Sales training – what’s the biggest challenge?

sales trainingGiven the substantial amount of money that companies commit to training every year, the notion of learning more about how to get it right is a question of interest.  With that in mind, McKinsey & Co conducted a survey of 1,400 executives worldwide to explore the question.

Major Finding.  When asked about their companies’ biggest challenge with training programs, the respondents reported that the one growing most in concern was the lack of metrics.

Although the survey respondents felt applying metrics to training was important, only about 20% bother to measure the impact of training programs at all – and only 13% tried to compute a financial return on their training investment.  This means that developing and applying metrics to training effort is indeed a business challenge.

As the study goes on to note: “Such low figures might be understandable in the context of general-purpose training without any business objectives. But let’s imagine a bank that knows its sales performance could improve if call-center employees were better at identifying unmet customer needs. A range of skills might be relevant to achieve this objective. Assessing which skills really affect sales performance and applying metrics that show how well employees deploy them are critical for allocating training resources effectively and for actually boosting sales.”

What’s important for making training work?  Here the McKinsey study noted:  “the more cooperation that exists between the training function and the business units, the more likely that learning will have an impact on business results. Co-owning leads to success. Sharing responsibilities—with HR guiding the ‘how’ and the businesses the ‘what’—has a number of practical advantages, starting with the greater relevance of the resulting programs to the actual work of employees.”

Implications for sales training.  Although the McKinsey report was about corporate training in general, the results have implications for the world of sales training.

First, we particularly need to do a better job in applying metrics — both to assess how to improve the programs, as well as, how to measure the results relative to performance improvement.  Sales training is a social not a physical science so classic control group pre-post test designs are difficult to execute; however, there is vast room for improvement using other summative and formative evaluation designs.

Due to the disruptive changes in the buying environment there is more of a need for sales training than ever.  However, it is difficult to obtain a commitment of greater resources without metrics to establish the merit of the investment and the guidance for crafting the programs in the first place.

The second important finding from the survey was highlighting the importance of  “co-ownership” of the program with Training and the business unit – in this case Sales.  One aspect of this ownership relates to what is done before the program.  Here are three best practices:

  • Senior sales leadership needs to communicate to the entire sales team why the organization is committing to the training.  Specifically the communication should help the sales organization understand how the sales training helps the sales team achieve the company’s strategic sales initiative.  There should be no doubt that the senior leadership has and will be actively engaged.

Everyone needs to bring the mind-set that the sales training is being conducted so the company can achieve its strategic goals.  It’s not just a sales training exercise. To achieve that goal the leadership message needs to be clear and compelling and must be repeated and reinforced by all front-line sales managers.

  • Members of the sales team need be engaged with training in crafting the program.  If you are implementing a sales training program, it is always a good idea to keep your eye on the ball – the ball in this case is the sales team. Although it is important to be mindful of time out of the field, there are a number of ways for achieving involvement.

For example, since most sales training is customized, select a small group (4-5) of top sales performers to provide the information to customize the program exercises and case studies and to provide best practices for the feedback sessions for the role-plays.  These top sales performers should become “ambassadors” for the sales training program.

  • Sales training managers must reinforce the message from the sales leadership and communicate how the program fits with past and future sales training efforts.  The communication needs to be clear as to “what the sales training program is about” and “why it is being implemented.”

The sales training manager must ensure the sales training program is conducted in way that demonstrates institutional commitment.  For example, front-line sales managers can be invited to serve as table leaders to relate the learning to the real world and orchestrate feedback – Marketing can be invited to serve as participants to provide and gain insights.

Every salesperson walking into a sales training program needs to be crystal clear that the company and the leadership are totally committed to the sales training before the day even begins and they need to understand it will help them do what they need to do to increase their sales performance.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC

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10 questions to help sales managers assess their performance and adapt! – An STC Classic

A Classic - '63 Corvette

A Classic – ’63 Corvette

As the first quarter comes to an end, it’s a good time for salespeople to take a look at their performance to date – and looking towards the end of the year. The same is true of sales managers.

If you believe front-line sales managers are the key to a team’s sales success – and we do – the end of Q1 is a good time to look at what’s working, what isn’t working and why.

As mentioned in a HBR blog,  “All of us fall into unproductive habits, sometimes unconsciously. Good managers are always asking themselves and others about what they could do better or differently. Finding the right time and approach for asking these questions in a way that invites constructive and candid responses is critical.”

Applying to sales … it’s important for sales managers to take an assessment of their performance and consider what worked, what didn’t and what they will do differently. This can be done anytime, but it is especially pertinent during Q1. Yet, under the banner of getting off to a quick start, action often takes precedents over a few moments of self-assessment.

This is short-sighted. Sales managers should take a few moments to assess how they will manage their sales teams during the year  beginning with how well it’s going so far. A good starting point is to reflect on their performance as a sales manager.  In addition sales managers need to realistically assess the composition and capacity of their sales team.

Here’s a starter list of 10 questions to get started on that self-assessment of the sales team.

  1. With whom on my sales team should I be spending the most time coaching? least time?
  2. What skill sets does my sales team as a whole need to develop further in order to succeed this year?
  3. How can I conduct sales strategy review sessions more efficiently – more effective than the ones held last year?
  4. How can I improve the quality of feedback I share with my sales team?
  5. How can I help my sales team leverage institutional resources?
  6. Under what conditions should I participant in sales calls – how does that differ by the individual team member?
  7. What can I do specifically for top performers?  Low performers?
  8. How can I increase the percentage of time my team spends selling to customers?  What is the major time sink?
  9. What can I do to increase the over all excitement and motivation of the team?
  10. What is one innovative idea I should try to increase the sales productivity of the team?

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Selling value – no longer new news!

Selling Value

Selling Value

When I started in the sales training industry about 25 years ago, I had the good fortune to start with a great company and work with a really smart guy.  At the time we were selling sales training programs that helped our clients do a better job selling value in major accounts.

The programs were well received worldwide because not only did we highlight the notion of selling value, we taught the skills necessary to do it. But that was only half of the success story. The other half was attributable to the fact that most of the competition was still talking about other topics such as: 101 ways to close the sale, how to craft and deliver an effective product pitch, or why objections were really buying signals.

Well, that was then – this is now.  Those other topics are now just old tales heard around the campfire.  Everyone agrees that selling value is the key to success in major account selling.

However, with that agreement comes a downside – since everyone is doing it is no longer a differentiator.  Simply being good at selling value won’t get the job done.  You have to move from being good to being great.  And, as Jim Collins noted in his best seller Good to Great – “Greatness requires being multiples better over a sustained period of time.”  And when it comes to selling value that “multiple times better” criterion is not so easy satisfied.

So, let’s explore three barriers that need to be overcome if you are going to move from being good to great at selling value

  • Knowing a lot about the problems and not so much about the successes. In the sales value literature a great deal of time is spent on discussing how to uncover and clarify customer problems.  If you don’t understand the problems you can’t provide a viable solution.  This of course all makes great sense and is a story that needs to be told many times.

But there is another chapter to the story.  If differentiation is to be achieved, it is also necessary to understand the customer’s successes.  What are they doing, when they are doing something great?  What are the pieces of the puzzle that contribute to their greatest successes?  And, how can those successes be leveraged? If in addition to understanding the problems, the customer’s success story is known, you can position a solution that separates you from those who only know half the tale.

  • Know a lot about the past and present and not so much about the future.  Over the years we have had the opportunity to do ride-alongs with sales people across a wide spectrum of companies.  During one period we kept track of the amount of time sales reps focused on understanding the past and present versus the future.  Observation – a majority of the sales reps spent of majority of the time asking questions about the status quo versus what will be.

Understanding the status quo enables a sales rep to present a viable value proposition to the customer but a status quo perspective means the solution will probably look and sound a whole lot like what everybody else is positioning.

If differentiation is to be achieved then a clearer picture of the future needs to be developed.  Some questions used by sales reps that develop this perspective are:

    • How will the set of players who are making the key decisions change in the next several years?
    • What will be expected from your customers in the future as a given that is now considered exceptional?
    • Which of your competitive advantages will be most difficult to maintain as the future unfolds?
  • Knowing a lot about one thing in depth and not so much about a lot of things in breadth. The first thing noticeable about developing value in a major sale is a lot of things going on and a lot of players are involved.  One of the consequences of this fact is the lack of time to find out everything about everything all at once.

In major account selling – breadth comes before depth. It is important to get a broad information base early in the sales cycle.  This provides the base for formulating an initial strategy for where you need to go to get in-depth information and what you should do when you get there.

When it comes to selling value the trap is getting a lot of information about the wrong things from the wrong people.

If you are going to excel in major account selling, getting really good at selling value is a must do.  But being really good requires more than asking a few questions and uncovering a few problems – you have to be great at doing things the competition hasn’t even thought about doing.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Selling mistakes: don’t panic – acknowledge

Avoid sales mistakes

Avoid sales mistakes

Like most rational people sales reps, I dread dealing with mistakes.  What’s to like?  At best they get you off track … at worse they lose you the sale.

Mistakes run the gamut from corporate issues like defective products or billing issues to mistakes generated by the sales rep themselves – like sharing faulty information or missing a key player involved in making the buying decision.  Some mistakes are just annoying; some are really difficult to handle, and some are potential deal breakers.  But regardless one’s skill or luck, mistakes happen.

No matter how much value you have previously brought to your customer, it can easily forgotten when bad mistakes emerge.  Furthermore, if not handled properly or if the mistake repeats itself, it’s not uncommon for the sales rep or their company to be “branded” as risky to work with or non-responsive, or unpredictable.

There is no way to avoid mistakes completely so learning how to handle them is critical to sales success. The bottom line for handling sales mistakes is when something goes wrong – take responsibility for it – and do it quickly.

By owning up, you’re telling the customer you “acknowledge” the mistake.  You must also simultaneously convey that you are going to do something about making things right.  While the customer still faces the problem, they now have an acknowledged partner working with them to solve it. Having this type of conversation in a compelling manner is a highly skilled interaction.  It is not something one just “picks up.”  It requires training and practice. Five tips for getting it right:

  • Analyze the mistake from the customer’s perspective. The first step is to get on the other side of the table.  From your side the mistake may not appear to be a big deal – you may have seen the mistake many times before.  Not necessarily so for the customer.  This impacts how you handle the mistake both in tone and in substance.
  • Act professionally. As you begin to tackle the mistake, start with your attitude. Customers should believe you understand that a mistake has occurred, you take it seriously, and you will handle it professionally.
  • Remember bad news documents itself. It is rather uncanny that one has to go to great lengths to promote and publicize good news.  On the other hand,  bad news documents itself and does so quickly throughout the customer organization – think “wildfire.”  So handling things immediately is a basic requirement.  Second, check to determine if the fire has spread and you need to take some additional action.
  • Explain how the mistake happened, but be thoughtful about your explanation. While people generally like to know why something happened, they don’t want to hear a saga involving a litany of accuses – especially when the storyline places blame everywhere but where it belongs.
  • Don’t forget prevention is better than cure. When a mistake happens and customers give you the opportunity to rectify it, take the time to analyze how you will prevent it from reoccurring.  Make sure you communicate to the customer what you will do in the future to minimize the risk of reoccurrence.

In many cases, executing these tips will provide a second chance with a customer. Customers understand the complex environments on both sides of the table so you have a good shot at “understanding” if the mistake is handled skillfully.

By managing the mistake professionally, it’s also possible you can win the customer’s respect.  Best case, of course, is you impress the customer so much on how well you handle the mistake … it becomes a plus rather than a negative!  The latter result requires skill, a bit of luck and a certain type of customer.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC

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The #1 sales challenge: developing new business – 6 best practices

New business developmentWhat is the one competency salesperson could most benefit from if they knew how to do it better?

A Survey of Sales Effectiveness: Global Research on what Drives Sales Success addressed that question.  The skill set was: Developing New Business. 

As to the nature of the challenge and the best practices for addressing it, it’s necessary to pinpoint whether you are talking about new business with new customers or new business with existing customers.  For this discussion, let’s focus on the large B2B complex sales situations where one is developing new business with existing customers.

Particularly when you are working with an existing customer you may be ahead of the customer in seeing an unfolding situation that would drive a new business opportunity. As a matter of fact this is one of the skill areas where top performers differentiate themselves from the pack.

The most important skill in identifying future opportunities is the ability to see the relationship between observable events and knowing what actions and results they are likely to lead to and when.

Let’s take a look at six specifics.

1. Look at the current situation through the lens of the existing work effort. From time to time when you are reviewing an implementation – think back about the situation as it was preceding your solution. What things did you observe? What situations were present? Who did what just preceding the opportunity? New opportunities are a response to something.  What things were in motion before the opportunity occurred?

2. Look at how your customers are fairing against goals, objectives and metrics. With knowledge about goals, objectives and metrics, and a sense of how the customer is performing, what would you do to reach these if you were in their place?  What could your do that would enhance the customer’s success?  How will they demonstrate success to their leadership and stakeholders?

If you can see where you can add value, they may as well. If they don’t, but you do, it puts you in the best position of all, namely you are helping a customer understand an unforeseen challenge.

3. Assess organizational changes for clues. Whether a company is preparing to implement a planned strategy, merging groups or responding to a problem or opportunity, organizational structures are put in place before new work is made visible to the outside world. Teams of required skills are assembled, specific skills are reassigned or grouped, and units are disbanded or reduced.

Look at new and expanded organizations and what kinds of skills, and in what quantity, are being added.  Here it important to leverage the insight of your staff with a historical perspective of the customer, they can provide meaning to what specific changes may mean and not mean.

4. Observe what is happening in overall ongoing expense management. New efforts inside the customer organization cost money.  Is the customer experiencing any changes in spending patterns you can observe? Are expenses being restricted, or expanded?  Look for work that may foreshadow future work.

5. Don’t forget to tell your story. Be able to subtly, but clearly, reinforce just what it is you do that is of value to customers. Customers don’t spend much or any time pondering what you do. They worry about what they need and when they do, only the organizations that are top of mind, come to mind.

Too often, if you do not share the range of things you do well, a customer might say, “Oh, I wish I had known you can do X, because you did such a great job on Y and, had we known, we would have used you.” Always have an up-to-date value proposition about your core capabilities and a new story about how those capabilities have been used by others.

6. Bring in fresh thinking. Think about leveraging literature, speeches, research, stories you’ve heard that relate to the customer agenda or you know are of particular interest to the individual.  Even if they don’t produce a lead today it builds relationships and often creates leads in the future.

Developing new business is one of the areas where top performers clearly differentiate themselves – they know it is hard to do and they learn how to do it.  It is also an area where creating best practice profiles based on what your top performers do makes extraordinary sense.  Likewise it should be a priority for those determining training and coaching priorities.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Sales management: competition- a double-edge sword

Sales teams

Sales teams

Ask most sales management whether they have ever used some form of competition as a management technique and most will answer – “yes – and if I must say so it worked great.”

Stories abound about how competition can be used effectively inside a sales team.  As a matter of fact, most people who study the use of competition in the workplace suggest that sales as a field is more conducive to the application of competition practices then many others.

However, like most management techniques competition can cut both ways – that is it can be toxic inside a sales team.

So, how do you build healthy competition inside your sales team? How do you leverage the upsides and minimize the possible downsides.  Recently we came across an interesting article by Douglas Freeman that suggests four pillars for getting right:

  1. Empower individuals. Set team goals, celebrate those wins, and empower individuals to take responsibility for the team’s success by showing them what their contribution means to the team.
  2. Acknowledge personal goals. Your sales team will be winning if each salesperson is winning, so it’s important to create an environment in which they can do just that. When goals are shared, everyone on the team knows what everyone else is working towards – this can help salespeople achieve their goals and stay accountable, and it brings everyone closer together as a result.
  3. Create a learning culture.  Creating an environment that promotes ongoing coaching and personal improvement. The most competitive salespeople are competitive with themselves, first and foremost. As a sales manager, that means you must create an environment that challenges these individuals every day.
  4. Celebrate success.  Finally – have fun, but keep score.  Salespeople who will thrive and have fun in competitive and team environments are ideal – keeping an eye on the scoreboard and trying to figure out how to raise the score.

So what about the dark side of the force?  What are some of the downsides that competition can generate if not managed and executed skillfully.  From our observation two tend to jump out.   These can be easily managed but if not they can be problematic.

It can create a “have and have not” environment if the same players win all the time.  This can lead to resentment of the other team member, as well as, the manager.  A second particularly telling negative outcome in sales is the “win at all cost” mentality.  Managers need to be alert to possible early warning signals of this problem because the consequences can impact the client relationship in some cases.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Sales managers – and the smartest person in the room dilemma – An STC Classic

A Classic - '63 Corvette

A Classic – ’63 Corvette

There’s little doubt that sales managers are the pivotal job for creating a superior sales team.  And, a critical responsibility for the sales manager is coaching.  Most people agree that sales coaching is important and can make a difference.  They also know it isn’t so easy to do.  There are lots of traps along the way for getting it right.  Let’s take a look at one that receives less attention than some others.

One trap is believing you, the sales manager  are the smartest person in the room.  This always tends to make things turn out wrong.   And the good news is you don’t even have to be to be an effective sales coach.  Being an effective sales coach does not require being the smart person in the room, the most knowledgeable person in the room, the best businessperson in the room, or even the best salesperson in the room.  Affirmation of these premises can easily be acquired by turning to the world of sports.  If they were not true I would hate to be Peyton Manning’s or Tom Brady’s quarterback coach.

So how do we avoid this trap?  In sales calls, we recommend that salespeople “ask, listen, and then talk”.  This is an equally valid proposition when it comes sales management coaching.  Let’s examine two different models upon which sales coaching can be based:

Model 1 – “I’m the expert – I’ll diagnose what’s wrong and suggest what you should learn.  Your job is to practice what I recommend.” 

Clearly this model has the ring of the “smartest person in the room” dilemma.

Model 2 – “You are the one responsible for the learning.  I’m responsible for helping you become more aware of your performance and expand your learning choices. 

Different story – here the coach is helping the sales rep to learn vs. telling them what and how to learn.

Getting sales coaching right is really important for developing a superior sales team and having a superior sales team is more important than ever for achieving sales success.  Great coaching isn’t easy and as noted there are lots of traps.  This particular trap is one that is easy to avoid – just ask, listen and then talk.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Winning more business – the power of thinking ahead and reasoning back

Sales strategy

Sales strategy

Today most senior leaders in B2B companies agree that having a superior sales team matters.  Although it is difficult to develop a superior sales team, they know it is one of the few sustainable advantages left.

Consider this….

Due to global competition and advanced manufacturing technology even if you have a great product the competition is likely to come out with one that is just as good or “good enough” in half the time of yesteryear – worse yet it is likely to be cheaper.  The reality is – it’s more and more difficult over time to sustain a competitive advantage by product alone.

So the logic goes a sales team must not only be able to sell a competitive advantage; they must be a competitive advantage They must be skilled enough to bring value by the way they sell, as well as, by what they sell.  In today’s market this level of competency is the table stakes for developing a superior sales team.

With all this in mind, lets look at one skill set that is part of the table stakes that is under-emphasized.  The skill set in question is the ability to think ahead and reason back – that is given the information you know about the customer and your company’s capabilities, how do you generate and execute a strategy for winning the business?

Consider the following customer scenario….

Customer Scenario.  A customer is looking to streamline the number of vendors with whom they work.   Let’s assume you are not one of the top two vendors, but the medical device you sell to the hospital is unique – the other vendors do not offer a comparable product.  Given this scenario – the challenge is how do you become one of the selected vendors?  What is your strategy for the account?

  • Strategy 1.  One strategy is to attempt to unseat one of the current top two suppliers.
  • Strategy 2.  A second strategy is based on the assumption that the hospital places a priority on retaining your device and that need can be played up.   This strategy assumes you are more likely to be successful focusing on your uniqueness than unseating one of the two top vendors.

Learning Point.  Do you proceed under the banner of Strategy 1 or Strategy 2 or is there a Strategy 3? Your choice is big deal.  The hospital contacts you call on are different.  The resources inside your company that you will leverage will be different.  How you craft your value proposition will clearly be different for each of the strategies.  And, that is just a short list.

There are almost always alternative strategies for pursuing a major piece of business in a B2B account.  The question is do you take the time and effort to think through and evaluate the alternative options.  Our observation has been too few sales reps do the preparation and planning required generating and evaluating the alternative strategies.

In the heat of the moment and under the obvious time pressures sales reps must work, they either simply do what they did last time to win that type of business or start making sales calls with no particular strategy in mind or they label the account as unwinnable and walk away to spend their time elsewhere.

The take away is – when selling in major accounts you need to think and act strategically.  Working hard but only planning one call at a time with no strategy to provide guidance is a great way to consistently come in second.   


If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Sales management and the tyranny the clock

Sales managers and the time trap

Sales managers and the time trap

For sales managers Public Enemy # 1 is time.  The more successful a sales manager, the more demands on their time.  Emails and VMs abound. Text messages keep coming.  CRM software and other online systems require attention. Simply put, demands increase on a daily basis.

While all these activities may be necessary and/or difficult to avoid, when is enough – enough?  One simple answer is enough is enough when there is not enough time left to manage and coach your sales team.

Here are two best practices we have observed to maximize the time for doing those things that really make a difference.

1. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all.  That’s just the way it is.  Realistically, you will run out of time and tape if you attempt to do all the things that land on your desk.  The bad new is the urgent will often dominate the important.  This is one of the reasons why sales coaching gets put off until Friday and then never gets done.

Some of these “urgent” requests are not as urgent as the requester would suggest and can be postponed; some can be skillfully avoided altogether and some can be handled by others.  The key is to make sure you know what is important and to make sure it doesn’t get postponed until Friday.

2. Scale the important.  How can sales coaching be scaled to minimize time constraints?

  • Team coaching. One way to scale coaching is to build team sales coaching into the mix.  Coaching at a team level versus the individual level is especially effective when coaching sales strategy. When sales strategy coaching focuses on sales scenarios that are common across salespeople, sales managers can use one sales strategy coaching session for multiple salespeople.  In these situations, multiple salespeople participate in the coaching session – contributing ideas and learning from the discussions.
  • Institutional resources.  A second way to scale sales coaching is to engage other resources.  For example, establishing a new hire mentoring program where the new hire works with an experienced sales rep can be helpful to the new hire and if formally structured beneficial for the senior sales rep as a pre-management activity.  Other possible resources would include engineering and technical support staff and the folks in Marketing.  The actual developmental activity would vary by function but could include one-on-one structured interviews with the new hire or inviting the resource to a team meeting of new hires.
  • Learning culture.  A third way to scale sales coaching is to establish a learning culture inside your sales team.  Today there are a myriad of resources available to sales reps for getting smart.  The management key is to create a culture where the sales reps recognize they have a personal responsibility for skill development.  The resources include blog sites, white papers from consulting firms like McKinsey, free webinars and inexpensive online training from institutional universities like Udemy.

Front-line sales management is the pivotal job for driving sales success – and time management is a core skill.  Our experience is most companies spend too little time helping sales managers manage their time.  So do yourself!

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2015 Sales Momentum, LLC





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Sales rep’s nightmare – winning the solution and losing the sale

Sales reps

Sales reps

The last couple of years have produced a number of challenges for those engaged in the B2B market.  Some of the problems will be temporary – while others will become new permanent fixtures on the landscape.  Let’s examine a scenario that highlights one that falls into the latter category.

You have been working with a new potential customer for several months. You have spent a lot of time in the account because it is a significant opportunity. You have talked with all the key players and you and the customer have a shared vision of the problem. 

Several weeks ago you presented your solution and the feedback was extremely positive.  Your internal champion told you after the session that your solution was not only responsive but also technically and operationally better than the competitors. You have had several subsequent conversations but the sale has absolutely stalled – nobody has given any signals about moving ahead.

While this dilemma is not new, it has occurred with more frequency over the last two years. This nightmare was well analyzed in an article by Bob Apollo.  The author noted: “in today’s risk-averse environment when you are selling a major solution you need to conduct two sales: the first involves persuading the prospect that they cannot afford not to address the issue. The second sale involves persuading them that your solution offers the most effective approach to solving the problem. If you win the “second sale” without addressing the first, the most likely outcome is that you will get selected, but you won’t get bought.”

First Sale. The first sale is all about making the business case.  It involves making a clear connection between the benefits of your solution and the measurable business outcomes that matter to the customer.  It includes contrasting the risks associated with your solution versus the risk of doing nothing – the consequences of inaction.  It compares the costs of your solution versus how you are equipping the customer to spend less or sell more.

Ask yourself – how many sales have you lost not to the competition but to the customer postponing a decision or deciding to do nothing because of budget or timing or for some set of unknown reasons?  For most of us the answer is – more than we would like.

Second Sale.  Let’s look at the second sale and assume unlike our scenario neither you nor your competitors have yet proposed a solution.  So the challenge is to craft a solution that the customer judges to be the best among their alternatives.

So how do you that?  How do you achieve a competitive edge?  To achieve a competitive edge you have to understand your competitive strengths and weaknesses and understand your customer’s perception of that assessment.  It is particularly important to keep in mind that your assessment and customer’s perception are often not in alignment – when that is the case that needs to be addressed.  This requires having an informed answer to these questions:

  • Who are the competitors that have a viable chance of winning the business?
  • What are the decision criteria the customer will use to decide between the competition and you?
  • How do you stack up on those criteria relative to the competition from the customer’s perspective?
  • Why would the players engaged in the customer’s buying process buy from you instead of those competitors?

When answering these questions, think about your responses from two perspectives – your company and yourself. In some cases, a customer may buy from you because of the service you personally provide as their salesperson. We see this scenario often in the medical device market.

In other words, an answer to that fourth question is:  the customer might buy from you instead of your competitor even if they don’t see much differentiation between products or price because you provide value by the way you sell, as well as, by what you sell.  You are the competitive edge.

The nightmare of course is – winning the second sale and losing the first.

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