I received a phone call from one of my clients, a VP Sales. He was troubled by a phone call he’d received from a prospective customer. The prospective customer had called him and asked that a particular salesperson not be allowed to call on the firm again—he was too pushy and unprofessional. The VP wanted me to spend some one-on-one time with this sales rep. He asked me to assess the salesperson’s skills and help him to determine if he had made a hiring error.
When I met the salesperson, it didn’t take long to find out that he wasn’t pleased with his boss’s decision to send him to me for help. He felt that spending time with me was a waste of good selling time and that he would be better served making more sales calls. After just a few minutes with him, it was apparent that selling a solution was the last thing on his mind. His idea of selling was to push features on anyone who would listen and then “overcome” all objections before he closed. “No” was not in this guy’s lexicon.
Nothing I had to say or suggest seemed to resonate with this man. Finally, after much discussion and my best attempt to create a vision for him, the salesperson agreed to give it a try. We started with the account that didn’t want to see him. A letter of apology was written asking for a second chance. He enclosed a Reference Story in the Solution Selling format and suggested that if given a second chance to work with company employees, his entire focus would be on their critical business issues and coming up with capabilities that would bring measurable change to their business. He also enclosed a sample of the output he would provide them if they would give him the opportunity to come back and diagnose their situation.
Fortunately, this worked and he got a second chance. While there, he used the 9 Block Vision Processing Model to diagnose their situation, and the Power Sponsor Letter (including a proposed Evaluation Plan) as a follow-up. The prospective customer couldn’t believe the change.
Less than six months from the date of my first meeting with the salesperson, the VP Sales called me and read a letter he had received from that same prospective customer who had asked for the salesperson not to return.
We are a happy customer today. We have implemented your new automation system and it is exceeding our expectations. I wanted to tell you we would not be a customer if it had not been for your salesperson. Our initial impression was not favorable, but he quickly overcame our concerns and truly differentiated himself from the the rest. He is the only salesperson who focused on our business and what it would take to solve our problems. Everyone else was simply trying to sell us their products. Your salesperson is a real asset for your company.
Solution Selling has enabled both businesses and individuals to become more effective. However, the primary beneficiary of Solution Selling is the customer. When salespeople use the Solution Selling concepts of defining the pain, diagnosing the pain, and creating visions, customers have realistic expectations of the products and services they buy. They are more likely to succeed with the products and services they buy from Solution Selling salespeople.
Getting started with Solution Selling is not difficult. There are many job aids that you can apply in the short term that will have a significant impact. Whether it’s learning or applying something new or transforming from selling products to selling solutions, change may be required. In this chapter, I focus on activities that will enable the transformation from a product sale to a solution sale and how to implement the Solution Selling process. I follow up with sales and executive management implementation activities in Chapters Fifteen and Sixteen.
Getting Started activities for salespeople include the following:
To better assist salespeople to implement Solution Selling, I will break down each bulleted activity and provide examples and Solution Selling job aids where possible. Keep in mind that Solution Selling is a sales process that requires salespeople to define problems and create visions, as well as a sales methodology with sales techniques designed to increase overall sales productivity.
I first mentioned scheduling sacred prospecting time in Chapter Five, but it bears repeating: schedule 10 percent of your time, approximately four to six hours per week, to prospect for opportunities in the latent, or Not Looking area. Recommended job aids and tools for prospecting are covered in Chapter Five.
Prospecting into the latent, or Not Looking, area gives you the opportunity to develop your skills in Vision Creation. You will benefit if you take it seriously and make sacred prospecting time an integral part of your work. Sacred time means that nothing else is more important. Make sure that the appointment you’ve made with yourself can’t be changed or manipulated. If you do this, you’ll build bigger and better pipelines, making you even more successful.
Buyers want to do business with salespeople who are knowledgeable about their situations and about capabilities that will help them, so this recommendation is very high on my list. Start by developing at least five Pain Sheets and then add one per month until you’ve covered the majority of the selling situations you encounter. Think about how important it is for salespeople to understand the problems or pains of the people they call on, the reasons for the problems or pains, the impacts of those problems on others in the organizations, and, last but not least, the capabilities needed by the buyer to help solve the problem. Pain Sheets help develop your situational knowledge and your conversations with your buyers.
If I had to pick one Solution Selling job aid to talk about, I’d pick the Solution Selling Milestones. Milestones guide salespeople through the sales process. Each Milestone (Territory, Qualified Suspect, Qualified Sponsor, and so on) provides a series of steps or activities that need to be accomplished before proceeding to the next Milestone (see Figure 14.1). The Milestones help you identify, measure, and analyze where you are and what actions you should take with each opportunity in your pipeline. The Solution Selling Pipeline Milestone Chart has four major components, indicated by the four columns in the chart:
Figure 14.1: Solution Selling Pipeline Milestone Chart
The Milestone Chart has one underlying rule: All process or activity step boxes in a particular Milestone must be completed before you can achieve that Milestone grade. Failure to do so means that the opportunity stays at the previous Milestone category.
Each step leads to completion of a major Milestone, which is the process. Milestones allow you to measure where you are in your sale. This is particularly important when you are selling large-ticket items and only close a few transactions a year. In that situation, you may not experience success often enough to sustain you. Using Pipeline Milestones helps you emotionally sustain yourself, and you can grade where you are in your sales cycles.
Now that you have an understanding of the Solution Selling Pipeline Milestones, it’s time to grade a sample opportunity (see Figure 14.2).
Figure 14.2: Pipeline Milestone Worksheet
You should immediately recognize the Milestones. Milestone action steps are listed vertically, and individual sales opportunities are entered across the top. Simply fill in the date you complete each step in the Solution Selling process. This may be trying at first because you haven’t been using the process. That’s all right; do the best you can. Part of the value is identifying what you don’t know. The worksheet allows you to grade the status of the opportunity as well as see what you have or have not accomplished at each process step or activity. In many cases, it also helps you see execution patterns. Gaps in execution allow you to see what action steps need to be taken.
Once you’ve graded your existing opportunities using the Solution Selling Pipeline Milestone Worksheet, it’s time to take your top three opportunities through the process. If those three opportunities are not yet at a C grade, I suggest you start by promoting them to C status. Here are three things you can do to start this activity:
A refocus meeting clarifies all the issues and makes sure you’re in sync or aligned with the buyers in the opportunity. You might encounter some resistance when you ask for this meeting. Be prepared to tell buyers that if they’ll spend the time with you, you will document the discussion for them, and it should help everyone involved.
Keep in mind that your buyers probably need you—if only to fill out a column in their buying matrix. You should at least be able to discuss the status of your deal. If you can’t get them to speak with you, then it’s a definite negative signal. You might as well find out now before you waste any more of your valuable time and resources.
The goal depends on what level you’re at in your sale and what steps you’ve completed. Remember, a C grade means you’re at power and that the power person has admitted pain, is at vision, and has agreed to an evaluation plan. If that’s the case, you’re on sound ground.
Do this within one week of starting your Solution Selling program. Your goal is to have at least three discussions with customers or prospective customers in which you try to define the buyers’ pains and use the 9 Block Vision Processing Model to diagnose the situation and create a vision of a solution.
Use your manager or a third party to debrief your activities. Do this to reinforce the model and turn your new selling behavior into a habit. It’s simple to do. You’ve just read the book or been to a workshop, so use it or lose it. Skills require repetition and practice to remain sharp.
For at least the first thirty days after you begin your Solution Selling implementation, have your manager debrief your Power Sponsor calls and meetings. Because Power Sponsor meetings and discussions are so critical, getting a second opinion only makes sense. Having meaningful business discussions with a power person is one of the most challenging sales tasks for a lot of people. Debriefing with your manager or with some other mentor will help you build depth in your situational knowledge.
Again, it reinforces the Solution Selling process.
Taking back month-old proposals will free up selling time. In my experience, if you have outstanding proposals and prospective buyers who have not committed to do business with you within thirty days, you’re probably not going to win the business. So stop wasting your time.
Salespeople often resist this recommendation. They say, “Oh, wait, I just know they’re going to buy something. Trust me.” But taking back your proposal will test whether the prospect really is interested. The buyer may be stimulated to talk with you again. If so, then stay engaged. If not, cut the prospect loose. This frees you up mentally and physically to focus on other opportunities.
The purpose of this recommendation is to make sure you know and understand the issues. Remember, people generally need a compelling reason to act. Knowing the pain, the impact of the pain on others, and the value associated with resolving the pain can provide compelling reasons for you to sell your solutions to your prospects. By documenting these issues, you see for yourself how valuable the solution is. Once you’re convinced, helping the prospective customer see it becomes much easier. It’s much easier and much more effective to tell a story if you were personally involved or have firsthand knowledge.
Meet with existing customers. Where there are success stories, collect and maintain them. The Reference Story format used in Solution Selling enables salespeople to leverage their customers’ past successes to generate additional business. After all, who would not be interested in knowing how someone else, in a similar position, has solved a problem with which they’re currently dealing?
You develop Reference Stories by talking with your Power Sponsors, Sponsors, beneficiaries, and users. Keep in touch with your customers and go after the valuable information.
Determining if you are going to make your numbers is an important part of a salesperson’s job. However, I find that salespeople too often estimate and make guesses. In Solution Selling we’ve developed a Pipeline Analysis Worksheet to help salespeople determine if they’re going to make their numbers at an individual level. This same tool can be used by sales mangers at the unit or company level.
This analysis is based on the pipeline. Three key elements of the pipeline are used to determine revenue attainment: (1) year-to-date attainment or business you’ve already closed, (2) current business in the pipeline that you expect to close, and (3) any future business that is not yet in the pipeline and is likely to close in the current year or reporting period. Figure 14.3 illustrates the different pipeline components. Depending on where you are in your accounting period, you have different options available to you at different times.
Figure 14.3: The Pipeline
The key to understanding the pipeline and the Pipeline Analysis Worksheet (Figure 14.4) is that the process is the pipeline and the pipeline is the process. As you analyze your pipelines, you move opportunities through the process; you are actually managing the sales funnel. Look at Adams’s pipeline report (Figure 14.5) as of March 1.
Figure 14.4: Pipeline Analysis Worksheet
Figure 14.5: Pipeline Report—Example
As you can see from the pipeline report, Adams has a quota of $2 million for the year and collectively his current pipeline is valued at over $4 million. Is he going to make quota? Most people look at this example and say yes—after all, it’s early in the year and he has more than two times his quota in his pipeline.
The Pipeline Analysis Worksheet helps determine this by translating our history, with the estimated “good business” in our current pipeline and an estimate of the future, or the likely business we will gain after the current pipeline for the year.
Let’s first explore what we know of the facts in Figure 14.6. The quota of $2 million and the current month, March, was shown on the pipeline report earlier. The average opportunity size was calculated from the pipeline chart by dividing the total dollar volume or opportunities in the pipeline by 39, the number of total opportunities. The year-to-date attainment in this example is $200,000. The average sell time for an opportunity must be estimated, and in this example it is six months.
Figure 14.6: Pipeline Analysis Worksheet with Facts
Using the Pipeline Analysis Worksheet, the yield that is expected from the current pipeline is $1,054,500. This yield is calculated by multiplying the revenues associated with each status code by the win odds to attain the yield. When added to the YTD attainment of $200,000, you have current revenue underway of $1,254,500. Based on the calculation thus far, what looked like a pretty sure thing now indicates a shortfall in current yield of $745,500.
We need to calculate the likely additional yield for the rest of the year by extrapolating our yield. This is the period that goes beyond the current six-month period. Six months of yield produces $1,054,500 in our current pipeline. Assuming a similar run rate for the rest of the year, we have to cover the four months remaining in the current year. Four months divided by six months multiplied by $1,054,500 equals $703,000, the business that will likely be done for these uncovered four months. This does not take any seasonality into account, but we could make the necessary adjustments if they were known.
Adding the likely yield to the current revenue underway of $1,254,500 gives us $1,957,500 and a remaining shortfall gap of $42,500 from the needed $2 million quota.
In the case of a shortfall, you have recourse to several actions:
Increase Your Win Odds Follow the process and engage yourself more with Power Sponsors, the people who have the authority to buy or the influence to get what they want regardless of title. A sale usually advances much faster once you have access to power.
Shorten Your Sales Cycle Using the process, you can attempt to get opportunities into an evaluation plan. You can also attempt to get your buyer to agree to buy or start the project earlier.
Increase the Size of Your Opportunities There may be opportunities where you can increase the size of a sale. Using the Pain Chain, you can document the impacts across an organization and start to cross-sell other products and services.
Find More S Opportunities In other words, particularly if it’s early in the quarter and you have relatively short sales cycles, get out there and prospect. Find new opportunities.
In this chapter, I have dealt primary with getting started and with implementing the Solution Selling process from the salesperson’s perspective. In Chapter Fifteen, I explore sales management’s role in the implementation and introduce additional job aids that both salespeople and managers can use to manage the process.