April 28, 2010

New Website

We have enjoyed our time with Blogger, but it has come to an end, so if you are looking for more from us, please visit our website at http://theasggroup.com where you can find useful whitepapers on B2B sales.

December 14, 2009

Buyer turned seller

I had an interesting conversation last week with a professional sales person who joined a sales team selling into the transportation sector just before the markets went pop. I am recounting part of our discussion because this sales person used to sit on the buying side of the table and secondly because he made some points that we all need to be reminded of from time to time:

  1. Sometime we need to slow down and operate at the client’s pace
  2. Don’t push for a meeting for a meetings sake – meet contacts where there is relevancy based on what has been delivered to other clients
  3. Tell stories, buyers like to hear about other peoples successes and how they have overcome challenges
  4. Access – you earn it and need to explain why it’s needed. Ensure you are heard, don’t rely on others to do it for you
  5. Sell payback & management of risk, its what buyers are measured on at the moment
  6. Know what you don’t know and get others involved.

Here is a bit more detail on the conversation we had.

Q. How has the last 12 months gone?

“We are alive and kicking and most importantly we see opportunities emerging. Our team is making the transition back to solution sellers a place I am most comfortable operating in.

You see when I started selling two years ago, we sold solutions, then we started to compete on price and now we are back selling solutions where we rightly belong.  As you know I worked on the other side of the table for close on ten years, (I was the engineering buyer) and I knew solutions only ever get bought or leased if they had a proven payback but we all seemed to forget that fact over the past 12 months.

Proven Payback is that not stating the obvious?

Well you might think so, but over the past 12-16 months, it’s been dog eat dog and as a result our industry and many others reverted to competing based on price. To be frank I think many sales teams have forgotten how to sell benefits and address risks with their customers. Most of the people we have been competing with gladly moved to sell based on price and dragged others with them, not a good thing for any of us as you know.

So what did you do?

Well to be honest we responded to price pressures and we also competed on price. In the past few months we did some sole searching and put ourselves back in the buyer’s shoes and have adopted a new mindset. We have proven our capability time and time again, we deliver and we manage risk, our clients know that too, so we have slowed down and started to question more carefully and input to our clients metrics. I know what they are, so I suppose I have a head start on what you might call the traditional sales person. I don’t know everything, I am out of the engineering space about six years now but I totally understand when a client needs more details on how we have affected other peoples businesses and I always know when to say I don’t know. 

What is the major challenge in 2010?
Making the number but you would expect any honest sales man to say that! I would say we have two challenges. Firstly we need to be wiling to operate at the pace of the buyer even when we need the deal and secondly we need to focus on accessing the right people at the appropriate level.

Why is access such a problem?

As you know we are leaders in our field which does help however there are some bigger players who like to keep us at arms length from the operational buyer. They want to sell the total solution which sometimes leaves us at a bit of a loose end in the buying cycle. It’s also worth noting I am finding professional buyers want to limit access to executives in order to ensure the buying process is being adhered to.

So what can you do about this?

I am doing three things; firstly I have some great customers and am asking them to help me with referrals.  Secondly I am contacting my target customers and telling them how we are helping others manage risk and insure the highest level of utilisation. I am not pushing them to meet unless they see relevancy. Thirdly I am explaining to the bigger players (most of whom we have some partnership with) why involving me can help them. Most of theses partner’s sales team never occupied a role in a customer buying team, my insight into the buying process helps me help the buyer and helps us sell together.

The fact is we all need to put ourselves in the buyers shoes and we all need to continuously consider the ever changing complexities of buying & selling.

November 23, 2009

Why Sales People Need to Look Differently at Thier Contacts

Why Nurturing Contacts Beats Generating Leads

When we tell sales organizations that they must focus on nurturing contacts as opposed to generating leads, it makes immediate sense. That is because the issue of leads is fraught with all types of problems, not least of which is the fact that returns from most traditional methods of lead generation are falling through the floor.

However, after the initial burst of enthusiasm for this exciting new way to look at the problem of lead generation, most sales people and in particular their managers, need a little reassurance that it conforms with their traditional word view. ‘That is sales contacts isn’t it?’ they ask. To their surprise we answer ‘No’ adding that ‘it is buyer contacts not sales contacts that are important!’

To work through the confusion that this Zen-like response often generates, we typically ask salespeople which they would rather have – their organizations sales contacts, or the contacts of the buyer? Which ones would enable them to access and influence those to whom they want to sell?

Focusing on the Buyer’s Network
Then we ask them to imagine if they were given the buyer’s black book of! What would it look like? Whose details would it contain? How would the web of buyer contacts entangle with your own?
The contacts of relevance to the salesperson are not just buyers, but all those that can influence, or access them. Also it is not just today’s buyers, but also the potential buyers of tomorrow that the salesperson must nurture as contacts. Thus the sellers focus must be buyers and their wider community. That is how can you develop more contacts in common with buyers and the buying organizations you want to target?

Don’t Just Focus on ‘Sales Contacts’
When people think ‘sales contacts’ they tend to focus narrowly in terms of those who conform to the target profile provided by marketing, or the prequalification criteria set by sales. However, premature prequalification can be dangerous. This tends to cut the list down considerably with the sales manager, for example, arguing that ‘there is no point wasting time with people who cannot, or will not buy from us.’ In times past this was a logical approach. However, in the new reality, sellers cannot simply focus on those who have a budget and are ready to buy their solution – it simply narrows their potential market too much.

So, while we subscribe to the ideas of precision marketing and targeted sales activity, both must be relaxed somewhat at the contact stage. We all know that sales costs are rising and most of us can quickly calculate the cost of sending a sales person out to meet ‘a potential customer’ for example. We also know the cost of getting into a sales cycle and the investment that is required in order to prepare a bid. This provides a clear rational for strict prequalification.
However, if it is only a conversation, why are sellers applying the same level of prequalification as if it was a sales opportunity?

Pre-qualification must be tailored to each stage of the sales process – with a different level of screening being applied to contacts, than to sales cycles, for example.

Many Conversations Will be Required
Sellers must allow some latitude in terms of the scope of contacts to be nurtured. They must be prepared to have conversations that may never go anywhere. They must be prepared to talk too many in order to get to the vital few that will eventually buy their solutions.

Sales Contacts: Named individuals in Potential Customer organizations. That is those meeting targeting and prequalification criteria.

Buyer Contacts: The list is bigger, including:

  • All those who make, or influence purchase decisions
  • All those who can provide access to those who make, or influence purchase decisions
  • All those who could in the future make or influence buying decision (e.g. a junior person who gets promoted, or moves to another company)
  • All those sources of information, advice and expertise employed by buyers
  • Named individuals in the above groups can come from a wide range of sources:
    • Other suppliers
    • Industry counterparts
    • Partners and competitors
    • Consultants, or advisors
    • Sources of Information / Referral
    • Past colleagues/employees
    • Industry experts / analysts
    • Industry bodies, or professional associations

Sellers have to start and then maintain lots of conversations if they are to result in a sufficient number of sales cycles. They have to nurture many contacts if they are to end up talking to enough of the right people.

What Contacts Do You Want to Nurture?
Contacts are not just potential customers, but part of the larger community that plays a role in the buyer – seller relationship. So, it not only includes potential customers (present and future), but also those contacts who may represent sources of information, reference or introduction for example.

Contacts are individuals, not organizations. This is important because for each organization there is a diversity of contacts that are important to the seller – reflective of larger buying groups and greater stakeholder involvement in buying decisions. It is also important because contacts are fluid. For example, the contact that today is a senior engineer could be the COO tomorrow, if not in the same organization, then perhaps another.

Contacts are not just leads. They have a value, or relevance beyond this quarter, or the next. Lead generation is focused on identifying potential customers and making the sale, nurturing contacts is aimed at sustaining a conversation, generating demand and building a relationship over time. Leads are generated, but contacts are nurtured.

Sellers cannot only talk to those that are ready to buy their solutions. That means applying the same prequalification criteria to contacts, as to sales opportunities simply makes no sense. If prequalification criteria (e.g. budget, authority, timing and need) are applied too early there is the risk that the majority of potential customers could be isolated. That is because:

  • Customers reveal themselves slowly – many months can elapse in a buying process before a customer appears on the vendors radar, with buyers increasingly defining requirements, building (or at last scoping) the business case and so on before engaging a vendor.
  • The potential market for a sellers solution includes a majority of potential customers that either do not have a budget, or perhaps even do not recognize a need for; the solution.
  • For newer companies in particular some experimentation may be required before the exact target market profile becomes clear – that is before it becomes clear which market is the most attractive and most amenable.

The nurturing of contacts involves a longer term view, one that looks beyond this quarter and the next. For this reason it can present a challenge to salespeople who are focused on meeting this quarter’s target.

Contacts are not just nurtured by sales people, but by the entire organization. However, the sales person’s black book represents only a fraction of the network of contact that an organization must nurture. In an age where buyers are shunning seller’s unsolicited advances and there in effect is no such thing as a good list to be purchased, organizations have an untapped resource in terms of the contacts of all its managers and staff.

Contacts define the relationship between an organization and its marketplace – its industry ecosystem as it were - from suppliers to competitors.

The nurturing of contacts is motivated not just by winning the next customer, but by growing existing customers and successfully delivering present projects.

Contacts are a potent sales tool. They can open doors, accelerate sales cycles and increase conversion rates beyond what is possible from traditional lead generation. That is because they leverage established relationships and good will. Compared to discredited seller marketing, introductions, referrals and contacts confer the advantage of credibility.

The Value of Conversations.
Conversations can lead anywhere and so here are some examples of how nurturing contacts can produce unexpected, yet welcome results.

  • The contact in a competitor’s business who was rated as being of little value to the organization’s sales team suddenly leaves that competitor to take up a position with a buying organization in a new international market.
  • The buyer who leaves the target customer with little advance warning, only to reappear in a more senior role in another even larger potential customer organization. Having failed to access this organization to date, the door is now open.
  • The contact within a supplier organization through his contact with both the seller’s competitors and customers is able to advise the seller that a customer is about to make a purchase decision before it becomes generally known.
  • Because the contact with past employee is nurtured, when he, or she joins a large potential customer in a senior management position the seller has an ally on the inside.

Lead Generation: Struggling to Cope with the Buying Revolution?

Lead generation is the first causality of the buying revolution.  That is because the changed nature of organizational buying presents it with 6 almost insurmountable challenges.

1.Being Heard Over the Noise
Most seller marketing is falling on deaf ears.  Yet, buyers are bombarded with a confusing array of similar sounding marketing messages from competing vendors.  So here is the test – can your sales and marketing message:
Grab the attention of marketing-weary buyers?
Be heard above the noise of competitors?
Enable you to stand out from the crowd?

2.Reaching Senior Buyers
The majority of purchase decisions rely on the approval of senior managers that are well buffered from unsolicited marketing outreaches.  More lead generation methods are being stopped ‘dead in their tracks’ by buyer spam filters, gate keepers and other barriers erected by buyers.  So, can your message:
Get through to senior managers?
Resonate with senior managers?
Get them to engage?

3.Providing Information that Buyers Actually Need
Most seller messages elicit a ‘so what?’, or ‘what else would you say!’ response from buyers.  Buyers place little, or no value on most seller marketing.  So here is the test:
Are you providing buyers with the type of information they want to receive?
Is it is capable of shaping the opinions, or influencing the decisions of modern buyers?  

4.Shaping Requirements and Influencing the Buying Process
Buyers often keep sellers at arm’s length until the buying process is well underway.  The result is that the seller arrives on the scene after requirements have been set and a competitive bidding situation has arisen.  A key challenge is for the seller to become involved earlier in the buying cycle.  So how successful are your efforts in:
Shaping the requirements of the buying and otherwise influencing the buying process?
Encouraging the buyer to involve you in the early stages of their buying process?

5.Creating and Sustaining A Dialogue
The ultimate test of the effectiveness of any seller marketing is the buyer engagement.  However the response to most marketing is a deafening silence.  The challenge is to create a dialogue, to get buyers to opt-in, to participate and to respond.  That means sellers have the opportunity to really influence buyers and to be top of mind when the timing is right.  So how effective is your marketing at engaging with the buyer:
Is there a reason for buyers to want to opt-in to your marketing?
Are you able to sustain an ongoing dialogue?
Is your message effective at generating a response?

6.Generating Demand
It can be a challenge to get the attention of buyers that are searching for a solution.  However, those already shopping are greatly outnumbered by those who do not have a budget, or perhaps are not even aware that they have a problem.  Reaching this group presents particular challenges.  In particular:
How to identify those with latent needs?
How to generate demand where none already exists?
How to spur those who are not yet in shopping mode into action?

To meet these challenges of the buying revolution nothing short of a complete overhaul of traditional lead generation.  That is a transition from Generating Leads to Nurturing Contacts.

Demand Generation in the 21st Century

Sales teams cannot reliably meet their numbers by simply selling to those who are ready to buy.  That is because for every customer shopping for a solution there are 8 or 9 that have could buy, but don’t realize that they have a problem, or if they do don’t yet have a budget.  That means sellers must sell to those who are satisfied, in the hope that they can uncover and bring to the fore a latent demand for their solution.

Why Demand Generation is Challenging

The focus on demand generation is one of the most fundamental transformations in the role of the salesperson and the sales organization.  There are several reasons:  

It requires new levels of confidence, knowledge and skill.  That is because the salesperson’s knowledge of features and benefits is not longer sufficient.  Instead he, or she must be able to connect with the customer’s business and industry drivers and to shape to the business case.

It requires a new mindset change - one that can be quite a challenge for sales managers and their teams.  That is because it requires focusing effort on activities that may not contribute to this year’s target.  The payback from demand generation activities, while difficult to measure is long term.  So it requires a commitment of time and resources to activities that will not payback this quarter, or perhaps this year.

It requires a revision of traditional approaches to prequalification.  Indeed the replacing of prequalification with marketing and nurturing.  Leads are generated and prequalified as regards sales readiness.  However, contacts are nurtured to sales readiness on an ongoing basis.  It means replacing budget, authority, timing and need as the criteria for who to target, with profiling customers based on the basis of sector, size and so on.  Of course, it does not mean that prequalification is scrapped; it just means that it is held off until a sales cycles is nascent.

It runs counter to the existing metrics and incentives used by managers and their teams.  For example, compared to traditional selling that sells to people who are searching for a solution, it could double, or triple the time from first meeting to sale.  It could also likely to cut conversion rate to first meeting dramatically if measured in the short term.

It requires that marketing and sales work well together – the sales person cannot do it all alone.  But the marketing required is not that of the glossy brochure.  Rather it centers on providing useful, relevant and credible information to the buyer (e.g. whitepapers, case studies, etc.).

Demand generation is expensive.  It would be much easier to wait for competitors to generate awareness and demand in the market and then exploit it.  However that is not always possible.

What Demand is to be Created?
As a first step in creating demand sellers must decide what they want to create demand for?  And what fundamental need that exists in the target market - business drivers, priorities, strategies, events, and so – that can be leveraged to generating demand for the seller’s solution(s).    For example:
A supply chain solutions supplier in its efforts to generate demand for its solutions among companies unaware of the need for such a solution, took advantage of a recent food safety scare to highlighted the costs associated with meeting food traceability regulations and how their solutions could reduce them.

An IT supplier surveyed its top customers to predict what their IT priorities for next year would be.  With security, cost and compliance emerging as key priorities, the company wrote a series of best practice guides in each area and organized seminars to heighten awareness of these challenges and generate demand for its solutions as a result.

Fundamentally a basic need has to exist (such as the desire to cut costs, save time, ensure compliance, etc.), the objective is to create awareness of it and to bring it to the fore.    The challenge of the seller is to show that the performance of the buyer’s business can be improved in a compelling way that he, or she was previously unaware of.   As in all aspects of sales and marketing is important to focus demand generation efforts on the right customer and the most appropriate solution.

10 Steps to Generating Demand

1.Help buyers to evaluate and reassess their priorities by comparing them with their counterparts and peers (e.g. ‘We asked IT managers about their priorities for 2011 and here is what they said…’).

2.Quantify the problem / opportunity relating to their industry/business, using 3rd party validation to make it credible (e.g. Industry Analysts Gartner put the cost of unlicensed software at up to 30% of software budgets annually…).

3.Show them the results achieved by their peers with your solutions (e.g. ‘We have helped Company X and Y bring its award winning new products to market in just 21 weeks on a new system…’).

4.Provide useful information not marketing blurb, for example white papers, blog posts, case studies and analysts reports rather than marketing brochures.

5.Talk to those who shape priorities, allocated budgets and make decisions.  That means C Level.

6.Run educational events, such as talks, seminars and webinars, where customers and experts can talk about industry challenges and how they can be resolved.    Key to the success of these events is that they are focused on providing useful information, as opposed to simply a form to plug your company.

7.Position your company as a though leader, for example; writing posts, or articles, sponsoring research, or speaking at events.  Seek the limelight by making the topic controversial, using it to provoke and compel buyers to sit up and take notice.  Get people talking about it.
8.Link your solution with a campaign, or a cause that already has momentum.  That is with something that the customer is passionate about, something that is topical, or is ‘cool’.  It can be easier to rally people around a case than a product, or a service.

9.Enlist the support of others in generating demand, for example industry associations, experts and so on.

10.To be effective it must be sustained over time.  It is important to note that effective demand generation is not just one activity; but a programme of activity.

November 11, 2009

Strategic Inflection: Is Our Strategy Working? Or Is It Too Early to Tell?

This is a time of inflection for many sales managers. Companies are venturing into new markets, developing new strategies and new sales approaches in response to a changed market. Uncertain times ahead for many.

New Strategies, Uncertain Times

Many companies are innovating in their sales and marketing in response to a changing marketplace. Everything is being considered, the list includes;
  • Launching new sales drives / initiatives
  • Improving sales processes
  • Changing sales structures (including greater team involvement)
  • Adopting new pricing structures
  • Developing new business models
  • Targeting new segments, or even new markets
  • Offering new products/services, or at least new variations of existing ones
  • Developing new partner, or channel relationships.

Sales Strategy Questions Abound

For most companies these new strategies represent an increased commitment to sales and marketing. In many cases they entail something of a step into the unknown. So, it is little wonder that we hear sales managers (conscious of the investment of time, effort and money that is being made) asking questions, such as;

1. How quickly before we will see results and even more to the point, how quickly will we know if it is working or not? Are our assumptions regarding how long it will take, the length of sales cycles being borne out?
2. Is the strategy the right one? Is it going to work? Will it deliver the results we expect? Are our expectations regarding results realistic given our experience thus far?
3. Is our sales and marketing working? Is there enough activity? Is it the right activity?
4. Do we need to change, or refine our approach? Have we got the skills to carry this off?
5. Is the market ready, in particular, have our assumptions about the potential been realistic (especially in the context of the slowdown)

Some Observations

Even the self assured sales manager is asking these questions and asking them out loud. It's like a question and answers time in some organisations with some very interesting discussions taking place at the board room table. Listening in on these conversations we have made a few observations:

Increasingly managers are adopting a ‘get it all out in the open’, plain speaking approach to these issues. Indeed, many managers are approaching these issues with ‘brutal honesty’. They are not shying away from any of the issues involved adopting a ‘warts and all’ view of what is and is not working. All options are on the table and there are few ‘sacred cows’’ left, that includes people, or strategies.

‘Is it too early to call?’ This is an issue that comes up time and time again, particularly where long sales cycles have been lengthened further by the slowdown. Managers seem to naturally fall into two camps – one adopts the view that ‘we need to give it more time’, the other tends to want to ‘cut their losses and find another way.’ In any respect making u turns, or redirections does not seem to present problems for managers anymore. Perhaps that goes hand in hand with a turbulent market.

‘Is it the market?’ Horror stories of stalled buying decisions and cash strapped buyers are so pervasive that managers struggle to look beyond the market to find other reasons why they are slow to see results. At this point the CEO that intervenes with a ‘there is business out there we just have to work harder to find it’ is very important to the organization.

The CEO is leading the conversation, challenging the performance and challenging the assumptions. This is having a mixed response, with feathers being ruffled in some cases. The CEO who has good coaching and leadership skills is a real asset to the sales manager at this time. More than ever the CEO seems to be the touchstone for organizational confidence at this time. With people looking on, it is vital that he, or she remains un-phased and confident about the future.

In one strategy review session - an appraisal of a campaign to enter a new market segment - the CEO appeared to be distracted. He was writing in a notepad as the conversation went on around him. After a few minutes went by he showed a diagram (as presented below) outlining a process for reviewing the sales strategy, or plan. First he wanted to know how results compared with what was forecast, then whether the plan had been implemented as set out and whether the plan was still valid. It put an interesting steer on the conversation and it might be something that you can use. Food for thought.

November 10, 2009

Beware of Spreadsheet Forecasts!

10 Reasons Not To Rely on Spreadsheets for Sales Forecasting

1. Forecast accuracy inevitably suffers using a spreadsheet because you have only limited visibility, predictability and control in respect of sales (opportunities, accounts, activity, etc.).

2. It is impossible to keep a spreadsheet based sales forecast or sales campaigns up-to-date. This is compounded with different versions being used across a sales or management team. A spreadsheet only gives a snapshot at a point in time and is quickly gone out of date.

3. Managers who track sales using spreadsheets spend twice as much time in report preparation.

4. Sales Meetings involving the use of spreadsheets are grossly inefficient – with updates being made line by line to different accounts, or opportunities for each rep in turn. That is time that could be spent coaching.

5. Spreadsheet-based analyses are more subjective because they struggle to adequately communicate how, for example, an opportunity is rated. They don’t map opportunities to your sales process – e.g. has the buying group been identified/covered, has a formal needs analysis been undertaken, has budget status been clarified, etc.
6. Spreadsheets don’t trigger actions in a diary where an action is allocated to an account, or an opportunity and they don’t provide a record of the associated actions, emails, meetings and so on.

7. Managers should have dashboards at hand so that they can review at a glance their pipeline, identify priority accounts, and so on.

8. Spreadsheets are of little use if a sales manager or a sales rep leaves. With growing levels of rep turnover, it is vital that all account, contact and opportunity is held in a central repository so that it does not vanish when a rep leaves.

9. A spreadsheet will struggle to give a sales manager the metrics he/she needs, including the ratio of leads to meetings, or the win rate of proposals.

10. A spreadsheet won’t adequately tell a sales manager where his rep was last week, or where he should be next week. It won’t enable him to identify areas where the rep needs coaching either.

November 04, 2009

How to Find Out What Buyers Really Want

Here is a statement of the obvious: buyers don’t buy products, or services they buy solutions to problems, or the ability to exploit opportunities. In short they buy them to meet a need. So, why do sellers spend 9 times more time talking about their solutions than the needs of the buyer?

Before a buyer buys he, or she must have a need and that need must have a certain urgency, or priority. If the seller wants to sell his, or her solutions then he, or she must clearly demonstrate how it can solve the buyer’s problem. The problem is that listing product features and benefits is an ineffective way of doing this.

To remedy this problem here is a checklist to guide you in identifying and then meeting the needs of the buyer.:

1. Avoid premature diagnosis of the solution. In other words he, or she must define the problem before prescribing a solution. Don’t make assumptions regarding the customer’s needs, or assume that he, or she needs what you are offering. Ask first and give the customer a chance to say no.

2. The expert may immediately know the problem and perhaps even the solution. However, he, or she must take care to involve the customer in the discovery and build trust along the way. Connecting with buyer’s needs, requires a consultative approach with the salesperson adopting the role of an expert, or trusted advisor.

3. Understand what stage the buyers is at:
- The need is hidden (blissful ignorance)
- The need is recognized
- They are actively looking to resolve the need.

4. Understand the company and its industry, as well as its goals and strategy. Without this the seller will struggle to understand what is motivating the buyer. Understand the tradeoffs, constraints and complicating factors that bear on the needs. Understand needs from the perspective of the different stakeholders.

5. Don’t take the buyers needs on face value. Dig beneath the surface. Look to the implications of the needs. Help the buyer to develop a clearer picture of his/her needs and the advantages of solving them.

6. More questions are not the answer. Ask better questions – those that relate to needs and their implications. Don’t ask situational questions – for example about the size of the company, how long it was established – that is information that is ‘nice to know’ as opposed to ‘need to know’, or can be found from other sources (such as the company’s web site).

7. Buyers can be slow to open up. When they hear questions they fear closing. So the seller must earn the right to ask questions. This is done by showing tact, a willingness and ability to help.

8. Be tactful and sensitive regarding how they unearth the buyer’s needs. Protect the person when identifying the problem and don’t make the buyer feel like a fool!

9. It is not enough just to listen and to understand needs, but to provoke, inspire, enthuse and engage with the seller around the opportunities and challenge facing its business.

10. The sales person must help the buyer envision life after the problem has been solved. No pain, no sale - that was the old sales philosophy, with the job of the salesperson being to find and accentuate points of pain. However, the sales pro moves beyond the pain and the problem to focus on the benefits, the vision, the business impact and the likely risks that will need to be overcome.

11. Sell to those with latent needs. The role of the salesperson now includes demand generation. That means traditional prequalification criteria no longer apply.

12. Selling higher in the organization – where priorities are set and budgets can be set in response to the identification of needs. This will require a new vocabulary and a new message. It also requires confidence and skill.

Questions About Needs:

So with those tips in mind here are some questions to help you address the buyer's needs:
- What does the buyer want to achieve?
- What does the company want to achieve?
- What are the key business drivers in this area?
- What is the underlying opportunity, or challenge facing the business? How big is it? How urgent is it?
- What is the gap between desired and actual performance in the area in question? - How does this compare with internal and external expectations?
- What are the relevant industry drivers, or trends?
- Are there any critical events, or dates?
- Who does it impact on most? How? Who else is affected? In what ways? What are the consequences? What is the cost?
- The impact on the business - has it been quantified? What are the benefits of its resolution? Are they quantified in a credible manner?
- What are the relevant metrics? How will success be measured?
- Is this area a priority? If it is why has it not been addressed to date (constraints)?
- Has the issue been address/discussed in the past? What happened as a result?
- What are the competing priorities and projects?
- How does it fit with existing people and processes?
- What are the barriers to addressing the need / exploiting the opportunity?
- What could prevent it? What constraints?
- What is the context in terms of the organisations history, culture, politics, etc?

Why Sales People Are 9 Time More Likely to Talk About Themselves!

From our experience watching hundreds of sales presentations, pitches and proposals sellers spend 9 times as much time talking about themselves (that is their companies and solutions), as they do about the buyer’s needs. It should be the other way around and if it was, we believe, it could double, or triple the rate of success of the average salesperson.

So, how do you know where the sales person is focused? Well, listen out for the words that are used in sales pitches, presentations and proposals.

Focused on Needs

Focused Elsewhere

Using these words means you are
focused on the buyer’s needs:

Challenges / Needs
Problems / Opportunities
Goals / Objectives
Performance Gaps

Using these words suggests you are
focused on your solution:

Competitive advantage
Unique Selling Point
Value Proposition
Our company, People, Skills, Capabilities, etc.
Our Services, Products, or Systems
‘industry leading’, ‘best in class’, ‘innovative’, etc.

To understand this better we have been considering the following questions:
  • What is so difficult about finding out about the buyer’s needs before arriving at a solution?
  • Why do sellers feel that they have to convince the buyer that they have the best solution before they have found out what the buyer’s problem is?
Well here are some possible answers:
  • The buyer is reluctant to reveal his, or her problem to the seller.
  • The buyer says he, or she knows what is wanted and the seller accepts that this is true.
  • The salesperson has been trained to talk features and benefits.
  • The seller believes that his, or her solution is the best regardless of the specific needs of the customer.
  • The seller assumes he, or she knows what the customer wants, so there is no need to discuss it.
  • The sales person does not have the knowledge, or skill to be able to uncover the buyer’s needs.
  • The problem is so obvious to the salesperson that getting straight to the solution makes sense.
  • Sellers are used to selling to lower level managers, where discussions around features and technologies, can be welcomed. At senior levels they are not
  • The seller assumes that the buyer can join the dots and link the solution to his, or her problem.
  • Time with the buyer is limited so communicating key product information is a priority.
All of these are factors.

The Access Rules

Access to all those stakeholders in the buying decision is a privilege, not a right and if you are fortunate enough to get it, here are the rules you must follow:

  1. Always obey the rules regarding access, don’t go over or around others to get to who you want
  2. In order to ensure you access the right people, map the buying process to the organisational chart to identify you need to meet. Then pair it with your team as appropriate (e.g. CFO to your CFO).
  3. Tell them why you want to meet, ask them what they want to get from it and set a clear agenda in advance.
  4. Take advantage of other forumn for interacting with those managers of interest, for example, industry association events, conferences, etc.
  5. Use access sparingly and plan it to get the most from any time you have with stakeholders. That includes meeting at the right time and when the objectives or value of doing is at its most. For example, make sure you have your initial briefing, or scoping completed first.
  6. Do your homework in advance, make sure you are fully prepared (e.g. don’t waste time gathering information in the meeting that you could have found from the company’s website, or annual report).
  7. Research person you are going to meet, to understand their role, their previous positions, their qualification, any contacts that you have in common, etc.
  8. Consider the use of workshops that have a value to the buyer as a means of making access efficient. For example a workshop on defining requirements, completing the business case, etc.
  9. Make sure meetings and presentations don’t go on for longer than they have to.
  10. Provide the buyer with useful insights, or information to aid the decision making process.
  11. Provide tools and templates that can support eliciting requirements, defining the specification, building the business case and making the business decision.
  12. Be judicious and tactful regarding the questions you ask of the buyer, remember you have to earn the right to ask questions that are invasive, or sensitive.
  13. Always get permission to include them in your marketing in the future.
  14. Always make a point of expressing your gratitude for the time you have been granted by the buyer.
  15. Send a note with a summary of the meeting and some useful piece of follow-up material, or information for the buyer.
  16. Keep your main sponsor, or contact in the loop regarding any meetings you have with his, or her colleagues.