Timing is Crucial

Time may be of the essence …

… but timing is crucial when selling!

Other than with the most-simple proposition, selling will involve the sales person in multiple touches or points of contact with a number of different people in the prospect’s organisation. Touches could involve, for example; phone calls, e-mail, texts, social media messaging, meetings, demonstrations or presentations.

Which people you speak to and the sequence and timing of the steps is crucial to achieving a successful outcome within an optimum timescale.

This is partly about increasing your chances of success but also about shortening the elapsed time taken to get to the point of decision. This is somewhat of a virtuous circle as getting to the decision point quickly usually increases your chances of winning as you wrong foot the competition.

Here are a few simple techniques to ensure an engagement cycle with a prospect stands the very best chance of producing a successful outcome; successful both for the prospect and the hopeful supplier.

  • Keep in mind your own ideal engagement process that you have created to give you the best chance of winning deals the; events & actions, steps & milestones, timing for each, and overall elapsed time required to get to the decision point.
    Aenea&Micah on the trapeze

    Customer-Supplier process handshake

    • As soon as you start meetings with the prospect test your engagement process to see if it works for them and if it doesn’t, agree to an amended process and timetable that works for both of you.
    • If the prospect wants to skip steps that are important to you negotiate; seek their agreement to include the events and activities you really need in the process.

Be flexible in your process; one size may not be the appropriate fit in all circumstances. The philosophy revolves around risk management and required outcomes.

  • Continually be mindful of the stage you are at and behave appropriately. A simple example; if you are calling someone to arrange the first meeting, focus purely on that objective; don’t try selling them anything other than the meeting.
  • Allow time for the two separate functions of relationship building and opportunity identification & pursuit.
    • Plan time to nurture each separate contact and don’t assume because you know one person well the good karma will automatically transfer to others; account engagement is actually a series of new business encounters.
    • Be clear in your mind as to what you want to achieve at each touch point and focus on that.
    • Be sincere; don’t pretend you are trying to become best buddies when all parties know your sole objective is to secure a deal for your company. No one minds this but what people don’t like is pretence.
  • Identify or create requirements? If the prospect says “I need/want ….” then of course you respond to that in a positive manner but there could be hidden opportunities that the prospect may not have recognised.
    • When talking about a stated requirement always look for opportunities to upsell or cross sell.
    • Be ready to be pushed back; explore the objection politely and positively and if the prospect is adamant then revert to dealing with the requirement as stated, but don’t forget, the additional opportunity you spotted is something for the future.

If you consider applying just one new technique to your own engagement approach then make it this one.

  • NEVER consider a step in your agreed engagement process to be complete until you have agreed a date and time for the next step; don’t leave a meeting having agreed to produce a proposal without putting a date in the prospect’s diary for the meeting when you present your proposal.

This is all about keeping things simple; I see a lot of situations where the tendency is to over-complicate the processes of customer engagement and opportunity pursuit.  This often leads to protracted timescales and an increased risk that the prospect will do nothing or they will go ahead with a supplier who is willing and able to move quickly.  Make sure it’s you that moves quickly and you will win more business.

First published on  LinkedIn Pulse

Rejected proposal

Sales Proposals

…why, when and how?

Rejected proposalThe presentation of a proposal often leads to what has become a common problem; the supplier believes significant progress is being made and they expect a response but the prospect becomes un-contactable and/or previously discussed actions and timescales are forgotten.

Proposal: “a plan or suggestion, especially a formal or written one, put forward for consideration by others.”

Three points jumped out at me when I read this definition which might explain this misunderstanding:

Plan or suggestion. Many of the proposals that I review fail to put forward a plan but lots do make suggestions or try to commence a discussion.  For a proposal to stand the very best chance of producing a successful outcome it must present a plan for the delivery of what has already been discussed and agreed between the supplier and buyer. Using a proposal to “make suggestions” or have a discussion is a recipe for failure.  Documenting suggestions before a meeting may be a useful part of the process but this document is NOT a proposal.

Selling tip: Do not provide a proposal until every aspect of the problem, and your solution, has been discussed thoroughly and all points of contention have been resolved. The proposal documents what is already agreed.

For consideration by others. This raises the next big issue that contributes to proposals becoming interminably stalled or failing altogether.  If your proposal is going to be reviewed by people you have never met the chances of that proposal failing increase significantly.  Your proposal can only be based on what you have been told by the people you have met and while they can give you an impression of what might matter to others who will review your proposal those impressions can never provide a complete picture.  How many times have sellers been told “sorry, I liked the proposal but the FD didn’t”?

Selling tip: Take the time to find out the name and position of everyone that will be involved in reviewing the proposal and do everything you can to meet them or at least speak to them on the telephone. If you do end up with decision makers or influencers where you have had no direct contact you will need to work hard on your contacts to ensure you know as much as possible about their decision making criteria.  One of the most important parts of a proposal is the Executive Summary .

Formal or Written.  Written documents, paper based or electronic, are still the most common format for proposals and in many cases they are the appropriate format to summarise and document an agreed offer.  Note the word agreed; the proposal should contain nothing that would be unexpected or new to the prospect. The cardinal rule of proposals is NO SURPRISES!

An alternative approach that we have found to be very effective is to present your proposed solution in a workshop with all the stakeholders who will be involved in the decision. Using this interactive format does permit you to; make suggestion, float ideas, try out alternatives and the end result is a consensus as to what the solution should look like. Following the workshop you will simply need to confirm what is now agreed and for a simple case that can be in an e-mail and for more complex situations you will present a plan including a schedule of activities and the timetable for delivering them.

Selling tip: At an early stage in the engagement cycle with a prospect agree the process, format and timing for the creation and presentation of the proposal. It’s all tied to their buying process.

OK, so why, when and how:

Why produce a proposal?  Most business sectors, industries and markets come with a set of this is how it is done behaviours and habits.  For many B-2-B environments the habits will include formal, probably written, proposals.

Business tip: have a rigorous, proportionate process in place to review all opportunities ensuring the deal is something the business; wants, can deliver and stands a reasonable chance of winning.  Such reviews should be conducted at key milestones from first contact with the prospect through to a final review before committing the effort to produce a proposal.   

Why not consider breaking the mould; the supplier should ask the prospect how they would like to proceed and whether a written proposal is what they want.  If it is agreed that a proposal will be done the supplier should produce it with the sole purpose of documenting and confirming what has already been agreed and accepted during conversations with all stakeholders in the prospect’s decision making unit.  The proposal is then useful to both parties as it functions as a common understanding of what will be done, by when and for how much. It defines the obligations on both parties thus avoiding many of the potential causes of conflict once the project is underway.

For larger opportunities prospects may have a formal process including a number of steps such as; Request for Information, Request for Proposal or questionnaire type tender documents. If this really is the way the prospect wants to proceed, the supplier will have to play to the rules, but there is always scope to provide a compliant response whilst also taking the opportunity to present an option that differentiates you as a supplier.  This technique is at its most powerful in situations where the tender request demonstrates that the prospect is ill informed on some aspects of the problem or alternative solutions.

When?  The proposal should come after all points of discussion and negotiation have been resolved.  It is also important not to present the proposal too early in the decision cycle; it should be the only thing left to do before the prospect is ready to make their decision.  There is a sound argument for presenting a proposal in two steps; the first describing the solution you are proposing and why it might be the best and then separately, once the prospect has accepted your solution, you confirm (you will have already discussed it) your quotation for providing the solution.

Just to be clear; a quotation is NOT a proposal unless you are quoting for something with a recognised publicly available specification or something the prospect has bought from you before.  A true proposal effectively represents a specification for a bespoke solution.

How?  The only answer to this question that really matters is; as agreed between the supplier and buyer.  If the market or business sector has accepted ways of doing things this may be the way forward but challenging the norm may produce a better result for all concerned. For the supplier, challenging the norm with a better idea will help to differentiate them from their competition.

Further reading; timing of a proposal or  proposal production or getting your proposal due consideration

mouse in maze hunting cheese

New year, new challenges?

As you start a new year, and reflect on the old; does your business feel the same?

When we last looked at this topic we asked “Did someone move your cheese?

The question was inspired by a book; Who Moved My Cheese, written by Dr. Spencer Johnson first published in 1999.
mouse in maze hunting cheese
In our earlier article we explored two areas where many businesses are suffering imposed change; the way they define and present their propositions and the way they take those propositions to market. While both issues are still very important as they continue to cause problems for many businesses this article explores some additional “cheese moving” forces that are impacting on business performance and productivity.

In the book, the mice handle the unexpected change in different ways and basically two of them stubbornly keep returning to the same place hoping the cheese will be there while the other two, aptly named sniff and scurry, immediately go looking elsewhere.

Problems cannot be solved with the same mind-set that created them

Albert Einsten

The message for any business; you must be in a permanent state of anticipation, ready and willing to adapt and ready to quickly embrace change as soon as the need is foreseen.

Let us assume your proposition and the way you take it market is working well but performance is still below expectations e.g. fewer new customers, less repeat or add-on business, longer sales cycles, or completely stalled decisions. Two key areas that are often found to contribute to these problems are your sales & selling processes and the way the sales pipeline is populated and managed. It can be difficult to spot these issues especially if your processes and pipeline management approach have been in place for a while and they used to serve you well. If change is slow, like the trees in a wood, it can be difficult to spot when you are inside the wood.

It is also the case that the change is often externally driven; someone has moved your customers’ cheese, which again makes it difficult to spot unless you employ a rigorous account management approach which focuses on the relationship as well as the work you are doing for the customer. This is a topic in itself that we will look at in a later newsletter.

Sales & Selling Processes

The question I am usually asked is; what is the difference between sales and selling in this context? Basically, the sales process is used to create and build a relationship with a prospect or customer while the supplier deploys the selling process when pursuing individual deals with a prospect or customer.

Here are a few pointers on what makes for good sales and selling processes.

Selling process:

Many would typically expect this to come after the sales process, but maybe if you first look at how you are going to close deals based on how your customers will buy, might that provide better information for designing your sales process?

“Begin with the end in mind”

Stephen Covey

  • The essence of a successful selling process is that it aligns with or better still mirrors the buying processes used by prospects and customers. There are two aspects to this; the generic buying processes used in your industry and by the sort of companies that become your customers and then the specific buying process used by each individual customer. As an example of generic buying process, consider how an owner managed business with 10 employees might go about it compared to the approach that a multi-million pound turnover global enterprise might approach it.
  • The selling process must be flexible enough to work with the whole gamut of customers and customer types you want to trade with.
  • The selling process is sometimes characterised as being a series of techniques and even tricks. If this is an indication of how sales people behave then it is easy to see why some get such a bad press. Executed properly a selling process is like any other professional discipline being built from a series of connected steps with rules that govern the progress across the steps leading to a predictable outcome.

Sales process:

  • Needs to be completely joined up enabling the evolution of a customer relationship to proceed smoothly. This is especially important where different departments are involved; web design & digital marketing, PR, marcomms, tele-marketing, sales enablement, etc. There was a time when these functions would have been under a single manager but this is often not the case which can lead to a silo mentality when what is required is absolute cooperation. The need for cooperation and joined up thinking becomes even more important when some of the functions are undertaken by external companies or contractors.
  • Needs to be fully integrated with other functions that are not directly associated with the sales process, but do have a contribution to make, such as; finance, logistics or technical support. All elements of the extended sales team need to have the same level of information and understanding of the strategic objectives so they can “sing from the same hymn sheet.”
  • Needs to be fully integrated with the selling process. One of the most common complaints that we hear is “they don’t understand what we need/do” and this is made by marketing people about sales people and also the other way around. If , for example, a decision is made to attend a trade show all too often marketing see this as their project which can mean they do not involve the sales staff until the 11th hour when it is realised they will need to follow up on people who visit the company stand at the show.

All elements of the sales and selling processes should seamlessly mesh into the business, with someone given responsibility for ensuring it all works as a single entity – the trouble spots are often at the interfaces so this would be the starting point for exploring performance weaknesses.

Pipeline – population and management

The sales pipeline should provide a reliable and accurate indicator of two key things; how many suitable prospects and opportunities you have moving through your sales funnel and how many of them you convert in a timely manner into profitable business.

This enables you to fine tune your targeting such that the pipeline can provide the essential source of reliable forecasting information enabling you to predict future revenues. If the prediction shows revenue below target for the next quarter you have time to look for additional business to fill the hole. Knowing with reasonable confidence what revenue will be each week, month and quarter facilitates more cost effective resource planning; cash, people, materials, external partners, etc.

Unreliable pipeline information is the most common complaint we have been hearing from our prospects over recent years and here are a few clues as to the cause of the problem and also a few suggestions to start fixing it:

  • The information in the pipeline should be in a consistent format, based on consistent objective criteria used by all sales people. Sounds simple but few do this well.
  • The information in the pipeline should be supported by; details of the product or service quoted for, the quote calculation, the competitive position, the decision date and criteria, and the win strategy. None of this should be down to gut feel; any assumptions need to be challenged.
  • We suggest a process of quantification is used as the basis of the formula used to calculate probability. What this marks is a move from the qualitative information used when developing a contact relationship to the factual information required to generate a reliable forecast.
  • All items in the pipeline should be the subject of regular scrutiny in a one-to-one review between the sales person and the sales manager. If there are doubts e.g. as to the decision date, the sales person should be tasked to confirm with the prospect; in the knowledge that the sales manager may reserve the right to also contact the prospect to discuss the opportunity. All too often decision dates are put as the last day of the month which typically means the sales person hasn’t done the work to really know. The decision date must be linked to a specific event, such as a board meeting, not to the sales person’s hopes.
  • A useful quick way to test an item in the pipeline is to ask three questions; Why, why now and why you. Good sales people ask these questions of themselves and their prospects but the sales manager should ask them as well.
    • Why; do they have the need or want, what is the problem they are trying to avoid or solve, and what benefits and value do they want to gain from making the purchase?
    • Why now; is there a sufficiently compelling reason for them to definitely make the purchase now? One of the most common reasons for stalled deals in sales pipelines is that the prospect does not have an imperative to make a decision; the pain isn’t bad enough so it feels less risky to do nothing.
    • Why you; can they fix it themselves, is there an incumbent supplier in place, who are your other competitors, and do you have something special or at least different which matters?

Everything in the pipeline should stand up to the rigour of an evaluation against the SMART formula (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time-based); of these Agreed is the most important.


To ensure you can recognise when the cheese has been moved (for you or your customers), you need to periodically review the way you are monitoring your business, your market and your customers. You must ensure your sales & selling processes and pipeline management system provide you with pertinent leading indicators; it is much less painful to dodge the pothole than to repair the tyre after you’ve hit it.

The entire sales and selling operation should be systematically focused on business as usual and in particular delivering on the business plan for the current period. This enables identification and assessment of minor and major changes required to deliver on the current and future business plan.

Two final points to take into consideration:

  1. Keep it simple! You will all have seen horror stories of sales people who spend just 20% of their time actually selling and while I think 20% is very much the exception I frequently observe 60% to 70% which means three sales people are as productive as two would be with better designed systems and processes.
  2. I haven’t mentioned; CRM, ERP or any other computer based systems. While such tools can make an invaluable contribution they often exacerbate a bad situation. The introduction of such tools should be applied to existing processes that actually work in order to make them more effective and efficient. But, all too often, the introduction of a CRM does little more than computerise an inadequate set of generic processes.
    Similarly, using the introduction of a CRM as a means to impose sales and selling processes rarely works; shoehorning an artificial view rather than reflecting the way the sales operation actually functions. This leads to the oft observed situation where sales people see the CRM as an unhelpful administration burden on top of a very busy day or week doing the real job.

If you would like a high level view of how your sales and selling operation is performing try our free assessment.

Brain-food for a New Year

holly-sprigHere’s wishing you a happy and healthy festive break and a successful 2017.

As you will soon be thinking about winding down for a well-earned break at Christmas we thought we would provide some food for thought some of which might help you hit the ground running as soon as the new business year starts.

Following are a range of business tips, many focused on sales and marketing, which we hope might help you and your business.  Some are based on topics we have previously covered while others will be expanded in future newsletters throughout 2017.

Read in sequence or click the button of interest:

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dec11 dec3 dec14 dec16
dec13 dec12 dec22 dec5
dec21 dec2dec6 dec19

Most businesses are doing well these days but it is unusual to find one that doesn’t want to do even better.  If this is you, why not do something different or try doing the same thing differently?  Try something counter intuitive; what is there to lose if what you have been doing isn’t working as well as it did …

to keep doing it hoping for a different outcome was defined by Albert Einstein as insanity.

Has someone “moved your cheese”?

The question relates to the idea put forward in Dr Spencer Johnson’s book “Who Moved My Cheese?” that the source of whatever feeds you (in business; customers and new opportunities) may dry up at some point.  The book draws a parallel between the fruitlessness of continually returning to the now shrinking source and the alternative proactive approach of going out and looking for new sources.  If you have all the business you need to grow to plan don’t give this a second thought, but if new business has been tight in 2016 perhaps you need to look somewhere new.  Read more here


Why wouldn’t you respond to RFI/RFPs?

If they come from/via a known source, a prospect you have been working with for some time or an established customer, you might choose to respond as you have enough information to assess the risk of losing.  But, if it has come from a company that you barely know the received wisdom suggests your chance of winning is 1:20 or even worse so I recommend you invest your time elsewhere.


Do you have customers or clients – does it matter?

Many businesses use the word client in the misguided belief that it adds some sort of professional gloss to their image through an implied association with the real professions such as the law. The problem is that client relationships are typically infrequent or transactional being built around specific event(s).  In our view using the term client may say the wrong thing about your brand image and what your business stands for.


How do your Account Managers stack up as Hunters?

A common model these days is account managers who manage and “farm” established customers while hunters take care of new business; a good model that I have seen work well in many companies but there is one potential big weakness.  Your customer is, in the eyes of your competitors, a new business opportunity so their hunters will be trying to steal “your” customer.  The risk for you is that if your account managers use a “passive/re-active” style to manage the customer they are matched against a hunter who will be assertive/pro-active.  This is not a fair fight so you need to ensure your farmers also know how to hunt. Read more



We all understand this word but not everyone considers it when planning how to engage with a prospect or to maintain a continuing relationship with a customer.  Simplistically; you must communicate with your prospects and customers in a manner they can understand. Discover more here


Cold is not the same as unsolicited

There is a lot of negative chat these days about cold calling and while some of it is justified it is a mistake to confuse cold and unsolicited.  Every time you approach someone for the first time it is unsolicited – fact!  I see a dangerous trend these days that people are so fearful of being seen as one of those horrible cold callers or spammers they have backed off completely from all forms of proactive one-to-one communication with prospective customers.  So how are you going to find new customers? The key is to ensure your unsolicited communications are warm not cold. More on cold calling here


Warm up your calls and other first touch points

How do you feel when you receive a call from someone you don’t know, offering something you either don’t need or have already got?  To earn time for a conversation why not use the wealth of data publicly available to learn about your prospect, their business, the problems they may have, the problems in their business sector, etc., etc.  Take that data, process it into useful information and use that to empower your contact strategy – ask pertinent questions so you can talk about the benefits and value they will gain from the solution, rather than the products and services you provide.


How reliable is your sales pipeline as a source of forecasting information?

If 2016 has been littered with delayed decisions and prospects disappearing off the radar you may gain value from reading this article.  The key message is that you need to put in the work to qualify your prospects and to quantify the opportunities before you can use the sales pipeline as a source of reliable forecasting information.


AIDA – attention, interest, desire, action

The oldest documented sales and selling philosophy but as true today as it was when first published almost 120 years ago.  The sequence is key and all too often these days’ sales people assume because they are in a meeting with a suspect that they have achieved AID so they focus on action; shall I do a proposal, would you like a quote or demonstration?  The sales person may be ready to do these things, and the other party will probably agree as it is free information for them, but until the suspect has been developed into a true prospect free consultancy such as proposals will almost certainly be a waste of effort as you may have their Attention but you are mistaking courtesy for Interest and Desire.


Sales proposals – a good or bad thing?

Assuming you have arrived at the right point in the cycle and there is genuine interest and desire then a proposal may be a good thing provided you use it in the right way.  A proposal should only ever document and confirm what has already been discussed and ideally acknowledged and accepted by the prospect. A proposal can be a very dangerous thing if it contains information, conditions, costs, etc., that the prospect was previously unaware of.  Think about it; you inform the prospect there is a delivery and installation charge calculated at 10% of the selling price, but you are not there to see the response, justify the extra cost or deal with the inevitable objection!

Read more …



No not our wonderful air force but a mnemonic for the way sales engagement should be pursued – Ready, Aim, Fire.  Sadly, all too often what I observe is; fire, aim, ready.  The sales person feels good because they are doing something but doing the wrong thing or in the wrong order is worse than doing nothing at all.


Questions – our most powerful communication tool

Many sales people think it is their role to talk so they can tell the prospect how great their product or service is.  Problem is, while you are talking you are not learning and the most important thing for you is to learn about; your prospect, their challenges and above all what you need to offer them in a solution that they will buy.

    1. Ask open questions, listen carefully and empathetically, ask your next question based on what you heard not what you had written down before the meeting or call and continue the cycle until you have all the information you need.
    2. Ensure you ask questions appropriate to the engagement stage.  While it is perfectly reasonable to ask, for example, about the performance impact the prospect is suffering due to using old equipment, it may be seen as impertinent if you ask this at the first meeting.  Questions should be structured and layered so you build up a complete picture over successive conversations.
    3. Asking the right sort of questions is a demonstration of your knowledge, e.g. “How often do you have to close the warehouse to allow maintenance of the high bay lights?”  This says you understand a small part of their world and when they answer you can assume you have moved a little closer to them trusting and respecting you.
    4. Don’t answer unasked questions. “Your price is too high” is frequently heard but it is not a question so don’t answer it and definitely don’t defend or justify your position.   Instead ask a question – “How much of an issue is that for you” and once answered “Will this stop you doing business with us?” For more on this take a look at this article.


Polite persistence

A term used in the film Door to Door which is one of the greatest lessons in effective sales and account management techniques I have ever seen.  It is common that suspects and prospects will say no or, just ignore you, innumerable times so how can you keep calling without offending?  Two things; make every attempt to connect different from the last so the prospect keeps seeing/hearing something new, and always be positive and polite hiding your impatience or disappointment.


Process matters

Being systematic is the best way to gain a predictable outcome.  I have often heard it said that sales people won’t follow a process; they are free ranging, creative people who want to do their own thing. Don’t kid yourself, the best sales people have their own process running in their heads like a background computer program and if they refuse to follow the company process it is because theirs is better.  Find out how your most successful people work and build that into your process for all to follow.


Never finish a step in your process without agreeing at least one more with your prospect

When a sales person tells me about the great meeting they had with a prospect that then becomes un-contactable, it triggers two thoughts:

    1. They think they have a prospect but the other party probably doesn’t see themselves that way so they have no reason to respond to the sales person.
    2. At the end of the meeting the sales person should have agreed explicitly with the prospect what will happen next and ensure the prospect puts this in their calendar.  At this point some will decline to agree the next event date which is a good indication that they are not a real prospect. This is an example of a technique known as the trial close.


The trial close

A very effective classic sales technique that is little used these days. Simplistically the technique involves asking the prospect, at logical points in the engagement cycle, whether they are ready to go ahead and purchase from you.  If they say no then it triggers “why not?” and the answer will give you early insight to the reasons or objections the prospect might have that will stop them buying from you. Knowing early enables you to more effectively deal with the objections and a better chance of winning the deal. Give it a go; what can you lose?


Get your competitors to help your prospecting

In the majority of cases your prospects are someone else’s customers so part of your prospecting run must involve exploring why your prospect may be dissatisfied with what they are already getting, what they might like in addition and what needs to happen for them to change supplier.  So, rather than knock your competition, ensure you highlight all of your strengths and in particular those that trump the incumbent suppliers weaknesses.  All is fair in love and war!


Product, Service or solution?

Whether what you are selling is a product, a service or a blend of the two you need to present it in terms of the solution it delivers.  You need to help the prospect or customer visualise what they will gain from trading with you. Read more here.



The crucial component in all aspects of business performance and in particular customer facing roles such as sales and account management.  Here is a very brief introduction to four crucial aspects of people performance.  We have written much about this in the past so there is plenty more for you to read if you wish.

    1. Recruitment.  Recruit only the people that meet the criteria for the job. Do not take the best of the bunch as if they are not really right for you, you are simply storing up a problem you will have to solve further down the line. Making this mistake in sales can be very costly both in direct expenditure and worse still lost opportunity.
    2. On-boarding and induction.  You have put in the effort and recruited the right person but they are still “raw material” for your business and unless you invest time helping them to get established it could take them months to get on top of everything they need to do the job effectively.  Each case will be different but they need to understand exactly how you do things; methods, processes and who to ask for help.  Just like recruiting the wrong person failure to induct properly is another great way to waste time and money.
    3. Training.  Sorry you are still not finished. Unless you were extremely lucky and managed to recruit someone who knows how to sell in exactly the way you want it done you will have to train them in your sales and selling techniques and this needs to be done in the context of your methods and processes so you should consider in-house or bespoke training in preference to a public course.
    4. Coaching.  Nope, still not finished.  There is a body of evidence that to perform at consistent peak levels most sales people need regular coaching and this is a primary responsibility for whoever manages the sales people.  The good news is this is one of those things where a relatively small investment produces a very high return. If a sales person produces say 85% of their target they have already covered all their costs and delivered a contribution to the bottom line and anything above that 85% will be very profitable as the CoS is effectively zero.

sales people who receive as little as four hours regular structured coaching per month outperform those who do not by 17% on their sales targetssource: Sales Excellence Council 2007


Technology enables sales people to be more effective

Possibly but; it is a mistake to make the assumption that deploying technology will automatically deliver effectiveness or even efficiency.  If the sales people spend a day a week populating the CRM is that really a good use of time?  Do they actually sell 20% more by spending a day a week in this way?


Price, cost and value

News just came in that the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix is to cease in 2018 due to poor attendances (40% of capacity) and the reason cited is ticket prices but as they were pretty much the lowest of the 21 races in 2016 and had been stable for a couple of years is that really the reason?  Many of us who follow the sport are becoming disillusioned by what is now very poor entertainment.  So; is it not the price that turned Malaysian fans off or is it the value, or lack of, they gain from the experience?  The price is what you pay, the cost is the price plus all other expenses required to use the purchase and the value is what you get – make sure your customers are VERY clear on the value they will gain by buying from you.


Managing Objections

The typical approach to objections is to wait until they happen and then react which generally puts the seller on the back-foot. Managing objections is about being pro-active and pre-emptive; raising the issues, before the prospect does, by answering the questions they have yet to ask.  All businesses have a set of common objections so you should use these to build standard rebuttals that the sales people can use pre-emptively.


Social media and its role in sales engagement

Many claims are made for the role of social media in sales and I even see the term “social selling” being used.  I will make just two observations on this and leave you to mull over whether your use of social media in sales is likely to work.  Firstly, while social media is clearly a useful marketing tool, can it really be considered to be a selling tool?  Secondly, because of the nature of social media is it possible your sales people have slipped into the mode of broadcasting a message then sitting back waiting for the answer – this is what we call a passive reactor approach and it is dangerous as your competitors who are proactive hunters will have eaten your lunch before you even knew a meal was being served.  There is a time and place to broadcast a message but this can only ever be a marketing activity not selling.


Cut your cloth … (to suit your ideal customers and your individual customers)

When promoting or selling what you do it is important to address the question the potential buyer will have in the back of their mind “what is in it for me?”  There is no point telling them about your features as that just tells them about you; you need to tailor your messages for their ears so they can fully understand the value they will gain if they buy from you.


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Methodology & Process for short selling cycles

© Garsya | Dreamstime.comHere we look at the topic of Sales Processes and Methodologies in the context of businesses that have relatively short selling cycles involving a small number of touch points with the prospect. Typically this also involves comparatively straight forward propositions (products and services); the basic nature of the product or service offering is consistent, requiring sizing and configuration rather than customisation for instance. We are looking primarily at the B-2-B environment but the concepts could equally apply in certain retail environments.

Examples of businesses with short selling cycles might include; those selling to the domestic market within peoples’ homes such as home improvements and renewal energy solutions. In the B-2-B sector it might be companies who sell business and office services & products; printing & stationary solutions, photocopiers, accounting, legal and HR services. Other examples might be open training courses or IT break/fix support.


Today there are so many options available to us when considering routes to market we all have to be very careful to choose the right mix and blend to deliver the optimum result and hence the best return for the time and money invested.

For companies with relatively straight forward propositions and short selling cycles the go-to-market strategy might, for example, be a combination of; trade shows, selective networking by senior people, LinkedIn activity by marketing, inbound enquiries to the website, and referrals. Whichever route, identification of the USPs which distinguish you from your competitors will be key.

One of the earliest attempts to formalise an approach to marketing may be the most suited in this scenario – AIDA; attention, interest, desire & action. Although over 100 years old, this simple formula still holds true and is a valuable guide when planning your go-to-market strategy.

For the prospecting cycle, SPIN® (situation, problem, implication, need) may be well suited to planning and conducting the meetings or discussions with prospects as it provides a method for structured questioning.

What should your Sales & Selling Processes cover?

Regardless of the size and complexity, or not, of a set of processes they all follow certain fundamental principles.

  • Taken together your sales and selling processes must define a complete set of contiguous steps which take you from first identification of a suspect through to completion of a sales bid (win or lose). Look at it as a roadmap for a journey, where each step must have an exit route which leads you safely to the next step.
  • The backbone of any selling process is qualification and quantification to enable the person engaged in selling to analyse a new prospect or a new opportunity in a systematic way, understanding the relationship required by the DMU and DMP and leading to a calculated judgement of the likelihood of the prospect becoming a customer (qualification) and the likelihood of an individual opportunity leading to winning profitable work (quantification).
  • If the nature of your business means you need to actively manage the relationship with your customers after a deal has been done, your processes need to ensure a smooth transition from selling to delivery and account management mode such that the on-going management of the relationship satisfies your needs, meets your standards and delights your customers. This would be a typical scenario if your proposition involves the delivery of an on-going service or projects over a period of time.
  • At each step of the process you need a proper hand-off especially if different people are involved at different stages along the way. These are the procedures or rules which govern the process. One of the most common causes of apparently good opportunities suddenly turning negative is failure to complete each step and/or failure to brief thoroughly when passing from step to step.

In summary; your processes should create a complete set of fully integrated steps and include the rules to get you successfully from step one to the end or to help you understand at an interim point that the journey should be abandoned.

Model for a simple process

The easiest way to illustrate this is to consider a real business scenario;

  • The business sells a product plus on-going service cover which is used by small engineering firms to reduce waste at the production stage.
  • The DMU typically consists of one to three people (business owner or MD, finance person and production manager)
  • Your approach to market will have been defined in your methodology (example provided earlier). The output will be suspects; people who appear to have the potential to become customers but on occasions closer investigation qualifies them out; too big or small, already got a competitive solution, no budget, etc.
  • What you now do is follow up with these suspects by the phone, as appropriate arrange an appointment to meet them or arrange a demonstration and then you either get the order or not.

Having established this simple scenario you can design the key steps of your selling process; CADO (Conversations, Appointments, Demonstrations, Orders).

The rules for completing the “CA” steps will be contained in your qualification process and your quantification process will define the rules for the “DO” steps. Taken together this provides a smooth and continuous journey.

As you apply CADO to your business you will start to build up valuable information about conversion ratios between steps so, for example, you may find that 100 conversations leads to 30 appointments which lead to 15 demonstrations which produces 5 new orders. You can now use the 100:30:15:5 ratio to plan and manage your marketing and selling efforts and you can also use the ratios to inform your sales forecasting process.

If your business plan means you need to win 5 orders per quarter then you know you need 100 new conversations per quarter. This in turn will tell you how much effort you need to put in to your marketing activities.

Measuring and managing conversion ratios between critical steps in the sales and selling process provides a very valuable KPI as it helps to make the future order and therefore revenue position more predictable.

Successfully implementing processes

Reviewing what we said last month here are a few simple rules:

  • Ensure the introduction of a sales and selling process can be demonstrated to deliver value to the business.
  • The processes should be based on capturing what already works well so you need to engage the people already doing the job and use them to help define best practice; what works and what doesn’t work. This will help them to understand and accept the process when it is rolled out.
  • Ensure the processes become embedded in the whole organisation – make this the one and only way that business is conducted. When new people join they will need to be inducted into your approach to business as well as understanding your products and services.
  • Periodically re-visit your processes to ensure they still fit your business and more importantly the way your market is working, taking particular note of trends in customers’ demands and competitive activity.

Selling tools

Two of the most useful selling tools are qualification and quantification. The basic principle is to create a “profile” of an ideal potential customer or an ideal business opportunity that you would like to win. Once the profiles are established you equip the sales people with a series of structured questions which enable them to assess each prospect and each opportunity against the profile to see how good the fit is.

Qualification and quantification tell you two key things; should you invest your effort and if so what is the most effective way to invest that effort to get a satisfactory outcome. Qualify early, qualify hard and most importantly re-qualify frequently throughout the selling cycle; don’t be shy to say no as soon as your qualification assessment tell you the likelihood of them becoming a customer is diminishing.

If you are going to implement a supporting software solution, having decided what you need your processes to deliver, explore the market to find the best fit with Total Cost of Ownership in mind and then adapt it to suit your specific needs. Don’t adapt your business needs to suit limitations of a packaged solution. The key here is the word “needs”.

CRM is a useful tool although it is most useful to those engaged in marketing and sales rather than selling. The people involved in selling need a contact management system but do not typically need the other things that a powerful CRM can deliver.

In the model above we introduced the idea of CADO and conversion ratios. So, a useful sales tool would facilitate measuring the numbers and actual conversions between stages thus providing valuable management information for reliable sales forecasting.

The arrival of powerful mobile devices such as tablet computers means the sales people can have selling tools easily available when meeting prospects and customers. For example, if what you sell requires an upfront capital investment then the prospect will be interested to understand the financial position and will want to know what the Return on Investment (RoI) will look like. Equipping the sales person with a RoI calculator on a tablet computer means they can enter the actual figures in front of the prospect gaining agreement that what they are entering is correct and in this way the prospect becomes more engaged and will be more likely to feel a sense of ownership for the resultant financial illustration.

Can a sales process be good for your wealth?

I asked this question a few weeks ago in a LinkedIn discussion and gained some interesting and supportive responses. I had attended a webinar run by The Sales Management Association which was based on research they had done across businesses ranging from very small to very large. The research produced clear evidence that those companies that have a solid sales process, people who follow it and managers who ensure it happens consistently do better in terms of revenue and profit than companies who do not have the same level of discipline. One of the responses referenced research conducted by CSO Insights over several years which drew the same conclusions in their 2013 report on Sales Performance Optimisation. Here are some quotes from people who engaged in the discussion:

“Traditionally we have not been particularly formal with our processes, but this is starting to be addressed, which has certainly made a difference to visibility of pipelines and client relations.”

“Any process needs to be driven from the top of a company and it needs multiple inputs to the creation in order to make it as robust as possible.”

“A well thought through sales process which is embedded into the planning, action, reporting (and coaching and development) generates more consistent sales results and also saves time on identifying the minimal to no hope deals.”

“I can see that they could/would/should make a difference to both time management and profitability.”

Thinking of introducing a selling process?

The Selling Process

In many businesses the game of chess is a useful metaphor for selling.  The selling activity found in most B-2-B transactions will involve multiple interactions between the supplier and potential customer, which have a purpose and structure. As with chess that structure can be summarised, at a high level, as; opening, middle and end game.  The supplier will take actions (make moves) which have a purpose in themselves but are also intended to trigger a reaction (a counter move).  In this way the selling process (game) can progress through its series of connected phases to the ultimate goal (end game) of winning an order; check-mate.   The sales person asks questions to enable the conversation (game) to progress, information to be garnered and the intention, commitment and resolve of the other person to be “tested”.

Is there a downside to having a selling process?

I have heard it argued that sales people are creative individuals who won’t be shackled by the rules of a process.  A common source of evidence to support this argument draws attention to the typically poor and inconsistent use of CRM systems by sales people.

In my experience successful sales people always follow a strict process and in the absence of a process within the company they are working for at the time, they will use the process that has served them well in the past.  If you try to impose a process on a successful person which is not as good as the process they already use then of course they will resist using yours.  The non-use of CRM systems is a case in point where many are designed primarily for and by the marketing function and the sales people feel they are glorified data entry clerks who get nothing in return for their efforts.

A sales process therefore needs to be well thought out and implemented to deliver value to both the business and the user if it is to avoid becoming an expensive white elephant.

How should you approach the introduction of sales and selling processes?

We will cover this in more detail in a future article but here are some general principles.

  • The introduction of a sales and selling process should have a purpose which can be demonstrated to deliver value to the business. For example; a common issue that many businesses report is a healthy sales pipeline bursting with great opportunities but no one is making decisions.  In exploring such cases we typically find that many proposals are sent without establishing that the prospect is committed to making a decision.  This would be prevented in most cases by applying a qualification and quantification process which tests the true position of the prospect in terms of how serious they are about wanting a solution so that resources can be (de–)allocated accordingly.
  • Even the very best processes will fail to deliver good results if poorly understood or not accepted by the people who have to follow them.  The best way to get a good result is to ensure all those who will use the process are involved in the work leading up to its introduction.  An excellent source of information is to study a cross section of your people already involved in sales and selling to understand what makes the successful ones successful and why others struggle.  This is the process used by Neil Rackham when he developed SPIN® selling.  This will both provide valuable practical insight to what is already working well and it will also help to gain buy-in.
  • Having decided what you want your processes to look like explore the market to find the best fit and then adapt it to suit your specific needs. Continue the process of consultation across the sales and selling teams to ensure continuing buy-in.  As with any “packaged” business solution you shouldn’t be tempted too easily into changing your business to suit the package however, it is likely you will find some good ideas within proprietary sales and selling processes which may be worth adopting.
  • Ensure the processes become embedded in the whole organisation.  They need to feature in recruitment, induction, training, management, coaching and appraisal.  They should also have a role in the development of sales targets and compensation schemes. In this way people will quickly come to follow the process on auto pilot as it is the only way the company conducts its business and this is reinforced by the actions and reactions of everyone involved.
  • Periodically re-visit your processes to ensure they still fit your business and more importantly the way the market is working. Currently there is a lot of interest in social media as a business engagement environment so we all need to ensure that our sales and selling processes align with the way the market wants to work.

Sales vs. Selling

It is common that the terms “selling” and “sales” are used interchangeably but they do mean quite different things.

Selling defines all the activities involved in one-on-one engagement between a person from a supplier and a person (may be several persons) from a potential customer.

Sales defines all of the activities undertaken by the supplier which create the environment to support selling. Sales would therefore include functions such as; lead generation, solution design & estimating and bid support.  By way of illustration, a sales campaign would address multiple suspects or prospects whereas a selling campaign refers to the engagement between the supplier and a single prospect.

Two other terms that we will use are methodology and process.  The sales methodology is the strategy and tactics you employ to find and win new and add-on business, sometimes referred to as the go-to-market model.  The methodology defines things such as your approach to; raising awareness & interest, generating leads, following up leads, prospect meetings, bidding for work, proposal writing and managing existing customers. The sales & selling processes provide a completely joined-up environment ensuring the methodology is followed in a structured manner across the sales and selling activities.

Anatomy of a sales process

It is a poor excuse to say that having a sales process is either outdated or not necessary and stifles the creativity of the sales person.  The concept of a process in this regard is a misinterpretation or perhaps a confusion with a sales script.

A sales process facilitates a common destination but a choice of routes, it is merely a way of ensuring that by the time the destination (deal closure) is reached, some required waypoints have been visited.  It doesn’t dictate the route nor the vehicle for the journey, only that on reaching the destination all the essential elements are in place for a successful delivery.

“A well thought through sales process which is embedded into the planning, action, reporting (and coaching and development) generates more consistent sales results and also saves time on identifying the minimal to no hope deals.”

A common process; enables you to induct new team members so they can get up to speed quicker, enables switching or sharing of accounts between the team without adversely affecting the customer, avoids losing essential actions down the cracks, and facilitates consistent, reliable management information for pipeline forecasts.

Your sales process helps to distinguish you from your competitors.  It minimises your risks of wasting effort or of upsetting your customers.  It enables your sales force to share successful experiences and avoid painful mistakes, but it focuses on the What not the How.

So where do concepts such as SPIN, Challenger Sales, the Blue Sheet, Key Account Management etc fit in?

Your sales process and sales methodology walk hand in hand, but the process covers cradle to grave whereas many of the common methodologies have a narrow focus in terms of discrete stages in the sales process.

For instance:

  • Huthwaite’s SPIN® provides a structured questioning concept useful  in preparation for and conduct of a meeting with a suspect or prospect; likewise AIDA.  They are each only A way, not necessarily THE way
  • Challenger again addresses a questioning style in order to elicit a buy response from your ideal target
  • Miller Heiman’s blue sheet allows for management of opportunities and bid responses
  • Key Account Management maintains customer contact for ongoing business

But what were the target market selection criteria, what territories were allocated, what distinguishes a likely buyer from a tyre-kicker, what must happen before resources can be allocated, who has what level of authority for key commitment?  By defining some of these aspects you facilitate the smooth progress of revenue generation regardless of personnel and market changes.  You also instill some consistency into the data quality of the pipeline regardless of the source of the lead.

So, by definition, a process has inputs, utilises resources, and follows a sequence of steps, or sub-processes, in order to produce outputs or outcomes.

The sub-processes of a sales process might be:

  • Market selection, for which a stage-gate process may be appropriate.  This would then feed its outputs of “ideal” customer profile into a lead generation process.
  • The lead generation may be automated to elicit in-bound leads from marketing, exhibitions, web enquiries.  Alternatively it could be driven by outbound messaging; by calling, visits or email,s identifying the pain points and your value offerings tailored to each specific target.
  • Leads need to be reviewed to minimise effort which might otherwise be wasted chasing an elusive blue bird to the detriment of a real opportunity.  As the opportunities evolve, continual review of the pipeline maintains the focus on realism over optimism.
  • The opportunity pursuit or bidding process determines the strategy and resources required for a successful pursuit of a viable opportunity, ensuring the key customer stakeholders are known and in active dialogue to shape and hone the proposal and thus avoid unpleasant surprises.
  • The feedback or review process establishes the strengths and weaknesses perceived by the recipients of your proposals, win or lose, and your service delivery to enable you to improve your success ratios and satisfaction levels.
  • The account management process maintains contact with customers past and present through sales and delivery/service personnel to build a trusted advisor relationship for ongoing renewals, extensions, cross-selling, up-selling, and acquisition of referrals and testimonials.
  • The sales management process encompasses converting business goals into target planning and territory allocation,  incentive setting and motivation, coaching the sales people through each stage of interaction with a prospect or customer as appropriate, pipeline review and team building, all with the aim of achieving or exceeding the business goals in a predictable manner.

In many businesses the game of chess is a useful metaphor for selling.  The selling activity found in most B-2-B transactions will involve multiple interactions between the supplier and potential customer, which have a purpose and structure.  As with chess that structure can be summarised, at a high level, as; opening, middle and end game.  The supplier will take actions (make moves) which have a purpose in themselves but are also intended to trigger a reaction (a counter move).   In this way the selling process (game) can progress through its series of connected phases to the ultimate goal (end game) of winning an order; check-mate.

Just like chess pieces, each participant in the relationship has their role to play, be they sales manager, sales person, or delivery bod on the supply side; decision maker, sponsor, or user on the purchasing side.  The sales person asks questions to enable the conversation (game) to progress, information to be garnered and the intention, commitment and resolve of the other side to be “tested”. True chess grand masters will not leave it there though, they will analyse the moves and counter moves after the game has ended, and of others’ games, so they are better prepared for future contests.

Performative Structured Selling® provides a methodology to match the full sales process, helping you on your way to becoming a sales grand master.