Always Postpone Prospect Meetings When Unknown Participants Decide to Joint

Complex sales for enterprise customers invariably include discussions, and meetings with a number of contacts from the prospective business. A decision to purchase a complex product is rarely, if ever, made unilaterally within these businesses. Therefore, when otherwise unknown contacts “pop up” and express an interest in participating in scheduled meetings, the correct response is to reschedule the meeting pending a thorough understanding of the new contact’s role in the business and rationale for attending the meeting.

Gaining a thorough understanding of the role of a previously unknown contact may require external research along with conversations with other contacts from within the prospective business. In any event, no effort should be spared to thoroughly educate the sales team as to the background of the new participant and his/her role in the purchase decision before the sales campaign proceeds. Proceeding with a meeting or otherwise continuing to advance the sales effort before the information (to include an explanation of why the new contact has joined the discussion and his/her role in decision-making) has been compiled will certainly delay and, perhaps, completely undermine the sales effort. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that the sales team continuously monitor the campaign for reasons to retard, postpone, or otherwise slow down the process to ensure that a best effort has been made to win the business. Further, the natural sense of urgency that typically powers sales campaigns must be controlled and channeled appropriately to ensure that whatever time is required to get the facts is spent and the information is collected prior to proceeding further on the sale.

More often than not, participants who are late to join the sales review are either important decision-makers or representative of important groups that must be included in the decision if the purchase is to be made by the business. Typically these late stage participants bring a new set of criteria into the evaluation that will have to be met if the sale is to be made. If the sales team does not modify the sales plan to meet the new criteria the sale will not be made. There is nothing wrong with interviewing other contacts from the business to ask the “who” “what” “where” and “how” questions about new participants to renovate the understanding of the sales team as to the business’ purchase decision system. As well, any publicly available external information about the participant should be collected so that a familiarity can be put into place before the next meeting is held.

A CEO does well to select a Head of Sales who puts urgency in its proper place; in other words, within an unwavering commitment to winning the business, regardless of how much time it actually takes to get the job done. Complex Sales and long sales cycles are not the venue for snap decisions and reactions; rather, careful and thoroughly thought out decisions must be the norm to ensure success.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Build a Productive Sales Organization with Healthy Contention and Competition

Productive sales organizations are built with healthy competition. Selling any products, services or so-called solutions (in my opinion, solutions are almost always a combination of products and services) requires successful completion of at least three critical competitive milestones within an engagement with a prospect (or in the case of complex products, services and solutions, prospects):

  • Convincing
  • Persuading, and
  • Closing

Each of these three critical milestones, if achieved, mark a moment of success in the sales engagement where the sales person, rather than a competitor, won a commitment from the prospect. No brainer, right?

Now let’s jump to a review of a typical sales organization within a business. Sales organization are generally managed by one individual with a title like Head of Sales, or Vice President of Sales, or the like. This layer of management is in place to accomplish at least two objectives: 1) to alleviate the work load carried by the CEO and 2) to deliver the revenue objectives for the business through sales. Of course, the order of these two objectives may be reversed, depending on the life cycle stage of the business and/or management priorities. Nevertheless, these two broad objectives underpin sales management structures across almost any type of business with more than twenty staff members (twenty is an arbitrary number).

With a sales organization in place (complete with its own management), accountability for successful delivery of sales objectives is in place. However, an important and almost imperceptible shift has also taken place. A level of healthy competition has been removed. There is now, in fact, only one Head of Sales/Vice President of Sales with no competitor.

Fostering a business with this type of hierarchical organizational structure for sales makes sense as long as objectives are achieved. When objectives stop being achieved, it makes sense to inject back into the sales organization a level of contention and competition amongst the sales staff to get activities back on track. Better yet, modify the structure of the original sales organization by permitting a hierarchical and necessarily vertical structure with a Head of Sales to function upon a completely horizontal “playing field” where hire/fire and other major organizational decisions may only be made by the CEO or Head of Operations, etc.

I have participated in two business engagements where dramatic results were achieved via the modified sales organizational structure that I have just described. In one case, objectives were rarely missed. In fact, the modified sales structure was in place from the start of serious business activity, in the form of a matrix sales structure. This matrix sales structure included outside sales staff who “teamed” with teleprospecters and inside sales staff who reported to a separate sales manager. Healthy contention within this matrix sales structure took this brick and mortar business from zero to $7M in annual sales within two years. Within the following five years the business went public.

In the second case, the CEO applied the horizontal structure after the hierarchical structure failed to produce the required results. Once again, the improvement in the overall performance of the sales team was dramatic and completely positive. Further, gaps in product marketing were revealed which, once filled, provided a healthy foundation for a surge in revenue.

Bottom line: Sales is all about healthy competition. Remove the competition and you may end up removing sales.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Use Surrogate Websites to Covertly Test Markets While Under the Radar

Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 offer opportunities for testing markets while a business remains “under the radar”. For example, within the realm of Web 1.0 options, a surrogate website can be built and outfitted with content to test a market. This tactic is rich with benefits. Consider that a domain name can be registered anonymously, thereby insulating the domain owner from public scrutiny. If online marketing techniques are successfully brought to the task, then this surrogate website can be made popular within a target market segment and, at precisely the right time, either the anonymity of domain ownership can be dropped and site visits, visitors, etc can cleanly transfer over to the core business or, once again at precisely the right time, the surrogate website can be de-emphasized and shut down should the core business decide to abandon the market effort. As well, various market assumptions can be tested from a distance, as required. Contrary positions can be juxtaposed within a surrogate website effort, or, if resources are available, contrary positions can presented via a number of differing surrogate websites.

Adding Web 2.0, social media, features can contribute, substantially, to the amount of useful information collected from the surrogate website(s) exercise. For example, efforts can be made to encourage visitors to register with the website to participate in a range of activities including discussions, news, opinions, ratings, etc. The registration process will deliver email addresses, company names, etc. As well, social media features can be made either overtly available or covertly available to registered users only. The end result of either approach will be to render site visitors into something of a sample group to whom planned offerings can be presented to determine their viability before commitments are made to definitely move in one direction or another.

In fact, there are few reasons not to move forward with surrogate websites once a CEO is ready to test market assumptions. This is especially the case for businesses offering complex products for enterprise business customers. Within a plain-talking privacy policy to which registrants have agreed, information willingly submitted by site visitors can be studied and used, as required, to make informed decisions about product and market direction. Finally, the actual intended planned position of the business within the market can be formulated based on information gained through a successfully orchestrated surrogate phase for product marketing.

The drawbacks of using surrogates including inadvertently stimulating competitors to enter a market that they would otherwise ignore. As well, discussions, and other social features can produce negative results if left unattended and/or poorly managed. But the benefits are great, especially when one considers the exit options inherent to this approach should markets lose their allure.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


An Additional Rationale for Marketing Under the Radar

If organizations within a business are not ready for overt, public, sales and marketing efforts, then it makes sense to implement under the radar sales and marketing techniques for dialogue with the marketplace. Businesses are not ready if sales staff are not yet at a stage where they can close business and/or products and services cannot be reliably delivered to customers. Rarely are conditions so black and white that a CEO can quickly make a correct decision on this point, but lucky for the business that experiences these rare conditions. Far more often, the history of business activity suggests maturity and then, for some reason, disappointments arise; therefore, I recommend that if a CEO has the slightest indication that his/her business lacks the ability to sell and to consistently deliver, then better to stay under the radar. Maintaining under the radar sales and marketing activities that are emblematic of a careful and hesitant pace, at an early stage, will ensure that dangerous and, potentially, fatal mistakes can be avoided.

Why might these early stage mistakes prove fatal?

If products and services are complex and target customers are enterprise businesses with monolithic, hierarchical decision-making systems then the adage: “one strike and your out” holds true. There will be no second chance with these types of prospects, nor will there be any value in networking throughout a large contact list of prospect staff. Your business has one complex product and there is only one group that can buy what you have to offer. Don’t blow it. Wait

What are the indicators of a lack of maturity in sales and delivery?

On the sales and marketing side, maturity is easy to determine: the length of a “normal” sales cycle has been established; staff is in place with demonstrated capability to close business; and the product has been well received by customers. On the delivery, or fulfillment side, staff levels have been correctly planned for either normal, slow, or exceptional business conditions with regards to sales volume; of course, implicit to correctly planning these levels is access to individuals with required skills on a variety of bases including “as needed”.

What are the visible sales and marketing strategies and tactics to be avoided until maturity has been achieved?

Any strategies that will encourage natural, free-flowing product visibility within the marketplace are to be avoided. Examples of these strategies include Web 1.0 marketing; specifically, building brochureware web sites, Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising campaigns, and high volume email marketing campaigns. With regard to brochureware, better not to put up anything of any substance about your product than to start with an online brochure, complete with a vague and purposely generalized presentation of your offering. Conference appearances should be few and far between and very carefully orchestrated to ensure that the visibility gained is completely positive and purposeful.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved