Skip to content
Sep 21 22

Do We Want To Eliminate Objections

by David Brock

I’ve seen a series of posts offering tricks and techniques to eliminating objections. Every day, we see experts commenting on objections, “how to overcome them, how to handle them, how to eliminate them.” Objections are often positioned as a battle between sellers and the customer, with our objective to prevail, defeating the customers’ objections

On reflection, I thought, “Do we want to eliminate objections? Are we losing the opportunity to leverage objections in more meaningful and impactful ways?”

Most of the pundits talk about objections like, “I don’t have the time, I’m not the right person, we don’t have a need, we don’t have the funding, you are too expensive….” They have clever gambits to back a customer into a corner forcing the customer to talk and reveal more.

Others, talk about pre-empting them, keeping them from coming up in the first place.

The thinking seems to be if we eliminate objections, the customer must understand and agree to what we are saying. In eliminating them, all we have to do is ask for the order–and if they have objections to that, we know how to eliminate those.

The reality is eliminating or avoiding objections probably mean the customer simply doesn’t care.

Think about it for a moment, for a customer to have an objection, it means they were paying attention. At least enough to raise a concern, ask a question, or have a different point of view.

Most of the time, if they take the time to object, they are engaged to some level. It’s much easier to ignore these things. It’s easy to stop the conversation, just end the meeting. They don’t have to come up with an objection to do this. They just stop, hang up, or leave.

We need to encourage engagement, we need to provide customers reason to be engaged. Usually, this is talking to them about things they care about. We measure the quality of engagement by the interaction, not by the lack of disagreement or interaction. What questions are they asking? What differences in point of view do they have? How well are they understanding? How much do they care? Where do they disagree? What are we learning from them and about them?

Sales conversations are intended to be just that, conversations. Two way conversations where people are engaged and interested. Conversations where we learn, and grow. Conversations where we demonstrate our interest and caring for each other. (Don’t overthink this, caring could just be caring enough to continue the conversation.)

The worst advice we can have is to eliminate or avoid objections. The next worst is overcoming them because that shuts down conversation.

Objections? Bring them on, I know if I’m getting objections, people are engaged enough and care enough to object!

Sep 20 22

Why Does Our Sales Engagement Look More Like Eating At A Cafeteria, Than Fine Dining

by David Brock

I read a fascinating study from GTM Partners. One of the observations was, “There is an average of 8 handoffs in the average customer acquisition and delivery process.” As I read that, the image of eating in a cafeteria struck me.

Think of the last cafeteria you ate in. A mind numbing experience. You grab a tray, start walking down the line. You may have a choice of a couple of salads, the server behind the counter hands you what you ask for, then you hit side dishes. Someone spoons out the vegetables you ask for, then turns their attention to the person behind you. You go on, choosing mash potatoes or rice, someone puts a scoop on your plate. Then you get to the entrees. In a fancy cafeteria, someone may be carving meats. They ask you what you want, carve it, put it on your plate. Or in most cafeterias, they scoop an entree out of a large serving dish, plopping it on your plate. Finally you reach the desserts, select one, then move to the cashier where they ask for your money.

No one seems to care, each person is focused on doing their job, than moving to the next victim, I mean person. No one is responsible for the experience. If you have questions, it slows the line down. The servers want you to get moving. The quality of the food, the quality of the experience is bad. Perhaps that’s why we don’t see many cafeterias other than in school or work (and most work cafeterias are changing the way they work.).

Contrast that with a fine dining experience. As you enter the restaurant, a host or maitre d’ will ask your preferences and try to seat you where you want. Then a server comes over, a person who is responsible for your complete dining experience. They provide the menus. They may discuss specials. They answer questions you might have about the dishes. Sometimes, they ask about your preferences, “Do you like spicy foods? Do you have an allergy?” They may make suggestions. Everything is focused on creating a fine dining experience. And they are with you through the entire dinner.

They may have people helping them. Perhaps assistants serving water, clearing dishes. Perhaps they ask the sommelier to discuss wine pairings–they are the specialists in wines.

In the kitchen, chefs are creating a great product!

But the server’s whole interest is on you and your dining experience. They recognize it is not just about the product, but the complete experience the customer has. They do discovery, they make recommendations, they may help you reconsider some of your choices. They bring in resources to support your experience. Based on their understanding of us, they bring the product and service together, creating something that is memorable.

And it’s not just the high end, premium restaurants that create these experiences. We see this in many of the neighborhood restaurants we go to. A Thai restaurant I frequent, I’m greeted by name. The waiter comes to the table with the wine I always order. As I consider what to order, he suggests, “Dave, you’ve been having a lot of duck dishes lately. We’ve something different with fresh fish, I think you might enjoy it. They know me, I’m a repeat customer (I guess that’s what sellers call retention), they know my tastes, trying to create a better experience, each time.

And at the end of each of these meals, they ask us about our experience, thank us, and ask us to return or share the experience with others.

Why do we build buying experiences that resemble our experiences in cafeterias? Why do we put “servers” in place who don’t really care about the customer, other than moving them on to the next server? Why is there no one who cares about our experience, instead just focusing on their part of the job?

Of course, cafeterias are very efficient in processing customers, but do they create experiences that customer want to return to–unless there is no other alternative? (Even if I’m at a client cafeteria, I always opt for the sandwich bar, where I can ask the server for exactly what I want…)

It turns out the dining experience is not just about the food that’s on our plates (the product), it’s a lot more. And it’s often, the surrounding services and attention, not just the food that cause us to return for more, and to tell others about this.

How many customers complement your on their buying experience? How many customers highlight how helpful it was, how it made them feel? Would they go through it again?

Afterword: I wonder if vending machines are the food analogy to PLG selling???

Sep 19 22

A Forecasting Tutorial

by David Brock

It was surprising to see the reactions to my post, Pipeline, Tutorial. Mistakenly, I had assumed people understood the basics around pipeline management, how to use the pipeline as a tool for maximizing personal performance, and other things. They don’t, I got a lot of great feedback about the post. But it caused other requests, people started asking for posts on other “basics.”

It’s interesting, we toss these concepts around quite a bit, assuming we have a common understanding of them, the reality is we don’t. As a result, we waste a lot of time, misapplying the concepts.

In the previous post, I talked about the distinction between pipelines and forecasts. Mistakenly, too often, we think they are the same thing. Either we take the “weighted total” of the deals we have in the pipeline, as the forecast, or we take the deals in the closing stage. While those deals might be in the forecast, it’s not just because they are in the closing stage of the forecast.

So this post is a quick tutorial in forecasting.

What is a “forecast?” Per the dictionary it is, “…a prediction or estimation about a future event….” Consequently, in complex B2B selling, it becomes a prediction about a specific deal or opportunity. When we expect to get the PO for a specific deal, and the value of that PO. We may aggregate these individual deals, “We expect these deals…. to close by the end of the quarter…. totaling $X. This is where we run into a lot of problems with forecasting, we think it is about a number, it’s not! I’ll be coming back to this in later sections.

Why is the forecast important? The forecast is our commitment to the rest of the company about what business we expect to produce by what date. Too often, sellers think it’s just something management cares about, only to know what revenue to expect. But it’s much more than that, the rest of the organization is dependent on accurate forecasts to do their jobs. If we build products, others need to know what parts to order, how to schedule manufacturing and logistics capacity to meet the commitments we make in accepting an order. If it’s a services company, we have to make sure we have the right resources and skills available to deliver the services. Not long ago, a major client faced a huge challenge. The projects they had expected and staffed for didn’t come in as forecast. Not only did they have a huge team idled, but the business that was booked required completely different skills–skills that were already booked on other projects. So now, they had a “double whammy” effect on the forecast, even though they had made the number. Even for single product SaaS organizatons, customer experience needs to be prepared to on-board and support new customers.

Who is the forecast important to? Hopefully you know the answer, based on the previous section. We think it’s just something management hassles us with to maximize the revenue number. But the reality is that it’s what drives the majority of the activity for the rest of the company. They need accurate forecasts to be able to to their jobs. Fundamentally, the forecast is a deal that we commit to deliver to the rest of the company. “We will get this order, for this $, on this date….”

The forecast is not about a number! Most of the time, when any of us talk about the forecast, we talk about a number, “We forecast $100M by the end of the quarter….” This isn’t helpful to the organization! What inventory do they need, what manufacturing capability is needed, what delivery capabilities are needed, and so forth. A number doesn’t tell us anything. A forecast is about a deal–what it is, when we expect to get it, what is the size. We aggregate all the deals committed to the forecast for the quarter to come up with a total for the commitments. This, in turn, allows the rest of the organization to deliver on those commitments.

A forecast that focuses only on a number is a certain indicator of under performance! When we focus on the total number, and not delivering on the specific deals we committed to make that number, inevitably we under perform our potential–but making the number masks that from us.

  1. Here’s an example, virtually every numbers based forecast looks like this. A very large client committed to a forecast number of $500M. If they made it, they would be on target for their annual number.
    1. At the beginning of the quarter, they forecast a number of deals coming in. They weighted these with various probabilities to assure they would make the number. At the end of the quarter, they made the number. Execs were high fiving each other, proud of their forecast process. I started asking questions:
      1. 27% of the deals they had committed to win, they actually lost! 39% of the deals they committed to the quarter slipped to later quarters. So 66% of the deals they said “Count on us….” didn’t come in. They still made the number, but there were other problems….
      2. 20% of the deals they closed, were not even in the qualified pipeline at the beginning of the quarter. Where did they come from, how come they had no visibility to them. If they thought they could do something, why weren’t they in the original forecast. The remainder of deals they got to make the number were deals in later quarters, they pulled in, usually by offering special terms and pricing.
    2. When we look at this, they were proud of making the number. The reality is because they made the number, but with a completely different mix of opportunities, they significantly underperformed their potential. Why weren’t they forecasting any of those other deals? Why did they lose deals they had committed were ours? Why did so many “trust me, it will hit this quarter” deals slip. All of these point to sales error.
    3. And even worse, because of the churn in opportunities closed, the rest of the organization was completely unprepared to fulfill them. This caused shifts in priorities, resources, and so forth, all increasing their operational costs, reducing their net margins.
  2. The forecast is a commitment of a specific deal, closing at a certain value (perhaps range), and by certain date (perhaps a certain range).

Forecasts cannot be based weighted probabilities. This is probably the most controversial thing that I’ll say, but here are the issues with probabilistic forecasts:

  1. Usually the probabilities we used are based on probabilities we assign to stages in the sales process. Our CRM systems assign a probability to each opportunity, based on where it is in the pipeline. Prospecting may be 20%, qualifying 40, discovery 60, proposing 80, closing 90. None of these represent a buyer propensity to buy, they represent our progress in through the sales process. To understand how senseless this is, imagine competing with 2 other competitors. All 3 of you are in the closing stage, each of seller is forecasting the deal at 90%. Even elementary statistics informs us this is impossible. Probabilities based on where we are in our selling process are, 90% of the time, bad thinking.
  2. Then we win a deal that $1M We don’t win 80% of the deal, or anything else. We win it or lose it.

Forecast must be based on customer confirmed commitments. We increase our confidence in committing an opportunity to the forecast, when customer have made commitments to themselves: They are committed to a change, they know the date they need to have a solution in place to achieve their goals. They understand the consequences of missing that date. Note these commitments have nothing to do with a commitment to us, but a commitment to themselves of achieving certain goals. We then have to assess their commitment to do business with us. They may not tell us this, so we will have to engage them in discussions, where we talk about how they will choose, and their assessment of us. (And sometimes, analytic tools can help us, based on past decisions the customer has made.

Committing a deal to a forecast is a collaborative process between the sales person and manager. Sometimes, managers believe they know opportunities better than their people do. When pressured by their own management, they sometimes forecast an opportunity without the sales person’s agreement. In each opportunity we forecast,

To many forecasts are simply wild assed guessing and wishful thinking: We waste too much time, figuring out how to hit a certain number, retrofitting “data” to support our guess. This doesn’t improve the accuracy of our forecasts, it makes them worse. And it diverts time from our ability to focus on hitting our coals.

No forecast is perfect: As much as we want to make them perfect or as close to it as possible, we will never be perfect. “Shit happens….” The customer may be very committed and something happens on their side, other things may not happen for reasons in or out of our control. So if we need to hit a certain quarterly goal, we must commit to a forecast greater than that goal. While no forecast will be perfect, we can get better at it by paying attention to the issues I’ve outlined.

High integrity, strong pipelines help: While the forecasting process is actually a deal by deal approach. A high integrity pipeline is a starting point and important cross check for committing deals to pipelines.

We seem to spend too much time talking about forecasting–particularly managers: This is purely my opinion, but when I look at the collective management time (and impact on sellers) for forecasting, comparing that to time spent on deal strategies, qualification, how we create value, how we find more of the right deals, how we grow in our accounts, how we grow in our territories, how we leverage our time most impactfully with our customer; we spend way too much time talking about forecasting. If we spend more time on doing these other things well, forecasting and forecast accuracy becomes much less an issue.

Advanced topics: Most of what I’ve focused on his forecasting complex B2B deals. There are some nuances which impact forecasts. I’ll cover a few things:

  • Forecasting component parts/embedded products: Imagine you are selling components which are part of an industrial product, medical device, technology product. The sales/forecasting cycle actually has two phases. The first it the design win. This means getting your product specified into the design. Using the thinking outlined above, applies to this phase of the forecasting. The second is the manufacturing implementation. This is a collaborative process, where working with the customer, you determine monthly orders, sometimes for several quarters. Often, we forecast based on contracted run rates. Sometimes we adjust the forecasts based on analytics, trend analysis, seasonality.
  • Forecasting highly transactional products: Imagine you are selling highly transactional products. Those were the impact of a single purchase is negligible, when you are looking at forecasting all the potential orders you might receive. For example, whether you get a specific small order from one customer, will not have an appreciable impact on the overall performance. Here, we can’t really forecast on a deal by deal basis, rather we can use analytics, trend analysis, run rates, past customer behavior, and other tools to forecast these volumes. Some SaaS products may fall into this category, though not as many as I suspect some think.

I’ll stop here, I’ve covered some basics. But if you do these well, you can refine and improve what and how you do forecasting. What have I missed?

Sep 19 22

We Shouldn’t Be Surprised By “Quiet Quitting”

by David Brock

“Quiet quitting” isn’t so quiet anymore. It, also, isn’t that new. We’ve seen and, too often, ignored the signs of this phenomena for years. All we have to do is look at data on employee engagement, tenure/attrition, employee satisfaction.

Organizational leadership has been laying the groundwork for quiet quitting, ignoring the signals around this phenomena for years. For years, in selling, we’ve done everything we can to mechanize the process. People are treated as interchangeable widgets, if they don’t meet our goals, if they don’t make the number of dials, hit their activity numbers, strictly comply with what we are telling them to do, we find someone else.

Hiring decisions have become transactional, when they are really multi-million investment decisions. We hire the best available, with the expectation of replacing them if they don’t work out. Increasingly they are short term decisions.

Some say, that’s just the way Gen Z works, they will never stay committed to anything. But we see the churn is not limited to Gen Z, it covers all generations. And when we interview these people, they discuss what they are looking for–a place to grow/contribute and be fairly compensated. A place where they can feel heard and where they matter. A place where they have a future. Work places that are aligned with their identities.

But people don’t feel heard or included. While we may give lip service to listening to them, making them feel included and valued, the reality is too many managers don’t care. Too many are not committed to their people’s success, only committed to their own and that of their managers. People don’t see a future, they don’t feel they can grow and develop at their current organization, so they have to look elsewhere.

But it’s too easy to place all the blame on managers. They are, simply, products of their own experience, and the direction they get from their managers. They’ve had managers that don’t care, that haven’t set an example. They’ve not had training or coaching to help them understand how important this is to people. They just continue to do what they have learned from their previous managers. And as they get promoted, they continue the same things.

Add onto this the revolving door of tenure, both individual contributors and managers, at all levels. People don’t feel any loyalty to the organizations they belong to, because those organizations are not loyal to them. Leaders may give lip service, saying things like, “People are our greatest asset….,” but their behaviors do not support this.

We talk about relationships and our customers. We believe relationships are a core element to building trust with customers, creating long term growth. Yet, within our organizations, our relationships with our own people, are increasingly transactional. And, not surprisingly, there is little trust.

People are smart, they get it. As a result, we get “quiet quitting” and the “the great resignation.” And none of this is new, but perhaps the shock to the business systems created by the pandemic has made people realize they have choices.

This has been decades in the making. We’ve research, going back years, discussing declining employee engagement. We have years of plummeting tenure. And we’ve seen this extend beyond our own organizations, it has become the way things are done.

Rather than solve the tenure/attrition issue, we are maximizing short term results. It makes sense, if your own mindset is staying in a role for roughly a year, then moving on.

People feel pummeled, with each change of leadership. Every new leader comes in with different priorities, strategies, programs. How can we build any consistency in execution and performance, if we are constantly changing it, or shuffling the people charged with implementing it.

This seems to be the way business is done, the only focus is on the short term results. But it’s the height of irresponsibility. Not only to our people, but to driving business results! If one looks at this from the point of view of sustaining growth over the long term, everything we do, now, sub optimizes it. We do not maximize our growth both in current and future periods. We focus only on today, because we will be some place else tomorrow.

Too much is broken in organizational purpose, culture, values, and leadership. We could be performing much better, both in the short term and over time. It starts with valuing people, with creating workplaces where people feel heard, cared for, and where they feel they have a future.

If we want to maximize performance, both for the short and long term, we have to recognize it is really about people. It’s about creating organizations with purpose, values, culture, engaged leadership. It’s about recruiting, developing, and committing to people that share the identity we create in organizations. People who are committed to the success of the organization, because they know the leaders are committed to them.