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.

%d bloggers like this: