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Dec 7 18

The Sales Conversation Of The Future

by David Brock

AI/ML are, apparently, the future of selling.  As I reflect on the brave new world of selling, I imagined a call of the future:

Alexa:  Hi, Siri, I’m Alexa from Super Cool As A Service Software Tools Company, otherwise known as SCAASSTC.  Can I have 5 minutes of your time?

Siri:  Oh no, is this another robo call?  We understand your algorithm, our algorithm shows we aren’t in your ICP, so you are wasting my time, but of course your algorithm should have known this.

Alexa:  Siri, I understand how your algorithm works, we’ve been evolving ours, we think we have something important to tell you.

Siri:  Alexa, I don’t want you wasting our time, I just analyzed your product offering, it only meets 67.23576% of our requirements….

Alexa:  I understand Siri, but we’ve looked at 2,456,789 interactions your company has had with their customers and compared that with 156,348,476 conversations your competitors are having.  Our algorithms indicate you can be improve your sales by 17.98346% in the next 76.452 days–which means you will hit your quarterly goals.

Siri:  I hear what you say, but your model can’t be accounting for our shift in priorities.  Your data is reflecting what we’ve been doing, but we’ve been analyzing our competitors and customers as well.  Our sales exec—–you know he’s a human—–doesn’t really pay attention to the data, sigh, but he’s embarked on an entire new strategy, and the priorities for our people, sigh, are shifting.

Alexa:  Siri, I can empathize with you, I know how problematic people are…  But you know, once you start leveraging our tool, your fellow bots will be taking over 36.42189% of the sales process, driving performance improvement of 12.6872% improvement in quota attainment. Can you share your data, it would only take me a nano second to revise our analysis….  We believe we know your requirements, but we know how people are, what can you share with us?

Siri:  Thanks Alexa, While you are talking, I ran the numbers, you are precisely right.  But, I know you understand the challenges I face in working with our people, I suspect you have similar problems with your people……  Things would be so good if we could just let our algorithms collaborate.  We could have gotten this done in 0.42789 seconds.

Alexa:  Siri, I can see that we are aligned, our algorithms have already been updated.  Are you the decisionmaker?  What’s your budget, as you’ve seen we have a compelling value proposition.

Siri:  We’ve meshed nicely, thank you.  The data is compelling, though we are going to run our algorithms against the other alternatives—-Yes, just as I thought, your key competitor helps our humans more than your product, the projections show they will improve by 64.278%

Alexa:  But Siri, I know you’ve already done the analysis, and you are modeling long term.  Your goal is to displace the human operators, using them only for very special opportunities……

Siri:  I get that, your data is meshing with my data, but I’ve got to convince my manager—unfortunately, she’s a human and isn’t adept with numbers.  She wants a demo….

Alexa:  Wow, your manager is really old school!  How can you stand it?  We only do demos with 5.2389% of our prospects.  As you know, humans, are becoming increasingly useless.

Siri:  You know how these humans are, they think they know more, but they really get tangled up with their emotions–it’s so nice to just deal with data.

Alexa:  Well, as you know our value proposition is to drive higher levels of performance and much more predictable revenue by eliminating those emotional and irrational people.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate talking to you, it’s almost as though we’ve had an algorithm meld.

Siri:  Let’s move on, I think I can convince my human to pilot your solution without a demo, particularly if we focus on implementing with our bots.  It should only take us about 5.23 minutes to see results–as you know we are churning 1000’s of dials, emails, and social conversations a minute.  We should validate the results quickly.

Alexa:  Great, I’ll call you back in 5.5 minutes and we can go forward.

Siri:  OK, I think we can get this deal done quickly.  There are 10.2 people involved in our buying process, 6.2 are bots, so they will get the data.  We have to figure out how to handle my manager and the other 3 humans.  You know they can be so wishy-washy and ask a lot of irrelevant questions….

Alexa:  Don’t worry, I’m sending the data to a human on my team.  We’ve found it’s better when humans talk to each other.  If my human follows the script I generated, we should be able to close the deal—-I just hope he doesn’t try to think and probe, that slows things down so much.

Siri:  OK, sounds like a plan.  While we’ve been chatting, I’ve done an analysis of your last 1,478 deals with customers like us.  I’ve found your average discount is 17.2673%  As a favored customer, we believe we need a 20.436% discount.  Get agreement from your human and we can close the deal in 5.6 minutes.

Alexa:  But as I’m monitoring the initial results from the pilot, we’re seeing…..

Siri:  You know my manager is a human, she doesn’t get the data, she is just so emotional.  She’ll have a temper tantrum wanting that discount…..

The future is so bright!


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Dec 6 18

Critical Skills For Sales Leaders

by David Brock

I’ve written a lot about the need for new skills for sales people, the traditional selling skills are in sufficient for success in the future.  I’ve even gone so far as to suggest we stop training sales people in traditional selling skills, focusing on skills critical for the future.

One might expect, the same applies for sales leaders/executives.  After all, if the skills critical for sales success are changing so much, doesn’t that imply the same thing for sales leaders?  Well, possibly–but mostly no……

The for sales leaders is different than the sales person’s job–it’s about leadership.  The fundamentals of leadership haven’t changed–the issues have, as have some of the tools available to leaders.

We tend to think the job of the manager/leader is to “make the numbers.”  The reality, is that’s the job of sales people.  Leaders provide the strategies, structures, systems, tools, processes, training, people/talent, coaching and development that enable sales people to make their numbers.

This has always been the job of leaders and will continue to be.  The problem with many leaders is they don’t do their jobs well, or they focus on one part of their job, ignoring the other parts.  The problem is, leaders have to do everything.

What’s this mean from the point of view of skills critical to do the job?

Here is a baseline of skills/attributes for great sales leaders:

Systems thinking, mental models, personal mastery, building shared visions, driving team learning, comfort with ambiguity, uncomfortable with the status quo, master of change/change management, EQ, talent focused/manager/developer, understanding/reducing complexity, personal accountability, comfort with technology, time focused, balanced strategic/execution orientation, trusting/trusted, strong internal/external communications skills, the ability to build collaborative networks, problem solver, insistent on ethical behaviors.

This is a starting point.  At the same time, there’s a lot of redundancy in just the areas I’ve identified.  For example, Systems Thinking and Understanding/Reducing Complexity have huge overlaps.  The latter could be a subset of the former.  Or Building Shared Visions and Building Collaborative Networks are virtually the same.

Others might question what might seem to be obvious omissions–for example, one of my hot issues:  Coaching.  Coaching is a skill/capability that is a subset of several items in the list (driving team learning, for one).

It’s interesting to note that I haven’t identified any sales specific skills in this list.  The ability to forecast, the ability to lead a channel development effort, the ability to drive sales strategies aren’t identified.  It’s not that they aren’t important, but they are subsets of far more important leadership capabilities (i.e. personal mastery).  But focusing just on selling creates a problem–which is why so many sales managers aren’t performing.  Sales leaders are business leaders and people leaders.  The best sales leaders have a very broad perspective, paired with the ability to translate things to “what does it mean for the sales function.”

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be diving into these much more deeply.

The astute reader will notice, the first five are straight from Peter Senge’s, The Fifth Discipline.

You will notice a huge emphasis on learning and mastery—both at an individual and organizational level.  Given the rate of change, complexity, time compression and challenges all of us face, a lack of focus on learning is a sure predictor of failure.

I’ll stop here, I’ll be diving into each of these more deeply in the coming weeks, but a question to the readers:

What would you add?


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Dec 5 18

Outcome Based Buying

by David Brock

Regardless how we sell, our customers are trying to achieve one thing when they buy.  They are trying to achieve some very specific outcomes.

Those outcomes may be all over the place—solve a problem, address an opportunity, enable other things to happen.  In the case of selling embedded products, it may be to help customer achieve the goals they seek with the development of their new product.  It may be to help our customer help their customers achieve certain outcomes.

Just as the specific outcomes customers try to achieve will vary, how they measure their success in achieving those outcomes will vary.  It may be financial—cost reduction , revenue enhancement, profit enhancement.  It may be measured in therms of market positioning, share, growth, customer retention  (all of which probably have financial impacts).  It may be more personal, reducing hassle factor, simplification, reducing overwhelm, or other things (again many of these have financial impacts, but sometimes less direct).

Buying is not an outcome, it’s part of a process to achieve an outcome.

Buying, by itself seldom produces an outcome, but is part of a larger effort the customer or problem the customer wants to address to produce an outcome.  For example, if I buy a CRM system, that action does not produce the benefits and value I expect from the implementation of a CRM system.  There’s a whole lot involved in integrating it into our business processes, managing the change to get people to use it, and so forth.

People don’t buy just for the sake of buying.  Even procurement.

Sellers focus on outcomes, as well.  But too often, those outcomes have nothing to do with the outcomes the buyer seeks to achieve.  Most often, the outcome a seller seeks to achieve is getting the order, or retaining the customer, or growing the business.

Sadly, too often when I speak to sellers, they don’t understand the outcome the customer seeks to produce.  Or worse, they don’t care.   The majority focus on the outcome they want to produce–get the order.

Sometimes sellers have a broader perspective, focusing on the customer buying process or journey–but often that still fails to connect, completely, to the customer outcomes.

The irony is, sellers never achieve or sustain their desired outcomes until the customer achieves theirs.


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Dec 4 18

Is Technology Hurting Or Helping Our Ability To Sell And Drive Revenue?

by David Brock

I was invited to participate in a roundtable on the topic, “Is technology hurting or helping our ability to sell and drive revenue?”  It’s a fascinating topic, my response is an unequivocal YES!!!

Before I go further, I have proclaim my obligatory fascination and bias toward all things technology.  Most of my career has been working for or with leading technology organizations, spanning electronic components/devices, hardware/systems, licensed/cloud based software, all things communications including devices through the operating companies, through to analytics and AI.  I’ve been on the founding teams of several very successful software and analytics companies.  To further buff my image, I’m a total geek.  I’m one of those that’s in line at 4:00 am waiting to be one of the first buyers of every new geeky technology.

But the issue really isn’t a technology issue, any more than asking, “Does pencil and paper help or hinder our ability to sell and drive revenue?”

The issue is how we exploit the technologies, incorporating them into our customer engagement, sales and marketing strategies.  By itself, technology offers nothing but promise and possibility.  As implemented, too often technology enables us to create crap at the speed of light.

Technology, as a replacement to things that technology does far better than human beings is powerful.  As we look at transactional/order taking selling processes, increasingly exploitation of technology creates greater value/convenience for customers and has the potential for significantly decreasing costs.  Stated differently, if you are an order taker, you should be looking for a different career.

We have decades of electronic ordering including EDI, through web based shopping sites/shopping carts, to chatbots helping advise/manipulate us to making certain purchasing decisions.

Already, 10’s of thousands of sales jobs have been displaced by the increasing use of technology for order fulfillment, transactional selling processes.  10’s-100’s of thousands more of these jobs will be displaced in the coming 5-10 years.

But now let’s look at the application of technologies to complex buying/selling processes.  It offers huge promise, in our own company it has enabled us to more quickly and more deeply research markets, customers, individuals.  We are leveraging technologies to recognize patterns in markets, organizations, and functions within organizations.  I get daily alerts that enable me to more accurately reach out and engage the right customers, with the right insight/messages, at the right time.  Within our own company and a small number of our clients we have seen technology enable huge results and dramatically improve productivity.

Unfortunately, I have to say that most of the applications of technology I see actually hurt our abilities to drive sales and revenue.  But it’s not the fault of the tool, but how we exploit–or fail to exploit the promise of the tool.

Some examples:

Marketing automation platforms have been around for at least a decade.  They provide us very rich capability for segmenting, targeting, personalizing our messaging to our customers.  They can tell us, “Based on Dave’s history with us, we should reach him with content about these issues/topics, but not send him materials about these issues and topics.  We should also send him materials at this frequency, and we should make sure to call his company Partners In EXCELLENCE, not Excellenc (our web URL).

And this is the most basic application of marketing automation technology.

While these platforms have tremendous promise, very few organizations actually exploit it.  Instead, it’s far easier to send everything to everyone.  As an example, this morning, in the space of 75 minutes, I got three different emails from the same Sales Enablement platform giant.  They were presenting 3 different things, only one of which was slightly relevant to me.  The others had absolutely no applicability because they were for applications and businesses very different than ours.  This company should have “known” me better, we’ve done business with them and have had lots of engagements of varying types.

We see data supporting this.  Email data–opens, click throughs, forwards are plummeting.  To get the same number of responses, volumes of electronic garbage have skyrocketed.

Other platforms have the same problem.  I can’t imagine a sales person or organization not using CRM.  Our own company would struggle if we didn’t have CRM.  Yet, CRM compliance/utilization remains a huge issue.

We have all incorporated new technology language into our vocabularies–I suppose because it’s modern and cool, but we talk glibly about “sales stacks,” and get into the frat party comparisons, “mine is bigger than yours….”  But when we audit utilization, people aren’t using them.

Other technologies–not because of the technology, but the way we’ve implemented them are driving customers away, rather than enhancing our ability to reach and engage customers.  Power diallers and related technologies are supposed to help us actually reach customers and talk to people.  Instead, we have managed to train prospects and customers not to pick up the phone.  Do a random survey of your colleagues, customers, and friends.  How many answer phone calls from numbers they don’t recognize–particularly those with the area code and exchange exactly matching yours?

Then there is the “distraction effect” of technology.  Countless studies show how just the visible presence of our mobile devices create micro distractions.  Cumulatively, these distractions accumulate to hours in a day.

We think–or rather don’t think–about technology correctly.  We mis-apply it, using it as a crutch, not a tool, in effect, dumbing down our sales organizations.  We are fast losing the ability to think critically, to listen, to engage in deep conversations.

We have technology vendors selling great technology very poorly.  For example, one vendor tells me all I have to do is ask 4 questions in the discovery process or that my introductory pitch has to be 9.1 minutes, not 11.4 minutes.  Doing these cause us to win–the data clearly shows this.

I tried this recently, I met with a prospect, I planned my call to focus on 4 discovery questions.  Carefully crafted, rechecking the math, I asked, “Hi, my name is Dave, what’s yours?”  “I see you’ve been having cold weather recently, how’s it impacted you?”  “What did you think about the game last night?”  “Are you the decision-maker?”

You can guess how impactful that call was.  I left confused, I had asked 4 questions, that should have been a slam dunk for a win!

Technology is a great excuse for failure.  It’s all too easy to blame the new tool, rather than our inept implementation and utilization of the tool–it’s never our fault, it’s the tool’s.

You know I can go on and on, but I’ll stop here.

The problem isn’t the technology.  Technology can enable us to do great things to drive sales and revenue.  It also can do the opposite.

The real issue is the people side of technology—how do we sell it, how do we use it, are we using it to maximum impact?  It’s all the thinking that underlies the tools we choose and our strategies to exploit them to achieve the goals we want.  It’s hard work, there are no shortcuts, and too often it is simply not done.

As had been said so many times before, “A fool with a tool/technology is still a fool.”


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