June 28, 2009

How to get the most from industry analysts

Are you considering working with analysts, such as Gartner, again next year, or perhaps for the first time this year? Our clients have had mixed experiences in working with analysts – some good and some bad. In this article we share some of the lessons they have learned.

Deciding to work with Analysts
Buyers are faced with an increasing array of competing technologies and solutions. As a result buyers are looking for information that is more authoritative, impartial and comprehensive to aid the process of short-listing and selecting vendors.

But what influence do analysts have on your customers? To find out you may need to:
Ask your customers if they have read or considered analyst reports in purchasing your solution / similar solutions.
Review what analysts have to say about the solutions you are supplying – have they profiled any of your competitors?
Check your competitor’s web sites and brochures – are analysts quoted?
List the thought-leaders in your industry – are analysts to be found among them?

Even a small company that uses analysts right should expect to get 6-12 leads per annum from the source. The benefits don’t stop there however they use analysts (in conjunction with a number of other activities) to build their profile and level of brand awareness too.

Lessons in dealing with analysts
One of our clients spent more than 40k in just 12 months with one of the leading analysts. What results did they get? Well, in their words ‘none’. In fact they suspected that it cost them business.

When the analysts’ grid positioning their company alongside competitors was produced they were far from happy about how they were presented. They quickly realised that any potential customer who read the analysis would probably be dissuaded from contacting their company. What a disaster!

So what went wrong? The client’s management team claims that they made the mistake of being ‘more honest than the competitors had been’, pointing out that x, y and z competitor simply did not have the range of functionality claimed. In fact they used the word ‘na├»ve’, as opposed to ‘too honest’ to describe how they themselves had briefed the analysts.

A key lesson is that analysts need to he helped to analyze your product – you have got to steer them in the right direction. Plus you have got to see what the analyst is going to say before it goes to print.

However, understanding why the analysts failed to deliver requires some further exploration. The key problem for the client was that the product and positioning they wanted to achieve was more of a promise that reality. While product development on the new features and functionality (so important to the analysis) was substantially complete, there were no valid reference sites. The customers cited as reference sites were using older more limited solutions and as a result it was on the basis of those that the analyst grid positioned the company.

So another lesson is that what your customers say about you is very important in shaping what analysts will say. In the past analysts took your word for it, now they want to hear from, or at least reference your customers. They want to talk about products that have been released and have been sold. So, there is not much point in approaching analysts until you are ready.

Some tips on working with Analysts
Many of our clients wrestle with the issue of how to get analyst attention and what it will cost. There is an increasing suspicion that analysts won’t do anything without getting paid. However, as some of our clients have discovered, the approach to analysts very much determines what you get and what it is going to cost. Some of the considerations include:
Having a clear and differentiated positioning for the analyst – a reason why his/her analysis will be incomplete without reference to your solution
Selecting the right analyst – that includes deciding if you want one that is focused on the US or the UK (for example) on large companies, as opposed to small, generalist, versus specialist Profiling the different analysts and reading their work is key here.
Prepare an analyst pack that contains not volumes of technical and related information, but readily accessible competitor tables, customer stories, product benefits, etc.
Position yourself and your company as an expert and thought leader in the space, don’t just confine your briefing to your company alone (that he can probably get from your website or marketing literature).
First, seek a briefing with the analyst and make sure you are on their radar (to do this you are going to need an elevator pitch that makes it clear why it will be worthwhile for them to talk to you). Then take it from there in terms of deciding what services you can avail of.
With permission from the analyst use their information on your website, send analyst reports to your customers and prospects, highlight it in publicity/pr, etc.

The new analysts movement
In response to the growing influence of analysts a number of alternative analyst models have emerged and though leaders on the web have come into their own. The need for more information on the part of buyers in being meet in part by new forms of web marketing, in particular online communities, user groups, blogging and so on. They may not be as glamorous as the heavily branded industry analysts, however they are playing an increasingly important role – just type in some key words into a search engine regarding your industry and see how prominently they are often displayed.

So, if you are going to invest in analysts, don’t over look the more obvious methods of providing richer and more independent information to your customers – the web.

Bridging the Chasm Between Sales and Marketing

Sales people in many organizations are looking for more direct support from marketing, but it is not always forthcoming.
While, in fast growing companies sales and marketing work closely together, close co-operation between the two is not the industry norm. Indeed, in up to 50% of those companies we work with sales and marketing simply don’t get along. What a lost opportunity for both sides!
The Challenges of Aligning Marketing and Sales

In this article we highlight 4 situations were sales and marketing are ‘out-of-synch’ and the consequences that inevitably result. Then we offer some suggestions on aligning sales and marketing to accelerate sales growth.

Company 1: The politics of co-operation.

‘Our marketing team tends to do its own thing’ states the Ireland manager for one of our global clients. Elaborating on the subject he points out ‘I don’t know what marketing have planned for the year, but I imagine it will be pretty irrelevant to what I need to do, or in terms of my sales pipeline.’

Surprisingly, a mass marketing approach is being adopted despite the fact that there are just 60-80 companies in the Irish market for the company's multi-million pound high end solution. Logically, the manager proclaims ‘we should aim all our marketing at those companies and nobody else’.

However, just 2 months before a major marketing event in his territory– a high-profile one day seminar - the country manager has not seen a target list of invitees, or even a schedule for the day. When the newly purcahsed list does appear it clearly misses the mark.

Back in the company's UK headquarters the company’s siloed marketing team only belligerently co-operates with sales and politics is rife. There is a lack of clear leadership from the top, with both sales director and marketing director pulling the CEO in different directions.

Company 2: Stuck on glossy brochures & press releases.

‘Marketing has its own budget and programme of activity’ states the MD of another Client company. Proud of his company’s commitment to marketing he ads ’we have invested heavily in that area and recognize it as key to our success’.

However the disconnect between sales and marketing is becoming clearer with sales expecting more direct help from marketing, in particular greater support in respect of lead generation.

A divisional sales manager is leading a major drive to generate new leads and in particular to target those more profitable customers at the top end of the market. He has cadjoled and pressurises his sales team to start cold calling, yet marketing is nowhere to be seen.

Meanwhile, the marketing team’s focus appears to be stuck on glossy brochures and press releases. The fact that it is difficult to measure the results from these activities does not help.

Company 3: That’s not really marketing’s job.

‘Marketing’s job is to get the message out there and to build the profile of the company’ agreed the Managing Director and Sales Director in a third client company.

‘Our marketing has got a lot better in the past 12 months, we have a much clearer message and have got some good PR. Also we have discovered what does not work for us – specifically trade shows and analysts’ they added.

All that is very positive, but is it enough? Well looking at the priorities of the company it seems to fall short of what is required. Specifically, the company’s ambitious growth plans require a doubling of its pipeline and rapid growth in the volume of sales leads generated.

However the Sales Manager points out ‘that is not really marketing’s job’ suggesting the need to employ additional ‘pre-sales and sales support staff’. The marketing executive present meekly suggests ‘but we do generate some leads’.

Company 4: Old reliables: 

After a decade of buoyant demand, 2 successful international architectural practices are faced with an industry wide sales crisis. How to respond? Both companies reached into their out of date marketing tool kit and reached for what as most immediately to hand. They called in the brochure designers and the branding consultants.

The output was beautiful to look at, in fact in both cases the marketing materials were among the most luxurious and glossy I have ever seen. But did it result in one extra sale? Realising that more was required one of the two companies embarked on an initiative to drive up levels of business development, providing more than 50 directors and associate directors with the tools, training and support to renew old contacts and establish new ones, to look at new segments, new packages and new pricing. And the marketing manager was sitting eagerly in the front row.

The result a dramatic volume of calls, emails, meetings that continues to this day and has kept revenues flowing. But could this activity be described as sales, or marketing and does it really matter. Well, in our view it was a wonderful mix of both.

Conclusions - How to bridge the chasm between sales & marketing?

‘I did my MBA 15 years ago - in those days marketing was marketing and sales was sales’, responded a manager to the notion that marketing’s role had changed in respect of high value B2B sales. He added ‘marketing builds awareness and sales takes advantage of that to sell’.

But a lot has changed in 15 years, mass marketing has been replaced by a one-to-one approach. The reliance on traditional tools, such as advertising and events, has been given way to activities targeted directly at named executives in carefully selected organizations. In this way today's B2B marketing is sales-led.
With rising sales and marketing costs and finite corporate resources, a fractionalized approach to sales and marketing inevitably retards growth. In an effort to bridge the chasm between sales and marketing, managers are redefining; roles, responsibilities and structures to more closely align sales and marketing.
In the post mass-marketing B2B world, the guiding principle is that marketing should be Sales-Led, with its activities integrated with sales and focused directly on the pursuit of sales related objectives.

Some tips for aligning sales and marketing:

• Bring sales and marketing together and
get communication going. That means meetings, presentations and workshops on both sides, as well as the sharing of information, as well as staff. Any company committed to effective marketing should expect marketing to spend time in-front of customers, going along on sales calls, etc. This of course works both ways - sales people should occasionally sit in on; direct marketing campaign meetings, customer focus groups, etc.

Share information and plans, so that everybody knows what everybody else is doing, what the objectives are and what budget is being spent. Ensure there is formal input, from both sides, into each other’s plans.

• Develop
integrated B2B sales and marketing campaigns, around; an agreed target list, with a coordinated program of activity, specific quarterly objectives and regular reviews of results.

• Set
targets not just for sales but for all related sales and marketing activities, inputs and outputs. In particular, set targets for marketing in respect of lead generation, including the volume of leads and conversion rates from all marketing related activities (from telemarketing to events). How your sales database (CRM or SFA system) is used is vital to tracking performance in this area.

• Put
new structures for co-operation in place, such as joint review meetings, and re-write the roles where required.

• Adopt more of a
project management approach to sales and marketing campaign implementation to ensure high levels of visibility and control.

• Incentivize
marketing, just like sales. Bring marketing inside the tent and celebrate its achievements.

• Show
leadership from the top, with the CEO getting involved.

June 26, 2009

What will it take to win over today’s buyers?

What is it going to take to win over increasingly demanding and budget strapped buyers? Well, here is a step by step formula:

1. Go beyond features to benefits and then keep on going…

Go beyond features to benefits and then keep on going. That is because buyers are not as impressed by benefits lists as we sellers like to think they are.

Benefits are a hypothesis about what is important to the buyer, a catch all list of possible reasons to buy. But, that is all they are. The problem is that most benefits and features lists are too long. They tend to be laden with adjectives and are vague, unquantified and subjective.

Another problem is that benefits often suffer from a crisis of identity being regularly mistaken for features. They also tend to be written with the technical, as opposed to the business buyer in mind and generally do not reflect the issues of concern to senior management.

So it is time to move beyond feature and benefits selling – to stop telling the customer what the benefits are and listening to what it is that he, or she wants to achieve. It is time to start selling solutions, right?

2. Go beyond selling solutions and then keep going...

Selling products and services is so 1990s, so you would be mistaken for thinking that you should be selling solutions instead. Well, not necessarily so. That is because too often salespeople start selling a solution before they understand the problem, or need that it is meant to solve for the customer.

Here is the problem - buyers don’t really want what you are selling! Rather they want the results that it can help them to achieve. So, your SOA enabled turnkey solution is not what you should spend most of your time talking about. Instead, you should be discussing the end results that your prospect wants to achieve and how your other customers have achieved something similar.

The challenge of moving beyond the solution can be made more difficult by some customers, for example when they send out an RFP, or request a proposal without giving the salesperson an opportunity to really understand their needs. In any respect, the buyer may have a less than complete understanding of his/her needs.

For example, we regularly are asked to provide proposals in respect of the provision of training to sales people. Our wisdom gained over many years, tells us that sales training (at least the traditional variety) generally falls short of delivering what managers want to achieve. So we try to better understand what challenges or priorities are facing the sales team and the results expected. With this information we are can put training in its proper context in terms of the full range of options available.

So, you have gone beyond the solution to focus on the need, but is that all? Well, it is a great start. Now keep going till your conversation has left needs in the shade and started to focus on results.

3. Go beyond the pain and the problem to the results…

It is fashionable to talk about point of pain for the buyer as the fundamental motivation to buy and in particular as providing the impetus to buy now. This is one step up, in terms of intensity, from the focus on the problem as a means of selling your solution.

However, while both of these elements are important an even more compelling approach is to focus on what your customer is trying to achieve. That is the hope, as opposed to the pain and the opportunity as opposed to the problem.

So, what is the business impact of your solution? Specifically, how will it impact on the Productivity, Performance, Revenue and Profit of your prospect? What business results will it enable your customers to achieve? How will it impact on key business metrics?

4. Go beyond results and keep going until you get to the strategy…

With buying decisions being made higher and wider in most organisations, there is still one common denominator for senior buyers – that is business strategy. Sales people must connect with managers not through the focus on solutions, problems and pain, but instead on their strategy for their business. That is what they want to achieve and how the salesperson’s solution can make it a reality.

Having moved beyond the solution to the need and beyond the need to the results, you are ready to relate to the buyer in a totally new way. That is to connect with managers not by focusing on their strategy for their business. That is what they want to achieve and how the seller’s solution can make it a reality.

Selling at a strategy level can present a challenge for many salespeople. That is because it requires a new level of insight, as well as a new language – one that is more akin to business people than traditional salespeople. It is the transition from salesperson to trusted advisor and requires deeper relationships, as well as high levels of credibility and trust.

Salespeople need a 6th Sense Regarding Buyer Concerns

You think you are close to winning the sale. In fact your offering clearly beats the competition. However, it is vital that you do not become complacent. Too often unspoken issues, or concerns on the part of the buyer scupper the ‘sure thing’ sale.

Buyers Can Get 'Cold Feet'.
As the Sale Approaches The Buyer Can Get Cold Feet.
As the needs analysis, presentation, proposal writing and other aspects of the sale progress, the seller gains confidence. Everything seems to be progressing nicely, however the buyer while nodding in agreement, maybe secretly harboring concerns about making the decision in your favour.

In the present climate risk adverse buyers are increasingly edgy, that means the slightest anxiety, however unjustified, can result in selecting the safe option. That may mean either stalling the purchase, or selecting the safe, as opposed to the innovative supplier.

There is no such thing as a ‘sure thing’ sale.
On the surface everything look good for the sale to close. But beneath the surface the buyer may be wrestling with fundamental, yet hidden anxieties, or doubts that could scupper the sale. On paper your proposition stacks up, but as the decision approaches there are second thoughts about you and your company.

Let us take an example: the salesperson’s proposal, presentation and price beats the competition, but somebody on the buying group raises a concern about the suppliers track record and credibility – after the company is relatively new. The question is asked ‘why don’t we just stick with the supplier we know?’

The buyer will often stay silent about an unresolved concern in order to avoid any awkwardness, conflict, or disagreement. Meanwhile the sale quietly moves in the direction of the safe choice and into your competitor’s corner.

Why Salespeople Don’t Raise Possible Buyer Concerns.

Perhaps the salesperson had been sensitive to the credibility issue during the sales process, but chose to side step it in the hope that it would go away. After all, bringing it up might only give it credence. This can, however, be a fatal flaw as sensitivity to risk is likely to increase, rather than diminish as the buying decision approaches.

You think you are close to winning the sale. In fact your offering clearly beats the competition. However, it is vital that you do not become complacent. Too often unspoken issues, or concerns on the part of the buyer scupper the ‘sure thing’ sale.

As the needs analysis, presentation, proposal writing and other aspects of the sale progress, the seller gains confidence. Everything seems to be progressing nicely, however the buyer while nodding in agreement, maybe secretly harboring concerns about making the decision in your favour.

Understanding Buyer Risk.
In the present climate risk adverse buyers
are increasingly edgy, that means the slightest anxiety however unjustified can result in selecting the safe option. That may mean either stalling the purchase, or selecting the safe as opposed to the innovative supplier.

These hidden and unresolved buyer concerns pose the greatest risk where the:
• The buying decision is new (as opposed to for example a repeat purchase)
• The Buying decision has major consequences, is high profile, or has a big budget
• The vendor is not well known, or another vendor owns the account
• The product, process, or technology involved is new
• The buying decision is politically sensitive, or the buying group is large

You need to know where you really stand.

Ferreting out any lingering and unexpressed concerns on the part of the buyer is essential. Ignorance is not bliss. There is a rating attached to the opportunity and it may even form part of the sales forecast, but how real is it? Could you be fooling yourself?

The lack of openness in many buyer – seller stand-offs, particularly where an R F I or R F P is involved, make it difficult to know where you really stand. Indeed it can require almost a sixth sense.

Look out for Tell Tale Signs.

It is only when out in the open that the buyer’s unresolved concern can have any hope of being resolved. That means the salesperson must actively probe for concerns on the part of the buyer and encourage him/her to open up and admit to any concerns. Success in this respect, however, requires good; relationships, communication and trust. Above all the buyer must trust that you will not to react defensively to what is said.

It is important to give the buyer a safe setting in which concerns can be aired. For example, he, or she may prefer to do that off the record, or one to one. It may happen on the fringe of a meeting, when the rest of the attendees have gone, over that last exchange in reception, after a meal, or a social drink.

We were involved in helping a client purchase a sales system – a sale valued at up to 3 million – for which 3 vendors were shortlisted. Only one of those selected invited the management team and ourselves to dinner, with the other 2 missing out on a valuable opportunity to more clearly understand the context of the buying decision, understand any risks that needed to be addressed, or to build a relationship that would result in greater openness between buyer and seller.

As another example I worked with a colleague a number of years ago, who would always make sure to be the person to walk out of a meeting with the key decision maker, while his colleagues would pair off with others at the meeting. This proved very effective enabling him to get a one to one and off the record answer to questions such as ‘Is there anything that we have not covered in our presentation?’, ‘Is there anything else that we should be considering as we progress?’, ‘Are there any possible barriers that we should be aware of?’, etc. Allowing for such accidental opportunities for meaningful conversations with the buyer can be important.

Understanding buyer concerns will require listening to what is said as well as what is not said. For example, the salesperson must also look for tell tale signs such as:

• You are getting mixed signals
• You feel like you are not being told everything
• You are suddenly not getting access, or the buyer has gone quiet
• Your competitor keeps getting mentioned
• Information is not flowing freely
• Previously resolved issues are re-surfacing
• Inappropriate price concerns arise
• The decision gets postponed, or the timing for a decision gets pushed out

Meeting a roadblock? Then slow down!

The sales person, when confronted with a resolution of concern’s roadblock, can be tempted to speed up instead of slowing down. That is to apply pressure on the buyer, or employ closing techniques. This however is likely to prove counterproductive. Simply, trying to negotiate a resolution of the concern is also likely to fail. Dropping price, even if it is successful, is a costly way to address a fundamental buyer concern.

It is not always about Price

Price is often a smokescreen for other fundamental buyer concerns, after all it easier to tell a salesperson that he lost on price, rather than to raise the real issues of mistrust, politics, risk, or hassle. As always price is only one dimension of a larger cost, or consequences equation, that includes issues such as perceived risk, hassle, uncertainty and so on.

Notes: If you would like to read more on this subject check out Neil Rackham's Major Account Sales. In his book he points to The Resolution of Concerns as one of the most important, but often overlooked steps in the buying process.

June 25, 2009

From Selling Products to Selling Ideas

Ideas, beliefs and causes are more compelling than products, or services. In an age of increased choice, competition and commoditization, features and benefits are not enough to really connect with your customers. So how can you link what you are selling with a cause, idea, or concern that your customers are passionate about? Or how can you get passionate about the problems or opportunities your solutions address for customers?

How to Really Connect with Your Customers

So, if ideas are the real currency of the age, why are you still selling products and services? Find a cause that is inimical to your product, or service - one that really matters to your customers, as well as their own customers. Don’t settle for being a sales person, identify with, join and build a tribe (we will let Seth Godwin explain this term later) around the causes, values and passions shared by you, your company and your customers.

The most powerful way to build your business is to stop selling, moving beyond features and benefits, as well as from points of pain and problem identification to igniting purpose, passion and imagination. That means focusing on a cause that is inimical to your product, or service and that really matters to your customers, or their own customers. It is to become an advocate, champion and thought leader.

The Most Effective Way to Connect With Your Customers
Listen to what matters to your customers. What issues are they concerned about? What is at the core of success in their industry? What are they passionate about? To what values do they aspire? What ideas engage, or have the potential to engage them?

People want to identify with values, causes and ideals. They want to connect with others who share them too. In this way building momentum behind a cause is not a one man job, it involves connecting with others who share the same passion and the building of communities around it. That is its power as regards sales.

Salespeople can blur the traditional customer – seller distinction, by being part of a movement, network, or community. In this internet age, everybody has an opportunity to find and the air their voice and to connect to others worldwide for whom it resonates, no matter much in the minority they might be.

What is your cause?

So what is the cause you can lend your voice to? What cause can you champion? For example, the salesperson selling warehouse management systems might focus on a particular cause relating to warehouse performance, sharing their ideas and becoming a thought leader, promoting or championing new ideals, connecting with potential customers who share the same concerns, etc.

Now, of course you cannot champion a cause just because you think it will help you sell more. To carry it off you will need to have a genuine conviction and commitment regarding the issues concerned. You will also need to have something to say, a strong voice, a unique perspective, or value to add.

Sharing passions, purpose and ideals means standing for something larger than just a product, or a commercial transaction. It requires not just following, but challenging the status quo. It often requires breaking new ground and being on the edge, whether that is Michael O Leary and the purpose of low fare travel, or Al Gore and the environment.

What are the new tools for selling ideas?
How this happens has been propelled by means of the web, with blogging, online forums, social networking, etc. the viral means of selling ideas and connecting with others. Indeed, the web gives everybody, salesperson, or not, the means of finding, developing and airing their voice.

Again taking the example of the warehouse management system sales organisation that wants to connect with its customer and prospects in a new way. It begins by members of the organisations sales or marketing team:

- Setting up RSS feeds to read relevant news, articles and views from cyberspace. That means tracking those issues that are topical, what others are saying, who is influencing opinions, etc.
- Joining forums and groups relating to the topic of interest, including those on linked-in, facebook, etc.
- Setting up a blog to air views, share useful information with others and build a following. The fact that this has a positive effect on google search ranking should not be forgotten about.
- Commenting on other blogs and feeding the conversation.
- Writing whitepapers, delivering webinars, pod casting, hosting presentations, webinars, online, etc.

From Salesperson to Tribal Leader
Tribes according to Seth Godwin are what matter most and leading them is how you can really affect changes in society, economies and business. See his video on TED below.

SALES SUPERSTARS: Do you have a Ronaldo on your sales team?

At a time when Spanish Soccer Team Real Madrid has paid a total of 130 million in transfer fees for superstars Ronaldo and Kaka, we turn our attention to the superstars of selling and ask what are they worth?

What about the sales superstars?
Manchester United has parted ways with leading goalscorer Ronaldo in return for £75 million from Real Madrid, setting a new transfer fee record. Ronaldo has been the clubs most talented player, scoring a total of 118 goals in 292 football games (that is the equivalent of a 40% conversion rate, I guess). But, what about the unnaturally gifted in selling? Is there such a thing as the sales superstar and what exactly would such a stellar performer be worth?

Do you have a Ronaldo on your sales team?
Some salespeople are superstars, always hitting their numbers and never failing to perform. But, what makes a superstar? Are they hired from the outside to boost sales performance, or can they be home grown from within? Can every salesperson become a superstar, or is this title reserved for a small chosen few? We set about answering some of these questions, setting out some of the typical answers and subjecting them to scrutiny.

Transfer Fees in Selling
First let us talk about transfer fees for salespeople. Everybody knows that the rates of turnover are high, especially for new hires. As many as 2 out of 3 new recruits in sales stay for no more than a few quarters.

So, there is no question but that sales force turnover is expensive. In fact we would suggest that the cost of a salesperson walking, or being pushed is 2-3 times his, or her annual salary. That is the equivalent of paying a pretty big transfer fee, but without getting anything in return.

Some people are better at selling than others, right?
Well, it is certainly true that the gap between the highest and lowest performing sales person in any organization is great. Indeed, it can be as much as 75%. Certainly not every salesperson gets to play in the premier league.

One sales superstar is worth 10 ordinary salespeople, right?
Well, that level of analysis is a little simplistic and could be dangerous. After all, finding a sales superstar is not easy. Most organizations cannot afford to hire a superstar salespeople, and those who can end up recruiting several average performers before finding their star. Therefore the reality is that most organisations must must aspire to develop sales champions from their existing ranks of full forwards, centre halves and so on.

Great salespeople are born not made, right?
The naturally gifted salesperson is a common misconception. Yes, there are certain personal characteristics and traits that are inherently beneficial in selling, but we firmly believe that sales stars are not born, but made.

We believe that sales is an equal opportunities employer. Everybody can sell and sell well, with the discipline to learn and apply the right strategies, skills and techniques. In the increasingly complex world of B2B sales, great salespeople are the result of great effort on their own part, as well as their organisations.

Would you rather have a great salesperson or a great sales manager?
The formula was hire a great salesperson, set the incentives and stay out of his, or her way. If he, or she does not perform find a replacement and fast. The management of sales people started and stopped at the setting of incentives. Well that just does not work.

We have seen time and time again that the ordinary salesperson can achieve superstar levels of performance if he/she received the right coaching and support.

Similarly, the average sales person who applies the right sales process can frequently win 'man of the match'. That is the opposite of the traditional view in selling where there has been too much focus on people and not enough on process, technique, or skill. The salesperson was expected to work his, or her magic on the customer, as opposed to following a process, or working within a framework.

One Superstar is Not Enough – Selling Requires a Team Effort
Traditionally, the salesperson was seen as a lone ranger, riding off into the sunset alone and coming back some time later with the order in hand. Now the approach has very much shifted to a team based approach to selling.
It is teams that win matches, not superstars. However the exalted sales superstar can be a reluctant team player. He, or she may be reluctant to pass to colleagues, either the information, or the credit. However, in complex B2B sales just as teams are involved in the buying organisation, a myriad of skills and talents are required in the sales effort. So the salesperson must orchestrates the efforts of a team, that includes technical, support, financial and other players on both sides.

Once a Superstar, Always a Superstar?
The premier league salesperson on
moving to another industry, company, or market can quickly face relegation. For example, we have worked with a number of salespeople who previously belonged to the Golden Circle of a major global vendor, but on moving to a newer and smaller enterprise struggled to perform.

There is no universal standard for a
sales superstar, it is highly context dependent and a wide range of environmental factors are at play, including the role, the levels of sales and marketing support, the organisational culture, etc.

There is no ideal salesperson and the failure to appreciate this is where the problem begins. Different sales organizations and different sales situations require different personalities and skills. There is no template for the universal superstar salesperson, or no magic formula, or set of ingredients.

The right salesperson depends on the requirements of the role, for example:
- Different skills are required for consultative, as opposed to transactional s
elling, and for B2B versus B2C.
- Different behaviours, attitudes and skills are required for selling to senior executives in big organisations, as opposed to lower levels, or smaller ones.
- Different skills are required for selling new products, or technologies, as opposed to existing ones and for selling to new, as opposed to existing customers

Creating A Sales Superstar
If the world is full of average salespeople, how can they be transformed into superstars, or at least be enabled to perform at their best?

Well our research shows that incentives and remuneration are not the enough. Nor is training, particularly once off training interventions. If you are going to be a Ronaldo, you will need to have a Ferguson as your leader and coach. That is because coaching is clearly the number one factor in determining salesperson performance. Added to this is process and systems, proposition and strategy, of course.

In Conclusion.
If you have got a Ronaldo on your sales team, great, hold onto him, or her for as long as you can. However, if your salespeople have more natural, as opposed to unnatural levels of ability you can still get into the finals. Either way attention to those fundamentals of sales strategy, teamwork, coaching and process is vital.

June 24, 2009

Some New Ways to Use Your Pdfs and PowerPoint Slides

Have you ever noticed that pdfs appear quite frequently in Google searches and that other people's power point presentations too?  Well, Google in its attempts to provide the user with the most useful information relevant seems often serves up these items ahead of traditional web pages.  

Now, I know that how Google calculates its rankings is as much a secret as the formula for Coca Cola, but as you have power point presentations and Pdf documents already created, it makes sense to find as wide an audience for them as possible.  The fact that this may increase the number of hits you get via the web, is an added advantage.  So, we have put together a list of some great places to put your Pdf files and presentations:

http://www.slideshare.net/ - 14 million unique monthly visitors

http://www.scribd.com/ - 60 million readers every month

http://base.google.com - new, but it is by Google so expect it to rank highly

http://www.keepandshare.com - more visitors than slideshare according to Alexa

http://www.4shared.com/ - ranked by Alexa as one of the top 100 sites

Here is a long list of others:


June 18, 2009

Scaling for sales growth – tough or what?

In a conversation earlier in the week with an industry sales veteran we got onto the topic of scaling sales. A topic we could have chatted about enjoyably all day quite easily. When we had concluded our conversation we noted that there are many aspects to scaling sales that we will all have come across in one form or another over the years: 

  1. Hiring sales people
  2. Entering new markets
  3. Developing partnerships, channels and alternative routes to market
  4. Strengthening account management skills
  5. Improving the sales process considering minor adaptations of sales behaviour & how it will affect buyer behaviour
  6. Proactive sales planning and sales system adoption
  7. Aligning sales and marketing
  8. Ensuring executives know their role in the sales cycles
  9. Building sales teams to sell to key accounts
  10. Knowing when to walk away 

These ten points count no doubt but they make the scaling topic very complex, seeing the wood from the trees can be tough. There are lots of lines of dependency to be aware of both internally and externally. Ultimately to scale sales your organisations and senior management team need to be sales led.  This is the only way to achieve 25%, 30%, 50% growth rates. 

“As a sales manager said to me recently, scaling sales is complex, I need help to simplify the approach to ensure we are sales led and consistent with our mission. Our sales cycles our complex, we need to sell value while at the same time ensuring we keep things simple for the buyers. If we don’t keep things simple for buyers and for our sales team we will swim in a sea of mediocrity”.

This conversation got me thinking of the engine of a five cylinder car, each cylinder aligns with each other so the car can gets you from a to b. If we assume A is where we are and B is where we want to get to – be that 25% sales growth year on year or 50% growth - then we need to make sales the engine of our business – that brings us back to being sales led again. The sales engine will have a number of cylinders: called leads, meetings, sales cycles, sales order and repeat orders or alternatively suspects, prospects, opportunities, customers and repeat customers, it doesn’t really matter what the cylinders are called, what matters is the activity in each cylinder and how effective the activity is. If the focus is activity first which gets you so far, effectiveness of activity is the key to scaling sales or am I missing something?


June 16, 2009

How Misreading the Buying Decision Could Cost You the Sale

Key lessons from Neil Rackham’s ‘Major Account Sales Strategy’

‘Major Account Sales Strategy’ by Neil Rackham’s is a bible for the savvy sales professional. It is as relevant today as when it was first published in 1989. So, we dusted it off and pulled out its key points.

The key message of this ground-breaking book is that many sales are lost because salespeople misread the stage of the buying decision. For example, they try to sell a solution before the buyer’s needs have been recognized, or dig around to identify needs when they should be addressing the specific supplier selection criteria set by the buyer. Perhaps most serious of all they fail to unearth buyer concerns that could stall the sale.

Now, like me you know that no two buying decisions are the
same and that buying models can be an over-simplistic
representation of reality of how complex business decisions are made. However, Rackham's provides food for though in terms of how the key success factors for the salesperson varies depending on the stage of the buying decision. So, let us look at the 5 key stages:


If there is no need there is no sale, that is obvious. So, the first stage in the buying process is the recognition of needs. That is also the starting point for most sales meetings, or at least it should be.

In the recognition of needs phase the ideal strategy for the salesperson is to uncover dissatisfaction and develop it until it reaches a critical mass. That means the salesperson should hold back on product discussions and presentations, focusing instead on identifying needs, probing dissatisfaction and creating tension for change.

Successful salespeople ask a lot more and better questions during sales calls than their less successful colleagues. The latter tend to do most of the talking and become involved in product discussions very early in the sale and give presentations as a means of generating customer interest.


Once the buyer has recognized the need the next step is to evaluate options, that is solutions and suppliers. At this stage the sales person must ascertain if the decision making criteria have been defined and indeed are correct.

The salesperson’s objective for this phase of the buying process is to identify, address and shape the criteria that will be employed in selecting a supplier. It is also important to identify alternatives solutions to the buyer’s problem, or alternative uses for the same budget - these can be as important as any competiting vendor.

Rackham points out that most salespeople do not ask customers about their specific decision making criteria. Without this information they are shooting in the dark. After all there is no point emphasizing criteria that are not important to the buyer.

The salesperson may attempt to redefine, or diminish the importance of buying criteria that do not favour his/her company. Although these criteria will be both hard and soft, the savvy salesperson will attempt to quantify and ‘objectify’ both.

Of course, the line between evaluating options and recognizing needs can be a fine one, with the salesperson often attempting to influence the buying criteria by revisiting needs. For example, the customer says ‘we want a training programme’. But the salesperson in an attempt to prove his/her value may ask 'What is the problem that the company is trying to solve?'' 'What are the issues that give rise to the need for training?' and so on.

However, if a buyer may wans training and that is that. It is a transaction and there is little room for consultation and little buyer patience for recognition of needs questions on the part of the salesperson. In that situation the salesperson may be best served to focus attention on the buyer’s criteria for selecting a training provider.


While the salesperson may feel that he, or she is in pole position, getting the buyer across the line can often prove troublesome. Beneath the surface the buyer may be wrestling with fundamental, yet often hidden, concerns, sensitivities or risks that have the potential to scupper the sale. This crucial phase of the buying process is what Rachman calls 'the resolution of concerns'.

Let us take an example: the salesperson’s proposal, presentation and price beats the competition, but somebody on the buying group raises a concern about the company’s track record and credibility - afterall the company is relatively new. The question is asked ‘why don’t we just stick with the supplier we know?’ Nothing is said to the sales person and the safe route is taken by the buying group.

Perhaps the salesperson had been sensitive to the issue during the sales process, but side steped it in the hope that it would go away. After all, bringing it up in the discussion might only give it credence. This can be a fatal flaw however as sensitivity to risk is likely to increase, rather than diminish as the buying decision approaches. Ferriting out any lingering concerns on the part of the buyer is essential and can require almost a sixth sence on the part of the sales person.

Buying Phase 4: DECISION

The buyer’s needs are clear, the options have been explored and any niggling concerns addressed. So, logically the buying decision follows. Just as a good house sits on a strong foundation, the success of the saleperson depends on how well the recognition of needs, evaluation of options and resolution of concerns stages has been managed.

Like me Rackham does not believe in the 'slam dunk' sales close, pointing out that applying pressure to close before any unresolved issues have been addressed is generally a disaster. So too with negotiating too early. Until the buyer has moved from identification of needs to the evaluation of options and then resolved of concerns the salesperson's job is not complete.


A continuous theme of Rackham’s book is that just as the salesperson things his/her job is done, another vital phase of the sales process is just about to begin and that includes implementation.
In particular the area of implementation is often overlooked, as the salesperson moves on to close the next deal. This is in spite of the importance of giving the customer extra attention during the early stages of implementation and the requirement to continually build the relationship and prove the value.

The mindset required is Rackham suggests that of account development, as opposed to account maintenance. What counts with most customers is what are you done for them today and what can you do for them tomorrow. In this respect it is also important to document the good news ensuring that the customer has an accurate measure of what has been achieved.

June 12, 2009

'The 2nd Bounce of the Ball' - Tips from Leading Venture Capitalist Rohan Cohen

As managers what can we learn from one of the foremost figures in the venture capital world? Well, as it turns out a lot as Rohan Cohen's 'The 2nd Bounce of the Ball' proves.

Ronald Cohen, pioneer venture capitalist, knows better than almost anybody else how to pick winners. He founded Apax Partners, which manages assets of $20 billion and has advised governments world-wide on the role of venture capital and fostering global enterprises.

Ronald has recently published ‘The Second Bounce of The Ball’ and in so doin
g reveals many of the secrets of his success – secrets that are relevant to every ambitious manager.

Many are called, but few are chosen
Cohen’s investment successes are no accident. He estimates that his company invests in just 2% of those early stage investment companies that it considers.

The decision as to which company to invest in requires hundreds of hours of due diligence, with 50 business plans being reviewed for every venture backed.

Question: Would your company fall into the 2% that are chosen for investment by Cohen?

The odds may be stacked against you
Even applying great care to selecting high potential companies, Cohen knows the odds of success are just 20%. Improving those odds is a constant focus, with his company becoming actively involved in supporting the mangers in those companies in which it has invested.

Interestingly enough, he puts the overall chances of an entrepreneur achieving something outstanding at about 0.4%.

Question: Will your company be in the small minority that can achieve something outstanding?

Cohen adds that buy outs give a more consistent overall return than earlystage investments.

How do you know if you are on to a winner?
Cohen’s view is that you can seldom do too much due diligence, yet he recognises that even those ideas that research identifies as winners are not guaranteed success.

Indeed, he suggest that you can never be more than 60-70% sure of success regardless of however much analysis is done and points to the importance of going to the market and getting reaction so as to really understand the chances of success.

Question: How much rigor do you apply to making key decisions in your business?

Not surprisingly Cohen is into business plans, yet he balances the need for clarity of direction with the need to allow for realignment, flexibility and ability to improvise as the company progresses.

Question: How agile is your business in response to changing market circumstances?

Calibrating risk and return: correctly defining which market you are in, how large it is, size etc - these are, according to Cohen, the fundamentals.

Key questions to ask

Here are some of the key questions Cohen applies to the selection of winning companies:
• How fast will it grow?
• How realistic and reliable are its projected revenue?
• How clear are the targets? How big is the vision?
• How realistic and controllable are the costs (development, marketing, sales, etc.)?
• What is the extent of competition?
• How protected are its margins?
• What is the commitment and skill in respect of sales and marketing?
• Are there barriers to competition/switching that protect its sales?
• How much is the CEO going to let go (to others)?

Question: Have you asked these questions of your managers?

The next bounce of the ball

Cohen is constantly looking at industry cycles to determine where and when to invest. In particular, in mature industries he is looking for ‘the next bounce of the ball’ – emerging markets that has the potential for rapid growth. This isn’t easy however, calling for a real understanding of the market and the ability to recognise trends and the cycles.

Question: Where is the next bounce of the ball going to be in your industry? Are you positioned to take advantage of it?

It will take longer than you expect

Cohen has regrets. The first is that the European Venture Capital Industry did not develop like its counterpart in the US. As a result many of Europe’s rising stars don’t have the capital intensity required for global success.

Technology creates a high level of uncertainty Cohen observes, not least because products take time to develop. All too often there is insufficient capital to ensure success.

His advice is to raise enough capital – at stage one raise enough money to get to stage 3, at stage 2 raise enough to get to stage 4. In particular first round finance, he suggests, must be sufficient to achieve lift off and requires the investment to take you to at least year 2.

Question: Do you have the resources of scale?

Being practical he suggests that it should be enough to get to the point of profitability, but points out that that is secondary to getting to the point of scaling the opportunity.

Investing means gambling on the people

Key to the success of any company is the management team. Here is what Cohen looks out for in winning companies:

• An inspiring but realistic vision – the business will grow to match size of vision.
• The CEO – he / she has to be able to delegate and let go, to be realistic, as well as visionary and to avoid his/her ego getting in the way of judging reality.
• The present skills level of the management team (sectoral expertise, technical and creative skills), or ability to attract good people
• The management team has to have meshed together, with the time the team has been together being really important

Question: How do you and your team rate on these scores?

‘Is Your Marketing Profitable?’

A review of ‘Marketing Payback’ by Robert Shaw and David Merrick for busy Sales Managers.

Is your marketing profitable? A straight-forward question, you might think. But, then again maybe not - perhaps it takes 552 pages written by an eminent professor to illuminate the payback from marketing.

Marketing is 'Untouchable' & 'Slippery'

The authors Robert Shaw and David Merrick tell us that such words as; ‘unaccountable’, ‘untouchable’, ‘expensive’ and ‘slippery’ are commonly used to describe marketing. This grim reality is certain to upset any marketing professional.

Measuring the effectiveness of marketing has been on the agenda for some time. However, when Phillip Kotler - a name known to almost every student of marketing for over quarter of a century - puts his endorsement on the cover of a book about marketing's payback you know the idea is about to become mainstream.

Can Marketing be Trusted with Money?

The authors get quickly to the route of the issue of marketing and its impact, asking questions such as:

• Can marketing be trusted with money?

• Is there a direct link between marketing and business results?

• How should you evaluate your marketing?

These questions are relevant to every business in today’s crowded marketplace.

A New Era of Metrics, Planning, etc.

But what are the answers? For the authors the answer is more science, discipline and rigour across all aspects of marketing, including; brands, promotions and pricing. It also requires more; plans, budgets, metrics and ratios, as well as more evaluation, diagnosis, research and reporting.

In recognition of the increasing movement in this direction, the authors point to the increasingly tangible criteria adopted by the Institute of Advertising Practitioners.

Not content to celebrate creativity and design, attention has turned to measuring campaigns based on additional sales generated (directly and not indirectly).

That is a movement in the right direction, I hear you say, with the authors eager to emphasise that marketing must be measured in terms of the net revenues, or profits generated from its activities.

A Review of the Book

This is a book that everybody in marketing, and many more besides, should read. It contains nothing startling, but a return to the basics of good management.

In this respect, I am happy to overlook any weaknesses in its approach, other than just to list some of them:

• The book adopts a generic approach, as opposed to tailoring its prescriptions to B2B, or B2C in turn. The latter enables organisations to more carefully target marketing and ensure it is sales led.

• It makes the serious mistake, so often made by marketing, of claiming sales (or personal selling) for itself and then allocating it to a lowly position on the marketing spectrum. That it puts personal selling as part of the marketing mix under promotion. Marketing has to be inextricable linked to sales and sales effectiveness.

• There is a strategic dimension to marketing effectiveness – specifically in terms of the choice of markets or segments and the value proposition for the customer. However these are not addressed by the authors.

‘Marketing Payback’ by Robert Shaw and David Merrick, FT, 2005

‘SPIN® Selling’ - A Classic that is worth reading again and again

Looking for a book that will help you increase your conversion ratios? Then read SPIN selling. Here are the seven key points I took from this must read sales methodology.

1. Too many sales people are happy with meetings that result in another meeting. But wait a second, the real question must be asked – ‘has the meeting resulted in an advance in the sales cycle?’

You need to know the difference between what Rackham defines as an ‘advance’ and a ‘continuation’ - it will affect your closure rate.

2. In high value sales forget the welcoming attitude to objections, focus on objection prevention and the symptoms behind objections. Too many objections means you are feature and advantage selling and not selling benefits. If you are of the school of thought that objections are great you must read this book.

3. Professionally trained sales people are always looking to uncover and develop explicit needs, while also being conscious of implicit needs. However, the key factor, as the authors point out, is a compelling reason to act. That is the real challenge for the sales pro.

4. You better believe it, lots of selling happens when you are not in the room. That means your sponsor is left to sell on your behalf! But, just how willing, or able is he, or she, to push your solution. You can’t expect him her to remember the eight key features of your solution. However you need to ensure they are able to communicate the impact of your solution on their business. Think about it.

5. Learn how to ask; situation, problem, implication and needs pay-off questions. The skills to develop implication questions will impact your sales closure rate. So ask how important your solutions benefits will be to your prospects business. Ask what affect changing x,y,z will have on the business.

6. This book supports what I have believed for years - there is no great distinction between open ended and closed questions in high value sales. However the questions you ask must demonstrate you understand the prospects business.

Remember don’t spend too long ask situational questions, or gathering all kinds of facts on the Client’s business. Instead ask implication and needs questions (in SPIN® language) in order to get to what really matters in building awareness of the need for your solution.

7. Please, please gain commitment in your sales calls. Propose sensible and realistic commitments to advance the sale. But before you do, ensure you have addressed your prospects key concerns. You must check for concerns, summarize the value of your solution and be sure the value is specific to the prospect.

'Spin Selling' was first published in 1988, but its ideas and concepts are ageless.

There is a huge amount more you could take from this book. If you really want to develop your sales effectiveness you need to read (and if you have read it before, re-read) this book.

‘SPIN Selling', Neil Rackham, Mc Grath Hill, 1988.