Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Joy of Coaching

We practiced and practiced. Each girl on my U12 squad lined up in the corner, and one by one, they kicked the ball towards the goal as a teammate crossed from the other side, behind the defenders.

It's one of the first critical strategic moves in youth teaches the player that against her instincts, she can pass the ball to a teammate rather than taking her own shot on goal. She learns that she can play an important supporting role, one that ensures greater success for the team than if she took her own off-angle shot.

And one fall day, everything fell into place and they scored. And they rushed off the pitch, yelling in unison "Mr. Levitt, Mr. Levitt! We scored! It worked just like in practice!"

Yep :)

I've done a lot of coaching since then...individual sales people, sales teams, sales leaders, business principals, and in many cases we've had significant breakthroughs in mindset, context, attitude, skills and results. We've improved sales results significantly. We've built stronger teams. We've turned around businesses. Clients are having fun in their jobs.

Some of my coaching clients have even given me a taste of my own medicine! (Thanks Myles Bristowe, you saved my butt big time!)

Yet, over all those years, and all that coaching, that one moment of absolute joy when the girls ran off the field yelling "It worked just like in practice!" is the one that stands out in my mind.


Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Supercharge your strategic account program!

How Are You Treating Your Largest Accounts?


Most large tech companies have a strategic account strategy, providing additional technical, business, product resources, and occasionally targeted investments for those accounts. Some provide “concierge” level access to technical or development resources. Executive sponsors are also typically assigned to these accounts, to help with elevating the visibility of the partnership and to better manage the business and technical issues that come up.

Why do we make these additional investments in strategic accounts? It’s where the money is, and more importantly it’s where the profit is. One study showed that a company’s top five customers alone may account for 22% of all revenues and 21% of annual profits! Other studies suggest that your top tier of customers will generate all of your company’s profits.

Strategic accounts spend more, they are customers longer, and make specific long-lasting platform, technology and relationship commitments.

Yet in most organizations day to day management of the relationship is largely left to chance. Few companies hire true strategic account managers (SAMs), choosing instead to promote their “best” individual reps into a role that requires significant team and process management skills.

They’re putting lone wolfs into a team coaching role. Oops.

Compensation complicates things. While SAMs may be compensated on multi-year revenue attainment, share of wallet gains and customer satisfaction scores, other sales people on the account, the specialist, pillar, or portfolio sales people, typically retain their quarterly and annual quota, and frequently are re-assigned to new companies each year.  These portfolio sales people don’t typically report to the SAM, usually have competing business imperatives for their own product sets and may even compete with one another, as multiple products from the vendor may solve a specific business or technical problem.

In short, a primary driver of disappointment in strategic account programs is that the process typically focuses on sales planning or opportunity planning rather than relationship planning and management. Account based selling counts on the latter. And the ARPEDIO platform, for instance, has a specific set of resources to support relationship development and management.

Developing a Plan Isn’t Sufficient

SAMs are typically expected to develop an annual account plan, and some collaborate with their portfolio sales people to do so. Others just wing it. In most cases, the output is indeed a plan…a written document that might be revisited annually…an artifact that provides no guidance for the day-to-day governance of the account.

It is a sales plan with detailed lists of potential opportunities, alignment of products to perceived business or technical problems. The plan typically lacks a thorough analysis of the influence or relationship map within the account or any plans to bolster relationships with important internal and external (partner) stakeholders.

A survey conducted by the Strategic Account Management Association (SAMA) found that, even within their membership, a few years ago, a mere 11% of account plans are “effectively executed.” That’s a pretty dismal adherence rate, given that these plans should be the primary pathway to better customer relationships and higher revenue generation! And I don’t have any evidence that this percentage has grown in recent years.

What to Do?

If your organization is serious about strategic accounts, the first step is to ensure corporate support for a multiyear investment in the process of account planning, management and governance. It’s going to take investment in people and process. While results will appear almost immediately, the full impact of an effective strategic account program will not be seen until the second or third year of the program, at the earliest. If the program is properly maintained, those results should be long-lasting!

The next step is to set up a framework for success, including:

  • Hiring SAMs with strong team management skills and providing an effective coaching environment
  • Building a comp plan that supports the multi year and perhaps global nature of the SAM activities, while also properly motivating pillar reps.
  • Developing programmatic analysis of customer financials, industry growth trends, key stakeholder profiles, installed base, competitive SOW and more…
  • Enrolling management of each portfolio sales organization in the process and creating a consistent set of rules of engagement
  • Developing a process for thoughtfully identifying the strategic opportunities and challenges within the customer organization
  • Implementing a technology platform like ARPEDIO to support the process, both for the team and to provide ongoing management visibility
  • Installing a team governance process to ensure success on an ongoing basis

Team Governance?

In my experience…and I’ve driven strategic planning for several billion dollars in revenues…the last item in the framework is the real challenge. Teams gather to conduct the planning process…and then scatter to the wind. Individual reps receive conflicting messages from their management, sometimes in conflict with the team. Occasionally they go “rogue” in an effort to land revenue this quarter or fiscal year, upsetting a much larger, more strategic deal.

To address this issue with one very large software company, we established the concept of sales team “program management” for their Account Team Unit (ATU). Initially, the function of program management was handled by an existing team member, with the goal of providing dedicated headcount to take on that function as necessary.

As we developed the strategic account program at another company, one core team member owned team facilitation and governance to support the strengths (and challenges) of the individual strategic account managers. 

Thing One – Visibility

The SAM must have visibility on the activities of each portfolio rep (and their sales consultants), ensuring consistent team/account messaging across all initiatives and engagements; and whether individual reps are actively engaged. That visibility also helps the SAM to know where a rep needs help with access or organizational support. Reps gravitate to where they see opportunity, leaving broken promises of supporting the SAM and the strategic account. “If it’s not closing this quarter, I’m not wasting my time pursuing it.”

The challenge here is that the pillar rep has a very different comp plan than the SAM, and does not report to the SAM, except maybe on a dotted line basis. If they get conflicting directives from their direct manager, they’re going to go with what their manager tells them to do.

Thing Two – Value Selling mindset

The SAM and their team must focus on two key topics:

First, Cocreating new possibilities with the customer. Sometimes this is as basic as exploring Why change/why now, and sometimes, it’s creating new capabilities from scratch, like turning a repository of manufacturing and tech support information into insights that drive manufacturing quality improvements, or using real time social media data into operational signals and feedback.

Second, change management. Top sales people help their customers to first answer that question why change, why now, and then…how. Change management is all about outlining the goals of a specific change and the expectations of behavior change for the involved employees. Without effective change management, most strategic initiatives are unlikely to succeed.

Thing Three – Customer Participation

However, even if your organization successfully designs and implements a strong planning and governance framework, this only provides the “inside-out” view. It’s a series of hypotheses around “what we think the customer might be interested in…” And here’s where most companies fail in their strategic account planning process. They neglect to include the single most important stakeholder in the process — the customer.

Sure…it can be challenging to include the customer in the process, and sometimes the customer’s strategic focus doesn’t quite align with what we want to sell. Go figure! Yet, deep engagement with the customer in the planning process leads to more involvement by the customer, better “time and access” for discovery and relationship building, faster decision cycles, larger, more profitable deals, and higher customer satisfaction. That planning process, by the way, is a cycle rather than an event…a series of regular engagements with relevant resources, and commitment to action and investment on an ongoing basis.

Many companies leave the participation of the customer to be handled by the SAM. A few formally drive a “co-creation” process with the customer, ensuring that the customer has a seat at the table in the planning process. I’ve facilitated strategic account planning in F100 customers’ boardrooms, with active participation of key customer stakeholders throughout the process. Their participation provided valuable direction for our sales investments and led to the identification of significant new opportunities.

Once a strong context is established for the joint team, everyone looks forward to the regular discussions. We’re helping our strategic stakeholders to address significant business challenges and they have a sense that we’re “in the boat” with them, that we are truly committed to their success. 

Strategic Account Planning and Governance as Competitive Advantage — Actions to Take

If you believe that your strategic account program could drive more value for your organization (and for your customer), a key area of focus is individual sales rep activity, messaging and governance. 

And the second key area is customer involvement. If you’re not actively, routinely involving your customer in the strategic planning process, you’re leaving significant money on the table and wasting valuable time and resources on unqualified opportunities.


And the third is to develop the activities and platforms to scale this into repeatable, manageable, processes.


If you want help building or improving your strategic or key account program, please visit to schedule an initial conversation.



Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Do we need a charter for our sales enablement organization?

In talking with fellow sales enablement practitioners across the industry, I'm hearing a common theme.

Those groups that do not have a specific, published, circulated and agreed-on charter are less strategic, productive and relevant than those that do.

Think of it this way...if you set off on a cross country journey, without a map, without being able to describe your destination succinctly, not only would you get lost, you won't be able to ask for help along the way.

You will be incapable of reaching your destination efficiently. You probably won't reach it. You will probably give up somewhere along the way and keep busy doing things that occur to you along the road.

Sound familiar? Then you don't have a sales enablement charter. You do have multiple constituents who continue to ask your team to undertake unrelated tasks, some strategic, many quite mundane and unrelated to the strengths of the people on your team.

I've seen enablement teams became the project drop off site. "Hey, let's give this to the enablement team...they'll do anything we ask..." And the good corporate citizens in enablement take on task after task. And this becomes their brand. 

What does a good sales enablement charter look like?

There's the document...the mission statement, the services supported/provided, the groups enabled, the funding sources, the strategic/leadership/executive support, the expected results, the things not included.

And there's the reality...the mindset, the actions, the relationships with sponsors and stakeholders that create the brand and deliver the results. 

Interestingly, my group at Oracle was able to function with a strong brand (the reality of our work) and a passable document. For many years our executive sponsor continued to fund the group with not much more than verbal requests from sales leadership stating "they helped a lot last year, please keep them around."

We knew exactly what we wanted to accomplish each year. As we were embedded in the sales organization, we had strong awareness of what needed to be done and how to do it. We also carved out a 20% slush fund...20% of our time set aside for the ad hoc requests from product management or marketing that we couldn't necessarily predict, but knew would be coming regularly.

But...when our executive sponsor moved on, the lack of a strong, agreed on sales enablement charter caught up with us. New sales leadership didn't understand the charter or the value of the group and we lost both funding and autonomy.

To be successful, you need both the charter and the brand

And it's getting more complicated today with "revenue enablement" threatening to overtake or subsume sales enablement as a function. Frankly, that's a semantic issue... Sales and revenue enablement are largely the same thing. And some talk about customer enablement...but that's a different set of issues or activities.

To increase your impact in 2024, you must have a strong sales enablement charter in place before the end of the year. And to develop this charter, you must have:

  • Strong understanding of the development needs of your customer facing people
  • Comprehensive inventory of your group's skills and knowledge of the gaps
  • Executive sponsorship
  • Stakeholder agreement on the goals and outcomes for 2024

And it's the last one -- the stakeholder agreement -- that is the most challenging. You can't simply ask the CSO or Sales VP what they need from enablement...they don't know how to answer the question. It's the role of the enablement team to conduct the discovery and propose the activities that support the needed a trusted advisor.

If you want help developing/supercharging your sales enablement charter, let me know. We will build the charter framework and work with you to develop the mission, the story and the details. And we will facilitate the conversations between the enablement team and the stakeholders to ensure that you set appropriate expectations, target key goals, KPIs or OKRs, and gain the necessary support. 

With a strong sales enablement charter, you will have a much more successful, enjoyable, fruitful 2024.






Thursday, August 10, 2023

Why all the buzz about Value Selling?


I had an interesting conversation recently with someone who has a deep sales, marketing and communications background. He's worked for a couple of household names. You'd recognize them. If you've been in finserv for a while, you would probably recognize him.

He asked an interesting question: "why all the focus on value selling on your Thoughts On Selling podcast? I don't get it."

When I started to explain value selling to him, he cut me off. "Doesn't everybody sell this way? In professional services we've always focused on the customer."

That got me thinking. What's the difference between selling a product and selling a service?

With a product, you can point to its attributes - size, color, horsepower, storage capacity, number of CPUs or circuits, whether the LEDs are surface mounted, etc.

With a service, you have nothing to point to. It's an intangible. It doesn't exist outside of the experience of the service delivery (except perhaps for the simple "Want me to cut your grass?"...and even there value prop there is pretty obvious.

So...why do we focus on product attributes of the product rather than its ultimate value to the user?

Frankly, we're lazy.

It's what engineering driven/led organizations focus on...because it's comfortable. It's what the founders understand.

And we're swept up in the competitive leapfrog of "my widget is 10% shinier than the other company's widget."

We count on the prospect/buyer/user to make the jump from "high performance fabric" to "completing my analytics job this morning rather than tomorrow afternoon or next week." And that requires another couple of jumps..."if i can run many more analytics jobs (what-ifs) I can make better business decisions to improve product quality or employee retention or marketing efficacy or stock investments...which results in a higher bonus for me."

When I ran marketing, business development and sales enablement for an early cloud provider, we never talked about the technology behind our offerings. For our customers it was simply magic. Our focus was solely on helping clients to build scalable, performant environments so that they could provide up to date information to their subscribers. Major League Baseball didn't care how we did it, just that their subscribers would have a seamless experience from spring training to the last game of the World Series.

Most decision makers today don't care how things work, just that they deliver on their brand promise. The market is noisy and crowded, confusing buyers. Further, most buyers of larger ticket items (new ERP system, for instance) may have zero experience with evaluating and selecting a system and the details simply distract them, leading to "No Decision."

As sales leaders or sales enablers, we need to understand our buyers' challenges and opportunities, to empathize with them, and to shape our conversations and messaging accordingly.

One CIO told me: "I don't care how much better this is than our current environment; I'm not asking my team to learn another set of tools. They just don't have the bandwidth." Clearly we hadn't focused enough on the autonomous part of our Autonomous Data Warehouse offering conversation, describing how his team would not have to learn anything new.

Conversely, when I talked with the head of operations at a major airlines about the possibility of moving his analytics from a batched 24 hour look-back (what happened yesterday), to a realtime view of his operations (what's happening right now), he said this: "You can do that? I'll take two!" In this case, we had connected with his strategic goal of substantively improving his operational abilities.

Here's the jumping off point.

  • If you're still "solution selling," you're losing 30-40% of your opportunities to organizations that have embraced value selling. Maybe more.
  • And...if you've recently implemented value selling, most of your sales people are still solution selling, or worse yet, still pitching features. Been there, seen that.

Because...value selling is not a thing to implement. It's a mindset, one that has to be shared from the top down. When it's done right, I've seen individual sales people grow their individual deal sizes by an order of magnitude or two. And when as CSO I implemented it at a mature business services firm, we increased sales by 75% in just over a year.

Where are you in this journey?






Thursday, August 3, 2023

Is AI going to take over sales?


Is AI going to take over sales?

Yea, sure.

I’m no luddite …I installed early AI supercomputers at leading software companies many years ago and built expert systems on personal computers. I’ve sold predictive analytics to enterprise accounts and worked with many customers on analytics projects. I trained thousands of Google and Oracle sales people on data analytics.  I understand the power of leveraging large data sets.

I’ve also worked with thousands of customers and sales people and I’ve seen how customers lean in when an expert says “in my experience…”

If the sales person isn’t adding unique value, Generative Ai will take their seat.  And repetitive selling functions undertaken by corporate sales people – “how many more servers do you need” -- will be replaced by smart (AI enabled) outbound communications (written, voice, perhaps even generated video). Live chat is already being taken over by AI bots.

You need to add value.

Or you’re toast.

A key account director once told me that his job was to take orders (big orders.) He didn’t understand that his job was to create opportunities rather than to take orders. He’s no longer with the company.

The sales person approaching the customer with a hypothesis of how to accomplish their strategic goals differently, better, faster, more profitably will continue to be successful. And in some cases, that sales person is suggesting an approach or goals that might not have been on the customer’s radar. They will co-create a new way of doing business together.

Sales person who synthesize their business value hypotheses from a variety of inputs (customer, industry, sales engineer, analyst, prior experience) will continue to find a warm reception from their customers.  GenAI will have a role – it will suggest specific customers to approach, or synthesize the business case for use with those customers. At Oracle we outsourced that task to a team of people offshore. Today, companies can outsource the task to GenAI.

But…successful selling engagements ultimately focus on the “see-feel-do” model rather than the “hear-think-act” model. And people are really good at the “feel” part, if you let them. Michael Douglas, in The Komisky Method repeatedly asks “how did that feel”, not “what did you think?” I ask that exact question after every role play and phone call (during facilitated Power Hours.)

Now…this is a different question than whether GenAI will support or enable sales. AI based sales training is already a thing, and a powerful and scalable one at that. RNMKRS has already provided realtime feedback and coaching to tens of thousands of college sales students and Fortune 500 sales people. AI recommendation engines on “next best steps” are being built and deployed.

I’ll note that sales people do not want to be overburdened with too much data. They are masters of “just give me enough to get started and I’ll do the rest on my own.”  Let’s not burden them with too much information!

Here’s my message, and it’s exactly the same I delivered in a keynote address at a very large vendor's SKO in Las Vegas. “If you’re not moving up, you’re falling behind.” Your peers are not standing still (and neither is Generative AI). Either continue to improve your skills, to add more value, or be deprecated.

Even ChatGTP and Bard don’t think AI is going to take over sales anytime soon.

ChatGTP stated:

By automating certain tasks and streamlining workflows, AI can free up salespeople to focus on more high-value activities, such as relationship-building and strategic planning.

And Bard stated:

In the future, we will see a hybrid sales force where AI and human salespeople work together to close deals. AI will handle the tasks that it is good at, while human salespeople will focus on the tasks that require human skills and creativity. This will allow sales teams to be more efficient and effective than ever before…it is important to remember that AI cannot replace human salespeople entirely. The human touch will always be an essential part of successful sales.

What do you think? Are you concerned that GenAI will replace you or your team? Or are you looking forward to better tools that will allow you to engage more powerfully with your customers and prospects?







Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Getting the most from your account planning investments


Account planning sessions are "sacred" events to me.

Never mind the staff cost of $20-$50K just for the sales team to show up and participate. Never mind the "interruption" to their normal responsibilities. Never mind the hours of research, planning and prep to ensure a great outcome.

It's the potential impact. We can substantively affect the outcome of a client's business when we conduct the proper research and planning. For a finserv account, perhaps it means that their customers will get loans rated faster and more accurately. For a manufacturing company, perhaps it means that we can help boost their production quality. And for a life sciences company, perhaps it means finding a cure for a disease more quickly.

Oh, and the team stands to benefit financially - making their numbers, receiving their commissions, going to Club.

When facilitating an account planning session, I always include three components:

  • A CPR -- a statement of the Context, Purposes and expected/desired Results (which we co-develop at the beginning of the session
  • A value selling mindset
  • And finally and perhaps most importantly, the action plan

 Without the action plan, people leave the session thinking "that was great", now back to work. And everything learned, discussed and decided is quickly forgotten.

With a good detailed action plan, people leave the session with a strong understanding of their roles, responsibilities, next steps and expectations (Change Management 101).

Yet, even a good action plan does not guarantee success. Success requires ownership and follow up. I've facilitated three hundred or so account planning sessions over the years, and I always charge the sales manager or sales leadership with owning that follow up - ensuring that the commitments people make are actually completed.

But, to be honest, I still haven't cracked the code on this. That follow up just doesn't always happen.

How do you ensure follow up to account planning sessions? To the promises made by your sales people?

By the way, if you don’t currently conduct formal account planning sessions, and want help in setting them up or facilitating them, let me know! (You do have to promise to follow up!)




Monday, July 31, 2023

105 Selling Days Left in 2023

A first time caller recently asked "Hey Lee, how are you calculating the number of selling days left in the year?"

I've got two answers.

First, the technical - I'm using "business days" (weekdays - US holidays) as a proxy for selling days. I acknowledge that regions other than the US will have different holidays, so you may want to calculate based on your local calendar.

Of course, most selling ends by late November or early December at the latest, with final contract work done by mid-December. That having been said, I do know of an eight figure deal that closed two minutes before a west coast company's fiscal year ended. 

Just imagine the CIO in his pajamas at 2:58 in the morning, sending his signed ULA renewal documents by fax machine, knowing that his price leverage would disappear in another two minutes, and that the sun would rise on the Connecticut shoreline in another few hours. But I digress...

Second, the functional - I'm using the "number of selling days" as an entry into the rhythm of business conversation.

If you're a key account director, your account is setting priorities and budgets for FY24 now. You need to be in conversations with your key stakeholders about their strategic initiatives and providing guidance on budgetary requirements. You should be planting seeds for next year's projects. You might be starting the process of helping them to identify how to spend excess budget at the end of the year (is that even still a thing?) You're probably planning your next QBR with the customer, and maybe a fall executive briefing.

If you're managing enterprise or commercial sales teams, many of their engagements need to be moving from discovery to solutioning and pilots (are pilots even still a thing?) so that you have sufficient runway for an FY23 close. Your reps need to be mapping out the contract and approval's late to discover quirks in a company's contract process Thanksgiving week...

If you're managing BDR/SDR teams, it's business as usual, with some slight tweaking to messaging...more guided discovery on projects that might be on track for an FY24 implementation (and a needed FY23 acquisition).

Good sales leadership understands and communicates this rhythm of business, shifting focus over the course of the year, and sales enablement shifts focus in tandem.

Oh, and SKO is in February, so you need to start planning soon. The site and date have already been selected. :)

One thing is true for all y''ve got opportunities in flight. You need greater visibility on their likelihood of closing and the additional actions needed to bring them to close.

By the way, if you don't currently conduct opportunity reviews, and want help in de-risking those opportunities, let me know!






Friday, July 28, 2023

106 Selling Days Left in 2023


A CEO recently asked me to list the most important characteristics of a successful sales person. First, I referred him to Dave Kurlan at Objective Management Group, which pioneered the Sales Assessment Industry many years ago.

Then based on my experience in selling, coaching sales teams, leading a sales organization and implementing sales effectiveness and enablement practices, I came up with the following short list:

  • strong work ethic
  • excellent organizational skills
  • high EQ
  • strategic perspective
  • curiosity

Of the five, I believe only the last can be developed. The others are either innate or they're absent.

Why is curiosity so important? Because curiosity drives success in value selling. If a sales person is curious, they will continue to gather information and develop hypotheses so that they can be more effective in engaging with customers on their terms.

They will not just scan the corporate website and maybe a LinkedIn profile or two. They won't just listen to the latest earnings call.

They will find the key stakeholder's personal blog and read it thoroughly. They will go back many quarters to see how the earnings calls change topics and tone over time, what issues the analysts continue to focus on, what initiatives are evergreen (but never actually get addressed.)

They will develop powerful hypotheses and share them from a place of curiosity and openness.

Many years ago, we landed a significant consulting contract at IDC because my curious coworker identified a personal interest of a key stakeholder at a large tech company, "bumped" into him at the punchbowl at a charitable fundraiser and exchanged business cards. That "chance" exchange helped launch our Sales Productivity consulting practice.

While facilitating an account planning session at Oracle, one of my more curious reps pointed out that we were missing a key stakeholder on the influence map. She had researched similar deals at the account and understood the internal process. She indicated that there was probably a "Jane Doe" in the loop, and if we failed to identify and include her in the process, we had little chance of closing the deal.

The task of identifying that "Jane Doe" was added to the action plan. Months later the team celebrated a substantial win. is sales rep curiosity developed? I do it through a facilitated process focusing on the behaviors that both support and drive curiosity. That repetitive behavior changes attitude, builds and reinforces curiosity.

Success breeds success...and finding interesting and useful details drives the rep to continue to dig. Then I solidify the learning with my favorite line by Michael Douglas in The Kominsky Method: "How did that feel?"

By the way, if your opportunity development and account planning processes aren't filling your pipeline and you would like assistance in implementing/facilitating/improving them, let me know!





Thursday, July 27, 2023

107 Selling Days Left in 2023


If your team is focused on greenfield, you are running out of time to move new accounts through the selling (and buying!) process.

It's also unfair to ask hunters to continue to work on accounts unlikely to close until next year, when comp and territories will be different.

Shift the team's energies from early stage opportunity pursuit to those already in discovery. You can circle back to those early stage accounts later in the year as the the volume of prospects declines, or get back to them early next year. If they had a pressing need, they'd already be in discovery!

Focus on identifying and engaging with the economic buyer, mapping the decision criteria and process, and developing a mutual action plan to accomplish all the tasks necessary to get to close/won.

Conduct opportunity reviews to de-risk deals. You'll identify what actions need to be taken on each deal, and you'll figure out which deals are solid and which reps are blowing smoke. Your forecast calls will be less painful and more fruitful.

With this focus on developing and closing in Q3 and Q4, versus hunting and finding, you are much more likely to meet/exceed quota expectations for FY23.

You can thank me later. :)

By the way, if you don't currently conduct opportunity reviews, and would like assistance in implementing/facilitating them, let me know!



Wednesday, July 26, 2023

108 Selling Days Left in 2023!

With the end of the year fast approaching, now would be an excellent time to review the influence map with the team for each important deal and to take action now on your learnings.

  • Have all the decision makers and stakeholders been identified?
  • Have all the influencers been identified, including partners and service providers (the answer is always no!)
  • For each of these individuals, how strong is the relationship? What direction is the relationship moving -- getting better, staying the same, getting worse?
  • Who can say no...and why?
  • When was the last time you significantly engaged with each of the important players on your influence map?
  • What is your plan for improving relationships where necessary and getting commitments from each of those stakeholders and decision makers?
  • If there is an incumbent to be displaced, what does their influence map look like and how much overlap is there with yours?
  • What are your coaches telling you now?

The influence map is a key tool to help de-risk opportunities. If you leverage the influence map as part of your engagement and pursuit process, you are winning at a 20 to 40% higher rate and seldom, if ever, need to discount at the eleventh hour to close/win deals.

And if you aren't yet using influence maps, and would like assistance in implementing them, let me know!

While powerful, the influence map is just one part of a professional enterprise selling toolkit. I'll cover additional high value tools in coming days.





Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Hey, Lets Do Value Selling

Over the past few months, a number of senior sales leaders have reached out for help, stating "we want to implement value selling."

They see value selling as a tool to unlock more value (revenue) or to improve their pipeline or to gain a competitive selling edge.

They are on the right path...value selling can certainly have a net positive impact on revenue, pipeline and competitiveness.

However, their perception of value selling and how it's implemented is a bit short sighted. Value selling is not a thing. You don't "implement value selling." 

Value Selling Is Not a Tool

First and foremost, value selling is not a tool; rather, it's a mindset. Value selling is a way of thinking about how to engage with customers and requires a broad organizational commitment to putting the customer first.

Value selling focuses on the customer's strategic business goals (not technology habits). It focuses on the firmagraphics (the culture) of the buying entity (first mover/late adopter, risk taker/risk adverse, etc). It considers the needs/wants/desires of the individual stakeholders and contributors to the buying process. Value selling requires a specific focus on the use of language to align with those entities.

As a result, value selling is not something easily boiled down to Step One, Step Two, Step Three...

Instead, a value selling approach should be baked into onboarding, selling preparation, communications, actions and activities. And it requires an organization-wide change management process.

Start With Opportunity and Account Planning

Opportunity planning and development, and its cousin, account planning, are great places to start. 

Traditional opportunity planning starts with a profile of the target customer (focusing on installed base and potential budget) and the questions "what can we sell them and how much share can we steal from a competitor?" As this approach is highly transactional and competitive, it leads to sales with low profitability and mediocre customer satisfaction ratings. Sound familiar?

Value centered opportunity planning also starts with a profile of the target customer, but with a focus on strategic business goals, the gaps between goals and capabilities and the motivations of the organization and the key stakeholders. Reps or teams consider how they can help the organization to achieve these goals, independent of any product or service offering (Solution development comes much later.)

Value selling involves co-creation with the customer, and in many, perhaps most cases, doesn't have much impact on existing vendor relationships. It tends to focus on net-new value creation, generating far larger impact and results than a simple vendor substitution might.

There's no comparison of vendors' TCO in value selling. It's just not relevant. That's pocket fluff in comparison to the impact true co-creation offers. Why focus on shaving 10% in operating costs if the project could lead to a 20% increase in customer satisfaction or manufacturing quality. Most of the senior executives, the decision makers in a strategic project, will focus on the latter.

The team must consider "are we well positioned to help the customer achieve their goals?"  Once the organizational goals are identified, the reps or teams develop an influence map that details the key stakeholders, the strength of the relationships, and an action plan to further develop those relationships.

Finally, the team develops powerful messaging that emphasizes alignment and ability of the team to help the organization achieve their strategic goals, and the ability of the individual stakeholders to meet their personal goals.

As with any strategic sales improvement project, the assistance of a knowledgeable sales enablement sherpa to provide direction and to carry the load is critical. If you don't get value selling right the first time, you won't get a second chance. Senior management...and the sales team...will move on to other shiny new objects.  




Thursday, May 25, 2023

Abandoning the Hero Sale

When companies first get started, the founders may do most or all of the selling. They have the vision, the passion, the depth of knowledge of the service or product and connect well with early adopters.

At some point the Hero Sale risks becoming the Hero Fail. The challenge is that as the business expands, the founders (the heros) need to focus on running the business, managing the growth, courting investors, hiring managers, etc., and they have less time for selling.

So...they hire sales people. 

And they expect sales people to act and perform in their image, with the same depth of knowledge, passion, and ability to connect with mainstream customers.

I've seen and experienced it first-hand.

When I sold predictive analytics to some of the largest tech companies in the industry, the company president and founder expected the sales team to leverage his 100 page slide go deep into the technical details of the what and how of the platform. Much of our sales training focused on this technical deep dive, and only lightly touched on personas and messaging.

Conversely, my mainstream customers were only interested in the benefits of leveraging the platform - could they increase pipeline velocity, improve pipeline size and shape,  bolster their customer acquisition rates, meet their quota and revenue targets. The decision makers didn't care what was under the hood, only whether it would bolster their marketing results and how difficult it would be to integrate the predictive analytics platform and workflow into their existing marketing processes.

IBM wasn't even interested in the platform...they had their own...they were interested in our curated third party data. And we discovered this not through a detailed review of the CEO's slide deck, but in an extended white boarding session focusing on work flows. (White boards are my favorite selling tools.)

In talking with clients I hear many facing this same the company grows, expected sales productivity fails to increase as experienced sales people are hired. And the founders question the new hires, the selection process, the target markets, everything but their own outsize influence in setting sales strategy.

Moving from a hero-driven revenue model to one that is sustainable and scalable requires a fundamental shift to a traditional selling model -- a formal selling methodology, selling processes, SFA and CRM platforms, formal onboarding activities. Dedicated sales managers will provide strong leverage for additional growth, particularly if a coaching methodology and mindset is part of the structure.

When I joined BAO, the outsourced inside sales organization, as its first sales leader, I implemented a formal selling methodology and spent a lot of time coaching my sales team on value selling techniques. Many had come from the delivery side of the organization and had been accustomed to a highly transactional sales approach...making up to 250 calls each day. The investment in time and effort paid off...we signed a number of key accounts that had been chased for fifteen years.

We also drove an increase in revenue of 75% over that first 18 month period.

Moving to this scalable selling model requires both support and patience from all of the key stakeholders. It won't happen all at once, and it does require a substantive shift in approach. The founders must step back and give the hired managers the space and time to do their job.

A formal approach to change management...and specifically...setting expectations with the key stakeholders will prove useful.

And maybe, just maybe, that hero can take their first vacation in four years.



Wednesday, April 5, 2023


Why People Buy

One of the most powerful attributes of value selling is that it should give you visibility on what people care about - how they're motivated, what their personal goals are, etc.

People think that they buy based on data and analysis.  But they don't. You don't. I don't. I buy the running shoes because they'll make me look faster on the trails or at Starbucks. You buy the solar panels or EV because it underscores your care for the environment. A coworker once told me that she was going to sell her 911 Cabrio to buy a Tesla (back when Tesla was cool)...because she wanted to save money on gas.

Um, no. She was going to lose thousands of dollars on the transaction, so the financial justification was weak. However, the new car was going to signal her care for the planet, which was her real motivation for the purchase.

Corporate buying is no different. Whether it's a new AI chatbot to improve the experience of your customer, or the repurchase of another thousand Chromebooks, at the base of the decision is feeling rather than data.

Here's a great quote on change management, and after all, selling is all about change management:

See – feel – change is more effective than analyze – think – change. The process used here is "See, Feel, and Change", as opposed to "Analyze, Think, and Change". The latter is all head, no heart, and often fails to motivate people to recognize the importance of a given problem.
As part of my enablement work, I leverage story telling, developing customer vignettes - the people, personas, their "care-abouts". I explore individual MBOs and what an MBO represents. To drive the point home for the sales people in the session, I show a jet ski, something that the lead purchaser intends to buy with their MBO. I actually get groups of sales people to yelll "jet ski" when I ask what motivates that individual.
They get it. 
Data is nice, but don't kid yourself. People don't make decisions based on TCO or ROI. Do you need to check those boxes? Absolutely. But a good ROI argument doesn't get you off BAU. Getting a customer to feel why different is better starts the real consideration process, otherwise the (perceived) RISK hurdle is just too great.


Monday, March 27, 2023


Is Value Selling a Methodology?

We designed and implemented a formal value selling methodology at Oracle and I was tangentially involved with another effort more recently.

Here's the thing about value selling. It's not just a approach to selling. It is a mindset, a way that sales people (and others) think about preparing for, and engaging with customers. To be successful, the mindset has to be present in everything the sales person does, or the initiative fails.

Here's the rub -- everyone else  in the organization, and most of the practices and processes, is either product-centric or transactional in nature.

If you train your sales people to engage with customers focused on the business benefits of reducing risk and fraud, and your product managers focus on speeds and feeds, product/service attributes, a cognitive dissonance is created. Then the rep's manager focuses on inspection and forward movement of the opportunity, talking about pricing and contract terms. Obviously, the latter is important, but frequently it is delivered in opposition to the value selling approach/mindset.

At Oracle, the sales engineer was my primary line of reinforcement. I coached them to ask reps: "Do you have a business value hypothesis...". If the rep hadn't done the work to create a value perspective, I coached the SE to decline joining them on the sales call. The first line sales manager was my second line of reinforcement, providing a lot of coaching on business value.

We had the benefit of high level executive support for our value selling approach. It helped that many senior sales executives had risen from the ranks, had been trained on value selling and saw their average deal size grow dramatically.

Conversely, in a more recent situation, value selling was deemed a "good thing to do." And it was done.  Well done, by some very senior and knowledgeable people, people who have done it well elsewhere. But it was not supported in the field by sales management, it had little to no real executive support, and product management had to be coached, over and over, to recast their product enablement assets to be more supportive of a value selling approach.  It has not really taken hold and as a result has delivered little real value.

So...value selling is a mindset, one that has to be shared by all the relevant stakeholders, and actively supported by senior management. And as such, your primary challenge is that of change management. How will you to change the hearts and minds of the stakeholders so that your investment in value selling pays off, so that sales people can focus on the value to be co-created with customers?

Looking forward to your comments!