New sales managers – starting off on the right foot

New Sales Managers

New Sales Managers

Customers expect salespeople to know more today than ever before … and to know it at a higher level of proficiency. This difference constitutes an inflexion point. Customers now want sales reps who are trusted advisors not product facilitators.

All this means that in order for a sales team to be successful in the years ahead, front-line managers need be highly skilled. It is not an overstatement to suggest that front-line sales managers truly have become the pivotal job for sales success.

Build a solid foundation.  Let’s look at how a new sales manager can get off on the right foot.  Here are four ideas for getting started:

Do your homework to gain an objective lay of the land. Drill down and learn about the territory and the sales team. Here, the CRM system can be a best friend. Review the sales team members’ performance both currently and over time. Identify the top accounts – who has them, what solutions are being used, and what are the potential new opportunities? Become familiar with the sales pipeline and the prospects populating it and make revisions where necessary – like getting rid of no-win opportunities.

Talk with senior management. Although you’ve surely talked with senior management before taking the sales manager position, now you have an opportunity to address a different set of questions. Two particularly important areas of inquiry are: What are the expectations? and What are the institutional resources that are available to your team and how can you tap into them?

Solicit from the sales team what they want from their sales manager. Ask each member of the sales team what he or she wants their new sales manager to do – and what they expect? Some important specifics – how should coaching work and when and how should I help you sell?

Consider a personal 360-degree assessment.  After about three months into
your new sales manager position, consider an informal 360 assessment. Here the HR or sales enablement function should be able to help. Discuss with your boss, your sales team, and some peer sales managers your strengths and weaknesses in managing your sales team. Early on in a new position is a great time to pause and take stock of how you might do some self- improvement.

Getting managerial planning right. After the foundation is laid, it makes sense to lay a path forward. Unfortunately, immediate action often takes precedence over planning. This can be shortsighted. Here are 10 questions for getting started on a management plan.

  • What is going on in the buying environment that would impact how we sell?
  • How should I prioritize my coaching time?
  • How can I optimize the quality of feedback I share with my sales team?
  • How can I help my sales team better leverage institutional resources?
  • Under what conditions should I participate in sales calls – how does that differ by individual team member and type of call?
  • What can I do specifically for top performers? Underachievers?
  • How can I increase the percentage of time my team spends selling to customers? What is the major time sink?
  • What can I do to increase the overall motivation of the team?
  • What is one innovative idea I should try to increase the sales productivity of the team?
  • What is the one skill I must get better at?

Leveraging the power of culture. Traditionally, when talking 
about best practices, most of the emphasis has been on sales and
 management skill sets. But the more we have studied high-performing sales teams, the more we have come to realize that the
 cart has often been put before the horse. Perhaps sales teams 
would be even more successful if greater emphasis were initially directed towards creating a culture that drives individual excellence.

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

©2017  Sales Momentum® LLC

Posted in Sales Leaders, Sales Management Coaching | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Listening – the forgotten twin of sales success

Listening in sales calls

Listening in sales calls

While most salespeople have come to agree that asking questions is a key skill, many still underestimate the contribution of good listening to achieving top 
performance. It is the forgotten twin in the proposition – ask, listen and then talk. For them, the first step is awareness. The second step is actually becoming more skilled.

So, let’s explore some best practices for that second step.

  • Listen actively. It’s important not only to listen, but also to make sure the other person knows you’ve listened. Think back. Like most salespeople, you can probably imagine one of your customers thinking after the call, “I’m not sure that salesperson really understands the importance of what we were talking about,” or “I think she’s really smart, but I don’t think she quite understands our priorities.”

So, how does active listening work? 
Two key interactive techniques are testing understanding and summarizing. Testing understanding and summarizing involve paraphrasing what the customer has said to be sure you fully understand its meaning and significance. It is important to note that paraphrasing and parroting are not the same things. In practice the difference is enormous! Paraphrasing is helpful; parroting drives people crazy. Paraphrasing is concise and reflects only the essentials of what the customer said – it cuts through the noise. “So, from the perspective of your colleagues, the most important….” “Let’s see if I understand where you want to go with that….” “So, to summarize your priorities….”

By paraphrasing, salespeople ensure they have heard and understood, and it provides their customers an opportunity to hear back what they’ve said to make sure it’s really what they mean.  Alternatively it provides customers a chance to change their mind if the narrative doesn’t sound like as good an idea upon hearing it a second time.

  • Stay focused. Research studies in communication suggest that most of us can listen four to six times faster than we can talk. So what do we do with the extra time? There are at least two options.

First, we can let our mind wander and sort of tune in and out of the conversation. Everyone’s been in a conversation in which the other person has chosen this option. When you are the other half of that conversation this behavior is at best rude and annoying.

The second option takes more work, but it has a higher payoff. We can use the time to take notes and really evaluate what’s being said by asking yourselves questions such as: Is this consistent with other information I’ve gathered in the account? Do we have a track record in the area under discussion? What can I do in this case to deliver a little bit of value?

  • Tune in to high-fidelity situations. Sometimes it’s necessary to turn up the listening volume. For example, if a current customer all of sudden starts saying or doing things that deviate from previous behavior, it pays to find out why. Often in such situations, there are issues lurking under the surface that are causing the behavior, and what you hear is merely a
 smokescreen. You need to get past 
the smokescreen.

Examples of other high-
fidelity situations that require turning up 
the volume might include ones in which the 
customer contact is facing a new challenge, or the consequences of a mistake for the customer are particularly high, or perhaps you’re dealing with a situation or type of individual that is a substantial departure from your experience base.

Social scientists report that after listening to someone talk – immediately after you only remember 1⁄2 of what was said and after eight hours you only remember about 1⁄2 of that. So in a business conversation, a good idea is to follow the “100 Percent Rule” – take 100 percent of the responsibility for making sure the other person understands you and take 100 percent responsibility for understanding what the other person says.

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

©2017  Sales Momentum® LLC

Posted in Sales Best Practices, Sales Call Execution | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Getting sales rep onboarding right – it matters more than ever

Onboarding new sales reps

Onboarding new sales reps

Today a sales team must not only be able to sell a competitive advantage; they must be a competitive advantage. In most companies, it is increasingly difficult to sustain a competitive advantage by traditional means. Traditional factors, like superior products and innovative manufacturing technologies, may provide short term advantages but unfortunately they can be replicated in relatively short order by an increasing number of agile and aggressive domestic and international competitors.

Although a great sales team is difficult to develop, it has the potential to provide a significant competitive advantage and, perhaps more importantly, one that is difficult for the competition to quickly copy. So optimizing sales performance matters more today than it did yesterday and it will matter more tomorrow than it does today.

Onboarding. The process of training and acclimating salespeople from a skill, knowledge, and expectation perspective is one of the most significant factors for a salesperson’s success. Unfortunately it is also historically one of the most understudied and underemphasized aspects of performance development. Great sales onboarding programs are still the exception.

This lack of emphasis is part of the larger problem that companies are having with Talent Management. “Companies like to
 promote the idea that employees are their biggest source 
of competitive advantage. Yet the astonishing reality is that most of them are no better prepared for the challenges of finding, motivating and training capable workers than they were a decade ago” (McKinsey Quarterly).

With the increased awareness of the importance of
 developing a sales team that can be a competitive advantage, this talent management neglect has not gone unnoticed by everyone. It is suggested that the companies who are seriously addressing this issue today will be celebrating tomorrow.

What’s Different?  If you are a company that put in place the components of your sales onboarding curriculum more than five years ago, it is likely that a second look is worthwhile. There are a number of changes and shifts that have significantly impacted what an optimal system looks like.  Some of those factors are:

  • Success matters more. As previously noted the number of sustainable competitive advantages has decreased and the importance of a world-class sales force has grown with that decline.
  • Job demands are greater. In sales there is a “book of knowledge.” In many companies that book has expanded from a fairly common, well defined set of chapters to a tome that is encyclopedic in scope. Today in order to be a top performer, a salesperson simply
 has to know a lot more and do a 
lot more than in times past.
  • Specialization of the sales function has increased.  Today if the sales positions in most Fortune 1000 companies were examined under a microscope, they would be greater in number and greater in diversity than in times past. So as a sales person moves up the hierarchy of positions, they are faced with different buyers, different buying processes, and differing points of view on what constitutes value.

Hence, there is a need to learn new knowledge and new skills for each position.  So onboarding is not just something that is needed when hiring new salespeople – it is also needed when promoting sales reps to a new sales position such as the transition from a territory rep to a national account rep.

  • Generational differences are significant. New people coming into entry-level sales positions are from a generation with a different set of expectations, learning preferences, and experience sets. This shift provides a significant need and huge opportunity to put in place learning methodologies that would not have been considered several years ago. It also presents a strategic omission if the talent management and learning strategies are different than the expectations.

Summary.  So … having a world-class sales team is more important than ever … but building one is more difficult than ever because of the increased complexity of the
 sales environment.  An effective onboarding process is part of the answer but historically and presently the onboarding process has not been a priority at the leadership level and, adding to the mix, the folks being hired and promoted are bringing a new and very different set of expectations and preferences.

The good news is this set of conditions represent a significant opportunity for the companies that commit the time and effort to get onboarding right.

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

©2017  Sales Momentum® LLC

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Sales performance – average is over

Sales performance

Sales performance

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 in such a period?  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.

The folks at McKinsey answer the question in the affirmative in their recent book – No Ordinary Disruption.  The authors summarize their answer as follows:  “Today our world is undergoing a dramatic transition due to the confluence of four fundamental disruptive forces (urbanization, technology, aging population, and global connectivity) any of which would rank among the greatest changes the global economy has ever seen. Compared with the Industrial Revolution, we estimate that this transition is happening ten times faster and at 300 times the scale, and 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-order effects that will result.”

In Sales, these forces will alter in a fundamental way what customers buy, how they buy, and what they are willing to pay for it.  If you are on the sales side of the table, the resulting changes will produce a new set of winners and losers. To be on the right side of that binary choice, sales leaders must up the bar as to the acceptable standard for sales performance.

There are a number of looking glasses through which this reexamination can be viewed.  Here, let’s explore the notion that average is over from the perspective of the individual salesperson.  What can they do given that superior performance is the new black?

  • Emphasize the power of self-motivation.  Salespeople need to assume personal responsibility for keeping up to speed.  In today’s business environment self-directed learning and personal accountability must be a part of the equation for skill improvement.

The good news is there are more ways and means to accomplish this feat than ever before. Some suggestions: blogs (list of top rated sales blogs) work better than books and self-directed online training (Udacity, Udemy, edX, Coursea) can augment formal company-based training.

To support this idea sales leaders need to emphasize self-motivation both in terms of the selection and ongoing management of salespeople.

  • Rethink sales training.  Historically in many companies sales training has been a “once in awhile” type of thing.  In markets where buyers are reinventing how they do business and the competition is keener than ever, this episodic approach to training is unlikely to carry the day – at best average will be maintained as opposed to being over.

Here again there is good news.  Today, there are more innovative sales training companies and the training is more customized and creative than ever before – today sales training is being redefined and the new ideas are exciting and they actually work.

Sales leaders need to divorce from old notions like: “the only time we can do sales training is at our national meeting” or “ we trained all our people two years ago so we’re okay.”

  • Revisit sales coaching. The position of front-line sales manager is clearly the pivotal job for creating and sustaining a superior sales team and coaching is their primary role.  Too often sales coaching is put off until Friday due to competing time demands and it never happens.  How much of their time should be spent coaching?  Forty percent is a good round estimate.

The good news – exciting mobile-based coaching software is coming online to support coaching efforts so that coaching can be better, faster and cheaper than in times of yesteryear.

To support this idea sales leaders should put in place a rigorous talent management effort for their front-line sales managers.  The development of a superior sales team will always be a bridge too far if the selection, training and retention of front-line sales managers is not a top priority.    

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

©2017  Sales Momentum® LLC






Posted in Sales Best Practices, Sales Management Coaching, Sales Training, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Artificial Intelligence – a last best hope for sales management coaching


AI and Sales Management

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

Yet, if you nose around, you’ll find less sales coaching is occurring then might be expected given all the advocacy.  Lots of companies start sales coaching initiatives but a scarce few sustain them over time.  Why might that be?

Well, there are a number of reasons but one tends to stand out – conflicting demands for time.  Sales managers get bogged down doing administrative coordination and control tasks.  So sales coaching gets put off until Friday and it never happens.  The underlying problem is a lack of sufficient focus and the absence of a long-term commitment by the key players to overcome the competing priority of shiny objects that take precedent.

It is difficult to imagine developing and sustaining a superior sales team unless a solution is found for cracking this sales coaching dilemma.  From our experience the key to cracking the code is not another training program or a motivational speech at the national sales meeting.  Reason – the problem is not primarily a deficiency of skill or a lack of motivation. It is about finding a way for sales managers to spend time doing what everyone knows they ought to be doing – providing direction and coaching to their sales teams.

There is nothing new or particularly insightful about this proposition.  Lots of thoughtful sales leaders have tried lots of smart ideas for getting this right.  The problem is too often the solution for the time problem has not worked over time.  Distractions creep back into system and once again coaching doesn’t happen.

As they say there’s got to be a better way and we would suggest one is on the horizon – Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The impact of AI, like any new technology, tends to follow the classic S-Curve.  Therefore it is very easy to overestimate the impact in the short-term and underestimate the impact in the long run.  When it comes to AI we are presently at the inflection point on the curve – hence developing and using AI is now a realistic technology to incorporate into future planning.

In support of this proposition we recently came across a great article in the Harvard Business Review: How Artificial Intelligence will Redefine Management.  The authors surveyed 2000 managers from the front line to the C-suite – across industries and functions.  Their overarching conclusion was – “artificial intelligence will soon be able to do many of the administrative tasks that consume much of the manager’s time – faster, better, and at a lower cost.”

Although currently there is no “solution in a box” the potential impact of AI for giving sales managers more time to spend on providing direction and coaching is an idea worth keeping your eye on.

When sales managers spend more time with their sales teams, good things happen.  Across studies the revenue increase figures vary from 20-40 percent.  Plus, think about the potential impact on other results like: sales rep retention, alignment with corporate strategy and customer satisfaction – talk about making a difference.

A factor that distinguishes best-in-class sales organizations is their ability to leverage trends before their competitors do.  The use of AI for providing the needed time for coaching may well be a case in point.  So a note to sales leaders – do you have someone on your staff noising around out there keeping track of what is going relative to the use of AI?  If not – you might want to re-visit that decision.


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

©2017  Sales Momentum® LLC


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Sales memo – winning starts with thinking strategically

Crafting sales strategy

Crafting sales strategy

In B2B sales, one-size-does-not-fit-all is a cornerstone proposition.  There are no generic customers; hence there are no winning generic strategies – each customer is unique and every winning account strategy must take that uniqueness into consideration.

When thinking about what it takes to formulate a winning sales strategy, a good starting point is remembering you are dealing with a complex buying environment. Many decision-makers and influencers are involved, the needs and issues are multi-layered and often conflicting, and the solution configuration and implementation management is likely to be complex and sophisticated.

Given this situation let’s explore two overarching ideas for how to develop a winning account strategy.

Comprehending the customer. The best practices for formulating a winning strategy all start with developing an understanding the customer. Top sales performers develop a comprehensive picture of the customer and average performers develop snapshots. Let’s examine some ideas for what it takes to develop that comprehensive understanding:

  • Understanding the Buying Process.  It is hard to sell if you don’t know how people buy.  Crafting an effective account strategy requires knowing who the players are, the roles they will assume in the buying process and their opinions of you and the competition?

You also need to know what the buying process looks like – for example assuming that it mirrors your selling process is a common mistake. Even the often-held notion that the buying process is linear is at risk in many major accounts.

Last, and importantly, just because you are starting at the beginning of your selling process, don’t assume the buyer is at the beginning of their buying process. It is well to remember that although the number is somewhat notional, approximately 75% of the time customers make their final decision halfway through the buying process.  Many salespeople do the right thing but do it too late.

  • Interpreting the Business Environment. Events occur in the business environment that impact – positively and negatively – your probability of capturing the business. Top sales performers are aware of these events and adjust their strategy accordingly. These events tend to fall into three categories:
    • Business Context – example: a new competitor
    • Your Company – example: new product introduction
    • Customer – example: your internal champion leaves

These changes are occurring constantly. This is one of the reasons that winning account strategies cannot be developed and then stored away but instead must be constantly reviewed and updated.

  • Knowing the Decision Criteria.  Competition is almost always present in B2B sales; therefore:

(1) Know the decision criteria the customer will use to decide between competitors.

(2) Determine how you fit against the customer’s decision criteria. The fit is a two-way street. You must determine in an objective fashion the degree of fit between the customer’s decision criteria and your capabilities. In addition, you must obtain the customer’s perception of that fit. It is often the case that the two assessments are not in alignment and a part of your strategy is what to do about the misalignment.

For example, there are times when it is legitimate to help a customer change their point of view. A misperception about one of your capabilities is an example. A second example is when a customer deems a particular decision criterion to be extremely important and it is your experience the priority is misplaced. This, of course, is a road to be walked with care. If the customer would end up making a better decision if they changed their assessment, then changing brings value to the customer and to you and that’s legitimate. Obviously, it is not legitimate if the viewpoint shift is strictly in your self-interest.

(3) Obtain the customer’s perception of how the competition fits with the decision criteria. With all that information at hand you can make a good assessment of your competitive position as viewed by the customer.

Thinking innovatively.  It is well to note that account strategy development has bit of a checkered past.  In the bad old days account strategy was fundamentally about how to pitch your product and how to counter those nasty objections encountered along the way.  As time rolled on, things got better but often account strategy was mainly about filling out a form that was then filed away never to be seen again.

Fortunately today the world is a better place.  More and more companies have recognized the need to help their sales reps to think and act strategically.

So what are some additional tips for getting that right?  Recently we came across a great article in the Harvard Business Review by Mark Chussil about frameworks that can help salespeople to do a better job thinking strategically.  The article was about business strategy in general but we thought it was particularly useful for those of us in sales.

Mark’s first suggestion is to shift from starting with the question “What should we do?” to a question that tends to broaden the alternatives – “What could we do?”

The notion of “could” asks what if?, what else?, or why not?  The article provided several specific framing questions:

  • Imagine you could do it again and you’re saying, “I wish we’d thought about X.” What is X?
  • Ask what would be the equivalent to your situation in another division or territory and how would they strategically handle it.
  • Ask what you’d do if you were a new company preparing to enter your market.
  • Ask what you’re afraid your competitors might do.
  • Note your favorite metaphor for business: chess, war, making deals, enriching share­holders, satisfying customers. Switch to another.

Today markets are going through transformational changes. The medical sales and technology industries are classic examples. Buyers are changing what they buy, how they buy and what they are willing to pay for it.  Moreover in the future the dust is unlikely to settle.  Instead the new constant will likely be a constant state of change.

In such a market environment there is limited room for the “tried and true.”  From a strategic perspective doing the same old, same old is not going to carry the day.  Thinking and acting strategically to bring unique innovative ideas to each account will take on increased importance.

Sales reps and companies that adopt the “let’s just stay the course” strategy are likely to continuously erode their competitive advantage.  “Tried and true” is likely to reemerge as “Sorry and Sad.”


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

©2017  Sales Momentum® LLC

Posted in Sales Best Practices, Sales Strategy, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

Wishing you a successful sales year.  Keep an eye on the Sales Training Connection for new ideas that may help you improve your sales performance.

To a smashing 2017,

Janet and Richard

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Making it all connect: the power of sales enablement

From time to time we post a guest blog written for the Sales Training Connection.  Today we thought we would share with you some thoughts from Rachel Davidson of Highspot.


Sales enablement technology helps accelerate the time towards close and gives you the power to leverage faster, better, and stronger sales best practices.

At its heart, modern sales enablement exists to organize, strengthen, and drive results in these three concrete ways:

  1. Content management
  2. Customer engagement
  3. Content performance analytics

Driving Improved Sales Performance by Better Connecting Sales Training

We know that sales training is a key building block to setting your team up for success. But how do you improve the relevancy – and by extension, the effectiveness – of your sales training?

A recent survey of nearly 400 B2B respondents titled “The Sales Enablement Practitioner Survey” found that companies who use sales enablement position themselves to dramatically improve their conversion rates.  For example:

  • Companies focused on sales enablement found…
    • On average 10% improvement in pipeline conversion rates.
    • 50% of companies saw improved conversion rates greater than 10%.
    • 23% of companies saw improved conversion rates greater than 20%.
    • 11% of companies saw improved conversion rates greater than 30%.

One of the foremost objectives of modern sales enablement platforms is to help reps achieve even higher conversion rates by enabling access to training and onboarding material on the same platform as the rest of their content.

Accessing Training & Content Together Saves Time

Sales enablement does more than just drive sales effectiveness; it increases sales efficiency by saving your reps time to do what they do best: sell.

When reps can access sales training and sales content via the same platform, they’re in better position to save time and engage customers more effectively.

Unfortunately, too much of a salesperson’s time is spent on non-sales activities, like searching for and organizing content. By implementing a sales enablement platform that syncs with your other existing platforms and sales training materials, you can have all of your work in one place and eliminate time-wasting digging, sorting, and guessing which content works.

Ultimately, you should be aiming to engage with your customers more effectively, and that means presenting them with the type of content they want, when they want it.

Making Sales Effectiveness Happen

One of the most valuable benefits of a modern sales enablement platform is it delivers the ability to organize and prioritize your sales training and content. However, it’s important to remember that it’s the best content at the right time that lends itself to increased sales effectiveness

Let’s look at four ways that show how some of the best sales enablement platforms do this via effective Sales Content Management

  1. Browsing and Filtering: Flexible and effective approaches to using lists and filters to organize product lines, customer segments, regions, or whatever makes sense for you.
  2. Salesforce Integration: Seamless integration with your preferred CRM system for instant accessibility.
  3. Intelligent Recommendations: Advanced machine learning analyzes which sales content, at what time, and in what way is most positively impacting your business.
  4. Cloud File Sharing Integration: Integrating with Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Alfreso, and other cloud file systems keeps you one step closer to your content.

Plus, you’ll have the ability to pitch content via a wide range of media, track analytics to measure customer engagement, integrate with your existing sales platforms, and optimize your sales cycle with intelligent machine learning.

Focusing your Process on Results

The key to achieving faster conversions and higher sales ultimately comes down to the process it takes to get there.  At its core, a modern sales enablement platform can deliver: stronger sales in less time.

By strengthening your sales pipeline with organized content, customer engagement, and potent analytics and connecting sales training, you’re setting your reps up for success.

About Rachel Davidson

Rachel Davidson is a content specialist for Highspot, a leading sales enablement platform for content management, customer engagement, and analytics.

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Selling at C-level and the too late-too little puzzle

Selling to C-Suite Puzzle

Selling to C-Suite Puzzle

In major accounts sales success at the C-level is a “do or die” proposition.  What makes it particularly challenging is “one strike and you’re out.”  There’s no second chance to get it right.

Successfully selling to senior executives is a book with many chapters. However, three footnotes are particularly important:

  • When do you sell to senior executives?
  • How do you gain access?
  • How do you get it right?

When do you sell to senior executives?  Senior executives are not equally engaged throughout the buying cycle. They are involved early and late and tend to delegate the middle of the buying process to others. Let’s begin at the beginning – early engagement.

Senior executives attention is merited early in the buying cycle since that is when the operational and financial parameters of the project are defined.  In the middle of the buying process attention turns to evaluating competitive options, a step that is usually handled by others.

The trap for salespeople is getting to the senior executive too late after they have turned over the decision process to others.  By then, you have lost your ability to help shape the scope of work and to position the fit of your capabilities.  This is particularly telling when the competition has done it right.

A correlated reason for getting in early and getting it right with senior level executives was pointed out in an excellent study by Steve Martin.  Martin interviewed 1,000 customers as part of a win-loss analysis study.  The results indicated – “Approximately 30% of the time, the winner of the sales cycle was determined before the official selection process started. Another 45% of the time, customers had already made up their minds about the winner halfway through the buying process.”  This means “75% of the time, customers make their final decision halfway through the selection process.”

How do you gain access?  The research is clear and straightforward. The most effective approach for gaining access to a senior executive is a recommendation from a key influencer inside the organization.

There is a second reason why the key influencer is helpful.  A conventional piece of wisdom is even if you don’t know much about a company or their needs you ought to push for a meeting as soon as possible.  This idea makes no sense and should be labeled a “worse practice.”

You have to be prepared and meeting with key influencers is a great way to get there.  Being prepared means you understand the company.  When you meet with the senior executive you need an overview of the challenges and a point of view about the path forward.

In addition to a recommendation from a key influencer, three other approaches will likely increase the chances of a senior executive granting access to a salesperson:

  • A referral from outside the company from a respected colleague of the senior executive.
  • A referral from a company that is a strategic partner of the executive’s company.
  • Having a previous successful professional relationship with the senior executive.

How do you get it right?  The first requirement is to understand the senior executive on the other side of the table.  Senior executives have different needs, pressures, and perspectives than managers lower in the organization.

From a strategic perspective it is important to keep in mind that senior executives are more concerned about the unknown than the known. They look at the big picture vs. individual snapshots. They are more concerned about the future than the present. They are concerned about topics related to increasing market share, shareholder value and building a competitive advantage not product features.  Most importantly they are seeking insights and new ideas about the company’s strategic challenges not standard product presentations.

From a process perspective, what rarely works is the traditional needs discovery conversation.  We are all familiar with the traditional discovery conversation – it starts with salesperson asking questions to uncover a problem they believe the customer is concerned about and then continues by further development of the problem – ending with the salesperson presenting an overview of their solution for how the problem can be solved.

Why is a sales call like this ineffective with senior executives? The reason at the top of the list is the time spent vs. the value received does not work out very well for the senior executive.  Too much of the time in the meeting is spent on educating the salesperson about a problem the senior executive already understands.

An alternative?  One option is a Point of View business conversation.  A Point of View sales call focuses on helping the senior executive learn something new about a significant strategic challenge for example increasing market share.  The successful salesperson explores the problem from a different perspective, provides new insight about the problem and an innovative path forward.  Needless to say this type of call requires an entirely different type of call preparation and pre-call planning.

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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Negotiation strategy – positioning the glass as half full

Negotiation Strategy

Negotiation Strategy

There are a substantial number of skill sets and bodies of knowledge that constitute the discipline of sales negotiation. In the end, however, the ability to craft and execute a thoughtful and creative plan for the negotiation is a bottom line for achieving a successful end result. This is particularly true in major accounts where the negotiation is complex and there is more to lose and more to gain.

In any major account, if the sales team is actively engaged in the negotiation process without a well-conceived and coordinated plan, they are playing Russian roulette with the long-term relationship with the customer and with the profitability of the sales opportunity.

Anchoring your message.  In building a well-conceived plan the importance of anchoring is consistently underscored as one of the factors for getting the job done. The concept recognizes the old adage – “how you say it is as important as what you say.” Whether the glass is perceived as “half full or half empty” all depends on how one frames the conversation about the contents of the glass.

In a sales negotiation anchoring is all about presenting your concessions on a given issue in a way that justifiably emphasizes the value of those concessions.

The most practical and best-supported phenomena in anchoring relates to the notion that individuals generally do not evaluate concessions in an absolute sense but rather as a change with respect to some reference point.

So the anchoring challenge boils down to selecting the most effective reference point. Is it: the status quo, a prior contract, a competitive comparison or some industry standard? In the end, anchoring is part of how you help your customer understand the value of your concessions. And, remember anchoring will always occur, so if you don’t do it your customer will.

Building value.  It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of anchoring. No concession whether it is on price, technical support or any other issue – has a fixed inherent value.

As part of the anchoring process top negotiators build and verify the value of a concession before they offer it. In doing so in major accounts it is important to remember different people in the account may have different views about the value of a concession.  So how you go about optimizing the value of a concession is position specific. In that regard, the opportunity may exist to use others, such as your internal champion, to influence the value with the major players in the decision process.

A final point. The least desirable outcome is offering in good faith a significant concession, only to find out after the fact, that it had very little value to the customer – hence, the deal was lost. Of course the best situation is to provide a concession of significant value to the customer that “costs” you very little. The moral of the story: being smart about customer value is just as important in a negotiation as it is in any other aspect of selling.

Download our free eb00k – Mastering Magor Account Negotiating now.

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