Archive for the ‘sales process’

5 Sales Credibility Killers

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There was a time, long, long ago in a dim and distant past when, if you were in sales, the company you worked for and the product you sold were more important than how you personally sold. You may remember the ‘No one gets fired for buying IBM’ adage.  Buying from a market leader was often seen as the obvious (and safest) path for a buyer to take.

But the world has moved on.  Established companies are being disrupted. Remember Kodak? Did we ever think we would see Microsoft’s dominance of the desktop challenged?  What about the decline of Nokia and Blackberry?

In the past, buyers were informed by large companies with large marketing budgets and usually made their selection from a shortlist of the market leaders.  That has changed.

We have all witnessed the democratization of information. As buyers become ever smarter (more knowledgeable really), they have more options available to them, and, contrary to some recent theories, the importance of the salesperson has increased. How you sell is much more important that what you sell – and the effectiveness of how you sell is determined solely by your credibility in front of the buyer.

If you, as the salesperson, can’t demonstrate credibility when meeting with your buyer, you will fail.  It is as stark as that.  It is the reason why senior executives (in the buying organization) take follow-up sales meeting in just 25% of cases.

Remember, the impact on a customer of a bad buying decision is usually greater than the impact on a sales person of a lost deal.

Here are 5 sales credibility killers you need to avoid:


Better than your own solutions, you need to know your customer. That requires a deep understanding of the challenges that face each of the key roles in the customer organization (in the area that you can impact). Only then can you offer a solution to meet those needs.  Unless you can show that you understand the impact on the customer of the project they are contemplating then it is hard to position your product as a solution that will optimize the outcome.


It used to be the case that your job as a seller was to communicate the value of your product.  Now, if you have a half-decent website, the buyer can educate themselves on your product (and can do the same with your competitors) so you better show up with something better that demonstrates how you can uniquely create, not just communicate, value. If you start the conversation with “Let me tell you about our products”, your credibility will be shot, right out of the gate. Instead, accelerate your credibility by bringing market insights to your customer.


Marketing works hard to produce product datasheets, presentations and solution overviews.  If you lead your sales conversations with these materials you will likely be categorized as a non-value-adding vendor. But the better marketing departments also deliver “vendor agnostic” insight pieces that, when used correctly, change sales conversations with buyers by disrupting current thinking and bringing new perspectives that lead back to your solution.  Start there and then use the product-focused materials when the customer asks for more information.


Gone are the days where sellers can just knock on the door of the corner office and close a deal.  In a world of increasing complexity, today’s buyers are much more aware of the need to operationalize changes in their organizations. That typically requires the support and expertise of many players.  Asking for the order, without addressing the needs of each of these individuals, and helping them to understand the internal relationships between those needs, will likely underline the fact that you don’t understand how their business works.  Your job is to help them build consensus around their interdependent needs.


If there is one way to ensure you have a sub-zero credibility rating with your buyer, ask the dreaded question. Let’s imagine you have a meeting with a senior influencer in the buyer’s organization.  She has taken time out of her busy day because she has a business problem she is trying to solve. She is hoping that you can provide some guidance. And then you make that fatal mistake. You open the conversation with “So, tell me about your business.  What keeps you up at night?” There is no way back from here. You must know about her business, have a good sense of the problems she faces, and what keeps her awake at night. You should have ideas to share, experiences that you have gleaned from other similar companies, or expertise you from your colleagues or experts in your own company.

Credibility and its co-traveler trust are the most valuable currencies you have.  They are hard to earn and must be spent wisely.

Have I missed any credibility landmines? Are their horror stories you’ve heard or witnessed? What other mis-steps should sales people avoid?

[Disclosure: The TAS Group has a particular interest in this area and we are privileged to work with progressive sales and marketing organizations to solve this problem in a scalable way using Dealmaker Align.]



Salesforce Sales Leadership Forum: 3 Key Takeaways

Salesforce is the world’s largest cloud company, and many businesses around the world run their businesses on one, or a combination, of their solutions. So it would seem logical that Salesforce could provide a focal point for companies to exchange business ideas and best practices. I participated in an event recently that was designed by Salesforce to be just such a forum for Sales Leaders.

The stated objective of the event (part of a broader program) was to provide an opportunity for Salesforce customers to hear from trusted sales thought-leaders on the changing trends in sales, share best practices and innovations with their peers in the sales leadership community, and of course network.

I was delighted to be asked to participate, along with Linda Crawford – EVP Sales Cloud, Salesforce, and Brent Adamson from CEB. What I particularly liked about this event was that Salesforce delivered on the promise; i.e. this was a sales leadership forum, not a Salesforce sales event. Brent and I were given equal billing with Linda, and the majority of the energy was spent on sharing thoughts and ideas with customers. The feedback from the attendees was that the three companies seem to work really well together. We actually have been working very closely together for some time now and each brings different value – but it is to Salesforce’s credit that they enable this for their customers, in a collaborative environment.

(We actually did a similar event the previous day in Amsterdam with a different CEB representative who had different but equally valuable perspectives.)

Here are my three key takeaways from the day:

Salesforce is all in on mobile

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With an estimated 5B smartphones in our hands by 2017, it is probably fair to say that every sales person that Salesforce cares about will need to be served on their mobile device. In fact, as we walk around with smartphones in our pockets everyday, we give little thought to the personal and business productivity apps that we use everyday without even thinking about it.

Linda Crawford highlighted the analysis from Gartner that suggests that 2016, 55% of salespeople will access sales applications exclusively through smartphones or tablets.  One of the things I have noticed at Salesforce over the years is that they don’t do 50% commitment. It’s all in or not in. There is no question about it. Clearly Salesforce is all in on mobile.

Eileen O’Mara, VP Sales EMEA at Salesforce gave a very impressive demo of how Salesforce runs its business from the phone that also included the Political Map component from our Dealmaker app.

(You can trial Dealmaker Political Map Express here.)

90% of World’s Data was created in the last 2 years

I’ve known this for a while – but it is still mind blowing. Linda illuminated this effectively as she recounted the journey from the mainframe (thousand of connections) to Client/Server (millions), on to the recent Internet (Billions) and the future of the Connected Customer (Trillions).


The question of course is “What do you do with all of the data?’. Life is a game of truth, not a game of data, and there is risk in relying on correlations and pattern matching to predict outcomes of prescribe behaviors.


‘Customer First’ really means ‘Customer First’

There used to be a time, a long, long time ago, when a sales person would trade information about their products and services for information from the customer on their business. “Tell me about your business and I can tell you about my products and how you can use them in your business.” That time is gone. Customers can learn everything they need to know online. So what do you have to trade? Linda talked about the need for greater insight into your customers’ business and that fact that according to Gallup, 66% of companies do not have an in-depth understanding of their customers. That’s a real issue.

The ever-energizing and entertaining Brent Adamson from CEB took this point to the max, infusing his perspective with pithy anecdotes and real data.

  • On average, 57% of the buying process is completed before a buyer contacts a supplier. (I wrote a mini-book about this: Battling the 57%)
  • The biggest driver (53%) of customer loyalty is the Sales Experience. Company/Brand, and Product/Service, count much less (each at 19%).

Brent went on to describe what a good Sales Experience looks like from the customer’s perspective: The sales person should bring a unique, valuable perspectives on the business, help the customer navigate alternatives?and avoid potential mistakes.

The customer matters. Insight matters. Your sales credibility is on the line.

I have written a blog post / story about that here. A Sales Story for Our Time.



A Sales Story for Our Time

frustrated-manWhen Matt finished the meeting, he was angry. His biggest customer just told him that she had placed a big order with a new supplier.

“You know it’s not you. I like working with you Matt. How long are we working together? It’s been a long time.” Said Joanne, the EVP Operations at DeepEarth Oil, “But Mandy Adamson at Innopartners – she blew us away. I know they are a little more expensive than you, but Mandy agreed to share her vision with the whole executive team as well at our next exec QBR. She helped me think about this company – this industry really – in a whole new way.“

Matt knew Innopartners. He beat them in most competitive situations – even with brand new customers. His solution was superior to theirs, and he certainly did not expect them to unseat him. This was deeply aggravating. Mandy Adamson? Matt thought he knew most of the sales team there, but he had not come across the name Mandy Adamson before.

And yes, he was angry too; angry at himself for listening to Jack, the Chief Marketing Officer at JKHiggs Global. “Just present Dynamix14 this way and focus on the energy saving. That’s our key differentiator.” he said, “And be sure the customer knows that we’ve been in this market longer than anyone else.” He was going to have a reality check conversation with Jack as soon as he got back to the office.

When Matt checked his phone, he was glad to see a message from his friend Tom. Before Tom left to start his own business, he and Matt had been in the trenches together for seven years and had become good friends. Now that Tom was building his new business he had little time to socialize.

Turning the corner as he walked towards his car, the sky darkened and Matt was buffeted by a chill wind. Under grey skies, he looked for something to brighten the day. Dialing Tom, hoping he’d be free for lunch or a coffee, he wondered what Tom would think about what he planned to say to his CMO Jack later.

“Has your chandelier popped a bulb? Is your brain past its ‘Best Before’ date?” Tom’s colorful speech always amused Matt, and he always enjoyed spending time with him, but this time, sitting in the Starbucks across from his ‘starter-upper-sorry-we-don’t-have-a-coffee-maker’ office, he was disappointed in his reaction to his suggestion.

“Look, Jack has been following the same path now for far too long. But the world has changed. Customers know more about our business than we do about theirs and introducing a new product with just a datasheet and a Features & Benefit list isn’t working. This approach is costing us business, and Jack is costing me money. Someone needs to put his lack of market understanding in front of the Executive Management team meeting.”

Tom took off his glasses, and rubbed his eyes slowly. This was getting tense, and Matt had that I-don’t-care-what-anyone-says look. Time to diffuse things a little. “Ok, so what you’re saying is that Jack is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. But even if that is true, is this the best way to solve things? Do you really want to lead a witch-hunt against Jack. This is not a Jack issue, it is a strategic company issue. ”

“Tom, I thought you’d understand,” Matt responded. “Jack, and the rest of the marketing team think that just because they’ve spoken to the analysts and done some market research, that they can tell us how it works in the field. But they rarely get in front of customers, and meeting with customers everyday is what we do. I’ve been successful selling ever since I came to JKHiggs, but now, I am losing to competition when I should win.”

“Ok”, Tom interrupted, “let’s look at this calmly. From what I heard, the marketing team is delivering more sales collateral than ever before, and built a really cool micro-site for Dynamix14. You can’t criticize their work-rate. What exactly are you saying?”

Matt took a long sip from his Americano, and sat back in the soft leather chair. “Ok, I admit I’m getting some leads; that’s not my problem, and I know marketing is investing heavily in brand awareness. There are more marketing materials than we have ever had in the past – but even if I could find the piece I need, I am still going to get my butt kicked if the competition is helping the customer to … how did Joanne at DeepEarth put it? – ‘help me think about my business in a whole new way’. We don’t know how to do that. We have not figured out how to connect our solutions to the customer’s business, and you know what, that’s actually the issue here. We have spent all of this time on our ‘Sales and Marketing Alignment Project’, when in fact we should have been thinking about the customer first. Henry in Engineering gets this stuff. Customers love him – he knows more about the impact we can have better than anyone on the planet. If we can get him in front of more customers, then maybe that will help. That’s what I need. That’s the answer.”

“Look Dude, you’ve nailed the problem – but not the solution. Henry doesn’t scale across 400 reps. If you think the marketing department at JKHiggs is going to help you solve this, then I’d like some of what you’re smoking. Your job is to sell. Do the research yourself. Use Google. Buy Henry lunch. If Jack is filling the top of the funnel, that’s just as much as you can expect. I wish I had someone hand me leads. Now, my dear friend, don’t be a whiner. Accept that your meeting today wasn’t great, but dust yourself off. Learn more about your customer’s industry and get back in the saddle.”

“I don’t know Tom” Matt sighed, “ I hear what you’re saying and I know you have my interests at heart, but customers are getting smarter and more knowledgeable all of the time. They are using social media to educate themselves on everything that’s going on; not just with us, but with our competitors, their industry and other companies like them. It’s not my pipeline volume I’m worried about; it’s my sales conversion rate and the pipeline velocity. If JKHiggs doesn’t sort this out, we will lose our position in the market and that will make my job harder. Marketing is investing in the wrong place, and something needs to be done about it. I think Jack needs a good dose of reality.”

Tom stood up and dropped his empty coffee cup in the trash. “Listen, I’ve got to get back to the day job. But ask some of the other guys what they think before you take on Jack, or maybe call the guys over at Innopartners and see if they have any openings. They seem to have figured it out.”

… and that’s where it ends.

(Depending on your input below we can find our what happens in the meeting between Matt and Jack.)


According to a recent Forrester Research report, only 36% of executives believe that sellers can have a valuable conversation with them about their business. The reality is that communicating value is no longer the job of the sales person. Buyers can learn all they need to know online. Winning sellers are those who can create value for their customers by helping them learn about the business issues they should be caring about.

Buyers value sellers who can offer a unique valuable perspective on the market, use their experience with other similar companies to help then to avoid potential land mines, and educate them on new issues that they should consider.

This is not just a sales issue. It is not just a marketing issue. It is not just a sales and marketing alignment issue. It is truly a customer alignment issue that can be easily solved with a little bit of strategic thinking. Most companies already have in-house the knowledge they need to describe the customer’s business, their typical goals, pressures and problems that they are trying to solve – and why they built their products in the first place. But those tools are rarely in a format that’s easy accessible and readily consumable by sales. (Here’s something to consider.)

What do you think? Do you think Matt is right? What about Tom’s perspective? Does Matt’s situation sound familiar to you?

Remember, we have not heard Jack’s side of the story yet.


5 Key Dreamforce Sessions and 3 Tips

5keyThere is a lot going on at Dreamforce. How do you choose which sessions to attend? This year there are many overlapping sessions, and conflicts between the keynotes and some fabulous breakout sessions.  It is not possible to cover everything, so you need to be judicious in your selections.

Tip: Remember that Salesforce make most of the keynotes available on YouTube very shortly after the event – so you will be able to catch up on these later.


My 5 Key Dreamforce Sessions for Sales Professionals

Tip: To get straight to these sessions in the Dreamforce Agenda Builder, first login to Dreamforce and then click on the title of the sessions here.


1. Sales Summit @ Dreamforce 2014: Mon 10/13 @ 10:00am

This is one mega event really. One day. Five sessions. Twelve of the world’s most respected sales minds. This promises to be one of the most educational (and entertaining) days at Dreamforce for sales executives. Bring your toughest questions. Walk away with answers — and a million new ideas on how your company can motivate sales teams and win more sales.

2.  How BMC Software Achieves Smart Sales Transformation: Wed 10/15 @ 8:30am

I am part of this session. BMC’s sales transformation story is amazing – a complete look at how to prepare a sales organization for our increasingly pressurized world.

3. Social Selling: A Live Conversation with Jill Rowley and Koka Sexton: Tue 10/14 @ 4:00pm

Two of my favorite social selling gurus, Jill and Koka think your sales team is on the brink of extinction! They will talk about the why, what and how to do Social Selling.  This session will not be boring!

4. How uses Account Planning: Wed 10/15 @ 10:00am

If you use Salesforce, and you care about maximizing revenue from your key accounts this is the session to attend. I am thrilled to host two charismatic leaders from to tell their story.  Everyone who attends this session also gets a free copy of Account Planning in Salesforce.

5. Triple Your Revenue With a Dedicated Sales Development Team: Wed 10/15 @ 2:00pm

There is a strong body of opinion on the rise of Inside Sales or Business Development.  This panel of 7 thought leaders in the area has a lot of insights to share.  Not to be missed.


3 Tips to Get The Best Out of Dreamforce

1. Attend the Early Sessions

Early sessions are better – energy level is higher and generally you get presenters who are at the top of their game.  Attend breakout sessions in the morning and visit the Cloud Expo in the afternoon.

2. Appropriate Clothing – Leave the Laptop

Ladies – leave the fancy shoes at home.  There will be a lot of walking. I am told that heels are a no-no. I wasn’t planning on wearing heels anyway :).

Ignore the forecast. It rains in San Francisco – so pack some light rain gear or a small foldable umbrella.

Don’t try to carry your laptop – it will get heavy really quickly. Ideally get a keyboard for your tablet, or carry an old-fashioned notebook and pen!

3. Be Social (Virtually and Physically)

There will be 125,000+ people at Dreamforce this year.  Connect on the Dreamforce app, or on Twitter or LinkedIn. There is a great opportunity to network.  Apart from the gala there are loads of parties – and they often fill up quickly – so pick the ones you want to attend and register.



What Sales Managers Can Learn From The Music Business

music_industryThere’s a Jackson Browne song called These Days which he wrote at the tender age of sixteen. One of the lines in the song goes, “Don’t confront me with my failures; I have not forgotten them.” A sixteen-year-old wise beyond his years.

For those of you who are not old enough to remember Jackson Browne, he was a seminal influence in the ’60s and ’70s music movement that came out of Sunset Boulevard/Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles—where at the time you’d have found Frank Zappa, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell, The Byrds, Jim Morrison, Eric Burdon, Neil Young, Orson Welles, The Rolling Stones…and in more recent times Slash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and so on.

“Don’t confront me with my failures; I have not forgotten them.” I heard this song on the radio today and it reminded me of a conversation I heard about recently between a sales manager and his salesperson. It went something like this:

Manager: “You lost the deal!”

Salesperson: “Yes, I know.”

Manager: “You’re behind quota!”

Salesperson: “Yes, I know.”

Manager: “I can’t believe you lost the deal!”

Salesperson: “Suspending belief doesn’t help.”

Now, not a lot of progress there. Unfortunately, this conversation, or something similar, happens too frequently and, notwithstanding the personalities involved and the obvious absence of any semblance of mutual respect, it’s for one main reason: The only data the sales manager has is historical. He lives every day trying to predict the future based solely on lagging indicators, so the only conversation he can have with the sales person is a conversation too late. The deal was won, or it was lost—in which case the sales manager can only confront the salesperson with his failures—and as we see from the conversation above, that’s not much good.

But what if the sales manager (and the salesperson himself) had access to leading indicators and not just lagging indicators? What if he could look inside the salesperson’s pipeline and understand the true pipeline velocity, not just the number, size, or the deals? What if he had intelligent insight into the health of each deal? Would it help if he could gain foresight from automated analysis of past trends, usual sales cycles, “typical” deal-blockers, and areas of risk? Of course it would.

Then you would see uncommon productivity. The end of weekly sales calls as we know them. No more “Can you tell me what you did this week on the ACME opportunity?” Rather, a conversation that’s productive: “I can see we’re running in to a possible problem with that deal—here’s how I think I might be able to help, based on what I’ve seen work in other deals.” That’s when a sales manager can become a sales leader.

While there is no technological prosthetic for a broken relationship between a sales manager and his team, there are smart sales playbooks available today and collaborative tools that help plan effectively for sales calls to deliver measurably better sales results. You might consider how to apply them in your business so you don’t lag behind.

Incidentally, Jackson Browne was managed by David Geffen, who founded Asylum Records. Geffen never signed a contract with any of his acts and, according to him, none of them ever left him. He said his role was to be a buffer between his artists and the maelstrom of the music industry and to help the musicians in every way he could so that the artist could perform. Sounds like a good model for a sales leader to me.

13 Things Marketers Need To Know About Sales

There are few distinct viewpoints in business that are as polarized as those of marketing and sales professionals. Marketing is glamorous, sales less so. Sales are measurable, marketing less so. The uneasy relationship between sales and marketing is widespread and infects almost all types of businesses.

The truth, of course, is that mutual respect and understanding, and a shared perspective, between the sales and marketing teams is essential if you want to be sure you have the right products to sell, the right marketing messages, and ability to call on their support when you need it. When that happens, uncommon sales velocity occurs, and more deals are won faster—and that’s a good thing.

So, from a salesperson’s perspective—here’s a list to consider.

  1. Selling is hard. Harder than you may ever realize. So if I seem stressed, cut me some slack.
  2. Selling is personal. When I make a promise I have to keep it. If you force me to break that promise (by changing processes, features or a rollout schedule) I will never forgive you.
  3. I’m trying to change people’s minds, one person at a time. So unless you give me a smart sales process to follow, I can’t tell you when the sale will close. (You need to follow the process as well—so then we will both know what works and what doesn’t.)
  4. I love selling. I particularly love selling great stuff, well marketed. Don’t let me down. Don’t ask me to sell lousy stuff, poorly packaged.
  5. I’m extremely focused on the reward half of the equation. Salespeople love to keep score, and that’s how I keep score. So don’t change the rules in the middle, please.
  6. There is no comparison, none, between an inbound call (one that you created with marketing) and a cold call (one that you instructed me to create with a phone book.) Your job is to make it so I never need to make a cold call.
  7. I need you to fill the top of the funnel—you know that. But your deal doesn’t stop there. I need marketing support to help move deals through the funnel.
  8. I know my job is to work my network and keep my customers happy so that I can find opportunities on my own as well.
  9. Sometimes customers lie when they turn me down. They make up reasons. But every once in awhile I actually learn something in the field. Ask!
  10. I know that sometimes you’d like to get rid of me and just take orders on the web. But that’s always going to be the low-hanging fruit. The game-changing sales, at least for now, come from real people interacting with real people. Here’s a short book about that.
  11. Selling is hard and unpredictable. But I also know that you’ve got to be prepared to measure and predict and plan. That means that I can’t keep what I’m doing a secret. I need to provide feedback to you.
  12. I also know that the two worst pieces of feedback I can give you—because neither is really actionable or especially effective—are a) lower the price, and b) make our products just like our competitors.
  13. When you work hard and deliver real opportunities to me, my job is to follow up promptly. Sometimes I don’t do that—sorry.

Sales Metrics That Matter

The best sales professionals are constantly looking for help.  Winners are honest in their self-assessment of the skills and competencies – or at least as honest as they can be.

  1. Only 61% of sales reps think they are good at uncovering customer problems. Until they can do that they can’t know how to apply their solutions to help.
  2. Just over half (54%) know how to access Key Players in the buyer’s organizations. The Key Players are critical in the buying decision.
  3. 80% of sales reps think are good at qualification. But 51% of forecasted deals don’t close. Sellers who qualify effectively are 58% more likely to make quota.

Here’s an infographic based on some research we did.


Battling the 57% – Part 3: Getting Ahead of the Curve

Much has been written about the research that suggests that a buyer is 57% through their buying process before they engage with a vendor. I have written about this how I think the ‘57%’ is sometimes misinterpreted. Sometimes buyers engage with you early, and sometimes the call you after they have done their own research. Strong patterns exist that correlate the level of awareness that a buyer has of a need to act as he rushes headlong to that 57% Point, directly with his propensity to buy something. That is really no surprise. The parallel pattern however is that his level of awareness is inversely proportional to your opportunity to create value. This is a vital opportunity to which every sales strategist should be paying attention and that’s because most effective selling happens before the buyer calls someone for a solution.



Selling early means working in the areas traditionally assigned to marketing: raising awareness, generating interest, and being top of mind as the buyer develops a preference. Our way of expressing this mindset is “Account Planning is the new Marketing.”

Think about what good you can do for your customer early rather than waiting for them to call. This gives you an opportunity to apply account planning principles early and helps you deliver superior value.

Focus on creating, developing, pursuing, and winning business that delivers mutual value to you and your customer. If you can work on a project that’s good for the customer and good for you, it’s more likely to be non-competitive and less price sensitive. By delivering more value to your customer, you’ll improve your opportunity to succeed.


You need to have a deep understanding of your customer’s business problems and you need to know their people. Our surveys tell us that only 61% of salespeople think they’re good at uncovering their customer’s business problems, and only 54% of sales people believe that they know how to discover this key information. That’s a challenge that you must address and overcome to assure success. If you don’t understand the business problems and don’t know and understand the people, you’re unlikely to create value or make a sale.


Every buying decision is subject to these four phases: (1) Awareness of need, (2) Interest in solving the problem, (3) Developing a preference for a solution, and (4) Deciding to make a purchase. You need to determine

if you acting before the buyer develops a preference or not? Whenever you can, act early to have a greater opportunity to create value. If you determine that you’re acting after the 57 percent point, you can still prevail if you qualify carefully and work from deep insight about the prospect’s business needs. Then, flank toward your strengths with unique business, target the people who can assist you – and win.

Please feel free to download our latest publication:

Battling the 57%: Deconstructing the Buyer Seller Dance.

Battling the 57% – Part2: Flanking to Win

I have written before about the statistic that is out there ‘buyers have progressed 57% through their buying process before they engage a salesperson’ – is in fact an average and that how you act before and after ‘the 57%’ is a matter of choice, not a function of averages. It really comes down to whether you engage first with the buyer, or react to their engagement with you. In this post I will set out some guidelines on how you might react ‘after the 57% point’ if you find yourself in that situation.

Let’s first consider the whole spectrum of engagement – the Sales & Marketing Continuum.


For any purchase, the customer goes through a number of phases, beginning with Awareness. At this point, they learn that you and your product exist. This is followed by Interest where they care about what you (and others) have. The next phase is the critical one. This is where they establish Preference for a given solution or supplier.

When you overlay the 57 percent point on the Sales and Marketing Continuum, you can see that it lies at the critical juncture between Interest and Preference: If they’re already 57 percent through the decision process before they engage you, there’s a high probability that they’ve already established a preference.


Consider what happens if  you’re late to the game. If that is the case, you’re probably chasing a sale that will be hard to win. In this case how you respond is really important. At this point your competitor is probably in the lead and has been established as the preferred supplier. You need to shift the focus of the customer’s buying criteria to a new or additional issue — one that your solution will uniquely deliver. This is called a Flanking Strategy and can reset the conditions of the sale in your favor.


There are four things to consider:

  1. Don’t follow the rules. (Your competitor is already winning under the current rules.)
  2. You need to have internal executive support. (You’re changing the game, and someone powerful must help.)
  3. Make your move last.
  4. Don’t open the door to alternative solutions.

However you can’t just arbitrarily adopt a Flanking strategy, you must also have the right conditions in place.

  1. A flanking strategy requires that you offer a solution with unique business value informed by genuine insight about the customer’s needs.
  2. The proposed solution must also favor your unique strengths.
  3. You are devising a specific benefit or value for the customer that your competitor can’t match.

Let’s look at some examples:

In the 1990s, Oracle and Siebel dominated the CRM market. In 1999, entered the field. Rather than asserting, “We’ve got a better CRM,” Salesforce focused attention on a new perceived value by stating that their approach of delivering enterprise software from the cloud would yield a 10X easier deployment cycle. They didn’t sell based on CRM features. Their proposition was that Salesforce was easier to use and easier to deploy – a benefit against which the others couldn’t compete: a unique business value that the customer cared about. Over the last fifteen years Salesforce used a flanking strategy flawlessly and changed the rules in a big way.

In our own case at The TAS Group, we also adopted a flanking strategy to introduce our solutions. We examined the business of sales training, methodology and effectiveness tools: $10 billion of expenditure every year. But research showed that on average 87 percent of that training was ineffective after thirty days: $8.7 billion wasted. Clearly, traditional approaches weren’t the most effective investment for improving sales team productivity. Our solution, Dealmaker – embedded decades of sales methodology in a smart, easy-to-use software application – uniquely helps companies to operationalize their sales effectiveness initiatives – for true, sustained sales transformation. Our flanking strategy was born of this insight and helped us establish a new market category: “How do you operationalize your sales effectiveness? What do you do when the sales trainer leaves?”

While customers have an ever-increasing opportunity to research their own solution before they engage with a supplier you have an opportunity to shape the subsequent interaction by helping them to learn what you want them to know.

Feel free to download The TAS Group’s latest publication, Battling the 57%: Deconstructing the Buyer Seller Dance or for a more detailed treatment of how to add value to your customers, check out the #1 Amazon Bestseller Account Planning in Salesforce.


Battling the 57% – Buyers Buy Different Things

There’s a statistic out there that buyers have, on average, progressed 57% through their buying process before they engage a salesperson. That ‘average’ piece seems to have been lost, and a commonly held-belief now is that this 57% is a fact in all cases.

How you act before and after ‘the 57%’ is a matter of choice, not a function of averages. Buyers buy different things, and sellers sell differently. You get to choose. But first, let’s explore the differences.

As we researched this topic, we spoke to many of our great customers to see what they had observed. Here’s their buyer’s point of view.

  • Xerox sells many things, including copier paper. Copier paper is a commodity. As a buyer I don’t need a lot of advice. I’m going to buy frequently and only care that the price/quality is reasonable.
  • Hewlett-Packard provides most things an IT buyer might need, including a cool laptop called the HP Envy – a little more complex than my copier paper.
  • If I wanted a temperature control system in our building, Honeywell is the place to go. It’s a more specialized purchase than a laptop.  I am probably going to need guidance and advice.
  • Harmonic sells media controller systems that manage video workflows in some of the world’s largest and most demanding video environments. That’s not something I want to buy on my own. I’ll need some consultative advice.
  • Box provides enterprise online data sharing and large-scale content management services. Buyers want to engage strategically when determining their enterprise content strategy. It’s a big commitment.
  • If you are choosing Salesforce as your CRM, it is likely to have significant impact on your business. You know it is important to get some serious advice.

As evident from these examples, there is a lot of variability in how buyers need to engage before buy, so let’s look about how you might deconstruct that.

Organizational Impact is a Driver of Buyer Engagement

If you engage early with the buyers in their buying cycle you will be more successful.  That is a core tenet of my book Account Planning in Salesforce (free extract here). Being a buyer isn’t as easy as it might seem. Understanding and articulating their own needs and then finding the best solution can be a stressful exercise.  The greater the organizational impact, the more stressful it gets.  Buyers need help.


The two axes on this graph are cost and intellectual property (IP) intensity.  As they increase, so does organizational impact. Buyers then need help in establishing criteria, evaluating options and choosing a solution. The engaged salesperson can create value for their customer and gain more control of the deal.

There are also two other factors that matter: risk and frequency. Organizational risk is higher when choosing a CRM system than it is when buying copier paper. The buyer performs greater diligence and needs more guidance. Also, greater frequency translates to greater familiarity and less need for help. I buy copier paper more often than I buy a temperature control system so I know how to make the copier paper purchase on my own.


In the chart here you can see in the top right quadrant, our buyer is more likely to engage the supplier early, because a business process infrastructure project is usually high cost, contains a lot of IP value and a bad decision carries significant risk.

Conversely, there is less IP value in purchasing utilities (e.g. electricity). The difference when buying office equipment is even more striking; Cost, IP and Risk are typically low and Frequency is high, so buyers are less likely to need a seller to guide them.

Here’s the thing: If your solutions don’t fit into the bottom left quadrant, your buyers likely want to engage with you (or your your competitor) much earlier in their process, and there are many things you can do to influence the outcome.

In the next post, I’ll help you understand how to respond when the buyer is in fact well along the path to developing a buying preference. In the meantime, please feel free to download our latest publication Battling the 57%: Deconstructing the Buyer Seller Dance.

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