sales approach

Sales Success for the Individual Contributor

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Let’s start with two of my favorite personal quotes:

“Luck is what happens when Preparation meets Opportunity.” – Seneca, Roman Philosopher.

“Become the person who would attract the results you seek.” – Jim Cathcart, Author of “Relationship Selling”

Why are those quotes important? Because they point out that you are responsible for your own success.

Picture of a hand holding several twenty dollar bills

Great companies with great products or services and great management teams make it much easier to be successful, but anyone who is prepared, curious, focused, motivated, and has a system that they follow can become successful anywhere.

My experience has shown the following to be true:

  1. Without preparation and understanding of your prospect, their customers, and their competition you are unlikely to succeed. This understanding provides the foundation for asking relevant questions to both understand the real need and to effectively qualify a deal in or out.
  2. Most sales occur because a Product or Service solves real and immediate business problems, or ties into strategic business initiatives.
  3. Your early goals should be around getting the meeting, having real discussions, understanding problems from your prospect’s perspective (including the terminology they use to describe those problems), and helping them describe what success “looks like to them” and why that is important (logically and emotionally). At this stage, you are learning and positioning, not selling.
  4. Deal qualification is an essential skill that enables you to focus your time and efforts where you are most likely to succeed. The faster you are able to “qualify out” a prospect that is not a good fit the better it is for you and that prospect. Eternal optimism is not a plan for filling your pipeline.
  5. If you have a supporting team then make sure that everyone understands the situation, their role and contribution to success, and what you want them to focus on. Never assume that things will just fall into place on their own.
  6. Have a repeatable process to track activities, measure progress, and identify the best next steps. Remember, “To measure is to know.” (Lord Kelvin)
  7. The sale is not over until your new Customer is happy. Become their internal advocate within your own organization and you will be rewarded with the customer’s trust, loyalty, and repeat business.

Ideally your Sales Leadership Team has defined a Sales Strategy, created a couple of repeatable Sales Plays and compelling supporting materials such as: Success Stories; Case Studies; ROI and TCO charts; brief but targeted Demos; and realistic Product Comparison information for internal use. These become the foundation for repeatable and scalable success.

But, if that is missing then collaborate with your peers, seek guidance from your leadership, and get creative. Remember, you are ultimately responsible for your own success so don’t allow things to become excuses or a crutch. In the words of the Buddha, “There are three solutions to every problem: Accept it, Change it, or Leave it.”

To help ensure success you will need to follow a Sales Methodology. Here is a link to a good high-level overview from Spotio.com. I’ve used several and there are pros and cons to each. None of them effectively addresses the successful progression from:

  1. Initiation, Understanding, and Qualification.
  2. Defining a compelling Solution and successfully positioning it against the competition.
  3. Closing the Sale, which is an area that many salespeople fall short.

The sales methodology that I personally believe is one of the easiest to use and most effective is MEDDIC. It is a Deal Qualification process, which is more encompassing than a simple Lead Qualification approach. The biggest blind spots are that it fails to address these four key areas:

  1. Influencers within a buyer’s organization. Knowing who these people are and what their biases may be will allow you to direct various resources towards each, and ideally provide a multi-threaded approach for each and every deal.
  2. Incumbents and the sentiment towards those vendors and their products. This is key to not wasting time on an opportunity that you would be unlikely to win.
  3. Related/Adjacent needs. Being able to tie success to multiple areas provides leverage and increases the value of your solution.
  4. Timeline/Urgency. This allows you to work backward from milestone dates for efforts like typical lead times for Legal and Purchasing, Integration Testing, QA/QC, Training and Documentation, etc.

Being prepared, creating a common vision of success that is based on the outcome rather than the approach, being responsive, and developing relationships and trust based on knowledge and a desire to help are easy ways to differentiate yourself from many lesser salespeople. Invest in your skills, set aggressive goals, and always hold yourself accountable for your own success.

Do this and you will become part of the 20% of any sales team that ‘moves the dial.’

What are you Really Selling? (hint – solutions)

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It is interesting to see Sales and Marketing people still focusing on features, performance, cost, and even value without creating linkage to what that means to a company from a business perspective. Once you understand what your prospect is buying and why they need it, you can then connect with them in a meaningful way to increase your win rate.

Pot of Gold

A sales adage from the 1940s (source) asserts, “No one wants a drill. What they want is the hole.” Today, that basic understanding of why people and companies buy is still often lost in sales and marketing messages. Sales success is all about solving problems and satisfying needs.

Several years ago, my team and I were selling a new Analytics Database that was genuinely different. Still, our message was identical to every other database vendor – “70% – 100% faster than every other product.” It is nearly impossible to differentiate your product using a non-differentiated message. Don’t treat your product or service as a commodity if it is not one.

I flipped the messaging to focus on business needs. We created a weekly webinar focused on Why Fast Matters. Query response time is important, but responsiveness to customer needs and requests is essential. What if they did not need to wait a week or two to have new indexes created or a month to have a Star Schema updated? They could just run queries as-is, maybe wait a minute instead of a second or two, and have what they need then and there. That message resonated, and we sold the first 50% of that product globally. When the Australian team began using our messaging, their sales also increased. Funny how that works.

Effectiveness is all about results and intended outcomes. Efficiency is about achieving those results with the least amount of time and effort invested. It doesn’t mean that we are looking for a lazy approach to find a win. Instead, it is about identifying repeatable patterns of doing the right things that circumvent unnecessary activities, accelerate the sales cycle, and minimize related costs. 

The way to help yourself understand what you are selling is to view things from your prospect’s perspective. What struggles are they likely facing? Where are the greatest opportunities to help their type of business? Are you analyzing data to attempt to assess their unmet needs? Your insight can become a huge differentiator, especially if you can teach them different and better ways to do something (ala the Challenger Sales Model).

What is the difference between your prospect company and its main competition? This analysis requires a general understanding of the problem space and a more specific understanding of the prospect company, its history, and 2-3 of its main competitors. It also requires an honest account of how your company and products compare to the competition so that you can play up your strengths and limit your investment in areas where the fit is not as good.

The next item to focus on is messaging. Below are a few examples from my career –

  1. Analytics & Big Data – The focus here is often on data volume, the currency of the data, speed of queries, cost, maintenance, and downtime. Those things become essential later in the sales discussion, but initially, companies want to know what problems your product or solution will solve.
    • Some of my fastest deals sold because I demonstrated ways to make better decisions faster and/or identify minor problems before they were had the chance to become major problems. Avoiding problems and unplanned outages were critical elemants of the messaging.
    • In one case, I closed a significant deal in less than three months by focusing on how a company could provide five years of transactional data for their customers. Those customers could use the data to make better purchasing decisions in less time than it took the current system to analyze six months of data. Their sales increased after implementing this modernized system. Helping their customers make better buying decisions faster was the winning message.
  2. Embedded Products – While many companies focus on APIs, features, or cost per unit, I would focus on how the product I was selling made things better and easier to manage for improved Customer Support and Customer Satisfaction.
    • I closed a $1.1 million deal in less than two months to a medical device company by focusing on the life cycle of those devices (often 10-15 years) and how their customers needed consistency from machine to machine. Consistency over time was the winning message here.
    • After being approached by a Defense Contractor for a relational database product for a new Flight Simulator system, I changed the discussion to the complexity of flight control systems, the need to correlate 30+ operational systems in real-time, and the importance of taking a verbal command and translating it to specific commands for each related system. That led to the sale of a NoSQL product that was ideally suited for this complex environment. The idea of letting our software handle the highly complex workload helped win this deal.
  3. Consulting Services – These were not contracting or body shop services (commodities), but actual Business and Technical Consulting services with high visibility and high impact. In these cases, expertise, experience, and having a track record of success in different but demanding scenarios provided confidence. These were often multi-phase engagements to prove our value before making a significant commitment.
    • In a bid against two well-established competitors, we won a deal with a large Petroleum company worth nearly $500K. The proposal included information that we uncovered about the system and use case and later verified with the prospect, a section on our people and some past projects, and a high-level project plan with firm-fixed pricing. We won the bid, and I later found out that our cost was $50K higher than the largest competitor and more than $100K more than the other competitor. The customer told me, “Your proposal demonstrated the understanding of who we are and what we need, and that confidence provided the justification to select your company and pay a premium to have the job done right the first time.”
    • My first million-dollar deal was with a company where we demonstrated our ability to solve problems. They knew they needed assistance but were not exactly sure where. I created a “Pool of Days” concept that provided flexibility in the work performed (task, deliverables, and scheduling) but had minimum monthly burn rates and an expiration date to protect my company. The winning messaging this time was that flexibility and the ability to accommodate changing needs without introducing significant risk, or additional cost were better ways to buy consulting services. This approach led to many other deals of a similar nature with other companies.

The common theme is helping companies solve their specific business problems from these examples. Even when technology was central to the message, focusing on better outcomes for that prospect and their customers was essential. Value matters, but positive results and better outcomes matter even more for most purchasing decisions.

Nobody wants to be responsible for taking a chance on a new vendor and be responsible for a high-profile failure. Helping instill confidence early on makes a huge difference, and following through to successful implementation results in happy customers who become loyal customers that provide references and referrals.

Success starts with selling what you know you can do from a business perspective for your Prospects. You are solving their problems with solutions they need and avoid getting lost in the noise of the unfocused messaging coming from most of your competition.

Good Selling!