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Want to sell solutions? Better replace 75% of your sales team!

No one needs a new pair of jeans. Some people don’t want to look fat – some want to fit in with their peer group – some want to rebel against their parents – some need sturdy work wear. But nobody needs jeans.

sales incentives

sales monitorStop selling products

One of my catch-cries whilst delivering sales training courses is to implore sales people to stop selling their products!

This gets a lot of strange looks – but prospects rarely need products. What they need are the outcomes the products provide.

No one needs a new pair of jeans. Some people don’t want to look fat – some want to fit in with their peer group – some want to rebel against their parents – some need sturdy work wear. But nobody needs jeans.

It’s easy for sales people to talk about products – they can learn all about the products from the product brochures, and recite the various features ad nauseam to prospects. This is the approach sometimes described as “show up and throw up”.

But is this what prospects want? In the internet age, prospects already know all about our products. What they’re really interested in is having the sales person recommend the right combination of products (and/or services) in the right situation – to create a specific outcome. Often the required outcome is to solve a problem that the prospect is having. (why else do people buy?)

This solutions approach to selling seems obvious as it aims to genuinely help prospects – but unfortunately it is hard to implement.

Research from McKinsey and Co reports that 3 our of 4 organisations fail when they attempt to move to a solutions sales approach.

But how do you “successfully sell a solution” – indeed what is a “solution”? Why do some many firms fail?

What do we sell when we sell a “solution”?

Many companies think that, by bundling together various “hard” products with “soft” services that they’re offering a “solution”. Often, however, this combination of products and services is indeed “just another product”.

Think about McDonalds: a “meal deal solution” may comprise a burger, fries and a drink but – instead of being able to sell this “solution” for a premium, McDonalds has to discount the offering on the basis of volume. The bundling together of separate products actually creates no additional value for the customer – yet this is the essence of what makes a true solution.

A true “solution” exhibits a Gestalt aspect – “the whole is more than the sum of the parts”. By integrating together various product and service elements – and by customising these for the customer – the customer receives additional value compared to what they would have received had they broken down the solution into its component parts.

Part of the sales’ function is to diagnose customers’ problems, and then marshal the forces of their organisation to provide specific products and services to solve the problem. This could be as simple as recommending the right pair of jeans – or as complex as writing and installing a complex software product.

An example solution

In my IT sales days I was responsible for developing a fixed cost, desktop outsourcing solution. The focus was on maximising the productivity of each user – so we provided regularly refreshed PCs, competency based training, maintenance, repairs, telephone support, asset management etc. By providing these as an integrated whole, however, we were able to charge significantly more than we would have been able to by providing each product or service element separately.

Our customers bought the “totality” of the product – a single source solution for improving users’ productivity.

When prospects asked us to break down the pricing into component parts – we refused! It was the “wholeness” of the product that provided the real value – the whole was much more than the sum of the parts.

What drives companies to adopt a solutions approach?

McKinsey and Co reports that companies adopt a solutions approach for 2 main reasons.

Firstly – ambitious companies look for ways to deepen their relationships with key customers, achieve more margin, and reduce competitive threat.

Anxious companies, however, can see that their core product offerings are moving towards “commodity status”, with increasing competition and much more sophisticated buyers.

Why do some firms fail?

It appears that there are 3 main reasons why 3 out of 4 companies fail to successfully develop and sell solutions.

First, some firms suffer from delusion: they believe they’re selling customised, integrated solutions – but they’re really just selling bundles of products and services. If a customer can disaggregate a solution offering – if they can “pick it apart” – then it’s not really a solution at all (think McDonalds value meal – easy to purchase the component parts separately).

Secondly, some firms underestimate the difficulty in selling solutions: solution selling has longer sales cycles, and requires a much more intimate knowledge of customers’ businesses. It involves much more abstract thought processes then selling “concrete” products. Sales people expert in products need to transition to become expert in customers’ businesses, and in matching solutions to problems.

Thirdly, some firms sell solutions the same as they sell products – same sales teams, same KPIs, same approach to dealing with customers etc.

Steps to successful solution selling

The McKinsey research points to qualities exhibited by firms that have made a successful transition from selling products to selling solutions.

The most important quality of firms that have made a successful transition is that they rethink their approach to sales. They realise that the solution path prescribes a longer sales cycle, with the need to influence many more people, most of whom are very senior in the prospect organisation. In the IT sales world, for example, the majority of sales people are comfortable selling to the IT department. A solutions approach, however, will fail unless senior business managers outside of IT are consulted and persuaded.

Many successful firms replace up to 75% of their sales force, often preferring to hire industry specialists capable of intimately understanding target prospects’ businesses. They structure account teams around a customer relationship owner, and target small pools of prospects that have similar business needs. A different type of “market research” is required – how can we identify prospects suffering from business problems that our company is good at solving?

This “new look” sales team is often rewarded differently: certainly revenue achieved is tracked and rewarded, but so to is the degree of additional business value that has been provided to the customer.

My experience is that transitioning an organisation to a solutions sales approach can take up to 2 years – yet the rewards are great. Management theorists talk about “barriers to entry”: because it is so hard to build a solutions sales team, if you can succeed in doing so you will be well ahead of the pack, and it will take them a long time to catch up.

So – is your sales team genuinely adding value by selling solutions to customers? Or are they just very expensive carbonised walking product brochures?

(The article referenced in this newsletter is entitled Solving the solutions problem Juliet E. Johansson, Chandru Krishnamurthy and Henry E. Schlissberg The McKinsey Quarterly 2003 Number 3)


Effective Sales Prospecting Techniques You Should Be Using

email prospecting

email prospecting

Prospecting is a key process for any business, finding those unqualified leads and nurturing them to be happy customers. But for something that sounds so simple on paper, it can be tricky to know if you’ve really done everything you can, or if there are more effective ways of getting better results. Here are a few of our favorite techniques.

Don’t sell

Yes, prospecting is a key part of the sales process — but it isn’t selling. When you’re first reaching out to leads, the last thing you want to do is scare them away with a hard sell.

The original prospectors would sift through the mud and stones to find gold, but they weren’t the ones who refined and crafted the gold. That was someone else’s job.

In the same way, your job is to find the ‘gold’ prospects, nothing more or less. In most cases, there’ll be someone else who’ll do the selling, but even if you’re a solo salesperson it’s important to have a clear distinction between the prospecting and the selling.

Instead, your first contact with a prospect should have only two key objectives:

  • To provide value
  • To pave the way for a second contact

The pitch

If your pitch is all about you and how awesome you are, your prospects aren’t going to be impressed. Instead, spell out exactly what’s in it for them. You need to provide actual value right there, or at the very least make it clear what value you can provide in the future.

Then, rather than closing your message with the hard sell, aim to start a conversation. A great way of doing this is asking a sincere question to open up a dialogue. No rhetorical, obvious questions here, please.

Pro tip:

Sound like a human being, not a cheesy infomercial.

Good question:

How are you dealing with ?

Bad question:

Are you ready to start winning and stop being a loser?

Mix it up

We all have our favorite methods of communication. Unfortunately, that can often blind us to other methods when it comes to prospecting. Whether you prefer getting in touch with your prospects via email, phone calls, social media or carrier pigeon, you need to consider several factors.

First of all, each method has its own strengths and weaknesses. Cold calling is great for getting attention, but many people will screen their calls and may not be open to approach that way.

Use email

Email prospecting can easily be scaled up to massive numbers, but it’s also easily ignored. Social media may be great for specific markets, but your ideal prospects may not even be on the network. And while everyone loves carrier pigeon, they may take a long time to reach your prospect (even longer if they have a cat).

Different methods will work better for different prospects, but it’s usually difficult to know the best way beforehand. That’s why we recommend mixing up your approach and getting in touch using different methods.

The two most effective methods have proven to be emails and phone calls, so start with those. For example, use a phone call for your first attempt, then follow up with an email, alternating until you get a response.

Using sales prospecting tools

One of the top sales prospecting mistakes is trying to do all the work yourself. It’s essential to keep it personal when it comes to your prospecting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it easier and reach more people with the right tools.

There’s a lot of services that’ll take care of the manual, time-consuming tasks, leaving you to personalize the important parts.
For example, you could use:

  • Email verification tools to quickly verify long lists of email addresses,
  • Data enhancement apps to find out more about your prospects before you get in touch,
  • Email automation software like Reply to send effective prospecting emails at scale.


Additionally, you could use cold email prospecting email templates or cold calling scripts, to make sure you’re never stuck staring at a blank page or wondering what to say next.


Of course, it’s important to do your research before you decide on your tools. Have a clear idea of your prospecting process, and identify any parts that are time-consuming or difficult to scale manually. Ask fellow prospectors for their recommendations.


Check out any available reviews and testimonials. Just as you wouldn’t try to build a house with your bare hands, neither should you try and build an effective prospecting funnel without using any tools.

Segmenting like a pro

If all this talk of automated prospecting has you wondering how you can possibly keep things personal, segmentation is essential.

If you have a clear idea of who your prospects are (based on hard data, rather than assumptions), you’ll soon start to see distinct groups emerge. These might be across industry, job title, behavior, location, or other demographics.

Group your prospects

Start breaking down your prospects into these groups, imagining as you go that you’re separating them into different physical rooms. Maybe one of your rooms contains C-level management who you’ve contacted before and are based in Europe, while the next room contains salespeople from America who’ve never heard of you.

Now, imagine standing in front of one of those rooms and talking to them. Are some people looking confused, maybe even falling asleep, wondering whether what you’re saying has anything to do with them? Then you should consider segmenting further.

On the other hand, is everyone in the audience nodding along, certain you’re talking personally to them and them alone? That’s the power of good segmentation, which leaves your prospects with an uncanny feeling you were reading their mind.

Each prospect on your list is unique, but not as unique as they may think. By segmenting them into groups with common traits, you can talk to them personally, but on a larger scale.


There are many more prospecting techniques you can use. However, by making sure you’re not going immediately for the hard sell, mixing up your contact methods, using sales prospecting tools and segmenting your list, you’ll have a solid foundation to your next prospecting campaign.

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4 ways sales automation improves efficiency through data visibility

business teams

business teamsSales automation software delivers a huge amount of data for B2B organizations to analyze. When provided with this information, field sales reps can make informed and educated sales decisions as well as providing beneficial advice to your customers.

Due to the large increase in CPG brands and wholesalers using sales automation tools, managers and CEO’s have more data available to them than ever before and many rely on this new wealth of data to help their sales teams thrive.

Let’s look at how…

1.      Focus on the right sales activities

The best sales reps know that to increase revenue they must focus on adding value, by prioritizing the right opportunities with the right products, at the right time. How do they do this? Using a sales automation tool such as mobile CRM allows them access to relevant information telling them exactly who to visit.

Sales tools such as a sales order app automates sales tasks providing more time to meet high value clients face-to-face and more.

In addition, automating data entry reduces inefficiency and errors and real-time visibility helps companies identify problems and risks early so they can address them before they erupt into major and expensive crises.

2.      Customer experience is the top sales benchmark

The B2B buyer has changed beyond recognition. Millennial customers are sophisticated and knowledgeable about the product they want by doing their own online research before they even meet a sales rep.

Because of their familiarity with advanced B2C sales cycles, they want and expect smarter and smoother B2B sales experiences, and they want sales reps that act more like personal consultants to address their individual challenges and solve them.

Although the priority for sales reps is closing the deal, the most successful ones also know that it’s vital to maintain long-term customers through memorable purchasing experiences.

Sales automation helps by providing a 360˚ view and personalized picture of every customer to ensure they are each provided with the experience they expect.

3.      Collaboration between departments

To provide an excellent customer experience also requires cross-collaboration between all departments. It’s no good providing a seamless order-taking experience, only for the wrong delivery to turn up.  Sales software provides the platform for all your sales tools providing complete visibility into the customer journey.

With consistent data, everyone can be responsible, respond quicker and more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.

It’s no longer acceptable for different departments to operate in siloes, a B2B sales platform will connect, sync data in real-time, improving efficiency and speeding up your entire sales workflow.


Sales software has multiple benefits especially when it comes to providing a large amount of data to increase sales.  Adaptation is important, but sales teams need not fear. To build relationships, they will always be needed to be in front of the customer, understanding their needs and more.

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3 Motivational Sales Meeting Ideas That Will Transform Sales Performance



As you approach sales kickoff time, you’re probably putting all the final touches in place to ensure another great event — you’re finalising ideas for the theme and content, checking you have the right entertainment organised and making sure you have the speakers booked. After all, the sales kickoff meeting sets the tone for the year ahead.

But while many salespeople will be looking forward to the annual get-together, there will be many more who dislike taking time away from the office and their families for the sake of what they perceive to be long days in rooms with no windows, watching the same people win accolades that they can’t ever seem to attain.

Publicly acknowledging an organisation’s top sellers is a common element of most sales kickoff meetings, but it can leave your hard-working mid-range salespeople feeling despondent. After all, they’re putting in just as many hours as those salespeople up on stage, but they’re not being invited to President’s Club.

Of course, training is key to helping those mid-range sellers “level up”, but you can’t expect to achieve a total transformation in a one or two-day sales kickoff meeting. Instead, consider your sales kickoff meeting as an opportunity to get them off to the right start, using these three motivational sales meeting ideas.

1) Find a Theme That Is Constructive

There are plenty of sales kickoff themes that are essentially meaningless. For all the heart-pumping appeal of a Daft Punk song they possess, vague sentiments like “Better. Stronger. Faster” are unlikely to provide much motivation for your mid-range salespeople.

It’s easy to get carried away with coloured balloons and fun goody bags, but it’s important to remember not to choose a theme just because you need a slogan for this year’s T-shirt. Themes enable you to weave all the events, training and content of your sales kickoff meeting into a cohesive narrative. Narratives help us engage with materials, meaning we are better able to recall those materials over a long period.

We know about using storytelling techniques for sales and ensuring our customers can see themselves in the stories we tell. In the case of the sales kickoff, you have to think of the salespeople as your customers and make sure that they can see themselves in the narrative you’ve created.

If you’re focused on a “superhero” salesperson, make sure it’s clear to your mid-range sellers exactly how they can become that person — otherwise, you risk further disengagement.

2) Use Your Top Sellers to Motivate Your Mid-Range Salespeople

Typically, a sales kickoff meeting will include at least one networking opportunity per day, which might be dinner, golf or some other “non-work” event.

Before the meeting begins, make it clear to your top performers that you expect them to use these opportunities to meet and talk to the “up and comers”. They don’t need to share their worldly wisdom there and then, but relationships forged at the sales kickoff can pay dividends in mentorships throughout the year.

If you don’t trust that this will happen naturally, make it happen. For example, you could create a table plan for dinner that puts possible pairings together. You could even hold a special event exclusively for salespeople who show a lot of potential, hosted by the top sellers, with the intention of pairing up mentors and mentees.

Sales coaching is a proven means of improving sales performance, and who better to coach your sales team than those already excelling at their job?

3) Ditch the Slide Shows for Panel Discussions

If you have access to a motivational speaker who will take the time to create something that really speaks to your business — great. If not, consider replacing their slot with a really juicy panel discussion — or a couple, if you can.

Watching one person on a stage can make the audience passive. If it’s a great speaker, we might get fired up for a moment, but the great ones are few and far between. Watching an interactive discussion is far more engaging. It encourages us to consider our own responses to the questions on the table.

A panel discussion that accepts questions from the audience is even better.

Who could your panel include? Consider the following:

  • Top sellers — sharing what works for them, best practices, success stories, etc.
  • C-suite executives — discussing brand vision, appraising the year that’s passed and looking to the future.
  • Happy customers — talking about why your company has been important to their success, providing insight as to what was helpful to them throughout their buying process, etc.
  • A formerly unhappy customer — wouldn’t it be interesting to hear from someone who could talk about what went wrong and how it was put right?
  • An average Joe/Jo field-salesperson — it’s equally important to have a ground-floor perspective to represent the viewpoint of the majority of the attendees.

If you go down this path, remember to appoint a separate moderator. This task might be best outsourced to a professional, as it’s a real skill to direct and share a group discussion while avoiding having four people answering the same question.

However you celebrate your achievements at your 2019 sales kickoff, don’t forget that the majority of your salespeople are not at the top of the leaderboard — but they all have the potential to get there with the right training and motivation.

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