extinction? The answer is value – the creation of value for customers and employer through traditional concepts executed innovatively with technology. We live in a human world and emotional connections are what influence us, motivate us, and inspire us. Everything old (value selling, solution selling, insight selling, trusted advisor, etc.) will be new again because it is how to best differentiate in a human world. But only for those who can adopt blended engagement models where differentiation is created through the combination of online and physical presence with digital and human interaction. This is future for the most successful sales people… the ones who will prosper beyond 2020.

I predict a great future for you in sales but only if you learn to create innovative mash-ups of proven selling principles combined with new world digital engagement to meet and serve your markets and customers where they are and how they prefer to interact. Sales must move higher up the value chain to conduct the digital symphony. In many ways, this will bring you closer to the customer than ever: if they let you in. You must be the signal in the noise to break through so I will write more on how to do this strategically in upcoming posts, to in essence, future-proof you.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: OiMax

The Rocks & The Sand

“The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” - Stephen Covey

There's never enough time in the day as a sales executive. You carry a significant number and you're looking to exceed quota. I know what you're thinking, when will you make the time to dominate social media while keeping everything else in the balance. You can schedule tweets, you can automate some of this but you still need an authentic strategy to navigate all of your responsibilities. At the end of the day, you've got to stay focused on the twenty percent of the opportunities that will drive eighty percent of revenue growth. This translates to actions, the percentage that will create eighty percent of the impact.

But how do you choose? The analogy of rocks and sand comes to mind and I learned this from Dr. Stephen R. Covey in First Things First. Each day when you get to your desk, don't even open your e-mail. Write down the top three things you need to accomplish by lunch on a pad and execute on those in the optimal sequence. These are the big rocks to fit into the jar of your life. These are the proactive lead measures you can affect to lever the Sisyphean boulder of your day up the proverbial hill.

The sand are the reactive prospect e-mails, the training video you had starred to watch, those social media notifications, the news of the day, sports scores, etc. What's important is that you take the time to clearly define what the rocks and sand are for you. If you put the sand into the jar first, you'll never fit the stuff that matters into your schedule – the rocks. You'll struggle just to play catch up.

Social media is just one tool in your arsenal. It's very powerful when you leverage batch processing. Utilize a social listening platform to track your greatest prospects in target companies first. Prioritize them. Prioritize everything. Companies like Avention, InsideView and Nimble can help you do this.

Watch what's trending with CXOs and take the time to comment on it. First listen to the stream and pick out the people with whom you'd like to engage. Then make it meaningful. Ten touches trumps one hundred when you make them count. Setting Google Alerts or a daily LinkedIn digest of group activity can give you an edge to find the signal in the noise. Batch process by having the discipline to take just thirty minutes when you wake up and thirty minutes before bed on this exercise. You'd be amazed how far you can get with a concerted mono-tasking effort on the target. The secret is scheduling time just like you would with cold calling and don't forget to still do that too. Yes, it can be a rock or sand. The choice is yours based on the due diligence and time you put in to picking the right targets.

LinkedIn Navigator is a watershed moment for front-line sales managers and sales people alike. It allows us to passively listen to just the targets we wish to pursue and then engage at the precise right moment. It allows us to receive a blended digest of these updates without needing to glue our eyes to the feed like a stock ticker.

The myth of social media is you have to spend all your time on it. Just as with tool such as the telephone, if you schedule your time, have an objective in mind and execute your plan in a concerted way, you can produce dramatic results. There's a major compulsion to 'always be on' because we fear missing something. But control this impulse and realize you can always catch-up at scheduled intervals. Listen to hashtags, listen retroactively to a custom list you built or just listen into the past; arguably even into the future.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Geoff Stearns