Obama and Romney – Sales Advice

I learned two things about selling from this election cycle one came from Mitt Romney and the other form President Obama. This isn’t a political rant – this is a sales manager learning a valuable lesson about presentations and winning deals.

Remember if you will before the first debate, President Obama was far ahead in the polls. The political pundits were telling us that Romney had already been defined by his adversaries; the electorate had already made up its mind. Saturday Night Live had a skit about how the worst possible thing Obama could do to lose the election was to open his mouth. To make matters worse, Romney took significant chunks of time off from retail campaigning to prepare for the debates making him look even weaker.

Well that prep time was the best decision he could have made. Romney overcame two years of negative campaign ads in two hours. How? He realized there was one key moment to change the decision-makers mind and he put everything he had into that milestone.

The parallels are striking in a sales process. We have our own time to shine in an unfiltered environment when we demonstrate our service.  Realize, like Mitt Romney did, that if this is the largest deal you are ever going to sell – put everything aside to prepare for it.

President Obama taught me that no deal is closed until you have ensured that all of your votes are lined up. The last month of the campaign – both candidates had reason to believe that they were going to win the election. The national polls had both candidates at 50% a piece.  However, the election isn’t won on national polls – it is won in the Electoral College.

President Obama focused his get out the vote efforts in the eight states that were to decide the election – thus ignoring 42 states and their voters. He had a sophisticated get out the vote effort from people he knew were his supporters. In a tight sales process or election where there seems to be no advantage for one side over the other, sometimes the group that mobilizes its supporters with the right influence will be the group that wins.

From a sales perspective – we can acknowledge that all votes are not created equally. If we hone in on the people we know can influence the deal in our favor and simply drive our value proposition into their heads to the point of advocacy, then we can win an uneven share of 50/50 deals.

Death of a Salesman…..Updated

Slate has written an excellent article entitled, Death of a Salesman. Of Lots of Them, Actually. The main theme of the article is that sales people are becoming “disintermediated” by the internet. The author uses examples of how auto salespeople, travel agents, and stock brokers have lost their jobs to sites like AutoTrader, Expedia, and eTrade. There is no arguing that B2C sales careers have been severely crippled by the information age but what about B2B? Truly.

(Updated: Here is some reaction from the article!)

Steve Woods, CTO of Eloqua and author of Digital Body Language, argues that a B2B salesperson’s biggest competition is Google. I have to agree. Salespeople don’t get involved in the buying process until the prospect has thoroughly educated him or herself about our service. Our competitive differentiation, client case studies, even online demonstrations are available for the world to see on our website. Every piece of information we as salespeople once thought so sacred in the sales process has been reduced to a click of a mouse. If you are saying the same thing to your prospect that can be found online then you have added no value to the sales process.

To avoid the same fate as Willie Loman, we have to tailor our message specifically to the buyer. We have to give them something they can’t find online. Luckily, the information superhighway is a two way street.

  • The first step is to get out in front of the buyer by knowing when and where they were on your website. Most marketing automation companies will give this business intelligence as part of their offering. Were executives on your site or just functionaries? The pages they selected will give you the insight into their concerns.
  • The second step is to do a thorough search of the buyers. Search LinkedIn to see how long the buyers have been working in their present positions and where they worked before. Oftentimes we can get a glimpse of predisposition by understanding the landscape of previous employers.
  • The last step is to research the company itself. Try a Google news search on the company to see if there are any triggering events that prompted the call. Hoovers will give a brief overview of the company and the competitive landscape for free. Think competitive advantage in terms of how you can give it to your prospect – not against your own competition.

With these bits of information you can begin creating a talk track around specific intelligence that will compliment what the prospect already has learned about your solution.

Creating Demand – Why Senior Sales People Won’t do it (updated.)

frustratedIn this economy – we are finding that marketing alone is not enough to secure a healthy pipeline of business. In response, senior sales people are asked to go from reacting to demand to generating it on their own. With this new dynamic, I think the hardest thing for sales management to understand is that their BIG GAME Hunters are unprepared and unwilling to handle this new responsibility.

Without any direction outside of a mandate to gain more evaluations – senior sales people do what they do best. They think their industry knowledge, tenure, and high compensation requires them to craft lengthy and well researched correspondence to targeted executives. (Imagine the laborious process of researching, writing and rewriting the perfectly tailored e-mail and phone script?) The problem with this approach is that when these lengthy, targeted pieces of correspondence go unanswered – senior sales people get frustrated. They begin to take on the mentality that they are closers and setting appointments only prevents them from do what they are paid so handsomely to do. In truth – highly compensated / senior sales people rose to their station because they are very productive and demand creation activity that doesn’t generate demand is just……unproductive.

What we need to understand is that our buyers are very busy and even if we craft the perfect pitch to an individual, it could be the wrong time, the wrong person, or even the wrong median. Demand Creation in today’s hectic and busy world requires a different outlook and process. We need to switch from a hunting approach to a farming mentality.

A successful demand creation process allows senior sales people to use their tenure, experience, and status for demand creation – but instead of spending this time focusing on an individual – they focus on a group of individuals. This process takes the same amount of time as traditional targeted demand creation efforts but is wildly more productive because it generates results.

I wrote this e-book to help create demand for the senior sales people who just won’t do it.

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.

Caution: Whales in the Swimming Pool

no swimmingIt is right around this time of year when I start to get very anxious. The summer is winding down, my alma mater begins their football season, and our buyers are awakening from the summer doldrums. As sellers, our sense of urgency increases because the end of the year is within sight – and the same is true of our buyers.

Or is it?  Follow this link to read my thoughts on forecast accuracy.

Try this little exercise. Pull up the pipeline you have been working diligently to build over the first 9 months of the year. Sort it by revenue from highest to lowest. If you are like most sales professionals, you will find there is a correlation between the size of the deal and the proximity of the close date to December 31st. In other words – the largest deals are generally the ones the furthest pushed out. This is natural and stands to reason. After all, these deals aren’t fully scoped therefore we don’t want them gaining the attention of the powers that be. However, we still want the recognition that there is a whale or two swimming in our pool. Since we don’t know when this deal is going to close – we assume that the buyers will have the same source of urgency that we have and that it will eventually close by the end of the year.

We as salespeople need to realize that this, in fact, is not the case. Many of us have the high hopes that 2009 will be very different from 2008 and buyers will finally come off of their wallets. But just as Rick Page has taught us – Hope is Not a Strategy.

Three items we need to consider when we are thinking about these whales at the end of our pipeline for 2009 . Start doing these things now so you can be assured you are well positioned to close out the year strong:

1)    The global recession has made buyers much more cautious and conservative with their earnings. Therefore cost justification models are not enough to close a complex sale. CFO’s have been piling up proposals with ROI’s attached for two years.

To Combat this, Find the Powerful People: Align with the individual who can and will walk your proposal into the CFO’s office and say, “I need this signed because it is critical to the success of our business.”

2)   Our sense of urgency to close by the end of year is motivated by our internal pressures to make quota. Our buyers do not share this motivation.

Uncover their Source of Urgency: Find out what does motivate the decision-makers to buy and by what date they need this solution. If Jan 1 comes and goes without our solution in place – what are the negative ramifications to the organization?

3)   Many buyers have little knowledge about evaluating our solution and our implementation timeframes. Therefore by the time they get around to evaluating your solution it could be too late to have it up and running by the start of the year.

Closing Strategy: Through a position of empathy and experience, share with your buyer your normal evaluation, approval, and implementation process in the form of a timeline. Back it out from the source of urgency date for go-live and let them know the steps needed to start by that date.

Try this process to help feed the whales swimming at the end of your pipeline.

What Closes the Deal? Sense vs. Source of Urgency


Isn’t it great when a month ends on a Friday? You get a chance to wrap up both the month and the week in the same day. If you are like most sales people you also get a chance to lean on your prospects just that much more to get the deal in. After all, that’s our source of urgency, making our number by the end of the month. We find ourselves much more motivated (as does the procurement department) because there are negative ramifications if we fail to deliver.

Let’s take that idea and turn it on its head. Do you think our prospects have a source of urgency? Do you think there are negative ramifications for our prospects if they don’t get a solution in place by a certain time? The answer is an unequivocal…..yes! Companies are a lot like individuals in that they won’t make a change until they absolutely have to. For sellers to know if they are in a qualified deal – they need to know why the buyers “have to” make a change.

Many sellers confuse the  “want to” or sense of urgency with the ” have to” source of urgency. A sense of urgency is more often than not tied to our value proposition. As an example:

  • Automating manual processes
  • Better reporting
  • Lowering total cost of ownership
  • Scalability / Flexibility
  • Mitigate Risk
  • Best of breed / Best practice
  • Consolidation
  • Streamline / Ease of use

All companies can benefit from the above and many have a sense of urgency to get them done. A source if urgency however has a date by which these benefits must be implemented because the company (and more importantly a specific individual) will feel a tangible effect if they do not. Examples of sources of urgency are as follows:

  • New facility / market / clientele
  • New executive strategy
  • Capital purchase
  • Board directive
  • Compliance effective date
  • Product launch
  • Merger / Acquisition
  • Negative Press / Federal Investigation
  • Quarterly / Annual Report

Therefore, to better understand if our prospects are going to buy from us we need to know why they will buy from us. Until then, we will continue to be befuddled by their lack of motivation even though we have a perfectly rational value proposition. Start tying your value proposition AND your forecast to a source of urgency. Then you will see your prospects leaning on you to get the deal done and the end of the month will be just another day on the calendar.

6 Keys to Winning the Complex Sale

6 P'sI am often asked, “What separates a complex sale from a simple sale?” because working for a firm called – The Complex Sale, Inc. often sparks this line of questioning. The way I define it – a complex sale has multiple decision makers and multiple vendors. It usually is associated with a high price tag and a long, deliberative buying process.

Therefore, to win a complex sale on a consistent basis, we must first understand the organization as a single entity. I recommend we apply the 6 keys at the very beginning to understand what we are getting ourselves into. Consider this your first step in qualification.

  1. Pain:             Why Buy?          Will our solution help forward strategic initiatives?
  2. Prospect:      Why Now?         At what date can they no longer go without help?
  3. Preference:   Why Us?            Do they acknowledge our differentiators?
  4. Process:        Who Cares?        Do we know all the potential stakeholders?
  5. Power:          Who Matters?    Do we know the decision-making process?
  6. Plan:             What’s Next?     Is pursuing this opportunity the best usage of my time?

The best opportunities for us are the ones where we understand how our solution will forward a strategic initiative, which must have a solution, acknowledge our differentiators as important, where we know all the potential stakeholders, and understand the decision-making and approval process.  Anything less becomes more of a judgment call based mainly upon the other opportunities you are working. If you cannot get any of these answered the way you like, it might be better for you to continue prospecting.

The second step to winning a complex sale is to shed the idea that companies buy form us. They do not; individuals by from us. Therefore since we know all the potential stakeholders and the decision-making process, we want to apply the 6 P’s again to every stakeholder.

  1. Pain:             What pain will my product solve for this person specifically?
  2. Prospect:      What personal risk does this person have with this project?
  3. Preference:   Does this person acknowledge our competitive advantage?
  4. Process:        What role do they play in the decision-making process?
  5. Power:          How do they influence the decision?
  6. Plan:             How do we earn the stakeholder’s vote or live without it?

By taking a “Stakeholder Analysis” you get a 360 degree view of all the potential players in your sales process and now you can devise a plan sell to the people in power. Since the process is long, we get a chance to build preference with the decision-makers. Since it is competitive, we get a chance to link our differentiators to solving their pains. Since it has a high price tag, we create a strategy around the risk of making the wrong decision.

Will we win? Will it close on time?

*** The Complex Sale, Inc. has recorded a webinar on this topic: https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/794796552


Outside of your own personal expertise, the most valuable piece of information you can offer buyers is your pricing. In the Complex Sale 2.0 world, buyers are gaining more and more control because information is becoming more and more available. Therefore, you should only share pricing when / if you feel you have positioned yourself as best as you can to win the business. If there is information you still need, you will not get it AFTER you send a detailed proposal.

Before you hand over pricing, make sure you can answer yes to these 11 questions.

Will it close on time?
 Do we know when they can no longer go without a solution?
 Do we know the decision-making process?
 Do we know the approval process?

Will we win?
 Have we linked our solution to solving enterprise-level pain?
 Do the decision-makers acknowledge our differentiation?
 Do we have enough votes of the decision-makers to win?

Will it close for the amount forecasted?
 Have we quantified the value based upon their criteria – not our ROI?
 Do we understand the political risk associated with this decision?

Have we prepared for the political nature of the decision making process?
 Are we anticipating counter-attacks of the competition?
 Are we aligned with powerful people to break a deadlock?
 Have we outlined the steps needed to get the deal signed?

The biggest mistake we see sales managers make is to base a forecast on stages in the sales cycle. Just because you are 85% into a sales process doesn’t mean you are going to win 85% of the business – or any of it for that matter. If you are in a competitive deal, your competition should be in the same phase and somebody has to lose. You need to compliment this quantitative step of forecasting based upon where you are in the sales cycle with the qualitative step of the 11 question deal review.Our research shows that 25% of forecasted deals are lost to competition by not taking this factor into account.


Our research also shows that 25% of forecasted deals are lost to no decision. That is why it is imperative to have the business case established before you present pricing. If you don’t understand the quantifiable metric upon which your decision-makers are going to base their decision, then you have a good chance of losing to no-decision.

Peer 2 Peer Selling (P2P)

 Say the right thing

A new study by Forbes finds that 53% of C-level executives do their own research online – well before they delegate a project or contact vendors. Therefore, sales people need to add much more value than the standard discover, present, pricing method that permeates our business. Our buyer wants to buy from a peer – or someone who can add value well beyond our product offering.

How does one become a peer of an executive? We must speak to them in their language.

Successful sales forces are able to take their operational features and functionality and translate their benefits into a compelling value proposition for non-technical buyers. As we begin to sell more complex solutions, more stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process. These stakeholders often do not have the technical expertise to distinguish our solution from the competition or other in-house alternatives.  

Inherent in a value proposition is a keen understanding of the pains of the non-technical buyers and a linkage of our solution to solving those pains. Many organizations make the mistake of having one generic value proposition – when in fact it must be tailored to the individual to whom we are selling.

This is most apparent when we generate a sales process through our own demand creation efforts. Oftentimes, executives who need our solution the most, have no understanding of what we do and need it translated for them to sponsor an evaluation.

As a go-to-market strategy, successful sales organization take a census of every potential stakeholder in their sales process. They uncover every potential pain this individual could have and link their solution to solving that pain. They also take inventory of every potential competitor and create competitive position statements and ways to handle objections. They lean upon the expertise of their best parishioners and marketing departments to create an easy to access tool kit for the sales force.

We have seen messaging tool kits used to shorten sales cycles, ramp up new hires faster, and move lesser skilled reps up to the level of more skilled sellers. With this knowledge and confidence – they are more effective listeners and can sell Peer 2 Peer.

Survey Says…Getting-Buy In is the Highest Hurdle


Survey Results

Getting Buy-In is the only a hurdle because so many sales folks are forcing a process for sake of activity or to see what sticks. I would much more prefer we validate there is a need / pressing business issue that we can help as well as gain agreement on the front end that they are willing to change.” – Respondent

 The results are compiled from over 175 responses from varying industries and sales cycles. The below are the results from a typical sales process.

  • Creating a first call with a prospect…………………………19%
  • Translating a first call into an evaluation……………….. 13% 
  • Building Preference in a Discovery Meeting…………….11%
  • Compelling Demonstrations of Capability ……..………. 9%
  • Getting Buy-in on the Business Case…….………22%
  • Negotiating Price and Terms…………………………………. 6%
  • Successful hand-off to Implementation …………………..6%
  • Documenting the Value of the Purchase ……..………….13%
  • Retaining the Customer …………………………………………2%

Our research reveals that getting buy-in on the business case is the hardest hurdle to overcome in the sales process. The main reason for this phenomenon is that many sellers use a generic ROI tool as their main justification for action. ROI alone is not enough to push an economic buyer to purchase. (What solution doesn’t come with an ROI?)

To gain buy-in on the business case we need to work with the decision-makers early in the process to get THEIR justification for action, not ours. Our buyers have their own metrics for success and we need to work with them to link our competitive advantages to meeting those metrics. Without that collaborative process – we let the buyer create their own cost justification – which often includes doing nothing at all. We can also fall victim to commoditization if the buyers sees no discernable difference between vendors to meet their justification.

As a tactical step – insist on getting the cost justification from each decision-maker before you present a proposal; because they won’t give it to you after they receive pricing.

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