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Sales Tips: What Constitutes a Qualified Opportunity?

Posted by Jill Perez on May 3, 2017 3:55:06 PM

Sales Tips: What Constitutes a "Qualified" Opportunity?

By Gary Walker, EVP of Channel Sales & Operations, CustomerCentric Selling®

This is a question that we hear all of the time from people who attend our workshops. This is a topic that is so worthy of discussion that rather than rush to answer the question, I prefer to use it to facilitate a discussion among all of the workshop attendees. It’s interesting to learn what type of qualification criteria are being imposed on the salespeople.

Qualifying an OpportunityWhat surfaces very quickly is that companies have defined what is a ‘qualified’ opportunity for their salespeople. With a few variations, it is typically defined as:

  • the prospect admits to having a budget
  • they have a project (I’m still not sure what constitutes a project)
  • and they have a timeline for making a selection decision

Does this sound familiar to you? Have you heard this before?

So now let me ask you an important question:

If the prospect has a budget and they have a timeline, but they DO NOT have a goal, problem or issue that you and your offering can help them address, are they qualified?

According to the above criteria the answer would be, yes. However, I’ve not encountered any prospect who goes out of their way to buy something they don’t want or need.

Sales Tips for Qualifying a ProspectCommon sales sense indicates that a "qualified opportunity" is where FIRST, the prospect has a goal, problem or need that your offering has the ability to help them address.

Without a goal, problem or need that your offering is capable of helping them address, budget and timeline are immaterial. Get it?

Your goal as a salesperson is to have your prospect share with you a business goal that you can help them address. Simply stated: No goal, no prospect. If you don't know WHAT would make a prospect engage with you and WHY, then he/she is not a prospect.

We will cover "qualifying an opportunity'" and practice techniques on how to get a prospect to admit a "goal, problem or need that you can help them address" extensively in the CustomerCentric Selling® public workshop I'm conducting in Golden, Colorado, June 6-9th.

Why don't you register now and plan on joining me? Attending this workshop could make the difference in your performance for the entire year!

If I've made a point with you, or if I've caused you to take pause and reconsider what you are doing, I would appreciate you sharing this article/sales tip with someone you feel would benefit from reading it. Please share it with a peer or a colleague to pay it forward. Good selling!

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Sales Tips: 5 Tips for Better Responding to "What do you sell?"

Posted by Jill Perez on May 2, 2017 4:43:22 PM

Sales Tips: What Do You Sell? 5 Tips for a Better Response

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Sales Tips for Responding to "What do you sell?"When meeting someone for the first time a common icebreaker is asking what a person does for a living. For those that respond that they are salespeople, a reasonable follow up would be to ask what he or she sells. 

Whether in a social setting or in sales calls, I’m generally underwhelmed in how sellers respond to questions about what they do. Their responses are either too cryptic or go on for too long.

I’d like to suggest some guidelines for better responses:

  • Use 20 or fewer words.
  • Start with the words: “I help …..”
  • Avoid mentioning product/offering names if possible.
  • Share benefits your clients can achieve through the use of your offering.
  • Tell enough that if interested, the person may ask a follow-up question that would allow you to give further detail.

For example, in my case, a very pedestrian response would be:

I do sales training and consulting.”

While true, it’s about me and likely to shut down further conversation. It only follows the first suggestion above and is unlikely to elicit further questions.

I hope you agree a better response would be: 

I help companies implement a process to share best selling practices and drive higher revenue.”

It’s 15 words long, uses the theme of helping, avoids mentioning product (training and consulting) and mentions a benefit clients can realize. 

While important to have a generic social positioning statement, for business calls you should be more specific with outcomes that specific titles would likely be interested in – not products and features. 

At the start of a sales call, a 20-word or less description of outcomes your customers can achieve can steer the conversation in a positive direction. 

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Sales Tips: WHY Should Buyers Buy from You?

Posted by Jill Perez on Apr 24, 2017 3:46:53 PM

Sales Tips: WHY Should Buyers Buy from You?

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Selling is a difficult profession. Most sellers earn the majority of their income from commission. Early on in my career I came to understand it was better to be concerned with meeting buyers’ needs rather than hitting quota and earning an adequate level of income. 

Value and PaybackWe’ve all heard advice that we should walk in another person’s shoes in order to understand their actions and motivations. A question that I asked myself as a salesperson and later asked sellers and managers that reported to me was:

WHY should the decision maker buy?  

Most sellers would agree executives want to be confident that they will achieve an adequate payback on their investment. Estimated costs minus estimated benefits represent the potential value that can be realized. 

A glaring problem I see is that many sellers try to impose their wills by telling buyers how much will be saved. 

Most buyers will take the “value proposition” savings and cut them in half because sellers are often guilty of hyping offerings.

Dependent upon the offering, some buyers will double costs because if any implementation effort is necessary, it always takes longer than expected. In such cases this means that sellers and buyers are off by a factor of 400%!  

To change this dynamic, it’s necessary for sellers to:

  1. Identify business metrics that are likely to improve.
  2. Help buyers establish base lines (where they are pre-purchase).
  3. Ask buyers to estimate the improvement they feel is possible. This is a place where sellers can use reference accounts that have achieved strong results, but it is important to allow the buyer to commit to a number that often will be less than what the reference account has achieved. 

The biggest go/no-go decision in buying cycles is value/payback. 

I think buyers and sellers would be better off if they worked on estimating potential payback BEFORE getting into product evaluations. Reality: The primary reason for losses due to “no decision” is inadequate value.

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Sales Tips: Outdriving Your Headlights

Posted by Jill Perez on Apr 18, 2017 3:00:46 PM

Sales Tips: Are You Outdriving Your Headlights?

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Outdriving HeadlightsMy dad was an engineer. After getting my driver’s permit, he cautioned me on driving at night by making me aware that 60 miles per hour equated to 88 feet per second. Taking into account how far away your headlights illuminated objects, reaction time to see them and braking distance it was possible to “outdrive” your headlights. In other words, by the time you saw an object there wasn’t enough time/distance to stop your car.

It has happened a day at a time but in the last 15 years a seller’s job has gotten more complex while their “headlights” haven’t appreciably improved. 

Consider the challenges:

  • Working with buyers that have already researched multiple vendors in a given space.
  • Interfacing with buyers that think they know what they need.
  • No longer being viewed as product experts.
  • Having to call higher to get budgeting as signing limits have decreased.
  • The increasing complexity of offerings as formerly “dumb devices” became/become part of a network within the Internet of Things (IoT).

In 2002, the first CCS® customer was a Canon reseller of printers, copiers and faxes. Their CEO recognized selling standalone devices in commodity price wars was an unsustainable business model. He had the wisdom to add a group of networking consultants to help sellers deliver improved workflow to executives rather than selling a device at a time to IT or Procurement.

He implemented CCS® to give his sellers the skills needed to execute business outcome vs. product sales. The CEO recognized that without sales process, his business plan was analogous to asking sellers to outdrive their selling skills.  

He transformed his business. 

Standalone product sales are becoming less common. Delivering business outcomes to executives today is likely to require selling products, software and services. If you're a CEO, ask yourself: Am I asking my sales staff to outdrive their selling skills?

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Sales Tips: Before You Negotiate, Ask This Important Question

Posted by Jill Perez on Apr 18, 2017 2:46:39 PM

Sales Tips: Never Negotiate Unless You Are the Selected Vendor

By Gary Walker, EVP of Channel Sales & Operations, CustomerCentric Selling®

Dangers of Price ConcessionsWhat would last month's revenue numbers have been if you could have reduced discounting by just 10%?

Prospects will attempt to get you to make discount concessions simply to allow you to stay in the game or compete for their business.

They don’t know the value of your offering, you don’t know the value of your offering to them, and they are trying to treat you like a commodity.

Only bad things can happen to you if you fall into that trap. If it’s at the appropriate point/step in the sales process, that's one thing; however, before indicating whether or not you are prepared to negotiate, the question we suggest you ask is:

"Are you telling me that I’m the selected vendor and the only thing you and I need to do in order to bring this purchase to closure today is to agree upon price?"

(Write this question down, I want you to have it with you. I want you to be able to recall what you should do when you find yourself in this situation. Now that I've brought it to your attention you'll find it happens more often than you currently recognize!)

  • Buyer NegotiationsIf they answer YES and you understand them to be the decision maker, and you are prepared to negotiate, then proceed to attempt to close the business.

  • If they answer NO, we recommend the pricing that you have provided remain your price. CAUTION: If you make a concession now it will be the starting point for further negotiations later on in the sales cycle, if you get that far.

You can’t sell to someone who can’t buy. If you agree with this concept, allowing yourself to be drawn into premature negotiations with non-decision makers can result in further requests for concessions from everyone who you will eventually have to meet with. The concession you make to the first person becomes the starting point for the next person. It’s like getting nibbled to death by a duck!

Remember: It’s your prospects’s right and obligation to try to obtain the best possible deal for their company. It's YOUR right and obligation to get the best possible price for you and your employer. It may be necessary for you to walk away to have the buyer conclude that it is as good as it is going to get. An above-quota salesperson will do this in a heartbeat. Ask a below-quota salesperson to do this and be prepared to break out the defibrillator. The lesson being: It pays to prospect and maintain a healthy pipeline.

If I've made a point with you, or if I've caused you to take pause and reconsider what you are doing, I would appreciate you sharing this article/sales tip with someone you feel would benefit from reading it. Please share it with a peer or a colleague to pay it forward. Good selling!

Sales Training Workshop

Sales Tips: A Deadly Approach to Initial Meetings

Posted by Jill Perez on Apr 12, 2017 12:05:00 PM

Sales Tips: Avoid the "People Like Me" Mentality in Initial Buyer Meetings

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Forcing RapportHave you ever tried to make someone like you? Turns out relationships evolve over time. Seller attempts to accelerate the process can be awkward. Sales is a profession buyers generally don’t hold in high esteem. When calling at executive levels sellers may feel a buyer’s time is worth more than theirs. Taking Al Franken’s approach can be deadly: 

“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

When meeting buyers for the first time I suggest a good initial objective would be to have buyers conclude you are trustworthy. Steven Covey believed that in order to be deemed trustworthy the other party must conclude you are sincere and competent. I’d like to offer a few suggestions about the first few minutes of a buyer-seller relationship:

  1. Being sincere requires sellers to rise above stereotypical selling behavior. Right after shaking hands most salespeople thank buyers for their time. This means starting relationships as a subordinate. As an alternative after the handshake, say something like:

“I’m glad we could meet today.”

Thank buyers for their time after they’ve given it to you. 

  1. Once the introduction has been made, if buyers don’t initiate small talk sellers must decide whether to attempt to establish rapport or get down to business. My suggestion is for sellers to be quiet for a few seconds to give buyers the opportunity to initiate small talk. If they don’t, give a brief introduction explaining the objectives for the call rather than try to force rapport. There are many instances where rapport will happen after the business portion of calls. 
  1. Establishing competence is the next potential hurdle. Sellers should view executives as peers for the following reasons: 
  • They are subject matter experts and have forgotten more than buyers will ever know about offerings.

  • They (or their companies) have experience helping other executives realize the potential value that can be realized through the usage of their offerings.

I hope these suggestions can allow you to “tee up” opportunities so that the need development that must take place will go more smoothly. Remember: Buying cycles begin when buyers share a business goal (or problem). Executives typically will NOT share goals with sellers they haven’t concluded are sincere and competent.

HubSpot CRM - Sales and Marketing Software

Sales Tips: Quarter-end Health Check

Posted by Jill Perez on Apr 6, 2017 12:05:00 PM

Sales Tips: Quarter-end Health Check

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Looking Back at Quarter EndA horrible way to start sales calls with new prospects is to ask: “How’s it going?” 

It is a relevant question sellers ask themselves now that the first quarter has ended. This amounts to looking through the rear view mirror. Sellers and managers take this view on a daily basis but should realize it is a trailing indicator of what has already happened. 

In my mind, if sellers are less than YTD they have ground to make up. That usually amounts to finding new opportunities and may require more business development activities to build pipelines that will make up the deficit. 

It’s important to project where sellers will be at the end of Q2. Many sellers and managers figure they need 2-3 times their quota in their pipelines to feel good about what the future holds. The challenge I see is that if a high percentage of opportunities are at the top of a seller’s funnel, a false sense that “all is well” can result.

Sequence of EventsWithin CCS® a significant milestone is negotiating a written Sequences Of Events (SOE) with members of buying committees. These documents contain the estimated dates of activities that would lead to issuing proposals in a timeframe agreed to by buying committees. SOE’s are typically done for large opportunities. Once in play there is a reasonable expectation of a 50% close rate.

Our guideline for sellers and managers is to:

  • Divide each seller’s quota by 12 to establish the monthly revenue needed.
  • Multiply the monthly quota by the number of months in a typical sales cycle to calculate a targeted pipeline.

A $2.4 million quota means $200K/month will keep a seller YTD. With a 3-month average sales cycle a seller needs to book $600K over that period. With a 50% win rate, a seller needs twice that number, or $1.2 million in opportunities with negotiated SOE’s at any given time. If there is any YTD shortfall it would be doubled and added to the $1.2 million dollar target.

This calculation should be done on a monthly basis and helps sales managers project one sales cycle ahead.

The pipeline numbers for salespeople can be rolled up to the district, region and national sales teams. An important aspect of this approach is that managers can grade opportunities based upon buyer actions. First, there must be written SOE’s in place and secondly managers can monitor activities being completed (or not) that will lead to a close date that has been projected.

While important to know your YTD achievement (the rear view mirror), shifting to a leading indicator (looking a sales cycle ahead) will help keep a sales team on target.

Sales Management Workshop

Sales Tips: Make It About Your Buyers

Posted by Jill Perez on Apr 5, 2017 12:00:00 PM

Sales Tips: Make It About Your Buyer - Not You

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Avoiding Product TalksThrough the years I’ve learned to avoid making eye contact with certain people during social gatherings to prevent them from “locking in” on me. These people are eager to engage with others, but only want to talk about themselves. Attempts to steer “conversations” in other directions are quickly re-routed. In sharing their interests, stories and accomplishments they hardly allow others to get a word in. People that make it all about themselves quickly become tedious.

How different are initial sales calls on executives made by B/C players selling B2B offerings?

A laser-like focus on offerings means providing intensive product training that increases the risk of mediocre sellers dominating calls. Like new parents showing pictures of their first-born, companies mistakenly think it’s all about their products. 

The elephant in a sales manager’s office is that B/C players try to sell things. In doing so they attempt to “educate” executives that have much more important things to worry about. These calls often degrade into product pitches. Some end prematurely when executives either say something has come up so they have to cut the call short or delegate sellers to lower levels within their organizations. Most of these calls are lost opportunities. 

Shift Away from Product and Towards Business Outcomes

To improve alignment with executive buyers, it’s important that sellers be prepared to talk about desired business outcomes specific to buyer titles and how offerings can be used to achieve them. Noun-based product training leads sellers to “lock in” on executive buyers with esoteric information they no interest in learning.

Instead, if sellers:

  • uncover desired business outcomes
  • help buyers understand the current barriers to achieving them and
  • present only the relevant capabilities to address the barriers

Then sellers have a chance to make it more about their buyers before talking about how offerings can be used. 

Discussions of outcomes and usage will be more productive for executives than products and features.

Sales Training Workshops

Sales Tips: Don't Shy Away from Turmoil - Embrace It

Posted by Jill Perez on Mar 30, 2017 3:03:08 PM

Sales Tips: Don't Shy Away from Turmoil - Embrace It

By Gary Walker, EVP of Channel Sales & Operations, CustomerCentric Selling®

Most salespeople shy away from turmoil. I'm suggesting you embrace it and outsell your competition!

When you're trying to engage with a prospect and everything is going great but they have no need for your product or service, or when things are not going well and your product or offering is exactly what they need in order to address their problem(s)... When do you think they might be most receptive?

Triggering Eventstriggering event is an event whose consequences are so significant that it would cause an organization to change how they operate. Generally, triggering events fall into one of three (3) categories. 

  1. Awareness. The prospect becomes aware of a need to change for legal, risk-avoidance or economic reasons. For example, the Affordable Care Act (referred to as ObamaCare) required businesses and individuals to provide or acquire healthcare coverage or incur a financial penalty assessed by the IRS. This caused companies to change how they operated.

  2. Bad Experience. The prospect has had a bad experience with a product or service, with people, or with a provider. For instance, there may have been a change in a product or service that has caused the prospect organization to become unhappy.

  3. Change or transition. The prospect experiences a change or transition in people, place or priorities. For example, there may have been a change in executive leadership. I personally look for changes in 'sales leadership.' The announcement of a new Vice President of Sales could indicate that an underperforming sales team has been given a new leader who has some performance difficulties that need to be addressed - and addressed quickly. That is the perfect opportunity for me and for the new Vice President.

sales opportunityWhy are triggering events significant?
They represent an opportunity for you as a salesperson if you recognize them and can help your prospect to successfully manage the change. How? The event may indicate that the status quo in an organization is changing. Existing vendor relationships may have been disrupted. The organization has to consider changing how they currently operate. Someone in the company (the hope is that it is a person you are targeting) has a new goal, problem or need that they have to address. Therefore, it is immediately pertinent to the individual you are trying to reach or engage with. Given the significance, action is required now, not later - NOW!

Here is a secret. Most salespeople, especially your competitors, don’t recognize the opportunity. Nor do they understand how to use a triggering event to their advantage. They are afraid of the turmoil. This advantage allows you to develop timely and relevant Sales Ready Messaging® in a personalized manner that is aligned to the specific needs of your prospects. As a result, you end up with two (2) advantages: 

  1. YOU will be the first to identify the opportunity and help your prospect, which enables you to help define the parameters of the project (in your favor, of course).

  2. By the time a competitor recognizes the opportunity or has been called in for a comparative proposal, the prospect will have invested substantial effort in building a trusting relationship with YOU, giving YOU the competitive edge.

For more on triggering events, where to find them, how to use them to improve your prospecting skills and WIN rate, I suggest you pick up a copy of my book, The CustomerCentric Selling® Field Guide to Prospecting and Business Development from Amazon.com. It’s available in electronic or textbook format. Or better yet, enroll in the public CustomerCentric Selling® workshop I will be personally instructing in Denver, June 6-9th.

Sales Training Workshop - Denver, June 2017

Sales Tips: How to Position Your Business to Win RFPs

Posted by Jill Perez on Mar 29, 2017 8:30:00 AM

Sales Tips: How to Position Your Business to Win RFPs

By Connie Schlosberg, Primary Intelligence

Writing RFPWriting the winning responses to RFPs is always your goal. As part of the selling process, we know you have spent hours researching a business, contacting various key players to understand the business needs, and discussing options so you can write a response to the RFP that delivers the most impact. Of course, the response should demonstrate why your solution is the best available option. Nonetheless, bids or responses to proposals should be treated as a selling tool. Here’s why. 

How to Write Winning Responses to RFPs

Although the proposal is where you will summarize how you will meet the requirements stipulated in the RFP, you still need to motivate the key decision players to select your solution over the competition. Like you, the decision makers must make tough investment decisions and may have a limited budget at their disposal. So you should present a clear proposal that sells the benefit, eliminates any perceived risks, and reassures them that they are making the best decision.

During the vendor selection process, the evaluators along with the key decision player analyze each proposal and are looking for the most credible offer. To write winning responses to RFPs, you’ll need to provide enough detail – both qualitative and quantitative – to make a strong, positive impression.

What does a successful bid look like?

In our experience, a well-prepared proposal that will appeal to your buyer has the following attributes:

  • You have a full understanding of the business issues they need to solve
  • Your solution has quantifiable benefits worth investing in
  • You’ve explained in detail how your solution works
  • You presented your company as a consultative partner, not just a transactional vendor

Would you like to take a deeper dive on crafting effective responses to RFPs?

Download this guide so you and your team can be successful at winning proposals.

Guide to Winning RFPs


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