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Aug 2 18

What Did The Customer Learn As A Result Of Our Meeting?

by David Brock

Usually, after a sales call, we ask ourselves, “Did I accomplish my objectives?”  (That is if you assess yourself after the sales call.)

It’s a critical question, we need to be purposeful and focused in each of our meetings with the customer.  At the same time, it’s self-centered–we sales people tend to be very self-centered focused on our goals, rather than the customers’.

Perhaps there are a couple of more important questions:

  • What did the customer learn as a result of this meeting/call?
  • What value did we co-create in this meeting?

If the customer isn’t learning anything, if we aren’t co-creating value in each interchange, then we are wasting time!  While we may be accomplishing our objectives, we aren’t helping the customer move forward in achieving their goals.

Often, we forget.  Customers are just as time poor as we are.  Unless they are in procurement, the “buying journey” is a diversion to their day jobs and what each person is accountable for.  So they shouldn’t have much time or patience with buying.

Customers figured this out a long time ago.  They are driven to use their time more effectively, as a result, they seek alternatives to dealing with sales people.  Where they used to learn from us, they are self educating through digital channels.  They are learning, developing their thinking, consequently, deferring engaging sales people to as late and as little in the process as they can.

But what would happen, if we started changing our approach?  What if we start evaluating our success and progress through the buying/selling process not just on our goal attainment, but on what the customer has learned and the value created in each interchange.

Now the dynamic has shifted entirely to be focused on the customer and helping them move to their goals as effectively as possible.  As a result, we move to achieving our goals more quickly and effectively.

At the end of each meeting ask yourself–and perhaps even ask the customer:

  • What did the customer learn as a result of this interchange?
  • What value did we co-create in this meeting?

It will change everything!


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Aug 1 18

Research Shows You Get The Best Results If…….

by David Brock

Marketing and sales are very data driven—or at least we pretend to be.

Everyday, some research report provides interesting tidbits of data that show what customers respond to, giving us the secrets of success.  We learn:

  • Customers respond best if you only ask 4 questions in discovery calls….
  • If you use these words…….. customers respond better than if you use these words………  And never, never, use these words…..
  • Call prospects on Tuesday mornings in these hours, or Thursday afternoon in these hours….. and you are guaranteed to reach customer…
  • You have to touch prospects 12 to 14 times, though 1.7 channels to get them to respond.
  • Top performers lead with insight…….
  • Sales people using this tool….. outperform sales people who are not using this tool by 47%….
  • 98.7% of the highest performing sales people brush their teeth everyday and pee at least once a day.  (These are conclusions we’ve come to in an ongoing multiyear study of top performers.)

It seems the trick is, if you just do any of those things, you are guaranteed to be a top performer, and if you do several, it’s a slam dunk, you might as well make your reservations to the Golden Circle!

We are left to believe, all we have to do is ask no more than 4 questions, and we are in.  Hmmm, let me think about this:

Question 1:  Hi, my name is Dave, what’s yours?

Question 2:  So how’s your day going so far?

Question 3:  What did you think of last night’s game?

Question 4:  Now that I’m at my final question for your optimal response, when can we schedule that demo?

You may think I’m exaggerating—I am, but not by much.

What the data doesn’t show is meaning or context.  We have to drill down into the data to understand what’s creating these results, and why.  We have to probe to understand the context much better.  The data doesn’t give us the answer, but points us to where we can find the answers.  But this is hard work.

However, in our quest for the silver bullet, or wishful thinking about sales success, too few of us–sales pundits, self-proclaimed experts, sales leaders, lazy sales people never do this.  Instead, they focus on asking 4 questions–never considering 1 might be better or 10 might have an huge impact.  They call on Tuesday mornings or Thursday afternoons, but have nothing relevant to talk about, they lead with insights, but can’t support a conversation about those insights.

It’s ironic, the critical thinking we need to do to understand the data, what it means, why, how we effectively leverage it to improve our own performance, is exactly the type of critical thinking we need to engage our customers effectively.

Is it any wonder why we have a problem engaging our customers, helping them achieve their goals, creating value with them, as we help them through their buying journeys?  If we don’t engage in the same critical thinking about our own jobs, our own performance, what it means to be effective, we will never have the ability to do this with customers.

It’s tough work, top performers recognize this, they realize it’s less about the number of questions, the time of day, the use of certain words, the latest greatest technique.  They know it’s hard work for them, and for the customers, they are prepared to do that work, they are prepared to engage deeply in ways that are meaningful and impactful to customers.

I wonder if there’s a statistic about that?  It’s easier to perform to the statistic than doing the work…….


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Aug 1 18

The Key To Success Is To Ask Only 4 Questions!

by David Brock

Customer can breath a huge sigh of relief.  The data is in, it shows sales people ask far too many questions, boring or even angering executives for wasting their time.  But research now shows the optimal number of discovery questions to ask is 4.

Both, as a victim of too many meaningless discussions where someone is trying to sell something to me, and as an observer on thousands of sales calls, I know I can breathe a huge sigh of relief that “death by questioning,” will come to an end, as sales enablement professionals and sales managers recognize that “4 questions” is the magic number, and scripts will be re-written to include no more than 4 questions—-Though I do wonder if, “When can we schedule a demo,” counts.

I’m taking some liberties with some intriguing research from  Chris Orlob wrote an intriguing article, “The Sobering Truth:  Why You Can’t Sell To C-Suite Executives.”  The research is intriguing and important, and Chris has been very kind in engaging me in discussions about the topic.  So I don’t mean to dispute the importance of what Gong is saying, but I think there is more  (Chris thanks so much for your patience with me!)

In short, the research says sales people ask way too many discovery questions, boring or angering executives.  My initial reaction was, “Well, duugghhh, isn’t that obvious?”  And the conclusion is the ideal number of questions to ask is 4.  QED, end of story, rewrite all of your scripts.  4 questions is the golden number that allows us to achieve success.

But, clearly, the observations from the research isn’t that obvious.  We’ve all been subjected or witnessed sales people, with their lists of questions intended to discover pain, elicit need, identify requirements.  At times, these discovery calls seem to be a giant run-on-question.

But I’m not certain the issue is the volume of questions, but the quality of the questions and the ensuing conversations and shared learning that should result from great discovery calls.

First, we misunderstand the discovery process.  It’s not just about sales people learning customer needs/requirements/priorities.  It’s a collaborative learning process, a journey of exploration we and the customer take to learn more about their business, their goals, how to more effectively achieve their goals, consequence/threats that might arise from inaction.  As important, we and the customer learn about each other, and our ability to work together to help them achieve their goals in the most effective way possible.

Discovery is less about the questions, and more about the conversations the questions evoke.  It’s these conversations that drive the shared learning process, it’s these conversations that enable us to create value with the customer.

It is here, that too many discovery calls break down.   Too many sales people don’t have the ability to engage in a conversation.  They don’t have the ability to drill down into the issues that might be evoked in the answer to a question.  They miss the opportunity to help the customer learn and discover, to be engaged, as well as to learn more from the customer.

Perhaps they don’t have the knowledge of the problems and issues they are trying to uncover.  Perhaps they don’t have the understanding of the business issues the customer is trying to address, perhaps they don’t understand the customer and their business well enough to engage in a conversation.

Perhaps they haven’t done their homework, they are wasting the customers’ time asking questions for which they should have already discovered or known the answers.

Perhaps, they haven’t prepared themselves or the customer, as a result the conversation wanders, there is no outcome other than sharing information, the customer is frustrated with the lack of progress.

Perhaps it’s the self-centeredness of sales people.  We are asking questions with an agenda, we don’t want to learn, we really don’t want to engage, we are searching for the trigger responses that enable us to go into pitch mode.

Perhaps we don’t know how to listen, great listening provokes insightful questions and high impact conversations.  Or, like questions with an agenda, we listen with an agenda.

Perhaps it’s our internal biases and the customers’ that preclude us from listening learning, probing.

Perhaps, as sales enablement or management professionals, we have so formularized, and dumbed down the process, that sales people don’t really understand why they are asking the questions, what they need to discover, and what it means.  We’ve trained them to ask the questions, to record the answers, and in the process to guide the customer to an outcome, “And when would it be reasonable for us to schedule that demo…….”    We’ve done our obligatory discovery call, but our real objective is to get to the demo, where, again, we can talk about ourselves, rather than what the customer cares about.

I think the real issue is not the volume of questions, but the inability of sales people to leverage questions to engage customers in meaningful, high impact, relevant, learning conversations.  While I don’t have research to support my premise, I’ve seen great sales people leverage great questioning to engage the customer—and they never worry about the number of questions, they are concerned about the quality of the conversation.  They design calls and meetings that drive shared learning, share discovery, and progress to achieving the customer goals.

I’ve never experienced a high performing sales person that says, “I’ve hit 4 questions, I’ve got to stop because the data says I’ll turn you off on the 5th question…..”  (One of my questioning “heroes,” is “Columbo,” he had endless questions, each of which created great insight into the situation.)

We’re told we have to engage customers with insight, rather than questions.  I don’t disagree, but there are problems with this.

Sometimes great questions drive great insight.  Insight is not always delivered as data, proof points, provocative statements, but by asking the single most important question the customer should be considering.

And then, many of the current approaches to “delivering insight,” run into the same problems we have with questions.  The sales person is incapable of using the insight to drive the conversation, to engage the customer in shared discovery and learning.

Too often, insight has become part of the “script.”  “If I say these words, in this way, the customer will succumb and agree to the demo…..”

It turns out effectively leveraging insight requires the same skills as effectively asking great questions.  If our people can’t do one, it’s unlikely they can do the other.

But I fear, too many won’t understand these issues.  Rather than probing the real issues behind effective questioning, they will blindly accept the research—4 questions it is!

As a prospect, I’m relieved.

As a person passionate about the professional practice of sales, we’ve missed an opportunity.


Afterword:  I do believe the intent behind this research is to improve the quality of questioning, and not just focus on the volume of questions.  As a result, I think it’s important to study Chris’s work and probe it.  They have a lot of good stuff to say.



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Aug 1 18

Is There A “Schism” Between Sales Enablement And Sales?

by David Brock

Perhaps I’m an alarmist, but I’m starting to see the early signs of a schism between Sales Enablement and Sales.  It’s displayed in a number of subtle, perhaps, unconscious ways—“us and them” in conversations rather than “we.”

In other moments of either honesty or frustration, it is one organization saying, “We would be so much more successful, if it weren’t for ‘them.'”   I want to be clear–I’ve heard this from both sales and sales enablement people, accusing the other.

There are debates with strong positions on either side, “SE professionals should have carried a bag….”  or “SE professionals require very specialized skills that sales doesn’t have,”  or “A good performance management consultant can better assess the sales function than someone with sales experience…”  and more.  There’s merit in each of these positions, but the fact these conversations are happening with people clustering at opposite ends of the argument is worrisome.

Then there are the increasing conversations about the importance of SE leaders earning a seat at the CEO’s table.  I start thinking the CEO’s table is getting very crowded and wonder what’s wrong with a seat at the CSO’s table?

There are other worrisome signs—spending on SE increasing at a rate greater than revenue growth.  Increases in spending on SE, yet not seeing the concurrent increases in percent of sales people making quota.  SE metrics are getting disconnected from Sales’ metrics.  It’s important to see what SE is doing, the number of new programs, the utilization of those programs, and so forth.  But they seem disconnected from revenue generation, sales person turnover, sales person performance.

If the goal of SE is to help improve the performance/effectiveness of sales people, then shouldn’t SE metrics look at the impact of these?

There is a tug of war on coaching.  SE claiming responsibility for coaching, implementing coaching tools.  But what about the Front Line Sales Manager?  Sadly, too many are delighted to surrender that to SE–but they weren’t coaching anyway, so at least some coaching is being done.

SE is very busy, SE has a big job and too much on its plate.  But the unintended effect of this is an increasing distance from sales people.  I often ask, “How often do you spend time traveling with sales people, watching what they do, understand the challenges?”  Too often, SE professionals are too busy with their own jobs.  And a small number look at me with some disdain, their expressions betraying their opinions.

There are even serious discussions among SE professionals about, “Should we have people with sales experience in SE?”  Too often, I get the sense these professionals think SE is too important to be left in the hands of sales people.  One comment I read was, “Why would we want those people who aren’t doing well to be part of SE?”

At the same time, I see mirrored behaviors from sales people.  “These programs, these workshop waste my time!  These tools are too complicated….  I wish they’d just leave me alone and let me sell.”  The complaining and whining at all levels of the sales organization is endless–and most often groundless.

I tend to be schizoid in my own position, siding in some arguments with SE, and in others with Sales.  However, if I am to be completely honest, I find myself falling on the side of sales most often.  But that’s because we aren’t seeing improvements in sales performance and it’s so critical!

Are you seeing the same things?  Am I imagining these?  Am I too biased to sales?

Both functions are vital to our organizations achieving their goals.  Both must be in lockstep on priorities, methods, and objectives.

Hopefully, if this schism is happening, we wake up to it and reverse this course quickly.


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