The Three Best Sales Books You Need to Read

I have been asked what the best books on selling are on more than one occasion. Obviously I am predisposed to Rick Page’s Hope Is Not A Strategy, seeing that I worked for the man for over two years. That notwithstanding, it is perhaps the only primer you need on strategizing a multi-vendor, multi-decision maker, big ticket sale. Rick takes the concept of strategic selling from B2B to P2P or peer to peer. Not only should you understand the pains of the company – but the individual decision makers – then tailor your message to solving those pains on a one-off basis. Genius really – but Rick’s book strictly covers deal strategy. You can compliment it very well with these books – I humbly submit:

Selling to Big Companies: Jill Konrath. I love this book. Jill does an extraordinary job of getting you in the mind of the buyer. Your buyer is busy, he doesn’t return solicitations, and he doesn’t care about your solution. Trust me; now that I am literally on the other side of the desk I experience these truisms every day. What I care about, and your buyer as well, is how you can help me take one thing off of my plate and give me one more hour with my kids. How can you learn what’s on my plate, “use the news.” Jill introduces the concept of triggering event selling, meaning we can get a glimpse of what will entice our prospects to buy by linking into their press releases. Although written in 2005, read this book to get a primer on modern day demand creation. Schiffman, Boylan and Parinello write books that can help you get the appointment, but Jill’s book will help you get the deal.

SPIN Selling: Neil Rackham. This book introduces the tactic of probing for pain in that we first need to diagnose before we prescribe. Neil was hired in the 70’s to find the one common trait that all successful sales people had at Xerox. What he found was the sales people that were most successful listened two times more than those who were not. The SPIN Selling technique was introduced to replicate the art of listening. Situation, Problem, Implication, Need. We must first understand our buyer’s environment, the problems within that environment, the impact those problems cause and what is needed to solve those problems. Bosworth’s Solution Selling and Customer Centric Selling basically take the pain-based selling concept and retool it with additional steps. However, SPIN has four steps – the only four steps you need to probe for pain.

A Brave New World: Responding to Shifts in the Selling/Buying Model


Last week, The Complex Sale, Pedowitz Group, Eloqua, and Oracle hosted a luncheon designed to brief sales and marketing executives on how their worlds were changing.  It was a great turn out with even better insight into how buyers are changing their habits. At no time in history has Sales and Marketing seen as radical a shift in buying behaviors as in the last five years.  With tools like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, information is now quite literally at our buyer’s fingertips.

Organizations are having trouble adapting to this change.  The concept of the new “Sales 2.0” world has created more questions than answers as to how Sales and Marketing can leverage new technologies to drive messaging and sales effectiveness. 
Today, buyer “self education” renders Sales and Marketing blind to buyers’ interests, propensities, and levels of engagement in our typical Sales and Marketing plans.  Buyers are less likely to engage with sales teams or to read our messaging.  Instead, buyers leverage Webinars, Online Meetings, and interactive web sites and control the sales process themselves.

Steve Woods, author of Digital Body Language and CTO of Eloqua states, “a sales person’s biggest competition for an executive’s time is now Google.”  If we as sales people cannot bring more value to the conversation than what is available online, then we are not going to capture an executive’s time or imagination.

Rick Page, author of Hope is Not a Strategy and founder of The Complex Sale states, “lead generation used to be about a hammer, now it is about a hook.” The hammer was the telephone with endless cold calls beating executives into appointments by attrition.  The hook is an opportunity for the executive to learn something insightful about their own business, industry, or competition.

Debbie Qaquish, Chief Revenue Officer at the Pedowitz Group states, “Marketing is earning its way on sales incentives trips by first, collaborating with sales to create the definition of a lead and secondly, providing insight into buyer activity on the company website that will triage the sellers call efforts.

The session ended with the obvious question – what hasn’t changed in selling?

The evaluation process is still logical and rational where the decision making process is emotional and political.  By avoiding the three foot rule (being within three feet of the prospect) and handling the sale over the web and phone, sellers risk becoming a victim of the crucible concept. Sellers need to know the competitive and political landscape, source of urgency, and enterprise level issues to when complex deals.

How to Find the Next A-Player

NeedleImageMany sales leaders ask me what’s the FIRST thing they should do to elevate the effectiveness of their team; train them up or move out the underperformers. Their initial inclination is to move out the C-players and then level set the team once the right players are in place. But that begs the question – what are the attributes of an A-player?

When creating a hiring profile, we need to realize there is no such thing as a universal A-player. Two factors first come into play – your industry and your sales force segmentation. Before we go down the path of letting anyone go, we need to understand how your buyers buy your solution.

• Do they have a long buying process with multiple decision-makers?
• Will they buy a solution over the phone / web?
• Is it an evangelical or highly competitive purchase?

From that understanding, I recommend creating a Best Practices Sales Cycle based upon the tactics of your most successful practitioners. We want to universally apply the stages and steps needed to put your company in the best position to advance every deal they are in. Creating a Best Practices Sales Cycle will also allow you the opportunity to create key performance indicators (KPI’s) in each stage to replicate the actions of our best practitioners. As an example:

Demand Creation

# First Calls with Decision-Makers
# First Calls translated into qualified evaluations

Opportunity Management

# Deals with access to Decision-Makers
# Deals with a Source of Urgency

Account Management:

# Accounts with Executive Contact
# Non competitive evaluations

If your sales force is segmented by demand creation, opportunity management, and account management teams – then we would only apply the pertinent KPI’s. If your sales force is segmented to reflect market size or vertical, then we would adjust the KPI’s as well. By creating these Key Performance Indicators, you will have objective criteria by which to create a hiring profile. You will want to have the applicant explain how they DID achieve similar activity metrics – not how they WOULD. From those responses you can begin to see if they are a good fit for your organization.

This is by no means the only factor to creating a hiring profile for an A-player. There is a lot of validity to testing for business and technical accumen, risk aversion, DiSC profiling, IQ and the rest.  But a word of caution – Sales people are at their best when they are selling themselves on a job interview. Far too often we look at W2’s as the mark of an A-Player – when in fact the skills that made them successful at their previous employer could have no bearing at all on your sales process. By understanding and quantifying the skills and activity of your best practitioners, you can truly find the hiring profile for an A-player to your organization.

How to guarantee a missed forecast

missed_targetThe sales managers I speak with tell me there is only ONE thing worse than not making your revenue target and that’s to forecast that you were going to make your number and then miss it. I am sure most that are reading this will agree. The problem with forecasting however is that most companies look at sales forecast in the macro and use the law of large numbers. The law of large numbers as defined by Wikipedia is a theorem in probability that describes the long-term stability of the mean of a random variable.  Therefore, when we look at a sales pipeline through the law of large numbers we can see why percentages are applied to forecasting.

If a VP of Sales commits $10,000,000 of revenue but historically only realizes 50% of that commit, then he weights his forecast accordingly to $5,000,000. Some companies get even more granular in that they apply a percentage to a deal when it is in a certain stage in the sales cycle. 

Discovery Stage                       15%     x          $1,000,000      =          $150,000
Qualification Stage                 35%     x          $1,000,000      =          $350,000
Demonstration Stage             45%     x          $1,000,000      =          $450,000
Proof of Concept Stage         70%     x          $1,000,000      =          $700,000
Negotiation Stage                    85%     x          $1,000,000      =          $850,000
Close Stage                            100%   x          $1,000,000      =          $1,000,000
Total Pipeline Value                                                                          $3,500,000

If you are using either one of these methods to forecast, then I have some very bad news. When you live by percentages you will die by percentages because no one wins a piece of a deal.

To forecast by the law of large numbers means that you are surrendering any insight into why you are going to win or lose a deal. After all, a forecast is merely the sum of every deal predicted to close. Every one of those deals has its own story and should be committed to close based upon the manager’s understanding of that story – not a coin flip. To take that concept even further, forecasting by stage in the sales cycle takes no account of the competitive nature of an opportunity. If you are in the negotiation stage of a deal and have 85% probability of close, wouldn’t your competitor also be in the same stage? You both are not going to get the deal, much less 85% of it.

At The Complex Sale, Inc., we recommend having qualitative deal review based upon objective criteria to forecast an opportunity. To view a recorded webinar on these 11 questions – please follow this link:

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?

Your confidence in winning should be based upon objective questions like these. The more you can answer “yes,” the more confident you feel that you can win and vice versa.

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