Questions Missed By Qualification Frameworks

Qualification is an important phase of opportunity management because pursuing business you cannot win wastes precious resources and damages morale and credibility. We all suffer from a shortage of time to sell rather than a shortage of prospects in the marketplace to sell to. The best sales people seek customers with whom they can align for the creation of value. They take the time to understand how the customer defines value and risk.

There are three types of questions that need to be asked of the buyer: discovery, qualification, and ‘leads to value’. For opportunity development conversations with a prospect there is nothing better than Neil Rackham’s SPIN questioning framework. The book, SPIN Selling is a timeless ‘must read’ for every sales person but when it comes to pure qualification, there are many frameworks including:

  • ANUM: Authority, Need, Urgency, Money
  • BANT: Budget, Authority, Need, Time-frame
  • BMANTR: Budget, Method, Authority, Need, Timing, Risks, Roadblocks
  • FAINT: Funding, Authority, Interest, Need, Timeframe
  • MANDACCT: Money, Authority, Need, Decision criteria, delivery Ability, Competition, Coach, Timescale
  • MEDDIC: Metrics for ROI, Economic Buyer, Decision process, Decision criteria, Identify pain, Champion coach, Compelling event
  • NUTCASE: Need, Unique, Timing, Cash, Authority, Solution, Enemies
  • RSVP: Right Relationships, Winning strategy, Unique compelling value, strong Process Alignment
  • SCOTSMAN: Situation, Competition, Basis of Decision, Timescale, Solution, Money, Authority, Need

But none of these address the most important two qualification questions of all; and these two questions must come before everything else. They are questions for the sales person:

1. Why will they buy anything at all (is ‘do nothing’ the biggest competitor)?

2. Why will they buy from us (can we positively differentiate in the mind of the buyer)?

No matter which qualification acronym you use or opportunity management tool (Miller Heiman Blue Sheets, TAS 20 questions, Battleplan, eFox, etc.), always ask these first two questions first. If you’re a sales manager, make it clear to your sales people that they don’t get any resource for deal pursuit until they can convincingly answer these two questions.

Unless we address the ‘Do Nothing’ competitor and the critical issue of effective competitive differentiation, everything else is a potential waste of time and resources.

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: Marco Bellucci

CRM, SFA, and Sales Enablement. Not The Same

Customer churn is a cancer eating away at most businesses. To combat this and be truly customer-centric, you must have an effective Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategy supported by the right CRM technology. Yet placing customers at the heart of a business is all about people, culture and processes rather than technology. Beyond client retention, businesses also need to acquire new customers and this is best driven with Sales-Force Automation (SFA), usually also from within a CRM integrated with other best of breed marketing automation and social selling tools. SFA is about bringing sales and marketing together to align with the buyer’s journey and also support sales people’s early engagement for proactive demand generation.

But here is an important distinction: CRM and SFA are actually two different things. They may be enabled by similar technologies but real sales enablement is all about methodology, process, training, coaching, playbooks, planning, profiling, research tools, insight creation, and much more. CRM success or failure has little to do with the technology you use and everything to do with how it’s implemented. Although it's true that you cannot manage what you don't measure, CRM must be implemented to serve users and customers rather than as a database for management. CRM should be a strategy and a process, rather than a product and reporting tool. The best CRM implementations therefore incorporate sales methodology integrated within an organization's specific sales processes so that sales people can be coached to ensure that tactics and actions are linked to strategy. This approach delivers best practice and accountability in the sales team.

CRM software should be where sales methodology, process and coaching all come together. The system should obsessively put customers at the heart of the organization with account managers and sales people fully equipped through a single view of everything that can be managed. This means integration with social selling tools such as LinkedIn and marketing automation tools is essential. When implementing SFA or CRM, think about the buyer’s journey and customer lifecycle… how can you support your sales people to deliver an integrated, high value experience for prospects and customers?

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: Copyright Tony J Hughes 2014

The Seven Sins of Selling

There are certain sales behaviours that can actually damage the chances of success. Assertiveness is often interpreted by prospective purchasers as unwanted aggression. Persistence can translate into being annoying. Positive questions from the seller are usually received as rhetorical and manipulative. Focusing on features often triggers concerns with price or confirms that the seller is just not listening. The stark reality of selling is that pushing creates resistance, and assertiveness creates defensiveness. We all prefer to buy rather than being ‘sold’. Here are the seven pitfalls of B2B selling that should be avoided.

First Sin: ‘Selling is the transference of information’. Selling is actually building trust and transferring belief. Information can easily be sourced by customers without the assistance of a sales person who should actually serve to filter and distil the mass of available data down to what is relevant and benefits the client. Facts merely serve to support an emotional decision to buy from someone they like and trust. Emotion creates more influence than information.

Second Sin: ‘Talking is the best way to influence’. Only if your goal is to bore people into submission or negatively push them to your competitor. Words account for only 7% of received communication. People think at approximately 500 words per minute and you can only talk effectively at 125 per minute. You must engage the other person visually with positive and congruent body language or they will tune-out. Effective communication means asking insightful questions and actively listening to clarify your understanding and get to the deeper meaning. Listening rather than talking is actually the best way to influence.

Third Sin: ‘Features are benefits’. Not necessarily. Benefits must specifically solve acknowledged problems relating ultimately to time, money, comfort or risk. Prattling on with spurious features early in the sales process creates distracting noise and potential price concerns, preventing the buyer from focusing on the real value you offer in meeting their business needs.

Fourth Sin: ‘Objections are opportunities’. Not so. Objections actually reveal that the sales person has sought to close prematurely or that they do not fully understand the needs of the buyer. Objections are not buying signals nor are they opportunities to close. Yes, objections need to be overcome when raised but they are usually generated by amateurs. It is always better to avoid objections by first having them expressed by the client as problems before any attempt to close. Only seek commitment once you have complete understanding and the buyer’s readiness to purchase has been confirmed.

Fifth Sin: ‘The product is the product’. Not really. Selling the product, service or solution is the third and final sale in any engagement. The prospective client first needs to be sold on your worthiness (credibility) for investing their time and effort. The next thing they need to establish is trust in you and your organisation. Can they actually trust you with the information you are requesting and can they trust you to competently and ethically make recommendations in their best interests? If the first two sales are made, then selling the product, service or solution becomes very achievable once you align with their buying criteria and procurement process. The product is therefore problem resolution through the sales person. The buyer will engage effectively only once both credibility and trust have been established.

Sixth Sin: Skill and knowledge define value and success. Although these are important prerequisites, the real differentiator in the workplace and market is positive attitude and ability to influence. Knowledge and qualifications can easily create alienating arrogance and pride. People don’t care about what you know; they care about what you can do for them. This is why having a positive attitude and proven ability to deliver is crucial.

Seventh Sin: ‘Success is just a numbers game’. Work ethic is important and understanding the required activity levels for building and maintaining a sales funnel is essential. Yet the mediocre focus on being efficient in the least important activities. Be effective and avoid the busy fool syndrome. This means doing the right things, with the right people, at the right time. Yes, understand and honour the required activity levels for a healthy pipeline but progressing a prospect to becoming a customer is not about numbers; it is all about people, process and 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:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: KungPaoCajun

Behind every great sales person is a surprised CEO

In my first sales job, at age 25, I was crap… for a little while until I became good, then great, then the most successful person the industry had ever seen. I sold to IBM at prices 70% higher than the incumbent competition and IBM remains a customer for my old employer 25 years later. My run-rate success took 120 days and within two yearsI won the biggest deal the company had ever done. When you consider my starting point, it is staggering. I had much working against me inside my head (just lost my business, mother just died, car stolen, dog run over, relationship breakdown and family imploding, combined with a negative attitude about my new career).

A colleague once joked to someone as I walked into the pub after work: “Here’s Tony; you run a warm bath and I’ll get the razor blades.” So how did I set sales records that were never broken and make President’s Club for BellSouth globally? The answer is that a small group of people believed in me and were willing to take a chance on me. They invested their credibility, time and emotional energy. Especially my first sales manager, Keith Sutton, who invested a whole day with me on the road every week without fail. He didn't rescue me or do my job by jumping in to make the sale. He let me fail, then he debriefed me, asking great questions, coaching and mentoring me. He also sat with us at one of the workstations rather than in an office. He did this so he could hear us on the phone and he would often walk over and offer to buy me a coffee where he would chat about my technique or choice of words and questions with a prospect. My sales manager was the biggest reason for my success.

The best CEOs understand that the value of a sales manager is defined by how many hours they invest with their people in the field and the time poured into coaching on opportunities, instilling strategy and disciplined execution. But sales management is typically the weak link in the revenue chain because they become bureaucrats, administrators and CRM jockeys who spend most of their time managing-up to bosses who destroy their productivity by endlessly asking about the forecast. Who contributed most to your success?… track them down and say ‘thank 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:

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5 Topics That Sellers Should Write About

Every real profession demands that its members read to remain relevant. Their members research topics including the latest trends, industry obligations, case studies and research findings. Those within their ranks who are respected most are the ones who develop insights, achieve the best results and publish their findings.

Don't claim to be a professional and then tell me you don't read... you're joking, right?

According to CEB research, 95% of buyers expect insight from the seller. Yet Forrester Research highlights that 85% of sellers fail to meet buyer expectations while CEB research found that 86% of sellers fail to differentiate in the mind of the buyer. We clearly have a problem but it can be solved when sales people embrace imperative to write within the guidelines of their company and with management and marketing serving as editors.

If you want to transform the way you sell, commit to reading and then writing. Don't just read about how to sell, also read about the issues that impact your clients. Researching and writing is the best possible sales training a person can have because it forces the individual to go deep and test assertions while creating their own authentic narrative.Here is why sales people need to write but...

Should sales people write or 'curate' content during office hours or selling time? ... No!

Sales people should instead invest 30 minutes a day in their own time, before or after work, for career development. They should also work closely with their marketing department and manager to ensure quality, leverage tools, and be aligned with corporate messaging and policies. There are two types of content publishing:

  1. Content curation. This is where you work with other people's content and publish Updates via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or other social platforms in which your clients and target market monitor and engage.
  2. Content Authoring. This is where you create your own blog posts or articles that demonstrates insight and value for your target market. It is also how you evidence your credentials and set the agenda with those whom you seek to engage.

Content publishing is important because 75% of buyers use social media to research sellers before engaging (Source: IDC) and 74% of buyers choose the seller who first provides insight and value (Source: Corporate Visions). It begs the question: What do people see when they find you online? Do they see a sales person's CV or do they see a warm professional person offering insight and value?

Go beyond the basics of personal branding to also attract and engage with content

Content Curation

'Content curation' is the process of working with other people's content where you add brief commentary and then share with your network. Your goal is follow those who are relevant for your target market and then become the 'forager for the tribe' as David Meerman-Scott says. Everyone is busy and you can provide value by being a content aggregator where your market can simply follow you to see content from dozens of sources they don't have time to research individually themselves.

Who are the journalists, bloggers, analysts and industry leaders that your market audience follows and respects? By attaching yourself to these personal brands you elevate your own, and by sharing their content with short additional insights and commentary you can create value for those who follow you. From this list, highlight the individuals with substantial following within your target market whose followers you would like to become your own. Who has substantial following within your target market?

The above format is my simple way of recording the details of those who can provide you with valuable content to then share with your network. Hootsuite or Buffer are excellent technologies for easily creating a scheduling content to be automatically published at the best times. 

5 Topics to Inspire Content Creation

We need to publish content write about what interests our audience instead of projecting our 'value proposition' or factoids about our company, product or service. Importantly, we must be clear about who we are targeting with our content and here are content categories that sales people and marketers can use to create blog articles to write that attract and engage clients.

  1. Your customer’s fears and concerns (competition, disruption, etc.). Without writing from a negative perspective: What are the risks that your customers face? What competitive risks that worry them? How are they being 'disrupted' by technology, changes in the economy or legislation, agile competitors, off-shoring, etc. These topics and more can be the subject of posts you write
  2. Insights from research data that impacts your customer’s world. Search and subscribe to analysts that comment of your customer's industry or the trends that impact them.
  3. Blind Case studies evidencing how things can be improved. Every sales person needs to be masterful at telling powerful true stories of how their customers solved problems, created business cases, managed change and delivered transformation. Even if the client won't do an official case study or testimonial, it can be written by the sales person and attributed along the lines of: One of my clients shared some insights with me recently concerning how they ....
  4. Objection neutralizers that positively position and set the agenda. As an example, I work with a client in the recruiting industry and a common objection is: 'I'm too busy meet but if you have a candidate then send me their CV'. I've coach recruitment sales people to write posts along the lines of: How 20 minutes saves 12 hours and dramatically reduces hiring risk. Skills, experience and qualifications are easy to screen but cultural fit is where the greatest risk resides in a hiring decision. List all of your common objections such as 'I'm too busy', 'We have an incumbent supplier', 'You're too expensive', etc and write about why that is the very reason they should meet you.
  5. Newsjacking topical events to create interest. When Harrison Ford crash-landed his plan on a Californian golf course, I had this post up within 90 minutes.

Trigger events are excellent opportunities for both content creation and initiating contact with potential buyers. What events provide potential opportunities to improve your own customer service, intercept competitor customers, or engage potential clients early in their buying process? In the mind of the buyer, trigger events create awareness of opportunity or need and can amplify perceptions of pain. These events can motivate people to take action to change the status quo? Trigger events can include changes in personnel, a major scandal, legislative changes, new compliance obligations, products going ‘end of support’, suppliers being acquired or dropping the ball, competitor staff leaving or retiring, new leaders coming into the organization. My worksheet below is ideal for identifying trigger events and establishing the best way to monitor.

Sales people should work with their marketing team to formulate strategy, select the right tools and secure the right levels of training and support to build their individual sales pipelines. Here are my tips for going beyond content curation (working with other people's content) and writing your own material that sets you apart as a sales person:

  1. Identify your audience and then write for the one person or role you are seeking to influence. This makes it targeted, personal and on point.
  2. Be clear in your own mind about why your message is important and what you want them to do about. But avoid any call to action that overtly seeks to sell or paints you as a salesperson.
  3. Create a catchy headline (think like a newspaper editor).
  4. Use an eye-catching picture that has an abstract relationship to your topic. Honor copyright by using 'common use license' images and attribute source, or use your own photos.
  5. Have an opening that hooks, a body that informs and a close that motivates or inspires. Deliver insight rather than mere information.
  6. Aim for 700 words and don't ramble. Longer is okay and some of my best posts with more than 220,000 reads have well over 1500 words.
  7. Create back-links to other content but never use click-bate to take people to another site where they have to complete forms or register to view content.
If you don't read, then you're not a professional. If you can't write, then you can't sell because you are incapable of building a strong personal brand online that shows insight and attracts clients.

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: Joe Flood Follow Writing = Breathing