sales process

Sales Lessons From The Hot Tub

by Karen Jackson | on Apr 12, 2016 | 12 Comments

Our hot tub died in late February. An untimely death given we were still in the clutches of winter, but my family enjoyed 20 soothing years from it so I couldn’t be terribly annoyed.

“Karen, why are you telling me this story?” you ask. Because of what happened when I went to replace it! There are important sales lessons to be learned. Take a few moments to consider the buyer journey….

I immediately called the store that sold us the tub 20 years ago and that has been servicing it all along. After determining that the repair cost was 50% of the original price, it seemed prudent to purchase a new one, so I asked for a quote to replace it. The sales person emailed me a quote and brochure for the model that was effectively the 20 years later version of the original tub. Then there was silence – no follow up call or email.

Without a conversation or email exchange, he’d left me alone to ruminate…. “Do I really want the same thing? If I’m going to fork out the cash, ought I think a bit grander in terms of features and functions? Yes, this brand was reliable for 20 years. But it was pretty basic in terms of features, with a minimal number of jets and few customizable settings. Surely other options exist.”

But the salesperson hadn’t asked me any questions about my needs or desires, didn’t probe about my priorities or my budget parameters. He already “knew” me and offered a solution based on my need profile of 20 years ago. He also took literally my request for a “replacement” hot tub.

Like a watching a B-quality horror movie, I hope you’re already recognizing the signs of disaster for the salesperson.

Much had changed about me as a buyer in 20 years: My body aches more after skiing – hell, after sitting; I have more discretionary income; I now spend more on services and products that bring me peace, joy or time. Equally important, when I bought my first hot tub, I’d just finished building the house it resides at. I was financially stretched after the investment and went for basic, basic, basic on the hot tub. My needs and desires today are entirely different.

Left alone, I decided to research alternatives, and walked into another local provider. Hot tubs are a luxury item and this salesperson understood that completely. (That’s why 20 years later, they’re referred to as “spas.”) “Tell me about….” He said. And then he began to explore my pain points, desires, ideal outcome. He asked me questions, offered product choices that mapped to what he’d heard from me, and relayed a couple of purchase stories about clients similar to my profile. An hour later I walked out with a purchase order and he held my deposit.

It’s a B2C story but it applies to B2B purchasing decisions. In B2B, while the “B” represents business, business buyers are real people with emotional needs and personal agendas. Did you spot the mistakes made by the sales person? These are the important takeaways for your sales people:

• Beware of making assumptions about current customers, especially when selling products / services that are not high frequency transactions. You may think you know them, but things change and they won’t always share.
• Always probe for what has changed in the buyer’s universe since their last purchase.
• Don’t assume their request is what they really need or want; probe for pain points, desires and ideal outcomes just as one would for a new customer.
• Cost is rarely the leading decision factor, unless one is competing in a hyper commoditized space.
• Use closing questions to clearly understand concerns or objections, potential new competition, and the vision match between your solution and the customer’s desired result.
• Gain commitments for next steps. Always.
• Never leave a customer alone with a proposal for an extended period of time. There’s no firm rule on timeline, as scenarios differ based on complexity of solution, but anything longer than 1 week is a mistake.
• Follow up is an important element of the sales cycle, both to retain control of the process and make the buyer feel cared for. If you don’t pay appropriate attention to the customer, another vendor will.

If this seems basic to you, reevaluate. I witness sales people for multi-million dollar companies make these mistakes regularly. The good news is that there’s a solution. The development of sales process and play-books that leverage best practices, combined with training and coaching of the sales team, ensures that your company won’t lose the next hot tub – sorry, “spa” – sale.

P.S. I love my new spa. 🙂

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Who’s Your True Buyer?

by Karen Jackson | on Dec 30, 2013 | No Comments

There’s a big push on sales teams to sell to the “C-suite.” But, for purchases that aren’t strategic to the very mission of the company, the C-suite is rarely the buyer. The seller wants to sell “top down” but the C-suite can’t be bothered considering the seller’s solutions. The result is wasted months on sales campaigns that fall on deaf ears.

In B2B sales, the buyer is typically at least one level below the C-suite, a lieutenant charged with executing on C-suite directives. In larger companies, the true buyer may be several layers below. Perhaps more importantly, the buyer is actually multiple people. They express a common need but that need is filtered through differing, often personal, agendas.

Without identifying, and then satisfying, those agendas it’s common for sellers to make it through to the proposal stage of their sales cycle and then find it tough to close. A telling symptom of this problem is a prospect that goes silent after receiving a proposal. Or, a deal is lost for reasons never stated as key to the decision process. Everything seems to be going well; the buyer appears enthusiastic. Lots of energy and hours are invested by the seller, and then, nothing.

Frustrated CEO’s will tell me that their sales people lack closing skills and ask for sales training recommendations. In my experience, poor closing technique is least often the problem. Rather it’s the failure to identify and satisfy these multiple buyers and their respective agendas. Equally often, the sales person identifies as their buyer someone who is functionally a project manager. That person appears as a buyer since they behave like one; they write the RFP, meet with vendors and actively evaluate solutions. But the functional project manager typically lacks buying authority or political clout. It’s certainly necessary to work closely with these individuals throughout the sales cycle, but treating them as the sole buyer puts a seller at peril.

The solution is to build into the sales process steps for identifying, connecting with, and meeting the agendas of the true buyers. Among the questions to answer:

  • Who are the collective buyers, both decision makers and influencers?
  • What are the differing agendas that will need to be satisfied?
  • Who needs the solution and who will campaign for the status quo?
  • What are their relationships to one another, both in terms of hierarchy and function?
  • How do their needs change based on their roles?
  • What risks will they face in championing a change?

Because that information is rarely available until the seller has earned the customer’s trust, creating buyer personas based on one’s target markets allows the seller to identify all the buyers and their likely agendas, and then craft a value proposition to satisfy those agendas. Fanning out to all these potential buyers with compelling messaging is now possible.

It’s important not to end run or treat the “project manager” as insignificant. They may not be the true buyer but they can keep you in the dark. Instead, work with that individual to build a business case that meets the needs of all the influencers and decision makers. If the project manager is enthusiastic about a vendor’s solution, it’s in their best interests to help them understand the landscape and gain access.  If they are gate-keeping, that’s a signal that the value proposition isn’t compelling enough for them to satisfy their own agenda. The agenda for a person at this level often includes avoiding any recommendation that would put her job at risk.

A final tip: Calling into the C-suite seeking direction can yield terrific results. Instead of asking for a meeting, the seller asks, “Who in the company should I call to discuss this offering?” While not the buyer, the C-suite has every interest that quality vendors are engaging with their organization. The seller will often get one or more names, and then be able to call with permission and authority, saying, “The CXO asked that I call you to discuss……”

 

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The Simplest Way to a Forecast You Can Trust

by Karen Jackson | on Feb 19, 2013 | 8 Comments

When I work with B2B sales teams struggling with profitable revenue growth, there’s always one person seemingly outside the biz dev process who wants in on the conversation: the CFO. Inevitably I get asked for a few minutes in private, and when the door is closed, s/he’ll plead, “what can you do to get me a forecast I can trust?”

Great question, particularly for companies with complex products / services and long sales cycles. In small to mid-size B2B companies, so much gets done on an ad hoc basis within the sales organization that forecasting deal closure is way less about reality and way more about emotion, ego, politics and culture. For example, in some companies it’s better for a sales rep to project they’ll close a deal than to admit its improbability; in others, it’s better to sandbag and then have pleasant surprises.  Under either scenario, missed forecasts wreak havoc on a company’s health and future.

There is a simple way to creating a forecast you can trust. Follow these four key steps:

1)      Identify each stage of your sales process and the milestones completing each stage that tell you when you’ve moved to the next

2)      Estimate the average length (in days) of each stage of the process

3)      Approximate the average percent of deals that close at each stage of your process (i.e, deals that make it to Stage 3 have a 60% likelihood of closure)

4)      Hang every deal in your pipeline on a weighted forecast spreadsheet that maps the dollar value of the opportunity to its stage, and therefore to its probability of, and date until, close.

The results will be eye-popping. And that’s a good thing, even if what you learn about your pipeline isn’t. Because that’s when the fixing can begin.

Many resist the exercise because they lack data to tackle these steps with precision. Many resist for fear of what they’ll learn. Don’t let either stop you. Yes, I’d prefer you have a CRM. Yes, I’d prefer you have hard, accurate data. Yes, I understand you haven’t yet created a culture of accountability around these metrics. Like many things in life, it can be hard to pick a place to start. But, the truth is, there is plenty of anecdotal, historical information in the organization that will get you close enough to create your first forecast based on reality vs. a crystal ball. I’m not suggesting there isn’t both art and science to sales, but the more we avoid the science, the harder it is to do good art.

Ultimately, the true value is in identifying the underlying problems in your revenue engine. You’ll begin figuring out answers to the thorny problems like:

  • Where in the process do we fail most often? (Failing early vs. failing late helps diagnose what we need to repair.)
  • Where are the opportunities to increase our sales velocity?
  • What accountability metrics directly impact accomplishing our goals?
  • How might we better qualify opportunities throughout the sales cycle to increase close ratios?

Tackling those questions leads to refining your process which leads to a tightened forecast. Your best sales reps will be elated; they’ll see clearly where / how they should spend their time, and they’ll get straight to the fix. Your mediocre reps will squirm, a solid indicator that it’s time for them to seek other employment. Your head of sales can shift from task management to coaching. And, your CFO will actually crack a smile.

If you need some help thinking about how to apply this to your business, please ping me at karen@jacksonsolutions.com.  As always, I appreciate any additions to this conversation with your comments, insights, suggestions.

Here’s to a forecast you can trust.

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