www.jamie-allan.com Tel: 07786 228553 Email: ja@jamie-allan.com

Adapting to the Supplier Lifecycle

Why is it important for salespeople to understand their customers’ or potential customers’ supplier lifecycle?

It is an undeniable fact that the more we know about our customers’ requirements, the more we know about their procurement and selection process, the more successful we will be. No sales organisation would disagree with this statement; any sales training consultancy would claim that they train sales people to be customer focused.

However, isn’t the reality that usually the first time we get to see the customer requirements clearly defined is when we get sight of the RFP? The same RFP that prescribes what information you must provide, and in what format. If you have not been able to influence the RFP in any way, your chance to differentiate your offer, post RFP, is limited.

So how will understanding the supplier lifecycle help you – not just in the pre-sales phase, but post sales as well?

Put simply – understanding the supplier lifecycle will enable you to map your sales process and thinking to the process and thinking of the customer. This is because the supplier lifecycle is a holistic model – of which procurement is just a part. It covers activities pre RFP and sourcing, and those post engagement – how the customer seeks to work with a supplier once the service delivery or project is live.

As with sales models and concepts, there are a vast number of supplier lifecycle models; however the generic 5 stage approach described here is typical.


Identify – For the product, service, or project in question – establish objectives, outcomes and the detailed requirements at the business, user and technical levels

Research Investigation and planning before moving to sourcing – to ensure that the strategy is focussed on the most effective engagement models with the right “screened in” potential suppliers

Source The formal procurement phase – the step of going to the market with defined requirements, receiving proposals and making selection decisions against pre- defined criteria

Integrate Engaging and transitioning -The iterative stage between sourcing decision and deliver. Designed to ensure that people and processes are aligned in moving from current state to the new business as usual

DeliverImplementing and developing -To ensure that the supplier delivers, as a minimum, what they are contracted to deliver, to quality, time and price. Developing is about investing in the relationship, to enhance performance, and maximising value.

So how can you use this understanding to help you win more sales, and to develop an account?

  1. Use your contacts in your customers to find out what the lifecycle model looks like in their organisation – just asking the question will demonstrate you are trying to understand their world
  2. Investigate to find out who the key stakeholders are at each stage of the cycle
  3. Use your awareness of the integrate and deliver stages to highlight in your RFP response that you understand their expectations of you as a supplier throughout the service/ project duration
  4. Demonstrate your understanding of this holistic approach by asking in depth, searching questions for each phase; more than the usual questions, important though they are, of “what are your requirements?” and “what is your decision making process?”
specialist in improving management of strategic suppliers

improving management of strategic suppliers

Richard Moxham is MD of Supplier Management Training Ltd, a specialist consultancy advising and training clients in improving their management of strategic suppliers – in performance and relationship terms. In a previous life he worked in a number of sales and sales management roles, so can see the world from both customer and supplier perspectives

Progressive Bid Management

Bid Management is a widely used term for any role within the sales cycle that is not clearly identified e.g. sales, technical, production, financial, legal. Within companies it can be interpreted differently across different divisions or countries. But isn’t the role exactly what is says – a person that manages bids? It is a poorly understood role and yet critical to the success of an opportunity.

Sally Buttery

Sally Buttery, award winning bid manager

Bids are risky and ultra-competitive with no second prize. They are critical to winning new work, as well as keeping existing contracts, and are the life-blood of any competitive organisation. Bids are detailed, complex and often large documents detailing how the sales organisation would meet a customer’s requirements. They cover a wide range of issues, from health and safety to customer care and staff issues, and are weighted for quality as well as price.

For the larger complex deals a bid manager is the essential member of the team as the facilitator and driver for timelines, governance and quality against an agreed internal budget. Many companies use project managers for this role but unless bidding is all they do this can lead to disaster. A project manager will approach a bid as another project. The difference between a project and a bid is there is a defined end or delivery point at proposal submission for a bid. There is no contingency or tolerance in a bid and without comprehensive bid planning and the bid manager’s personnel skills then all too frequently team effort will be ‘back-ended’ and the team will work through the night to complete the proposal before the customer’s deadline. A project manager will plan from the start of the engagement, whereas a bid manager has to plan backwards from the submission date. Interpersonal skills are key for the bid manager to influence team members to achieve their individual contributions within a defined and often tight deadline.

I was once asked by a senior sales account manager what my role was. Having explained the extent of the skill set and capability required of a bid manager he said to me “what do I do then?” In this instance the account manager was dealing with highly complex and large opportunities and I was staggered that he found time to manage a dispersed team towards producing a proposal as well as find time to define new opportunities AND maintain his customer relationships.

So when should a bid manager be engaged? As already mentioned, a fully experienced bid manager can be engaged from the initial opportunity identification. At this discovery stage the bid manager acts as a “Capture Manager” ensuring all relevant information is stored, researching the prospect, the competition, relevant solutions and reference-ability.  Frequently the bid manager acts as the sounding board for the sales account manager and interfaces with marketing, commercial, legal and other supporting functions.

This information is critical to a thorough qualification of the opportunity – a stage all too frequently skipped but essential for ultimate success. From this position a bid manager can support the development of the proposition with a full understanding of the requirement, solution, USPs, commercial principles, competitive strategy, win themes, customer ‘Hot Buttons’ etc.

The bid manager is responsible for the ‘look’ of the proposal – not just completing it but ensuring it is professional and suitable for the target customer market. The physical appearance can be influential for the customer and, although it doesn’t necessarily need to be professionally produced it does need to be fit for purpose. I have always considered that a good looking proposal will not necessarily win the business but a bad one can lose it! It is useful to have members of your bid team that are experienced in proposal production – formatting, graphics, print/bind/delivery or electronic upload, burning CDs or memory sticks etc.

Following the proposal submission, the bid manager should monitor the changes that take place during the negotiation period. This important activity ensures that the signed contract reflects the customer’s requirement following negotiated changes and that there are no misunderstandings during the delivery phase.

The role and responsibilities of bid manager jobs vary between organisations but in essence a bid manager manages the risks to the business during the sales or acquisition stage of a customer engagement. So what does good look like?

A senior bid manager can manage a customer engagement from the initial opportunity identification right the way through to handover to delivery. At this level the individual should have:


  • Team identification, management and motivation
  • Process, governance and compliance management
  • Bid planning, prioritisation and scheduling
  • Bid cost management and resource utilisation
  • Qualification
  • Risk identification and management
  • Commercial awareness
  • Communication – verbal and written
  • Facilitation
  • Reporting and presentation
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Research and data collation
  • Sales and business development awareness


  • Leadership
  • Assertive
  • Innovative
  • Drives for results and customer focused
  • Team and relationship development
  • Adaptable

At a more junior level a bid manager will have a subset of the skills and competencies detailed above and would be expected to display the ability to manage the team to develop a quality proposal.

On a more personal note a bid manager should be nimble, tactful, efficient, self-motivated, cope with pressure, conciliatory, articulate, confident speaker, presentable….. shall I go on as it sounds too perfect to be true? It no doubt is and therefore as long as the bid manager demonstrates sufficient capability in all aspects then they are to be treasured.

Article kindly provided by guest author Sally Buttery of Unify.

Reflections on a Challenger implementation

Interview with ThoughtWorks’ Adrian Jones regarding The Challenger Sale

“ThoughtWorks is a global technology company and community of passionate, purpose-led individuals that specialize in software consulting, delivery and products. We think disruptively to deliver technology to address our clients’ toughest challenges, all while seeking to revolutionize the IT industry and create positive social change. We make pioneering tools for software teams who aspire to be great. Our products help organizations continuously improve and deliver quality software for their most critical needs.”

Adrian Jones, ThoughtWorks Studios

Challenger Champion

Adrian is the Vice President Global Sales for ThoughtWorks Studios, who in 2012 championed the transition to Challenger concepts in his sales team.

What sales and selling process was in place before you implemented Challenger?

For larger high touch bespoke projects we had a system based on Miller Heiman with “agile flavours” suited to the agile style and culture of the business. The result was less prescriptive hence allowing sales people scope for innovation and creativity.

For smaller low touch deals we used a cut-down version of this sales work flow. This provided a higher level of structure which suited the more predictable sales cycle events and also helped the sales people who were typically less experienced and less able to engage in the full sales cycle due to geographical distance.

Both approaches were based on the philosophy of collaboration and we encourage people to bring forward their problems as a contribution to our philosophy of continuous improvement.

What made you decide to change?

Three reasons;

  • buying was changing and we had to change to match it
  • we wanted to break down internal silos; sales, marketing, product, support
  • we needed something to match our approach to business which is to challenge our customers who have ambitious missions for their businesses. ThoughtWorks is definitely viewed as a leading-edge company that helps customers solve their most pressing problems.

We found that our existing rigid processes were becoming counter cultural. As a company we hate the “hard sell” and we see ourselves helping our customers to make their own informed decisions to buy. Our aim is always to under promise and over deliver. Traditional sales processes that glorify or concentrate on selling at any cost were seen as very culturally unaligned at ThoughtWorks.

What outcomes were you seeking by changing?

To satisfy the needs described in the answer to the previous question; we wanted to inform customers encouraging them to want to buy from us.

A second outcome was to equip us to more effectively find and win larger deals. We had already been winning big deals but felt that our existing processes and approaches were inadequate so we needed something to improve our effectiveness.

What other options did you look at other than Challenger?

We looked at Solution and Customer Centric selling but found them a bit “old school” and felt they were unlikely to offer any significant improvement over what we already had.

As soon as I found The Challenger Sale it felt right so we stopped looking.

What were the main reasons that led you to choose Challenger?

We already knew that customers wanted to be challenged and they had come to expect this of ThoughtWorks. We had been gaining a reputation in the market for this approach so we needed a selling process to match enabling us to engage directly with customer thinking.

Did you have any specific reservations regarding it as the chosen solution?

We were concerned that it would not be applicable to our inside sales team who handle the smaller shorter sales cycle and deals. This proved to be the case but we were already operating two different systems for large and small deals so this was not a major issue for us.

What was the (geographic and organisational) scope of your Challenger implementation; just UK?

Challenger was installed just in the software tools side of the business; ThoughtWorks Studios. I have a total team of 20 spread between the USA, UK and India.

To what extent have the results fulfilled or exceeded your expectations; good and bad?

Messaging and alignment of business with our philosophy and actions has improved a lot. The silos have largely been broken down and people across the teams; sales, marketing and product, are using Challenger language when talking about opportunities and customers.

There was an initial large influx of ideas as we had a five year backlog of design decisions in our products that required articulating and explaining to our customers in challenger terms but this has now slowed so it needs re-invigorating.

It has helped us to articulate our proposition and its USPs and to gain increasing visibility in the market. It has helped to change the perception that customers have about ThoughtWorks and it has heightened their expectations as to what we are able to deliver to their businesses.

It is not yet seen as business as usual and is considered as the way to deal with difficult situations rather than the standard way to do everything

How did you implement Challenger; e.g. internal resources based on the book, through an external expert, combination of the two or other?

Purely internal; we drove the whole project using the book as the foundation. We created a book club for “theme” teams consisting of a mix of all the key functions. The process was to read a chapter each week (the theme), the team then worked through actual examples and we then had weekly conference calls for each region where the teams presented their approach to the theme. I developed a template so that themes would be prepared and presented consistently across the regions and as we progressed through the book.

Would you do it the same way again?

I would for a team of a similar size but it was a large additional workload for me so I would need to re-think the approach for a larger team. The team were largely behind the initiative so there was little push back which made the project easier from my viewpoint. I spoke to a number of other Challenger users who, in some cases, reported resistance from their teams including blaming the introduction of Challenger for them losing deals.

After the initial training programme how have you continued to train & develop established sales people?

It is an on-going process of top up training sessions and coaching. In fact I am in the process of planning the next set of training sessions to move things forward again. The market continues to change and evolve and so must we.

How important is coaching to maintain standards of usage and application?

Very, but this applies to any selling process; coaching is the key role for a sales leader.

How has Challenger been received by the sales team?

Very well with the sales people working on large complex deal; no one has left in the two years we have been using the system and it is used with genuine enthusiasm.

Although we have not fully implemented Challenger in the inside sales team there are concerns from team members about the things we have introduced. The main concern is the risk they perceive that the approach will lose deals.

What are the distinguishing traits of people who responded best and worst to the new approach?

Those people who already understood the domain that we sell in to, which is about improving software delivery, took most naturally to Challenger; they understand the business environment and the benefits that we deliver so they would embrace anything that helps them to sell in their way but more effectively.

For those who come from a more conventional professional selling background and who are used to using technical people throughout the selling cycle it is more difficult to adapt to Challenger and gain benefits from using it.

Is Challenger used in its entirety or does each person use it selectively? On what basis have any parts of Challenger been omitted or dropped?

I see Challenger as an approach not a complete process. We have amended it to our needs and we still have our own processes covering for example; deal management and deal progress.

As I said before we are not really using Challenger with our inside sales team who handle smaller short-sales cycle deals.

What effect has it had when recruiting new sales people?

None observed as we have not recruited anyone into the team where it is used.

What pearls of wisdom can you share for others considering Challenger?

I have covered some things already but I would like to share a couple of other thoughts.

Firstly, implementing Challenger is potentially a big change and as with any other change you need to get buy-in and genuine commitment from your people otherwise it will probably fail. It cannot be imposed from above and this is why I have remained the champion throughout the project.

Secondly, if you have already decided you need to make changes in the business, as we had, then introducing something involving a major change in approach is easier to justify and explain.

Overall how would you rate its benefits?  Negative, negligible, positive, fantastic, …

Positive but not yet fantastic. It has moved the thinking of the sales people a long way and it is helping us to align all the functions involved in sales and selling. It is definitely helping us to differentiate ourselves against competitors.

Jeff Deighton, insight engineers

Securing business success from working in a structured way

Pressing the “buy” button of your true targets; the value of a stage gate process

A practical explanation of a typical stage-gate process to uncover and press the customer’s buy button and offer some helpful illustrations:


Jeff Deighton

Most of us appreciate that business success and repeat sales have always been a combination of having a compelling proposition and targeting the right people in the right way with activities and resources.  However, the world has changed dramatically in the last 5-10 years, and with nearly every purchase decision today involving some form of trade-off, either instinctive or considered, a real need to understand and aim relevantly at the desires & needs of one’s customers has been heightened.

Permeating everything is perceived ‘value’.  A pressure for ‘ticket price’ value has come from the recessional backdrop and the scalability of on-line purchase & delivery channels, but ‘digital’ has also changed how consumers increasingly interact with, view, and engage with brands.  Many customers now expect some form of relationship, recognition and value as a customer.  This convergence of rational (fiscal) and emotional (good) value is leading many companies nowadays to feel the chill of a mismatch between what they offer and what their customers actually ‘buy into’.

In the short-term this ‘value gap’ leads to reduced sales and reduced margins/profits but in the mid to longer-term, it can be the beginning of the end.  If one’s working practices and culture maintain the same thinking and actions, then the same in–market mismatch and deteriorating performance will also continue.  Those companies not ‘aiming’ and ‘firing’ accurately are never sufficiently ‘ready’ and experience continued sales erosion and lower customer retention.  They perpetuate commoditisation, fail to innovate pertinently and have high employee attrition as well as usually losing out on the best candidates who might be able to turn things around.

The days of offering a single static ‘mono brand’ choice “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black” (Henry Ford, 1922) have long since gone and it has become necessary for most organisations to have a clear, and on-going, ‘stage-gate’ process and decision funnel for keeping their proposition and sales on course.  What a company knows, and uses, is often more important than what it owns.  This superior insight facilitates proposition development as well as relevance and those companies who dip a deeper toe in our market research world and “knowledge economy” are usually the most successful.

Without this structured and grounded process of contemporary understanding and insight, the ability to respond to market conditions and customer/target group preferences, diminishes.  The stage-gate process provides the structured basis and timeline to align to customers and target groups.

At its simplest a stage-gate process has 4 stages where research agencies & consultancies are involved:

1. Insight – what do people want, need or desire and which trade-offs are they prepared to make

2. Verify – checking assumptions and revising propositions & approaches

3. Select – winner(s)

4. Test – final pre-market launch, often including tone and style of communications

Sometimes known as Develop, Check, Screen, Measure.


Scoping knowledge to reveal insights can come from many sources – e.g. desk research, retail audits, qualitative and quantitative research, talking to users, key opinion leaders, multi-disciplinary workshops, analysing your sales figures and customer database etc.  The more one knows, in competitive context, the better one is able to answer the necessary business questions and know which parts of your brand proposition and narrative are working and are fit for purpose.

This is what some people call ‘harnessing the truth’, essentially leveraging the ‘what’ (your offer) with the ‘how’ (experiences with you).  Those firms that adeptly use their knowledge resources to further understand the WHY are the most likely to be the most innovative and the most successful, truly turning knowledge into profitable wisdom.


Beyond sizing & profiling who has, and who has not, bought your product/service, the preceding Insights stage gate helps the project team establish the common language and platform to work together positively through possible proposition avenues and reasons to believe, for future customers & sales.

It is common here to include a stage of multi-disciplinary workshops to identify improvements and new propositions for subsequent verification in-market.  Beyond ensuring all organisational knowledge is included, this workshop process helps enlist necessary internal buy-in and commitment to the process as well as working through envisioned push backs and challenges.  Often this stewardship and structured creativity is entrusted to independent external agencies (like insight engineers).

The next step in this ‘verify’ stage gate is to verify emerging new propositions via qualitative research – if there is more time & it is early in the schedule (and if the ideas are new or more distant to your existing offer).

If closer to the current state of play and more defined and clear these propositions lend themselves to more robust verifications & screening via quantitative research – usually on-line community panels. These platforms can be accessed across the world, e.g. last year such research was conducted across 16 major economies/countries. This type of early quantitative research can be as simple as putting things in order of interest/appeal or likelihood to buy/use or comparing to previous references on brand success factors such as relevance, credible, uniqueness, trust etc.


Nearly every decision made today involves a trade-off, choosing one offer/feature/benefit (rational & emotional) in preference to others.  Two common approaches to market research help to select and define the final offer/proposition.

The first extrapolates the full spectrum of trade-off solutions using conjoint techniques to simulate real-world situations.  This avoids “everything is important” (to be more discriminating) as consumers choose preferences between many individual attributes or bundles of attributes that could make up a product, service or offer.  These can be more macro factor level attributes (e.g. brand; colour; price), or levels within brand architecture (e.g. The Coca-Cola Company; Coca-Cola; Coca-Cola Zero).

A statistically robust predictive model is created from these inputs, a dataset that has a high level of variance explained (low randomness) and, that is highly predictive (of choices).  This conjoint based model describes how much each individual attribute or bundle of attributes contributes to preference in comparison to any other.  Ultimately, therefore, it reveals the best package of levers to pull/push.

The second is a simpler approach is called Triads.  In this simpler trade-off approach, target market respondents are asked to think about which features or benefits they prefer when buying a specific product or when in a particular situation.  People look at all of the possible feature/benefit claims in the marketplace, presented in sets of three (‘triads’), and decide which one they prefer the most.  Each individual feature/benefit is presented several times overall, but never with the same other two features/benefits.  Across the total sample, thousands of different combinations of ‘triads’ are presented for trade-off and in the summary analysis, one can immediately & simply understand the absolute (ordinal ranking) and relative preference, at a total level and for specific target groups – this approach helps clients optimise their value propositions with the right bundle of features/benefits, i.e. those most important to consumers, and is often used for designing future promotions and reward schemes.


It is typical then to conduct a final acceptance test on the final offer before going live to market.  This is what some clients call a final-stage disaster check.  Again this assessment can be conducted via either qualitative or quantitative research and is at its most relevant if the elapsed time line across the Insights, Verify, Select stages has taken longer than 12-18 months.  This final stage check is also common in multi-country launches where you want to double check the new offer will be resonant in the least & most mature markets.  This final Test stage generally has 2 elements – firstly to ensure the needs that have driven the offer still remain valid and secondly that communications such as press ads, brochures and sales aids are hitting the spot in terms of design, content and tone.

The business questions your stage gate process should answer

Over the years, insight engineers have distilled the key business questions heard from clients into the following checklist, essentially covering the 5Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why), What if and How:-

  • Who are our customers?
  • What products/services do they have and how much do they use?
  • What products/services would they like?
  • Why and how do people become customers?
  • Why and how do people leave us for the competition?
  • How much will people pay for our products and services?
  • What is our customer experience?
  • How do people react to our messaging?
  • What do people think of us?

The stage gate framework in use by leading companies

Whilst this article has been written about the 4 key stages in the research agency involvement, this avenue is clearly part of the wider client ‘go-to-market’ planning, so we thought it might be helpful to share with you a typical client-side stage-gate and decision meetings structure:-

Trends and Strategy GATE 1: ‘Basis for Interest’ document

Insights & Ideas GATE 2: ‘Project Establishment’ document

Concept development & planning GATE 3: ‘Build Review & overcoming challenges’ document

Commercialise & pilot GATE 4: ‘Project Commitment’ document

Launch & scale up GATE 5: ‘Launch Agreement’ document

On-going Post Launch assessment GATE 6: ‘Delivery on Expectations’ document

Article kindly provided by guest author Jeff Deighton of insight engineers for our July 2013 newsletter.

Terry Toms

R & D Tax Credits – Hints on eligibility

So why particularly R&D tax credits? Well if you differentiate yourself through truly innovative USPs, perhaps you deserve some support for your efforts.  Will it hurt to at least ask? This could be money you are entitled to and in those cases you will enjoy the benefits of a nice lump sum of overpaid back tax.  Such an injection of funds; with no strings attached, could for example be deployed on a project to accelerate revenue generation and thereby to produce more profit – a virtuous circle indeed!

R & D TAX – Helping to Fund Innovation

Terry Toms

Could you benefit? Request a free R&D Tax Audi

According to the latest government statistics more than 8400 SMEs have benefitted from R&D Tax Credits by an average of in excess of £43,000 – and since then the rate at which R&D Tax Credits are paid has increased by more than 60% and qualifying conditions are now much less stringent than they were. There has never been a better time for SMEs to invest in developing new products, processes, services, devices or materials. Your company does not even have to be paying Corporation Tax in order to benefit – and you can often claim for the last two financial years. The claims process need not be arduous and HMRC will often pay out within 4 or 5 weeks.

Yet – Less than 0.20% of SMEs made claims. In the last six months we have helped more than 50 companies make first claims. These have been worth between £20,000 and £200,000 to those SMEs. R & D Tax Credits can be claimed by almost any limited company. Here a few examples, some of which may not be that obvious:

  • A Test and Calibration specialist developing an innovative air flow testing device and deep cleaning processes for heat exchangers.
  • A legal company developing award winning, innovative, paperless conveyancing processes.
  • Numerous Software development companies developing innovative Cloud based eCommerce and eBusiness systems.
  • A construction company developing project and work control systems using mobile and internet technologies to transform processes, and profitability in managing large refurbishment contracts.
  • A winch design and manufacturing company, developing innovation solutions where none were previously available.
  • A financial services business able to respond with innovative products and marketing/sales methods through the rapid development of eBusiness software.
  • A firm of bailiffs able to develop portable and web systems which transform operational processes efficiency and cash collection rates.
  • A software development tools company able to create an innovative development platform.
  • An injection moulding company specialising in developing the tooling and manufacturing process to address very complex moulding challenges, creating innovative products and components.
  • A number of companies developing innovative, low cost web hosting services.
  • A conveyor design and manufacturer creating innovative conveyor systems and controls.
  • A highly successful electronics manufacturer winning significant international business, through finding more innovative designs, materials and manufacturing processes.

If you have created truly innovative USPs, perhaps you too can receive some credit for your efforts. Will it hurt to at least ask?

Contact Terry for your free R&D Tax Audit
Article kindly provided by guest author Terry Toms of RandDTax for our April 2013 newsletter.

Deals on Wheels – Optimise your quotes, accelerate your sales cycle

The mobile market is more competitive than ever and some might say, saturated. It seems like every day there’s a new announcement from Samsung, Apple, Microsoft announcing a new, “must-have” mobile gadget.

A lot of these new devices will find their way into the enterprise – Forbes put the compound annual growth rate of shipments to business at 49% over the next four years, many of which will end up in the hands of sales organizations. The surprising thing is that most will only use them for note taking and email (Angry Birds aside). So if you have one of these new tablets, what more should you do with it?

Three areas that we see as delivering immediate value to the mobile salesperson are Configure, Price, Quote (CPQ) tools, Learning and Field Coaching.

Picture a typical scenario, a sales executive on a call with a prospect, with their manager attending to provide guidance and coaching. The customer needs a solution to a critical business problem fast. Imagine two alternative paths from that meeting.

The first – Using the familiar paper-based or manual approach, the rep returns to the office the next day with the notes scribbled on a notepad. After wasting 60 minutes looking through the ambiguous filing system on the laptop, the sales person finds a 2 year old copy of a pricing spread sheet with out of date products, pricing and incorrect margins. After spending a whole day copying, pasting, replacing text from an old proposal, before deciding to apply an unsanctioned discount, the sales person emails the prospect a word document full of unprofessional mistakes. The deal is either lost or at best severely detrimental to a positive outcome.

The second – With mobile technology, the sales person opens CPQ app on their mobile tablet during the meeting, follows a guided selling process based on company rules, with controlled pricing, suggested up-selling and cross-selling and sends an electronic proposal before leaving the meeting. The electronic proposal is full of relevant case studies and the most up to date product information to present a compelling case for the products and services on offer. The initial proposal maximises the revenue, and is free from errors. The prospect impressed by the rapid, accurate response to their needs, decides to move ahead quickly. The workflow and margin approval rules in CPQ ensure swift progress throughout the negotiations and the deal comes to a swift positive conclusion. Of course, it is never that simple, but since businesses can live or die on the business they bid for, surely a professional, guided and controlled process that maximises revenue and accelerates the sales cycle is one business process that is worthy of strategic review.


Giles House, Vice President, Marketing, CallidusCloud

At CallidusCloud, a supplier in this field, proposal automation is a particularly hot topic with their customer base. Proposal automation can provide a tactical quick fix but done strategically, makes a compelling business case. I recently hosted a session with one of our CPQ customers – Xirrus – who have realised many of the benefits they were expecting as well as a few they weren’t! Their CPQ case study delves deeper into the business case, but one of the key findings was that by simply prompting the salesperson to include an additional service in the quote, Xirrus saw a near 100% attach rate for the service and a significant revenue increase!

A huge benefit, realised by a simple prompt, accessible on a device you can take anywhere. On a recent Configure Price Quote webinar we covered many more of the benefits of arming your sales teams with a mobile app like CPQ.

Article kindly provided by guest author Giles House of CallidusCloud for our March 2013 newsletter.

Sales Force Effectiveness

In a recent survey “60% of Chief Sales Officers (CSOs) reported that, their number one priority was to improve Sales Effectiveness” according to Alinean.com and in a recent report by Deloitte “In 2012, only 50 per cent of respondents indicated they were happy with sales productivity”.

The cost of field sales is rising as is the overall competitive landscape so companies whose business model is reliant on face to face selling are now looking to move from what has been historically viewed as an ‘art’ form, reliant on intuition and personality, into a process where the inputs and outcomes are understood and reproducible, this approach is commonly known as ‘Sales Force Effectiveness’ (SFE). In the world of acronyms, other terms often used in the same sentence as SFE are Sales Performance Management (SPM) and Sales Force Automation (SFA); an overview of these terms is given below before exploring SFE.

Gartner describes SFE as ‘The focus on the tasks and processes of selling’ – the individual tasks and activities a salesperson uses to develop opportunities which are supported through SFE applications and tools. SFE tools should help both managers and sales people optimise and improve the impact of their behaviours on the outcomes in the sales cycle. SPM and SFA form part of the SFE tools.

SPM is the marrying of activity data with business improvement processes in order to drive sales effectiveness. At its core, and the focus of most tools, is the practice of incentive compensation management. SPM is often combined with other tools/approaches, such as activity management, customer focus, territory & quota management, analytics, and coaching.

SFA is used interchangeably with CRM; however, CRM does not necessarily imply automation/focus on sales tasks. In reality there are few if any SFA vendors left and SFA has been consumed within CRM offerings.

Other tools/ areas which should be included within SFE include: Pricing, Territory Management, Sales Training/Coaching, Reporting/Analytics and CRM.

One of the biggest historical challenges in sales management is that many decisions and actions, including investing in tools and training, are made without a clear understanding of their expected impact and how the tools will help achieve this.

Remember you cannot manage the outcome only the input.

SFE Framework: a suggested methodology to start an SFA project

SFE Framework: a suggested methodology to start an SFA project


It is the author’s experience that despite the move towards the appliance of science, many organisations miss out a diagnostic phase either because of a lack of data or because historically frameworks and methodologies were not readily available, yet undertaking a fact based diagnosis is crucial to the overall success of any SFE project. By example, if you do not know current customer coverage and the impact of that coverage how can you determine if this is important and if so at what level.

Example: A bank’s Mortgage Sales team calling on ‘introducers’; the introducers were graded A-F based on revenue. We compared contact rate against revenue and the results showed that if the introducer was not seen at least 6 times in a 12 month period the probability of down trading rose by 50%, however if they were seen more than 15 times there was no probability of up trading. Before the insight, contact with introducers ranged from 0-60 times per annum. Based on this the strategy and KPIs became easy to identify and action.


After analysing the inputs and outcomes from 11 million field sales visits across 9 countries and many industries including Financial Services, FMCG and Pharma we have only seen 6 basic strategy choices/levers (6 Ps) that managers can execute:

  • Productivity
  • Performance
  • Prioritisation
  • Product
  • Place
  • Process

Which choices you focus on is based on which underlying challenge your organisation is trying to address, identified from the diagnosis.

A basic formula which breaks the key behaviours into drivers of sales revenue

A basic formula which breaks the key behaviours into drivers of sales revenue

Metrics/Behavioural KPIs


Many sales leaders do sales forecasts based on last year’s performance, plus the growth rate envisaged by the CEO, the reality is as directors and managers the only things we can manage is the activity, focus and behaviours of our field sales teams, and it is these activities and behaviours that will ultimately lead to revenue.

The chosen KPIs should let us know how we are doing in managing the chosen inputs in a time frame that lets managers manage, influence and change. We have identified 36 main KPIs which relate to the 6Ps.

The validity and timing of the KPIs are also crucial and where many organisations fail, the input data from the field needs to be quantitative and in real time, if you are measuring prospect calls, if you get the number on a Friday you cannot get the week back to try again! Choosing the right tool for sales management is critical, often companies try to repurpose CRM but this focusses on qualitative data and with a significant time lag.

Below are 2 examples within SFE which use data/information to drive performance improvements.

Example 1: Company 1 used to take 6 months to identify sales people who were failing, and often at this point they had ‘gone native’ so had to be let go, losing 6 months of sales effort plus salary and recruitment costs. Analysis showed that the best predictor of sales success was behavioural KPIs i.e. what and how much they did, and these behaviours were set in the first 10 days if not challenged. By using real time field reporting to diagnose failing sales people, the company could and did intervene and reduced failure rates and increased sales.

Example 2: Company 2 identified that typical account coverage of allocated customers was <50% and the customers that had not been contacted were key customer groups. It was decided to allocate sales resources as follows across each 12 week cycle: Top 20% customers by value, Top 20% customers by growth, Top 20% customer fallers, 20% equivalent of prospect calls and 20% equivalent of free choice by the salesman. Each salesman used a field reporting tool and each night they were provided with summary metrics and details of outstanding customer calls. Within one cycle, coverage had exceeded 90% and revenues grew by >20%.Example 1: Company 1 used to take 6 months to identify sales people who were failing, and often at this point they had ‘gone native’ so had to be let go, losing 6 months of sales effort plus salary and recruitment costs. Analysis showed that the best predictor of sales success was behavioural KPIs i.e. what and how much they did, and these behaviours were set in the first 10 days if not challenged. By using real time field reporting to diagnose failing sales people, the company could and did intervene and reduced failure rates and increased sales.


The actions that can be taken within an SFE framework draw from the range of existing interventions such as training/coaching, territory planning to name a few of the more popular ones, the difference comes from application of the diagnostic phase and the definition of success and associated KPIs. Using the old adage, what gets measured gets done!

Data from i-snapshot shows a high correlation between the use of i-snapshot, as measured by system access time and frequency by a sales manager, and the improvement in the performance of his team.


The choice of tools should be the final decision in implementing SFE, the tool should be selected against a clear understanding of the data they can/will produce and how managers will use that data to drive performance. There is not one single tool in SFE but a range of tools depending on the outcome of the investigation process, key areas and sample tools for those areas include:

Alan Timothy; focuses on the science of sales

Alan Timothy; focuses on the science of sales


Article kindly provided by guest author Alan Timothy of  i-snapshot for our February 2013 newsletter.

Let’s put Customer Relationship Management back into CRM

CRM: A shared view of customer interaction

CRM: A shared view of customer interaction

It’s clear to me that there is an ever increasing disconnect between what the acronym CRM has come to mean and the very thing it is trying to address. I think we have to get back to basics, Customer Relationship Management is about what we do as salespeople every day – we see clients, we sell products, we write monthly reports and we convert prospects. These are our daily activities, they define our job.

CRM is supposed to help us to do these things more efficiently. In fact there are a whole host of other things which it can help all of us to do.

Let’s have a quick look at some history. Software systems or personal organisers as they were known then were introduced in the early 90’s. I was delighted because, let’s face it, we needed as much help as we could possibly get – and still do!

So such names as ACT, Maximiser and Psion came into our horizon, the first two still being heavily used today. In the mid to late 90’s, the term CRM came into being when systems such as Siebel, Peoplesoft and Vantive became more enterprise wide, linking sales teams together and expanding to marketing, customer support, help desks and other important customer facing departments. The concept being to bring all client information, contacts and activity together into one single place for everyone to view, report on and action. This has continued into the 20s with Salesforce and Microsoft and myriads of other smaller companies providing ever increasing functionality and technology changes such as Cloud and Mobile working.

As things become more complex, and technological, inevitably CRM seems to have become more system oriented, with less emphasis on the customer relationship management piece. This is where the disconnect has occurred. While CRM needs (lots of) technology and by inference, technologists, we must not lose sight of the project objectives, so system design, roll out, training and allocation of responsibilities are just a few of the important items which must remain with the remit of the business.

Let’s consider the following three points which can bring your CRM programme back on track

Keep it Simple Stupid

As said above, while CRM projects are technical and are complicated this doesn’t mean that the end result can’t be simple. The challenge for the project team is to provide the diversity and range of functionality needed to satisfy all the different interests while making it easy to use.

The 3 click rule is a good one. In design and process development, think about how to do any task in a maximum of three clicks. For example, creating a contact or adding an opportunity. Clearly this is not always possible but by having this rule of thumb in mind it enables the team to view the operation from a business not technical viewpoint.

The average salesman thinks of CRM as a tool to help them. They are not interested in the detail, they are busy with many other things and when they come to use it, it has to be intuitive and simple.

Gather detailed user Requirements

I have heard lots of reasons why software systems get chosen – for example, the boss has used it before, a subsidiary company has some spare licences, it’s cheap.

The correct way to select is to carry out a thorough review. To agree the programme objectives, to determine the complete range of activites which will be included in scope and then to drill down into the data and process details.

Speak to representatives from different functions to ensure that all current and future needs are catered for. Ensure that the technical team are involved with everything along the way as their input throughout is essential. In addition it is important to define all reporting as well as administrative requirements.

Use the business objectives to set project success goals upfront. For example, if reducing the average sales cycle, from 6 to 5½ months, is a goal, agree this at the start and put in simple ways of ensuring that this can measured as the project is rolled out.

Find a solution that is fit for purpose

Getting the right system is important, but CRM is about people and process not just about software.

The most efficient and simplest system will fail without clarity and a real understanding by the users of their data and process responsibilities. Also they need to know the benefits which they will get from using it.

Getting agreement on the data nuggets is key, i.e. those essential bits of information which must be entered. For example, to reduce the sales cycle requires clarity around the sales cycle stages, the definition for when opportunities can be moved from stage to stage. In some cases just percentages are used and sales are given the freedom to add the value that they deem fit. This is ludicrous and adds no value to the process.

Mike Driver, CRM Professional

Mike Driver, CRM Professional

Get end users from all levels in the company to test the complete ‘soup to nuts’ solution thoroughly, kick the software and process tyres and make sure that it meets the business needs and is signed off by them.

Let’s bring the Customer back into CRM and make it the driving force of business operations, instead of sitting in a corner gathering dust!

Article kindly provided by guest author Mike Driver for our December 2012 newsletter.


Is that your LinkedIn profile sat there on a heap of new sales but you don’t realise?

limanI think that there is a huge difference between thinking you’re using and really using the internet to develop the business.  A lot of the time what I see is a public display of vanity rather than a commercially fueled injection of sanity.  But it doesn’t replace every other communication channel and tool!  The internet, social media, telephones and old school cards are just tools of “the trade” – whatever professional role you are in.

But how many industrial injuries are caused by tools each year?  In one case the CEO of a board I trained had seven (!) years of unactioned invites in his inbox on LinkedIn, he was mortified when I explained what they were and asked how he would feel if he invited his suppliers and they never responded.  I tactfully suggested he should accept them and then send each a nice note to say sorry, just had a LinkedIn Course and perhaps they ought to catch up.

How many sales people and professionals actually make this LinkedIn “stuff” work?

My experience is very few until I train them, which is really sad, and it’s not just a UK thing either but a global phenomenon.  LinkedIn is the most underutilised free sales tool on the planet!

I work with many globals and when I audit them the profiles are shocking, the company profiles are dire and the way that they use, behave and convert the tools to more effective engagement and shorter sales cycles … well let’s just say it leaves me scope for improvement.

All tools are good, if used well, at the right time and in the right way.  At the moment my best guess is 5-10% of LinkedIn users are there; I cannot and wouldn’t comment on all the other internet tools but suspect it could be very similar.

James Potter; LinkedIn expert

James Potter; LinkedIn expert

As for the impact of LinkedIn on sales, this depends on how you use it.  I have one client that counts results in Millions of pounds so like all tools, used well and used at the right time = fabulous results, but used badly = frustration, wasted time and at worst self harm as you publicly demonstrate your lack of engagement, your lack of focus on your personal or corporate brand.

Check out this blog about why your organisation should be using LinkedIn.

If you’re not getting results on LinkedIn perhaps we should talk?

Article kindly provided by guest author James Potter the Linked In Man for our November 2012 newsletter.