A Tale of Two Sales Teams – Cogswell Cogs vs. Spacely Sprockets

 It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..

Cogswell vs Spacely


Cogswell Cogs and Specely Sprockets sell the exact same product, from the customers stand point that is.  Both are very high-tech companies, with impressive client lists, and make sizable investments in R & D and marketing. There is a healthy debate as to which one is higher on the Fortune 500 list. Both Cogswell Cogs and Spacely Sprockets claim they were first to market with a “Software as a Service” widget.  They have the exact same spot on Gartner’s magic quadrant and charge the same monthly amount for this widget.

Over the past 6 months, Cogswell Cogs has been killing Spacely Sprockets with the new SaaS widget selling 10 new units to their rival’s 1. The analysts have been quizzing the leadership at Cogswell – without any clear advantage in industry experience, pricing, technology, or fiscal stability, how can they explain such a discrepancy in sales?

6 months ago, the leadership at Cogswell examined their sales forecast and saw an alarming trend. Half of their forecasted deals were either lost to Spacely Sprockets or to no decision.  These were deals on the forecast.  The leadership decided that this trend that was no longer sustainable – they were a 6 sigma shop after all.  They decided they were going to start with the end in mind and uncover why a forecasted deal would ever fail to close.

Their research showed that when Cogswell Gogs lost a forecasted deal, it was due to one of or all of these three factors:

  1. The buyers couldn’t tell the difference between the two vendors, so they selected Spacely Sprockets for reasons having nothing to do with feature, financials, experience, or price.
  2. The buyers couldn’t justify the costs, so they didn’t make any purchase
  3. The buyers couldn’t come to a consensus on who to purchase, so an individual they hadn’t spoken to made the decision.

As a result Cogswell Cogs deployed a strategy to combat these three factors:

Competitive Strategy: Cogswell Cogs would make it a focus to find a point of competitive differentiation where none had existed before: the sales force.  The individual sales person would take a much more proactive role in the sales process.  They were held responsible for understanding the pains of every potential stakeholder impacted by their solution and linking specific benefits to solving those pains.

Closing Strategy: Cogswell Cogs made a point of withholding the proposal until they had collaborated with the prospect to build a business case for the widget. Also, no opportunity would make it on the forecast without first an understanding of the source of urgency, or a date when they could no longer go without the widget.

Political Strategy: Cogswell Cogs would make it a point to speak to every potential stakeholder, particularly the C-suite, and sell to them in a language they would understand: risk. The higher a sales person finds themselves in the org chart – the more a potential stakeholder has to lose (or gain)

Spacely Sprockets on the other hand hasn’t really changed how they sell.  They are more reactive in their sales process and cling to the operational stakeholders like a drowning person does a life preserver.  Their discovery process is focused on break / fix with no discussion on impact. The demo of the SaaS widget is the same canned presentation they have been doing for years.  Pricing is handed out without cost justification.  When the proposal was handed to the prospect an inevitable dead period would follow.

Six months ago, Spacely was winning about half of their deals. Now the dead period stays dead.

Cogswell Cogs has found a way to create competitive advantage where none had existed before – the sales force.


7 Responses

  1. Great story! Mixing Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” with a classic 1960’s kids Saturday morning cartoon. Little did I know as a 10 year old as I sat watching the Jetson’s that one day they would be fodder for a great sales lesson!

  2. When the sales team becomes irrelevant, the product can just be sold over the internet. The term, “the product sells itself” comes to mind. And I bet the accountants wave the victory flag and say “cost of sales” is significantly lower for Spacely. Sounds like a company trying to save its way to prosperity. We should never forget that great sales people are in the people business. If we truly help the decision makers, they will buy!

  3. Great article. Thanks.

    Rapid Sales Success – A Recipe Book For B2B SALES To The C-LEVEL

    The Shocking Thing Discovered About Business Owners Not Buying Needed or Wanted Services…

    It was discovered that procrastination and hesitation are the Evil-Twin Habits that people don’t know how to break, and that it is past painful decisions that get in their way. Pain paralyzes people and the decision making process.

  4. Excellent article!

    Show the pain, guarantee the gain.

  5. Winning or losing, (there is no draw ) starts, early If the customer believes there is no product differentiation, (forget what we believe), our competitive strategy becomes very important. Confusion leads to the customer slowing action, lack of perceived differentiation will allow the customer to focus on price; are we doing the appropriate discovery to find key and unique issues that we can solve better than our competitor? Do we have a political sponsor with power that can help us overcome lethargy?

  6. Lange: Know a salesperson? Say thank you

    Friday, September 11, 2009



    Mark Lange is a consultant and former presidential speechwriter. Send comments to The Record at grad@northjersey.com.

    1 Comment

    HAD ENOUGH of the recession? Next time somebody pitches you something — whether or not you open your wallet — at least say thanks.

    Because economic growth is a story we tell one another. Transactions are its dialogue. And the authors of both are the master storytellers: salespeople.

    Before you tune out, consider this: Nothing happens until somebody sells someone something. And no matter what the rest of us do all day, our paychecks and prosperity rely on the efforts of salespeople.

    At some level, of course, everyone sells. Authors and academics (if they hope to have impact), the yard guy across the street, the young woman shilling for Greenpeace in front of Target, even President Obama. None of us succeeds without applying the art of influence, in the best sense.

    But front-line, all-day salespeople are the connective tissue between what we have and what we need. Their work demands a rare mix of audacity and humility, hope and realism. They take rejection and abuse that would crush the spirits of most. Yet they bounce back with the resilience of Tigger and the patience of Job.

    Especially in harder times, selling compels tremendous creativity and a humble heroism. This isn’t to say all salespeople are heroes. Some get a bit too creative, while a (very) few are desperately dishonest. But that’s not sales. It’s fraud.

    The politics of hope

    While political campaigns come and go, salespeople practice the politics of hope every day. They live by faith – faith that someone, somewhere needs what they have.

    Critics accuse politicians of being salespeople. If only that were true: Good salespeople can actually explain what they’re trying to sell.

    Everyone else in an organization can grumble and grouse, play office politics, soak in a bath of righteous cynicism. Salespeople don’t have time for that. They only get paid when somebody outside the cubicle cocoon is moved to act and demonstrate one of the truest measures of trust – parting with their money.

    The good ones, along with intellect, have impressive integrity. They focus on your interests, not theirs, because they know that if they’re clear about yours, their own will follow.

    Rather than spray you with words, they ask you questions, and listen carefully to what you’re really saying. They bring your authentic interests into sharper focus.

    They really don’t want to waste your time, because they make a living on theirs.

    Not buying? Try just saying “No thanks – but keep honing that pitch.” Better yet, offer a pointer to raise the level of their game. And if something about their approach annoys you, coach the manager who set both of you up for frustration. That’s a public service.

    If the world is divided between builders and complainers, there’s no doubt that salespeople build – confidence, companies, and gross domestic product. They make the potential, actual. They move minds. Build trust. And motivate the transactions that keep us all fed.

    Don’t be too hard on them, especially now.

    Mark Lange is a consultant and former presidential speechwriter. Send comments to The Record at grad@northjersey.com.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: