Sales and Marketing Performance Blog

Selling with IMPACT: a guide to selling disruptive technology.

Posted by Mark Gibson on Thu, Nov 06, 2014

If you subscribe to current research, buyers are contacting vendors at somewhere between 60-70% of the way through their buying process.  What this research fails to mention is this only applies to mainstream technology that is in established markets and where there is an identified and known set of competitors. 

Buyers enter the buying process depending on technology maturity and buyer risk tolerance. I like to use the IMPACT mnemonic to describe buying cycles because I think it more accurately reflects what is actually going on in the buying organization

IMPACT The six phases of the buying process are easy to remember as they will have an enormous IMPACT on your company’s performance:

There are the Early Adopters (EA) who are happy buying innovative solutions. There are the Early Majority (EM) who want to buy the market leader. And there are the Late Majority (LM) who want to buy a commodity at the cheapest price. Here is where the buyer starts to engage in terms of the IMPACT process.

Early adopters will enter the buying process at 10-20% of the way through a buying process and laggards will wait till they are 90% of the way - and all they care about is price or the service discount.

Successful entrepreneurs, marketers and salespeople selling disruptive technology must learn to recognize early adopters, understand how early adopters engage with innovative technology vendors and how they manage a buying process. 

This is the subject of a new eBook from authors of “Why Killer Products Don’t Sell”, Ian Gotts and Dominic Rowsell, and Adrian King, entitled “IMPACT - the technology executive’s guide for selling B2B disruptive and innovative solutions”.  

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Topics: killer products, selling early adopters, lean startups

The B2B Buying Cycle and How to Influence it, pt 2

Posted by Mark Gibson on Mon, May 13, 2013

This article is the third in a series of articles on aligning marketing and sales with buying behavior and it will be of value to sales and marketing professionals who wish to adapt their process to align with buyer behavior.
 


The first article in the series,  "A Guide to Aligning Marketing & Sales Engagement with Buying Process" discussed buyer behavior and how it is affected by risk. Last week's article,  The B2B Buying Cycle and How to Influence it, pt. 1 is an in-depth review of the formative stages in the buying process and the role of sales and marketing in early adopter engagement as well as the risks to the supplier.

Phase 4: Assessment

Congratulations, you made it through  Position, the graveyard of most opportunities. Chances are you are well on your way to a sale to an important new customer, but don't put the champagne in the fridge yet, it could be months before a formal transaction. 

The  Assessment phase is a necessary step in a post Enron-world and the era of corporate accountability to satisfy that due diligence is carried out, compliance issues are met and risks are properly considered. 

In the assessment phase the organization is weighing both the upside and the risks in implementing early stage technology. Qualitative and quantitative performance information is sought, as well as assessment of upside, risks, plus all costs. Assessment involves assembly of a project team, proof of concept or pilot to create evidence & gather data. 

Role for Marketing

I asked John McTigue from Kuno Creative to contribute the three marketing segments on this blog as they are engaged with a number of current customers on exactly these deliverables.

Marketing automation is more than sending an email to a list of buying stakeholders and tracking form submissions. It starts with aligning your sales and marketing teams so that they are on the same page with respect to:
  • Understanding the sales funnel concept and how it aligns with buying-cycle stages,
  • Understanding the demand generation and lead nurturing process,
  • Agreeing to criteria for buy-cycle stages, including lead scoring thresholds and sales-ready events and triggers,
  • Understanding and agreeing to the definition of a sales qualified lead and handoff between marketing and sales with respect to criteria and CRM integration,
  • Feedback (or closed loop marketing) to the marketing automation system (and team) based on sales engagements and status updates,

Role for Sales

  • Work with mentor/champion/buyer to implement a sequence of events for the assessment/evaluation,
  • Support the proof of concept; where possible, seek to influence the construction of the assessment,
  • Work internally within the supplier organization to support the assessment and provide technical support resources,
  • Do not commence an assessment unless you know what the outcome of a successful evaluation will be.

Risks for Sales

  • Pilot or proof of concept not properly specified or outcomes unclear,
  • Internal adversaries influence the assessment criteria to make it hard for the supplier to succeed,
  • The product doesn't work or deliver the anticipated result. (When this happens, it may be time to find another job.)

Risk Mediation

  1. The sales team needs to lead the client "let me share with you our process that has helped others make the transition...".
  2. Influence the construction of the assessment.
  3. Get your best minds focused on this vital task.
  4. An assessment takes time, effort and resources and exposes the supplier to considerable risk.
Do not start an assessment until you know what the outcome will be if your trial is successful. 

Phase 5: Case

The  Case phase converts the Assessment into a project to acquire the product or solution. 

The case phase involves creation of a formal business case, assignment of internal resources and budget.
  • Uses the output of the Assessment phase, 
  • Possibly includes analysis of alternative solutions to arrive at final cost estimates and an ROI, 
  • Likely to use 3rd party analyst data if available and independent comparisons of vendors and costs
  • In this phase, the Case is pushed back and forth between the mentor and the sponsor (champion) until the sponsor is happy all relevant business and political goals are served.
  • Budget is applied and the acquisition made public to potential suppliers.
  • The buyer may issue an Invitation to Tender (ITT) or Request for Proposal (RFP) to satisfy purchasing rules. At this stage the case could be passed to purchasing to formally engage suppliers in the procurement process 

Role for Marketing

Marketing's role is to assist the buyer in their journey towards becoming a customer. 
  1. It starts with buyer persona and messaging that addresses buyers directly at each stage in their personal decision process.  
  2. Demand generation campaigns tuned to buyer needs at the beginning of the journey (top of the sales funnel) attract new leads that are pre-qualified by virtue of targeting and messaging. 
  3. Lead nurturing campaigns keep potential buyers engaged and help them to become introduced to your products and services at their own pace.
  4. Calls to action at each step in the lead nurturing chain enable buyers to move forward when they are ready. 
  5. Marketing is responsible for creating the content that maps to each buyer persona and decision stage and for developing marketing automation workflows for demand generation and lead nurturing campaigns. 
  6. Ideally, sales and marketing work together to define lead scoring criteria for buyer behavior and to develop workflows for managing leads and handing them off to sales reps when they are ripe for purchase via CRM.

Role for Sales

  1. Set the agenda for the RFP/ITT or expectations/outcomes in a Term-Sheet, or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) if the transaction is informal.
  2. Working through the needs analysis with the client and understanding the issues, goals and concerns of each constituent in the buying group. 
  3. Generate business support for the Case by demonstrating (if appropriate), that your product can help them achieve goals and overcome these issues.
  4. Providing assistance with cost/Return On Investment (ROI) models.
  5. Provide relevant examples and proof points via case studies and where appropriate, through reference calls with satisfied customers.
  6. Use briefing books, white-papers, Webinars and presentations to circulate ideas 

Risks 

  • Insufficient executive sponsorship (salespeople have only one key player on their team and their champion leaves).
  • A late-coming competitor engages internally though their champion and cleverly changes the ground rules at the executive level.
  • You receive an inbound inquiry asking for information on your products, and pricing. There is a sense of urgency and the buyer is not sharing with you all of their issues.

Risk Mediation

  • Meeting key stakeholders involved in the decision is mandatory,
  • Fight the battle on your terrain, fight to influence the assessment and the outcome of a successful business case,
  • Beware of the Inbound Inquiry with a short time to respond; you may be invited to compete to make up the numbers in a deal where your competition has been working for months to set the agenda and you are being invited along for the ride.

Phase 6: Transaction

The transaction phase confirms project details to all internal and external stakeholders. Procurement may become involved for a formal acquisition.

This could require competitive tendering, a short-listing of possible vendors, demonstrations and selection committees, the conclusion of which will be the award of the contract to the successful supplier.

Role for Marketing

In the final stages of the buy cycle, marketing also plays an important role in providing Sales with the lead intelligence and content they need to overcome objections and close the sale. 

Bottom funnel content such as case studies and video testimonials can help to sway buyers on the fence, and lead behavior monitoring can signal their intentions to the sales team so that they can prepare the most effective approach to closing. 

Once the sale is finalized, feedback from buyers as well as sales reps arms the Marketing team with valuable information for reaching new leads and nurturing them throughout the buyer cycle.

Role for Sales

  1. Close the sale at the best possible price. If the answers to the following two questions are not yes and yes, do not begin to negotiate price. 
    1. Are we the chosen vendor?
    2. Is price the only remaining obstacle to doing business?
    (Customer Centric Selling, Bosworth and Holland)
  2. Execute a Sequence of Events where the outcome is an order on completion of a successful assessment and business case.
  3. Salespeople should strive to time the order outcome other than at the end of quarter. 

Risks

  1. Insufficient Stakeholder coverage results in your offering being marginalized by vendors aligned with more powerful executive team members,
  2. You get outflanked by a competitor who has blind-sided you and cleverly changed the ground-rules of the evaluation,
  3. Your champion or executive sponsor leaves or is transferred,
  4. A late-coming competitor drops their price through the floor and the client uses this as a lever to get big discounts,
  5. The buyer delays the transaction until the end of quarter and engages the purchasing team who are trained in negotiating pricing concessions and compensated on reducing vendor margins,
  6. There is an announcement that the company is making a strategic acquisition or is being sold or merged. (Not much you can do about this one - usually means a minimum of 6 months before the opportunity will be revisited - if ever; - back to the drawing board.)

Risk Mediation

  • Use a project plan or sequence of events which is timed to conclude in an order, other than at the end of quarter,
  • Ensuring you have met with, understand and to the extent possible, satisfy the needs of key stakeholders,
  • Keep your mentors and champions involved in the machinery of the purchasing process; this is particularly important if you have proven a business case, established ROI and the purchasing team is being very aggressive in their negotiation stance,
  • Be prepared to stand your ground against professional purchasing teams; call in your champion,
  • Be prepared to walk if you cannot close the transaction on acceptable terms.

New- Selling with IMPACT Whitepaper
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Topics: killer products, buying cycle, b2b buying process

The B2B Buying Process and How to Influence it pt. 1

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, May 07, 2013

The B2B Buying Process - and how to influence it.

Buyer behavior has changed radically in the past 5 years; sales process unfortunately in most companies has not adapted and marketing has been slow to adapt.

I first noticed these changes 10 years ago, when buyers would come to meetings knowing more about the products and competitive approaches that I did. I began working on aligning buying and selling processes after meeting Dominic Rowsell, author of "Why Killer Products Don't Sell", on which much of this work is based. 

This article is the second in a series of articles on aligning marketing and sales with buying behavior and it will be of value to sales and marketing professionals who wish to adapt their process to align with buyer behavior. Last week's article "A Guide to Aligning Marketing & Sales Engagement with Buying Process" discussed buyer behavior and how it is affected by risk.

The beauty of this approach is that it's universal, simple and based on actual buyer behavior. When you understand each of the steps, you can ask buyers where they are in their buying process. Salespeople typically think that the sales opportunity is one or two steps in advance of where the buyer actually is in the buying cycle and this is a primary contributor to forecasting inaccuracy.

Phase 1: Idea or Identify  

The buying process starts with an idea at Identify. 

The Idea phase is usually an internal customer activity, as a result of an executive off-site meeting and blue-sky thinking, brainstorming opportunities or as a result of a strategy session. Business executives are constantly looking to identify trends in segments and markets which may yield opportunity.

A buying cycle can be initiated in answer to CXO questions like, "how can I grow revenue, expand reach, or contain cost", etc.  Similarly business leaders look for  economies of scale, acquisitions and to identify i mportant customer groupings as well as emerging  technologies that could help them become more competitive. Think about the last time you bought something of value...it was likely months after the idea came to you that you actually made a purchase.

Role for Marketing

Most B2B buying cycles now begin with an Internet search, but it's probably not a search for product in the first instance. Developing Mind-Share is the imperative for marketing and to get found in a Google search in response to the type of query your target buyers are using to identify possible approaches to solving the above problems. 

Marketing's role is publishing fresh and engaging ideas in various forms of content in blogs, videos, article marketing, social media. Thought-leadership content takes time and intellectual-effort to create, but is worth the effort as it creates an ongoing legacy of Web pages that create brand awareness as well as providing an evergreen source of ongoing referral traffic.

Role for Sales

  1. Understand the Value-chain of the customer's business - this is research and may not involve customer contact. 
  2. Engage CXO's in existing accounts in mindshare development in strategy sessions (not product related), but designed to truly understand the customer's business and to share ideas.
  3. Building connections with the visionaries in client organizations through social media - read their stuff, make comments on and retweet their ideas.

Risks for the Supplier

The likelihood is that salespeople will not be engaged in this phase, unless the sales team is working a multi-level strategy and senior execs are engaged at the top level of the client organization and the account team is proactive in running executive briefings. 

Other risks include:
  • The prospective client finds an innovative alternate approach through Google that leads to a competitor when doing "big idea" research,
  • Unvalidated market analysis...this means basing your marketing plans and growth assumptions on the size of the opportunity, customer propensity to buy, the price, or any number of factors, based on incorrect assumptions. Get out of the building...read Steve Blank's HBR "Lean Startup Changes Everything"
  • Lack of evidence to compare with your offering/idea....this problem is a big issue for start-ups with discontinuous technology.
  • The prospect found your Website, but clicked away because they did not understand you or your offerings due to lack of clarity

Risk Mediation

If you have a novel product/technology and you are not blogging and using social media to spread your ideas and build mind-share, you are at a distinct disadvantage, regardless of the merits of your technology.

At the outset you are not selling, you are sharing ideas on the Internet and in responding to early stage leads, you are looking to provide help and ideas in conversations of possibility.

Phase 2: Mentor

This phase is about finding and enrolling a Mentor or evangelist in the buying organization to run with/or who is already running with the idea. The Mentor is typically a senior manager or analyst who works with executive team, but is a recommender, not the decision maker.


The Mentor's role is to scope and test feasibility, credibility, acceptability of the idea. The Mentor works with a small team; the idea is still under wraps and not for public consumption in the business. 
  • Typically will use the Internet to gather ideas and research.
  • May use informal meetings with suppliers to get ideas
  • Could use an RFI to gather ideas, but typically will use social networks and Google to gather ideas
The Mentor produces a report for executive team.

If accepted the Mentor will start to plan how the breakthrough idea can be implemented as an initiative, how it will be presented and to whom and the route through the political maze.

Role for Marketing

Effective Content Marketing activity generates mind-share and inbound inquiries through publishing buyer-relevant, keyword rich content and placing it where it will get found on blogs, syndicated and curated Websites and in social media specialist groups.

Marketing Messaging across the Buying Cycle


Role for Sales

The role for sales is to field these inquiries and engage the buyer in a conversation of possibilities. These are early stage inquiries from customers gathering ideas and information. 
  1. Develop a high level engagement plan; this is not a detailed account plan or a blue-sheet; more an outline of the possible opportunity, the key players involved and the next steps for both buyer and supplier. (Mind-mapping is a perfect way of collecting and sharing high-level ideas).
  2. Risk analysis on customer vs. opportunity (are they the right fit, are they innovators, do they have money, can you access decision level, etc.)
    This means sales managers need two green lights; one from the client that there is an opportunity for further investigation, and one from salesperson that there is indeed a worthwhile paid engagement (proof of concept, feasibility study) as a next step.
  3. Develop conversations with prospects, - (you are not selling, you are consulting at this stage of the process). Visual confections are excellent tools for sharing big ideas, getting buyer to tell their story and getting buy-in from a wider audience in the prospective opportunity.
  4. If you are engaging existing accounts, sow seeds, share your ideas via hand written notes with relevant articles attached. (Emails get deleted, hand-written notes get read).
  5. Salespeople should try to understand buyer goals and the high level problems they are seeking to overcome.
Salespeople must identify the key players involved in the decision process; the salesperson is looking for a champion who can make things happen and to establish a relationship with that person.

Risks for the Supplier

  • If the salesperson is only talking to one person in the opportunity (which is the case most of the time), and that person is a weak mentor and is not giving them access to a champion or to key decision makers on the team, then you are wasting your time.
  • The customer wants you to do free work - this is a tricky call for many salespeople. As a rule in selling to the early adopter, all consulting on feasibility, product modification prototyping, etc., MUST be paid for; the supplier can refund if absolutely necessary on conclusion of a successful deal.
  • Salespeople are too aggressive in trying to close a deal, instead of engaging in fully understanding the landscape of the account and the needs and goals of the key players in the decision process.
  • Over-enthusiasm; the salesperson sees an opportunity and starts building expectation in the selling organization around it, without sufficient diagnosis and qualification
Now a tricky question for salespeople and their managers, What do you put in the forecast when it's still an idea on the horizon? (Answer: it does not appear on the forecast yet.)

Risk Mediation

  • Salespeople need to engage powerful sponsors - politely demand it. Use the qualification confirmation letter after each meeting with a buyer. If the buyer fails to respond within a week to your meeting summary letter and confirm that your summary of the meeting is correct and follow through on next steps, (which may include access to stakeholders), they are not a prospect. This letter really works - download the template and use it.
  • Identifying key players in the decision process is mandatory (also known as Stakeholder Mapping)
  • If the customer is unwilling to pay for consulting on feasibility, proof of concept, or product modification, they are not a prospect.

Phase 3: Position

Public discussion occurs within the key players on the executive team to make resources and funds available. The Mentor works hard to drive the project and their own personal credibility.


If the supplier's product is disruptive, this will arouse emotions and the positioning discussion will become POLITICAL; Change = Emotions.
Without executive sponsorship at this stage, the idea is unlikely to survive the internal battle for resources and funds. 

Many potential opportunities fail to turn into projects because they are killed off at the Position phase by competing priorities or strong adversaries who are either fighting to maintain status quo, are aligned with alternate approaches, or simply don't understand your offering and by default, oppose the idea. 


The transition from Position to Case is the specification for a project for the internal assessment of the idea.

Role for Marketing

After a Website visitor has converted into a lead on your Website, the process of building trust and credibility begins. Lead nurturing is the process of  sending the right message to the right prospect at the right time and in most cases, this is hit and miss.

Lead nurturing is a science and it takes dedicated effort and often professional help is needed to set-up and generate meaningful results that justify the investment in the marketing automation platform.

Email is the preferred vehicle for lead nurturing, based on sending appropriate content to segmented lists of your leads, based on buyer persona role, company demographics, interest areas and sundry other criteria.
 

Each email should follow a logical path to educate the buyer on the issues and advantages in your approach and move them to take action. Typically top and middle of the funnel content presents an opportunity to read a new article or download a white-paper or e-book.

Role for Sales

Position is make or break time for salespeople, although few ever know when or how it occurred. Typically, (80% of the time), the buyer goes radio silent and disappears and the opportunity is over for now.
  1. Support your mentor and find a champion
  2. Generate business support for an Assessment, meet key players
  3. Use the meeting summary and visual confections as well as providing links to relevant examples and proof points.
  4. Use white papers, eBooks and presentations to circulate ideas to stakeholders.
  5. Understand the politics and work with the mentor/champion to develop a sequence of events to fully scope the idea.

Risks

  • Strong adversaries aligned with the status-quo or alternate approaches,
  • Competition for scarce resources means your idea may not survive without sufficient emotional commitment from key stakeholders,
  • Behavior or process change are strongly resisted by the "USER"  stakeholder of the innovation,
  • Weak or no champion to fight for your solution,
  • The opportunity loses momentum and client goes "radio-silent"

Risk Mediation

Any work must be a paid engagement - if the idea is worth doing, it's worth paying a little to be sure. Work the key stakeholders, understand their roles, issues - create vision as to the value of your approach.

New- Selling with IMPACT Whitepaper
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Topics: killer products, buyer-seller alignment, B2B selling, buying behavior

Can You Send me a Sales Proposal? - I'm Sorry, we Don't Do Proposals

Posted by Mark Gibson on Thu, Jan 17, 2013

Why Responding to Proposals you did not Influence is a bad idea

In sales we get the opportunity to learn lessons by making mistakes and those lessons usually serve us well through our careers.

Occasionally we get to learn the same lessons over again, either because it was so long since the last time it happened and we forgot, or maybe we moved into a new line of business and went along with the buyer's request, because we were learning the ropes in the new market.

In December, I received two proposal requests; an inbound lead and an inbound phone call from seemingly genuine and very nice people. I typically generate about 50 inbound leads per month, but these are not proposal requests, they are downloads of ebooks or whitepapers or webinar registrations.

I don't advocate salespeople selling complex B2B products sending proposals when they are solicited by prospective customers and they come out of the blue. Why?

But what if the buyer has been reading your blogs for a while and follows you on Twitter....what's wrong with sending a proposal?

To understand my reasoning on this point we need to take a closer look at how customers buy and I will use the IMPACT cycle from the book Why Killer Product's don't Sell, by Dominic Rowselll and Ian Gotts to illustrate this point.

The Universal Buying Process IMPACT

There is a pathway or process that all organizations follow to reach purchasing decisions. This process does not vary across industries or even regions of the world, because it is inextricably linked to instinctive human behavior. It is just the speed that organizations or individuals travel through the process that differs. The process is called IMPACT.  

Identify -  Mentor - Position - Assessment -  Case -  Transaction

The IMPACT process may be followed in a formal way or it may be tacit and informal. It may involve large numbers of people, both inside and outside the organization, or it may be driven by one individual. It is guaranteed that any idea which leads to a purchase in an organization, be it corporately or personally driven, has followed this process.

The six key phases of the process are easy to remember as they have an enormous IMPACT on your company’s performance:


Every purchase goes through all six phases, with or without the supplier's assistance. What differs between the four different buying cultures is the point at which the supplier is given permission to engage with the customer and this is governed by product maturity and risk. If you are selling commodity products, you will be engaged at transaction. If you have a hot new disruptive technology product, early adopters looking for a jump on the competition will seek you out and you will be engaged at Mentor

The reason that most salespeople don't recognize this process is because the customer goes through the process on their own, and only invites the supplier in for the last one or two steps. This correlates strongly with current research that indicates the buyer is 60-70% through the buying process when they first  contact vendors. But more of this later. First, let’s understand the IMPACT process.

Phase 1: Identify


The identification of ideas for changing or improving a business that are good enough to warrant investigation. This is the ideas phase. This may be the executive team going on an offsite with strategic consultants to plan its future. The executive team will be looking for ways to grow revenues, create competitive advantage, increase shareholder value, contain or reduce costs. That is, it is “blue sky” thinking looking out into the future to see how technology will help the company become more competitive or impact its markets.

Phase 2: Mentor


Enrolling a mentor (evangelist) to the idea to validate it. The executive team will take the breakthrough ideas or big bets and give them to someone in senior management to act as a mentor for the ideas. These ideas are not for public consumption, and the mentor should only work with his close team and trusted advisors to ratify the thinking. The mentor will be scoping and testing the ideas, reading thought leadership articles, downloading whitepapers and looking for feasibility, credibility, and political acceptability as much as he can without drawing undue attention. If the decisions are not accepted then the ideas get buried forever.  Mentor is the point of engagement for Value Created selling and the point at which The Challenger salesperson seeks to influence through insight.

Phase 3: Position


The public decision to make resources and budget available to invest further in the idea. Buy-in is the big challenge because it involves managing politics. But why do politics play such a major part in this phase? The answer is simple.
The announcement of a new initiative is an announcement of impending change. And change will always produce an upsurge of emotions, both positive and negative. The mentor will need to find a sponsor, because to move forward into the next phase will require resources (money, people, time) to assess the value of the initiative. The sponsor will be the person or body of people with enough political muscle to get the resources.  

Phase 4: Assessment


The assessment of the good and the bad in the idea. The Assessment phase plays a very important part in the post-Enron corporate world where legislation now ensures company officers are held accountable for their decisions. Particularly ones involving investment and strategic direction, which has made the Assessment phase a big hurdle. But the Assessment phase is not about cost justification, it is an evaluation of everything, both quantitative and qualitative. And some executives would see this as personal insurance, keeping them out of prison.

Phase 5: Case


The creation of a quantified business case and assignment of resources/budget to it. The mentor will use the output from the Assessment phase to build a business and investment Case, possibly including solutions. Then, the Case can have a budget actually assigned to it and will be made public. If the organization requires that all external purchases are done via competitive tender, then this is when those tender documents are created and distributed.

Phase 6: Transaction


The confirmation of the project to all internal and external stakeholders and to the suppliers. Procurement will raise a purchase order and negotiate contracts for the solution put forward in the Case. Depending on the solution, market and company approach procurement may need to drive a formal procurement with competitive tendering, beauty parades, and all the fun and games that this entails.

Conclusion

If you have not influenced the buying process prior to Case and you are selling complex B2B technology, then the chances are that someone else has. The fact that the transaction is about to happen and you receive an invitation to respond typically means that someone else has been influencing the buying cycle and the customer is ready to make the buy. Because the buyer needs three bids, the usual suspects are rounded and up with whispers of promise from the buyer are suppliers are enticed into providing a quotation.

Your quotation serves as a benchmark against which the chosen vendor will be asked to compete on price.  Unless you are selling commodities, say no to RFP's.

Get the book, Why Killer Product's Don't Sell, it's a very good primer on buying behavior and may help your company realign the way it serves its customers.

Download the Killer Products Whitepaper

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Topics: killer products, buyer-seller alignment, sales engagement

Inbound Leads - a Critical Success Factor in The Challenger Sale

Posted by Mark Gibson on Thu, Sep 20, 2012

The Challenger Sale Momentum

The Challenger Selling concept is gaining in popularity based on the number of people joining the LinkedIn Group, the rank of The Challenger Sale book, (currently #2 in Amazon sales and marketing category) and the references to the book on the Internet.

Last week we saw a spat between sales training profesionals in one of the LinkedIn groups, about the veracity of the Challenger model, caused no doubt by the mindshare "Challenger" is generating in the market at the expense of rival approaches.

The Challenger behavior archetype identified in The Challenger Sale research stands out because Challengers produce better results than any other sales behavior type selling complex B2B products and services. Why? Because these individuals bring insight and informed opinion to influence the thinking of buyers and they exert a degree of control on the outcome of a complex B2B buying process.

When do Challengers engage in the Buying Process? 

I was asked this question yesterday by the SVP of a major information services company in conversation about the difficulty of selling a B2B product and services against strong competition in 2012. While I am not affiliated in any way with the CEB, I offered the following.

Challengers are able to influence buyer thinking through their expert opinion and industry insight and are capable of exerting control in moving the buying process along. 

I'll use the IMPACT buying model from the book, " Why Killer Products Don't Sell", which accurately describes a universal buying process, to discuss engagement points. For an in-depth look at the buying process and how buyer behavior is affected by risk, get an instant download of the Killer Products Whitepaper.




As a vendor, you can be engaged in a buying process at any point in the buying cycle, but the closer to the start of the buying process, the higher the odds of succeeding.

Think about it for a moment. You can get married the week after you meet someone, celebrities do it almost daily - we see them on the cover of supermarket comics at the checkout. But this is not normally the case, most marriages begin with a courting period, followed by a formal engagement. Making a complex B2B sale is like getting married, except if you are a celebrity.

The odds of winning a deal you did not initiate are better than marrying Kim Kardashian after dating her for a week, but they are not great.

Mike Bosworth in Customer-Centric Selling suggests that your chances are between zero and 20% of winning an RFP if you did not initiate the discussion. If you initiated the conversation, your chances of winning are up to 80%. (Any update on these numbers would be greatly appreciated, as I suspect they may have changed in the last 10 years)

So is it easier to disrupt status quo thinking as Challengers do, in the Transaction phase after the RFP arrives, or when the buyer recognizes they need to do something to correct a sub-optimal condition at say IDENTIFY or MENTOR at the start of the buying process?  Duh!, it's obvious that it’s easier to influence thinking at the outset and becomes progressively harder as the buying process matures. It's not impossible to turn around an RFP that is written by a competitor, but I wouldn’t want to base my income on winning RFP’s influenced by the competition.

But how to engage earlier in the buying cycle? 

How to Engage Early in the Buying Process

We read about Challenger success in the case studies in The Challenger Sale book, but we don't how the salesperson engaged the buyer.

I don’t have that data, but I suggest that the best odds for Challengers succeeding are as a result of an inbound lead at the outset of the buyer’s journey or through leveraging a client relationship to upsell or cross-sell into an existing account… it’s all about gaining access.

Buyers will research approaches and gather ideas around solving a problem or achieving a goal through an Internet search, long before they are ready to buy. They download whitepapers, E-books and attend Webinars and conferences in return for exchanging their contact details and opting in to receive your communication… and they become leads in an inbound marketing system

Inbound Marketing Creates Challenger Openings

In about 25% of companies surveyed by CSO Insights in 2012 , it's marketing that creates the opportunity and an opening for Challengers, but typically when these leads first convert on your Website, they are initial inquiries and are not sales ready.


At this stage buyers are looking for possible approaches and associated risks, not product. This is the ideal opportunity to begin to influence buyer thinking through a combination of behavior based lead nurturing, until they achieve a “sales ready” lead score, and helpful insight provided by sales professionals who look more like consultants than salespeople to the buyer.

Why is Inbound Marketing Important again? Check these numbers
  • 46% of daily Internet searches are for information on products or services.
  • 70% of the links search users click-on are organic—not paid.
  • 75% of users never scroll past the first page of search results.
Take-Away: If your business is not ranking well for the words that describe your products and services, then you’re not getting found for them by potential customers either.  

Find out if your Website is Capable of generating Inbound Leads

How can you find out if your company Website is capable of generating inbound leads to feed your Challengers? You can run a free Marketing Grader report to see if  you doing enough to bring visitors to your website and fill the top of your sales and marketing funnel. The report tells you how you are doing when it comes to converting traffic into leads and leads into customers and what marketing activities are working (or aren't working)?

If your Website scores less than 70 on Website Grader, the chances are you are not getting enough leads. If you need to generate more inbound leads, I suggest that you give inbound marketing a try.

Get the Inbound Lead Generation E-book
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Topics: inbound marketing, killer products, challenger sale

Consultative Selling Secrets – and other myths

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Jul 24, 2012

Consultative Selling Myths

Sales books, blog-posts and training courses that offer “consultative selling secrets” and magical closing-techniques, constantly amuse me.

Most of the ideas in these so-called secrets are common sense and have been in practice since the “Fuller-brush man” came a calling.

If there truly were secrets to success in consultative selling or any other form of selling, then nobody would know them. Another myth is "Consultative Selling is Dead", but I will deal with that one another time...clearly it is not.

The truth is that there is a growing body of knowledge around consultative selling best-practices that anyone with a Web browser and an ability to read can access.

Great sales people are great communicators with strong ego-drive and the self-discipline, to do on a daily basis the little things that average sales people do not, that lead to successful sales outcomes. 

Consultative Selling Discipline

What really matters in consultative selling and professional selling in general are the understanding, mastery and daily practice of the following disciplines, skills and techniques;
    1. A genuine desire to succeed (fire-in-the-belly) fuelled by realistic short and long term goals which extend beyond your immediate sales goals. (this is no secret)
    2. An ability to control your emotional state; - your physiology, language and focus to produce the results you are seeking
    3. An ability to communicate and to develop rapport with anyone (there are naturals, but these skills can be learned by anyone except those with certain types of autism)
    4. Learning to listen clearly to what people are saying. This means listening for comprehension first, not for clues to competitors or to disqualify. Then to drill through the intellectual smoke-screen and fluff to understand meaning and intent (the use of language and the ability to listen are skills that can be easily learned)
    5. A curiosity to learn and discover what makes people tick and to synthesize new ideas to expand your view and appreciation of the World you live-in.
    6. Diagnostic skills underpinned by the use of best-practices questions that can be learned, which will enable you to chunk the buyer up to get the big picture or chunk down for specificity.
    7. Strong qualification after each meeting, which commits the buyer to acknowledge they are in agreement with your assessment of their situation and to proceed with agreed next steps
    8. Formal sales process which commits the buyer at each step of the sales cycle to disqualify non-buyers early and enable accurate forecasting
    9. Disciplined use of CRM, Knowledge Management and Performance Support tools.
    10. A reciprocal commitment (give to get) from the buyer at every interaction from asking for a demonstration to negotiating an agreement. 
    11. An understanding of the buying process and tools and technique to help move the buyer through the Positioning phase (where most opportunities die) in the universal buying process I-M-P-A-C-T 
    12. Add to this list, a knowledge of the buyer's business and industry
      knowledge, that enables the sales person to come the table as an equal and bring insight and an opnion that challenges the status-quo and gets the buyer thinking differently about their issues and your capabilities.
Challenge CTA

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Topics: killer products, consultative selling, listening skills, challenger selling

A New Guide to Selling Killer-Products the Way Customers Buy (video)

Posted by Mark Gibson on Mon, May 14, 2012

Got a Killer-Product, but having trouble achieving its and your companies' potential?
These 6 short videos (hosted on Wistia) were produced by Dominic Rowsell of Hot Rivet. Dominic is author and copyright holder of " Why Killer Products Don't Sell".

In this series, Dominic provides new insights on buying behavior as he explains that there are four and only four buying cultures and suggests how to adapt B2B selling to match how customers buy. He explores the IMPACT (Identify-Mentor-Position-Assessment-Case-Transaction) buying process that every B2B transaction will go through, from initial idea to a purchase order.

If you are interested in The Challenger Sale method, you will see some very clear parallels in the Value-Created Selling model as the Mentor phase in the IMPACT buying process is typically where Challengers engage.

Regardless of your company and its stage in the technology adoption life-cycle, the IMPACT cycle and four buying cultures are relevant and useful for marketers and sellers to understand how people buy and what is needed to move a deal through each stage in the buying cycle.

Introduction to the Four Buying Cultures

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Topics: killer products, challenger sale, selling early adopters

Selling your Solution to Early Adopters - Visual Stotytelling Video

Posted by Mark Gibson on Tue, Jan 10, 2012

This Selling Early Adopters video was created following a joint Webinar with Dominic Rowsell, co-author of Why Killer Products Don't Sell. The original sound-track was unusable, so I captured the elements of that Webinar and added more meat into the following two-part, narrated whiteboard video.

Buying Behavior is dependent on Risk Tolerance

Early adopters of new technology are prepared to accept more risk when buying technology than the majority of buyers. Despite the success of SaaS as a concept and the wholesale adoption of cloud based applications, the vast majority of SaaS software fails to achieve commercial success because the innovation never makes it across the chasm from the early adopters into the early majority mainstream market. The consequent massive uptake of the SaaS innovation has eluded all but a small percentage of aspiring entrepreneurs.
The following Flash videos are a 2 part series and run about 7 minutes.


Part 1. The Four Buying Cultures and the Technology Adoption Life-Cycle.

This video introduces the four buying cultures and how they map onto the Technology Adoption Life-cycle. Will be of interest to sales and marketing professionals selling B2B technology solutions or professional services based engagements.


Insight Selling is Value Created Selling

This series offers insight into buyer behavior and the process of getting your challenging idea/solution through the buying process.


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Topics: killer products, selling to early adopters, visual storytelling

Challenger Selling & Whiteboard Storytelling - a perfect combination

Posted by Mark Gibson on Mon, Dec 12, 2011

I've just finished reading and recommend a new book by Matthew Dixon and Brent Addington entitled "The Challenger Sale”; I enjoyed the quality of the writing and the research underpinning the work.  

The challenger sales type has been identified as the most effective in complex B2B selling and was the only sales cohort from the extensive research conducted by the Corporate Executive Board to achieve success during the downturn. Figuring out what Challengers are doing differently, cloning that behavior and recruiting and training more challenger types is a priority recommendation in this book. 
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Topics: killer products, Artesian Solutions, challenger sale, whiteboardselling, challenger selling

Using a Whiteboard to get your Killer Product Across the Chasm

Posted by Mark Gibson on Wed, Jun 22, 2011

Early adopters of new technology are prepared to accept more risk when buying technology than the majority of buyers.

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Topics: killer products, whiteboarding, lean startups

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