June 20

How to Avoid the ABM Trough of Disillusionment | Engagio

What causes good marketers to execute bad Account [...]

How to Avoid the ABM Trough of Disillusionment

Summary: What causes good marketers to execute bad ABM and fall victim to the hype cycle (plus, how to avoid disappointment.)

I think we’ve hit peak hype with ABM.

These days, you can’t trip over a B2B marketer without hearing them talk about Account Based Marketing (ABM). Adoption is on the rise, and more vendors than ever have attached themselves to the term to take advantage of the fervor. Don’t get me wrong, in many ways this is great, and exactly the type of excitement we predicted and hoped for when founding Engagio. To-date we have brought hundreds of organizations onto our platform to experience the benefits of ABM.

But, excitement comes with a consequence.

Hype inevitably creates backlash. Recently, a post featuring the “ABM Hype Cycle” has made the rounds, illustrating the sharp and quick rise in excitement, and a fall into a “trough of disillusionment” when expectations aren’t met:

Gartner began using the Hype Cycle in the 90s, and it can be applied to any new technology that earns a groundswell of activity and growth.  In the post, Steve Watt argues that the Hype Cycle doesn’t just work for technological adoption, it can also be applied to new business strategies such as ABM — and as I’ve often argued, ABM is NOT a technology category, it is a business strategy.

As a founder situated firmly in the midst of the ABM hype, I want to address this perceived letdown, and offer some strategies for avoiding the hype cycle entirely.

First thing’s first:

ABM only works if it’s done right.

ABM is not a fad, it’s a fundamentally better way of doing business for high-value B2B sales and marketing. We know it works from the incredible success of Engagio customers, and from empirical studies proving ABM drives higher ROI than any other tactic for the vast majority of marketers.

But, ABM only works when it’s done right. The term may be everywhere right now, but few companies are really doing it optimally. Hype is causing some well-intentioned marketers to take shortcuts simply to “check the box” on ABM.

The danger is, ABM shortcuts are the fastest way to the “trough of disillusionment,” not to mention a huge waste of time, resources, and budget.

I get it — ABM done right is hard, and marketers are busy. Most CEOs don’t approach their CMO saying “do you want more budget and people to do this ABM thing?” So, it’s not surprising marketers take the easy path. But, it takes some real effort to work — and that’s the point. That’s what earns you the right to win business with high-value accounts.

Don’t forget, ABM is about identifying your highest-value target accounts, then finding creative ways to cut through the noise to engage with the right people. It’s about standing out. These executives aren’t raising their hands, as they do with inbound marketing. They haven’t expressed interest in you, as they do with lead-based demand generation.

To engage these buyers, you must delight, educate, and/or add value.

Or, as Watt recommends in his post, blow their minds!

B2B industries are more competitive today than ever before. They’re crowded, commoditized, noisy, and everybody is trying to knock on the same doors. Buyers are overwhelmed by this noise, and will immediately throw away anything uninteresting, hit “SPAM” on emails that smell like sales, and ignore your ads (no matter how targeted they may be).

We need to break through all that noise to be successful with ABM. The best way to do that is with customization.

Customization is not optional in ABM

We know from The Challenger Sale that the best B2B salespeople are able to teach their buyers, and tailor that teaching for each unique business. In addition, ITSMA studies show 75% of executives will read unsolicited marketing materials if relevant to their business, and 92% will pay attention to these materials even from providers they’ve not done business with before. But the key here is that it must be relevant — which means tailored to their business.

ABM requires high-value, customized, valuable touchpoints.

If you don’t find a way to stand out from all the noise, your ABM efforts won’t deliver on the promise and you’ll end up in the trough of disillusionment.

ABM is about focus — different styles of ABM

However, you can’t be super-customized for every account. You can’t blow the minds of every decision maker. Nobody has the resources for that. You need to make decisions as to where your energy goes, and where it doesn’t go. The whole point of ABM is that it’s an opportunity to focus more resources on the accounts that are the most valuable and the most meaningful.

That’s why target account selection is a critical step in ABM. But it’s not enough just to pick the accounts, since it’s unlikely that each target account is worth exactly the same value; you also need to put them into tiers.

ABM experts have long agreed that there are different styles ofABM. They’ve laid out three distinct ways that teams currently approach ABM. Here’s how we think about them at Engagio:


  • Strategic ABM – these are seven figure plus accounts that require and deserve true one to one engagement: deep research, personalized content, bespoke campaigns, and organizational-wide focus. Even the largest organizations will only have a handful of these whale accounts, and each ABM marketer will typically handle only four or five of them. When the ITSMA talks about ABM as treating each account as a “market of one”, this is what they’re talking about. (Note: Strategic ABM is most often used on existing customers. According to the ITSMA and ABM Leadership Alliance, 84% of strategic accounts are current customers.)
  • Scale ABM – in Scale ABM, each account gets personalized outreach but at a lighter level. For example, you might have a “lite” version of the Account Plan, and you might use the same basic campaign template but then customize it for each account’s unique business needs. By definition, scale ABM is more scalable than strategic ABM and can handle dozens of accounts (usually less than 100 total), but there’s still hard work and lots of human touch involved — and as a result this style is usually most appropriate for deals worth six figures.
  • Programmatic ABM done right – programmatic ABM evolved to deliver some of the benefits of the other styles of ABM but at a much greater scale for deals worth less than $100K. Done well, it can still deliver value to customers by delighting and/or educating them with industry- and role-specific content; personal, human emails; interesting direct mail; and other scaleable ABM tactics.

Each style of ABM should come with “entitlements”. Entitlements answer the question “what is the right amount of time, money and resources dedicated to each account in each style/tier of ABM?” The entitlements document the balance of investment in time and resources to target accounts, and serve as the service-level agreement (SLA) between marketing and sales as to who does what and when for each kind of account.

Once you’ve built alignment around your entitlements for each style, you’ll be able to determine how many accounts you can realistically support in each tier — which will inform your account selection process. Learn more about entitlements for account-based marketing here.

Programmatic ABM done wrong

Programmatic ABM done wrong occurs when marketers use the same tactics as they would in lead-based demand generation, but just happen to send them to target accounts. This is just targeted demand generation in disguise. (Hint: if you’re still tracking leads and MQLs and not marketing qualified accounts / MQAs, you’re probably at risk of this.  By definition, ABM requires account-centric metrics.)

It’s here that many fall into the trough of disillusionment with ABM.

So often when marketers say “I’m doing ABM,” what they’re really doing is running some ads and maybe sending some direct mail packages to target accounts. Too often, these packages don’t amount to much more than sending some generic SWAG, and the only follow-up is a generic lead nurture track. These generic tactics aren’t going to break through the noise and connect with executive decision makers at named accounts.

I think, in an attempt to scale ABM, too many marketers have placed unrealistic expectations on programmatic tactics.

ABM is about saying no

As mentioned before, you can’t be customized for everybody, you don’t have the resources. That’s why programmatic tactics are so appealing, on the surface. It feels “scalable.” It appears to reach the largest possible audience. It casts a wide net. But, by relying on generic tactics we’re falling victim to the mindset of lead-based marketing. ABM is about fishing with spears, not nets.

To drive real account-based engagement, to stand out from all the noise, there are no shortcuts. It requires hard work, elbow grease, and the involvement of real, live, human beings. If you successfully close large deals, you know this to be true. Customization is not optional.

Advertising is not sufficient for Account Based Marketing

Let’s get real about ads.

As Michael Brenner said, “If content marketing is the hero of the modern marketing story, then banner ads are most certainly the villain.” Display ads carry an average CTR of 0.1%. In fact, you’re more likely to survive a plane crash, get into Harvard, or win the lottery, than have someone click on your banner ad.

I’m an executive. Personally, I can’t recall the last time I clicked on an ad.

Not to mention, display ads suffer serious issues including viewability, click fraud, bots, ad blockers, and viewer fatigue – not to mention the brand risk of having your ad show up on a site whose content you don’t agree with.

The account-based advertising platforms available today don’t allow for real customization or personalization beyond funnel stage and maybe industry. (Sticking the company name in the ad doesn’t count; that’s no better than saying “Dear [[FNAME]]” in an email.) By their very nature, ad networks force marketers into larger segments to have enough impressions – the opposite of the smaller, more targeted segments that ABM is all about.

In my opinion, ads are often the cause of the ABM trough of disillusionment.

ABM has become over-identified with advertising, and that’s a real disservice to the category.

When Ads Do Play a Role

Now, I’m NOT saying ads don’t work at all, and I’m NOT saying they don’t fit into an overall ABM strategy.  They CAN work as part of an orchestrated campaign, especially if your goal is to increase awareness with a much broader set of people at a target account.  I’m just saying that you shouldn’t rely on ads and feel confident that you’re “doing ABM” well. That requires a deeper ABM foundation and broader orchestration strategy.

The Data

Of course, don’t just take my word for it. We did some experiments at Engagio with integrated ABM plays in a campaign that included sending packages (two test versions) with valuable content and customized, handwritten notes for multiple target personas at key target accounts. For half the accounts, we also purchased advertising to see what incremental impact it had.

The results? Ads did provide a significant lift in web traffic from target accounts, but there was absolutely NO LIFT in our ability to get meetings with the right folks or to create opportunities at the accounts that had ads versus those that didn’t:

  • Package 1 only: 34% meeting rate
  • Ads and Package 2: 21% rate
  • Ads and Package 1: 20% rate
  • Package 2 only: 18% rate

Ads provide awareness, but most marketers aren’t just trying to drive awareness with ABM. They’re trying to drive meaningful engagement, meetings, and sales opportunities.

Remember, ABM works when you do it right.  But, so many companies fail with ad-only ABM strategies, and that trough gets bigger and bigger.

So, what tactics do work for ABM?

The ITSMA asked ABM practitioners of each style of ABM what specific tactics were most effective. The conclusion: no matter which style of ABM, the most effective tactics involve custom, human interactions.

Even in programmatic ABM, the tactics that work best are the ones that deliver customized value.

The conclusion is simple: you simply cannot remove human beings from the ABM equation if you want to deliver customized value.

3 tips for the road ahead – getting the most value out of ABM 

I hope by now you agree that avoiding the trough of disillusionment means executing ABM correctly, and that means there’s no “easy button”. But while it can be tough, it’s certainly not impossible. Here are my recommended steps forward to start – or maybe recover – your ABM initiative:

ABM is not a year-long, painful, massive project that will derail your marketing organization. It certainly takes more time than ads do, but the rewards are worth it.

The most straightforward path to success starts by building your account foundation. Match leads to accounts (if you want to think with an account-centric lens, you need a single view of accounts), and begin to adopt concepts like MQAs, not MQLs. (Read the difference.) 

Customization requires collaboration. As Watt’s hype cycle article says:

“New ways of going to market will require new ways of thinking, acting, and collaborating…. not enough that they sign off on it or otherwise passively agree. You need full, active co-ownership. Nothing less will create the conditions for real success.”

Book a recurring standup between someone on the Marketing team and Account Executives (and SDRs) to review target accounts and discuss ways to jointly go after them. Give Sales the insights they need into what’s happening with their accounts. (I don’t mean simple news alerts – I’m talking insight into cross-channel engagement.) Sales needs to know what marketing is doing, and what their accounts are doing.

Finally, put the tactics to work that are meant to work in ABM. Set up one-to-one meetings, create custom thought leadership, craft personalized emails, and drive executive engagement. Have a sales person, marketer, or member of your executive team take action at the right time, ensuring follow-up. Ads can play a role here, but they are not sufficient for meaningful engagement.

The bottom line – ABM is about setting expectations

The Hype Cycle article made some great points.

One, in particular, was about setting the right expectations. If you go into ABM without realigning the organization’s expectations – you’re walking into a buzzsaw. Traditional, lead-based metrics focus on quantity. ABM focuses on quality.

Set the right expectations, and stop relying on programmatic tactics to deliver the value that truly customized ABM delivers. You’ll set your ABM initiative up for success – and avoid that dreaded trough entirely.

Jon Miller
Jon Miller is CEO and founder of Engagio. Previously, Jon was the VP Marketing and Co-Founder of Marketo. He is a speaker and writer about marketing best practices, and is the author of multiple Definitive Guides including Marketing Automation, Engaging Email Marketing, and Marketing Metrics & Analytics. Jon has a passion for helping marketers everywhere, and is on the Board of Scripted and is an advisor to Optimizely and Newscred. In 2010, The CMO Institute named Jon a Top 10 CMO for companies under $250 million revenue. Jon holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard College and has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
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SPIN Selling: The Ultimate Guide

Learn the principles of SPIN Selling, get a summar [...]

If you’re a B2B salesperson, you’ve probably heard about SPIN Sales. It’s one of the most well-known -- not to mention oldest -- selling systems. SPIN gives reps a research-backed framework for working and closing complex deals with extended sales processes.

You can use SPIN principles along with your current sales methodology. The strategy focuses on asking good questions in the right order, using active listening, and translating the prospect’s needs into your product’s features. (Many of SPIN’s principles align well with inbound sales.)

To help you implement the most useful tips, aspects, and templates from SPIN Selling, we’ve put together the following guide:

What is SPIN Selling?

The SPIN sales strategy comes from Neil Rackham’s 1988 classic, “Spin Selling.” It’s based on 12 years of research and 35,000 sales calls.

To win larger, consultative deals, Rackham argues salespeople must abandon traditional sales techniques. Rather than twisting their customers’ arms, they need to build value, identify needs, and ultimately, serve as a trusted advisor.

SPIN Selling Acronym

SPIN stands for the four stages of the questioning sequence:

SPIN Selling Summary

To get the full impact of Rackham’s advice, we recommend reading the entire book. Here’s the link to SPIN Selling book on Amazon.

Here’s a handy overview of the contents:

Section 1. Sales Behavior and Sales Success

  • Closing is less important than most salespeople and managers think
  • Questioning is more important than most salespeople and managers think
  • The ratio of close-ended to open-ended questions doesn’t predict selling success
  • Great reps focus on preventing, not handling, objections

Section 2. Obtaining Commitment: Closing the Sale

  • Successful closing depends on getting the right commitment
  • Reps must determine their call objectives in advance
  • There are four potential outcomes to every sales call: Order, advance, continuation, no-sales

Section 3. Customer Needs in the Major Sale

  • Implicit needs are statements about problems, issues, and areas of dissatisfaction
  • Explicit needs are specific features or functions
  • In larger sales, explicit needs are strong buying signals

Section 4. The SPIN Strategy

  • Salespeople who close at high rates tend to ask the same types of questions in the same order
  • There are four main question types: Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-Payoff
  • Each question type plays a different role in moving the buyer toward the sale

Section 5. Giving Benefits in Major Sales

  • Features and benefits are the most common ways to pitch a product to the buyer
  • Advantages are less effective later in the sales process
  • Features are more important to users than decision makers
  • Benefits have the highest influence over the purchasing decision, but only when presented near the end of the sales conversation

Section 6. Preventing Objections

  • Objections are usually created by the salesperson, not the buyer
  • The more advantages you present, the more objections you’ll receive
  • Develop needs before you offer benefits to avoid unnecessary objections

Section 7. Preliminaries: Opening the Call

  • Don’t use conventional openings, i.e. providing benefits or relating to the prospect's personal interests
  • Get down to business quickly and establish your purpose

Section 8. Turning Theory Into Practice

  • Adopt one principle of SPIN Selling at a time to avoid getting overwhelmed
  • Practice them with smaller accounts or existing customers first

SPIN Selling Questions

Questions are the foundation of SPIN Selling. Rackham and his team found top-performing salespeople rarely, if ever, pose random, low-value questions. Not only does every question have a clear purpose, but the order in which they ask their questions is strategic, too.

The four main types of SPIN Selling questions are:

Let’s examine each type in more detail.

SPIN Situation Questions

Use Situation questions to learn where your prospects stand -- from their processes and pain points to competitive plans and results. The specific questions will depend on your product; for example, if you offer leadership training for mid-level managers, you might ask, “How do you currently teach first-time managers best practices and strategies?”

If you sell office supplies, on the other hand, you might ask, “How do you purchase office supplies right now?”

Here are some sample questions you can customize for your own use:

  • What is your role at [company]?
  • How do you do X?
  • What’s your process for X?
  • Walk me through your day.
  • Do you have a strategy in place for X?
  • Who’s responsible for X?
  • How long have you done X this way?
  • Why do you do X this way?
  • How much budget do you have assigned to X?
  • Why do you do X this way?
  • How important is X to your business?
  • Who uses X most frequently? What are their objectives?
  • Which tools do you currently use to do X?
  • Who is your current vendor for X?
  • Why did you choose your current vendor for X?

Note the lack of fact-gathering questions like, “How big is your company?”, “How many locations do you have?”, “Which products do you sell?”, and so on. When Rackham published "SPIN Selling," there wasn’t anywhere near as much information available to sellers.

Now that you can discover a long list of key details about your prospect with a quick online search, many situational questions are no longer effective. Not only do they make buyers impatient, these questions also leave less time for the most important ones. Ask as few of the questions in this category as you can -- and make sure you’ve done research before the call.

SPIN Problem Questions

In this stage, reps identify potential areas of opportunity. In other words, what gap isn’t being filled? Where is the prospect dissatisfied? They may be unaware they have a problem, so delve into the common places your solution adds value.

  • How long does it take to do X?
  • How expensive is X?
  • How many people are required to achieve the necessary results?
  • What happens if you’re not successful with X?
  • Does this process ever fail?
  • Are you satisfied with your current process for X? The results?
  • How reliable is your equipment?
  • When you have issues, is it typically easy to figure out what went wrong?
  • How much effort is required to fix your tools or buy new ones?
  • Are you happy with your current supplier?

SPIN Implication Questions

Once you’ve identified an issue, figure out how serious it is. Implication questions reveal the depth and magnitude of your prospect’s pain point -- simultaneously giving you valuable information for customizing your message and instilling urgency in the buyer.

According to Rackham, they should have a new appreciation for the problem by the time you’ve finished this part of the conversation.

Rackham also says top-performing salespeople ask four times as many Implication questions than their average peers.

  • What’s the productivity cost of doing X that way?
  • What could you accomplish with an extra [amount of time] each [week, month]?
  • Would your customers be [more satisfied, engaged, loyal] if you didn’t experience [problem related to X]?
  • If you didn’t experience [issue], would it be easier to achieve [primary objective]?
  • Does [issue] ever prevent you from hitting your goals in [business area]?
  • When was the last time X didn’t work?
  • How is [issue] impacting your team members?
  • Would you say [issue] is a blocker in terms of your personal career growth?
  • Would saving [amount of time] make a significant difference to your [team, budget, company]?
  • How would you use an extra [amount of money] each [week, month, quarter, year]?
  • Has a problem with X ever negatively impacted your KPIs?

SPIN Need-Payoff Questions

Need-Payoff questions encourage the prospect to explain your product’s benefits in their own words, which is far more persuasive than listening to you describe those benefits.

Essentially, you’re asking questions that surface your offering’s potential to help with their core needs or problems. These questions focus on the value, importance, or utility of the solution.

Make sure your Need-Payoff questions don’t highlight issues your product can’t solve. For instance, if you help corporate recruiting teams identify potential engineering candidates, you shouldn’t ask about the impact of hiring better marketers.

Fortunately, it’s relatively simple to develop Need-Payoff questions -- they should come directly from your Implication questions.

Sample Implication question: “Has a problem with X ever prevented you from meeting a deadline?”

Sample Need-Payoff question: “If you could do X in half the time, would that make it easier to meet your deadlines?”

Customizable Need-Payoff questions include:

  • Would it help if … ?
  • Would X make it simpler to achieve [positive event]?
  • Would your team find value in … ?
  • Do you think solving [problem] would significantly impact you in Y way?
  • Is it important for your team members to see X benefit so they can take Y action?

Be careful -- Need-Payoff questions can backfire. If they’re too obvious, you might come across as condescending. Try to reframe the solution in a way the buyer hasn’t previously considered.

For example, rather than asking, “Would your company benefit in saving money?”, you could ask, “Would redirecting $1,000 per week from your content creation budget and putting it into Facebook advertising drive significant traffic toward your blog?”

The 4 Stages of a SPIN Sale

Rackham says there are four basic stages of every sale:

Transactional salespeople often move through all four of these stages in a single sales call. However, reps working on larger, more complex deals might take two months to two years to complete them.

To help mid-market and enterprise salespeople measure their progress, Rackham uses the concept of “advances.” An advance is an action the buyer commits to that brings you closer to a purchase.

The operative word is action. It’s tempting to interpret your prospect’s request for more information or a proposal as a buying signal, but that puts the ball entirely in your court. If the buyer is actually interested, they’ll agree to do some work as well.

A continuation is a sales conversation that ends with an undesirable outcome. In other words, when you finish the call or meeting the buyer hasn’t agreed to any next steps that will advance the deal.

Example advances include the prospect reviewing your pricing page and sending you their questions, signing up for a free trial and exploring the tool, or introducing you to a key stakeholder.

Come up with as many valuable advances as possible. The more paths to the sale you have, the likelier you are to get there. When your prospect turns down one of your advances -- for example, an introduction to Procurement -- you can calmly accept the rejection and then propose something else.

An order is the third potential outcome of a sales call. The buyer agrees to purchase your product and shows their strong desire by signing paperwork. For large deals, this is usually the last outcome in a series of progressively larger closes.

A no-sale is the fourth (and least desirable) outcome. Your prospect rejects your request -- you can’t meet with the decision maker, they won’t schedule another meeting, or at the most extreme, they say there’s no possibility you’ll work together.

SPIN Selling Opening

SPIN Selling and inbound sales take the same approach to the first, or connect, call. Reps shouldn’t immediately jump into their product’s features and benefits -- not only will this overly aggressive strategy turn off prospects, but salespeople will lose the opportunity to learn valuable information.

The purpose of the connect call is to get the buyer’s attention and start to earn their trust. Lead with a compelling insight or thought-provoking question.

SPIN Selling Investigating

Investigation is the most important phase of SPIN Selling. It’s equivalent to the discovery call: You’re figuring out how your product can help the buyer, identifying their priorities and buying criteria, and gaining credibility by asking relevant, targeted, strategic questions.

According to Rackham, a strong question strategy can improve your close rate by 20%.

SPIN Selling Demonstrating Capability

Once you’ve connected the dots between your solution and the prospect’s needs, you need to prove that connection exists.

There are three basic ways to describe your product’s capabilities, Rackham says:

Features are most useful when selling low-cost, simple products. A feature for a cup might be, “It can hold 10 ounces of liquid.” End users tend to find features more compelling than decision makers, who care about the bottom-line results.

Advantages describe how a product’s features are actually used. Like benefits, they’re useful for smaller purchases but less persuasive with larger ones. The advantage of a cup might be, “You can use it to drink both hot and cold beverages.”

Benefits go one step further and show how a feature can help the prospect. They typically have a financial component and meet your customer’s need(s). A well-crafted benefit gives the buyer a reason to buy your product. The benefit of your cup might be, “Since you drink coffee in the morning and iced coffee in the afternoon, you’ll appreciate this mug’s versatility. Now you can enjoy both beverages with one cup.”

The FAB formula gives you another way to think about features, advantages, and benefits.

Because [product] has [feature]

[user] will be able to [advantage]

which means [prospect] will experience [benefit].

Let’s fill in this formula for a salesperson offering employee gamification software.

“Because our platform lets you set up leaderboards for your service teams, customer support reps will get a real-time overview of their performance compared to their peers. That means they’ll be motivated to raise their average satisfaction rating and respond to tickets more quickly.”

SPIN Objections

In every deal, objections are inevitable. In fact, you should worry more if you’re not getting them -- that means your prospect has reservations they’re not sharing with you. Your goal is to discover why the buyer hasn’t already pulled the trigger on this purchase, then help them understand why their concerns aren’t true blockers.

(Of course, if there’s a valid reason your product isn’t a good fit, you shouldn’t persuade them otherwise.)

Rackham states there are two types of objections:

  1. Value: Your prospect isn’t convinced about your product’s ROI. They might say, “I like its features, but the cost is too high.”
  2. Capability: Your prospect doubts that your product can meet their specific needs. That translates to comments like, “I’m not sure it’ll be able to do X for us,” “That process seems like it would take more time than you say,” and “I think we need a more robust solution.”

Capability objections can be further broken down:

  1. Can’t: Your solution cannot solve one of the buyer’s main priorities
  2. Can: Your solution can solve one of their main priorities, but they don’t perceive that

It’s important to prevent as many objections as possible. The majority of objections are actually avoidable if you avoid selling too soon.

Rackham’s research revealed that reps can cut the number of objections in half by using implication and need-payoff questions to build value before presenting a solution.

In the traditional sequence, the salesperson asks a Problem question. Then they use the prospect’s answer to offer the corresponding product feature.

However, the rep usually doesn’t have enough context to truly understand what the prospect is trying to accomplish or what’s blocking her. Their generic, one-size-fits-all answer prompts the buyer to push back -- and she’s probably not going to listen to any of their future suggestions.

Try the SPIN sequence instead. Ask a Problem question, probe into the consequences with Implication questions, then ask the buyer to recognize the value of a solution with a Need-Payoff question.

Modern-Day SPIN Selling

“SPIN Selling” was published more than 30 years ago. Although its core techniques and principles hold true, the typical buying journey has evolved. If you’re going to use the SPIN model, you should update it.

First, ask as few Situation and Problem questions as possible. Prospects simply don’t have the patience to do your homework for you. They don’t want you to identify the pain points they already know about -- if that was the case, they’d simply buy the solution by themselves. You’re valuable because you can find opportunities or pain points your buyers don’t yet know about.

With that in mind, use thought-provoking questions such as, "Has your organization ever considered [new strategy]?", "Do you know [surprising statistic]?", and "Would you like some recommendations for preparing for [impending industry event]?" 

Rackham didn't give these questions their own category, but they're definitely useful in modern sales.

Second, incorporate social selling into your strategy. When Rackham came out with "Social Selling," LinkedIn didn't exist. Now you have far more insight into your buyers' perspectives, priorities, and personalities than salespeople in the late '80s could ever have dreamed of. Don't let this valuable resource go to waste. Read your prospect's profile(s), browse their group comments and any articles they've written or shared, check out their Recommendations section to get a feel for their work ethic, and so on. Become as familiar with each individual as you can before your kick-off sales call so you can engage them like it's the fifth meeting, not the first.

Third, guide their buying process. As the average number of stakeholders involved in every B2B deal grows larger, and internal buying processes become more complex, your expertise gets more valuable. Prospects need you to help them purchase your product like they never have before. Come prepared with the job titles -- and potentially names, if you can find them -- of their coworkers who need to be informed or consulted. Tell your point of contact what their manager is going to want to know before they approve the decision, and send them materials to make their presentation more compelling. Work with your contact to anticipate and avoid roadblocks. Liaise with Procurement and/or Legal when necessary to get the deal over the finish line as quickly and easily as possible. Although Rackham didn't give these recommendations in "SPIN Selling," they're one of the most effective ways to differentiate yourself in modern sales.

How are you using SPIN Selling techniques to prospect, qualify, and close? Let us know in the comments!

Originally published May 04 2017, updated July 28 2017
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Sales Calls Monitoring with Hubspot - Rambl

Unlock the value of sales calls across your entire [...]

Unlock the value of sales calls across your entire organization with Rambl, your intelligent sales phone system for growth. 

February 19

How We Cold Called and Booked 6 Fortune 500 Meetings in 6 days

How We Cold Called and Booked 6 Fortune 500 Meetin [...]

This is a guide for service based businesses on how to cold call Fortune 500 companies and pitch them an innovative idea. Step by step guide on how we booked meetings with 6 Fortune 500 companies in 6 days.

Few weeks ago we hired a cold caller and the strategy has been working so well that we had to share it.

This is a cold calling strategy that works.

Cold email works, but in some situations cold calling works better.

What we've been doing is having our cold caller reach out to the enterprise for mobile app development projects.

And by enterprise I mean Fortune 500 companies. The biggest companies in the world.

In the first six days of our cold caller doing this we were able to score meetings with a bunch of well-known companies. I’m sure you recognize some of these logos.

This wasn’t hard. Why it wasn’t, remains an unknown to me. But I think the reason falls somewhere between nobody cold calling at all or nobody cold calling correctly.

Either way, in this post I'm going to lay it all out. I'll show you the exact strategy we're using to make these calls and book these meetings.

But first, let me preface this with a very important question you need to ask yourself before you pursue enterprise clients.

Is your company ready to go from small businesses or whatever your current target is to very large companies, Fortune 500, Fortune 5000?

When do you know that you're ready to move to that next level?

Answer: Have a solid business already.

Good things about enterprise - they've got really big ticket items, it's a chance to make a worldwide impact especially if you're doing anything like marketing.

The downside of the enterprise are very long sales cycles. Meaning it might take six, seven months or two to three times longer to close an enterprise deal as it would with a startup or even with a small to medium business.

The other downside is there's gonna be a lot more stakeholders. What that basically means is you’ll have a meeting after meeting. At the end, it will come down to a group of people that decide for enterprise companies or it'll go up even higher to the director level. Basically, to whoever has the budget to approve it. It takes forever to do this.

Make sure your business is in a good enough spot where you don't need enterprise clients to survive!

If you're not in that good of a spot yet, go out and get some SMB clients. Get some startups that are gonna convert on the first or second meeting.

Now, let’s jump into how to actually do it.

1. Pick a Fortune 500 company (based on a case study you can replicate)

Just go down the list and pick a good company.

The way that I recommend our clients do this is look at your past case studies and see what sort of case studies you have that could be replicated.

Example time!

Here is an example of what I do at my company when going after bigger enterprise clients.

We only focus on one vertical. We only focus on professional services, specifically mobile app development, UX, UI, design, branding and some advertising firms.

So all of our targets are in the advertising marketing or the software category. You can do the same.

One of our clients, Dom & Tom, built this app called OUBound for the University of Oklahoma.

And University of Oklahoma let us do a case study on it. So we took that case study and we emailed it out to a bunch of other universities and based on those emails we were able to get meetings with OSU, Yale and a few other schools. Just based on that initial cold email test we validated the replicability of our project. Hence, making it ready for enterprise companies.

We have the case studies to back our claims up. We've got case studies from clients in similar niches to them. Companies that we've succeeded with in the past with those same type of projects. So that's what you need to have.

Look at your past clients and keep an eye on one.

What are the most successful type of clients you worked with in the past? Which ones were happiest and had saw the most results? Which company did you make the most profit from? Not most money, most profit. Which were easiest to deal with? Take that type of company.

Enterprise companies always have an eye on what the up-and-coming companies are doing. So don’t think just because your case study is based on a startup or a SMB it won’t work.

Smaller companies are innovating in ways that huge enterprise companies aren’t.

I recommend picking only one specific case study. Something where you dominated, something where you have amazing results and pitching only that case study to companies that very well match that case study.

2. Research the company and come up with an innovative idea

Researching the company and being innovative. If you run a digital agency, startup or a service based business this is where you might probably stumble.

No! You can’t pitch SEO, copywriting or web design to Fortune 500 like you do with any other client of yours.

Think more corporate!

How do you find out what a company like Google or Coca-Cola or Ford is planning for 2017 so that you know what to pitch them?

Since this presents, in my experience, the biggest problem, I’m gonna do a case study on coming up with innovative ideas for Coca-Cola.

Public companies, and almost all the Fortune 500 are, will publish goal sheets for the upcoming year.

They'll go out and they'll look at their initiatives for 2017 and they'll publish them online.

Example time!

Let’s read Fortune 500’s mind! It's actually super simple.

Pop over to Google and you actually just have to search something like ‘Coca-Cola goals for 2017’.

When you search this query you'll get a bunch of articles. I opened ‘Five Strategic Actions: The Coca-Cola Company’.

A bunch of companies have these. Coca-Cola's a good example. So let’s scan through the goals. I'm going to go through this stuff really quick and I'll show you how you can interpret it to come up with app ideas.

‘’1. Driving revenue and profit growth. In emerging markets we focus primarily on increasing volume, keeping our beverages affordable and strengthening the foundation.’’

So the goal for emerging markets is to sell a lot of Coca-Cola at cheaper prices

‘’In developed markets we relied more on price/mix and improving profitability by offering more small packages and premium packages. ‘’

So in developed markets like USA, Canada, UK the goal is to sell these premium packages like glass and aluminum bottles.

So the pitch here if you're going for an app pitch to Coca-Cola is something on that matter. Maybe a collectible app or a collectible piece of technology.

This is actually a good place to pitch smart tech. What if Coca-Cola had a collectible voice app or a little hardware dongle. There's an idea. Might not be the best idea, but that is an idea based on their goals and shows you the mindset you need to be in.

‘’2. We invested in our brands and business. We made a choice to invest in more and better marketing for our brands increasing both the quantity and quality of our advertising. We’ve increased the spending by more than 250 million dollars.’’

This means Coca-Cola wants you to pitch them exciting advertising ideas around their new brands (they bought a new brand Suja) or help them market their new partnerships like the one with Monster.

So anything advertising related around those new brands. Also, in 2015 their big goal was uniting all of Coca-Cola under one name. Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Coca-Cola Life.

Help them support the entire trademark. Any app that is about all the Coca-Cola brands unified or an advertising or experiential marketing campaign about uniting all those brands will work as a pitch.

I will at least get their ears to perk up.

‘’3. We became more efficient. Part of the solution was 'zero-based work' -- a way of looking at our business that starts from the assumption that organizational budget start at zero and must be justified annually. Overall, we were able to realize more than 600 million in productivity improvements in 2015.’’

Coca-Cola is open to any pitches that will improve their productivity.

Redoing their internal communications. This might be a good time for someone like Slack to pitch Coca-Cola. Any sort of productivity based tool would work here. This is a big goal for them, this is number three on their five strategic actions.

‘’4. We simplified our company. Most importantly we began to look at ways to enhance further the employee experience across our company with the goal of creating the world's most exciting, productive, fun and fulfilling career environment with workplaces that nurse curiosity, learning innovation and growth.’’

So any app that enhances the employee experience. Maybe it's an internal reward program for employees to work harder or an opportunity for employees to maybe give their ideas to Coca-Cola.

Maybe something like Starbucks’ Idea Site, but focused internally for Coca-Cola.

Anything around making employees happier. Apps focused on that will work here.

‘’5. We refocused on our core business model. Over the years we've acquired and managed the number of Coca-Cola bottling partners with the aim of improving performance, optimizing, manufacturing and distribution systems and ultimately refranchising the bottling territories back to independent status.’’

Coca-Cola wants to hear about ideas that improve their manufacturing processes or ideas that make their bottling plants more integrated. Which can be done by software.

So those are five strategic actions from Coca-Cola. Almost all of the Fortune 500 companies have articles like this one.

You just have to Google around to find them, dig a little bit and this is what you can pull from there when you're cold emailing or cold calling these companies.

Finding an article like this and coming up with ideas based on it will be that extra step that will get you in the door versus just pitching yourself as another iOS/Android development vendor.

3. Find the marketing director on LinkedIn

Search ‘marketing director Coca Cola’, ‘marketing director Ford’ and you'll get maybe two or three people depending on how many brands are inside of the company, but you won't have too many.

4. Cold call until you get through

I’m going to go over the process I used to get through to the Head of Global Marketing and Innovation at Coca-Cola to show you how easy it actually is.

I did this without having his direct number using only the info available on their official website.

Example time!

I googled Coca-Cola, went to their official website and clicked on the clearly visible contact us tab.

We are looking for company directory. No such thing here, but there is one phone number publicly available.

Next thing you know I was waiting to be connected to a Coca-Cola rep.

From this point on, all the names and numbers will be redacted so I’m not the one to blame if they get spammed. Consider this a template on getting through to your Fortune 500 decision maker.

On the other hand - you can check out the video version of the call - here.

Coca-Cola rep picks up. This is how it went.

Rep: Good morning. Coca-cola. This is --Rep--.

Me: Hey --Rep--! I’m trying to call --The Decision Maker--. And I just don’t have the number for the company directory with me.

Rep: I can get you a number for the switchboard operator. They can search that person for you. What’s your zip code?

Me: --My zip code--.

Rep: Ok. Hold on one second. The number is --##########--.

Me: Thanks!

Rep: You’re more than welcome. Thanks for calling Coca-Cola.

I dial the new number, S. picks up.

S: Hey this is S.

Me: Hey S! I’m trying to find the extension for --The Decision Maker--.

S: Ok. One moment please.


The Decision maker: Hello.

Voila. You’re in. This took only a couple of minutes.

There is a lot of theories on what cold call structure to use, but this is what works good for us: open with a quick pitch of who you are then pitch the idea to them and ask for the goals for 2017.

Since you already went through step #3 you have your innovative pitch that stands out and you’re ready to go.

Cold cold until you get through. If you don't get them the first time call back an hour later.

I don't recommend leaving voicemails and there's no real tracking to show who's calling. So you can call them a bunch of times and it doesn't really matter. Just cold call 'till you get through.

It takes an average of five times calling at different times of day to get through to these people, but once you do you're able to pitch the idea and ask about the goals for 2017.

The goal of this cold call is not to sell them. The goal of this cold call is to get them on the calendar.

And you're still gonna have to follow-up via email most of the time, but sometimes they'll say: 'Hey! Yeah, that sounds good. Call me back at 3pm.'

That's what works there. So ask availability and get a meeting on the calendar. I don't recommend using Calendly or any software for this. You will just be creating additional friction to the ideal outcome. I recommend just booking it on the calendar. Reading a few times and doing it that way.

Then have the scheduled meeting. The key is to approach them as a value provider not an order taker.

Cold calling is different than managing an inbound lead. This isn't somebody who is expressing a desire in mobile app development. This is a company that you want to provide your innovation to.

The key is to unlock their innovation budget and get them to go with you because you have the best ideas not because you have the best technical prowess.

This mindset is a lot different than the way that your inbound sales team is selling right now.

There you go. Cold call, grow your business and get the ROI on your efforts and time by using this strategy. Hope you found value in this!

February 12

15 Things We Learned Doing our Early B2B Outbound Sales

15 Things We Learned Doing our Early B2B Outbound [...]

As a first time founder, I was s*** scared on the first few sales calls. Imagine an introvert ex-engineer trying to convince experienced biz guys to buy his half-baked product.

I probably sucked big time.

Sure, we had the lead gen segmentation part of the things covered (that’s what we do), but the rest of our sales process was a mess.

We had rookie problems & questions like:

  • Who in the prospect’s organization should we contact?
  • Via what channels should we reach out?
  • How should we present our solution?
  • And how can we answer all their sharp questions?

I mean … I’m talking to some VP of something something and they should buy my 2 months old product?


And then they say: “I’m not interested.”
Or: “We haven’t budgeted for this.”

But, but… you fit our ideal customer profile perfectly. I don’t get it.

Hopefully, for you, it will turn out that your product is quite OK. That it’s going in the right direction.

And that what you really need to work on is the sales process. Actually reaching out to the most qualified prospects and steadily improving the way you convey the value of your solution.

Outbound sales is scary. And feels almost a bit dirty for product focused founders. But it’s worth it.

Tons of scrappy startups have done it before – and won, eventually.
Sometimes even with a product that the market didn’t really need.


Here is what we’ve learned about the very early sales process so far.

1. Outsource it – only if you DON’t want to win

Outsourcing the sales process sounds like a great idea for product focused first-time founders. “We built an awesome product that every business needs so let’s just hire some experienced sales people to sell it for us.”

We’ve seen our friends and clients try this approach multiple times. And it never works. They always scale back and do it in-house with founders in charge.

The thing is: early sales is as much about learning as it is about selling.

Here’s a few quick reasons why founders should lead the early sales efforts themselves:

  • Nail the sales process: it enables you to go deep into the sales tactics, try out different things and figure out what works for your particular product and market.
  • Condense your value prop: talking to real prospects and asking for money will quickly shape your product’s value proposition.
  • Figure out the most common sales objections: you’ll be able to hear all sorts of objections and prepare constructive rebuttals.
  • You’ll get to know direct substitutes to your product: Most often, your prospects already use something to address the problem you’re solving. A spreadsheet, an informal process whatever. The more often you see a similar substitute, the more you can focus on its weaknesses and emphasise your strengths.

All in all: the learnings from early customer dialogs turn out to be invaluable for the founders.

It gives you extra credibility within the team as well. For example, a freshly hired CTO at another startup said to me recently:

“Damn Jakob, I really like Anna. It’s the first time I’m working with a CEO who has sold the first 15 deals herself. And now she can be out there with the sales guys and say – You can’t sell it – watch me do it! It’s soo good for the team.”

Extra tip: Investors LOVE founder hustlers! Tell them some “field stories” about how you won the early deals and what the team managed to learn throughout the process. Maybe they won’t love your idea. But they will sure remember the hustle.

2. Avoid doing it alone!

It’s been said many times: founders need to do the early sales themselves.

Sounds simple and obvious, but …

You will be tempted to give up. Especially in the early days when you still struggle with the product-market fit.

That’s why I believe the best approach is to do it in pair. Have at least 2 people in the sales mode (at least partially): to support and improve each other.

Here’s what selling in pair can bring you:

  • Have a role-play partner. You can role-play your pitch and sales questions with someone.
  • Build up a list of sales objections. Work together on the sales objections and best fitting counter-arguments.
  • Help each other work on deals. Riff on different prospects and exchange ideas on how to push deals forward.
  • Iterate together. Polish the lead qualification, sales pitch, marketing materials and help lead the product roadmap.
  • Have a benchmark. Challenge each other and compare the metrics of reachouts, booked demos and won deals.
  • Start to specialise some tasks. Maybe it turns out that one is better at reaching out and setting up meetings while the other one convinces people with the big vision and gets them to sign on the dotted line. Speacilize the tasks early on and consider it for the later process.


3. Sell to your most ideal customers first

You absolutely need to figure out your ICP (ideal customer profile).

It will help you clearly define your currently addressable market and focus on companies that can actually buy your product – right now.

Here’s a few questions you should be able to answer after you’ve nailed your ICP:

  • What’s the profile of the company,
  • What do they actually do: What vertical / category are they?
  • How big are they,
  • Where are they located,
  • Do they use any special technologies, etc.

You can learn more about the ICP here.

Make a list of couple hundred of them and try to sell to them.

Extra tip: We narrowed down our list in the beginning even further. 100 leads that were right in our sweet spot. Our rationale was simple: if they won’t buy… who will?

Below is a great deck on how to think about ICP for your startup by Lincoln Murphy.

4. Use modern tools to find your ideal customers

Lead generation in 2015 really shouldn’t be your problem.

Use a product that can bring you closest to the ideal customers without spending tons of time on the boring sales research.

For example: if you’re looking for e-commerce stores in Germany, Pipetop is a good fit for you. Alternatively, if you are going to target restaurants in Chicago area, you should probably look at Radius.

Here is a quick example of how detailed segmentation works in Pipetop:

5. Don’t chase gorillas and squirrels

Rule of thumb: as an early stage startup, you should avoid selling to extremely big companies (gorillas) and very small startups (squirrels).

The rationale behind this is simple:

  • Big companies: They have very high expectations and standards for working with outside vendors. Sales cycles can take up to a year and there is usually more established competition already in the marketplace.
  • Small startups: Scrappy small startups are always low on money and will have a ton of special feature requests.

Instead, focus your sales efforts on the growing small and midsize companies. There’s plenty of them.

Check out this insightful Quora answer for further explanation.

6. Tap into your network to help you close the first 5 sales

Once you work in an industry for some time you must have a few good connections: your previous employers, ex-bosses, ex-peers, people you’ve met at meet-ups, etc.

Now it’s your time to ask for a few favours.

A few quick tips about the reachout:

  • Don’t spam your whole Linkedin network. You might think that asking all your connections for potential intros to interesting companies is a good idea.__ It’s not. Focus on the ones that you’ve previously did a favour for and that are a great fit to ask.
  • In fact, I don’t use Linkedin for messaging at all. I found that having a previous email relationship is a very good heuristic for whether I should ask someone for a favour. You don’t want to nag people you’ve only met once and connected on Linkedin.
  • Avoid asking for too much work. Messages like: “Hey do you know someone who might fit this and this criteria that I should contact,” require a lot of time from your peer.
  • Do the legwork for them. Ideally you have prepared big list of companies that you want to reach. Go through these companies on Linkedin and see if there are any connections in your network that could help with an intro. In that case, write a 3 line paragraph describing how your company helps other similar companies (focus on the value!). Encourage them to first reach out to their connection to see if they’re interested in the first place (remember: double opt-in intro is your friend).

Extra tip: in case you find it hard to reach the first 5 sales through connections, you are probably working on a wrong problem. There might be nothing wrong with your idea or product! But often only a great product is not enough in B2B; you really need a founder-market fit to succeed.

It’s much easier to get things off the ground when you can leverage your network. Or as the VCs like to say: make sure you have an unfair advantage.


7. Prepare a list of common objections – and OWN them

You know the problem you are trying to solve in and out. You’ve done extensive customer development, your probably have some own frustrations that led you to create the product.

Make no mistake – in every sales call you will face objections:

  • “We are already using this other vendor.”
  • “This sounds way too expensive.”
  • “Can we see the SLA?”

The best sales people are prepared to handle all sorts of objections. Not because they are geniuses. But because they take their time to prepare.

Make a list of all the possible objections and write down your rebuttals. Then memorise them.

As you go through more sales calls and amass experience, tweak the responses and add more objections. And another positive side effect is that it will help you streamline the sales process and shorten the time it will take for new reps to come on board.

Extra tip: sometimes your written sales objections “FAQ” will look great on paper but will actually sound super wacky once you try to say it out loud. Try going over it with someone else and polish the answers so they sound natural.

Here’s a great video on this topic:

8. Smarten up your outbound email campaigns

Cold emailing has proven to be a very effective and scalable way of reaching super targeted leads on scale.

And hand in hand with this trend, there is now a whole wave of super useful sales email tools.

Here’s a few of our favourite email tools:

Sorry, the video below isn’t an email tool. But it’s so good I wanted to share it here nonetheless. It’s one of the shortest and straight to-the-point videos I’ve seen to help you craft great cold B2B outbound emails:

9. Forget about commissions – it’s all about the learnings

I mentioned this before – the early sales are best done by founders or the founding team members.

You don’t want real sales pros hustling for commissions.
Not in the very beginning, at least.

Remember: The goal of early sales is not to optimise the revenue; it is to help figure out the product-market fit, nail the pitch and prepare the sales process for later hires.

10. Don’t take silence for an answer

I know how hard this is – you’ve emailed the perfect contact 3, even 4 times. No reply.

If the company is a great fit, don’t give up. Always keep on trying until you reach someone.

Customize the email, make it more personal, try to show how you can provide value upfront. Maybe send an email to your target’s boss or a coworker.

By all means, keep on trying until you get some kind of response. If nothing else, you can at least learn what they’re currently using as a substitute and use it to tweak your value proposition or product.


11. Make quick notes after each sales call

Look, most of the sales demos end up with nothing – the very best companies manage to get to about 30% close rate from demos.

And you’re early.

That’s why your conversion rate will be much lower. Try to make the best of the “lost” conversations and learn from them.

Here’s a quick checklist that we keep track of during our sales calls:


  • Has the prospect expressed any new objections?
  • Was there a special moment during the call? A moment when they clearly expressed excitement?
  • Are they clearly disengaged with a certain part of the pitch?
  • What do they currently use to solve the problem?
  • What is their biggest pain point?

Wrapping up a week going through this sales notes now always gives us a few pointers how to get better going further.

12. If you get stuck on NOs, try to tweak your sales process and pitch first

What to do if you keep hearing the dreaded “NO”?

Certainly, it would be futile to just give up. You must have started the company because you experienced the problem yourself. Because you were frustrated or just thought there is a much better way to solve something.

Keep pruning the sales pitch and target market segment – it’s by far the simplest thing that you can change in an early startup.

Changing the actual product is much harder and more expensive, so do it only if you are completely sure that that’s the right thing to do based on your sales conversations.

Extra tip: Startups have a tendency to fall into the never-ending cycle of:”Just one more feature”. I’ve been there myself.

The key is to be brutally honest with your product and progress. Most often, just adding a feature or three doesn’t change the course of a startup.

13. ABC: Always be charging

Nothing comes free in B2B. That’s good.

Even better: nobody expects anything to be for free in the business context!

In fact, as many experienced sales people could tell you, people value your product less when you don’t charge for it.

So don’t make this mistake.

Even when you are deep in the validation phase, charge. It can be daunting to ask for money for something that doesn’t even exist yet or is riddled with bugs. But do it – always ring the freaking cash register, as a VC Mark Suster says.

Charging real money has very positive side effects even if it’s not immediately material from the revenue standpoint:

  • People paid for your product. You have freakin’ customers! That means you’re already better than 50% of startups.
  • You’re the closer. The rest of the team sees it and starts to understand why we are doing this in the first place.
  • Pushback is good. You will get some honest pushback when you try to charge for things. It’s tough, but great for your product in the long run.
  • You can optimize the pricing. You will be able to do insightful pricing decisions. We can all read and theorise about our pricing strategies all day long. But in the end, it’s the customers that will actually give you an indication of how good your pricing is. Aim for the sweet spot: the spot where your customers think your offering is a bit pricy, but still end up paying for it. (Mixpanel seems to be a great example of this strategy. Everyone I’ve talked to think they’re expensive, yet they all still pay them.)


14. There’s nothing wrong with letting your prospects go

If you haven’t experienced this, don’t worry. You will. I totally sucked at it in the beginning.

This is how it goes.

You’ve had a very good sales conversation. Or three. The sale was basically sealed. (At least you thought so.)

Suddenly, the customer goes into the “silent mode”: an email, a voicemail, another email. Nothing. No reply. Nada.

You need to accept this. It’s a part of the game. Remember, even the guys from the top league convert only 30% of demos.

Most often, it has zero to do with you. Your prospect is busy or has 10 other things on her plate.

That said, the most natural and yet the worst thing to do in this case is to do nothing. To just let it be.

I recently stumbled across a very interesting follow-up technique that can help in this scenario. It advises to send your prospect the following email:

“I have not heard from you, so I am assuming you are no longer interested in our offering. I am withdrawing the offer as we agreed. Good luck to you and I truly wish you the best. Thank you for the opportunity to work with you.”

Now – 2 things might happen:

  • The prospect doesn’t respond. That’s it. Potentially you can try pinging another contact at the company, but at least you’ve given it everything.
  • The deal comes back. The customer calls or writes you back and reignites the deal – awesome!

15. Beware of the small & innocently looking feature requests


Yes, I know how important each prospect feels in the early days.

But sometimes, that feature request is just prospect’s excuse for not saying “NO” to you directly. And that tiny little feature often turns out to not be so trivial in the end.

The best piece of advice I ever got on this is to ask the prospect: “Is this feature a deal-breaker for you?”

The responses to this question normally fall into 3 buckets:

  • “Yeah, we will 100% not buy without this, it just doesn’t solve our problem otherwise.”
  • “Nah, not really. But it would be nice, you know.”
  • “Well, it would be cool, but we are also not sure at all if this product is a fit for us right now”

Now, at least you know where you stand:

  • Case #1: you have to assess whether the potential deal is big enough to justify a disruption of the roadmap.
  • Case #2: you can simply reprioritize a certain feature.
  • Case #3 is tricky: they are obviously not decided about your value proposition. One thing is clear, though: you definitely shouldn’t implement the proposed feature. The sale is rarely about a single feature. Get to the bottom of their problem and see if your solution is even a fit.

All in all – you have the vision for the product, so stick to it unless someone is screaming and offering you hard cash.

An extra bonus: your developers are going to appreciate certain level of stability in the roadmap. Sure, it’s a startup, priorities change.

But nobody likes the guy who comes in screaming through the door asking for a new feature every second day.


That’s it!

I think the most important learning observation throughout this process has been that the fastest growing startups aren’t necessarily much smarter. Or that they had a much better product to start with.

Not really.

The characteristic the fastest growing b2b startups have in common is that they approach the sales process as a science.

Founders do the early sales, figure out the initial sales process and core value prop. Then they hire the first sales people and a VP of sales that further develop their sales playbook and eventually turn it into a very predictable revenue generating engine.

We would love to know your experience with early stage outbound sales – what tactics did you use? What worked, what didn’t work?

Let us know in the comments section below or on Twitter.

February 12

Account Based Strategy (Or Bust) For HR Lead Generation

Effective HR lead generation requires clear organi [...]

Account Based Strategy (Or Bust) For HR Lead Generation

The Gatekeepers

HR professionals get mobbed by salespeople like zombies swarm the living in B-movie horror flicks. Our HR Manager counted 87 marketing and sales emails last week.

Type “Human Resources” into LinkedIn and you’ll get somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,719,282 results. Hit refresh and the number might tick up one or two. It’s a large market.

Companies around the world are increasing their investment in HR infrastructure. HRmarketer.com estimates the value of the Human Resources marketplace to be over $1 trillion dollars annually. Inevitably, HR professionals get a heavy dose of sales and marketing messaging on a day-to-day basis. Most of it ends up in the proverbial (or literal) trash can. Money wasted.

Human Resource professionals influence more purchasing decisions than any other department. They are the gatekeepers to upper management. They weigh in on organization-wide initiatives, and affect a wide array of corporate decisions.


Human resource professionals are rarely your primary decision maker. Their budgets are tight and frequently fixed annually.


Avoid These Common Mistakes 

Most of the time, marketers and salesfolk have no clue what it is that HR does every single day. This is, in part, because Human Resources is a workforce of specialists.

Responsibilities range from, 

  • Staffing
  • Payroll
  • Recruiting
  • Employee benefits
  • Health and wellness
  • Training
  • Background screening
  • Team management
  • Employment law
  • Labor or union relations
  • HR information systems
  • Compliance
  • Crisis communications
  • Community relations
  • Workplace safety 

Most sales and marketing teams make the same two mistakes with HR lead generation: 

  1. Neglecting to communicate with the larger sphere of influence within a company
  2. Targeting specialists with generic messaging

Effectively selling into HR requires clear organizational visibility for targeting decision making panels (not just individuals) and audience segmentation for more relevant messaging.


Focus On The Many

An account based marketing strategy is similar to what is traditionally called enterprise sales.  The primary difference is that an account based strategy can be used to target a company of any size. Instead of messaging only to decision makers within a company, sales and marketing work together to simultaneously target multiple decision makers, with different roles and responsibilities. The concept involves leveraging dynamics of group psychology to close an account.

Account based tactics can be effective for lead generation in any industry, but for HR, it’s an imperative.

B2B purchases always close faster with organizational buy-in. Even with SMBs, there will be, at a minimum, an HR professional who will use the product or service, a decision maker who will sign on the dotted line, and others who will be impacted by this decision. 

Whether HR professionals are inbounding through your website, or you’re building an outbound campaign to target via email, sales reps need to identify two things when building or enriching lists of prospective HR customers.

  1. Where this individual falls within their organization’s hierarchy
  2. Contact information and job titles for additional decision makers at the company

When generating lists of companies that fit your ideal customer profile, these additional data points should always be baked into the lead generation process. 

Using the free Synoptic View Salesforce app, sales reps can visually identify the dark spots in an account’s organizational structure at any time. The same visualization can be achieved with most other CRMs.


Outreach Strategy

A complimentary outreach approach that targets additional decision makers at the company might go something like this. First, a quick round of light social touches such as Linkedin profile views or Twitter likes. These can be executed manually by your reps or automated. Next, a 4-8 touch outreach  email sequence using a service like Yesware or Outreach.io. Your goal is to get a positive response to a simple question, not make a hard sell. 

For example,

Do you experience this industry-specific pain point?

Do you use X technology?

Are you tasked with with such-and-such goal?

These emails should be short — less than 50 words each.

Once you have templates written for each of your buyer personas, you don’t have to write one-off variations for each new campaign. Simply personalize with name, company, industry, and other merge fields. The messaging is up to you.

In addition to your one HR-specific lead, you now have other contacts that are actively being developed on the same account. Some will respond to your email. Some will visit your website and be served retargeting ads. Others might inbound separately now that your product or service is top-of-mind.


Final Thoughts

This type of organizational awareness allows you to speed up your lead to close, empower HR professional to discuss your company with others, and address internal objections before they ever come into contact with one of your sales reps. By the time someone at the company requests a demo, there will be a panel of people at the company, who are at the very least, aware (and hopefully somewhat knowledgeable and interested) about what you offer. When they go into their next meeting, your company’s name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Social facilitation is a powerful dynamic.

For more information about How To Align Marketing And Sales For Better Demand Generation, check out this free webinar.

William Wickey, Content & Media Strategy, LeadGenius. @wwickey
  1. This is a great blog! We too work with lead generation and we have also wrote a little about it, here it is http://gingernutmedia.co.uk/lead-generation/

February 12

How to Use the SPIN Selling Approach to Close More Online Sales - FunnelEnvy

Learn the basics of the SPIN Selling Approach and [...]

How to Use the SPIN Selling Approach to Close More Online Sales

By Corey Pemberton

Most of us don’t have a lot of leeway when we’re selling online.

The pressure is on with shortening attention spans, numerous competitors, and consumer skepticism. Being too pushy or asking a question at an inopportune time can put off the leads you’ve worked so hard to get.

Being aggressive might work for an ecommerce store that sells $5 t-shirts, but it probably won’t work for you. If you’re selling something complicated or expensive enough to warrant a sales funnel, a different approach will win you more customers.

The psychology shifts with expensive, complicated products or services. Prospects view the transaction as less of a commodity and more of the beginning of a relationship with the salesperson. How well you sell yourself becomes critical.

A Data-Driven Approach to Close More Sales

Why do so many businesses get this wrong? And what can we do to get it right?

Those are the mysteries psychologist Neil Rackham set out to solve.

Image Credit: Ok I Trade

Neil Rackham is a psychologist and founder of Huthwaite, a research and consulting firm. He and his team spent 12 years observing over 35,000 sales calls and gathering data. They dissected the interactions to determine the most important components of a successful sale and how to put them together to increase the likelihood of success.

Their results were unexpected. Rackham transformed them into a system – SPIN Selling – you can implement to close more sales. The first step of embracing the SPIN Selling system begins with questioning a few major assumptions of conventional sales thinking.

Questioning Conventional Sales Wisdom

The SPIN Selling research was shocking because so many of the findings went against the grain of conventional sales wisdom. There were (and still are) countless sales books and training courses out there repeating a set of fixed beliefs about what makes a salesperson effective.

Rackham’s research calls some of those beliefs into question, revealing that successful salespeople might not have such a great understanding of why they’re so successful and their colleagues aren’t. Here are three major beliefs the SPIN Selling research revealed were misconceptions when it came to major sales:

“Always be Closing”

Perhaps the most pervasive misconception from sales teams is the idea that aggressively closing the sale is the single most important factor in determining a successful sales outcome.

The SPIN Selling research found that the emphasis on obtaining the prospect’s commitment is misplaced. The average number of closing attempts a salesperson used during a sales call did not have a noticeable positive impact on the closing rate. With high-cost transactions, aggressive closing was actually more likely to scare prospects away and ruin the sales opportunity.

Here’s what Rackham had to say about pushy closing techniques:

Closing techniques may increase the chances of making a sale with low-priced products. With expensive products or services, they reduce the chances of making a sale. – SPIN Selling, pg. 33

An Emphasis on Overcoming Objections

Conventional sales wisdom also stresses being prepared to handle numerous buying objections and overcoming them. It wasn’t uncommon for the salespeople Rackham observed to prepare for sales calls by listing potential objections and rehearsing their responses to them.

The research revealed this wasn’t as important as a lot of people thought. In the majority of the successful sales calls Rackham and his team observed, customer objections weren’t really a big factor.

Skilled people receive fewer objections because they have learned objection prevention, not objection handling. – SPIN Selling, pg. 118

Because Rackham believed sellers were usually responsible for the objections (as opposed to the prospects), he thought the focus on handling objections was misguided:

“The professional salesperson,” the instructor began, “welcomes objections because they are a sign of customer interest. In fact, the more objections you get, the easier it will be for you to sell.” The class, duly impressed, wrote this down. Meanwhile I groaned behind my mandatory visitor’s smile. – SPIN Selling, pg. 117

It isn’t a given that the prospect will have objections. They can be prevented if the salesperson creates a high enough perceived value. And they do that by asking the right questions.

The Importance of Asking Open-Ended Questions

“Ask a lot of open-ended questions.”

Rookie sales professionals and veterans alike probably hear that advice daily. The idea is to get the prospect talking; that way the sales person can draw out insights and act on them in a way that advances the sale.

The SPIN Selling research found that the preoccupation with open-ended questions has been blown way out of proportion. Rackham noted that the average number of open-ended questions created no noticeable difference between closing rates.

In other words, none of our studies showed that the classic distinction between open and closed questions has any meaning in high-value sales calls. – SPIN Selling, pg. 16

The type of the question – closed versus open-ended – mattered much less than the question’s purpose. Some of the most successful salespeople used many closed questions, but they used them to obtain critical information and advance the sale.

A Systematic Approach to Streamline Your Sales Process

Conventional sales tactics – overcoming objections, asking a lot of open-ended questions, and pushing for the close – persist because they work well for low-ticket items that don’t require any follow up. While they might work well for the $5 t-shirt shop, they won’t be as effective for 99% rest of us.

Rackham used the insights from his research to create a system to close more “major sales” (when the process usually requires multiple interactions between the buyer and prospect before a sale is made). This approach works for B2B sales, B2C sales with at least a moderate price, and for service providers.

The key is creating massive perceived value in the eyes of your prospects:

In a small sale the customer is less conscious of value. As the size of the sale increases, successful salespeople must build up the perceived value of their products or services. The building of perceived value is probably the single most important selling skill in larger sales. – SPIN Selling, pg. 8

How can you do this? Let’s break down the SPIN Selling process and how you can apply it in your own business:

A Breakdown of The Spin Selling Approach

Rackham breaks down the sales process into 4 steps.

  1. Preliminaries: warming up the prospect. This is the part where you introduce yourself and ask a few innocuous questions to make the prospect feel comfortable.
  2. Investigation: this step, according to Rackham, is the most important part of the entire sales process. You’ll ask prospects a series of questions to find out more about their business, problem areas, and the needs you can fulfill. It’s an information exchange that can make or break your chances of success.
  3. Demonstrating capability: showing your prospect that you’re able to provide the solution to the needs identified in the investigation stage. This is where testimonials, social proof, and other trust signals can push prospects on the edge about doing business with you to commit.
  4. Obtaining commitment (“closing”): here’s where you wrap up the process by asking the prospect to commit to the sale, or a lesser degree of action – like scheduling a demo or joining your email list – that advances the sale.

A lot of salespeople obsess about getting to the “closing” stage as quickly as possible. But in most transactions, it’s how you handle the investigation stage that will determine whether your sale is a failure or a success. Doing this well starts and ends with asking the right questions.

Acing the Investigation Stage with SPIN Questions

Image Credit: San Diego State University

Rackham recommends asking 4 different types of questions to ace the investigation stage and turn more prospects into customers. Salespeople got the best results from asking these questions in order, though it’s possible to jump around depending on the prospect. The “SPIN” in SPIN Selling is an acronym of the 4 types of sales questions (Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-Payoff) to ask for the best results.

Here’s how to handle each one:

Situation Questions

Kick off the investigation stage with a few situation questions. These are the questions you ask to find out the background information you need to make sense of the prospect’s situation and how you can help them.

Answering these kind of questions can bore prospects after awhile, so it’s important not to take it overboard. Doing some research beforehand will help you focus your questions on information that isn’t publicly available.

Here are some examples of good situation questions:

Problem Questions

After prospects fill you in on the situation, their problems might seem obvious to you. You might be tempted to launch into the benefits of what you’re selling. But resist the urge! Asking questions that get prospects to acknowledge the problem on their own – instead of bringing it up directly – will lead to far more sales.

Like a lawyer in the courtroom, you can lead prospects to the realization you want them to have by asking the right questions. Problem questions probe for information to discover what about the prospect’s current situation is creating frustration or pain. This sets you up perfectly for the next step, and it might even draw out some interesting concerns you would’ve overlooked.

Here are some examples of good problem questions:

  • “What’s the biggest problem you’ve faced when managing your sales pipeline?”
  • “Is it difficult for your sales team to keep up with peak demand?”
  • “Are you satisfied with your current software?”
  • “When someone from your sales team goes on vacation, what happens with the leads they were supposed to follow up with?”

Implication Questions

Implication questions are probably the most critical part of the process. You’ve found out more about the prospect’s situation and got them to identify their problem areas. Now’s the time to make the prospect feel the pain of those problems in a way that motivates them to act.

The pain your prospect is feeling right now might be irritating, but it’s comfortable. Non-action is the status quo. Without the proper motivation, it’s easier to stay in that comfort zone instead of shelling out the cash to fix it.

Implication questions get prospects to understand the full extent of not fixing their problem. The goal here is to make the prospect identify the effects, consequences, and long-term impact of letting the problem continue unchecked.

Just like with the problem questions, resist the temptation to do this for the prospect. It’s essential they identify, understand, and appreciate the negative consequences; it will make them more motivated to take you up on your solution.

Here are some examples of implication questions:

  • “What’s the average cost of getting a new customer when a lead doesn’t make it to the end of your sales pipeline?”
  • “How much time do you spend dealing with complaints from unhappy customers?”
  • “What’s the financial impact on your business when your sales team can’t keep up with peak demand?”
  • “What are the time and financial effects on your operation when your software crashes?”

Need-Payoff Questions

You just motivated prospects to act by having them identify the consequences of not fixing their problems. Need-payoff questions push them over the edge by getting them to see the benefits of your solution.

Once again, the idea is to use questions to get the prospect to describe these benefits instead of doing it yourself. It’s much more persuasive that way. Need-payoff questions get prospects’ imaginations racing about how different their lives could be if their problem were solved. The more benefits you can draw out, the higher the perceived value of your solution (and the better the chance of closing the sale).

Here are some examples of need-payoff questions:

  • “Do you see the value if your sales team could keep up with peak demand?”
  • “Why is it important to tighten up your sales pipeline?”
  • “How would it help you and your business if you could spend less time dealing with dissatisfied customers?”
  • “If you could reduce your churn rate by half, what impact would that have?”

Make the Most of Every Opportunity

Using a smart CRO strategy to turn your website into an lead generation platform is crucial to your long-term success. But getting leads is just the first step. You still have to motivate those leads to become buyers in order to capitalize on your opportunities.

That’s where SPIN Selling can help. You use data to drive conversion optimization decisions, and now you can use the data from over 35,000 sales calls to streamline your sales process. Give the SPIN Selling system a shot. You can leverage the insights of Rackham’s research, stop second-guessing your approach, and make the most of every opportunity.

What do you struggle the most with about selling? Do you think giving the SPIN Selling approach a try would help? Leave a comment below and let me know.

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February 08

Facilitative Questions are NOT open questions | Sharon Drew Morgen

Sitting and listening to NPR Saturday afternoon, I [...]

Facilitative Questions are NOT open questions

Sitting and listening to NPR Saturday afternoon, I heard someone say, “You need to ask OPEN/FACILITATIVE QUESTIONS.” For the 20,000 people who have studied with me and spent weeks learning how to formulate Facilitative Questions, and for the thousands who have purchased my latest book Dirty Little Secrets that has part of a chapter on this new form of question, you will be surprised that anyone would assume open questions and Facilitative Questions were remotely similar.

I suppose the good news is that, like the other terms (‘decision facilitation’ and Buying Facilitation™) I coined over the past 20 years, my thinking is being accepted into the mainstream. But the bad news, what I was warned about but didn’t think would happen to me, is that folks are interpreting the terms in any way they want, regardless of the real definitions.

I’d like to take this opportunity to define the term/concept/skill.

In Dirty Little Secrets I define Facilitative Questions as: “a unique type of question that…help people recognize all of the internal criteria they’ll need to include and address before making a decision. They are unlike conventional questions in that they do not gather information and are not focused on understanding need or placing a solution. Instead they are unbiased, systems based….Each Facilitative Question demands some action. The gleaned data is for the decision maker’s edification.” The content from these questions actually teach the questionee how to make a new decision based on their own internal values.

In addition:

1. Facilitative Questions are NOT open questions. Open questions gather data – pull information out from someone who has already made a decision on this topic and is sharing their choices with the questioner. Open questions are very biased as per the needs of the questioner. In sales, sellers typically ask open questions so they can determine ‘need’ or understand where the ‘pain’ is so they can better position their product.

2. Facilitative Questions are systems based, and not reliant on content. They follow the sequence of how decisions are made (generically) and lead the questionee through their systemic (and usually unconscious)  decision issues that need to be managed before any change can happen.

3. Facilitative Questions do not pull data and are not based on any curiousity of the questioner. Their intent is to lead the questionee through their unconscious decision issues that need to be addressed and recognized  in order to not disrupt the status quo.

4. Facilitative Questions yield very different responses than conventional questions which pull data from decisions already made. Facilitative Questions lead the listener through decision making channels toward a new resolution or a reweighting of values.

5. Posing/formulating Facilitative Questions takes some thinking in that they must help the questionee figure out all of the elements included in their status quo and to notice what’s missing so they can discover excellence. Facilitative Questions actually teach the questionee how to think and recognize how and why they need to change.

An open question would be: “Why do you wear your hair like that?” The question is gathering data about a decision the questionee has already made and understands.

A Facilitative Question would be: “How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle?” The question leads the quesionee through past haircuts, current lifestyle choices, time, obligations, current hairdressers/stylists, and any biases the questionee might have about his/her appearance. It actually uses brain function to pull various decision points out of the unconscious brain so they become conscious and the  questionee can get a good look at choices s/he may not have recognized.

These questions can be used in:

  • marketing, to make an ad interactive; example: How would you know when it was time to buy a luxury car?
  • coaching, to help the coachee decide how to change within their unique value structure; example: what would you need to know or believe differently in order to be willing to add a new habit to your daily tooth care?
  • change management/implementation, to help folks buy-in to proposed change and become part of the solution; example: What would you all need to shift in order to be willing to bring in this new initiative in a way that would maintain your agreed-upon work-life values?
  • sales, to help buyers figure out the internal decision issues they must address so that all people, relationships, policies, rules, etc. get addressed and bought-in to any proposed solution prior to deciding on a solution or vendor. example: How would you and your decision team know when it was time to add another resource to what you are currently doing?

I hope this helps. In my new book Dirty Little Secrets you can read more about them.


Tags: Dirty Little Secrets, Facilitative Questions


Sharon Drew can coach, train, and strategize with your sales team.

Buying Facilitation® facilitates the steps and stages of the buying decision path: from finding the right prospects, to incorporating the full Buying Decision Team, then getting buy-in for a solution. Buyers must do this prior to making a purchase, but it’s not possible with the sales model alone.

Sharon Drew Morgen has been helping sellers influence and facilitating the buyer's behind-the-scenes buying journey since the mid 80s, coining the terms Buying Patterns, Buying Path, Buying Decision, Buy Cycle, Buying Decision Team, and Buying Facilitation(r). Her unique capability to recognize where buyers are stuck in the buy cycle, and designing strategies to teach buyers how to traverse their buy-in activities, have made her a sought-out coach and consultant.


Let Sharon Drew help you understand what’s going on from the buyer’s side – what steps they need to take to move forward, where they are stuck internally, and how you can facilitate their journey to close, going from the idea stage, through to the incorporation of the full Buying Decision Team, through to choosing you as the provider.

15 minute trial coaching session - Contact Sharon Drew directly: Sharondrew@newsalesparadigm.com


Do you want to learn Buying Facilitation® for yourself? Your team? Discuss this with Sharon Drew to see if it’s worthwhile to add new skills to help buyers facilitate their entire buying decision journey.

Contact Sharon Drew directly: Sharondrew@newsalesparadigm.com


How can you ensure that the Buying Decision Team is fully present at your first appointment?

What support will you need at each stage?

What will you hear when the prospect is stuck, or backing away, and how can you ensure this won’t happen…before you even begin?

How many sales people do you need to hire this year to close the business you need (hint: it’s smaller than you think).

How can you create a presentation that will not only address the needs the Buying Decision is aware of, but the ones they don’t know they have?

15 minute trial strategy session- Contact Sharon Drew directly: <a
15 minute trial coaching session - Contact Sharon Drew directly: Sharondrew@newsalesparadigm.com

Multiple sessions available with discount.

Contact Sharon Drew

February 08

Buying Facilitation Article from Sharon Drew Morgen

Buying Facilitation Article

My friend Jill Konrath returned from the recent Sales 2.0 conference and told me of a complaint she heard several times from attendees: “Customers don’t know how to buy.” This, said by sellers blaming buyers for not behaving as sellers would prefer. Or not responding appropriately to seller's selling patterns. Let me reverse the issue: Sellers do not respond appropriately to buyer’s buying patterns!

Indeed, have they helped their customers:

  • • manage the range of internal decisions they need to make as they construct a buying decision?
  • • discern their criteria for resolving a need that resides within a tangle of other problems?
  • • identify the criteria for adding a solution to their status quo in a way that won’t create disruption?
  • • discover the most efficient route through the breadth of decisions and decision makers, to help them manage their newly-challenged organizational issues with stakeholders, budgets, and personnel issues?


I suspect buyer’s criteria for buying are different from what sellers would like them to be. It’s always been that way (which accounts for sales’ abysmal closing ratios) given sales is based on product placement and need, rather than systems management. How do I know? Because after 15 years as a very successful sales person, I became a customer and realized what the problem was.

As an entrepreneur of a start-up tech company, my problem was never the ‘need’. The ‘need’ was just the observable factor (think tip of the iceberg) of a conglomeration of internal issues within my system of people, policies, relationships, and initiatives; it was never resolved so simply as finding a solution to one of the elements. There always seemed to be a trickle down factor. Indeed: there are a few givens that sellers forget when it comes to customers ‘knowing’ how to buy:

1. buyers don’t want to buy anything. They want to resolve a problemPeriod. They will resolve their problem with the most efficacious means, so long as it happens with a minimum level of internal disruption. If it means using a work-around that might fit better into the existent system of people and policies than bringing in a new solution or vendor, that’s the decision. If the status quo – incomplete and problematic as it might be – is better than having to shift initiatives, dislodge jobs, or uproot long standing and collegial vendors, then the status quo is the best resolution.

An outside observer, such as a seller, cannot understand the ramifications of a customer’s decision when there is so much more than just the Identified Problem at stake.

2. sales treats an Identified Problem as if it were an isolated event. It forgets that the Identified Problem was created over time, by a series of idiosyncratic decisions and adjoining elements that continue to hold the Identified Problem in place. Invariably, there are a series of problems – long standing personnel issues, problematic initiatives or relationships, new rules being developed but not completed – that circle the Identified Problem like a vine; one piece cannot be resolved without consequences to the rest.

Think Pick-up-Sticks. When you played that childhood game, remember how many sticks you had to pick up before you got to the primary one? And remember how difficult it was to avoid moving the sticks because they were all so intertwined? This is what a client’s environment looks like, and the problem you can resolve with your product is that primary stick hidden within the tangle of others that need to be disentangled before they can buy.

Remember that, when you think you have THE obvious solution to a buyer’s Identified Problem. The solution you have will only manage one single aspect of a buyer’s Problem Space, and the elements that caused it are so far afield of your solution that even gathering data about the buyer’s ‘problem’ will not elicit the necessary data to help you sell. This fact alone is responsible for the unnecessary doubling of the length of the sales cycle.

3. the job of sales has focused on uncovering need, creating a trusting relationship, and presenting an appropriate solution. It’s ultimately about product placement and need. But imagine if your job included helping buyers manage all of the non-problem- related internal issues they must manage BEFORE they were able to make a decision on the solution. Imagine if the first stage of sales was to teach customers how to manage their internal people/policy/personnel/political decisions, much like figuring out how to safely uncover the lead pick-up stick. They have to do it anyway – with you or without youThey might as well do it with you. The time it takes buyers to come up with their own answers is the length of the sales cycle.


Instead of blaming customers for not knowing how to make a buying decision, maybe you can blame the sales profession for not giving you the skills to truly support and manage all of the decision criteria that buyers must address before they choose you. No matter the industry or the size of the sale, whether it’s on the phone or in person, buyers have to somehow resolve a problem by not upsetting the rest of their status quo, and by managing the adjacent problems simultaneously. And your solution is merely one aspect of the types of decisions necessaryBuyers must figure out how to solve their entire tangle of issues that have created their imperfect status quoYour solution may be one of the elements that will address their resolution. But they also may discover that buying your product – or any product - may not be their best solution.

Your choice is to sit back and wait for them to buy – or not – or call and call and call, and lower your price, and make-nice, or add another set of skills to your sales skillsYou can use Buying Facilitation to help buyers recognize and manage all of the internal, idiosyncratic, systemic issues they need to address as they resolve their Identified Problems. It’s not sales – it’s a precursor to sales, but a skill you might want to consider in this new economic environment. Again, buyers have to do this anyway. They might as well do it with you. What else do you have to do now anyway?

Every sale is now a complex sale due to internal, endemic issues that we (as outsiders) can not understandEnter the buy-seller relationship as a decision facilitator first. Then you can either accelerate the ultimate decision one way or another, or you can get on the decision team.

Customers know how to buy. They just aren’t making the decisions you want them to make in the way you want them to make them. And, by focusing on product sale and need, you’re not helping them.

February 08

Make the Phone your Best Friend | Sharon Drew Morgen

Do you believe that to close a sale you must 'get [...]

Make the Phone your Best Friend

Do you believe that to close a sale you must ‘get in front of prospects?’  Why? Really. Have you ever asked yourself why? Do you tell yourself that you MUST have that eye contact? That ‘face-to-face’ juice? Do you tell yourself that if you’re not in the field, you’re not selling?

In 1937, Dale Carnegie advocated it. What else are you using from a 1937 playbook?

Untold billions of dollars have been misspent following this industry-wide belief: planes, hotels, time. And? The industry still has a 7% average close rate.

Here is a rule: Don’t use your body as a prospecting tool.

Here is a secret: your sterling personality, your great outfit, your Rolex watch and Prada shoes don’t close an account. Nor does your great insight or knowledge of the buyer, their need, your industry, or your solution. Nor does that great rapport you create over lunch. Otherwise, you would be closing a lot more sales. Amazing how much push-back I get from an industry with such a low success rate.

The problem is that the reason buyers finally choose you is not because you’re smart or well dressed or because they like you. The seller who buyers meet after you is just as smart and well-dressed and adorable. It’s industry standard!

Buyers buy you only when they have put together their entire Buying Decision Team – a process that is far more complex than ‘understanding need’ or having a problem, and is not knowable when the seller meets the buyer – and then, once formed, when the Buying Decision Team has determined that:

  1. they can’t fix the problem with a known, internal, or familiar solution;
  2. all of the internal factors that need to buy-in to change are ready, willing, and able to bring in something new that will undoubtedly upset the status quo in some way.


Those of you who are familiar with my work know what I’m going to say: Until or unless a buyer has managed all of their initially mysterious and unknowable off-line, behind-the-scenes issues that have little to do with their problem, and everything to do with a decision to bring in some sort of agreeable solution, they will not buy. They cannot: the risk to relationships, to initiatives, to personnel, to partnerships, is just too great.

For some unknown reason, sales treats an Identified Problem (need) as if it were an isolated event, rather than one small piece in a sea of tangled policy,politics, and relationship issues that make up any system or culture.

Sales does a great job at needs analysis, and asking somewhat relevant questions, but all in service to solution placement – never discovering the real, behind-the-scenes issues that created and maintain the problem. And trying to ‘uncover’ and ‘understand’ these idiosyncratic issues is impossible, not to mention irrelevant, as outsiders just can’t be ‘in’ there to make the necessary changes.

Enter the telephone. It is possible to use the telephone as a very very effective and cheap prospecting tool. With it, you can help buyers begin the process of figuring out how they are going to buy.


When I was working with Wachovia, the small business bankers went from using the phone to make appointments (they made 10 appointments for every 100 appointment-getting calls, and then followed the 10 for 11 months, and closed 2 for a 2% closing rate that took far, far too long), to asking:

How are you currently adding new banking resource to the ones you’re already using for those time when your current bank can’t give you what you need?

From that first Facilitative Question, approximately 35% of the prospects  invited the bankers to come to meet with them because their bank was regional and couldn’t offer a complete set of resources. Of those, they closed about 15% in 2 months and another percentage over the next 4 months. In other words, from our first contact, we helped buyers figure out how to choose to begin the process of determining if change was needed. And the bankers went from offering product data to actually helping clients determine how to add a new banking resource. And closed a heckof a lot more business in a very short time.

We changed the conversation from a solution-placement activity, to a decision facilitation activity that helped buyers discover how to start getting ready to make changes they would need to make to be excellent.


Because buying decisions involve enmassing, and then managing, the entire Buying Decision Team and all of the behind-the-scenes issues that must be involved before they can make the internal shifts necessary to bring in something new without chaos (the activity that all buyers must go through, regardless of the industry or size of the solution), buyers need to do this off-line, and separate from the purchasing process.

The sales model doesn’t handle this.

But Buying Facilitation™ can. Used as a decision facilitation tool to help buyers manage their behind-the-scenes navigation and change management process, it guides buyers through the route they must take anyway. They are going to do this with you or without you. And the time it takes them to uncover their own answers to ensure a seamless change, is the length of the sales cycle.

You do not need your personality or your great clothes to help them achieve this. You can, of course, or you can help them start the process and when they have got many of their answers, and have enmassed the entire Buying Decision Team, THEN you can go visit – and make the sale.


Hear Sharon Drew discuss Buying Facilitation™.

Tags: buying decision team, closing, identified problem, phone, sales


Sharon Drew can coach, train, and strategize with your sales team.

Buying Facilitation® facilitates the steps and stages of the buying decision path: from finding the right prospects, to incorporating the full Buying Decision Team, then getting buy-in for a solution. Buyers must do this prior to making a purchase, but it’s not possible with the sales model alone.

Sharon Drew Morgen has been helping sellers influence and facilitating the buyer's behind-the-scenes buying journey since the mid 80s, coining the terms Buying Patterns, Buying Path, Buying Decision, Buy Cycle, Buying Decision Team, and Buying Facilitation(r). Her unique capability to recognize where buyers are stuck in the buy cycle, and designing strategies to teach buyers how to traverse their buy-in activities, have made her a sought-out coach and consultant.



Do you want to learn Buying Facilitation® for yourself? Your team? Discuss this with Sharon Drew to see if it’s worthwhile to add new skills to help buyers facilitate their entire buying decision journey.

Contact Sharon Drew directly: Sharondrew@newsalesparadigm.com


How can you ensure that the Buying Decision Team is fully present at your first appointment?

What support will you need at each stage?

What will you hear when the prospect is stuck, or backing away, and how can you ensure this won’t happen…before you even begin?

How many sales people do you need to hire this year to close the business you need (hint: it’s smaller than you think).

How can you create a presentation that will not only address the needs the Buying Decision is aware of, but the ones they don’t know they have?

15 minute trial strategy session- Contact Sharon Drew directly: <a
15 minute trial coaching session - Contact Sharon Drew directly: Sharondrew@newsalesparadigm.com

Multiple sessions available with discount.

Contact Sharon Drew

February 08

Cold Calls Can Be Effective, But Not Like This

I recently got this cold call: D: Hi. I’m David, w [...]

Cold Calls Can Be Effective, But Not Like This

By June 16, 2014

I recently got this cold call:

D: Hi. I’m David, with Keller Williams. I’m calling to inquire about your property. Are you still looking to sell your place?
SD: Do you have a buyer for me?

D: Possibly. How did you determine your sale price?
SD: How do you know what price I determined? What is the context of this call please? Are you looking for a listing? Or do you have a buyer?

D: As I said, I’m David, from Keller Williams. I just want to know about your place.
SD: But before we discuss my place, I need a context. Are you seeking a listing or a property for a specific buyer?

D: I just want to know about your place.
SD: And I just want to know why you’re calling.

D: Obviously you’re not interested in selling. Good bye.

This guy either had a script or was trying to get data without disclosing his intent. He certainly ignored the rapport bit.

It’s possible to make cold calls to facilitate buying decisions. When I taught Buying Facilitation® at Wachovia the small business bankers started cold calls like this:

“Hi. My name is John. I’m a small business banker at Wachovia. I hope this is a good time to speak. I’m wondering how you’re getting your financial needs met when your current bank can’t get you the resources you require.”

37 out of 100 calls asked us to visit; we closed 30 within 12 weeks. With 100 cold calls asking for appointments to introduce new products we got 10 visits and closed 2 in 11 months.

If you make a cold call merely to get your own needs met – i.e. appointment, pitch, ‘understand your business [so I can pitch to you]’, prospects won’t respond. I regularly get calls that say: “Hi. Can you please get me to the person who handles X in your company?” Why would I take someone’s valuable time so a stranger can….. can do WHAT? Take care of their own needs?

Using cold calls to push solutions, or find folks with ‘needs’ won’t get you to the right person or get you answers, and you’d only speak to one of many people necessary to define a need. If you get an appointment you’d be wasting your time speaking with a prospect already talking to your competition or they wouldn’t have seen you. Use Buying Facilitation® at the beginning of every call and begin helping prospects consider the change they’d need if they sought excellence using your solution. Then gatekeepers will bring you in and get you to the right people.

Contact me to teach your folks how to get to the right people and find more prospects with cold calls: sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

Comments… add one

February 08

Sharon Drew Morgen Compendium from Businessballs

Sharon Drew Morgen Compendium on Businessballs

dirty little secrets: why buyers can't buy and sellers can't sell and what you can do about it - sharon drew morgen

Sharon Drew Morgen is regarded by many (including me) as the greatest thinker and writer on selling in the modern age.

Published in 2009, Dirty Little Secrets is a must read for anyone in selling and for anyone helping others to make decisions.

Building on Morgen's previous books Buying Facilitation® and Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets reveals the hidden systems and processes behind decision-making, and will teach you how to help buyers buy and how to help others make effective decisions of all kinds.

Written beautifully and supported by clear examples, this is not a traditional sales book - it's a buying-decision book, which exposes why the old broken selling methods don't work, and provides a uniquely effective guide to modern ethical selling and decision-facilitation.

buying facilitation® - sharon drew morgen

Sharon Drew Morgen's excellent Buying Facilitation® book is quite different to most other selling books you will have read.

It's very concise, quick and easy to read, and for many sales-people, life-changing.

The methods, summarised below, are for some quite easy and natural to apply when you understand them, although if you have been in selling for a while, avoid overlaying your own pre-conceptions. It's quite a different approach compared to conventional selling.

Download the first three free chapters free, by kind permission of Ms Morgen.

The book is available from Sharon Drew Morgen's website, or click on the picture right.

Here's a more recent free PDF article explaining Buying Facilitation®, again used with permission.

morgen buying facilitation method® - advanced selling methodology overview

Sharon Drew Morgen's Buying Facilitation Method® operates to a totally different set of premises than conventional sales. Here are some underpinning principles of the Morgen Buying Facilitation Method® philosophy:

  • The seller's job is to help people understand what their systems require in order to change.
  • Only a person working or living within a culture or system can understand it. (The seller can never truly understand the buyer's system because it is so complex and dynamic - if you are in any doubt about this think how long it takes to really get to know an organization when you start a new job...)
  • People only make a change when they're sure they can manage the resulting chaos.
  • A seller is uniquely positioned to help the buyer discover how to solve a problem within their system.
  • Only the buyer, never the seller, is able to work their way through the decision within the system. However, the seller can help the buyer do this because the seller has the macro view.
  • The buyer needs to recognise all the specifics of what a solution will entail within his or her unique environment.
  • By matching the buyer's unique buying criteria, the seller is a true advisor and can be easily differentiated from the competition.
  • The seller is uniquely positioned to be a brand ambassador for the supplier.

Morgen's Buying Facilitation Method® is therefore 'an up-front addition to the sales process'. It is not a form of consultative sales. It is not about presenting product, information or ideas to create interest, and it is not about gathering information in order to sell what the sales person thinks is needed. Morgen's Buying Facilitation Method® is a decision-based system that helps buyers discover:

  1. All of the elements that need to be included within their purchasing decision, and
  2. The systems variables that need to be accounted for as a result of a purchasing decision, so their internal systems stay intact.

Traditional selling is based on the product or service sale, and yet until buyers know how decisions and new purchases will affect their culture they will delay their decisions.

The Morgen Buying Facilitation Method® is a front-end decision-facilitation methodology, used by sellers, to lead a buyer through the examination of all the variables that need to be included in deciding how a new solution will enter their systems.

The Morgen Buying Facilitation Method® is different to traditional sales techniques, that invariably lead buyers through an information process to strategically place a product or service. The method helps buyers how to align all organizational variables affected by the change, so as to prevent chaos once the change is made.

As result, the Morgen Buying Facilitation Method® enables multiple-point decision-making to an extent that the sales person effectively becomes an organizational consultant to the buying organization, by focusing strongly on the decision-influencing teams and systems within it. Moreover, Morgen's system is an adjunct to the normal sales process that supports the buyer's buying patterns. Conventional sales methods can be added once the buyer has aligned all of their decision variables. As Sharon Drew Morgen says: "Do you want to sell? or have someone buy?"

By helping the buyer make sense of the system they live and work within, the sales person becomes a part of the buyer's decision team and therefore operates as a true consultant.

Facilitative questions form a crucial part of this process, which Sharon Drew Morgen positions in the 'Buying Decision Funnel' significantly in advance of the conventional 'Product Decision Funnel'.

The sales person must therefore help the buyer become aware of the variables within the buyer's organizational system, and how the purchase of the new product or service will affect it.

morgen buying facilitation method® - diagram overview

The Morgen Buying Facilitation Method® is a decision-facilitation system that helps buyers make their best buying decision while you become part of their decision team

While a conventional selling process can be added, the Morgen Buying Facilitation Method® is actually the primary step, and can in certain circumstances effectively replace an entire conventional selling process, with dramatically improved results.

buying facilitation sales funnel

The Morgen Buying Facilitation Method® works from a different set of beliefs than conventional selling. It works from the belief that buyers have their own unique way of seeking solutions, and our job as a seller is to help them in their process. This greatly reduce the sales cycle - buyers must go through this process, and they will do it with you or without you

Morgen's Buying Facilitation Method® therefore makes you a trusted collaborator, head and shoulders above the competition.

examples of 'buying facilitation®' questions

Here are examples of facilitative questions that Sharon Drew Morgen uses to illustrate how the flow of questions operates within the facilitative questioning process, as shown in the buying decision funnel diagram above. The scenario is one of an organization considering sales training for its sales people, but the principles are transferable to any situation. Note that since there are no answers to these questions (and of course answers often create the shape and direction of discussions), these questions are an example of how the process works, not a process in itself. Note also - as Sharon Drew Morgen says - "...this is a decision-facilitation model rather than a sales model. My job, as a facilitator, is to help you make your best decision based on what your solution must look like in your unique culture with your unique buying criteria."

  1. How do you currently train your sales people?
  2. How is that working for you?
  3. Is anything missing?
  4. If there is something further you'd want but aren't getting?; what's stopping you from getting what you want from your sales training?; From your sales people?
  5. How are you currently set up to fix this problem with the current resources you've got in place (i.e. internal trainers/ Current vendors)?
  6. What's stopping you from using your current resources (trainers/vendors) to fix the problem?
  7. What would need to know in order to consider doing something different from what you are currently doing in the area of sales training?
  8. How will you know that whatever skills you decide to add will work with what you are currently doing, so that there won't be a breakdown, and you won't lose the success you've already attained?
  9. What type of decision would you and your team need to make that's different from the one you made to have the training you are now running?
  10. How do you plan on aligning the (management, partners, initiatives) so that if you decide to add new sales skills, they will be happy to work with you on the change?
  11. What criteria would you need to have filled to understand that a different or alternate training approach would work alongside the approach you are currently using to give you (a higher closing ratio; a quicker sales cycle; increased customer retention; more referrals; increased sales from a unique/new customer base)?
  12. How would you know that a chosen provider or solution would meet that criteria?; What would you need to know or see from us to know that our material would meld with what you've got in place?
  13. How would you know we could deliver this and match your criteria?

"Buying Facilitation® assumes that before a seller can place his/her product, the buyer's system and unique cultural issues must be addressed. While product pitch or presentation can be offered after buyers line up their decisions, doing so beforehand faces delays in the buying decision while the buyer lines up the systems necessary for success." (Sharon Drew Morgen)

Buying Facilitation® example - short case study

This is a powerful example of the potency of Buying Facilitation®, reproduced with kind permission of Sharon Drew Morgen. The following record (about 10 mins reading) of Ms Morgen's discussion with a senior decision-maker demonstrates the methodology and its potential.

the scenario

After having several conversations with a new prospect and his team, we all decided to move forward and get them trained in Buying Facilitation®. As per our agreement, I wrote up a contract and sent it out to "Joe". Then I got an email from him saying he needed to put the program on hold for six months at least, so that his new hires could prove their value and start earning money.

I asked, "How can they start earning money if they won't get their training for several months? And what skills will you offer them, given they will now be learning Buying Facilitation® after they've already begun selling the conventional way?"

My prospect gave me very short, almost unintelligible responses.

Finally, he admitted that the COO called him in as my contract come over his desk, saying that if they were going to spend 'that kind of money' on sales training, they had better have a team in place that was worth it and had earned it.

Joe was both angry and embarrassed: he had thought he was the decision maker, given it was his own budget, etc., and "Frank" hadn't exhibited any interest in sales training before this. For me, what appeared to be a 'closed' sale, had just become a money objection from a "C" level executive who had no idea who I was, what I was offering, or how to put a value on it.

Joe and I put our heads together, and decided to have Frank call me to discuss it. We believed that if I could lead Frank through the Buying Facilitation Method® system, he'd be able to decide for himself. I knew I'd have to handle both the money objections and the phone objections, as Frank believed that no business could be handled on the phone. I also had to walk an interesting line regarding Joe: indeed, Frank was stepping on Joe's toes and superseding Joe's authority as a seasoned VP of Sales.

Here is what happened. Here is the call, and I'm including commentary for those times during the call when I had decisions to make.

To help you follow along the Buying Facilitation Method®, the questions are, for the most part, Facilitative Questions, and the summaries are Presumptive Summaries.

the phone call

As per arrangement, Frank called. His voice was tough, crisp, and in charge. "I understand you've been speaking with Joe about doing some training. I'm OK with that [If he were "OK with that" we wouldn't be having this conversation.]. He's got his own budget, but with so many new folks, it'll have to wait until they prove themselves. And if you want to have a discussion with me about it, you'll have to come here to visit us (a three hour drive each way). It would probably be a good idea for us to meet anyway. I'm curious to meet someone who charges that much for a training program."

"Gosh, I hate to drive. Hmmmm. How 'bout if we meet halfway – we'll each drive one and one half hours," I said.

"You want ME to drive??"

"Oh. You hate to drive also. Hmm. I have an idea. Since neither of us want to drive, how 'bout if we spend a few moments on the phone, and see where we stand. We might end up hating each other and there won't be any need for either of us to drive."

"Sounds reasonable," said Frank.

SDM: I hear you are having thoughts about my prices.

F: Well, they are higher than I've ever heard of for sales training. But of course, if we end up getting fair value for it, it would have been worth it.

SDM: Given that you don't know who I am, or what I've developed, or what your folks would learn, or what it is about the system that is worth more than conventional training, or how to know upfront if you'd get value from it, you must be uncomfortable.

F: Not uncomfortable, exactly, because I trust Joe's decision making [He obviously didn't trust Joe enough!]. But you're correct. I'm not happy spending that kind of money for something I believe I can get cheaper. [Good for him. He's put his cards on the table. Shows a certain level of trust.]

SDM: So how would you know that Buying Facilitation® – the new paradigm selling model I've developed and will be teaching Joe's folks – offers a new set of skills that would actually give you the type of ROI that you're seeking?

F: I wouldn't. I'd just have to take Joe's word for it. [I recognized that he didn't offer to read or learn anything. That gave me an interesting dilemma: he was leaving me no opening, wasn't taking Joe's word, and didn't offer any opening to change his opinion.]

SDM: I wonder if there is a way that you could get to learn enough about Buying Facilitation® to give you comfort, get you to recognize its value, and see if it's the sort of model that would make it possible to get your numbers up to where you want them to be. What would need to happen for us to figure out a way for you to get comfortable here?

F: I suppose I should know something about the Model. Is there something you can send me so I can learn about it? [Ah. An opening.] Obviously if Joe is willing to use his entire training budget to bring this in, it must have value and it would probably be good for me to learn about it. What else would you suggest I do? [I must take care to continue helping his decision making process. If I pitch now, I've lost the beginnings of the trust he's offering because he still doesn't know how to choose me; giving him information here will be moot.]

SDM: I can send you some essays, and Joe has a copy of my ebook you can read. I hope you enjoy them. I understand that before we move forward, you'd have to figure out what my value is. [I've moved the conversation from 'trusting Joe' to the real issue: why would he be willing to pay a lot for something he perceived he could get cheaper?] How would you know that my program is worth what I'm charging?

F: I probably wouldn't know until after the program.

SDM: And then it becomes like a Bungee jump – you won't know if it's going to work until after you've jumped. And then it's too late.

We all laughed.

SDM: So, what would you need to understand about Buying Facilitation® that would help you understand that it would give your people a new set of tools to double their numbers, as you've required?

F: You're saying that it's a different model from sales? That's interesting. [I hadn't told him that, but my Facilitative Question implied it.] I guess if we kept using the same selling model we'd keep getting the same results. Different from sales. Hm. And I'll be able understand the Model from what I'm going to read? [Although I was absolutely dying to give a pitch somewhere in here, Frank never asked me to explain anything. All of his learning criteria were based on reading something, not hearing something.]

SDM: Correct. And it seems that prior to moving forward, you would like to understand the Model, who I am, and what the material will do for you. [I was pushing a bit here so I could name his apparent criteria for him, since he just gave me a bit of leverage.]

F: You're right. But I bet Joe did his homework already, and has this under control? [His level of trust was now pretty high for both me and Joe. But he evaded my question again, so I had to let him off the hook to stay in rapport.]

SDM: I think we all hope you're right.

We all laughed again.

SDM: What would need to happen for you to get comfortable enough for us to move forward in the time frame that best suits your company given the revenue increases you're seeking for next year?

F: Tell you what. I'll read whatever you send me. If it's as good as I assume it must be for Joe to go out on a limb like this, given that he's had to do some hard thinking to figure out how to meet the objectives I've given him, I'll give Joe a tacit agreement to move forward when he thinks it would suit him best. [It seems I've proven myself, and the money objection is gone.] But I'd like to call you with questions if you don't mind. And, when we're ready to sign the contract, let's do it over lunch – my treat – and we'll drive up and meet you half way.

Joe and I burst out laughing. After a moment Frank starting laughing too.

F: I suppose you just used the model on me, right?? You haven't sold me a thing – no pitch, no presentation. You just helped me decide how to choose you. And I'm hoping this is what you're going to teach my folks. Not only did I not want to sign the contract when I began, but I didn't believe it was possible to use the phone for anything more than getting an appointment. This conversation will also get me to reconsider my predisposition to using the phone only for making appointments. Thanks, Sharon Drew. I'm excited. And I'll even pay for lunch when we meet.

analysis of call and implications

Money objections - Objections happen only when someone's criteria are being pushed; money objections occur when folks don't understand value. And telling them what the value is by pitching, handling objections, or presenting, doesn't help. When two things appear equal, the only differential is moneyWhen value is understood, money is not the criteria. In this conversation, I had to deal with several things:

  1. Frank's fear of spending 'that kind of money' on something he understood to cost a lot less, over-rode his trust in a senior executive;
  2. because Frank couldn't say that he didn't trust Joe, he used the excuse of working with a 'proven' team and moved the training forward several months – and we know what would happen then, given they'd be using the same sales skills they used when they weren't getting the success he wanted;
  3. he hated doing business on the phone;
  4. he had no idea who I was, and was so confident in his understanding of the necessary criteria (i.e. 'sales training' cost X) that had no criteria around figuring out why I might be worth it.

If you go back to the conversation, you'll note that I never made a pitch, that I kept going back into the issues and making Frank make his own decisions that would lead him to figuring out for himself how to choose me and my material. And although I never made a pitch, the way I worded my Presumptive Summaries and my Facilitative Questions led him to understand what I was selling, and my value as a Partner.

Also, it was a very 'pushy' dialogue. The conversation might appear at first glance to be soft, but indeed it was very controlled and relentless: I kept leading him into making the decisions he needed to make.

At no point did I defend my price or change it – we never had to get into that. Note that if I started pitching product, and defended price, the conversation wouldn't have gotten very far. Price wasn't the issue: it was his discomfort not knowing how to spend 'that sort of money' for something that was new to him.

I just lead Frank to all of the decisions he'd need to make to justify my price to himself. He had to recognize his own criteria – which he never really shared – and make a quick, internal, judgment call as to whether or not it was being met. I had no way of knowing if he successfully did this except by hearing how he eventually accepted my agreements with Joe. It was all hidden from me, and even if I understood what was going on for him, it wouldn't have mattered. HE needed to understand, and make some sense of it all.

And he did. Once he found a route through, he could go back to trusting Joe's decision. All I did was to facilitate his decision. I didn't sell a thing.

Buying Facilitation® - In terms of the parts of Buying Facilitation® that I used, I did a lot of Presumptive Summaries that showed Frank his unspoken beliefs, and then led him to the decisions he had to make to trust me and Joe. And most importantly, I taught him how to decide what 'value' he might get, even though he had no content to work from. I operated out of the following assumptions:

  1. that any COO wants what's best for his/her company;
  2. that Frank would have preferred to trust his VP, all else being equal;
  3. that money is an objection only when a product seems the same as other products in the same category and there is no means to differentiate;
  4. that if I could get Frank to figure out for himself how he needed to figure it out, he'd make the best decision (and telling him what I thought he needed to know to figure it out wouldn't get either of us very far);
  5. that no matter where it went, I had to work with it: it wasn't about my product, my price, or my delivery.
  6. Frank was smart. He figured it out. I didn't pitch, present or propose. I didn't have to handle objections or prove my value. I used the phone to help him make a six figure decision and didn't have to meet him in person. All I did was lead him through his own decision criteria to his own best decision.

That is our new job as sellers: help our buyers make their own best decisions, using their own criteria, and use our Facilitative Questions to help them position our product as their own solution. It's ethical, based on win-win, truly supportive of a collaborative Partnership, and uses no manipulation or influencing strategies. Ultimately, it trusts that the Buyer will come up with his/her own best answers, and if me and my product fit into the Buyer's solution, I'll be chosen.

©SDM2008 - reproduced with permission.

selling in tough economic times

Many experts in business communications and selling offer advice on how to make business happen in a depressed economy.

Sharon Drew Morgen's ideas are among the best you will find, since they draw on the proven effective facilitative principles.

Enable, rather than persuade. Help, rather than sell. Offer a broad expert overview, rather than narrow self-interest.

In a depressed or pressurized climate it is all the more vital to avoid the urge to persuade and influence the other person to do what you want. They simply cannot. So they won't. Instead, follow a facilitative methodology, and you will rise head and shoulders above all those (your competitors) who are persisting with old-style push and persuade techniques.

February 08

6 Tips to Run an Incredibly Effective Sales Contest

Use these tips to run the best sales contest of yo [...]
sales, sales management, sales motivation

"Mark, I need to get our sales activity up. My salespeople just won't make enough dials. What should I do?"

Run a contest.

"Mark, my team is terrible at forecasting. They do not take it seriously. They do not follow our best practices. What should I do?"

Run a contest.

"Mark, we just launched a mission-critical product into the market this quarter. However, our sales team is stuck in their old ways of selling. What should I do?"

Run a contest.

If the sales compensation plan is Batman, the sales contest is Robin. Contests are almost as effective as the compensation plan when it comes to motivating the sales team and driving the desired behavior. Contests bring a fun, dynamic aspect to a sometimes mundane daily routine. Contests can be aligned with desired behaviors, and, unlike commission plans, can be temporary and short-term focused. Contests can even be used to build team culture.

For these reasons, I ran a sales contest almost every month when I led HubSpot's sales team, especially in the early years of team development. Here are the six best practices I found most effective for sales contest design.

1) Align the contest with a short-term behavior change desired for the majority of the team.

Like sales commission plans, sales contests are a great way to drive home desired behavior. For example, you may fear a summer slump and want to boost activity in June. This desire would be difficult to pull off through the commission plan. However an activity-based contest in June would do the trick.

2) Make the contest team-based.

If there are 12 people on the sales team, form four teams of three salespeople and have the teams compete rather than have every man for himself. This approach has a remarkable impact on team culture, especially in the early phases of team building.

For the first three years at HubSpot, every contest I ran was a team contest. The positive impact on team culture was remarkable. I would often see high-performing salespeople help out their teammates who were lagging behind. The lagging salespeople worked late in order to avoid letting their teams down.

After three years of team-based contests, I finally ran a contest based on individual performance. For the first time, I witnessed accusations of cheating and saw backstabbing behavior on the floor. We immediately returned to team contests.

3) Make the prize team-based.

In addition to making the contest team-based, choose a reward that the team experiences together. Rent a limo to take the team to the casino, buy them a golf outing, or send them sailing for the day. Making the prize team-based maximizes the positive impact on culture. Not only does the team win together, they experience the reward together. They return to the office with photos of the great time they had ... together. People feel good about their colleagues. Teams feel motivated to win the following month.

4) Send out updated contest standings every night.

At least once per day, the contest standings should be published to the entire sales team if not to the entire company! This is such a critical execution point. Without daily updates, contest effectiveness will drop precipitously. Even if it means compiling and posting the results manually, publish the results every day.

5) Choose the time frame wisely.

The time frame needs to be long enough to drive home the desired behavior change but short enough that salespeople stay engaged. A daily time frame is too short. Weekly contests are on the briefer end of acceptable. A quarterly time frame is probably too long. Monthly contests are ideal.

6) Avoid contest fever.

Don't read this post and implement five simultaneous contests. Overlapping contests will dilute each other. Run one contest at a time for a given group of salespeople.

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the new book The Sales Acceleration Formula. It is republished here with permission.


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