Within the very best enterprise sales organizations you will hear a common refrain: “Never win alone and never lose alone.” From the earliest sales execution machines (IBM/Xerox), to the latest sales execution leaders (Salesforce.com/Oracle), you will find that a key theme is ‘connecting the dots’, meaning that any opportunity plan will include executive access and relationship strategies for anyone who can impact a transaction.
If you have experienced any of the following, then this post is for you:
– Deals going to a competitor at the last minute (and you aren’t really sure how it happened)
– Budget going away or a ‘no decision’
– Deals stretching out due to the need to get buy-in from a broad stakeholder set
– Getting crushed on price negotiation
The strategy behind connecting the dots
Connecting the dots relies on sketching out all the players, documenting their motivations, alliances and operating style, which is a topic for another time. Assuming you have this in place, you should have a deal review session with your team to determine the following:
– Who already knows whom
– Who would be impressed by whom (Do you have a rock star on your team who would be a drawcard for your prospect)
– What is your relationship objective for each person with who you are connecting?
Key roles that you should ensure you have coverage with include:
– Any approver
– Anyone who has the ability to reallocate the budget for an alternate purpose
– Decision makers and Influencers
Getting access to executives
Gaining executive access can be daunting, but drawing from the following tactics will cut through in most situations:
Option 1: Higher authority for resources
If you are in a deal where you have been asked to provide additional resources (e.g. engineering, consultants, free trial etc) then this is a great opportunity to introduce an executive into the mix: “John, I will be pleased to get this organized, but I will need some help from you. In order to get approval for [resource request], I will need to get [my executive] engaged with your team so that she is familiar with whomever is sponsoring on your side and will approve what we need.”
Option 2: Executive outreach
This is the technique to use where you have a contact who is blocking access to higher ups. Draft an email for your executive to send to a prospect executive for a call. Here is a hierarchy of approaches beginning with the most likely to succeed, through to the least likely (Which happens to be the one I see used most often):
1) Rock star executive on your team reaches out to a peer on the prospect’s team to discuss the project in the context of providing some valuable advice based on their experience.
2) Peer executive reaches out to a prospect executive to share perspective based on what other comparable customers have done with these types of initiatives (Bonus points if they can share proprietary data that impacts the business case)
3) Executive reaches out to a prospect peer and invites them to lunch with other executive peers who would have relevant experience, with bonus points for being networking draw-cards.
4) Peer executive reaches out to prospect executive for an ‘executive sponsors’ introductory meeting to ensure that there is a mutual escalation point for alignment during the process.
A final note – If you are getting price pressure early in the deal, this presents the perfect opportunity to gain executive access – It can be explained that your discount approval matrix will require that your [CxO/VP] will need to offer approval, in which case you can use the ‘higher authority’ explanation for access.
Keep your powder dry: Be wary of introducing an executive to your standard contact, who may be a gatekeeper. If access to your executive is perceived to be standard faire, then it is likely you will have limited success in getting higher up the totem pole at your prospect by using them as a drawcard.
Use your internal experts: An oft overlooked resource within enterprise sales is the peer role within your own organization – EG. If you are selling to CTOs, then review your opportunity plan with your own head of technology first! It amazes me that sales executives often make all sorts of assumptions, when they could be validating approaches with an in-house expert.
After accumulating the experience of literally hundreds of 1:1 meetings and deal reviews with Account Executives over the past 13 years as a sales leader, I think I have finally figured out the single most important predictor of success – Knowing exactly what is going to be done in order to close a deal. I know this sounds like a trite truism, but what I am talking about is the quality of the close plan (often recorded as ‘next steps’) for a given opportunity.
There is a tonne we can focus on in terms of opportunity qualification and strategy, but the biggest thing to move the needle I have found is the existence of a clearly defined close plan.
I have found 3 consistent behaviors during deal reviews:
The detail of what to look for is below and my call to action is as follows:
- Focus on the time-bound, specific next steps for the key opportunities in your pipe (Close plan)
- Review close plans in your weekly 1:1’s religiously and challenge progress to plan and provide your experience where things are not where they should be
- Accept no excuses for not having a mutually agreed close plan that looks like the model provided below.
Here are some sample close plans for the same opportunity and if you find that you have anything other than the ‘Rainmaker’ you need to provide strong coaching on the success behavior relating to deal control:
– Discover business issues
– Present our solution
– Proof of concept/Reference calls
– Negotiate legals
– Sign paperwork
What I have learned about the ‘Trust me’ sales person:
- Results are unpredictable
- They often don’t know exactly what to do next
- If they are successful/unsuccessful they don’t know why
- Often the sale is made on luck/charisma, which is neither consistent or scalable to large opportunities
Wizard of Oz:
– Meetings with key executive to determine business issues
– Presentation to stakeholders
– Proof of concept
– Negotiate contract
What I have learned about the ‘Wizard of Oz’ sales person:
- They say all the right words, but there is no substance
- Deals slip – Notice the lack of dates against the timeline
- There are more holes in their opportunity plan than swiss cheese
Week beginning April 1:
– Discovery meeting with CIO, CMO and directs.
– Send stakeholders proposed evaluation framework and timelines
Output: Powerbase discovery, Timeframes, Budget, Business impact of issues, agreed mutual plan
Week Beginning April 8:
– Confirm internal pre-sales resources
– Presentation drafted and vetted internally and tested with John Smith at prospect.
Output: Bid team confirmed, opportunity strategy and messaging confirmed
Week Beginning April 15:
– Presentation to CIO, CMO, direct and additional stakeholders(TBC)
– Send business case summary to attendees
– Schedule meeting to plan POC
Output: Confirmation of business case justification
…. and so on.
I have learned that by having ‘Rainmaker’ close plans, the following is true:
- As a manager you can test and improve the plan
- Gaps in a plan are easily identified
- Successful practices are repeated
- Salespeople grow in confidence because they learn the patterns for success
- Deals that are slipping are quickly identified
Analytics – We love ’em. Dashboards with drill-down charts and dynamic filters. Whether you are analyzing site traffic with Google analytics, Kissmetrics etc or looking at your sales pipeline in your CRM, top of mind should be, “Why is it so, and do I care?”.
Remembering that metrics are primarily used for guiding our decisions (albeit sometimes we use them for PR etc), be careful not to fall into the trap of measuring things you can’t impact.
Questions to ask when presented with data/charts:
1) Why does this matter right now?
2) What does it mean?
3) What are we going to do differently as a result?
Questions to ask when building reports/analytics:
1) What are the key goals for this period?
2) What are the measurable steps to achieving those goals when broken down as predictive indicators?
If you ask these questions, then when an advisor asks you, “So what?” you can respond with the specific actions you will take as a result of the insight.
Secondly, if your numbers are going in the wrong direction, you will be able to explain exactly why and what you can do to rectify it.
Of course, the best analytics are ones that wave a flag when you need to take action, rather than require you to trawl through data. Over at http://www.whoto.com we have built a sales intelligence tool for busy B2B salespeople that does just that. We have robots that tell sales people about competitive relationship threats and why they should care… Even more to come in the weeks ahead.