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Sales Playbooks

A few weeks ago the folks at Kadient briefed me on their approach and their sales performance improvement tools.  As you would expect, I posed the chicken-and-egg question with respect to what order a company should implement Kadient’s tools versus installing and implementing a sales methodology.  I liked their answers.

I picked up a tweet from Kadient’s Rich Berkman (@richberk) last week about a new guide they had just published, How to Create Killer Sales Playbooks: Four Steps for Designing Sales Playbooks that Win Deals.

Just from the title, I was immediately encouraged.  Here’s why:

  1. I believe in sales playbooks. I’ve used them and have recommended them to clients, who generally saw significant performance improvement;
  2. “Four Steps” represents process and sales leaders and sales people can often use a lot more of that;
  3. The guide is focused on winning deals.

I downloaded the guide and read through it.   These guys from Kadient get it.  Here’s a quote from the guide (with permission).  Highlights are mine:

Whether you decide to begin with a top-down or bottom-up approach, your playbooks should be aligned with your sales process.

“But, wait,” you say. “We don’t have a sales process!” This is a very common situation. Chances are that you do have some process or steps that define the stages of your sales cycle. Sales playbooks are an excellent organizational hub for defining them. Also, every organization has successful salespeople who are following their own processes.

If you don’t have a defined process, you can still get started quickly by defining a baseline set of sales stages and then using playbooks as your organizing tool for its development. Focus on mapping out your existing sales-to-buyer lifecycle or process. Some of the most successful playbooks have been those designed from a blank slate or ones in which it was decided that the sales process would be reinvented through the use of sales playbooks.

If you have a sales process (or multiple ones), align it with your customers’ buying cycle and create a map for your sales playbook. The goal is to stimulate a conversation between seller and buyer-the seller diagnosing the buyer’s needs and then providing the buyer with the right information at the right time.

In addition to directing salespeople to what they should do at each stage of the sales cycle, mapping will also identify specific activities that need to be completed to advance deals. This should illustrate how your sales teams engage with customers at every stage of the buying process.

You can download the guide here (registration required).  I highly recommend it.

Photo credit: © Sharpshot – Fotolia.com

Strategy 18: Become An Expert At Competitive Positioning

Hey, I have a proposition for you.

I had a really bad experience with Dearborn Trade Press (now Kaplan Financial Publishing) with my book, How Winners Sell, Second Edition. It’s no longer in print, although companies seem to be able to find copies somehow when I come in to present at their sales kick-offs and other events.  (I will write about the whole nasty Kaplan situation one day.  In the meantime, anyone considering publishing with Kaplan needs to give me a call.)

I was thinking about putting How Winners Sell up on Amazon’s Kindle. After a long, long effort, I finally got the rights back.  I wrote the Second Edition in 2004, but most of it is still very relevant.

The proposition.  Here is a free chapter.  All I ask is if you get some value from it and are interested in reading the whole book on either the Kindle or an e-Book format, let me know.  I may decide to republish it.

Strategy 18: Become an Expert at Competitive Positioning

I don’t know about you, but I get a big thrill when I watch a high-integrity, seasoned sales pro competitively position his company and offering. It may happen during a presentation or during a sales call as objections are raised by the buyer.

When you think about it competitive positioning begins when you formulate your strategy. From that point onward, your messaging, talking points and objection handling are driven off the same thing—the unique value you can provide to your client.

Here are some examples of how winners I’ve worked with masterfully handle competitive positioning:

Situation 1: Selling Against Goliath

If you sell for a smaller company that competes against the big guys, the age-old story of David and Goliath might come to mind. In this story, the giant, Goliath, was beaten in a fight by the small boy, David. I often see “Goliaths” beaten, but it takes flawless execution of a well-designed plan.

The most important thing of all when selling against a much bigger competitor is to be certain that if you meet or exceed all the prospect’s requirements, that size—for size’s sake—does not matter. That’s an issue of qualification. You may have the best product, innovative service capabilities, committed people, stellar customer satisfaction levels, top product quality, most respected investors or anything else that you consider of value, but if size matters, little else will measure up. And if size does matter, and you can’t convince your prospect fairly quickly that it shouldn’t, you need to get out of there—and quickly on to another opportunity. Know your prospect’s history regarding doing business with smaller companies. It may mean nothing to them, since they do it all the time. On the other hand, you may be the first and may have a long, bumpy road ahead.

What all this means is that there are certain opportunities for which you should not compete, because you can’t win them. Sorry, but that’s a fact.

Now What Do You Do?

You’re going to need to influence your prospect’s decision criteria, so that the perceived value of your competitor’s size as well as other size-related capabilities are diluted, neutralized or, in the best case, seen as a disadvantage. Many salespeople are accustomed to highlighting a competitor’s weaknesses. In the situations where you are competing against a bigger company, you will (professionally and subtly) dilute their strength.

Here is a simple, well-proven example. Let’s say I sell for a smaller professional services firm and I am up against a major player. Based upon preferences and needs of the buyers, I may decide to use the “small-fish-in-a-big-pond” approach.

It goes like this: “Ms. Prospect. There are few people who would not be impressed by my competitor’s size, global reach and financial as well has human resources. I’m sure they proudly reference some very prominent customers. However, you might consider that a project such as yours, although highly critical for you, might very well not have the same level of importance for them and therefore may not generate the ongoing attention within executive levels of their company that their premier customers’ projects would. It’s only natural…”

From that point, you would discuss how you would meet their technical requirements and establish a business relationship going forward, stressing attention that would be paid to the progress by your executives. You’d convince them that your company’s success would depend directly on their success, not the other way around. You’ll be portraying them as big fish in a small pond, with the driving message being how important their business is to you.

If you are effective with this approach, you will have moved down in importance the size and impressiveness of their customer list and up in importance the attention paid to them by your executives as well as your company’s interest in their success.

Here are challenges you might face in a David and Goliath situation and some alternatives to consider: Continue reading


I’ve been very critical of sales tips during the past six months.  My column in Sales and Marketing Management Magazine about it as well.

The simple reason is that sales tips keep salespeople and their managers focused on tactics and shortcuts rather than investing the time and effort required for planning and executing a strategic approach to sales performance improvement.

When we interview high-performing salespeople, what we consistently find is their success comes as much from who they are as what they do.  The foundation of their Personal Capital—a rep’s unique customer-valued amalgam of skills, experience, contacts and knowledge—is their customers’ trust in them.   And with respect to the companies for which those top performers work—integrity is consistently the number one or number two attribute sales people must possess.

When it comes to the subject of trust in selling there is no better source of knowledge, insight and practical advice than Charlie Green.  His wonderful book, Trust-Based Selling, is one every sales manager should read.  But let me warn you.  This isn’t a typical sales tips book to be skill-skimmed or speed-read.

Trust-Based Selling can be a key component of a strategic initiative to upgrade the quality and resulting performance of the individuals on your sales team.  Once you read this book, I don’t believe you’ll look at the subject of trust in selling in the same way ever again.

Photo credit: © Lisa F. Young – Fotolia.com

Rolling Disclosure. Sure Steps To Losing A Sale.

I’ve heard the term “rolling disclosure” a few times on the political TV shows recently.

So far as I can tell, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews was the first to use the term in 2001.  Matthews:  “He told us what he knew as soon as he knew it, not when it suited him. There was no ‘rolling disclosure,’ no politician out there telling us what he wanted us to know when he wanted us to know it.”

Airlines Regularly Roll Disclosure

We’ve all experienced rolling disclosure with the airlines:

  1. You check in at the kiosk.  The display above indicates that the flight will leave on time.
  2. You get to the gate, and the display says it’s now going to be 30 minutes late.
  3. You go online and check on another airline’s flight.  It leaves in an hour.  Might as well stay here and wait for this one, right?
  4. Forty-five minutes go by.  Too late to catch the other flight.
  5. Right then your flight comes up on the screen as being an additional hour late.  Are you kidding me?
  6. Continue to loop back to step #3 until there are no options left.

Do the airlines use a deliberate rolling disclosure strategy so their passengers won’t rebook on another carrier?  I don’t have the time or interest in proving it, but I do know that the airlines have a much better understanding than they let on as to when incoming flights (your outbound flights) will be arriving.  They know that if they told you right off that your flight was going to be 2 1/2 hours late you’d switch to another carrier’s flight.  Angry yet?

Some Salespeople Roll Disclosure, Too.

We’ve observed rolling disclosure with salespeople when they were faced with the uncomfortable task of delivering bad news to a customer.  When times are tough and selling is more challenging, such as it is right now, it’s counter-intuitive for a salesperson to share all the bad news with the customer immediately.  The salesperson thinks, “If I dump all this bad news on them now, they’ll dump me.  Here’s what I’ll do.   Today I’ll tell them we don’t have the color they want.  Next week I’ll tell them about the delivery delays…”  Wrong.  By the time the customer wonders if there is any more bad news, you’ve likely lost their trust and the sale.

There are three reasons for immediate and full disclosure.  First, it’s the right way thing to do.  Second, you’ll want your salesperson to tell the customer the (whole) story before their competitor spins it to their own benefit.  Third, your customer will not like rolling disclosure at all.  Think delayed flights.  It will anger your customer, just as it does you.

Photo credit: © Sam Downes – Fotolia.com

There Are No Shortcuts To Sales Effectiveness

My friend Alan Ganapol says, “Always read the signs.  They’re out there.  You just have to read them.”

The signs today came in the form of notices that two of my recent articles were published.  They’re both on essentially the same subject. I felt compelled to share those with you.

The first article is in Business & Leadership, a Irish print and online magazine.  It’s entitled, appropriately enough, No Easy Answers

The second is my November/December column for Sales and Marketing Management magazine.  That one is When Sales 101 Isn’t Enough.

Yesterday I spoke with Dan Brown, VP of Marketing at Payformance.  I love talking to Dan because he’s a marketing guy that really understands selling.  When I consulted with MAPICS a number of years ago, Dan was on the marketing team and did some very effective work around competitive positioning and customer value quantification.  Dan, with great support from Al Barrenechea, enabled MAPICS to be quite competitive under some very tough circumstances.

Dan and I commiserated about the uphill battle getting sales leaders to understand that sales effectiveness isn’t something you can accomplish quickly or easily.

But there are those that get it.  Here’s a nice email I received just this afternoon:

Hello, Dave.

FANTASTIC article on “Sales 101 Isn’t Enough.”

Spot on.

We pride ourselves at the American Heart Association to go beyond the basics. I wish I could tell you we are all at the advanced level. Not yet. But hopefully on our way there.

Much thanks for your insight. I made it a point to seek out your website and subscribe to your blog on my personal email.

Looking forward to your next pearl of wisdom.

Happy Thanksgiving.

E. Scott Murphy
National Consultant, Affiliate Corporate Prospecting
National Corporate Relations

American Heart Association National Center

Scott’s email is another sign.  It’s a good time to give, even a little.  If not the American Heart Association, then your favorite charity.

Early Failure is Better Than Late Failure

Donal Daly, CEO of The TAS Group, wrote a great post (Early failure is better than late failure) on his company’s blog that is more than worthy of your consideration. (Disclosure: The TAS Group is a subscriber to ESR’s research.)

In the post Donal discusses the not-often-enough-overcome challenge of effective qualification.  From the post:

When budgets are tight – as they are in times like this – opportunities are sometimes hard to come by.  When that happens you’re tempted to chase anything that moves, succumb to demands for extortionate discounts, or throw in extra products for free.  All this does is make it harder to make your number.  You will need to do more deals to reach your quota, and as word gets around of the deals you are prepared to do you enter the death spiral.

Easy for you to say, you might think.  With so many fewer deals out there, you’re telling me to have my salespeople qualify harder and eliminate some of those potential opportunities? you continue. 


So why isn’t effective qualification something every salesperson does automatically, like eating, breathing, and submitting expense reports? 

I see three predominant reasons: 

First of all, it’s not in many salespeoples’ DNA.  Optimism is often considered a critical trait for a salesperson.  For many salespeople, denial is only one small baby step from optimism.  They don’t ask the tough questions because they don’t want to hear the answers.  (It was Mark Twain who said, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”  He wasn’t a sales consultant, but probably could have been with such an insightful remark.)

Secondly, some subset of you, their managers, also don’t want to hear the truth.   Alexander Pope wasn’t a sales consultant either, but with his observation that “Hope springs eternal,” he could have fooled me.

Finally—and I think Donal will jump aboard on this one—there is too often no method (accompanied by the appropriate learning and tools) provided to sales people for them to effectively qualify opportunities.

During these challenging times, can your sales team to raise their hit rate against the smaller number of opportunities that may be available to them?  If not, you’ve got to take a serious look at your total approach to qualification. 

Photo: © James Steidl – Fotolia.com

Sales Lessons From The Presidential Race

peelNo matter what side you were on, here are a few observations, affirmations and truths, post-election, with respect to selling:

  1. Strategy and tactics are equally important.  The purpose of executing tactics in a sales campaign is to drive a well-founded strategy.  Tactics without a strategy is like playing darts with your eyes closed.
  2. Message! Not messages, messages, messages.  Decide what you are going to count on to win based upon research—a focused, objective assessment of the sales opportunity.
  3. You can successfully change the ground rules even if you temporarily lose ground.
  4. The understanding and leverage of political influence is crucial.
  5. Messages must be clear, concise and compelling and paint the vision of a better situation for the buyer.  One fumbled message can dilute the impact of a hundred perfect ones.
  6. Logic and the facts aren’t the only things buyers consider.
  7. Discipline rules.  Seat-of-the-pants doesn’t. 
  8. Knowledge of your opponent’s plan to win is vital for devising and refining your own plan.
  9. Direct and blatant “bad-mouthing-the-competition” doesn’t generally work. 
  10. Never underestimate the underdog.
  11. Want to win?  Look the part.
  12. Tell the truth before your opponent exaggerates it.
  13. Choose the right team.  The salesperson is CEO of their own virtual sales corporation.  Whom they choose to stand next to them and to advise them can make a big difference.
  14. Whomever has momentum at the time of close generally wins.  Its very difficult to build momentum just at the right time without a plan.
  15. Embrace technology. It permeates pretty much everything most of us do.
  16. Go broad and deep into the customer’s organization as appropriate. (Ideally effective marketing will have blazed the trail in advance. See the article How Better Marketing Elected Barack Obama.  Thanks, John Caddell.)  Build consensus where it matters.
  17. Don’t lose your composure or violate your own principles.
  18. Understand that energy, determination and relentless pursuit of the goal is the fuel that powers the engine.

I’m sure I missed some points.  What would you add to this list?

By the way, Newsweek’s Secrets of the 2008 Campaign has been published on their website.  It looks like a terrific read.  I haven’t tackled it yet, but I definitely will.

Photo:  © Ljupco Smokovski – Fotolia.com

Business Acumen: A Critical Selling Capability

When I wrote How Winners Sell one of the most important messages I needed to communicate to my readers was this:  The timeless truth about sales is it’s all about money.  B2B sales is not about selling software or strategic advice or capital equipment.  It’s about your products and services improving your customer’s business.  I was very lucky to have learned that early in my sales career.

Many of the Tier One sales training companies don’t cover this subject.  They tell you that you have to sell high, get access to influencers, understand business challenges and opportunities.  But they don’t tell you what to do once you have that information and you’ve gotten access to those top-level executives.  This isn’t a problem if you fill that gap some other way.

During the time I was a sales consultant, I recommended to a number of clients that they put their salespeople and managers through business acumen training.  First, we helped each company assess the requirements of their customers with respect to business value justification.  Then, we went about building the right tools: business cases, customer testimonials that included specifics about the improvement they realized, ROI models, strategies and tactics for gaining and maintaining access to financial and business managers.  Then the reps were put through the training.  Finally the reps were coached and supported until business value justification became a standard component in every sales cycle.  In every case, the CEO and VP of Sales were convinced that there was a substantial improvement in sales performance.  (Unfortunately I couldn’t convince them to formally measure their return on investment in those initiatives.  Ironic.)

There are a few training companies that understand the importance of business acumen and are focused entirely on that subject.  One is Executive Conversation.  ESR has formally reviewed them.  You can listen to a fabulous podcast that I conducted with the CEO and one of their consultants.

Last week I received an email from Paradigm Learning about a white paper they just released (PDF).  They specialize in business acumen and learning.  I don’t typically provide links to white papers (here’s why), but this is an important enough issue for me to break my own rule.  This white paper discusses a broader view of business training than just sales.  This paragraph gets to the heart of the matter:

During a business acumen session, new managers at a major retailer found out just how difficult it is to make a profit. Their facilitator used this example: A warehouse employee dropped several cases of lightbulbs. The bulbs shattered and so did the opportunity to make a $25 profit. The first reaction of the class was, “So what’s $25 to us?” But after calculating the company’s net income at just over 1 percent, they realized that the store would have to sell $2,500 in new merchandise to make up for the lost profit on the shattered bulbs! 

Is your sales team business savvy enough to gain and maintain access with key business executives?  Can they:

  • Determine, by reviewing your customer’s financial statements, whether your products or services can drive business improvement and generally by how much?
  • Talk about the specific business impact your products and services have had on your other customers?
  • Mitigate a customer’s focus on price by bringing the conversation to a higher, more impactful level?
  • Work closely with the customers financial staff to enable them to construct a credible ROI model for your products/services?

Or better yet, try Executive Conversation’s fluency assessment.

Business acumen for B2B sales people has never been more important than now.  Prove to your customer how you will get them through these challenging times and they’ll get you through them in return.

Photo: © James Steidl – Fotolia.com