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“Pissing On The Ashes”

by David Brock on March 20th, 2012

My post yesterday stirred some discussion, Stop Spending So Much Time Coaching The Bottom Of The Funnel.  I thought I’d expand on it to clarify my comments. 

Annually, I sit in hundreds of deal reviews.  Too often, the focus is at the end of the cycle–we’ve put our offer forward, we’re doing everything we can to win (Funny how we seldom spend a lot of time doing reviews on opportunities that we believe we have won).  In reality, there’s probably not much we can do at this point.  We’ve failed to convince the customer and last minute tactics or shifts in strategy seldom change the outcome.

Everyone comes up with ideas, perhaps we should “parachute some executives in.”  The thought being our senior executives might meet with the customer’s senior executives (who they probably have never met), and convince them to overrule their people to decide in our favor.  I’ve been the senior executive on both sides of those calls, trust me it’s uncomfortable for both and seldom works.

Most often, the discussion centers around the “D-word,”  that being discount.  Here’s where we try to buy the business–sometimes, perhaps a lot of times, that does work.  Or it’s used as ammunition to try to negotiate the preferred supplier down.  This does work, but is this really the way to win the business?

Too often, managers are just interested in reviewing opportunities at the bottom of the funnel.  They are interested in:  What’s it take to win the business now?  How do we change our positioning?  Too often our options are really limited–it’s virtually impossible to correct poor strategies at the last minute.  Too often most of these last ditch efforts are tantamount to “Pissing On The Ashes.”  (Forgive my colorful portrayal, but this is what I used to call these meetings when sales people in my organization asked me to call on an exec as a last ditch effort.)

I’m also struck by how casuallly we, both sales people and managers, take the strategy development process early in the sales cycle.  I see few reviews, little coaching.  The reviews usually start mid way through the process and increase in intensity toward the end.  But it’s early in the process where we really have the opportunity to shape our strategy, to help shape the customer’s approach to making a buying decision.

We serve both our and our customer’s interests best by spending time thinking and discussing our strategy early in the sales/buying process–usually just after we’ve qualified the opportunity.  It’s the time to consider:

  • What’s the customer’s buying process and how do we make sure we are aligned with it, and creating value in the process?
  • What do we need to learn about what the customer is trying to achieve?
  • Who do we need to be working with, and who from our team are we going to have to working on the customer team?
  • How are we going to create value–not just in our solution, but in the way we work with the customer?
  • Who is the competition?  How are we going to position ourselves?
  • How will the customer make a decision?  How will we position ourselves to maximize our ability to influence the decision?
  • How do we maintain a high sense of urgency to make a decision, to help the customer to move through their buying process quickly and efficiently?  After-all, the real value is in implementing a solution, not pondering it.

These are critical issues that shape what we do and how we pursue the opportunity.  They are things we need to do to maximze our ability to win.  They are only meaningful early in the sales cycle–trying to retrofit these late in the sales cycle is too little too late. 

Don’t get me wrong.  We do have to do reviews of opportunities throughout the sales cycle.  We do have to look at our closing strategies and make sure we are positioned to win.  My only argument is the greatest impact we can have is by developing the strongest strategy early on and executing it with vigor.

As a sales person, how much time do you spend early in the cycle developing your strategy?  Who do you get involved in helping you to develop the highest impact strategy?

As a sales manager, are you biasing your time and reviews to helping your people develop the strongest strategies possible–early in the cycle?

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6 Comments
  1. Agreed. You can’t blow all of your plays the first three quarters and then bring your MVP off the bench and expect him to save the whole game. You have to make sure your brand definition is clear right up front before you start altering strategy. If your going to shift your positioning around during every sales, what’s the point of it in the first place?

  2. Randy Redinger permalink

    I love the name of this post! It certainly caught my eye. All very good points- my company has actually bought into this notion and we put most of our emphasis on the early part of the sales cycle- if done correctly, each transaction should close itself in most cases. Great points!

    • Thanks for the comment Randy! Thought I might attract some comments with that title! Regards, Dave

  3. Roger Childers permalink

    All good points. I used to call on a very successful and large customer who first developed their strategy at the CEO level and focused the entire company on the winning strategy. Instead of competing with the same product they started building a chip for the HDD market that was cheaper than the current HDD solutions in the market. Then in order to continue the momentum and keep the higher margins they began to systematically develop products that were better solutions ultimately gaining a major share of the HDD market. Once they were able to maintain the momentum in the HDD market, they then expanded a portion of the company focusing on new markets, an excellent and very winning strategy.

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