sales management

The 6 Risks Sales People Must Manage

Complex enterprise selling is about lots of things – managing risk is near the top of the list. Here are six risks that must be managed if we are to win large complex opportunities.

1: Not knowing what it is that you don’t know. I’ve won hundreds of millions of dollars of business by obsessing on this one. I’m always wondering what's going on in the client’s boardroom, what politics are in play behind the scenes, what my competitors are up to, what could blind-side me. I’m not negative, just positively paranoid.

The ABC of complex enterprise selling is not Always Be Closing; it is Always Be Cogitating! Be a gatherer of intelligence, a plotter, a schemer, a planner. A strategy is only as good as the intelligence and thinking that leads to it. Always seek progression in the process (closing, if you like, for the next step or action) and advancement in your standing with everyone in the power-base.

2: Inertia, apathy and status quo. Despite a customer’s desire to improve their business or department by implementing change, many a project goes nowhere. Amazingly, no one on the client side seems to damage their career – they instead see benefits in gathering lots of valuable information and, at the end of the day, saving the organization unnecessary risk: ‘All a very useful exercise for when we go ahead in the future’.

So ask yourself: Are they really committed? Do they know why they are doing this? Is their senior executive commitment beyond a mere sponsor? Is there either a compelling business case or compelling event driving the project or initiative? Is their level of dissatisfaction strong enough or can the incumbent salvage their situation? Why will they change?

3: Any negative force outside your control. This is a tough one – how do you manage something outside of your control? We need to anticipate competitors and circumstance that can enter the scene to create negative pressure. In response, we also need to be able to rally the support of those who can influence should the need arise. Think about what could go wrong and who it is that you would need the support of to address the situation. For example, could you ask your key senior decision-maker: ‘What will you do when our competition realizes they’ve lost and they offer you a deal that isn’t commercially viable for them?’ Understand the political power within the client organization and build relationships that can be harnessed to repel negative forces if needed.

4: Software or technology demonstrations. This risk is massive and for two reasons. The first is that it is very common for the seller to do a gob-smacking demo that completely misses the mark. Lots of features and functions intended to wow the audience with the capabilities of the product, simply cause concerns about training requirements, change management and complexity… ”We don’t need a Rolls Royce solution.” The second reason is that vendors seem to have a crack cocaine style addiction to showing the very latest in their product – the beta code that has the very latest functionality… and bugs.

When you are forced to do a demo, ensure that you understand what the buyer expects and needs to see. Never demo in a vacuum. Never demo without a script unless you are masterful. Ask your buyer: “What happens next if the demo meets expectations?” Most importantly, never demo to create interest! Remember that features and functions can exclude you from a deal but they almost never win the day. Pushing features and functions can actually create price or total cost of ownership (TCO) concerns.

5: Reference customers. They are your best resource in securing new business. But they often feel compelled to be ‘honest’ when doing reference calls or site visits. They can feel compelled to balance the good with some honesty. Worse than this is when your published case studies or marketing reference customer database is out of date. Never use a reference customer unless you know them and what they will say when asked specific questions. Manage this real risk in the back-end of the buyer’s process. Remember, reference site visits are all down side!

6: Your boss or other senior executives. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen senior executives just decide to wing-it when meeting clients. This is despite briefing documents and the polite exhortations of those below them to prepare well for the meeting. The worst situation is when someone above you wants to ‘touch the deal’ or ‘help you close’. There is no room for big egos in complex enterprise selling – everyone in the team needs to play their role. I recently helped a client win a $100M opportunity and the senior executives above the sales person were all amazingly brilliant in playing their role. It is amazing what can be achieved when no-one cares who gets the credit.

These six areas of risk are very real – you may have others. People within your customer’s organization will resist or sabotage change, often for reasons they themselves do not fully understand. Obsess about managing every contingency as this is one of the things that sets great people apart from the average.

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: Maria Ly

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

The Test For Assessing Sales Aptitude

I’m giving you my sales aptitude test linked here absolutely free but I encourage you to first read this advice. I’ve been in professional selling for more than 3 decades and during that time I’ve been a sales rep, sales manager, sales director of public companies, and Managing Director of my own businesses and also for the Asia-Pacific region of global operations. I've written a best selling book on sales leadership and I teach sales master classes for the MBA program at the University of Technology Sydney.

You’d think I would be masterful at hiring the right sales people. But I have a confession to make – it’s incredibly difficult!

What defines the right sales person and how do you screen-out those who look good but can't deliver? Once you’ve got a short-list, how do you get past the masterful façade being projected? How do you differentiate the candidates and find those with the right attitude and values? I’ve written about the importance of cultural fit and how to best execute a job interview but for the employer or recruitment consultant, how do you uncover the truth about their capabilities, values, and weaknesses?

Without doubt, the biggest mistake a manager can make is to hire the wrong person. This is because it damages your own personal brand and wastes huge amounts of time and emotional energy in managing the person out. It also has devastating consequences on revenue and lost momentum. Finally, it can also damage corporate relationships in the market-place. Never hire the best of the bunch. Only hire the right person – the one you feel strongly will be successful in the role and fit within your team culture. Here is what I regard as the best process for hiring and also rules that should never be broken if you are committed to managing risk.

Go beyond the job description and qualifications. Forget generic job descriptions! Instead write an ad that talks about what the person is expected to do and how they will need to execute. Ask them to write a one-page letter, attaching their CV, highlighting why they are the ideal candidate to join your team. Don't accept something that merely plays back the advertisement and obviously reject those who do not have prerequisite qualifications and experience. Does their CV provide evidence of consistent high performance? Have they been with past employers for sustained periods of time? Do they possess the necessary qualifications and experience?

Progressive screening to qualify out. Now that you have an initial group of candidates who have the necessary qualifications and responded as requested; it’s all about a progressive qualification process to continually screen down to a short-list.

Can they write? If they could not write a good letter (structure, grammar and spelling) or failed to do basic research and adapt their pitch, then reject them immediately. The covering letter and CV should also have been tailored to show relevancy for the role. You don't want a generic sales person and neither do your prospects and customers. Seriously, this is important because if you hire someone with poor written communication skills, you will forever be editing or rewriting proposals or correspondence – you don't have time. Worse than this, they will submit losing proposals that miss the mark with prospects. In complex B2B selling, written skills are essential.

LinkedIn social proximity. LinkedIn is phenomenally powerful and it is likely that you know someone who knows someone who knows your candidate. Use your network to check the candidate out informally. Do it as an ‘off the record’ conversation, nothing official. Ensure the conversation is nuanced and that you pick-up the subtext of commentary about the individual. None of these conversations should be with a formal referee listed on the CV and certainly not with their current employer.

Psychometric Testing. The next step is to conduct psychometric testing (intelligence and operating style) and personality profiling (if not incorporated into previous). Here is something controversial: I don't hire amiable personalities for business development roles – they have no chance of executing concepts such as Challenger Selling. Anyone who has a personality that avoids conflict or tension will be high maintenance and struggle to execute – you will forever be pushing them. The HR department will not like this, nor will they be in favour of informal ‘social proximity’ conversations but you cannot afford to get the hiring decision wrong, and you must take all necessary steps remove risk from the hiring process.

Written Exercise. Can they write under pressure? Before you run your ad, take the time to create a realistic sales scenario with a two page brief supported by a subset of your marketing collateral. This should be tailored for the sales role (field sales versus inside sales versus pre-sales / solution architects). Only give the candidates 24 hours to respond. For a business development role, ask them to write a two page executive summary that would lead a formal proposal. You’re looking to see whether they can construct a relevant, concise, professional, logical, evidence-based letter that focuses on business value rather than features of your company or functions of your product, service or solution.

The Interview. This is where you are laser-focused to determine cultural fit. They have already demonstrated that they have the skills and qualifications to do the job but now it’s all about their values, work ethic, attitude and personality. Put them under pressure and ask them to provide real examples of how they’ve dealt with difficult situations. Ask them these kinds of questions: 

  • How do you define ‘strategic selling’ – what do you do that makes you ‘strategic’?
  • What was your biggest loss and what did you learn?
  • How do you qualify an opportunity?
  • What was your biggest win and how did you create value and manage risk?
  • What’s your approach for building pipeline and how do they leverage LinkedIn and other social platforms and tools for monitoring and research?
  • What are the professional development books you’ve read in the last 12 months?

Integrity trap. If the candidate comes from a competitor, ask them what they can bring to role beyond their skills and experience. Ask them what IP they possess that can help them accelerate their success. If they say anything other than their insights, domain expertise and relationships; don't hire them. Anyone who offer to bring a contact database, pipeline report, or any other private and confidential information belonging to your competitor will most likely do the same to you when they leave. Integrity is everything – yours and theirs. There are also obvious legal issues you could become embroiled in. Your personal and corporate reputation is everything so reject anyone who shows poor moral judgement.

Reference checking. Never delegate reference checking and never make it an afterthought. Always select the people you want to talk with rather than the ‘buddies’ listed as referees on the candidates CV. You know they will say nice things and report back to the candidate afterward. Instead select the most senior contact of a large deal they won, or a senior contact with their biggest channel partner. The hiring manager (the person who the candidate will directly report to) must do the reference checks personally, over a coffee if possible rather than a phone call.

Hiring the wrong person is the biggest mistake you can make. It will cause you enormous pain and damage your own career. When in doubt about a candidate, don’t hire them. Wait, be patient, get it right. If you use a recruitment consultant, make them earn their fee by ensuring they understand your culture and that they define value in fewer CVs rather than more CVs. Don’t let them bombard you with marginal candidates or send you anyone that is not both technically and culturally qualified. The very best recruitment consultants work with a ‘less is more’ ethos and invest the time with you to understand your culture.

I promised you a free Sales Aptitude Test for complex B2B selling and here it is... Click the image below.

I won't use your email address to market to you – no spam. The self-assessment takes approximately 50 minutes but there is no time limit. Upon completion, summary scores are provided for the following seven competencies in professional selling:

  1. Sales Process
  2. Communication
  3. Knowledge, Attitude and Skill
  4. Opening
  5. Closing
  6. Objections
  7. Opportunity Development

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: Quinn Dombrowski - A bizarre job interview


Suicide & The Workplace — Sales Career Truth

Natasha David worked for me ten years ago as Marketing Manager in a technology company where I was Managing Director. One morning I received a call... her husband had died and was in his late twenties. "I'm so, so sorry Tash... what happened?" an awkward silence followed. How do you talk about a loved one who commits suicide? How do you cope with the feelings of guilt about failing to save them or not being close enough to recognize what was about to happen? I felt paralyzed but we did our best to give her all the space and time she needed to be able to manage.

One in five people will suffer from mental illness this year... all of us work with people who suffer from depression, anxiety or other disorders.

Many questions and emotions swam around in my head in the months following this experience. Two years earlier in the same company where Natasha lost her husband, our Professional Services Manager lost his 20 year old son to Leukemia. There was a dramatic relapse just days from the twelve month anniversary of cancer treatment when he would be officially pronounced as being in remission. It was heart wrenching to witness let alone live through. We also supported him by removing all work pressure and providing complete flexibility on full pay for as long as he needed. Without any fuss, his team rallied and covered all work demands. He slowly re-joined work and we were able to tentatively talk about his son with him. There would be stilted conversations and tears but it was okay... all part of the process of creating a meaningful life without his beloved son as well as honoring his son’s memory.

For friends and colleagues, what is the boundary between showing care and prying into someone's personal life when they suffer loss or are seeking to deal with their own demons of depression or other mental illness? Is the workplace somewhere the grieving person goes to escape or can it be a place of healing? Is the workplace where those with invisible disabilities come to hide and deny or can they be accepted and respected?

Suicide seems to be different... a social taboo with stigma attached to the death of a loved one. I never did manage to have a conversation with Natasha; just a few hugs and as much workplace support as I could provide. She withdrew and coped in her own way... I did the same when I lost my mother at 25 – it was at times a dark lonely place. After losing her husband to suicide Natasha was pulled into a dark void and checked herself into hospital where she had a profound realization that can save lives …

The Life Saving Truth: "Suicide only transfers the pain to everyone else."

This something we should all share with anyone we think is in a bad place with depression or other mental health issues. Natasha is one of the most courageous people I have met and she is about to publish her book, Marrying Bipolar. It provides amazing insight for anyone wanting to understand mental illness. Winston Churchill described depression as the black dog but it is far more complex than applying labels.

Natasha decided that if she was to push on, she would make it the best life she could live. She has done exactly that and her book will make a difference in many lives. I'll be at Natasha's book launch at Dymocks in Sydney on April 1st (no joke) and you can sign up for the event here or pre-register for her book, Marrying Bipolar, here.

Natasha's story shows the devastating impact for those around someone suffering from mental illness but what if you are directly managing or working with someone who has a mental illness? I've managed sales people for many years and I am sensitive to the tell-tale signs. I have a personal experience with mental illness as the son and then the business partner of a bi-polar father. Others in my family also suffer from mental illness but I thank God not my wife, children or me.

Professional selling is brutal... it is not for the faint-hearted. High levels of emotional intelligence (EQ), business acumen, strong work ethic and resilience are all essential. I've seen sales people battle through massive highs and devastating lows, damaging the very relationships they need to succeed, going troppo on drugs and alcohol, going missing for days until they emerge from their dark fog.

All this raises two important questions for sales leadership:

  1. Does selling attract those who are inadequately equipped to cope with the demands of the role?
  2. What can sales leaders do to help and manage those in their teams that suffer from a mental illness?

1. Does selling attract people who are poorly equipped psychologically?

The research has evidenced that mental illness does not discriminate by ethnicity, age, gender or career choice (Meadows, Farhall, Fossey, Grigg, McDermott & Singh, 2012). Throughout my professional career, the most common mental condition I have encountered in sales people is bi-polar. This term used to be identified as manic-depression and both are apt descriptions for the huge mood swings that can damage relationships with clients, staff and partners. On top of this they require persistent, consistent management therefore consuming disproportionate amounts of a manager's time and energy. Although anyone with a disability ̶ physical or mental ̶ can be a productive and valued member of a team, they need to find the right job position, have a supportive manager and work environment.

The biggest mistake a manager can make is to hire the wrong person and the second biggest mistake they make is holding onto staff that need to be moved on.

This sounds very harsh but it's a truth all managers must face. The best way to do so is with empathy and compassion in seeking to help people work in roles that best suit them. A lack of compassion combined with relentless pressure and judgment exacerbates the risks and highlights a sales manger’s poor values or interpersonal skills.

Selling is one of the toughest jobs; for anyone to sustain success they need the following attributes:

  • Resilience: The ability to cope with rejection and disappointment amidst relentless pressure to perform and deliver results
  • Emotional Intelligence (EQ): The ability to truly understand your personal strengths and weaknesses while being able to read people and politics
  • Good work ethic: The discipline and ethos of doing what it takes rather than your best by committing the required time and energy in paying attention to every detail
  • Curiosity and intelligence: Beyond being smart, this is also being obsessed about the customer's world, how results can be delivered and how risks can be managed
  • Insight and domain knowledge: Specialization in an area that matters to the customer with you being able to provide genuine insight to the people who make decisions.

Track record, qualifications and work history are easy to validate. Every hiring manager needs to go beyond these and be clear about what defines a 'cultural fit' for sales people by evaluating candidates against the above criteria.

2. What can we do to fulfill our duty of care for those who are struggling?

Make no mistake; leadership carries a burden both morally and legally. We have a duty of care to those we employ and to those with whom we share our lives. We need to create person-centered cultures rather than toxic performance-based furnaces. I've written previously about two contrasting corporate cultures (love vs greed) and we need to create environments where work has purpose, value and respect for those around us.

A healthy workplace is a community where employees are valued members of a team rather than mere units of production. Where relationships are real and the corporate values play out in the positive behavior of the leaders.

We need to ask people if they are okay and really mean it. The best way to create a high performance culture is to be authentic about delivering value for clients and building relationships of trust and respect. Executing this requires leaders who are the real deal and able to rally people to their cause; yet becoming a great leader in an inside job rather than projecting a persona.

Capitalism without compassion is commerce without a soul. We all want to make a positive different in the lives of others but not everyone can be a winner who stands on the podium in first place. Great leaders embrace diversity and leverage individual strengths within teams. As a leader, seek balance and value individuals as people who have their own fears and shortcomings as they pursue their aspirations. Have the courage to talk with an employee or colleague about how they are really going with genuine empathy.

Ask 'how are you going... really?' Then listen like you've never listened before. Everyone needs to be heard. Everyone needs someone who cares and believes in them.

For more on this important topic, please read The Darker Side of Selling by my good friend Bernadette McClelland. She provides three examples of the unhealthy pressure and destructive behaviors that plague many sales environments.

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:

Reference: Meadows, G., Farrell, J., Fossey, E., Grigg, M., McDermott, F., & Singh, B. (2012). Mental Health in Australia: Collaborative community practice (3rd ed.). South Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Jo Christian Oterhals My heart burns there too

Why Sales People Must Become Micro Marketers

Segmentation has always been important in business but it's essential when products and services drift toward commoditization. Don't fall into the trap of allowing low margin products to be sold by outdated and expensive direct sales models. Designing customer experience determines how, when and where sales people play a role in client acquisition.

Sales people need to fund themselves from the value they create rather than from the margins that the product or service delivers.

Embrace the reality in the above statement and instead take the low value commodity products and services away from field sales people and give that sales quota to the head of marketing! Then for the complex or high value 'solutions' that remain, equip your sales people and sales managers to 'move to value' in how they engage their markets.

Sales and marketing are competencies, not departments. Marketing therefore needs to sell and sales people must become micro-marketers to attract and engage clients

But for marketing to succeed in creating exceptional customer experience, the CEO needs to become the Chief Customer Experience Officer. This post is not about the marketing department so let's move on to what is important for sales people. 

For any sales person to prosper in their career they need to move beyond being good at building relationships to also embrace the elements sales mastery:

Built on the timeless foundation of business acumenmasterful listening skills andpolitical awareness to develop relationships of trust, these are the three additional elements for today's most effective sales professionals:

  • Lead with insight as a domain expert
  • Create tangible business [case] value for clients
  • Leverage technology to be effective and efficient

Make no mistake, relationships are important but a relationship alone is not enough. Put another way; relationships of trust are an essential prerequisite for sales success but the relationship itself is NOT where the buyer sees value. Buyers today are busy and stressed, and they are not looking for new friends nor do they want to entertain 'professional visitors'. They instead require greater value from fewer relationships. They care about how their suppliers can help them achieve their goals and manage their risks.

The modern sales professional takes ownership of creating their sales pipeline

Marketing initiatives rarely create conversations with senior decision makers. Instead, senior executives and seasoned sales people are best equipped to target and engage the key decision-makers within client organizations. But hammering away on the phone with cold calls is a thoughtless and negative approach because less than 2% of cold calls yield any kind of positive result.

Rather than interrupt and push, the best approach is attract and engage on engagement platforms such as LinkedIn. To attract buyers we must show insight and relevance... salespeople must create content.

When I speak at conferences this is the assertion that sparks the most debate... sales people write content! There is an inconvenient truth today for anyone in sales: If you can't write, you can't sell. This short video John Smibert did with me explains my rationale.

Here are four reasons for sales people to write content with their managers and marketing department supporting them with ideation, proof-reading, editing and publishing tools:

  1. Educate yourself and develop domain knowledge and expertise
  2. Connect with industry leaders to build your sphere of influence
  3. Attract clients and an audience to support your business goals
  4. Build your personal brand evidencing credibility, value and insight

In an online world we are known by who we are connected to and what we publish. According to IDC research, 75% of buyers research the seller before engaging. What do they see when they view your profile? We want people to see a credible domain expert worthy of trust and an investment of  time.

In my next post I will provide five topics sales people can  write about but micro-marketing includes more than writing and publishing. We must also create a strong personal brand and here is how to begin. Technology also plays a pivotal role and this is where sales people should be committed to embracing CRM for the marketing team to include their prospects in lead nurturing, drip marketing and event initiatives.

The 'Updates' section of LinkedIn is very powerful, and scheduling tools such as Buffer make the process easy for sharing other people’s articles, blogs, research, infographics and Tweets. Content can easily be sourced with sales people identifying influencers in the market and individual content capture and scheduling is as simple as clicking a button in the web browser.

Sales people must consciously associate themselves with leaders who are respected by their potential clients and transform their LinkedIn profile to be a personal brand micro site instead of an online CV. Connect with leaders admired by your clients and then share their content as a 'content aggregator' who adds your own insights... working with other people's content is the easiest way to begin your content publishing journey.

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: Susan Murtaugh Follow Advertising

Will Artificial Intelligence Protect Sales Jobs?

I've written about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to create a sales career apocalypse but not everyone agrees with me. I took the time to meet with Matt Michalewicz who is a global leader in applying AI to create opportunities and drive the productivity of sales people. His perspectives are thought provoking and profound.

Although Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation is going to displace many people in current jobs, including white collar professions,  AI can also make certain jobs more productive. Matt believes that AI can actually make some jobs so much more productive that they will be protected from becoming extinct. I asked Matt to elaborate in the context of business-to-business (B2B) sales roles and here is his response (in italics).

The 'salesperson' job category is predicted to suffer significant job losses in the decade ahead but these predictions are based on a number of factors:

  • The growing sophistication of AI technology
  • The continuing move by consumers to online, self-service consumption models
  • The deteriorating return on investment metrics of many sales jobs (especially “in field” jobs)

Just look at what happened to the salespeople that sold vacuum cleaners, insurance, and encyclopedias on a door-to-door basis. Their demise stemmed from too much cost (salary, travel expenses, commissions, etc.), and not enough yield (too few sales to justify the cost). The same also happened to B2B sales people selling fax machines, radio paging and other technologies that became common-place.

Sales roles in B2B selling are at risk, especially with commoditized products such as liquor, food, carpet, electronics, paint, hardware, among many others (where the average sale size is low, but the costs of keeping reps on the road is high). Unless these companies can increase the yield and sales effectiveness of the in-field reps, they will suffer a similar fate as those that sold vacuum cleaners, insurance, and encyclopaedias. In other words, these sales job types need to become more productive to stay viable from a business (cost/benefit) perspective

But then Matt took the conversation in a surprisingly positive direction.

"Imagine if you had a digital assistant who did your research and created the insights you can take to customers to create value."

All B2B sales people need to lead with insight as their key point of differentiation. I've been following IBM's Watson closely but Matt has founded his own company,  Complexica, focused on the application of Artificial Intelligence to help organizations capture both profit and productivity gains. The application of his technology can change the game for those in B2B selling, especially where there are huge amount of data that can be analyzed. Matt and his team of AI “lifers” have worked in the area of Artificial Intelligence for more than 20 years, written dozens of books on the topic, and Complexica is their 3rd AI company (with their previous being acquired by Schneider Electric in 2012).

Complexica’s core product – an AI-based software robot called “Larry, the Digital Analyst” – has been specifically designed to make sales people more productive. How? By using advanced AI to automatically capture and analyze countless data sets (both internal and external), to determine:

  • The most promising customers and prospective customers to visit (where the wallet share potential is the greatest)
  • Value-adding insights that can be shared with the specific customer or prospective customer (such as “businesses just like yours are doing/buying/selling xyz at the moment” or “this is what’s selling well in your area” and so on)
  • The exact offer to be made to each customer or prospective customer (based on analysis of similar customers and transactions)
  • The exact price (again, based on analysis of similar customers and transactions)

Where IBM's Watson is currently focused on medical diagnosis (after winning Jeopardy against the best people on the planet), Complexica began life with a different approach.

Matt explains that Complexica's Larryhas been designed from the very beginning to enhance the value that sales people provide their customers while dramatically improving their efficiency. “We observed that huge productivity gains could be achieved if we could just tell sales reps where the most promising opportunities are, arm them with research and value-adding insights for each visit, and suggest the best combination of products, services, and price for each sales conversation. If we provided this information automatically and simultaneously to hundreds of in-field reps and telesales operators, they would immediately become more productivity and their yield would increase, because they would be targeting better opportunities, with the right products at the right price. From that initial observation, the idea of building an AI-based software robot was born, so we could automate all the complex data analysis to provide right the insight, to the right person, at the right time, without any of the complexity for the end user. That was the moment Larry, the Digital Analyst was conceived.”

Matt Michalewicz is a global leader in AI and the video interview with Sky News makes for fascinating viewing (Click this or the image below to view)

While technology and automation can destroy jobs it can also enhance sales careers and the value being provided to customers. Those sellers who embrace technology to create the necessary value to fund them in their roles will be the ones who prosper.

Matt Michalewicz is co-founder and Managing Director of Complexica.  

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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Lead and Sell By Getting Out Of The Way!

The Human condition can drive us toward success or failure. As legendary Aussie rocker Crissy Amphlett once said: "There's a fine line between pleasure and pain" and also success and catastrophe. We need ambition and self-confidence to propel us yet our passion must be for the cause and people we serve. We need real belief in the value we offer as we seek to convert others to our view of the world and it needs to be all about creating value for them rather than extracting something for us. But this is an unnatural approach.

We're wired to talk about ourselves, what we do and how we do it. We must instead lead with why a conversation matters by talking about the results can we help them deliver and the risks we can help them manage.

The above statement is what is at the heart of modernizing leadership and professional selling. We must lead with insight rather than a pitch; we must make it about them rather than us. Our approach must be dosed with humility and genuine interest in others if we are to gain traction and make a difference. Why should they invest time in meeting us to reading our material? Are we clear about the insights we provide and the value we create? Don't even think about going to market with your sales and marketing teams until you have compelling answers to these questions.

All great musicians know that 'less is more'. Too much clutter results in the important being lost amidst all the noise. Those who perform masterfully on stage or in the boardroom know that genuine belief in what they do is the foundation of their success. And this sincere passion has a wonderful byproduct... it is how we find purpose and meaning is what we do.

Building trust and creating value is at the heart of professional selling. But no-one is motivated by our promises or pitch and information does not inspire or differentiate. Facts and data do not equate to insight. The art of selling is in helping people have an epiphany that you personally – before your company, product, service or solution – are what they need. People have always bought from those they like and trust, but success for sales people requires one more ingredient today – value through insight.

Telling is not selling. This is because people are best motivated by reasons that they themselves discover

The very best sales people are not warriors of persuasion, but rather engineers of value. They are naturally curious and obsessively focused on the customer’s world. I used to wrongly believe that the best sales people were the ones selling ‘unique’ solutions… how wrong I was! The best sales people are actually those selling commodities; because the only way they can effectively differentiate is in the way they sell.

Here’s a revelation that will change you sales career – everything is a commodity in the eyes of the buyer; except you and the way you engage your customer. The way we sell is more important than what we sell. You personally are the solution and your insights come from being fascinated and consumed by your customer's probems and opportunities . Think like you’re an extension of your customer’s organization and talk the language of leadership: delivering outcomes and managing risk.

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 3 Pillars Of Modernised Selling

Gartner Research predicts that 85% of business-to-business (B2B) sales transactions will occur without human intervention in 2020. Andy Hoar from Forrester Research predicts that more than 1 million sales roles will be disappear in the USA alone with the same timeframe. This equates to approximately 22% of B2B sales positions being lost to the forces of commoditization or automation.

Up to one-third of B2B sales roles will become extinct within 5 years. But those who modernise the way they sell can protect their careers and prosper

Here is a personal example of where sales people add little value for the buyer. I just purchased a new sports car yesterday from a dealer that I never visited or spoke with... we engaged on the web and then negotiated via email. I did all my research online and from speaking with several car industry insiders I found in my network. With their insights I identified the two best times of the year to purchase and understood dealer margins and manufacturer rebate models. I honored the 'law on disinterest' and was willing to be patient.  

I avoided the dealer's sales process for up-selling by never walking into their showroom. When I finally talked with a sales person it was simply to give him my credit card details for the $1,000 deposit. I achieved a 14% discount on the normal drive away 'deal' which was 5% better than a 'private fleet' wholesale service that also provided me with their best price. 

The above example highlights how sales people (just like accountants, lawyers, engineers and other professions) are being disrupted by technology and uber-empowered buyers who start their journey with trusted relationships in their network and then research and compare value online.

Those sellers and businesses who modernize the way they operate, blending insightful human engagement with technology, will be the ones who prosper in the machine age. Here are the three things for companies and individuals to focus on to remain relevant and succeed.

1. Sellers must be micro marketers with strong personal brands to leverage social platforms and create their own pipelines

People buy from those they like and trust but buyers are redefining the value of relationships. This is because they are time poor and don’t see value in sales relationships that merely provide information. Sellers today instead demand insight and value when investing their time. The best sales people therefore provide insight and innovation to serve as a partner who can help deliver transformation and manage the buyer’s risk.

For this reason, sales people must modify their LinkedIn profiles to become personal brand microsites where they publish insights to differentiate themselves from the competition. The modern approach to selling is to ‘attract and engage’ rather than ‘interrupt and push’. The best are engineers of value rather than warriors of persuasion. They use online platforms such as LinkedIn to evidence the business value they deliver and the personal values by which they operate. According to IDC, 70% of buyers research a seller online and this can be where the process of establishing trust and setting the right agenda occurs, well before the first conversation.

The current catch phrase for this is ‘social selling’, which I define beyond building a strong personal brand to also include: listening for trigger events (people changing roles, etc.), publishing relevant content to evidence credibility and attract clients, researching buyers, connecting and engaging in platforms such as LinkedIn, and then using technology to collaborate conveniently and cost effectively.

Social platforms and strong personal brands also play and important role in delivering outstanding customer experience and that is because, according to Corporate Visions research, buyers prefer to do business with the first to provide value through education and insight.

2. Customer experience is the single biggest factor in achieving competitive differentiation to attract customers who become loyal advocates

The way we sell is just as important as what we sell. Research done with 5,000 buyers by Corporate Executive Board was published in The Challenger Sale in 2012 and it revealed that customer loyalty was 38% derived equally from brand (company and product) and the features and capabilities offered; 9% of positive influence was from price, and a huge 53% of influence was from the ‘sales experience’ the buyer received.

Positive ‘sales experience’ was defined by offering a uniquely valuable perspective on the market, helping to navigate alternatives and avoid potential land mines, and educating on relevant trends and how to best manage risk. The sellers who thrive today understand this and focus on their individual buyer’s journey to provide valuable information and insights early in the buying cycle. They monitor in social media for trigger events and also attract and engage with appropriate content to identify the best time to engage.

Innovation is key in delivering best customer experience as you support multiple channels of social, mobile, websites, phone, field sales and resellers. When potential buyers are positively surprised by excellent service and convenient manner in which they can research, engage and transact; they become customers. Increasingly today however, a great buying experience does not always require a face-to-face sales person. This highlights part of the reason why field sales people must move to value and focus on where they can manage complexity and risk for clients in order to fund their roles.

3. Methodology, process and technology must all be integrated for sales enablement

The holy grail of sales enablement is to use the right methodology to drive repeatable quality processes inside CRM as a transparent coaching platform. Playbook concepts belong inside CRM to intuitively guide sales people in how to ask the right questions and create progression as they align with the buyer.

This is why sales and marketing must finally come together to map buyer’s journey to sales process and tools with a playbook approach to providing guidance and resources for every phase of the sale. This includes qualification, discovery, designing solutions, pricing and proposals, proving capability, negotiating, closing and onboarding clients. Technology can be used to help people easily transact while inside sales cost effectively steps-up where buyers want human interaction. 

Field sales must surrender commodity products and services to focus on high value solutions where there is both complexity and risk for the buyer. The role of field sales is to proactively create opportunities with early engagement that sets the right agenda. 

Every seller must modernise by embracing social to build personal brand and create leverage and reach. Every sales organisation must create exceptional customer experience as their sustainable point of competitive differentiation and also integrate methodology, process and technology to reduce cost while efficiently driving consistent execution of sales process across multiple channels and touch-points.

But it's easy to get it wrong. The 'private fleet' wholesale service I found online, when seeking to buy a new car, had an excellent website with good content and video animations to explain their value. However, their web to lead process was broken. I completed online enquiry forms twice without receiving any contact after receiving the automated email. When I phoned they were defensive about their broken 'web to lead' process. They found my details and then started asking me questions I had already responded to online. The sales person then tried to manoeuvre me into a corner to commit to buying if they ran the 'tender process' with multiple dealers. It was just like talking with a car salesman at a traditional dealer... no thanks.

There are other examples where customer experience is masterfully executed with well designed processes across multiple channels (social listening to Twitter, Facebook and other platform; web to lead nurturing, phone, SMS, e-mail, and face-to-face). What are the best and worst examples you've experienced and where have you seen the holy grail of sales enablement?

Note of thanks to Jonathan Farrington. This post is based upon a magazine article I wrote for Top Sales World Magazine, published in December 2015.

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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Simplification Is The New Sales Sophistication

We live in unprecedented times and if you are a student of history, or perhaps eschatology, the human narrative is accelerating at a mind-boggling rate. We need wisdom as we navigate change and the unintended consequences of embracing technologies and dismantling borders. Every profession, including sales, is subject to disruption and many will lose careers they once thought to be safe.

Design thinking is an essential prerequisite in entrepreneurship and for creating 'Customer eXperience' (CX) that makes the buyer's life easier and the sales person essential. Clarity in the role we play and the value we deliver has never been more important for creating a prosperous future and a better world.

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" Leonardo da Vinci (1492)

The enemy of simplicity is not big data. The Information Age is now being usurped by The Machine Age with Artificial Intelligence (AI) upon us – yes, the scary science fiction kind. The ‘web of things’ is linking cars, appliances, machines, assets and people. Wearable Bluetooth and mobility tracking are combining with beacons to create geo-context and proximity alerts via wireless networks and satellite communications that are ubiquitous. Big data is being leveraged for micro predictive analytics. Social media has already democratized the internet and cloud computing is enabling the most complex of capabilities for the smallest of enterprises. Meta-algorithms are creating their own priorities and financial systems have a level of interdependency that no-one truly understands.

It all seems to be creating an ever-consuming life of it’s own with real human interaction being pushed into the back seat. We have never had more access to information yet we drown in the data and suffer from digital distraction , drinking from the proverbial fire-hose, incapable of digesting all that is overwhelming us. We seek clarity amidst all the voices clamouring for our attention – there are a thousand channels to watch yet nothing is on.

Everyone seeking to influence others, especially those in sales, strives for cut-through. Sadly, many attempts result in cliched sound bites or sensationalist claims that try to play to our fears. But how do we represent the value we offer in way that resonates with our audience?

John Singleton is legend in Australia. He pioneered advertising in this market. Think Crocodile Dundee meets Mad Men. John Singleton knew that the more information you give people, the more they need to think about; and the more benefits you throw at people, the more difficult it is for them to see the one compelling reason to take action.

"My job is to simplify the complex and make the simple compelling" John Singleton (1980)

Every great musician, chef and designer knows a secret... Less is more. Entrepreneurs, marketers and sales people alike all need to adopt this ethos. What are the few compelling reasons to focus on? All the rest is mere support for the real message or conversation. We need to lead with why a conversation matters rather than with who we are, what we do and how we do it. No-one cares enough to take action until they have a compelling reason ('why?').

"Logic makes people think; emotion makes them act." Zig Ziglar (1986)

One-third of sales opportunities are lost to 'Do Nothing' which manifests as the status-quo / current state prevailing, or other projects having higher priority for funds and resources, or an incumbent supplier seeming to be less risk and effort. Change requires motivation yet bombarding people with facts does little. We must avoid confusing 'supporting information' with the primary message. Features and not necessarily benefits and proof of out claims do not equate to reasons to go ahead.

People are best motivated by reasons they themselves discover

We must help our potential customers discover why they should change state and why we represent best value and lowest risk through our insights and expertise.

  • How will you simplify your message to achieve cut-through in why a conversation matters?
  • How will you simplify buyer experience to differentiate in the way you sell rather with what you sell?
  • How will you take the vast array of data and myriad technology and tools to create elegant simplicity for your team, partners and customers?

Those who embrace technology and design thinking to drive simplicity will prosper. Never stop asking why things are currently done the way they are and reimagine engagement and processes to improve your customer's experience, and your own efficiency and market reach through automation and innovation.

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 BIG Question Customers Want To Ask

Customer churn does massive damage to any business because a ‘leaky bucket’ of revenue destroys confidence and the ability to invest. Unhappy ex-clients also retard business development activities and undermine marketing efforts. The best businesses instead harness the power of their happy clients for advocacy, and they measure and reward their staff on creating brilliant ‘customer experience’. Measuring customer satisfaction with systems such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) are essential for astute business leaders who drive a customer-centric culture. 

Make no mistake; winning new customers is expensive and often difficult because empowered buyers are armed with research and they seek to commoditize seller ‘solutions’. Savvy buyers are also distrustful of ROI claims and sales messages when there is not an established positive relationship. On top of these factors, consensus-based decision making means that there are more who can say ‘no’ and there are, on average, five decision makers (or decision-making groups) who have to say 'yes'. The biggest competitor in complex enterprise selling is often apathy, the status quo / 'do nothing'.

Retention programs therefore deliver stronger return on investment and leverage the almost magical power of recurring [compound-curve] revenue streams. Selling to existing clients is comparatively easy compared with new account acquisition but how do you make sure customers don't fall prey to competitor? A simplistic approach is to 'stay close to them and sell more' but relationships today are not enough... we also need to create real value. Whether your customers ask you directly or not, here is their question that you need to address.

How can we derive greater value from fewer supplier relationships?

This question is what the smartest people inside your customer organizations are thinking. They understand that every supplier relationship costs time, effort and money to manage. They also know that concentrating their spending power should deliver better 'value' but they easily focus on price as the lever to pull. But sellers should set the agenda on value rather than price.

Get on the front foot, go disrupt yourself before your competitors do it to you. Deliver innovation for clients to reduce their costs and improve their businesses. Trade lower pricing with the requirement for customers to make greater revenue commitments and deliver advocacy (case studies, testimonials, etc.).

If you are an incumbent supplier with a customer that has upside revenue through greater scale or cross-selling other products and solutions. Secure a meeting their CEO and CFO on the basis that you are unhappy with the level of value they are receiving from you.  Tell them that they are missing an opportunity to derive greater value from fewer suppliers, and that you want to move from supplier to partner by investing to deliver for them with ... (supply chain improvements, greater access to IT systems, share executive insights, etc.).

Never take a customer for granted. There is always an opportunity to provide greater value without reducing price.

As proof of the fact that price is not the most important factor in the decision process for enterprise buyers. CEB research published in The Challenger Sale shows what buyers really value when making their buying decisions. Only 9% is price and 53% is the level of 'value-add' provided through education, insights and a partnering approach to delivering the required outcomes and managing risk.

What is your experience is working with clients to be one of the fewer suppliers delivering greater value? How have you used this strategy to out-fox the competition in the best interests of your client?

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 Closing Myth (Sales Pressure Traps)

I often ask senior executives what they think the biggest weakness is within their sales team. A common answer is that their sales people need to get better at closing. But here is the thing I've learned from three decades in the trenches...

The perceived problem is rarely the real problem – inability to close is usually a symptom of deeper issues.

In both complex enterprise selling and simple or transactional selling (with one decision-maker) there is a universal truth that must be embraced if we are to improve results –opening is far more important than closing.

Opening is the most important phase of the sale because the way we initiate the relationship determines the likelihood of success. The two critical issues in opening are 1) selecting the correct role to engage within the customer organisation, and 2) creating a conversation that provides value (through insights) for them.

1) Opening the corporate relationship with the right person

A common mistake in selling is to engage with the people who most easily agree to take a call or meet face-to-face. Inbound leads often come from recommenders and information gatherers who act for others. These people are keen to obtain information but can quickly become blockers who seek to deny us access to the real decision making power-base. We must carefully select the right entry point into every opportunity and by definition this decision-driver will often be difficult to reach.

If you are already engaged at the wrong level and struggling to elevate your conversations in an account, these questions that can earn the right to go higher.

  • “What is the business outcome this initiative has to deliver at a business case level?”
  • “What are the biggest risks in this project and what is your strategy to manage those risks?”

These questions also set the right agenda when engaging a real decision-maker because leaders care about delivering results and managing risk. The business case and change management issues always figure high in their thinking. But how do you open a conversation when you are proactively reaching out to a senior customer executive? 

2) Setting the right agenda on value through insight

No senior leader worth engaging is interested in us, our company or our products, services and ‘solutions’. They instead care about their own results, stakeholders and career. Although we are wired to talk about ourselves, what we do and how we do it; we must instead lead with why a conversation should matter to the other person.

We can create conversations of insight and value by truly understanding our best customers and the disruptive market trends that are relevant to our new potential clients. Selling strategically also means engaging early and the most senior level possible, setting an agenda that creates a positive bias toward us while engineering the requirements and their process in a way that makes it difficult for the competition.

The best sellers are sponsored down into the buyer’s organisation by the leader to then develop inside knowledge and support where closing becomes a natural next step of partnership rather than a white knuckle adventure filled with misplaced hope and reliance on luck.

Here is a 2 minute interview I did with John Smibert on closing.

The 3 prerequisites for closing

Asking for the customer’s business must be earned and only attempted after the buyer has signalled they are ready to take that next step. The seller should never attempt to close until these three areas are covered, or to use a baseball metaphor, don't run for home plate until these three bases have been covered:

  1. Establish trust and rapport (by being authentic and transparent).
  2. Agree compelling business value (as defined by them).
  3. Understand their timing and priorities (and their process for evaluation, selection and procurement if in complex enterprise environments).

Many sales people make the mistake of pressuring their potential client when the buyer isn't in a position to commit to the purchase. Managers often push their sales people to offer discounts on one hand and threats of a price increase on the other if the buyer fails the meet the seller’s deadline. I’ve seen sales managers instruct sales people to go and sit in the customer’s lobby for days until the purchase order is secured... desperation is the worst way to attempt a close. 

The bottom line in closing

Difficulty in closing is almost always a symptom of not managing the sale properly. Closing must be earned and objections are usually evidence of the fact that the seller has made mistakes by pushing before trust and value has been established and without the necessary understanding of the customer’s timing, priorities and processes.

All managers need to know that they cannot ‘manage by results’ and must instead focus on driving activities and actions while coaching strategy and skills. Ask the right questions of your sales people right at the beginning of the quarter and help them identify and execute the right actions that create progression of the sale. Firing-up the blow-torch with just days to go for hitting sales targets, after neglecting the inputs that create success, is a sure-fire way to damage relationships, undermine credibility and drive-down price and margin.

Special note of thanks to Jonathan Farrington for allowing me to base this blog post on a magazine article I wrote for Top Sales Magazine, published in March 2016. FREE subscription to Top Sales here.


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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Sell More By Going Beyond The Sales Process

Dave Stein is legend in the sales training industry and he has teamed-up with Steve Andersen to publish an essential book for anyone in business-to-business selling. I just finished reading Beyond The Sales Process and its timeless wisdom is wrapped within a modernized approach achieving sales success by intelligently creating value for customers.

"The customer is the only one qualified to call something a solution. The customer is also the one who defines and measures value" Tony Hughes

Just as with the best sales leaders, Dave Stein has always advocated sales people define ‘value’ through the eyes of the customer, but this book explains exactly how to do it by researching thoroughly and then engaging on the basis of insight and value. Dave and Steve make the very important point that alignment is more important than persuasion and they highlight the core reasons for an existing supplier being replaced or a seller failing to win. Here is an excerpt form the book.

In nearly every case where a provider was replaced, misalignment existed between the client’s performance challenges and the provider’s ability to drive changes that would address and overcome them. Sales performance initiatives fail for other reasons, as well:

  • The supplier/seller is unwilling or unable to understand how their customer buys;
  • The supplier/seller does not understand how the customer defines value;
  • The supplier/seller does not understand what is motivating and putting pressure on the customer, particularly when it comes to their external drivers, business objectives and internal challenges;
  • The supplier/seller cannot articulate business value to the customer;
  • People in sales, account management, and sales leader roles are unsuited for their jobs;
  • There is no overall methodology, with the relevant processes in place, to drive sales excellence, or the existing methodology is not widely complied with and adhered to;
  • The supplier/seller has little or no understanding of the political forces within a customer’s organization; or
  • The supplier/seller has little or no understanding of its own competitors.

If you’re a fan of Challenger Selling but have struggled with how to implement the concept of engaging on the basis of a provocative insights; then Beyond The Sales Process is the book for you. This is because the book leads with strategies for truly understanding a potential customer and then differentiation through the way you engage rather than with what you’re selling.

Dave and Steve know that the very best sales people today are engineers of value, not warriors of persuasion. These sellers research and prepare before engaging at the right level in the buyer’s organization as they create insightful conversations that lead to the collaborative creation of a business-case value.

Another brilliant aspect of the book is the concept of thinking beyond closing the sale to instead regard success as only occurring once the client is realizing the benefits of your product, service or solution… and with them being advocates for you in the market. 

If you only read one book in 2016 on business-to-business selling then this has to be it! Beyond The Sales Process is filled with actionable insights, illuminating case studies, and it is intelligently written from academic solid ground – logical, compelling and thought provoking. It enables any seller to create a winning sales process that goes beyond being customer centric to truly understand the world of the customers. The most successful companies have their customers as evangelists by creating alignment and value in partnership with the customer. The book answers these impotant questions:

  • Why should your customers engage with you before they discover your value?
    • How do you create buyer alignment and remove the tension from the sales process?
  • How do you create market advocates who extend your reach and influence to create greater success?

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: DVIDSHUB - Continuing Promise 2011