Challenger Selling

Insight Selling Can't Be A Production Line

The pipe dream that we can manufacture insights en masse to be pushed out by marketing to align with ‘the buyer’s journey’ is akin to thinking a Henry Ford assembly line approach lends itself well to marriage counseling. Marketing automation will only take you so far. Using insights to attract buyers is a valid strategy but it’s a mistake to think that it can be executed well with spray-and-pray e-mail marketing or telesales environments for a hand-off to field sales or channel partners. Marketing automation has reached terminal velocity yet when you survey what's actually happening in the field, you'll often discover a resounding thud. Think about it yourself, when's the last time you personally responded to a generic templated drip campaign?

I realize it may sound contrarian but let's get to the deeper point. The click-through rates for e-mail have sunk to under 10% and phone calling contact rates are dismally less than 3%; with both trending worse every year. It definitely damages your brand and deafens your audience the more they feel they are being targeted with spam. The result is that when you’ve got something really important to tell them, chances are it will be ignored. Cultivating your inner Artful Dodger or Slick Willy to get past gatekeepers on the phone, requires some ninjitsu and can be done. Customers have heard everything and see it coming a mile away. But reps still boast about it! The latest script that insidiously promises a key insight report. Crafting a template that looks like an "authentic personal email" is also ubiquitous but customers receiving it tend to hit "delete." There is a better way! Executives are rolling their eyes in meetings these days within 90 seconds thinking, "Please teach me something I don't already know." Truth be it told, senior executives often seldom even see the bulk of their email. They do get LinkedIn notifications that vibrate in their pocket so making that count, prevents deleting your connection.

Predictable models for scaling revenue have been somewhat of a ‘Fountain of Youth’ concept since time immemorial. Just like any other growth industry, it's susceptible to the quick fix mentality. While seductive in concept, the predictable revenue assembly line model breaks down in practice. To achieve strong determinant growth you must have leadership, innovation, intrinsic value, strategy and great execution. It all comes down to people and it’s detrimental to business if you treat your team as expendable commodities.

Leading with insight means leading with insightful people. Teach your team to think strategically and to efficiently segment key targets, build domain expertise, understand industry drivers and trends, and to understand what a compelling business case looks like. Train them on how to leverage innovative methods to engage professionally with senior stakeholders within social communities to then be on the radar early in the awareness phase of the buying cycle. Any communications medium will always be limited by the power of the message transmitted by it. Teach your team to do their homework, to diagnose and prescribe leveraging the treasure trove of data that is increasingly freely available in the latest incarnation of the interwebs. Do they understand the true implication of trigger events in accelerating buying cycles?

Breaking up your team to make them more tactical in specialized or compartmentalized segments is the antithesis of teaching strategic thinking to even the sales people just starting out. It's a sexy idea that if they do less, they'll be more powerful. But teaching someone to fly a prop plane in flight school by darkening out the controls could spell disaster. Take a holistic approach so the sales force can think independently, collaboratively and be a trusted advisor to each customer.

I am not saying that inside sales call-centers and specialized sales roles won't work for transactional opportunities. It just seems to miss the mark for complex solution selling. When I ask sales executives to define ‘strategic selling’ I often get a very long awkward pause or an off-base answer. Here’s the reality in complex B2B selling – senior sales people are themselves best equipped to create their own early engagement pipeline. They need to personally build their brands, establish contact and engage with insightful conversations at senior levels.

The foundational key input for creating high margin revenue is, and has always been, early strategic engagement at the right levels. There are strategies and there are tactics – know the difference and use them wisely. A one-size-fits-all approach to B2B messaging is a clever mirage. Pundits will swear by the latest and greatest predictable system for driving revenue into a company but fads come and go. Any communications medium that allows blasting, eventually gets regulated. It's short-term thinking! At the end of the day, leading with insight in good old-fashioned targeted prospecting, backed with diagnostic consultative selling will continue to prevail. It's the type of approach that requires slowing down to speed up. Lincoln may have captured this ethos the best, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." The potential revenues and margins need to support the high level of investment. Beware the relentless commoditization of solutions and the trap of applying expensive business models to low margin transactional commerce.

The meta-skill of strategic selling will always sit above an engagement medium whether executed old school talking on a phone or new school in social. Strategic selling is not going away anytime soon. I've developed a road-tested framework for this that can be performed in real-time on the back of a napkin sitting at a café in Paris. How can we challenge ourselves to relentlessly think strategically in the context of any toolset? I've crafted it to withstand and be adaptable to the frenetic pace of technology evolution and change. All factors being equal, how we think will transcend the crutch of tools of the trade every time. It's the golfer, nary the club after all!

The medium changes, good messaging will always prevail.

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: Paul VanDerWerf

Finding The Change Agent Within Your Customer

Business-to-business selling is getting tougher because customer organizations are becoming more dysfunctional. The over supply of information and the rise of consensus based decision-making means that the biggest competitor in most sales opportunities is 'do nothing' / apathy or the status quo.

In a CSO Insights report published in 2012, on average, 80% of qualified opportunities in a company's CRM system are lost. yet surprisingly, one-third of those lost deals do not go to a competitor; the potential customer fails to buy anything at all.

The most important book of 2015 is The Challenger Customer because it provides genuine insights into customer chaos and provides a framework for finding the change agent (or 'Mobilizer' as coined in The Challenger Sale book back in 2012) to work with to sell and implement solutions.

Traditional wisdom has been for sales people to hunt down the influencers, recommenders and decision makers to tailor their value pitch based on role and agenda. But increasingly this just does not work because of organizational politics, competing agendas and misaligned priorities. The illustration below is from the The Challenger Customer book and highlights the problem of decision commitment (to buy anything at all) as you add more and more people to the evaluation, selection and procurement process.

But the problem is even worse than it look because instead of dealing with more that 5 people with the power to say yes or no we are increasingly dealing with 5groups of people! These groups include evaluation committees, project boards, steering committees, and not to mention the standard buyer personas of economic, user, technical, financial and line of business leaders.

The cost of sale in targeting enterprise and government is going up at the same time that savvy buyers are commoditizing the seller's offering to drive prices and margins down. Qualifying an opportunity properly has never been more important and it is a giant mistake to pursue business you cannot win. Here is my framework for winning large complex opportunities.

“The RSVPselling methodology was instrumental in us winning a contract in excess of $100 million and the framework provides clarity amidst the complexity of pursuing large enterprise opportunities.” 
Kevin Griffen, Managing Director, Orange Business Services

You can run this process on the back of a napkin in a coffee shop or on a white board in a meeting room. It was recently integrated into Sugar CRM. It's an efficient and effective framework for strategy and execution as you simply keep asking questions in the four RSVP areas to relentlessly focus on what's important.

R)elationships: Do we have the right relationships? Followed by: Are we selling at the right level? Do they have genuine political and economic power? Do our relationships provide differentiating intelligence, insight and genuine influence?

S)trategy: Do we have an effective strategy for managing relationships and competitive threats? Followed by: Do we understand the power-base and have we identified the competition (external and internal including the risk of them doing nothing)? What's our strategy for winning while engineering a positive bias in the customer's requirements toward us?

V)alue: Are we leading with insight and uniquely creating compelling business value in the eyes of the customer? Followed by: Why will they buy anything at all and is there a risk of the status quo prevailing? How are we differentiating and evidencing our credentials as lowest risk and best value?

P)rocess: Are we aligned and do we truly understand the customer’s process for evaluation, selection, approval and procurement? Followed by: Do we understand how they define and assess risk with suppliers and solutions? Do we have a close plan validated by the customer?

Excellence in execution underpins the four RSVP elements with pragmatic tools for qualifying, closing and understanding the players in the buyer organization. RSVPselling™ also incorporates concepts such as the Value Quadrant for Professional Sales Agents© and The New ROI©

The most important element in all of this is to find the puppet-master, the orchestrator of change, the pinnacle of the power base. We must have a strong personal relationship with the person who can successfully drive change within the customer organization. Doing this is the foundation of strategic selling. Be very wary of investing in a long sales cycle if you are denied access to power.

How do you find this person, or group of people? You need research and be a master of search using LinkedIn combined with old school detective skills.

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

Main image photo from Flickr: McConnell Center 2015-9-28 Craig DeLancey on Science Fiction and Politics