Sales training myopia of tech start-ups

Sales Training and Start-ups

Sales Training and Start-ups

Why do some start-ups make it and some don’t?

As one might suspect, given the staggering number of start-ups formed every year, there is no shortage of information on critical success factors. Some common ones are:  Timing, working capital, and the leadership team.  In addition, the ability to develop and sustain a viable growth plan is seen as one of the more difficult and tricky success factors.  If you attempt to grow too quickly you end up being stretch too thinly – grow too slowly and you miss the window of opportunity.

Now all this seems fair enough.  However, since we are in the sales training business we were particularly interested in what was being said about creating innovative sales training and developing a superior sales team. The good news was no one said it was a bad idea.  The bad news was nobody was talking about it.  Sales training was not on the radar screen. Now, there was attention to marketing plans and getting the sales reps smart about the product – but not to sales skill training.

It could be that a more comprehensive review would have produced a different story in regard to sales training … however; I suspect that is probably wishful thinking.

So given that we think sales training deserves consideration for a seat at the table, we thought it would be useful as a first step to review some of the reasons why technology start-ups often do not place a high priority on sales training and fallacy behind those reasons.  Let’s take a look:

1. Why build one when you can buy one.  In many start-up lots of things are going on simultaneously and the major commitment is all about launching and marketing the “product.”  So yes, a sales force is needed but it seems a lot easier just to go out and hire some high performing reps from other companies in your market – after all “selling is selling” as they say.

We agree, the “buy one” idea has a certain short-term seductive appeal, but it also has numerous long-term pitfalls.  First, the old notion about selling is selling has proven again and again not to be so true when you are engaged in a complex sale.  For example, if you are a start-up in the medical device market and you “buy” your reps from those that are available from the pharmaceutical industry, the myth of selling is selling will quickly be unmasked.

2. The mirage created by early-adaptors.  The early adaptor story was first told in a compelling fashion in Geoffrey Moore’s 1991 book – Crossing the Chasm. The message is as important today as it was in 1991 and it is a partial answer as to why sales training may not an initial high priority in many technology start-ups.

Early adopters buy a new product very early in their life cycle. They easily imagine and appreciate the benefits of a new technology. Early adopters do not rely on well-established proof in making these buying decisions instead they count on their intuition and vision for getting it right. It is fair to say they buy products that are new and exciting – you don’t have to do that much selling with early adopters, so there’s not a big need for sales training.

But then comes the chasm period – early-adopters have been exhausted and the mainstream market is waiting to see if the product really is one that can deliver sufficient value.  Now you do need a skilled sales force.

The trap is doing too little, too late in terms of sales training.  It takes time to develop a skilled sales team and the momentum can easily be lost before the sales team can effectively sell to the mainstream market.

3. Underestimating the competitive threat Sometimes a company comes up with a truly superior product as compared to all the other competitors.  There is always the “killer product” scenario like the Xerox copier vs. the mimeo machine.  But this is not a common occurrence.

If you are in the great but not killer product situation there are two common traps.  In one case your new product is superior but the competition has one that is “good enough.”

The second problem is a time warp issue.  Unfortunately,  in many cases it is very difficult to maintain a competitive advantage by product alone for any sustained period of time due to global competition and advanced manufacturing technologies.  Today a competitor is likely to launch a product that is just as good or better than yours, in half the time of yesteryear – plus it is likely to be cheaper.

The lesson learned is you need a sales team that cannot only sell value but also add value.

Unfortunately all too often when a start-up launches its first product, the product fails to produce the anticipated sales success.  One reason is the investment in developing the skills of the sales team to sell the new product is simply not commensurate with the commitment and innovation of the rest of the launch effort.

This omission constitutes a strategic missing link. Even an extraordinary new product will not sell itself beyond early adopters. The sales team needs not only comprehensive product knowledge, they also need to fine-tune their sales skills, adapting them to customer requirements related to the new product. The more innovative the new product – the truer this proposition.

Most companies take the first step and provide their sales team with technical training about the new product. But talking about the characteristics of a product and selling the value of the new product are two very different things.  Perhaps, in the end, it would be a safer bet for start-ups to train then launch versus launch then train.

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

©2016 Sales Momentum® LLC

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How to optimize your sales training investment

Sales Training Investment

Sales Training Investment

How much money are companies spending on sales training? And is it enough to worry about whether or not one is optimizing the investment?

This, as they say, is the easy part.  The answer to the first question is a lot; the answer to the second question is – yes.  Companies spend a hefty amount of money – so yes, it is worth worrying about.  As reported in a research report by Sales Performance International – “In the United States alone, industry estimates for corporate expenditures on sales training and performance improvement are more than 5 billion dollars annually.”

There are several avenues to attack the question: How do you optimize your sales training investment?  Perhaps the one that has received the most attention relates to treating sales training as a “process not an event.”  Inherent here is the point that what is done before and after sales training to position and reinforce it is as important as the sales training itself.

No question about the merit of that point – it’s a big deal.  If you are still parachuting in on Friday afternoon of the national sales meeting and doing sales training with no plans for coaching, then you are totally wasting versus optimizing your investment.

A second, less talked about but equally important, consideration for optimizing the investment relates to how the sales training is designed in the first place.  Most companies organize their training in terms of “content topics” like – account strategy, negotiation, or call execution.  And, vendors design their offerings using that same organizing structure.  When we first founded Sales Momentum we followed the crowd. We designed a separate program for each of these topics, too.

There has got to be a better way

The good news is – there is a better way.  It took us less than a year to realize that we weren’t helping our clients optimize their investment.  At that point we totally changed how we designed our sales training.  We stopped organizing our programs around content topics and started designing around the customer’s business initiative.  For example, one client wanted to move from selling individual products to selling an integrated solution. Another client wanted to shift from being the low cost provider to selling a value-added solution.

If a company, for example, is shifting their go-to-market strategy to be a value-added provider that change impacts all aspects of the sales organization from the territory design to market segments to compensation plans to the skill profile of the sales team.  Since we are discussing sales training let’s just focus on the skill profile.

For such a go-to-market shift to be successful the sales team needs to adapt and adjust their sales skills and the sales training needs to be designed to help them do that.  This means the sales training design needs to be customized from “top to bottom.”  It must incorporate whatever skill sets are relevant to selling in the newly defined market.  This is the exact opposite of defining every training challenge as “pounding a nail” because you have a hammer at hand. 

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

©2016 Sales Momentum® LLC

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Medical sales reps – what do they like most and least about their jobs

Medical device sales reps

Medical device sales reps

Ever wonder what medical sales reps like most about their jobs? MassDevice reported the findings from a survey of more than 1,400 sales reps in the 2016 Best Places to Work in Medical Sales survey.  Take a look at what they found:

  • 72% of those responding were satisfied or very satisfied with their job. Nonetheless, about one-half said they were actively seeking a new job.
  • Medical sales reps report that what they like best about their jobs is their relationships with patients and providers (21%). It was followed by autonomy/flexibility (16%) and ability to make an impact (12%).
  • The sales reps who are least satisfied with their jobs make the least money (6%).
  • When reps were asked to identify the least favorite part of their jobs, 14% of the reps rated management/leadership first followed by money (9%) and travel (8%).
  • And, finally, what makes a company great to work for? The top three reasons were: competitive compensation (66%), emphasis on work-life balance (62%), and strong product line (52%).

You can see some great graphs and charts depicting the survey findings here.

You can read more about medical sales training here – and about medical sales training programs at our Sales Momentum website.

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

©2016 Sales Momentum® LLC

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Diagnosing a common sales pitfall – ask then pitch

Sales calls - ask questions

Sales calls – ask questions

Today almost everyone has come around to the idea that “asking questions” is a critical sales skill.  Asking questions is now accepted as a fundamental sales competency.

Questioning is fundamental because it is used in every sales call and is required for developing advanced skills like negotiating and building customer relationships.

Now, it is fair to say the notion about the importance of asking questions is not one of those “hot off the press” ideas.  Back in the day, say 1970’s, my colleague Neil Rackham, who founded Huthwaite, not only emphasized the importance of this skill set, he provided a well-researched model to help people get it right.  The model, of course, was SPIN Selling.

Since in the early years there were not many of us at Huthwaite, I had the opportunity to train 1000s of sales reps in how to use the SPIN Selling model for asking questions.  Because of the sheer number of repetitions, I learned what it took to effectively use the technique of questioning in B2B sales calls.  What do you do or not do in order to leverage the persuasive power of asking questions?

Here are some important basic ideas for mastering the skill of asking questions and one particular pitfall that limits the positive impact of asking questions.  First some practical points about asking question:

  • It’s more important than ever.  The importance of some skills come and go – that is not the case with asking questions. The ability to ask questions effectively is more important than ever.  For example, it is very difficult to execute what the folks talk about in the Challenger Sales model without being highly skilled in asking questions.
  • It’s fundamental, but not simple.  Because something is fundamental does not mean that it is simple to master and asking questions is a good example.  It requires a lot of practice and feedback to become truly skilled in integrating questions into your sales calls. 
  • It requires pre-call planning.  True.  It is very difficult to execute an effective questioning strategy during a sales call without spending some pre-call planning time crafting the questioning strategy and some key questions.  The key is not just to ask questions but instead to ask the right questions at the right time – smart questions.

Common Pitfall

On the road to mastering questioning there are a number of pitfalls. One of the most common and troubling is what we will label – ask then pitch.  It looks like this:

  • The sales call starts out fine with the sales rep asking questions to find out information about the customer.

         Once some basic information is obtained …

  • The sales rep goes into their standard product pitch.  No more questions are asked while presenting the product.

What’s wrong with this picture?

  • Your presentation is not fine-tuned to the customer’s reactions because you don’t ask questions about the customer’s reactions.
  • By not asking any questions once you start talking about the product, you are no longer engaging the customer in a conversation – you are doing all the talking.
  • It’s easy for the customer to exit the call with the impression that you are not interested in finding out in-depth information about their perception of the value of what you have presented.

The key walk-away is that questions can and should be used for more than just finding out information.  For example, questions can help: determine priorities, clarify value, and build support.  They can be used to deliver a compelling presentation of your solution customized to the specific needs of each customer.

It would be easy if you could just memorize a standard script for talking about your product and use it again and again.  Unfortunately what constitutes value for each customer is different, so a standards product pitch never hits the center of the target – and in some cases it doesn’t hit the target at all!

For these reasons and others, questions can and should be used through out the sales call to continuously engage the customer in a business conversation adapted to their needs and interests.

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

©2016 Sales Momentum® LLC

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Don’t lose sales you should win – connect the dots

Winning sales – connect the dots

Often a sale is lost even when the solution is a good fit because the salesperson fails to make the connection between the solution and the customer needs.  The seller gets Step 1 right – they develop a good understanding of the customer’s needs.  They also provide a good description of the solution so Step 2 is okay.  But they leave it to customer to connect the dots as to how the solution can effectively address the needs.

The remedy?  Sales people must take Step 3 by verifying that the customer perceives the connection between what they need and what is being proposed. It is particularly important in major sales where the need structure is multi-layered and the solution has multiple components.

Sometimes there is a more fundamental mistake – all the dots are not there.  The seller fails to delineate a comprehensive picture of all the business outcomes the solution can impact.

Even a small improvement can make a huge difference in sales won vs. lost. Perceived value really matters.  Let’s take a look at a simple framework salespeople can use to generate a comprehensive picture of the business outcomes for which their solution could bring value to the customer.

The most common benefit is cost reduction. It’s simple … if the client pays x now, but will be paying x-y, the cost savings are simple math.  But that’s not the only source of cost savings.  Companies can achieve cost savings through cost displacement and cost avoidance. Unfortunately, cost displacement and cost avoidance are less frequently discussed.

  • Cost savings arise fromcost displacement when current expense items are eliminated because of the proposed solutions. Some common areas of cost displacement are: reducing the number of people needed to perform a task, reducing manufacturing time, reducing processing time, and eliminating capital equipment currently in place.
  • A second source of cost savings arise from avoiding future expenses because of the proposed solution. This isn’t the same as cost displacement. Cost avoidance occurs because the proposed solution enables the company to expand their capabilities without adding resources. Like cost displacement, cost avoidance payoffs often come in terms of people, time, or equipment.

An additional set of benefits derives from the other side of the balance sheet – they stem from increasing revenues as a result of gaining operating efficiencies.  Some ways in which companies can increase revenues through operating more efficiently are: increasing the number of sales by processing more orders faster, reducing the number of orders lost to the competition by improving customer retention, expediting new pricing announcements, and improving customer service.

This is a story of customer focus and the importance of Value Maximization. Often in major sales there is a misalignment between the value you have proposed and the value perceived by the customer.  This is particularly telling because you may lose a sale for a reason that is totally within your control to avoid.

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

©2016 Sales Momentum® LLC

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Evolution of sales strategy

Sales Strategy - Stop, Pause, Reassess

Sales Strategy – Stop, Pause, Reassess

A sales manager recently finished sales strategy reviews for the top 20 accounts in her geography. She told me, “Let’s not talk about the quality of the sales strategies – some were great and some not so much. I expected that. What I didn’t expect were the stories about how the sales reps executed their sales strategies.”

I wasn’t quite sure what she meant – and asked her to tell me more. That’s where it got interesting. She said that during some of the strategy review sessions it felt like some sales reps were pounding a hammer on the pegs, like the child’s toy. “The sales reps were using a “pounding the pegs approach” to executing their sales strategy – whether it fit or not. They never stopped, paused, and reassessed.”

Download free white paper – Getting Sales Strategy Right in Major Accounts

That got us thinking. How often do sales managers sit through strategy review sessions like these? Our guess is way too often! Yet, it’s so important salespeople take the time – especially in larger accounts – to stop, pause, and reassess. Not only will it ensure that salespeople don’t continue pursuing the wrong account strategy – it also provides the opportunity to modify their sales strategy based on customer feedback.

In addition, it provides the opportunity to consider the fundamental point that this may just be a chase after a bad piece of business.

What advice should sales managers share with their sales teams during strategy review sessions?

- Today doesn’t mirror yesterday. Companies are changing how they buy due to the disruptive forces at play in the marketplace. What was true yesterday is unlikely to be true today. So if buyers change how they buy, then sellers must adapt and adjust their sales strategies.

- One size doesn’t fit all. Not only are companies changing how they buy, there is not a new standard approach being adopted across companies. Rather, companies are trying to leverage their buying process as a competitive advantage more today than ever before.

- It’s about insights – not information. Due to the digital revolution buyers are likely to engage with selling organizations with more information and later in their decision cycle than in times past. When they do engage, they’re looking for  advisors they trust – not product facilitators. It’s about fresh ideas and insights. This means a sales strategy is always a work in progress.

The key point here is this – the need for sales managers to conduct strategy review sessions with their sales reps has moved to center stage. It is not a nice-to-do. Executing a winning sales strategy in major B2B sales is a very skilled undertaking. Most salespeople need help and sales managers need to provide that help.


What to learn more about sales strategy? Download our white paper - Getting Sales Strategy Right in Major Accounts.

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

©2016 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Sales Enablement – don’t put the cart before the horse!

Horse-_amp_-Cart-Woodcut-150x150Over the last several years Sales Enablement has moved to center stage as a topic of attention in the world of sales.  Although the exact definition varies depending on the actor, Sales Enablement is all about creating and delivering the following:  practices, technologies and tools that enable a sales team to improve their performance and productivity.

One can quickly grasp the emerging interest in the topic by noting the number of white papers and blogs on the topic and number of consulting firms that now exist to help companies do a better job getting Sales Enablement right.

Inside organizations, the conversation about Sales Enablement is usually played out in conjunction with doing something about the historical finger pointing between Sales and Marketing.  Because of the transformational changes that are occurring across markets in the buying environment, the misalignment of Sales and Marketing can no longer be ignored and Sales Enablement is a great banner under which to do something about that.

Fair enough.  All the recent interest and money devoted to Sales Enablement seems both timely and appropriate.  Customers are clearly changing how they buy and if customers change how they buy, then sales organizations need to change how they sell.  They need to up their game. And, in today’s market Sales cannot get that job done without help.

If it can be agreed that Sales Enablement is a good idea, then the second set of issues evolve around getting it right. In the past a lot of good ideas related to sales improvement have never made it out of the other end of the tunnel and Sales Enablement is not immunized against such an end.

Although a number of pitfalls await, one that we believe desires particular attention relates to the grand old idea of “not putting the cart before the horse.”

You can’t enable the sales process unless you are abundantly clear as to what the sales process ought to be that you are trying to enable and you cannot answer that question unless you have devoted sufficient time to understanding the buying process.  The quickest way to get lost in the tunnel is to attempt to enable a sales process that is fuzzy, or misaligned or out-of-date with the buying process.  Today, the companies that are built to win are the companies that are built to change and that means what your customers buy, how they buy and what they are willing to pay for it is unlikely to be the same as the last time you looked.

So with that thought in mind, the imperative is to put in place the necessary mechanism to capture the changes in the buying environment. This should be a constant and systematic effort, not a “once in awhile” peek in the window.  Here the sales team, if properly tasked and trained, can provide an early warning mechanism for anticipating and detecting changes in the buying process.  Plus they can contribute suggestions to the sales leadership as to what that realignment ought to look like.

The key walk away is: a starting point for getting sales enablement right is developing an early warning system about what is going on in the buying environment and your sales team is perhaps the best strategic resource for providing that insight.

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

©2016 Sales Momentum, LLC


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Trends in the world of sales – podcast

Podcast - Sales Trends

Podcast – Sales Trends

Recently I had the pleasure of being a guest on Andy Paul’s great interview series – Accelerate! – that explores the world of sales.  The topics we covered ranged from the merits of account based selling to the success factors for implementing sales models such as SPIN selling.

We thought you might enjoy tuning in – Dial up the interview at

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Tell a story versus pitch a product

Power of Storytelling in Sales

Power of Storytelling in Sales

One of the most common traps in selling is talking too soon and talking much about your product.

Now, if you travel back in time there was good reason why many sales reps fall into the “product pitch” trap.  They were constantly being taught the “101 tips for doing a perfect feature pitch.” They were just doing what they were taught.

Fortunately times have changed. Companies have completed the shift from a product-centric to a customer centric approach to selling.  Lessons about great scripted product pitches are best viewed as historical tales to be told around the campfire.

So, if it is all about customer value, what is the substitute for the product pitch script?  One answer to that question is – tell a story.

It is one thing to talk about a list of reasons why a customer should do business with you; it is another to be able to relate past success stories that bring that list to life. The latter is memorable and repeatable – the former is just another list of features.

So what are some tips for the art of storytelling in Sales?

  • Make it personal. If you want someone to care about making sustained behavior change, you have to individualize the story. The more personal you can make the link between the story and the desired behavior change, the greater your chances of success.
  • Keep it positive. A positive story narrative moves a customer along a path towards change. Interjecting negative outcomes that might result if the status quo is maintained are unlikely to be helpful.
  • Probe why a customer would make a change. Learn early on why a customer would change from one product to another and why they won’t. Weave this information into the story.
  • Stay on message. What is the primary goal that the customer wants to sustain over time? How can you craft the 
story so that it illustrates how working with you and your 
company can help them move closer to achieving 
their goal?

Storytelling allows you to translate your sales message from a feature pitch to a positive customer experience with business outcomes.  It is worth noting that great stories are not usually created on the spot.  Like most things that have high impact, they take time to develop and they require practice and feedback.

Here it is important to note that individual reps should not be the ones that have sole responsibility for creating the stories.  Marketing needs to help for a whole bunch of reasons.  This help is particularly important in companies where a lot of new reps are being hired.

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

©2016 Sales Momentum, LLC

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The Etch a Sketch Sales Force

Etch A Sketch Sales Force

Etch A Sketch Sales Force

The Etch A Sketch was introduced at the peak of the Baby Boom in 1960 and was one of the best-known toys of that generation.  Today, it can be found in the Toy Industry Association’s  hall of the 100 most memorable 20th Century toys.

This toy of yesteryear is a perfect image to use in framing a discussion about the need to revamp a sales force to be better aligned with ones customer base.

Recent years have seen a tremendous disruption in how customers buy. And if buyers change how they buy – salespeople need to change how they sell. Customers:

  • want fresh ideas and creative insights for addressing a set of needs and opportunities that are both new and challenging.
  • expect sales reps to be knowledgeable about their industry, company, and issues at a higher level of proficiency than ever before.
  • expect insights not product pitches.
  • want trusted advisors not product facilitators.

Reviewing the Research. In a classic white paper –The Adaptive Sales Force – Booz & Co addressed this alignment issue. The central thesis is:

  • As markets become more competitive, products are commoditized and companies focus more on organic growth, and the need to create a superior sales force becomes more critical.
  • That challenge is made more difficult because customer demands about what they buy, how they buy, and what they are willing to pay for it are changing in new dynamic ways.
  • In such a business environment “companies must be willing to revamp their sales force on a regular basis.”

This notion was reinforced by a December 2015 research report released by McKinsey & Co on the digital revolution involving 150 companies from around the world.  Their conclusions are a red alert for all sales leaders:

“As we work with companies on their transformation journeys, we’ve been struck by two emerging truths. One is that leaders in the field have a mindset that is less about improving and more about reinventing. That might mean re-thinking completely how they serve their customers, how they run their businesses, and where they find value.

Additionally, there is no “end state” on the change journey. Or, to put it another way, the end state is a state of constant change. Companies that are built to win are those that are built to change.”

Readdressing the status quo. The power of this notion that success is about reinvention not improvement is striking and has direct implications for the world of sales.  It means the old adage about “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it “ is perhaps not the best guidance for 2016 and the years ahead.

A more apt image is an Etch A Sketch sales team where you shake up the picture by turning the left knob a bit and then the right knob a twist or two … not because your sales force is broken, but because it the right thing to do to stay better aligned with your customers.

The temptation remains to look at the process of adaptation as a “once in awhile” event.  Not so, when the status quo is a constant state of changeA better idea is continuously be looking for ways to align your sales team with the changes that are occurring in your customer base.

Making it Happen. Adapting a sales team so that it is aligned with the customer base requires fine-tuning along a variety of dimensions from sales strategy, territory design, compensation and structure to the performance skill sets of the salespeople.  For this blog let’s restrict our discussion of  “reinvention” to sales training and the performance skills of sales teams.  Some ideas for getting it right.

  • Recognize the customer as a trigger. If you review history, most sales training projects are initiated because of some internal event – revenue dips, a merger takes place, a new product is launched or a new VP of Sales arrives with a different set of ideas.

Fair enough.  However, if we look to the advice from the research, then an entirely new reason emerges for doing sales training.  This reason stems from shifts in the customer base.  If the customer’s buying environment changes, then it makes sense to implement a training effort to help the sales force to adjust and adapt to the new environment.

  • Use the sales team as an early warning mechanism. People who make most of the decisions about when to do sales training and what the sales training looks like are in Corporate.  If we want to be more sensitive to the challenge of customer shifts, then the sales team in the field needs to be the “canary in the coal mine.”  While living to tell the tale, they need to be an early warning mechanism when things are changing and what adjustments need to be made.
  • Create more innovative training designs. In the past a common framework for sales training has been the “once in awhile” model. You got some when you were hired. There was maybe an advanced program for the existing sales team.  And, when there was extra time at the National Sale meeting, there would be some interest in filling the time slot.

On the other hand, if the challenge is to help sales teams make substantial adjustments in how they think and act strategically about their accounts in response to constant customer shifts that requires a different mindset.

 It requires viewing sales training as an ongoing process not an event.  It requires different training designs – different training partners – and yes, it requires a greater financial commitment.  It also requires getting serious about sales coaching.

If the reinvention message is true for the world of sales, and we think it is, then sales training needs to move to center stage with all the advantages and disadvantages of being where the spotlight is a little bit brighter.

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

©2016 Sales Momentum, LLC






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