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.

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.

Sales Training Doesn’t Work


This might seam like a fairly unproductive point of view from someone who earns his living training sales people. However, that is precisely why I believe sales training – on its own – doesn’t work. I receive plenty of calls from sales leaders asking us to participate in their sales kick-off because they want one of the following:

•   Move from selling products to solutions
•   Gain a comfort level selling to executives
•   Create a common vernacular through out the sales force
•   Win more deals against the competition

These are lofty goals to accomplish over a 1 to 2 day workshop; so lofty that you can expect the impact to be short-lived and all but forgotten in 3 months. It is akin to going to the gym and asking the trainer to help you lose 10 pounds in one session. You will get a good workout – and most likely will be sore in the morning – but more or less the same weight the day after.

That is why we recommend a longer engagement that incorporates the 1 to 2  day workshop as the centerpiece but has the proper preliminary and follow up steps to hit your goals. I recommend this three step process:

Step One: Assess / Align / Define
We need to understand your sales effectiveness goals and their relative importance to other projects and participants. Sometimes a 24 hour workshop is all our clients have an appetite for. For those looking for sustained improvement, we then want to define the best practices in their sales cycle and incorporate our methodology to create a uniquely tailored process. This will give relevancy and buy-in needed for adoption.

Step Two: Deploy / Enable
This is the 1-2 day workshop where the newly tailored techniques and strategies are revealed to the sales force. We want to make sure that we have incorporated the best practices of the sales cycle / messaging / and methodology into the CRM. These workshops should always be taught using live deals because adults learn best through practical application.

Step Three: Reinforce / Measure
After the workshop has ended and the sales force is re-energized, we want to ensure the new techniques and strategies are transferred back to the office on a deal by deal basis. We test the students on their retention of the material, we track their usage of the tools via the CRM, and we coach their deals using the methodology. Adjustments in coaching and execution training are made based upon retention, application, and effectiveness.

As any good fitness trainer will tell you, you must make a habit out of a healthy lifestyle. The same is true for successful sales organizations. A one and done training event will fill space in a kick-off and will fire up the troops – but it won’t have long lasting impact. That is why sales training on its own doesn’t work.

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.

%d bloggers like this: