Strategic selling

Sales Management Advice for CEOs

Back in 2005 when I was Managing Director for an international software company, I developed a simple framework for transforming sales. The results were staggering for our corporation at the the time. We won three massive contracts, achieved 300% of our full year target and with exceptional margins. I handed our leading sales person a commission cheque, for one quarter, of almost $500,000. All of our pre-sales people received commission cheques for a single quarter equal to their annual salaries. This framework led me to leaving the corporate world in 2012 to start RSVPselling and the framework has helped many of my clients win large new customers and contracts as big a hundred million dollars.

Whether you’re talking over a coffee or sitting in a board room, you should ask these four sets of questions of your sales manager or sales person every time you visit a client with them, every time you’re in an opportunity review or forecast call, and every time they mention a new business opportunity. You can embed these four sets questions as a methodology or as way of thinking. Here they are:

  1. Relationships: 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?

  2. Strategy: 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?

  3. Value: Are we leading with insight and uniquely creating compelling business value in the eyes of the customer? Followed by: How are we differentiating and evidencing our credentials as lowest risk and best value?

  4. Process: 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?

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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4 Competitive Strategies for Complex Enterprise Selling

Many draw comparisons between sport and selling but I prefer analogies that focus on military strategy. Yes, being pumped-up and working as a team is essential for success, but for those who consistently win large enterprise deals, cunning strategy is the force behind tactics and action. There’s nothing noble about leaping out of the trenches and running at machine guns – that’s just plain stupidity and a waste of life.

Strategy is actually a military term but essential in professional selling for managing political relationships and outmaneuvering the competition. Sales strategy can be defined as developing an effective plan or campaign after fully evaluating your strengths and weaknesses, understanding the competition (including the customer’s internal options), understanding the business drivers and mapping the invisible political structure within an organization.

Strategic enterprise solution selling demands that you engage early at the most senior levels and align with political and economic power to address the most serious problems or profitable opportunities. Solutions are then crafted with unique compelling value while setting an agenda that disadvantages or eliminates the competition.

I’ve always been fascinated by military history and I’ve also been a student of two great authors, Jim Holden (Power Base Selling, published by John Wiley and Sons Inc: 1990) and Keith Eades (The New Solution Selling, published by McGraw Hill 2004). Their thought leadership in adapting military strategy for the world of complex enterprise selling was brilliance. The following is adapted by me from their concepts and I also recognize Art Jacobs and his fine work: STRATEGY, The Art of Winning. All three of these authors have preceded me and I acknowledge them in this derivation of their work.

The four potential engagement options are:

- Head-to-head: Direct strategy based on product strength or market dominance

- Change the rules: Indirect strategy altering the selection criteria or agenda

- Incremental: Focus on a small divisional piece of business ‘under the radar’

- Containment: Engineer a non-decision so you can engage under new rules later

This flow-chart will help you decide the best competitive strategy in any given situation and detailed explanations follow the diagram.

Head to head. This is a direct or frontal strategy that works only if you have unequivocal product, service or solution strength with acknowledged market leadership. You use it when you are not afraid of ‘slugging it out’ against the competition because you have best brand, solution offering and market presence. Most sales people adopt this mode of engagement, and the competition’s price is often their main point of concern. This strategy is attractive because it is simple but demands superiority at every level. To be effective with this strategy you must have clear leadership with product and reputation, with a well established and positive customer base. This superiority must be validated from the customer’s point of view. Be careful with smaller customers who often associate product strength or market dominance with unnecessary functionality or service levels and excessively high pricing. If you are not the industry giant or leading niche specialist, consider the following strategy.

Change the rules. This guerrilla, indirect or flanking strategy is essential when you do not have the leading solution or leadership market position. This strategy is an ideal default position because it necessitates the gathering of information and forces you to search for unique value that matches the client’s specific requirements. This strategy should always be employed when nothing about your product, corporation or industry presence gives you a compelling edge. This strategy is essential when you cannot succeed based on the current engagement rules or selection criteria, typically because you were not there first. For this strategy to succeed you must have strong personal relationships with senior influential members of the buying center and power-base. Beware of fighting the good fight only to have a mystery senior executive veto the recommendation for your product, service or solution. Recommenders will often falsely give the impression they are embracing your strategy only to revert back to their original criteria at the last minute to placate the real decision maker further up the line.

Incremental. This ‘on the beach’, divisional or departmental strategy can be part of changing the rules in a large opportunity. The goal is to establish a beach-head or divide and conquer the competition by securing a limited piece of business and support within the broader organization from which you can expand. This strategy should be employed when you cannot win the whole account but there is a worthwhile piece of business that will give you an internal reference and influence for larger decisions at a later time. It is also useful when you are not seeking to displace another vendor but rather enhance the customer site (or market) by providing a complementary solution or additional functionality not offered by the competitor. This strategy is also appropriate when you decide to coexist with the competition and temporarily share the account.

Containment. This kill the deal strategy is a valid option if you are certain you cannot win and your goal is to prevent someone else from taking the business. It is designed to delay the buyer so you can re-engage under new rules at a later time. Rather than seeking to change the basis for a buying decision, you work to have the decision itself postponed. This strategy is high risk and should be used with thoughtful caution because customers do not take kindly to anyone seeking to interfere with their procurement process. A containment strategy has two major problems: firstly, it can be perceived as negative interference; and secondly, it can force you to invest further in scoping studies, trials, pilots or other resource-intensive activities. This strategy needs positive senior relationships and time to execute. The focus needs to be on how deferring is in the buyer’s best interests, and the message is ideally delivered by a credible third party.

Ask yourself these questions when considering strategy:

  • What is our relationship strategy and are we aligned with the power-base?

  • Do we truly understand the decision driv­ers and business case?

  • Do we understand their corporate mode and personal agendas?

  • Who and what is our competition and how will we position against them?

  • Does the customer have other projects competing for funding?

  • Which of our competitors is engaged with the customer?

  • How will our competitors seek to position against us?

  • What are our compara­tive strengths and weaknesses?

  • How will we engineer the customer’s focus on our unique value?

  • How will we prove or validate our capabil­ity and lowest risk?

  • Where will we position price to leave room to negotiate?

  • Do we have all necessary information and what don’t we know?

Whatever got you to where you are today is no longer sufficient to keep you there. Strategy is essential because political effectiveness demands strategy and relationships alone are never enough in complex selling. Relationships with the wrong people actually wastes time and inhibits success. A tactical plan is only as good as the intelligence and strategy that leads to it.

Competitors also learn every time you beat them and they formulate strategies designed to defeat you. Product features never win a deal but they can eliminate you. Benefits need to be positioned strategically; matched against the customer’s business needs and potentially set as ‘traps’ for competitors.

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: Adrian Askew

How To Drive An Outrageous Amount Of New Business


A. Select targets. 
B. Create and deploy weapons. 
C. Plan and execute the attack.”

-- Mike Weinberg, New Sales. Simplified. --

I'm a big fan of Mike Weinberg's blunt, back-to-basics new business development approach so I share his core strategy here with this stipulation – please go and buy his book at the above link, ASAP. It's truly worth your while and features one of the simplest, most effective and efficient of all models for driving new revenue. It will revolutionize your process and bring fresh consistent, new-business pipeline creation back into focus. For many organizations this has gotten very blurry with an obfuscated (or nonexistent) sales process mucking things up and more stages in the funnel than chocolates in Willy Wonka's proverbial factory.

My process for winning new business is RSVPselling and it's aligned o opening up business in disruptive new markets and I would add the following ancillary supplements as you roll it out this year to capture latent buying intent in the marketplace:

A. Laser focus on what constitutes a prospect - Hone your definition
B. What are the sub-verticals?
C. Who are the top 10 companies in each of those segments?
D. Research on LinkedIn, target customers well with tailored, trigger-event based outreach
E. Sell to VITO - the Very Important Top Officer (Remember, strategic selling is about engaging early, upstream at the highest levels, knowing their business, leading with insight and talking their language.)

Caveats & Nuances:

  • Avoid the 'busy fool syndrome' - work smarter not harder; the 'it's a numbers game' mentality can paralyze forward momentum with endless lateral churn. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step but you must put one foot in front of the other. Move towards the target – deeper over wider – endless criss-crossing of the horizon is not only exhaustive, it will never allow you to ride into the gloriously fulfilling sunset of CLOSURE.
  • Anchor with your CEO or Sales Manager: If you're forecasting several million dollar deals this year in the plan, account for your historical sales cycle and level-set that the majority of them may fall at back end of the year. It's unlikely you'll be dropping a symmetrical million per quarter. Like any organic system, there's irregularity. I have written about the flaw in forecasting and 'predictable revenue'. Year over year consistent growth is possible but only with peaks and troughs. Do it right, don't rush it! You can't get blood from a stone and if you pull the line too hard you'll snap the marlin right off. Remember to drive even harder when in peak times to buffer performance during valleys that will ultimately exist in even the best executed sales system.
  • The only way you’ll fail is if you’re targeting organizations that weren’t going to be able to buy from you in the first place, so ask yourself daily, 'Where do I invest my time?' Are you a top gun at opportunity qualification?
  • Go deep into research, deep into the context of the account.
  • Understand the politics and power base within the account, some of these power bases are hidden or situational (forming for the duration of the buying cycle). Adding everyone in the decision making team on LinkedIn is dangerous, you may have frenemies in the bunch that will block you or secretly favor the incumbent supplier.
  • Only do this for the most important opportunities and go deep, spend huge amounts of time figuring out who you’re going to target. Imagine Lincoln as an Account Executive, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."
  • Build a business case, provocative insight and close them catalyzing "mobilizer" (Challenger Selling) advocates who will establish a consensus within the power base - avoid 'talkers and blockers'.
  • Obsess about how you will find the right organizations and the right lists of people to try and target. LinkedIn has huge tectonic shift value here. Hours of due diligence and research here is not wasted time if you can leverage it for targeted outreach to stakeholders who will grant you access in respect of the time you've invested. By knowing every aspect inside and out, you'll develop a sixth sense, an intuition compass for where to navigate strategically. Blue ocean strategy is the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand, so what's yours as a seller or organization in your go-to-market?
We must take back control of our calendars, stop allowing others to put work on our desks, and selfishly guard our selling time. - Mike Weinberg

Weinberg hits the nail on the head with this dictum; it's a constant battle to manage your own time. I hear horror stories of fundamentally flawed cultures where sellers are only selling 25% of the time. This is backward. The overarching trick of mastering new business sales and new business development is moving your process from reactive to proactive new business hunting. The best sales people are always hunting, even in named accounts. Farmers then are really wolves in sheep's clothing.

There is no magic bullet, never will be! Old fashioned honest work ethic coupled with thinking differently (and acting more conscientiously) will set you apart, signal in the noise. Here are ten action-based strategies, tactics and critical success factors that will turbocharge your progress and work phenomenally well in the field in 2015. My goal is to multiply the effectiveness of what you're currently doing.

Remember not doing the wrong things is worlds better than continuing with Einstein's definition of insanity"doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." After all, revenue is a static "lag measure" and can't be managed in a CRM. Fuggedaboudit! So we must stay hyper-focused on the sales activities we can achieve daily to actually move the needle and lever the boulder up the hill. Don't get me wrong, the byproduct of well-executed daily sales activity and effective strategy is avalanches of new business bookings. It takes patience to position the odds in your favor: a greater number of better qualified opportunities. Remember, "Pipeline cures all ills!" The secret to success in sales is "action." Daily! Consistency meets persistency. I don't mean to fill this treatise with platitudes but Einstein's, "Genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work" comes to mind or Edison's, "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."

I've consulted companies that have a "no-meeting Monday" policy. This should never apply to a vibrant sales function! We ultimately are judged by our revenue results to the top and bottom line in a battle royale for preservation of margin against the forces of procurement commoditization, so procrastination, leaning on only digital as a crutch, capitulating with price concessions or just being asleep at the switch as if the fish will swim up to you and jump into the boat, will catch-up to you. So here are those 10 with one bonus for good measure:

  1. Add an unexpected UVP to the subject lines of your emails - "Something YOU have never heard before." It features WIFM: what's in it for them. Recently, I monitored my own LinkedIn inbox and waded through hundreds of messages. Most sounded akin to "Opportunity, Partnership, Checking-in, Let's Touch Base, Ideas." Very generic outreach like this disappoints me when I open the email to double check it, as it's a super generic message... delete. Anything remarkable in the title or pertinent to how they could help me increase business or drive efficiency would have caused them to stand out. What's your unique value or better yet, how can you continuously create value? This is what I call 'unique value creation'. (The V in my RSVPselling Methodology) – Customize communication in all media.
  2. Simplify your sales process: There are many enterprise level sales systems like SPIN, TAS, Solution, Strategic and Challenger. The bottom line is you need to have one and apply it religiously. Consistent sales processes applied over time create cut-through. Managers must hold sales people accountable and there must be a single source of the truth in a CRM systemto bring all the moving parts together.
  3. E-mail, call, social, e-mail, call, social. 80% of sales are made on the fifth to twelfth contact. Staying power is everything in sales success and consistent quota attainment and it's rare. We must stick in deals and push through the resistance inherent in change management away from the status quo. Think of your channels like a cyclical wheel; it's important to cross-train your touch points and you want to get yourself into that hot zone of 5 - 12 touches. If you emailed, then call, then leave a meaningful message. Follow up by liking or commenting on something in their LinkedIn stream, then a relevant outreach based on what you read. Retweet an article, then call. What I call the "new sales mix" is key. 'Like' and also comment on content as only 20% of people even read an entire LinkedIn Publisher update while 80% simply like it. If you read the entire thing and comment about some of the subtleties in it, the author (your customer) will very much appreciate it. That could be the differentiator to gain access right then and there.
  4. Leverage your internal connections to breakthrough external silos- If your CXOs are connected via an alumni network, previous role or are close with someone at the target company, don't hesitate to get a referral. They'll often even make the call or write a personal email for you. Invite them to the discovery call or first meeting on-site; LinkedIn referrals are not enough. If you've properly qualified the prospect or opportunity and done your due diligence in advance, these internal C-Level relationships are extremely valuable and they will be onboard to help you, massively.
  5. Track and leverage trigger events, all of them are not created equal: "Changes and transitions" are Craig Elias' (Trigger Event Selling) top choice here out of the three buckets that include "bad supplier" and "awareness." In the first 90 days, CXOs will often spend six or seven figures on disruptive technology: be there and be first. The majority of marketers focus on awareness, or ROI. The problem with this strategy is it's ubiquitous so it's very hard to stand out. 'Bad supplier' comes down to human nature, many of us put up with a suboptimal situation in our lives because it's just comfortable to do so or we're procrastinating aka 'lazy'. In an organization this is the status quo rearing its seven headed hydra of complacency. If you're going to try to drive awareness or remind people their current provider is tanking, you'll usually get nowhere. Ironic, I know! There needs to be a substantive compelling event and a pain-point. Pinpoint the major pain and locate changes and transitions like: promotion, role-change, division-change, new job, etc. Watch for your existing or past customers moving into positions of influence at your target company. Many software platforms track this including InsideView, Avention, Gagein and now LinkedIn Sales Navigator. It's also helpful to understand the mode of the business, and I highlight three: growth, stasis and crisis mode. Very little will occur in the sales cycle in cryostasis mode.
  6. Nurture prospects and walk them up the ladder of engagement.Steve Richard of Vorsight shares, "At any given time, only 3% of the market you're prospecting to is going to be actively looking for your solutions, products, and services. But 40% more are open and are 'susceptible' to getting into the 'looking mode.' That's why we prospect within our target market – that 43% – we find those ready, and we nurture the upcoming opportunities by building trust over time and by adding insight to help educate our buyers."
  1. Think about demand like this – wouldn't you rather create it than service it? (Jim Holden Stage IV Customer Advisor) – When it comes to building a complex solution to solve a complex problem rather than being a prosaic commodity seller, you're moving up the value chain to creating "elasticity of demand," a construct that preserves margin as it bakes in acceptable "consultancy fees."
  2. Group participation on LinkedIn: Be active in customer groups on LinkedIn. Ask provocative questions and share insights but don't sell. If someone leaves a thoughtful comment, send them a relevant private message to engage. Provoke with knowledge and insight before trying to book an appointment or move to the target. Finesse selling is key in LinkedIn. The hard sell will typically fail.
  3. Become best friends with Executive Assistants, treat them like gold. Never call once, let the phone ring out and then ring again, only thenleave a short relevant message. Realize that the purpose of the first line of an e-mail is to get to the second line so think like a copyrighter or journalist in any exchange, in any medium. The purpose of the first sentence is to attract them to the second and this thinking even pertains to sales processes: 'The purpose of the first step is to get to the NEXT.'
  4. Neighborhood techniques and investing in on-sites: Weinberg takes a contrarian stance on this in that he advocates getting on-site a ton, in fact he calls Southwest Saleswest. He also doesn't believe in show-up and throw-up sales presentations. I frequently talk about a great meeting being one in which I speak 25% of the time. God gave us two ears and one mouth, as the old saying goes. Get on that flight to meet with qualified prospects based on the qualification elements of the "Caveats & Nuances" section I laid out above. Provide therapy; I'm reminded of the Dale Carnegie story where he shows up to a major interview never says a word and the executive says, "you're the best conversationalist I've ever met." Show-up in their vicinity and spend time actively listening, take masterful Evernotes. Prepare your questions; print out annual reports; research; Gartner, Forrester, analysis from thought leaders. Be prepared.
  5. Leverage calendar alerts in your CRM: The only way you're going to remember to e-mail, call and socially connect at a manageable frequency is to keep calendar alerts automated like a Swiss Watch. Very few people will send a targeted personalized email they wrote to a key executive, follow up in 3 day increments and then follow up in one week, then a week after that. Creating this cadence of accountability in CRM or Google Calendar can be the major difference in success or failure. As Jill Konrath writes in SNAP Selling, “Don’t wait around for your prospect to get in touch with you. Keep thinking of fresh reasons you can get in front of them, bringing them more ideas, insights, and information to help them achieve their desired business outcomes.” Yesware is a very powerful tool here as you can track them reading your emails in real time. It gives you a peak into the crystal ball as you develop the busines. Often, you'll notice a prospect open an email a few times so this is a great data-driven biz dev moment to leverage by giving them a call at that moment. I had a client call that out and buy just because he was so impressed by that tracking capability.
  6. BONUS: Always anchor the deal: Budget, timeline, compelling event and I'll throw in success criteria. It's critical to anchor the ship and anchor the deal early. Get these 800 pound gorillas addressed early. You can create your own personalized qualification document that serves as an anchor. 'Sell the dream' and stay focused on the business benefits rather than diving into the weeds and granular details or technical side, depending on whom you're presenting to. Here's a recent post by Tim Ferriss on How to Think Like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. "How do they create maximum leverage? How do they think differently?" Your customers are in the hot seat and they aspire to greatness. Psychologically anchoring the deal to tangible business value is going to be critical in how you present and the difference between prospects taking the bid to RFP for reverse auction, kicking the tires on a pilot (or POC)versus the coveted Production Volume - Purchase Order or Annual Commit. You want to leverage a sales story, testimonials, referrals and highlight your key differentiators. It should be second nature to you exactly how you're driving sound ROI for very similar customers and how to effectively communicate that. Open with a confident: "Here are the challenges we solve for customers like you." Know exactly why the conversation is important with the outcomes you can deliver for them and the risks you will mange.

Critical themes to remember:

  • Map the political power base - white board it out, leverage LinkedIn or solutions such and TAS DealmakerPipeline Manager, or Pipeliner to map out the organizational chart.
  • Leverage the assumptive close, as Konrath's paradox states, "To be consultative, be assumptive."
  • Focus on the wildly important goals (WIGS) weekly with your manager, quarterly and in helping clients 'transform their business'.
  • Military strategy - Understand there are always competitors in the deal including the biggest enemy - 'do nothing'. No deals are bilateral, it's always triangulated.
  • Be careful not to challenge before you've built rapport and trust - this can be disastrous. You can come off as condescending and holier than The Pope.
  • Boots on the ground is critical at key conferences but overbook key meetings in advance of this. Ultimately some people will flake or get caught up in unforeseen travel logistics.
  • Close plans are powerful so if you are a manager reading this, make sure to ensure your team is building rock solids ones and you're collaborating on these.
  • InMails - Many of us have Premium LinkedIn accounts. Managers need to make this a KPI that all InMails are used each month. They reversed the system so you're actually rewarded now with credits when recipients respond. This not only incents the correct behaviors in the system but most importantly to you as a salesperson, InMails are exponentially more powerful than a telephone or traditional email as they're so infrequently even exploited, not to mention correctly with high value strategic messaging. Use it or lose it!

The number one reason sales people miss quota is the gap in prospecting. Mind the gap!

It takes massive self-discipline to carve out a couple hours each day to close a door, turn off everything with a circuit board and solely focus on driving warm prospects into the funnel. I would add, failure to segment and target the right prospects with a relevant, provocative message that triggers meaningful response is the second problem. It looks like Brainshark agrees. The most popular reason why reps fail to reach their numbers? Inability to articulate value in their sales conversations. We can't put the cart before the horse and say it's the 'sales story' if sales people are procrastinating and literally not selling or the organizational culture is so broken, the powers that be aren't absolutely prioritizing sales activity at the fore.

The above strategies should greatly augment your forward momentum as you look to crush your Q1 goals and surface through the cloud cover in Q2 to jet toward the stratosphere. Hard work pays-off and smart work reigns supreme. Big bold, daily action is not for the faint of heart and if you love sales, you probably enjoy it like I do. Go pick up a few really big rocks before lunch and then rest easy knowing the revenue is on its way. Nothing is certain but consistent, massive action invigorates you as the crucible of unlimited selling power, a life-enhancing force. Where do you get all the energy? How does one stay motivated and avoid burn-out? One word: 'results.' Results are energizing, the fuel to your fire, and results you will achieve if you start on this explosion of proactive to-do's today. When you start getting traction in your sector, it's a morale producing adrenaline rush. As you set key appointments and on-sites with your dream clients, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Success breeds more success and win-rates spiral upward and cause you to, you guessed it: win even more! There's been a bizarre emphasis on closing and I'll go into that in future post. This post is about opening often with the right prospects, the ones that will help you make and exceed your number this quarter.

What new business strategies and tactics work best for you? What books, blogs, white papers and authors are you reading on the subject? Which technology platforms, processes or advanced automations are you leveraging to boost results? Who is driving the most new business on your team and how are they doing it? What works for you? What are you putting off doing that you know would help you breakthrough? What are your challenges in new business sales? What's blocking you? Please share below.

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: U.S. Pacific Air Forces

Whale Hunting Part II - Anchoring The Deal

Budget. Timeline. Compelling Event. Success Criteria. Together these form the basis of anchoring a deal so that it does not drift away from you. The stem is success criteria. An enterprise deal cannot be anchored without these four points.

Psychologically, numerous studies show that when we present a client with the unit economics in a deal, we risk self-commoditization. In protracted negotiations, starting high and making limited concessions is the strongest approach. Mark Hunter and Chester Karass have written extensively on this. So anchoring the deal is also setting an expectation around deal size and volume required.

It's paramount to think and express only in terms of annual commitments, minimum thresholds and visionary partnerships. Assess these four factors in the crucible of high interest preceding decay rate and thereby accelerate the propensity to close. This combination in its simplicity 'anchors the sale.' It is just that simple.

Qualifying the pipeline is where most sales organizations shipwreck on the rocks of missed expectation. This is why their pipe is chalk full of barnacles and detritus. If you use the anchor above effectively, it's very hard to let garbage float into the ecosystem and miss your targets. If you get these questions handled up front, you'll psychologically anchor the prospect and the deal. Notwithstanding deft application of SPIN, TAS, RSVP tried-and-true frameworks / methodologies, a boat without its anchor is listless and susceptible to the fickle tides. You can easily lose control of deals without knowing these points and inserting them carefully into your sales process. Selling to the customer in their own words requires them explaining these to you.

In an effective discovery call, these four elements are ascertained but only in a ratio of 25% seller speaking to 75% customer revealing pain. I'm a staunch proponent of peeling the onion with Situation, Problem, Implication and Need-Payoff lines of questioning. The greatest wisdom shared with me early in my career, is that often the pain is seldom the true pain. We often diagnose mere symptoms to underlying problems. Great sellers get to the root. Great sellers dive 10,000 feet deep to the bottom of the ocean to understand their customer's business as well, if not even better, than their own in order to truly begin to solve the 'real' underlying problem(s). What is the risk of not adopting the new solution? Economically? Politically? Quantify the risk of inaction.

We have the ability to literally transform our customers' business, make them look like heroes and help them get promoted. That's how powerful a strategic seller's role is. So 'the anchor' benefits both parties, buyers and sellers. It's transparent and creates efficiency. No more circumlocution, equivocation and cluttered pipe. No more 'happy ears.' I will get push back that this is an old school tactic but the ocean is wide and deep, so boiling it is imprudent.

Never present without proper discovery and due diligence performed first. All presentations should be interactive with the customer fully engaged. This is a vast challenge in that studies revealed 92% of those listening in on a virtual meeting are disengaged: checking blackberry, calendar, doing email or simply drifting off. Since the entire world is moving virtual [inside] and pundits are prognosticating that the end of field selling draws nigh, here are the critical success factors for mastering virtual meetings.

Before you look at a customer's plans, data or roadmap, get a mutual non-disclosure agreement in place. Inspire clients to pile everything they can on you. Encourage them to drown you in data from their email, Dropbox or FTP. Why? Because that's how interested you must be in them and scouring 25 files which include marketing calendars, technical specifications, requirements or notes will allow you to tailor your meeting agendas, presentations and navigate how you'll chart your course to the stars. The compass is truth, the north star is value creation. The momentum of mutually executing an NDA triggers the reciprocity, the give and take and back and forth. You want to consistently add value with every email, call, follow-up and outreach.

The Earth is flat for many software companies. They sell seats and licenses and don't care much for customisation. They've frequently grown so large the presentation is mistakenly about their size and omnipotence: there is little need to fully understand the customer's specific challenges because they've provided 50 case studies of customers 'just like them.' Huge mistake, yes? Not only do we all love to feel like we are different but companies are indeed much like snowflakes. There is no one-size fits all solution-set, especially at the level of a six, seven - even eight figure deal. You must transcend the requirements, meet with various stakeholders in the account and map the political power base. Understanding the forces moving in the account, is like predicting currents. Wade out with your wits about you, always cognizant of the rip tides: competitive threats, status quo, 'do nothing,' point solutions and the homegrown, 'we'll just build it ourselves' approach.

I'm often amused by the number of books on Amazon still touting one-call closing or even two call. I'm afraid the 80s are gone and this isn't a door-to-door steak knife or vacuum cleaner route. The height of folly is to deliver a generic proposal. Being consultative and tailoring your deck will make the biggest impact. I know a CEO who approaches every possible opportunity as if the entire funding and future of her company rose and fell on whether this single deal went through. The result is a relentless focus on strategy, listening, seeking first to understand and then be understood and a pristine, crystalline proposal that's so well developed and nurtured, it's essentially written in the prospect's own words. She never crafts the proposal after the second call. A sequence of calls with various teams over weeks occurs as the customisations are refined. By the time the contracts are drafted up, there are no surprises. No more waiting on pins and needles and endlessly checking in or touching base...

When you present a complex solution to the client, paint the entire picture of transformation. If it requires presenting a million dollar suite of solutions in order to break off the first $250,000, have you not succeeded in closing that handsome piece of business in, as the relationship will grow? Contrast this with endless requests for pilots if you attempt to close solely the $250K? Always close 'sell the dream' with a valid, full menu of application. Prioritize together – land and expand.

The world has become enamored with the social selling craze and so I am releasing an eccentric book on this subject shortly. I have recognized a global gap in training and enablement. Old school folks like me who have sold for 30 years in the field, blend strategic selling with social selling. Thus I have dubbed this Strategic Social Selling or potentially Social Selling 3.0. My thesis is that social selling will be relegated to an oversimplified transactional 'slam and jam' medium, if we do not return to the fundamentals that govern the psychology of influence and the timeless principles that govern value exchange. A deal is a deal is a deal... And an enterprise deal is a wild and wooly animal, unwieldy and untamable.

We buy when we feel the solution has value. It's human nature. We seek out the premium and we actually are loathe not to feel 'exclusive.' Apple captures this ethos as does BMW. Even Starbucks is selling coffee at a premium. Virgin is an experience. Qantas in a safe flight. Ultimately, there are value differentiators that cause elasticity of demand, allowing us to defend price and margin. I recently debated with a junior sales rep, that all vendor solutions being exactly equal, I could sell at a higher price. His argument was that the way to win the deal would be to lower the price to be competitive. Our customers understand healthy profit margins as they too seek them. I created a program to sell that service based on the intangibles: value creation, service levels and by being the differentiator my self in how it was sold as a trusted advisor as opposed to features, functions, advantages and benefits that placed him into a commoditization downward spiral.

Beyond all other elements of anchoring a large enterprise deal is the chain of the anchor itself: Confidence. Believe in your solution. Be fully sold yourself. Communicate with your shoulders back, stand upright in a confident loud tone and speak in full sentences. End those sentences. I was recently listening to a candidate be interviewed for a client I was consulting and we had a "rattler" on the phone. He hemmed and hawed, droned and prattled on. Confidence will always sell and this is another achilles heel of social. How can a computer sound confident? Will AI ever convey true confidence won by experience imputed from inflection? Artificial Intelligence will always be logical indeed although ever confident in a synthetic way. The flaw of computers is they're only ever as smart as the humans that programmed them...

So that's a collection of my thoughts on the anchor. You've got the technology to be first in. You've 'opened' in social and you've generated the deal with your dream prospect. But now you must move faster than the decay rate before the status quo overtakes everyone involved. Anchor the deal! Be honest, forthright and confidently express what this will take. Align your incentives so that the strategic outcomes are a mutual win-win. Reduce the risk right out of the equation. Fear or pleasure may drive the close so take the temperature of your stakeholders early on. Which of the following will be your litmus test? Focus on the outcomes and management of risk. You will be delegated down to who you sound like. Have you ever seen a CEO's email? She rarely includes a salutation or signature. She communicates tersely, in economy of movement and time. She's powerful in what she does not do. Learn the language of strategy and carry this counterweight.

  • Do they have a budget sufficient enough for this exclusive opportunity? Yes, it's exclusive. Not every company has the need, solution fit or will innovate to the degree to apply the disruptive technology you extoll.
  • What is the precise timeline? Is this a realistic priority or something to be left for Q4 or 2016? Entire industries can come and go in the time it takes for a company that's 'just looking.' Remember the finish line is not the signature, it's the go-live date of production when your solution is adding value.
  • Is there a bonafide compelling event? What is the 500 lb. Gorilla of a reason to do this now? Mutually define a compelling business case. Uncover demand or create it. If there is any ambivalence in this regard, it's wasted time to continue.
  • What is their success criteria? How will your prospect measure their success? Are there systems in place, analytics and reporting to measure the ROI? How are they currently solving the problem with their existing team or vendor(s)? Remember a great way to land and expand in these accounts is to encourage multi-vendor approach for diversification.

Now it's your turn: How do you anchor your deals? What elements of influence are most effective for you during the sales cycle? How do you prevent junk from clogging your funnel?

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: Christian Jensen and Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería

Unicorn Alert!!! My Top 100+ STRATEGIC Social Seller List

Strap on your narwhal horns of "strategery" and fasten your seat belts. This list is in no particular order but is nothing short of awesome! Without further ado I'm releasing my Web 3.0 Champions Twitter List to the world: Web 3.0 Champions(664 Thought Leaders Influencing Strategic Social Selling 3.0 and growing daily! - Please go follow all of these luminescent minds and fly this list into your HootSuite, TweetDeck or social dashboard of choice for full blown content fireworks overload like New Year's over the Sydney Opera House.)

Ladies and gentleman of Earth... a new hashtag is born like the birth of a star in a champagne super nova.


Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. - Sun Tzu

You heard it here first! I've compiled this mega-scroll from a variety of sources after an overwhelming response to my open letter to social sellers everywhere. I think we can all agree there is far too much of social for social's sake going on. It's reached epidemic proportions like Beanie Babies, Paris Hilton and the Macarena. Who let the dogs out Grumpy Cat?

I feel these folks are truly putting the STRATEGIC into SOCIAL. Who did I miss? I'll continue to update the post with your thoughts. If I missed you or someone you care about, please like, comment write in or inbox me immediately with why they're STRATEGIC: tony at rsvpelling dot com.

plural strat·e·gies

Full Definition of STRATEGY

1 a (1) : the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war (2) : the science and art of military command exercised to meet the enemy in combat under advantageous conditions b : a variety of or instance of the use of strategy 2a : a careful plan or method : a clever stratagem b : the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal 3: an adaptation or complex of adaptations (as of behavior, metabolism, or structure) that serves or appears to serve an important function in achieving evolutionary success <foraging strategies of insects>

So many metaphors in here, at least that's how Merriam-Webster defines it. How do I define strategy? Here's my definition if closing six, seven and even eight figure deals leveraging social + strategy as a force multiplier is something intriguing to you. I may have just cracked the code and am coaching strategic social selling effectively right now on three continents. I've thoroughly enjoyed speaking at Oracle recently down under.

There's power in mashups! These folks get it. You could say they're unicorns. They use the new tools and fuse them with classic methods. They think intelligently and strategically with social applying it to closing enterprise deals. A bunch of these thoughts leaders can be found on the big lists: KiteDeskOnalytica(where I humbly find myself at #87, which is encouraging after a few months of rookie effort mixing Strategic Selling methods with David Meerman Scott New Rules of Marketing and PR), InsideView and the Summit Klout List. If you show up on this list, I've interfaced with you, learned something valuable from you and respect your technique.

People ask me what inspired the ideation and sheer volume of the last 135 posts on LinkedIn Publisher in 90 days; it was all of you. Remember these people on the list and make sure you religiously follow everything each one of them says. Then you can change the face of selling as we know it and write a bestselling book. It's that simple! ;-)

  • Timothy Hughes
  • Koka Sexton
  • Jill Rowley
  • Mike Kunkle
  • Jason Jordan
  • Mark Hunter
  • Gabe Villamizar – Millennial Unicorn
  • Babette Ten Haken
  • Jill Konrath
  • Tamara Schenk
  • Ken Krogue
  • Brian Tracy
  • Miles Austin
  • Brynne Tillman
  • Alice Kemper
  • Sonja Firth
  • S. Anthony Iannarino
  • Steve Richard
  • Kendra Lee
  • Marsha Collier
  • Jack Malcolm
  • Mike Weinberg
  • Jeff Sheehan
  • Colleen Stanley
  • Ann Handley
  • Nancy Nardin
  • Melonie Dodaro
  • Eric Mitchell
  • Michael Harris
  • Dave Kurlan
  • Viveka von Rosen
  • Grant Cardone
  • Bernadette McClellan
  • Aaron Ross
  • John Smibert
  • Chris Young
  • Alice Heiman
  • Ago Cluytens
  • Vala Afshar
  • Bryn Hughes
  • Brian Fanzo
  • Jack Kosakowski
  • Andy Paul
  • Rachel Miller
  • Michael Brenner
  • Jo Saunders
  • Heide Schwende
  • Darrel Griffin
  • Brian Solis
  • David Meerman Scott
  • Alex Hisaka
  • Elay Cohen
  • Trish Bertuzzi
  • Jon Ferrara
  • Anneke Seley
  • Steven A. Rosen
  • Michael Fox
  • Keith Rosen
  • Daniel Barber
  • Lori Richardson
  • Art Sobczak
  • Tibor Shanto
  • Craig Elias
  • Deb Calvert
  • Kelly Riggs
  • Jeffrey Gitomer
  • Jay Baer
  • Michael Hyatt
  • Dave Stein
  • Jim Keenan
  • Greg Alexander
  • Charles H. Green
  • Bob Burg
  • Tim Hurson
  • David Brock
  • Doug Davidoff
  • Mike Schultz
  • Leanne Hoagland Smith
  • Ted Rubin
  • Matt Heinz
  • Lee Salz
  • Robert Terson
  • Colleen Francis
  • Ken Thoreson
  • Tom Searcy
  • Jeb Blount
  • Josiane Feigon
  • John Dougan
  • Paul McCord
  • Donal Daly
  • Gary S. Hart
  • Eric Quanstrom
  • Tiffani Bova
  • Tom Hopkins
  • Gerhard Gschwandtner
  • John Cousineau
  • Joanne Black
  • Jonathan Farrington
  • John Golden
  • Jamie Shanks
  • Barb Giamanco
  • Celina Guerrero
  • Alyson Button Stone
  • Nikolaus Kimla

Again, who's missing from the list? Are you a strategic social seller? Unicorn alert! Help me out LinkedIn???!!! Give a shout out and some love to folks you know and comment WHY they are STRATEGIC and SOCIAL. Why is he or she strategic with social selling? How are they thinking differently? Call out a quote, a book, an interaction?

LET'S SEE HOW BIG WE CAN BUILD THIS LIST in an interactive experiment almost like a modern strategic social selling chain letter. We all know the ones beseeching us to save the public TV station that go #viral. I'm hoping to save the sector from shiny object syndrome and 'look a squirrel' transactional Armegeddon.

THANKS FOR YOUR HELP! Now to celebrate let's all go to Rio!

P.S. An addition to the list: Michael Fox @adaptiveselling, Director Field Readiness at VMWare.

He provides strategic, adaptive, execution-oriented perspectives and expertise to professional B2B selling, especially how to develop high-performance sales teams; based on global experience in various sales and sales enablement roles. 
Check out his latest posts:

Your top 100 list article was awesome, just wanted to give you a shout out. I am surprised combining unicorns, Will Ferrell, and Arnold didn't break the internet.

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: Monica