SalesLoft and Gong.io recently shared a Discovery Call Benchmark Report that lined up well with my recent thinking on sales calls. A couple stats from the report that rang loudest:
  • Optimal number of questions a salesperson should ask is between 11 and 14 – about key topics, too, vs. small-talk.
  • Question flow should be throughout the discussion, not front-loaded.
  • Top performing sales professionals have a talk-to-listen ratio of 46:54.
  • Positive correlation of call success with speaker-switches-per-minute.

These findings weaved well together with my two current readings You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar by David Sandler and the Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey. (Book reviews to come.)

The overarching story in my head is the gap between the number of questions and type of engagement in sales calls (read: the lack thereof during calls). Reflecting on a few sales calls I’ve made recently, I realize how I was focused on a specific problem or outcome. This put me heavy in “pitch mode”. When in pitch mode, there’s not much engagement from the other side of the table. Instead, it’s me talking atthe prospect.
An analogy of this could be like a sports game – take soccer. In sales, we’re on the same team looking for a mutually beneficial outcome. (Sales is not an “us vs. them” game, right?) And in a soccer game, it’s highly unlikely to win if one player hogs the ball the whole time. Nor will there be a successful outcome if the passing is only done upfront. A successful – and fun – game is one where both parties are involved passing the ball together. The ball being the conversation in a sales call. In a sales call, it’s important to pass the conversation back and forth, and ensure engagement throughout.
In soccer training in my past, we sometimes played games like “one-touch” or “two-touch” which limited how many touches each player could make with the ball. It encouraged fast-thinking while discouraging ball-hogging. A similar game can be played in sales calls for practice. For every pass (question or comment) from the prospect, a sales professional can pass a question back.
Sales professionals today tend to ask less questions anyways, so the practice here will be to simply boost the number of questions. Creating this habit will naturally drive more comfort and confidence specific questions to ask – what, when, how.
Give it a go. Pass the ball.
Given my recent finish of SPIN Selling, sales qualification/ discovery processes weigh heavy on my mind. So, it’s no surprise then, that when I run into a new acronym that I wonder what it’s about – and how it’s different.
Here are a few sales qualification acronyms:
  • BANT– this is a real popular one that was the foundation for many sales processes. It stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing.
  • ANUM– evolution from BANT and heavily promoted by InsideSales.com for years, this stands for Authority, Need, Urgency, and Money.
  • SPIN– this is more about the process rather than qualification criteria. However, this comes from Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling – Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need pay-off.
  • MEDDIC– this is a new one for me after hearing about this from a sales leader recently. This stands for Metrics, Economic buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Identify pain point, and Champion. This one is more comprehensive than the others. It aims to understand the buyingprocess.

I’m sure there are hundreds more sales qualification processes and acronyms. The former two are all about qualifying opportunities. The latter two are more aligned to leading a prospect through the buying process/ understanding the buying process, especially in MEDDIC.

What are some sales strategies and acronyms you’ve used to advance sales? Which were not helpful, and why?
Continuing my quest to read books and get more educated on all things sales, I wrapped up SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. I went through this book twice. First, to pick up the low-hanging fruit, and then a second go to better absorb.
SPIN is one of the preeminent B2B sales books. In fact, the book broke ground on the factors for successful complex sales vs. transactional. In fact, Rackham identified why many sales training methods at the time were ineffective –methods were well-suited for transactional sales, but fell short for complex sales. The book lay the ground work for other sales studies like The Challenger Sale.
My take-aways:
  • Transactional vs. complex sales… The book did a great job at identifying why many closing techniques worked for simple sales, but failed for complex sales. Two of the more important points here were how the product/ service held such a primary role in the buying process of transactional sales. However, complex sales were about risk mitigation and addressing specific buying criteria.
  • Successful B2B sales persons excelled in the discovery process of sales – identifying pain points, understanding the implications, and illustrating the pay-off of the product/ service they were selling. This can be broken down in to SPIN – situation, problem identification, implication of problems, and needs pay-off.
  • Most sales professionals can perform situational and problem identification questions. However, successful sales more closely related to implication question and need pay-off questions. Implication questions can be thought of “sad” questions (lead to some quantitative cost or pain). Need pay-off, however, is all about “happy” questions (lead to some positive outcome, i.e. “what type of lift would this provide your sales team?”).
  • Though the preliminaries of a call are important in establishing some baseline of rapport, the goal of the call is to get an advancementof the sale – “a commitment”. Rackham identifies every successful sale can be broken down into four parts – preliminaries, investigation, demonstrating capability, and obtaining commitment.
  • There’s a big difference between features, advantages, and benefits. Though, many times, advantages are misconstrued as benefits, they are different in how they address explicit pain points to a prospect. This is the primary difference as Rackham states – benefits address the customer. Advantages can be fact-based – a prospect will be able to do XX. A benefit is what a prospect would experience – YY outcome. It’s important to note that selling by features is a major selling mechanism for low-cost, simple products/ services.
  • The best sales professionals address potential objections early so they never become objections. In this way, the best sales professionals experience less sales objections. If there’s an objection, it’s possible there has not been a strong enough understanding of the needs of the customer, or demonstration of how the solution can solve the explicit pain.

Rackham’s SPIN Selling is another fantastic read for… really anyone. We’re all in sales in some way shape or form. It’s beneficial to understand sales from a psychological perspective, if not to also understand how others sell to us.