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.

Tuesday’s post about an assumptive close (link) got me thinking of other recent events where sales pros used closing techniques – both were at car dealerships.
Car sales seems to elicit the shudder of many people, and my recent experiences at car dealerships just played into the common stereotypes. I have both bought a car and went perusing with family recently.
Here were two primary closing techniques used:

The Alternative Close

I went to a dealership recently to buy a new 4Runner. I already knew what I wanted having owned a couple 4Runners including the vehicle I was replacing.
I’ve always loved having 4×4, and I wanted the following options/ packages: Limited, dark exterior, and a redwood interior. I first saw the redwood interior and loved it, and knew that’s what I wanted. I had pretty much closed the deal for the salesperson – coming in to buy. However, the exact vehicle was not in stock, and needed to be custom ordered. This would incur two months of delays.
The salesperson kept pushing me with questions, and providing options of vehicles that were on the lot – showing me red Limited 4Runners that were 4×2 and another Limited 4Runner 4×2 in the redwood interior. He was offering me alternativevehicles – nudging me towards available inventory. I had to keep pointing out that I knew what I wanted, and that I was willing to wait.
I knew the owner of the dealership. Otherwise, I would’ve taken my business elsewhere. I knew what I wanted, and I did NOT want anything otherwise.

The Ask-the-Manager Close

My father and brother were window car shopping recently. They were curious about the new F-150 Raptors. The salesperson was using every tool in her arsenal to get my brother and dad to buy a vehicle today even after explicitly saying they weren’t going to.
After one of the final attempts to get at least a money-down order for a vehicle to be custom ordered then, the salesperson brings in the manager. This is very common in car sales – bring in the manager to signal your importance, and to help wiggle a deal forward. However, my father stuck to his guns, and said thanks and walked away.
Though I might’ve been perturbed in some of these experiences, I’ve also appreciated them. It’s a fun experience to take a step back, and try to assess what tactics others employ. Also, by being on this side of the table, it’s good to remember how our own sales practices make our prospects and customers feel.
I recently bought some 1400-thread count bedsheets. I never knew there was even such a thing. I was, however, in the market for bedsheets for a while now. So, when a salesperson approached me in a big box wholesaler, I happily picked up a set.
I remember a lot about the interaction, and remember how the salesperson used an “assumptive” closing technique. I remember, also, being perturbed by it. However, I was in the market for bedsheets, so picked up the set anyways.
The interaction went something like this:

I’m walking with my brother with a cartful of things. We’re nearing the checkout lines when a woman approaches us.

The woman talks about these ultra-soft bedsheets she’s got. I happily listen while my brother continues to the registers.

Woman places a set of bedsheets in my hands. “These are 1400-tc sheets, so you can feel they’re incredibly soft”. (Okay, I’m paraphrasing.)

Me: “Yeah, they are.”

Woman: “These sheets also have a warranty of 3 years!”

Me: “Okay, great.”

Woman: “They come in these three colors. What color would you like?” She walks over to her stash of sheets, looks at me while extending her arms like she’s reaching for whatever color I say.

Me: “I think the beige works fine, but…”

Woman: “Oh, we also have a special with {{Big Box Wholesaler Name}} where you get a second set free. Do you want beige for the second set, too?”  

At this point, I’m thinking, “well, heck, if I’m already wanting new sheets, I might as well ask if my brother and his wife want new sheets.” 

I respond to the woman, “Not sure. Let me ask my brother’s wife,” as I pull her in. The sale was pretty much wrapped up here.

I just so happened to be in the market for bedsheets, but had been lazy to go shopping before. Otherwise, I found the salesperson’s tactic of handing me a set and walking away to get a second set annoying.
This is an example of assumptive closing. The salesperson is assuming the sale is made and is just putting the final touches on the sale – color selection. She started by showing off features of the sheets including thread count, colors, and warranty before getting to closing.
This is also an example of a simple, transactional sale where I knew what I wanted, and didn’t care about the annoyance of the sales tactic. Here, I realized that I was just buying bedsheets. I wouldn’t have to interact with the salesperson ever again. The product was the most important piece to this interaction, not the relationship. As such, making a quick buy was a simple choice. 

All the brainstorming and hypotheses about a new product or feature mean nothing until it’s in the hands of users (customers). They’re all ideas, but ideas don’t build great companies – execution does.
I catch myself being quiet in a lot of brainstorming sessions for new products and features. I start out hot speaking based on whatever thoughts I have before quickly going into silent mode. I’ll speak up when something is so counter to what I believe, but otherwise, I find myself quiet.
I’ve noticed this a lot, but was never sure why my default mode is quiet, absorbing. I always thought I just had to think more to myself until I read this passage from SPIN Selling.

“I remember going to a product launch in Acapulco some years ago. The event was splendiferous. Big names from the entertainment world had been hired at unbelievable cost, and the place swarmed with public relations people, media specialists, communications consultants, and a variety of similarly expensive people. The salespeople, eagerly awaiting the great event, filed into the main hall to hear one of the most spectacular and costly Feature dumps of the decade. I was depressed at the enormous expense my client had gone to in order to make the sales force communicate the new product ineffectively, so I decided to wait outside until all the fuss and spectacle subsided. As I sat by the pool, I noticed two other people who had slipped out of the same presentation. Talking with them, I found that they were both very experienced high performers. ‘It’s just another product,’ said one. ‘When the fuss dies down, I’ll go back in and figure out which customers need it.’” (Rackham, Neil. SPIN Selling. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988)

It clicked for me that I’m quietly deliberating how this would be valuable in the hands of customers. I’m close to prospects and customers, oftentimes, so I’ll start out sharing what I know. I then go quiet to think and absorb because, for the most part, new products and features must be put in the hands of those who will use it. Till then, I won’t know for sure. Focus groups and interviews only go so far, and require real usage to test real-world value.
Consider that for a moment. How do you speak of new products and features today? For yourself? For your customers?
There are many subtle lessons I didn’t recognize from consulting that have been hugely valuable since building startups, especially in the role of sales. One of those lessons is (two-part) the role of the champion and empowering the champion to overcome internal hurdles.
I remember a project I was working on many, many years ago. We had just done a tremendous amount of work after developing models and recommendations on the client’s technology stack. We also helped the company choose a large transportation management system (TMS). We delivered our recommendations and findings to the company’s C-suite. We completed our 3-hour discussion, and yet, were only able to get through half our recommendations. As a consultant only a few months in, I thought things went well other than missing half the slides. Our internal debrief, however, highlighted how our team had missed the mark. Our recommendations focused too much on the TMS and did not deliver on IT infrastructure improvements we needed to hit home on for our champion, the Director of IT. The President and CFO moved forward with the TMS, but the rest of the scope where the Director wanted to achieve didn’t make the radar. As such, he never got budget to move forward with key initiatives.
In today’s B2B sales world, there are 7-8 folks involved in the buying process (Gartner). The role of the champion is as important as ever, and empowering the champion is critical. Empowering can come in the form of delivering a set of recommendations to the C-level suite, and to providing the champion with information and a ROI to gain buy-in internally.
In a complex sale, most of the selling does not involve a vendor’s sales professional. Instead, the real selling is done internally. It’s important to remember the role of the champion. Then, ensure the champion has as much ammunition as possible to power through his/ her agenda – hopefully, includes you. 
I was shared a lesson about context through a story of the fabled NASA rockets that helped NASA reach space, orbit the earth, and reach the moon.
Paraphrasing, the rockets evolved a great deal, especially captured in their sizes with the Saturn rocket (took the astronauts to the moon) greater than 35 stories tall. The earlier iterations propelled the rockets only so far. To reach the moon, the rockets had to be bigger. Common wisdom would suggest that bigger rockets added heft. Heft is counter to the goal of going farther and faster. Except, size hid the real need for “bigger” – more fuel.
Greater context can reveal the real value of an investment. What looks on the surface to be counter-intuitive can actually be a catalyst for a desired outcome.
A few examples where this plays out:
  • Instead of working, taking an hour off. That one hour may seem counter to the need for greater productivity. However, context of that hour may reveal an hour of exercise which has shown time and time again massive benefits mentally, emotionally, physically, etc.
  • Regular coaching of employees. Everyone’s working hard, right? There’s a lot to do and things seem to be working fine. Why coach or have periodic touch-points? Because there’s context happening that aren’t visible on the surface. Because being a B-player works, but being an A-player works better.
  • Slowing down a sale to learn more about the challenges a prospect faces. The more we close, the more money we make, right? Glengarry tells us to Always Be Closing. However, always aiming for the close can scare off prospects without understanding and value creation. It’s not just the one-time sale. It’s the consistent selling of a vendor-customer relationship. (Well, for complex sales anyways.)

It turns out we’re pretty smart, but we are also quick to jump to conclusions. What seems counter to a goal or objective can actually be a catalyst. All it takes is context for understanding.

In sales, you don’t always get the inbound lead who tells you exactly what their problem is. Even more uncommon is when your prospect just tells you how your solution can solve for said problem. Especially when prospecting, it matters to help a lead think about a problem you solve. In this way, menu options are a great way to do this.
Menu options are the value levers or benefits your product/ service can enable for prospects. A menu can uncover what a prospect truly cares about while tying directly to your product or service.
Think, first, of three menu options. Tie each with a story/ path so you can demonstrate how your product or service meets each option.
The menu options for a prospect considering Airbnb may include:
  • Experience an authentic experience in thousands of cities. (Experience value.)
  • Explore a new destination by living with locals. (Experience and social values.)
  • Save on lodging with hundreds of unique options. (Economic value.)

For early-stage companies with few customers, hypothesize what those value levers are. Otherwise, pull from existing customers what value they get from your product or service. Then align a prospect with the persona of an existing customer, and offer a similar menu option set.

Continuing from last week’s 7 Tips for Customer Case Studies, here are some questions to think about asking (and answering).
  • What does [Customer Name] do?
  • What is your role?
  • What was the challenge(s) you were trying to solve with [Product/ Service]?
  • Why didn’t existing solutions work for you?
  • When you first used [Product/ Service], what was that initial impression?
  • What are the results [Product/ Service] has been able to deliver for you? Your team?
  • Was there another benefit [Product/ Service] enabled that you weren’t expecting?
  • Why would you recommend us to someone else?
The goal of the case study is to, obviously, highlight your product or service. You also want to highlight the success and significance of the customer. This adds credibility to the customer, which gives you credibility.
Sell, sell, sell. That’s what you’re going to do, and that’s what you’ll aim to do. But, your prospect will need more assurances. They need to know they’re not the only buyer. They need proof. Enter testimonials and case studies.

“Nobody gets fired for choosing IBM.”

Ever heard that before? The notion speaks to risk mitigation for the buyer. The subtle message: IBM is a reputable company with thousands of customers. As a buyer of IBM’s products or services, if it doesn’t work, surely it wasn’t because you chose a bad partner. (Versus choosing a riskier partner.)
Testimonials mitigate risk with social and professional proof – who they are, why they chose you, and what were benefits have they achieved.
Here are 7 keys to be mindful of when creating case studies and testimonials:
  1. Who is the case study coming from? Who is the buyer (person) and company? You want this person to be reflective of your target persona(s).
  2. 90% about the customer’s experience and how you enabled them.
  3. Pain-Solution. Tie everything to the pain and what the benefit(s) was. Note: think about primary and tertiary pains and solutions. Hit home with the primary, and layer any tertiary.
  4. Numbers are worth a thousand dollars. Like a resume, quantifying the benefits is key. If you can’t find one, try again… early on, maybe that’s a SWAG.
  5. How do you share? Distribution channels? Are you recording video? Are you just looking for a quick quote to share on a website or marketing collateral? Are you creating a one-pager?
  6. This is your learning experience, too. If your product/ service has truly helped the customer, you’ll hear anecdotes. Be acutely aware of details – they matter.
  7. Sometimes, you must ask for it. People are busy, but they want you to succeed.

Have fun with customer testimonials and case studies. Make them conversational.