Sales simulations – try one, you’ll like it

Ssales Simulation

Ssales Simulation

Historically companies have often used sales simulations as a capstone sales training program for their senior sales reps or their national account group – that is when the program is positioned as a Top Gun school.

While sales simulations certainly fit this need, thinking of sales simulations only as a training design for advanced programs is unnecessarily limiting. With state-of-the-art designs, sales simulations have become more versatile and cost effective so they now represent a viable alternative for addressing the entire spectrum of sales training needs.  Let’s review what some innovative companies are doing.

1. Some companies now are looking to sales simulations as a way to realistically combine training in sales call execution skills and sales strategy into a single sales training program.  Historically these topic areas have frequently been conducted in separate training session – one year you might do a Miller and Heiman sales strategy program and the following year SPIN Selling.  Both programs have great track records, but there are benefits to an approach where training salespeople on sales strategy and call execution skills are integrated.

First, this notion acknowledges that sales call execution and sales strategy are two intertwined activities. After all, the best sales strategy cannot succeed when poorly executed and vice versa.  Ask yourself:  How often have you delivered an excellent sales strategy program yet nothing substantial really happens?.  Reason – the ideas are never put into practice; the sales reps can’t execute them in the “real world”.

A second reason is the combined approach reflects the need to minimize time out of the field.

2. Beyond integration, sales simulations allow companies to address unique sales performance problems.  For example. let’s say you are facing the challenge of moving from selling individual products to selling an integrated solution or you are introducing a unique new product where the sales process involves new call points that have new definitions of what constitutes value.

Sales simulations allow companies to meet this challenge because they are a third answer to a classic dilemma.  In situations where the sales performance is new and unique, companies often replace their existing sales training with a “better fit” program.  The obvious downside risk to that approach is you end up replacing the existing common language with an alternative and confusion rather than improvement is the end result even thought the new program is a better fit.

Some companies employ a second option – do nothing with the hope that salespeople, on their own, will adjust their existing skill sets to the new requirements and pick up the required new skills.  The usual result is some will but the problem is many will take too long and some will never make the transition.

Sales simulations represent a third option that allows companies to help their sales teamsadjust and adapt their existing skills sets to the new buying environment, yet maintain the common sales language in which they already have invested.  This is possible because sales simulations are highly customized so they can be designed to “drag” the new real world into the classroom and because 100% of the classroom time is spent on the reps practicing and getting feedback on how to adjust and adapt their existing skill sets to the new challenges.

3. Finally, companies find sales simulations as an ideal alternative to put in place sales training programs that are “sticky.” Simply put, companies seek to decrease the amount of time it takes for sales reps to translate the principles and best practices learned in sales training programs into real performance improvement in the field.  Sales simulations are an effective answer because of their realism and relevance and because they focus on practice and feedback vs. lecture.

Highly customized sales simulations can now be designed cost effectively.  They are high impact and engaging because they drag the real world into the classroom and realism, relevance, practice and feedback are optimized. There is little doubt that guided self-discovery via customized experiential learning beats lecturing with PowerPoint decks.

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

 

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Networking at conferences – tips on who, what and how

Sales Networking

Sales Networking

Sales reps often find themselves at industry conferences and other meetings where they should be networking.  However, in too many cases they fail to optimize the opportunity because they are not sure what to do.  So, by default, they end up spending their time in line to share a moment with a keynote speaker or attending yet another breakout session that is all about nothing.

So what might a sales rep do?

First, determine your purpose for networking. For example, are you seeking to make new contacts? Trying to generate new leads from existing customers? Get a feeling for what’s going on in your industry?  Promoting a new product.  You can’t be doing everything, with everybody, all at once – focus is key.

Second, think about with whom you want to network.  Not all networking interactions are equal.  In an article by Debra Averback in Careerbuilder the author noted 6 types of people you might meet when networking:

  • Wallflowers keep their head down, avoid eye contact and are uncomfortable making conversation. It’s tough to engage a Wallflower, but this is a case where some homework can pay off.  Sometimes they may not be great at conversation but are key players in their organization.
  • Dealmakers are people with an agenda. The best response is to be friendly to potential offers, but not to make a commitment on the spot.
  • Handshakers value quantity over quality. They are trying to find as many people to contact as possible and usually have a pocket full of business cards. With Handshakers, be polite but recognize it’s likely the conversation won’t go very far
  • Socialites are people seeking social meetings – looking for or offering great parties – not business meetings. If you’re looking to have a good time at the meeting, then Socialites are for you.
  • Power Networkers are high-level people who have connections and genuinely want to make a few more; they are buttoned up in how they approach networking. They seek 3-5 quality connections vs. a pocket full of business cards. Power Networkers can be a big help because their mindset is – “As I go through my day, I meet a lot of people; tell me how will I know when I’ve met a perfect referral for you?”
  • Connectors seem to know everyone and everyone seems to know them. They like to help others and they’re good people to meet at networking events. They attend because they need to, not necessarily to do any business. They’ll listen to what you do, ask intelligent questions and introduce you to others who might be helpful.

Third, once you know “why” you are networking and know “who” you want to target – think about how you might interact with the people you’re be meeting.  Do a little informal pre-call planning.

Last,  some of the time will be spent in formal sessions so what can you do to optimize that time? A colleague of ours, Scott Nelson at Medsider, shared some tips on becoming a Conference Ninja. Here’s a quick look at some points on Scott’s list.

  • Think about thoughtful questions you might ask during Q&A sessions. It’s a great way to gain 30 seconds of airtime and create a basis for subsequent networking post session.
  • Use breaks as time to meet people. Don’t just snack on the munchies or chat on your iPhone.
  • Be prepared. When you engage a target contact, know what you want to talk about.

Networking isn’t easy but it is a piece of the puzzle for sales success.  It is good to remember there is a big between talking to a whole bunch of people and a planned networking experience.

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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Getting sales coaching right – don’t do too little, too late

Sales Coaching

Sales Coaching

Sales leadership talks about it all the time.  Sales consultants advocate it and sales managers say they would like to do more of it if they had the time.  The “it” of course is sales coaching.

Yet if you nose around, you will often find less sales coaching is occurring then might be expected given all the voices of advocacy.  Why?  Well there are a number of reasons but four seem to be particularly telling:

  • Conflicting Demands. Sales managers are the key for great sales coaching but they get bogged down doing all sorts of administrative stuff.  So sales coaching gets put off until Friday and it never happens. 
  • Great Numbers. Last quarter’s numbers get tabulated and they look good.  So the impetus to get serious about sales coaching wanes.
  • Zombie Ideas. Sometimes bad ideas just won’t die.  They keep coming back to life in the corporate culture like: “We have an experienced sales team so sales coaching is not really a necessity” or “Instead of worrying about coaching we put in place some great sales training.”
  • Seduction. Sales leadership is distracted by bright shiny objects and their attention and commitment to the sales coaching effort is lost.  Without leadership, sales coaching does not happen in a pervasive fashion.

In many companies not much sales coaching is occurring but the sales team seems immobilized to do anything about it.  The question is: Does it really matter?  Is sales coaching really a big deal – must it be one of those must-do priorities?

Here, it is important to be clear – the answer is: absolutely yes.

A company cannot sustain a competitive advantage today by product and service alone; a superior sales team is required and the notion that a superior sales team can be maintained year after year without great sales managers doing a great job sales coaching is not a viable proposition.

In case you get tasked to convince others to get serious about this sales coaching message, here are five reasons why the idea is a good one:

  • Shows Leadership Commitment. It demonstrates that the top sales leadership is serious about providing support to developing the strength of the sales team.
  • Coaches Get Smarter. If sales managers increase the time they spend in the field coaching on sales calls they will get smarter about the sales team and the customer base.  They will be better able to be an effective early warning system of changes in the market and what to do about them.
  • Leverages Knowledge. Think of the cumulative knowledge possessed by sales managers in an organization.  Sales coaching provides an effective and efficient method for leveraging that knowledge to the sales team.  Worse case without sales coaching that knowledge is lost if a sales manager leaves the organization.
  • Reinforces Sales Training. The research indicates that proximately 80% of the skill-gain in a sales training program is lost in 3 months without reinforcement.  Without a doubt, sales coaching is the most effective method to reinforce the skills learned in sales training.
  • Grows the Business. A better skilled sales team is an important piece of the puzzle for generating increased revenue and optimizing profits.

So is sales coaching really necessary?  The answer is yes – lots of good things happen when you get it right and unfortunately bad things occur when you don’t.

As a note about urgency – the need to get coaching right increases as the scope, scale and speed of changes in the buying environment increase.  There appears to be little doubt that presently one can label the degree of change on all three of these dimensions as transformational.  Best advice – don’t be the one who does too little, too late.

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 success trap – confusing busy with productive

Salespeople like everyone else can succumb to the temptation to stay busy. Research tells us that most people have an aversion to idleness and a bias toward taking action – especially when facing uncertainty.

The rub is it doesn’t seem to matter if the action is a productive effort or not. People just feel better “doing things.”  In an interesting HBR article, Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats reported people said they feel more productive when executing tasks than planning them – even though they knew planning usually leads to higher performance than simply diving into tasks without a predetermined course of action.

With all this in mind let’s turn to the world of Sales and examine some of the “busy traps” and some of the productive activities that are likely to fall by the way side.

  • Chasing bad business.  We have all experienced the account that despite continuous work it will not move from Stage 3 of the pipeline.  Yet it is too painful to pull the trigger – perhaps tomorrow will be the day.  Chasing bad business will certainly keep you busy but productive – not so much.
  • Confusing institutional friends and internal champions.  Developing and rehearsing internal champions is a key best practice in major account selling but it takes time; hence the potential internal champions must be selected with great care.  They must be both willing and able to help you actually pursue the business.  You can spend a lot of time with an institutional friend – nice to do, yes – busy, yes – productive, usually not.
  • Excessive attention to paperwork. Top sales reps are very good at distinguishing paperwork that can be postponed or ignored from that which needs to be a priority.  In major organization paper work can become an unbelievable time sink – talk about busy!
  • Jumping in too soon with a solution. Gino and Staats also reported that a bias towards taking action can lead to jumping in too soon with solutions before fully understanding the problem.  Sound familiar?  How many sales managers have been on sales calls with sales reps that jumped into soon and talked too much about their product before understanding the breath and depth of the customer’s problems.

The problem with “busy” is that “productive” gets postponed until Friday and then never gets done.  Here are three sales winners that often experience that fate:

  • Developing and updating the account strategies for your major accounts.

Most sales reps do not spend enough time selling and the time they do spend is not optimized from a productive perspective.  If one had a 100 person sales force and tomorrow you could get a 10% shift from busy things to productive things – what a difference a day would make.

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 reps – don’t forget to follow-up!

Sales reps much follow up!

Sales reps much follow up!

We’ve been interviewing several MedTech sales managers this past week. One question we posed was: What do you think are the keys to a sales rep’s success? The first answer we heard was “follow-up”.  We smiled … MedTech and other B2B customers we’ve surveyed over the years have universally told us that what was most important to them in a salesperson is, “do what you said you will do” – or in other words, follow-up …  keep your promises.

It was interesting that “knowledge about their products” didn’t make the survey short list – it was expected that successful sales reps “know what they’re selling.”  Simply put, it’s the ticket to the dance.  Plus, the buyers noted that today they have a wide variety of online sources for finding out about products.

But, in the buyer’s eyes, following up is one of the fundamentals for building trust and establishing a business relationship that separates those top sales reps from the others.

As sales reps seek ways to create value for customers – it’s important to note that value is not created solely by what you’re selling.  Of course sales reps must be able to position solutions in a compelling way and talk about the value-adds the company can provide.

But salespeople can create customer value by how they sell, as well as, what they sell.  Following up is key.  It creates customer value – and sets the stage to increase the likelihood of future sales success.

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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Internal champions – why one may not be enough

Internal Champions

Internal Champions

In major accounts a lot of the selling is going on when you are not there.  So developing internal champions is a key to sales success.

When talking with sales reps about internal champions, it’s clear that in many cases once they’ve developed an internal champion, they mentally “check off the box” and move on to other things.

But is one enough?  Like most questions of this sort the answer is – yes, sometimes one is enough.  On the other hand, sometimes the answer is no – you need more than one.  The consequences of misguiding the number of internal champions you need can be significant.

So, why might it be worth investing your time to develop more than one internal champion?

1. Complex buying process. In major accounts the buying process is complex.  There are a lot of players involved, the buying process is long, consensus is often lacking and there are a lot of tricky situations to be handled.  So, at different points in the buying cycle you may need different internal champions to tell your story – based on expertise, access, internal credibility or personal relationships.

2. Unpredictability.  Raise your hand if you have ever been in a major sale and one day you woke up and found out that your internal champion was gone – left – took a job with another company.

A caveat … While as we just argued the single internal champion strategy can occasionally be flawed, it is also true that simply “collecting” internal champions is not an answer.  Internal champions must be both “willing” and “able” to provide you help in securing the business.  There are not many people inside of an account that fit the bill.  So, it’s likely that if you have 12 potential candidates, you probably have 2 internal champions and 10 institutional friends.

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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Happy Memorial Day

Wishing all of our readers a Happy Memorial Day.

Janet and Dick

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Sales call planning – keep it simple, yet effective

Sales Call Planning

Sales Call Planning

Sales call planning is critical to sales success. This post covers two components of call planning –pre-call planning and the oft forgotten post-call planning.

Let’s begin with some best practices for pre-call planning.

1. Determine the call objective. The first step in pre-call planning is setting the objective for the call. The objective should be formulated in terms of the commitment desired from the customer that moves the sales cycle forward. Examples include: an appointment with a more senior person, an opportunity to present your solution to the buying committee, or a trial placement of your solution. The appropriate commitment is determined by where you are in the sales cycle and the person with whom you are meeting.

2. Keep it simple. If sales people are asked why they don’t do a better job of pre-call planning, the answers heard most often are “No time” or “Too much paperwork.” Sometimes the complaints are partially justified but when some sales people say “I just do it in my head” – that doesn’t hold water. You have to write stuff down. The key is keep it simple – no format for a pre-call plan should be more than one page or take more than 15 minutes to create.

3. Adopt a standard way of pre-call planning. This idea is correlated with the “keep it simple” notion. Standardizing pre-call planning is a great way to keep it simple and to get better at doing it. Here are six topics that work well as the basis of a pre-call plan:

  • Call objective
  • Questions you want to ask
  • Questions you might be asked
  • Points to communicate
  • Likely objections
  • Possible advances or commitments

4. Rehearse key calls. In a major sale, all calls are not of equal importance. Those one or two key calls during the sales cycle that are most important demand more attention when it comes to pre-call planning. On these calls, top performers not only complete a pre-call plan, they rehearse the call in a role-play with a colleague or sales manager assuming the customer role. Yes, it takes time but this is one of those cases where time is well spent. A small difference in how a specific segment of the call is conducted can make a huge difference in the outcome.

Now let’s turn to post-call planning. Although most sales training programs and sales managers give a fair amount of attention to pre-call planning, post–call planning is often the forgotten country cousin. Yet in a major account, it’s a big deal too. So, let’s take a look at a couple of best practices.

1. Do it now. Perhaps the biggest trap is either not doing it at all or postponing post-call planning so long that it just turns into an exercise of completing a call report form. The best idea is to complete the post-call planning right after the call to ensure nothing falls “between the cracks”. When the call is still fresh in the sales person’s mind it’s easier to decipher what the notes and scribbles penned during the call actually mean. Again 15 minutes should be all that is needed.

2. Assess next steps. Think about what happened on the call and assess what needs to be done next. Analyze how the results of the call might impact the overall account strategy for moving forward. Remember great account strategies are always a work-in-progress.

3. Play it again. One insight that can be gained from post-call planning is determining what went right and what went wrong. Ask the question: “If I could do this call again, what would I do differently?” Since “this call” will probably occur again in another account this brief call assessment should result in the call being executed a little bit better the next time.

Top sales performers are always getting better – call planning is one simple way to execute on that idea. The reason call planning is such a big deal is not just about what you write down or key into your iPad. It’s taking the time to systematically think about what you are about to do and to learn from what you just did. The larger the account, the more important the idea and the greater the payoff.

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 success in an age of disruptive change

Sales Success

Sales Success

Constant change has always characterized the business world.  Looking in the rear view mirror has never been a recommended strategy for determining future direction.  However, from time to time the nature of the change takes on a different look.  The scale and speed of the changes during these periods can truly be labeled disruptive.  In the early 19th century the Industrial Revolution changed everything.

Let’s fast forward to the present and ask the question – are we now entering such a period?  Or are the changes we have experienced in the last several years mainly driven by the economic collapse of 2008 and things are likely to shortly return to a new steady state?  If you are a VP of Sales, a sales manager or a salesperson, where you come down on this question will dramatically impact what you do as the future unfolds.

Recently we came across an article by the folks at McKinsey that is an excerpt from their new book – No Ordinary Disruption.  The article attempts to answer our question.

The authors summarize their answer as follows:  “Today our world is undergoing a dramatic transition due to the confluence of four fundamental disruptive forces—any of which would rank among the greatest changes the global economy has ever seen. Compared with the Industrial Revolution, we estimate that this change is happening ten times faster and at 300 times the scale, or roughly 3,000 times the impact.  Although we all know these disruptions are happening, most of us fail to comprehend their full magnitude and the second- and third-order effects that will result.”

Obviously this is only “one man’s” answer but we found their narrative to be compelling.  As an aside, the four disruptive forces that are examined in depth in the book are: emerging markets and urbanization, technology, aging populations and global connectivity.

For the moment let’s suspend disbelief and assume that we are experiencing and will continue to experience a period of unprecedented change – a change that is truly transformational.  What does this mean for the Sales?

One consequence is a new set of winners and losers will emerge.  New companies doing new things will arrive on the scene, existing companies will enter new markets using different technologies and innovative strategies and some marketing-leading companies will lose their seat at the head of the table.  So will be the case at the individual level – some salespeople that made Presidents Club ever year may not even be on the short list in the years ahead.

So what to do about this?  Obviously there is no simple cookie-cutter answer.  However, it is possible to start the discussion.  Let’s start by addressing what to do from an individual perspective.  If all this is true what should a salesperson do to remain among the standing?  Let’s explore some initial ideas.

  • Refresh your knowledge of your customers.  For salespeople a good first step for dealing with a future characterized by constant and significant change is to redouble your efforts to understand how your customers are changing to deal with their futures.  If customers change how they buy, you need to change how you sell.  This renewed effort involves learning more about a customer’ industry, company and markets so you can function as a trusted advisor.
  • Understand the nature of the change.   In times of normal change the changes are incremental and fairly predictable – not so in a period where the changes are transformational.  If you end up making decisions based on your experiences from the past you are likely to miss the mark.  If ever wanted to explore “outside of the box” thinking, this would be a great time to try that out.
  • Take personal responsibility.  Take charge of finding out what needs to done and go do it.  For example, it is likely that you will need to upgrade your skills if you elect to stay in Sales.   Don’t wait for training at the company’s national sales meeting – go out and get it.  The goods news is today there are lots of sources to tap into from online universities to your favorite sales consultant who writes a blog three times a week to white papers published by consulting firms like Booz Allen, Bain and McKinsey.  The really good news is these sources are either free or very affordable.
  • Be on the lookout for opportunities.  Although transformational changes can cast some dark shadows, there is a sunny side of the street. The changes that will occur will produce unparalleled opportunities.  For the people who develop the awareness, acquire the skills and learn to manage the risks, times of transformational change have a renaissance like quality.
  • Maintain a work/life balance. This, of course, is always a good idea.  But in times of disruptive change it becomes both harder and more important to get it right.
  • Leverage the technology.  Technology is part of the reason for the nature of the change and also part of the answer.  As the McKinsey authors note – “more and more people will enjoy a golden age of gadgetry, of instant communication and boundless information … technology will allow individuals to start businesses and gain scale at stunning speed while using little capital.”    

Whether you are a VP of Sales responsible for providing direction to an entire sales team, a sales manager, or a sales rep trying to figure out their next career move, a future characterized by disruptive change provides both challenges and opportunities.  There will be new winners and losers.  Being among the former will require more than simply extrapolating from past successes.

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 success – reducing risk is as important as selling value

Reduce risk - Sell value

Reduce risk – Sell value

Major account sales occur in a dynamic business environment with multiple players, long buying processes, and complex solutions.  In this market everybody gets it.  You can’t win by just pitching products; you have to sell value.

Selling value is about helping the customer understand how you can help them achieve their business goals.  It all starts with developing an in-depth understanding of the customer’s needs, issues, and challenges and then making the connection between your solution and customer’s desired outcomes.

This of course is a great story and one that should be told many times.  Having the skill sets to sell value rather than just pitching products is clearly a cornerstone for success in today’s market.  However this is one of those necessary but not sufficient situations.

We have observed many sales reps do a decent job selling value yet fail to win the business.  Why? There are other pieces to the puzzle.  One often underemphasized is the ability to help the customer deal with the perceived risks of moving ahead with the purchasing decision.

So, how can you reduce the risk and make it easy for a decision maker to say “yes?”

The simple starting point is don’t avoid the conversation.  The perceived risks don’t disappear because salespeople pretend they don’t exists.  Spend time and effort to understand the perceived risks and to help the customer “connect the dots” so they see how your solution deals with their perceived risks.

These conversations also can help salespeople understand what drives the perceived risks … and that the drivers aren’t the same at each level of decision maker.  Recently we came across an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review by Paul Weinstein, a Silicon Valley consultant that addressed this idea about drivers.

Weinstein’s article addressed a general business audience so we borrowed some of the ideas and added a few of our own to translate the ideas to the world of Sales.  Let’s take a look at three different levels of decision makers:

  • CEO, President, COO.  As Weinstein points out, “these highest order decision makers are into the big picture. They care about pleasing boards and shareholders. Public perception and legacy are what is important to them.”
  • C-level. The C-level includes the members of the senior leadership team, like the CIO or CFO, that manage entire departments. They bring a strategic perspective to the party. They view the world from a long-term perspective and are concerned about new ways to frame challenges and innovative insights for solving them. These are the people who have been hired to make sure things don’t go wrong. In general, they tend to be the most conservative decision makers and are apt to say “no” to deals.

When it comes to selling, reducing risk at this level is best achieved by having the research and information that documents the strategic upsides, demonstrates how the downsides are minimized and points out the long-term consequences of inaction.

  • Functional Business Managers (Marketing, Sales, Technology). These decision makers are directly involved in generating revenue and they are judged based on the numbers.

Weinstein provides an excellent description of the risk narrative for this population: “Most business managers have P&L goals that were established in the prior year — and anything that puts those projections at risk is a tough sell. If things are going well for the business manager, then they may be inclined to take a risk. Sometimes they need to do a deal in order to make their year look better, other times they are out scouting for a new venture to help them start their new fiscal year off right.”

A best practice for achieving success in today’s market is to think in terms of Economic Value. To determine the Economic Value of your solution your customer (1) assesses the degree to which your solution has a positive impact on those business outcomes that matter to the customer, (2) then  “deducts” the perceived risk, and finally (3) “deducts” for the purchase price. Everyone spends a lot of time on the first and third factors but less on the second – risk.  Reducing the perceived risks directly impacts the Economic Value of our solution and therefore deserves equal attention.

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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