Tuesday, July 23, 2013


We’re a society of givers.
Not to fly in the face of customer-centric principles, but I believe that  in a business-to-business environment, we devalue our offerings and potential future revenue by giving away valuable products and services at little or no charge. In effect, we've trained our customers to negotiate with us, and they're on top.  It often occurs in the form of a concession in order to close business within a calendar deadline.

Another ironic truth? Some salespeople offer up product freebies when the buyer hasn't even asked. The reality is that it’s not necessary. You wouldn’t be this far along the buy/sell cycle if they didn’t like your offering the best.

Bad things happen with giving, and here’s why: The story of your giving becomes public knowledge. You've trained your customers to use your published prices as a start-point in negotiating. Your pricing reputation  precedes you, and your quoted street or list pricing is now suspect. 

In our rush to close we offer unnecessary enticements and concessions. Now consider the prospect or customer that does pays book value for your offering - they clearly understand the value and usage of your product or service because a sales team enabled them, by providing a clear understanding of its’ projected impact on their business. Here's a guideline: When appropriate, apply Quid Pro Quo tactics, but don't just give it away!

Yet another perspective; it’s rare that either buyer or seller will take the time to conduct a business value analysis on a free product. So now you have a new “user” who is unaware of your product's usage capabilities, and lacks awareness of the potential value it brings to their table. So you are at risk of carrying a negative, or at best, an indifferent customer. This is a leadership issue.  It’s your call.

Giving away product or services is like giving away your intellectual property.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Qualification / Disqualification

Great article by Jonathan Farrington on qualifying.  It's a theme similar to, "TestingThe Sales Hypothesis." As a best practice, qualification/disqualification testing should continue throughout the buy/sell lifecycle.

Been on hiatus for too long....

We've ignored this blog for a while and now intend to reactivate it. The B&K team has been
busy. In the last month we've been in San Francisco, Houston, Washington, DC, and heading to
Canoga Park next week. We're heading to Europe on 20 April.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I'd Rather Sweat...

Many years ago, a rather excitable, red-faced gentleman (USMC Drill Instructor) wearing a strange hat with a flat, circular brim, drilled a concept into me that continues to resonate after all these years. There was absolutely no questioning of his words – they were to be acted upon immediately and were never, ever, to be forgotten. He made me, along with about 70 other of my peers, memorize the following phrase verbatim, “I’d rather sweat in training, than bleed in combat.” Simple, yet very effective.

He was right. Success comes down to proper execution of a process, be it in war, or, in business. Proper execution doesn’t occur by magic; it’s the result of rigorous training. Sweat, whether physical or metaphorical, is good because it will improve execution of a process, or a move.  
We help design sales process programs for businesses, and often use this as a discussion point in our work. Following a training roll-out, we help these clients learn to manage to their adopted new processes.

 Along with my colleagues, I recognize that the very best execution of sales performance systems comes from practicing elements of the process. The practice I’m referring to means continued training and repetition, of the process within the organization, well after the consultants have collected their fees and gone home.

Besides practice, it makes pretty good sense for someone to observe, inspect, and assess the results of the adopted process, recalibrating where necessary.  When these things are done, it’s much easier to reap the results from a significant training investment.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Case for Connecting

How do salespeople execute their sales process competencies if they are unable to make successful connections? I’m referring to people-to-people connections with potential high-value influencers. How does a salesperson access and engage a decision-maker, or other key player to champion their cause?

Within our client base there are many different kinds of selling roles. It is interesting that best practice selling skill sets seem to apply across the sales role spectrum. In each area, the ability for the salesperson to connect is crucial.

Skills applicable to the inside salesperson are just as critical to an outside or, direct rep, as well as for the high-end, global account salesperson. This discussion will focus on what most organizations refer to as inside, or telesales. It's understood that different organizations may use a variation of the label or title, so a little latitude, please.

In the marketplace the introduction of a hot, disruptive new offering sounds fun, right? It is. But success is elusive if you can’t get anyone to listen to your story. It’s pretty important in any business that those in a customer-facing role be capable of articulating the corporate message in a factual manner. However, it falls on the shoulders of a salesperson to initiate a conversational dialogue. These result in connections.

Inside sales, or telesales pros, catch a lot of grief for a variety of reasons. Some are fair and some are not. The good ones, though, are a huge value to any selling organization. Along with the marketing department, they are the real tips of the revenue spear. They have the ability to transfer a specialized message, causing a potential prospect to form a mental “maybe,” or “what if” question in their mind.

Think about it. In the outbound prospecting role, there’s that whole primeval hunting thing. The savvy seller is searching from a potential candidate pool from which personal connections must be established. The seller must be capable of multi-tasking, concurrently qualifying or disqualifying potential candidates.

The crucial, initial encounter must be meaningful enough that the seller is allowed the opportunity to share a compelling story with a potential customer (who, by the way, is often a complete stranger).
In a perfectly executed scenario that “stranger”  become engaged and wants to learn more. A personal connection has been made, a next action activity scheduled, or perhaps it's a one-call close. For salespeople it’s the power of the connection. Considering that this scenario sometimes is initiated with a very short, succinct phone conversation, the outcome can be amazing!

But wait, there’s more! (Pun is intended) the seller must also be agile, responsive and immediately helpful if the initial encounter was from an unsolicited, inbound caller. This “prospect” may be shopping information. They can be time-killers if the seller is not careful. Earlier the term “disqualification” came up.  We know many inbound callers have already educated themselves to some degree via the web. The seller’s skill here is to very quickly qualify or, disqualify the caller.

If this is a legitimate inbound inquiry, and I'm the salesperson, I must quickly grasp the caller’s existing perspective and then help them expand that view.  This can cause the prospect to now consider our own unique offering, or differentiator, as viable solutions.

Ideally, that initial connection serves as a birthplace for ideas a prospect hadn’t yet considered. This may also be an opportunity for a seller to set a competitive trap. Change the evaluation rules by asking the prospect to add the seller’s unique differentiator to the buyer's evaluation criteria. This won’t be accomplished unless a meaningful connection has been established between a salesperson and a potential buyer.

It’s interesting that in some (not all) organizations, the inside salesperson isn't afforded the same  status as the traditional direct or installed account rep. I don’t understand this. The inside sales group is often used as the training ground for field-based salespeople. Maybe that paradigm should be reversed. See how that plays out.

OK, bad idea. But if the inside sales team is a viable mechanism for professional development and provides significant revenue stream for a lot of companies, then let's give them their props.  These professional salespeople are part of the corporate treasure chest. The salesperson skilled at making good connections is shaping your customer’s buying experience. Treat them like gold bullion. Don’t let them get away from you.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mindful Conversations

In my business it’s really important to listen carefully when others speak. Conceptually this sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?  Not as easy as you’d think. Imagine being able to eavesdrop in on business meetings, be the fly on the wall, or simply an unseen objective listener – privy to the interaction from both sides of conversations. As the observer, its possible to identify dysfunctional communication occurring - from both sides. So from a business perspective, as salespeople, it's important important to review our own habits.

During a conversation, more than a few of us mentally leapfrog ahead while the other party is speaking. Our eyeballs are locked in, but in truth we’re planning on what we want to say, or how we should respond, instead of being in the moment while we listen to our client’s concerns.  For me, managing a mindful conversation has been one of my biggest business challenges. My guess is that this will be a life-long journey.

It becomes even more problematic because, lacking anything remotely close to a photographic memory; I’m forced to take notes – lots of them. So, instead of truly being at one in a shared conversation, I find myself multi-processing (difficult for me), which in essence degrades my true comprehension of the dialogue in play.

Some people are uncomfortable being recorded, so notes and confirming questions are how I manage to capture and retain the most salient points of a business conversation. Confirming my understanding of the discussion points seems to score points with my clients. It’d be great if I’d been born with a rewind button allowing me to reach back and review key conversations. But I can’t, hence the note taking.
Many salespeople seem to have an overdeveloped speech gene. We talk too much, often attempting to over-control a conversation. It’s almost a compulsion, I know, I'm cursed with it. We become so passionate about our message we run the risk of overwhelming the listener with our point of view. 

It’s ironic.  Intellectually, we know that we can communicate much more effectively when we slow our conversational pace, conducting via internal content review, the words of another before responding. Without this content review , it's very possible to become so over-enthusiastic that we diminish our own message. Sometimes verbal response isn’t necessary, or even appropriate. This is where many have struggled. People - particularly salespeople, communicate much better after taking the time to think about the subject at hand.

After telling me for years that I speak without listening, my wife guided me towards a helpful source – she loaned me a copy of The Art of Power written by the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. My wife encouraged me to learn to be mindful, “about what?” I’d ask. “Just read the book.”  I learned
that mindfulness can be applied to many aspects of business, and life.

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches to “be in the moment,” it sounds religious (it’s not), but it is spiritual – eastern, calm and seemingly impossible. Personally, there seems to be way too much activity going on in my mind, to fully appreciate the concept. They call it “monkey mind.” I call it struggling with my demons. But relaxing (meditating) before, and during a business meeting is like taking medicine without the pills. 

Thich Nhat Hanh has written a number of pieces that explores the importance of relaxation. He suggests we can all learn to be mindful in our thoughts and actions. When I’m considering a client’s needs I find that in a business situation, when I am able to effectively block outside distractions – I’m being mindful, and as a result  I’m able to do a much better job. Here’s the conundrum, most of us stumble through work and life assaulted by ongoing distractions and don’t even realize it. Sometimes it takes a vacation on the beach and a couple of drinks with tiny parasols in them to realize how stressed many of us are.  The notion of learning to be calm – even briefly, is hugely beneficial.

For salespeople, calmness can bring clarity to one’s thoughts and optimal results for one’s efforts. These results represent a tactical improvement – and for some, a clear advantage. When I consider the conversational dance that we engage in for the pursuit of business, it’s quite clear to me that if people can learn to listen more carefully, the character of their thoughts will find their way into words that are situationally more applicable, while impacting interpretation and outcome.

I’ve seen instances in business where the act of modeling mindful listening influences the other party to also practice better conversational behavior. Thoughtful dialogue allows participants a chance to slow down, relax and align. A point of clarity may emerge, providing individuals, whether they’re speaking or listening, the space to expand perspectives, blending ideas and mutually building upon them – an intellectual chain of events resulting in mutual gain. 

Discussions consisting of shared concepts can illustrate thoughtful ideas and words. Mindful listening and speaking helps eliminate barriers, enhance learning, and afford others the opportunity to consider your ideas.

Monday, June 11, 2012

In the Shadow of Sun Tzu - When to do Battle
If one considers the nuances of the buyer / seller opportunity lifecycle, it's a pretty safe bet that if a prospect organization is going to spend funds on a new business solution, they've already conducted to some degree their own analysis of the various vendors before going public with the vendor selection process. However, it’s important that the buying entity have multiple appropriate vendors respond to their proposal requests. It has long been whispered that some selection decisions are made prior to inviting in a group of qualified vendors to compete for the business.

This notion presents a serious dilemma for those who’d like to engage, but feel as if they’re not likely to get the chance to do so on a level field. Our thoughts are, if you commit yourself, your organization and reputation to combat, you’d better execute a plan that will ensure success. There is a high risk of failure in this scenario if one chooses to follow the rules as designated by the buyer, or the “unbiased” 3rd party consulting entity.  Here’s a thought for those who like to think tactically.  Change the rules of engagement, or don’t play.
Ask any salesperson who’s ever carried a bag if they’ve heard the seductive whisper in their ear, "We're looking to buy and we're going to give you serious consideration." The seller quickly runs this 'steaming hot" lead up the flag pole and the appropriate organizational response has been to marshal the necessary resources and react by putting their best team on it. However, by being “reactive” a seller can easily squander an opportunity to control the field.  Thus begins the slippery path to sales perdition, the vendor showing its willingness to serve as column fodder. When invited to participate, many salespeople (and/or their managers) completely lose their critical thinking skills, abdicating power in the pursuit of checking a selection criteria box.

If a seller hasn’t participated in the creation of a buyer's initial buying vision, then there can be a reasonable assumption that someone else did, or, the buying entity has researched the web and formed their own conclusions without benefit of your input. In either scenario, the seller is merely a comparative column in the evaluation process.

With happy ears in full extension, sellers fall over themselves to accommodate the whims of the buyer, who probably has already mentally selected something else.

Consider this: If as a sales organization, management decides to commit the internal resources necessary to win, then salespeople should insist that the prospect’s organization provide them the opportunity to properly present products and services to those stakeholders (decision makers)   most impacted by the proposed change. It is, after all, a fair thing to ask, a very valid quid pro quo. If denied this reasonable request, it’s time to disqualify the opportunity.

Most people would agree that in a sales situation, the selling entity incurs significant costs just to compete. If not given the opportunity to expand the prospect's existing vision to one biased by the seller’s offering, why compete? It’s time to apply the qualification / disqualification litmus test. Are the existing rules of engagement fair? Are rigid rules in place restricting who a sales person can speak with? Are these rules unfair?

Has your sales team found itself blocked from interacting with true stakeholders – unable to demonstrate what they do best? Have your resources and efforts been spent on presenting to a "designated representative?" Our guess is that the engagement rules have been designed this way for a purpose.
It is futile for anyone to attempt to sell to someone who can't buy. But, oh, how we try! In the fog of battle, unless the sales manager possesses an acute insight into the seller’s behavior under duress, the risk factors will be very high. 

At the risk of being cynical, if a selling organization is invited to compete in a competitive situation but hasn’t participated in the creation of the buyer’s initial vision, then what has been purported to be a level playing field, is probably skewed towards a competitor.

Continuing with this scenario, it’d be interesting to know just how many competing vendors are forecasting the same opportunity. In situations like this, a savvy salesperson may still have a trump card. Think of the prospect diligently preparing the columns in his vendor spreadsheet. Column A represents the vendor of choice - the favorite. However, this prospect actually needs the participation of several vendors to represent additional evaluation columns. This makes good business sense. Internal requirements (and in some cases, the law) demand a record of due diligence in the selection process. They certainly want to enhance their own negotiating & pricing position with the true vendor of choice.

Through the power of suggestion - happy ears, and other more nefarious means, they keep all competing vendors hopeful. Without realizing it, you've been pre-designated as a "Bronze Medalist" or, in some cases, the more exalted, "Silver Medalist," but to become the “Gold Medalist,” it may require the seller to break (or change) the rules

So salespeople beware! If it smells bad, or feels as if the fix is in, challenge the status quo. Ask for an audience with those key players in the buying organization who would be most impacted by the scope of your offering. If denied this reasonable request, walk away. Better yet, run like the wind and be vocal about it.

Chances are the seller's time and the selling organization’s resources will be squandered on this boondoggle. Why participate? Why not pursue something you have a fair chance of winning? Interestingly, a formal withdrawal or refusal to participate on the basis of fairness (or lack thereof), may compel the buyer to grant the necessary face-time.

If this hardball tactic is successful, and the audience request is granted, the seller is now afforded the opportunity to reengineer the existing vision to one that is now biased by the sellers' differentiator(s). If the seller succeeds at redefining the buyer’s perspective with a capability unique to his/her product, try the following tactic for grins and giggles. After proving to the stakeholders your offering's unique capabilities, insist (no guts, no glory) that the buyer have your competitor(s) demonstrate that same capability.  Crash and burn.