July 28, 2009

'Buyers Are Doing it For Themselves' - The Increasing Independence and Sophistication of Buyers

To borrow from the lyrics of the popular song 'buyers are doing it for themselves.' They are ''standing on their own two feet and...' identifying their requirements, defining the solution, writing the specification and building the business case. All this often takes place before they ever meet a vendor! This reality leave the salesperson looking for a new role in terms of shaping the buying decision.

Buying Has Changed.

For a long time we have noticed a trend with respect to how buying decisions are being made and the implications for the role of the salesperson.

In short, today's major buying decisions are more structured and sophisticated, so too are the business strategies that underpin them.

The present market conditions have intensified this trend, with purchase decisions, involving as little as 20,000 or 30,000 euro, requiring the presentation of a business case that demonstrates not just payback, but also strategic alignment.

The New Complexities of Buying
The public sector is often criticized for wasteful spending and bad buying.

However, tabloid news stories aside, the public sector in the United Kingdom, as well as in other countries, is increasingly applying the best of private sector rigor and sophistication in terms of buying.

No more clearly can this been seen than from the 15 step process laid down for major transportation projects in the UK, as described in the diagram below:
The above process of how the UK allocates money to transport projects offers many lessons for salespeople. So, let us look at it in more detail.

The business case involved in these major schemes - that is projects involving a spend of 20 million plus, must address 5 key areas as follows:

Strategic - how the scheme fits with the regional strategies and priorities, and wider objectives
Financial - Funding sources, financial risk and financial sustainability
Commercial - the strategy for procurement and management of commercial risks
Delivery - how the scheme will be delivered to time and budget, and how successful implementation will be ensured
Appraisal and value for money - the scheme's benefits, including non-monetised benefits, and costs

For each of these areas, specific
criteria are laid out, with the following terms being prominent in terms of the guidelines.

Current situation
Future situation
Actors / stakeholders
Assessment of alternatives
Sensitivity analyses
Consultation & participation
Option Testing
Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR)
Non-monetised impacts
Cost estimate robustness
Project Plan

This is an interesting list of terms which a vendor should cross check against its traditional proposal content.

Buying Is Becoming More Sophisticated.
Every day we see signs of an increasingly sophisticated approach being adopted by buyers. Thankfully a growing number of salespeople are responding to this trend with a correspondingly more sophisticated approach to selling.

However, as salespeople we can often underestimate just how complex our prospect’s buying decision actually is. More fundamentally, we often only see it as a buying decision, rather than a strategic business decision.

The Buying Decision Has Become More Complex.
Taking the first point first, as sales people we often view the buying decision as being focused narrowly on our own solution. That means for example, we do not take account of factors such as:

- The totality of choices available to the prospect organization, including do it in-house, or do nothing.

- The Tradeoffs, priorities, constraints, as well as well as the politics and risk associated with various purchase alternatives.

- The fact that our solution often accounts for only a small element of the total budget, or the total solution, including the fact that the purchase price of our solution often represents only a proportion of the total cost of ownership.

- We often see our solution in isolation of the processes and the people dimensions to their adoption. The degree of change required for success in the prospect’s organization is sometimes forgotten.

The Role of the Sales Person Has Changed.

The salesperson’s traditional role as the conduit of product information has by in large being made redundant.

Why? Because buyers can get volumes of screening type information from a range of other sources that are more objective and less demanding.

As a consequence the sales person has to add value elsewhere. He or she has to aid the buyer in making choices and tradeoffs, in reducing risk and in building confidence regarding the business strategy and its success. That leads us on to the second issue - the business decision.

It is a Business Decision First and a Purchasing Decision Second.
Major purchases are at there core the result of an important strategic business decision. In that way it is the strategy and its associated business objectives that are important, not the purchase per say.

With this in mind, the job of the salesperson is no longer simply to convince the buyer that his or her solution is the best. It is not enough to rattle off unique selling points and competitive advantages over other suppliers. Rather the salesperson’s job is to build the prospect’s confidence that his, or her strategy will be a success and that the seller’s solution is integral to it.

That means writing a proposal, is less important than inputting to the buyer’s business case. Similarly, it means that a trusted advisor is more important than a salesperson.

In Conclusion:
As salespeople let us focus on how our customers and prospects are buying, adapting our approach to reflect the increasing sophisticated nature of their strategy led buying decisions.

The Rise of The RFX - Unforseen Consequences for Buyers and Sellers

RFX Mania Takes Hold
As concern about the spread of Swine Flue mounts, buyers and sellers are being afflicted by their very own pandemic – that of the RFP (Request for Proposal).

How serious is the pandemic? Well, it is demonstrated by the fact that 63 companies recently responded to two public sector tenders valued at just 90k in total.

The RFP process, which is designed to treat all vendors equally and to keep them at arm’s length, is failing to take advantage of valuable vendor knowledge and expertise.

Problems for buyers and sellers
The present economic climate has resulted in mounting budgetary pressure, and a heightened aversion to risk on the part of buyers. That has led to an increase in the use of the formalized
RFX buying processes. However, there is evidence that this trend is giving rise to unanticipated problems for both buyers and sellers.

The Advantages of the RFX Process:

Understandably buyers in an increasingly price competitive marketplace are looking to pit suppliers against each other in order to negotiate the best possible deal.

Buyers have greater access to information and a desire for greater independence and control. That means they are delaying talking to vendors until their needs are established, the requirements set and the business case has been developed.

Past experiences with pushy, arrogant, or unhelpful salespeople have resulted in many buyers keeping the seller at arms length until it is absolutely necessary. All these factors point to the advantages of the
RFX process for buyers.

Downsides to the RFX.

However, there are downsides to the
RFX process. Principal among these is the fact that the buyer seller relationship has being sidelined. The RFP process reduces the role of the supplier in matching needs to solutions to a mere form filling exercise.

In this way the RFP process fails to take full advantage of valuable vendor knowledge and expertise. Instead, vendors must take requirements and needs purely on face value, and where there are gaps replace fact finding with guesswork.

The RFP process is designed to treat all vendors equally - the good and the bad - and let's be honest to keep them at arm’s length. But, some vendors are worth working with before the contract is awarded. They can indeed help buyers to make better buying decisions.

When RFPs Increase Buyer Risk:

The fear of making poor buying decisions, can perversely lead to bad buying processes which often have the RFP at their core. Here are just two public sector examples, we have come across recently:

- 27 companies responded to an RFP valued at in the region of 50k Euro
- 36 companies responded to another RFP with a project value of approx 40k Euro

A key factor worth noting is the rise in administration associated with formal buying processes.

On the buyer’s side there is the volume of paperwork and administration associated with 27 RFPs and the review of some 1300 pages of documentation. A rough calculation would put the cost of that buying process at up to 60% of the actual project cost itself.

Of course that does not take into account the seller’s costs that are direct, as well as the opportunity cost associated with 27 plus organization’s spending an average of 5 to 10 days on the preparation of the
RFP – what a dreadful waste of resources.

It is important to point out in both these cases that a publicly advertised tender was not mandatory - falling below the 50k threshold.

Clearly buyers need to be more careful about how they implement RFP processes. This is something that buyers in North America may be ahead of the curve on, compared to there European counterparts.

In particular publishing clear and unambitious pre-selection criteria, or requiring a pre-screening questionnaire to prevent organizing preparing full RFP submissions for which they clearly have no chance of being selected.

'Buyer Beware' Becomes 'Seller Beware'.
In a tight market, with pipelines under pressure it is hard to say no to an RFP. However, we really admire those managers that can and will say 'no' to an RFP that they don't feel they can win.

Certainly, the criteria for determining when an RFP should be prepared will vary between times when the market is up and down, however, in the last few weeks we have seen several organisations who have failed to consciously evaluate their sales process with respect to RFPs:

One salesperson told me recently of a 400 page tender submitted and lost, without any direct contact with the organisation either prior to, or during the RFP process.

Another manager indicated that his team are presently preparing responses to RFPs for markets as diverse as Portugal and Australia - markets for which the company has no previous experience.

The level of innovation and creativity in the typical RFPs is often limited to copying and pasting from a variety of different documents. It is not surprising therefore that many fail to communicate a clear and compelling reason to buy in the mist of volumes of company and product related data.

One manager estimated the cost of RFP preparations at 150,000 in one year alone, a year in which sales and marketing budgets were under tremendous pressure.

We need another sales resource, but cannot afford it at the present exclaimed another manager. However, this company had made an expensive sales hire last year, with that person almost totally dedicated to RFP preparation at present. It is clear that the person hired is ideally suited to document preparation, but less suited to other sales related tasks.

A multinational client recently made the decision to only respond to RFP's when they get to interact with at least one member of the buying team with an understanding of the business issues the RFP response is meant to address.

A review of public sector tenders by a professional engineering body suggests that the tender criteria publicised and applied are not always consistent. For example, although quality related criteria were weighted at 80% and price related variables rates at 20%, 32 out of 34 tenders awarded went to the lowest cost supplier - in a manner that seemed unrelated to price.

Some Conclusions:
The RFX is a unique sales challenge. Clearly, the increased sophistication applied to other aspects of selling must be applied to RFX preparation too.

In many cases managers are missing key information - that is the cost (including opportunity cost) of preparing an RFX response, as well as the chances of success based on historical win rates. This information is essential to determining how and when RFXs will and will not be prepared.

It is important to note that many managers express concern regarding the quality of the RFX replies they prepare, with the quality going down as the number of documents prepared goes up. The more responses are prepared the more it becomes a copy and past exercise and the less individual attention is payed to each request. Another factor is that fatigue appears to set in as the RFX nears completion, resulting in a ''we cannot spend any more time on it, send it in the way it is mentality.'

July 23, 2009

From Sales Person to Trusted Advisor - Making The Transition

Wouldn’t your job be a lot easier if your customers and prospects saw you as a trusted advisor, rather than a salesperson? Well if the answer is ‘yes’ then ‘Trust-Based Selling by Charles H. Green's is a must read.

Do Buyers Trust Salespeople?
The reality is that the words ‘sales’ and ‘trust’ are rarely used in the same sentence.

As Green points out while sellers may want to do right by their customer, meeting target inevitably comes first.

The typical buyer suspects that the salesperson will do, or say whatever is required to get the sale.

The Cost of No Trust.
The absence of trust makes both buying and selling more difficult.

Green, for example, points to that up to 50% of some US Government programmes are consumed by purchasing overheads made necessary by a lack of trust. This is in some way at least accounted for by inefficient buying processes, such as RFPs, designed to reduce personal interaction between buyer and seller.

The Importance of Trust in the Buying Decision.
A complex sale won’t close unless the buyer feels he, or she can trust the salesperson involved. That is not to suggest that buyers are emotional, rather than logical. Certainly companies screen potential suppliers according to such criterion as; product functionality, industry specific experience, technology employed, and so on. However, when it comes to the final selection – the logical frontrunner will flounder unless he, or she has the trust of the buyer.

That means, on paper one supplier may clearly have the best product, technology, or price. It may also have the best experts, the most impressive client list, or the longest pedigree. However, all of these supplier plusses are set to naught if the buyer cannot trust that company’s salesperson, or team.

Time to Change The Buying Model.

The problem is that all our sales training is aimed at demonstrating competitive advantage and building a logical reason to buy.

This is driven by traditional models that view the buying process as a sequence of steps that can be represented by straight lines and square boxes.

These outdated models suggest that the seller’s job is to cover all those who influence the buying decision, address all the criteria, prove the value, deliver the presentations, prepare the proposal, and so on. There is little consideration of emotional factors in the buying decision, in particular trust.

Stating the obvious about Trust.
Here are some obvious, but important points about trust.
- Trust is not an instant impression that you can create, it is built up over time.
- Mistrust, however can be an instinct formed immediately.

- Trust is dictated by attitude, principle and intent, rather than technique, or tool.
- It is hard to fake trust worthiness.
- Trust is earned by demonstration, not by declaration.
- By asking for it you forgo it. Trust is unspoken.
- Trust is individual and personal. Trusting a company is a different matter all together.

What does trust mean?
So, trust is important, but what exactly does it mean? Just what does the buyer need to trust the seller to do?

First the buyer has to trust that the seller will solve the problem, or deliver what is needed. But perhaps more fundamentally – he, or she must trust the seller to look out for the buyer’s interests.

After all, projects may experience problems and unforeseen circumstances can arise, but knowing that the seller will steadfastly remain at the buyer's side, regardless of what happens, is Green suggests what matters most.

Trust Means You Care.
Trust based selling requires solid levels of competence, credibility and reliability. But most fundamentally it requires a demonstration that the seller cares. So, just because the buyer knows you can do the job, does not mean that her, or she will trust you.

This is particularly important where the seller knows more than the buyer and where he, or she is an expert rather than just a salesperson. Surely, an expert is more trustworthy than a salesperson?

Well, that misses the point in a way.
The objective is not to know more, but to care more. The old adage is true ‘people don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.’

In this respect the expert who is confident, perhaps over confident, that he or she has the right answer is at a disadvantage when it comes to building trust.

How Can A Seller Inspire Trust?
‘I am not a lead’ an exasperated buyer fed up of dealing with salespeople exclaimed recently. ‘I have all these salespeople calling me wanting to prequalify and sell to me. None are interested in me, or my business. I am just another number, another lead.’ Does that sound typical? Well applying Green’s criteria this is clearly a low trust approach to selling.

Green suggests that trust rests on the buyer’s sense that the seller actually cares – something that is indicated by things like; paying attention, showing interest and exhibiting curiosity about the prospect and what is important to him/her.

When you show that you genuinely care, people tend to trust you. That means they are much more likely to buy from you when they need what you are selling. The word genuine is important, because trust is difficult to fake.

Trust-based Closing.
In trust-based selling there is really no such thing as closing, argues the author. To demonstrate the point that traditional closing is ineffective he asks: ‘When is the last time you were closed by a seller and liked it?’ He suggests that in a high-trust environment the question is not ‘are you ready to sign?’, but ‘what do you want to do next?’

A similar situation applies with respect to negotiation. The search for the upper hand through crafty negotiation skills, techniques and positions, must give way to transparency, truth and a genuine search for win-win.

Are You Applying Trust Based Selling Principles
Take this test that was inspired by ‘Trust-Based Selling’ by Charles H. Green:

· I have a track record putting the customer’s interests first even when difficult to do.
· I am focused on enhancing the success of the customer above and beyond the objective of getting the sale
· I am willing to recommend a competition to a prospect, if that is in the prospect’s best interest.
· I am prepared to walk away unless a win-win is possible.
· I spend time with clients that might not be justified by a transaction based qualification.
· I invest energy, time and attention on issues important to the customer that are sometimes
only loosely linked to what you are selling.
· I look to the medium and long term, being prepared to invest in prospects that will not generate revenue this quarter, or next.
· Even if the customer does not buy from me this time I stay in contact.
· I am fully transparent and honest in my dealings with customers and prospects.
· I genuinely care about customers and about making sure they succeed.

· I really listen to customers and their needs, thereby earning the right to give advice.
· I sell by doing, not by telling - letting the customer experience what I have to offer during the buying process.
· I spend very little time telling how great my company is, instead ask good questions and engage with the prospect in a real dialogue.
· I am candid about what you know and don’t know,
· I deal with unspoken issues, concerns, or difficult issues
· I am highly collaborative in my approach to working with clients and prospects, including . work at the customer’s site, sharing work as it progresses, involving the customer in the process, etc.
· I let customers see who I really am, rather than trying to pretend to be somebody else.
· I don't avoid the price issue, dealing with it up front nad providing the prospect an indication of price ranges early in the sales cycle

July 20, 2009

Is it Time to Replace Prequalification with Marketing?

Not everybody is in the market for your solution that is clear. However, in the present climate if you only focus on those who have a budget and are ready to buy, your sales potential would be limited indeed.

In times of buoyant demand salespeople are well advised to be highly selective about where they focus their scarce sales resources.But, when there are fewer buyers with the cheque book ready, a change of approach is needed.

Pre-qualification in Tough Markets.
In difficult market conditions searching for low hanging fruit and getting the best prospects ‘across the line’ must be balanced with nurturing those who represent vaguer and longer term prospects.

Put another way it means that you have to sell to those without a clear and immediate need. That is those buyers satisfied with the status quo.

You need to generate demand among those who may not be fully aware they have a problem. Through your interaction you have got to nudge them along - educating them as to what they are missing, inspiring them as to what is possible and provoking them to what is needed.

Prequalification that Looks Beyond This Quarter.
The only problem is that in the present climate the field of vision of the typical sales organization has narrowed considerably. Meeting this quarter’s target leaves little time for anything else.

For example, many salespeople complain about the quality of leads, indeed it is often the number one issue of contention between sales and marketing. Here is how the post meeting conversation about ‘a fresh lead’ goes ‘I made the effort, I showed up, I did the dog and pony show, but they will never buy… what a waste of time – thanks a lot marketing!’

This is what happens when sales teams are focused on this quarter, with little attention to the next.

An 'Irrational' Obsession with Prequalification.
Many sales people have an irrational aversion to meeting with ‘tyre-kickers’ and a fear of wasting time educating the curious.

I say it is 'irrational' because busy buyers and managers won’t waste their time talking unnecessarily to salespeople. This is particularly the case at senior management levels.

However, those of us who have picked up the phone to buyers enough know that crass and crude measures of pre-qualification are ineffective. In particular establishing budget, authority, need and timing (BANT) on the basis of little more than a cold call is a pipe dream.

Replace Prequalification with Better Targeting.
Prequalification becomes less important where there is careful targeting of sales and marketing efforts. However, it does not help that the quality of target customer lists is often poor and the level of screening applied is lax.

The absence of a clear profile for the ideal target customer is also a factor that accounts for the irrational and premature emphasis on prequalification. So, unless prospects can jump the hurdle of prequalification he, or she does not deserve our attention (think about it).

Well, unfortunately the market is not big enough to enable salespeople to focus only on those who are ready to buy. A new approach is required, consideration needs to be given to how well the prospect fits the profile of an ideal customer.

How Prequalification Criteria Has Changed.

Old Criteria
New Criteria

Will they buy?
Fit the Profile
Could have a need
Could buy in the future
Should we talk?

Salespeople must look beyond BANT to ask questions such as;
- Should they be on our target list?
- Should we be talking to them?
- Could they have a need and could they potentially buy our solution?
Nurturing Contacts.
The new approach to pre-qualification requires adopting a longer term perspective as to the potential of any target customer. Although a prospect may not contribute to this quarter’s target, they could one or two quarters out.
But how will you effectively and efficiently nudge these could be customers along while you are chasing those already in your pipeline and in shopping mode?
Well, the answer is by a programme of nurturing that involves one to one contact through your marketing, for example:
Week 1: Send a white paper (not a brochure)
Week 6: Call to invite to an event, or webinar.
Week 12: Send a clipping from a magazine, or press release
Week 16: Ask if they would like an executive briefing on a relevant topic
Week 24: Ask if they would like to talk to one of our gurus or expert
s about a new area
Week 25: Send a customer success story in the post
And so on.

Then your marketing does your pre-qualification for you. You will get to determine
who is genuinely interested, while educating your prospects along the way and nurturing them to sales readiness.

All the while you have built the relationship, demonstrated your commitment and hopefully, based on the quality of the engagement, shown your company to be an expert in its industry.

July 19, 2009

Any Target Account Strategy Is Only As Good As its Most Recent Assessment

Every key account, or prospect sales strategy is only as good as its most recent assessment. With that in mind we have dusted off the classic Miller Heiman sales process bible ‘Strategic Selling’ to guide your assessment of sales success and potential with respect of key accounts and prospects.

So, where to start? Well at the beginning I guess. The authors set the scene by declaring that ‘sales success is about process, methodology and strategy, not the traditional salesperson’s ‘grab-bag of hooks, lines and clinchers’. Now that is not a radical idea in today’s professional sales arena, but it was a somewhat novel idea back in the late 1980s when the book was first written.

The Importance of Methodology & Process.

The complex sales is to complex to be left to chance. It requires that the sales representative develop a selling method that ‘is distinct from, and more analytical than, that of the hand-pumping good old boy who made it on a shoeshine and a smile’.

So, what makes the approach different to traditional selling? Basically salespeople need to follow a visible, logical and repeatable set of steps that ensure he, or she is doing all the right things, with the right prospects, at the right times. Progress against these steps then need to be constantly reviewed.

Indeed the authors so far as to suggest that ''if you want to predict the next salesperson of the year, or indeed the next star sales manager, then find out which ones are analyzing their own methodology, which ones are continually reassessing their stales strategy and tactics, which ones are looking for reliable, repeatable methods to improve their competitive edge''.

What are the Steps?

The salesperson’s first step is to examine his, or her position, that is how he, or she feels about the account, or prospect at present, with the authors presenting a clever scale from euphoria to panic.

Thereafter the salesperson ‘s attention turns to a strategic review of key aspects of the target account in terms of its sales potential, or prospect as follows:

Have all the Buying Influences Being Covered?

· Have you covered all the bases, that is the influences in the buying decision?

· Do you have sufficient access? Is there anybody that you have not had contact with?

· Can you rate the receptivity of each to you, your company and your proposition – perhaps on a scale from from advocate to antisponsor?

· Do you fully understand and appreciate the results required by each, including the less tangible, or quantifiable ‘win’ required by each, such as; more power, or self esteem.

· Do you have at least one reliable and influential coach for the sale?

Covering all the bases is essential however; it is not unusual to find that there are twice as many people involved in the buying decision as are being communicated with by salespeople. In particular, while the technical buyer role tends to well addressed, the needs of the economic buyer in terms of business case and business drivers are often overlooked. We also find that sales people can overestimate the role, status and influence of their coach, or sponsor, while failing to understand the user group.

What to do if you cannot get access? When faced with challenges in getting access it is important to address the issue of the salesperson’s credibility and his approach. Strategies that are recommened by the authors include; executive briefings, bringing in a guru and advertising past successes being recommended.

Are there any Red Flags?

It is tempting to speed up when we see a red flag, or a read light, in the hope that we can outmaneuver it. However, a red flag means we have to slow down and address it directly, for example:

· Is there any important missing, uncertain or contradictory information?

· Are there any uncontacted, or uncooperative buying influences?

· Are there any rumors, or hints of organizational changes, such as changes in strategy, or budgets?

· Are there any changes to the management team, including buying influences new to the job?

· Do some issues continue to resurface with old ground have to be covered again and again?

Are you leveraging your strengths?

· Are your unique advantages clear?

· Are they important to the prospect?

· Can you leverage any other strengths in respect of the sale?

· Are there any areas of weakness to be managed?

· What competitor weaknesses can be capitalized upon?

Have you adjusted your approach to reflect the ‘response mode’ of the buying organization?
The best way to sell to an organization depends on whether it is growth mode, crisis mode, or somewhere in between. It also depends on whether the prospect is in denial, or is perhaps overconfident.

Have you considered all of the forms of competition?
Consider all the customers options and all your competition, including other customer priorities, in house solutions, reallocation of budget, or a competing vendor.

How balanced is your sales funnel?

If there are 5 prospects in your pipeline and meeting target requires closing 2 of them this quarter and 2 the next, then you are certainly going to feel the pressure -that much is clear.

But what the authors point out is that the health of any prospect in your pipeline must be considered the context of the pipeline as a whole. Indeed, they suggest that poor prospects account forup to 35% of each salesperson's pipeline.

That gives rise to the issue of prequalification, ideal customer profile and the focus of effort. That is the need to balance the work between closing the best few, covering the bases with the next most promising, qualifying the rest at the same time looking for entirely new business to add to the funnel as time progresses.

Should you be selling to this type of prospect in the first place?

Ok this question sounds like it is placed in the wrong sequence. However, while sales process is the mantra of Miller Hieman they appreciate that even the best methodology must dutifully and skillfully applied cannot close a deal with the wrong type of customer for your business.

Hence the importance of defining your company’s Ideal Customer Profile. That means setting out the characteristics that determine those customers you can and should win, or who you should and should not be selling to.

This definition will narrow your territory early and direct your sales efforts where they can produce maximum results. Again the principle of win-win is highlighted – there is some business that you should be prepared to walk away from.

Responsibility for the Sale.

What is great as well as scaryabout the approach adopted by Miller Heiman is that it makes clear that the responsibility for success rests squarely on the shoulders of the sales person. The everyday choices made by the salesperson, that include; choosing the right prospects, asking the right questions, eliciting objections, etc., determine whether, or not he, or she can, or will close. It is as simple and as complex as that.

Why is that scary? Well it is much easier to blame the unsophisticated, or foolish buyer, the lack of access to decision makers, or the price cutting moves of a competitor, than to look to ones one actions, or steps, as the reasons for success and failure.

For example, a deal is stalled. You feel you have done your most. But, at the same time you failed to notice that in your meetings with the prospect did not take notes, did not ask any questions and kept asking questions that one way, or another related to some aspect of your credibility. By applying a systematic sales process these warning signals could have been prevented, or at least addressed.

On the other hand being responsible means being in control. What Miller Heiman are effectively saying is that by learning and adopting the right steps in the sales process you can overcome maximize your chances of success in almost any sales situation.

Praise for this book:

A solid foundation is essential to the success of any construction. So, to with respect to the complex sale. Without the right foundation in place any sales opportunity is vulnerable to loss. To revisit the fundamental principles of sales planning go direct to the source, that is to Miller Heiman's NEW CONCEPTUAL SELLING.

Managing Sales Cycles: The New Agenda

What are the top priorities with respect to key account selling? In the context of the market slowdown where are salespeople focusing in order to nudge their key prospects across the line? Well, we did some looking around to find out and pulled this short list together as a guide:

1. Sell higher - selling to higher level management in target accounts, particularly at C level (i.e. CTO, COO, etc.). Unless they are actively involved in the buying decision it won’t happen. That requires a new attitude, approach and confidence on the part of the salesperson. He, or she has to become somebody that the C level executive values enough to want to spend some of his / precious time talking with.

2. Sell to satisfied – it is not enough to limit your sales activity to those companies that have an express need and an allocated budget for your solution. You have to work on selling to those accounts who need your solution, but don’t realize it yet.

3. More planned, structured / systematic approach – applying key account management principles to those prospects that you want to become next quarter, or next year’s accounts is key. That includes more communication, more information, more meetings, more contacts and so on.

4. Dialogue not sales pitch – it is not about selling and it is not about your product, or service. It is about finding out what the prospect wants to achieve in his/her business, the problems and challenges being faced and exploring how and if your solution can address these.

5. Joint process of engagement– It is not about the salesperson doing all the running. The buyer has to see a pay off from talking with the salesperson in the first instance and thereafter from engaging with the salesperson in the exploration of needs and solutions. When the solution is agreed, the buyer had to see it as his, or hers, not just yours.

6. Marketing and sales go hand in hand. One to one relationship building is backed up by a supporting programme of marketing, that may include direct mail, white papers, email newsletters, etc. That ensures multiple touches over time across the buying group and ensures the sales persons has new messages, insights and conversation points to share with the customer. All this communication is centrally coordinated by means of a sales database, or CRM system.

7. Expert not salesperson. Buyers are increasingly averse to the traditional salesperson. They want to talk to experts, not sellers. The ultimate achievement for the salesperson is to be considered a trusted advisor, or a peer.

8. Selling is a team sport, just as is buying. The seller is in contact with twice, or three times as many influences in target accounts as was traditionally the case in the past. That involves a team on the sales side, which with match executives in the buying organization with executives in the sales organization. The personal and business motives of all the buying group are carefully and systematically addressed.

9. Sell to strategy – Any major purchase is first and foremost a business decision and if the salesperson is involved in at the strategy stage his, or her chances of success are greatly increased. That means the conversation must focus not on your product or solution but how it will help the buyer and his/her company achieve its goals.

10. Understanding the buying process – it sounds obvious but the salesperson has to focus not on selling, but rather on helping the buyer to buy. That means he, or she needs to fully understand how the decision will be made, including; who will be involved, the decision making criteria, the budget range, etc. Rather than trying to shoe horn the buyer into the salesperson's sales process, the buyer must feel that he, or she is in control at all times.

11. Ongoing review of process / position – any key account or prospect strategy is only as good as its last review. Pipeline reviews have to be more regular and have to be seen not as a critique of the salesperson, but a vital means of ensuring his, or her success. The salesperson is in tune with his, or her gut instinct with to the account and constantly looking out for red, or yellow lights which can point to where more effort is required.

12. Be prepared to walk away. Don’t start off by assuming the customer needs your solution, find a reason to start a discussion about the customer’s needs and priorities and if it makes sense take it from there. But remember you cannot win ‘em all and that means you must be brave enough to walk away if a genuine win-win cannot be achieved with the prospect.

13. Business decision trumps buying decision. Behind every major purchase decision is a important business decision. The salesperson has to be concerned with the business case, more than the sales proposal. He, or she has to understand the costs, benefits and risks associated with the buyer's decision.

14. Buyer risk is paramount. Buyer adversity to risk has increased in the present turbulent environment. That is not just the business risk associated with the project, but the risk associated with selecting a particular vendor. The seller's task is to minimise and manage this risk. The salesperson’s full tact and skill is employed to ensure that all unspoken issues are addressed.

15. What do you want to do next? A new approach to prequalification is required, one that engages with the buyer. That means understanding if there is a budget available, what the timeline is and so on. The salesperson tests these variables, for example asking quesions such as 'is there any reason why this issues has not been address prior to this?', 'is the budget contingent on a success business case being demonstrated?', or 'are there other projects competiting with this one for budget?'