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Book reviews - Sales Books

Book Recommendation: Beyond the Sales Process

Beyond the Sales Process, by Dave Stein and Steve Andersen, is my kind of book, because it takes a big picture view of B2B sales. Here’s the gist: many B2B sellers get in too late and leave too soon. If you engage with potential customers only during their active buying efforts, you’re like the drunk looking for his lost keys under the streetlight—just because the light’s better there.

Stein and Andersen make the point that even with complex B2B sales, buyers might actively buy from you only about 2% of their total time in a year. Most sales books focus their prescriptions, during that narrow 2% window called the sales process, when the buyer is actively seeking to fill an identified need. The problem with that is that while there is a need, there is also a lot of competition and very little trust.

If you want to achieve the status of trusted advisor, you have to pay attention before, during and after the sales process. They delineate 12 strategies, distributed equally across the entire life cycle, what they call Engage, Win and Grow.

Engage

This is the pre-opportunity phase in which you do in-depth research to understand your customer’s business and use the insights gained to earn the right to engage with your customers in elevated discussions about what they need to do to achieve their business objectives, how you will help them do it, and why it’s important. I’m vastly oversimplifying here, of course, but the general idea is to put yourself in a position where you can credibly be seen as a potential trusted advisor by the right people in the customer’s organization before a specific opportunity comes up. By doing so, you will be in a position to influence and shape their needs and hence their requirements.

Win

This phase is the main focus of approaches that focus on the meat of the sales process: the pursuit of opportunities from identification through the sales funnel to closing. The four chapters in this section will be familiar to anyone who has experience and training in common sales methodologies: they cover the fundamentals of discovering the key drivers that relate to the specific sales opportunity, and how to use those to deliver “actionable awareness,” which is a key point that I personally believe many B2B salespeople miss. They know the importance of learning about their customer’s business, but most of them use their research to gain data points that they can use to sprinkle in their product pitches to give them a veneer of “customer focus” and business sophistication. Scratch beneath surface, though, and you find they don’t truly bring key insights that show how they can uniquely impact the customer’s business.

Grow

There are very few feelings as exhilarating as winning that big deal of the year, but you have to resist the temptation to take your eye off the ball at this point. If you keep your attention in the post-sale phase to realizing the value that was promised during the win phase and validate its impact on the customer, adapt to changes and issues as they arise, and expand the relationship, you will have a firm launching pad for all future opportunities that arise.

If you’re a sales professional who has already read many of the excellent books that guide you through the sales process, Beyond the Sales Process is an excellent complement that will illuminate the rest of the sales landscape and expand your view of what it takes to raise your game.

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Sales Management. Simplified.

I’ll get to my review of Mike Weinberg’s book, Sales Management. Simplified.: The Straight Truth About Getting Exceptional Results from Your Sales Team in just a second, but first, we have to take a quick detour.

Despite spending big in free agency during the offseason to acquire players like Ndamukong Suh, and spending lavishly on high tech tools such as GPS trackers and sensors to analyze practices, the Miami Dolphins have won only one game this season, so they fired their head coach earlier this week.

Enter a new interim head coach, Dan Campbell, who was promoted from his position as the tight ends coach and who looks like he could still suit up and play today. They held their first practice under the new coach yesterday, and it was definitely a different approach. Almost the entire practice consisted of one-on-one drills, where players went at each other in full pads. Campbell’s aim is to make each of his players “violently compete” during practice, and his description of practice afterwards was priceless:

“Everything else was all about being primates again. Every one of those guys. Just back to the days where, hey, you line up and you go.”

What does that have to do with Sales Management. Simplified.? Think of the Dolphins as a sales organization that needs to change its ways if it wants to get back to winning ways—Campbell and Weinberg appear to be “twin sons from different mothers”, as it relates to how to get the best out of people who work in a performance-oriented contact sport.

I’ll give you just two examples to illustrate the wisdom and practical advice contained in the book. The first is that sales managers have to get out from behind their desks and go right to the action to observe and coach their players.

The Dolphins have been operating like many sales organizations today, by over-relying on fancy measurement tools. They hired a director of sports performance and director of analytics, and equipped each player’s shoulder pads with GPS trackers and sensors that measured energy expenditure, distance traveled and speed during practice, temperature, etc. At the end of every practice, the numbers are analyzed, and presumably the coaches would use the data to make adjustments and refinements in a constant quest for improvement.

All that data, analysis and tweaking has not prevented a 1-3 record, a statistic which hides how embarrassing their play has been. They haven’t just lost three games out of four: it’s the way they have lost. They have been quite simply outplayed and outmuscled on a man-to-man basis at almost every position.

The key lesson for sales managers is that all the fancy strategy, tools, and measurements are great, but completely useless unless you get the basics right. Sales is just as much a contact sport as football, where success is a matter of what happens when a salesperson sits across the desk from a prospect. In sales, just as in football, “you line up and you go”. This may sound crude, but it’s still two primates facing each other, speaking, listening, and presumably influencing each other.

Too much focus on shiny new toys such as fancy sensors and measuring tools can take away from the best tracking technology a sales manager has: their eyes and ears. As Weinberg tells us, those basic tracking tools are best deployed in three ways: coaching salespeople one-on-one, conducting productive sales meetings, and riding with salespeople in the field to directly observe what’s going on. How often are you getting out into the field and actually observing what goes on in sales calls? What are your salespeople actually doing and saying when in front of customers? How are customers reacting?

The second lesson is that culture counts—a lot. Weinberg spends the first half of the book describing dysfunctional sales cultures, where there is little or no accountability, sales is seen as a poor stepchild to other corporate functions, and various other symptoms that you might recognize from sales cultures that you may be in.

The best sales cultures are competitive, blunt, accountable, focused on selling, and relentlessly self-improving. These “shared attitudes, values, goals and practices” are what turns a collection of individuals of diverse talents into an effective team. Coaches can’t be everywhere at once, and culture provides the guidance that drives performance.

There’s a lot more in Mike’s book than I can write about here, so whether you’re a beginning sales manager, an experienced sales manager trying to improve an underperforming team, or a successful sales manager who wants to sustain your success, this book is for you.

Now, if he could just do something for my poor pathetic Dolphins…

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Book reviews - Sales Books

The Challenger Customer

The folks at CEB have done it again—written a book that challenges traditional thinking about B2B sales and introduced a new character in the long-running conversation about understanding and influencing the customer’s decision making process.

Trying to describe the ideas in The Challenger Customer: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results reminds me of the guy who took a speed-reading course and then bragged that he had read War and Peace in an hour. When asked for a synopsis of the book, he said: “It’s about Russia.”

In that spirit, The Challenger Customer is about helping your customers buy. In sales, we lament how hard selling is nowadays; buyers have far more knowledge earlier in the sales cycle and use it to drive even complex solutions to commodity status. The problem with that is that often it’s not in the buyer’s own best interests to buy the lowest-cost solution, yet many buyers make the sub-optimal decision because they can’t help it: buying is harder than ever before.

Buying is harder because more stakeholders are involved: an average of 5.4 stakeholders in complex B2B deals, according to the book. That’s complicated by the fact that the most important attribute that senior decision makers consider when choosing a supplier is widespread support across the organization.

The traditional sales response to this challenge is to simply work harder. If you need to get more yesses to close the sale, you just have to call on more people and get their buy-in, right? The revelation—at least to me—is that, that strategy will actually make it less likely that you will get the sale. In other words, 1+1+1=0! That’s because each stakeholder will support the deal for their own reasons, and the overlap among interests becomes harder to achieve as the number of stakeholders rises. As a result, the decision gets driven down to the lowest common denominator: either status quo or the simplest, cheapest choice.

The challenge, then, is not to get a serial collection of yesses, but a collective yes, in which each stakeholder converges around a common vision. It’s like the parable of the six blind men and the elephant. Each one sees only a small part of the whole, so someone needs to make them see the whole elephant. That’s a daunting task for any salesperson, but fortunately there’s a solution: enter the Mobilizer.

The Mobilizer is the internal Challenger, the person who is willing to make waves to and drive the vision. They will only do it if they perceive that the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. The book explains in great detail how to identify the three types of mobilizers, get them to agree on the need for change, and then coach and equip them to sell the need internally.

I give The Challenger Customer five stars for three reasons:

  • It’s very much about outside-in thinking. Start from the customer’s perspective, understand their need to change, and don’t lead with your product.
  • Just like their first book, The Challenger Sale, it’s backed up by tons of primary research, very credible examples, and detailed implementation suggestions.
  • The third reason is why I didn’t like the book on first reading, and then I did: the approach and techniques are devilishly difficult. You have to learn how to identify mobilizers, tailor your approach to each of the three types, help them get the message across effectively to the other stakeholders, produce the right materials, and a host of other challenges. But by the second reading, I realized that the difficulty is actually the best reason for a company or even an individual sales rep to adopt the approach. If it were easy, anyone could do it, and then it would not be an advantage anymore.

That said, this is not really a book for salespeople. Only a select few (like the type who reads this blog, wink-wink) would be able to master the techniques. It takes a joint effort by sales and marketing to generate the insights and produce the materials to equip the Mobilizer to sell the insights internally, and it won’t happen overnight.

I suggest you read this book, study it, challenge it, and most importantly, use it to change the way you sell.

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Amp Up Your Sales by Reading this Book

Amp-Up-3D-coverI strongly recommend that anyone in B2B sales read Andy Paul’s book, Amp Up Your Sales: Powerful Strategies That Move Customers to Make Fast, Favorable Decisions, but you won’t find a traditional review here, the kind in which I summarize the key points in the book.

Instead, I will focus on and develop one of his fundamental principles that I personally found to be a compelling and different angle, one which I plan to pursue in my own sales efforts.

In a nutshell, Paul’s key theme is that how you sell is more important than what you sell, and how is based on three principles:

  • Make selling simple
  • Be super-responsive
  • Maximize selling time

I was especially intrigued by his emphasis on responsiveness; while I certainly won’t do justice to it here I will inject my own interpretation.

Nathan Bedford Forrest once said that the key to military tactics was to get there first with the most, and Andy Paul follows squarely in that tradition. Responsiveness is information + speed, and it’s important because selling is about answering the questions and providing the information the customer needs throughout their buying cycle to make their decision. The salesperson who supports the buying process by helping them make the right decision in the shortest time possible will win. This requires a prompt response to requests for information.

What does prompt mean? I personally would have thought same day would be fine, but Paul suggests within a half hour if possible. The reasoning is that customers need a certain amount of information in a certain order to make the right decision, and they have different needs depending on where they are in their buying cycle, so the best time to add value is when they ask the question or request the information. At the very least, you differentiate yourself from the overwhelming majority who won’t respond as fast as you will, and that sends a powerful message about how you will handle their business if you win it.

There’s a much more powerful yet subtle reason why responsiveness works, which Andy demonstrates through a series of graphs which depict the amount of value being delivered to the customer throughout the sales process. At each point, such as initial contact, discovery and presentation, the buyer has a need for some information which they will then digest prior to the next point in their buying process. For big B2B sales, it’s not realistic that the customer will identify a problem, gather all the information they need to solve it, evaluate alternatives and make the best decision at one time. It’s a process that takes time, and information gathered at each stage is used to shape the next set of questions and necessary information. The real power in responsiveness is that if you are the first to respond, you may have already changed the information they need by the time your competitor responds, so that they are playing catchup. By the time they respond, their response is not as valuable to the customer as it would have been; it may even be irrelevant.

Although he doesn’t call it that, Andy is describing John Boyd’s idea of the OODA loop, which was initially applied to air-to-air combat. OODA stands for Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action. The competitor who gets inside the other’s OODA loop dictates the fight, because by reacting faster the first time he’s in a better position to react even faster the second time, and the cumulative effect can be transformative.

It’s important to keep in mind that responsiveness does not mean simply reacting to customers’ requests for information—at every stage you have the option and ability to ask your own questions or provide different insights in order to reshape their buying vision. If there is a shortcoming to the book, it’s that, although he touched on it at several points, Paul could have emphasized this more.

I also would have liked to see more citations. Andy mentions several articles and studies which add credibility, but it would have been helpful to know how to find those for further reading. This is probably just me, because I study this stuff; if you simply want good solid sales advice you probably can take it at face value and not worry about it.

There’s much more to Amp Up Your Sales than what I’ve covered here, of course, but just that alone would make it worth reading the entire book. I urge you to respond quickly and read it as soon as possible—unless you’re one of my competitors.

 

 

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