Does it still make sense to present the sales process as a linear multi-step progression? And if not, how can we organize sales to handle today’s complex reality? 

During the industrial revolution in the 19th century, industrialists tried to streamline and standardise factory production into linear processes as much as possible – thinking that this would help them to manage their activities, predict the outcome of each step in the production process, and so ensure a consistent level of quality.  

We still view the sales process today largely in the same linear way as the industrialists did back in the 19th century. We get a sales lead in, qualify it, have a discovery meeting, exert our influence in the offer phase, and do whatever it takes to close the deal.  

We often assess our salespeople’s productivity according to this linear logic: we count the number of appointments, offers and conversion rate for these offers, and then we try to optimize this process as much as possible. The leading salesperson in the organization is usually the benchmark in this assessment, with the lesser gods needing to mould themselves into their image.  

Increasing complexity  

Organizing sales according to this linear representation works to a certain extent – the complexity of the sales process can be manageable if you share exactly the same sales dynamic in all deals, and only have to deal with one type of stakeholder, with a similar order size each time…  

But the reality is completely different and much more complex for most salespeople:  

  • Most salespeople are responsible for different products and serve different vertical markets
  • The number of stakeholders who make or influence decisions is growing all the time. The most recent research speaks of 5 to 20 stakeholders, depending on the size and complexity of activities
  • The various decision-makers and influencers are rarely or never all in the same mental phase in the buying journey. Some of them will not yet see the benefits of your product, while others might have been wanting it for a long time already. Each stakeholder will have travelled part of the buying journey from the perspective of their own responsibilities, and considered the impact of your product on their department

This alone can result in overwhelming complexity already, which makes it difficult for individual salespeople to handle. Every element in this complicated matrix of products, industries, stakeholders and buying phases demands a different sales conversation. Also bear in mind that each salesperson is working on multiple deals at the same time. 

Linear internal processes  

The linear approach is unfortunately still the most common, and it’s often cemented in rigid processes and CRM systems. It’s a recipe for failure. A typical example is a salesperson having a conversation with a prospect who knows exactly what they want but does not have the authority to make a decision. A CRM often cannot handle this complexity.  

The classic picture of suspect – prospect – discovery – solution – object handling – closing has often been updated and aligned with a typical buying process for complex sales, but even here, salespeople are often forced into a linear framework of ‘required steps to follow’.

Even in complex sales, salespeople are often forced into a linear framework of necessary steps to follow

The typical marketing approach, where prospects go through a funnel from awareness to decision, may be useful for content marketing and digital customer journeys, but it is too simplistic to represent the complexity of the actual buying journey, and certainly not suitable for tracing buying readiness. Is someone who downloads your eBook interested in buying your product? Maybe. But just as often they do this out of personal interest. 

Adapting to the unique buying journey  

It’s clear that every buying journey is unique, and classic sales models cannot adequately capture this reality. Every decision-maker has taken their own path, and it’s difficult for a linear process to provide an answer to that. As a salesperson, you are constantly entering into the customer’s buying journey at different moments. Forcing an internal, linear process on the customer’s mental process is therefore useless. 

Marketing Funnel
As a salesperson, you are constantly breaking into the customer’s buying journey at different moments. This cannot be represented in a linear way

Take the example of a couple entering an electronics store to look for a new TV. The tech geek in the couple will likely be quickly convinced about the latest features on the new 8K HD device. The more price-conscious half of the couple may wonder whether a new purchase is even necessary. As a salesperson, you need to adapt to each buyer’s mental phase. You probably won’t be able to bluff the price-conscious half of the couple with features (decision). Nor will you have to point out to the tech geek the necessity for a new TV (awareness).  

What salespeople need today, to be able to handle complexity, is an adaptive model that allows them to be agile and adapt to every situation. The salesperson’s main task is therefore to detect the customer’s mental state and buying readiness. If they can do this, it’s important that they respond to that mental state by doing the right thing at the right time. Developing sales people is one of the main responsibilities for sales leaders. Making sure sales people can report on the real situations in every deal in a very pragmatic but structured way is needed to enable steering and coaching. A classic multi-step process greatly restricts this and makes business reviews too time consuming, with a lot of irrelevant storytelling, and without the expected outcome.

Companies invest a lot of money in developing content that supports sales, but often see no return on their investment. The reason for this is that the sales organization does not use the developed content, or isn’t using it enough. So what’s going on?  

The impact of content usage and, by extension, sales enablement has been demonstrated many times before. According to figures from Miller Heiman Group in 2019, organizations without sales enablement achieve average win rates of 42.5%, while organizations with sales enablement achieve an average win rate of 49.0%, a huge 15.3% increase. 

Sales content is not marketing content  

Content plays a crucial role in different phases of the buying cycle. It can accelerate the sales process and significantly reduce sales costs. But what exactly do we mean by sales content?  

Typical sales funnel

Content for: 

  • onboarding when launching new products or services
  • important announcements with regard to the sales strategy
  • preparing for customer contact moments
  • during the contact moment
  • follow-up after the contact moment
  • training and coaching salespeople

Apparently, it turns out that salespeople don’t find enough of this kind of content in the materials produced by marketing departments. The reason for this comes from the purpose that marketing content serves, i.e. to influence the market based on its own strengths, and to lead as many interested parties as possible through the famous marketing funnel, with little variation in the message – ‘one-to-many communication’ – as quickly as possible, from awareness to buying intent.  

Content that is developed for this purpose has some specific characteristics:  

  • the customer searches for and discovers the content under their own initiative (inbound marketing) 
  • the content reaches the customer online or via an automated process (outbound marketing)
  • the effectiveness of the content is measured using KPIs such as clicks, reading time or number of shares
  • the ultimate goal of the content is to generate Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL)

From funnel to unique journey  

Many organizations still believe the MQL simply needs handing over to the salesperson who then just has an easy tap-in to score the goal. The customer has already passed through the entire marketing funnel, so all sales has to do is cash in on the marketing effort.  

But this belief is – of course – misguided. The idea that a customer will dutifully go through a content funnel, and immediately be willing to buy at the end of that journey, is not the case in practice. Content is consumed for various reasons in this marketing funnel, and there are sure to be interested parties for your product, but people also download your ebook out of curiosity, or scroll through your website, to ultimately discover it’s not what they’re looking for. So who says your MQL has the required budget, or can make a decision or even influence it?  

The marketing funnel in no way helps to predict the customer’s buying intent or willingness to buy. And it tells us little about which phase in the buying journey the customer finds themselves. The buying journey is therefore anything but linear, and it’s unique for each customer. When the salesperson starts working with an MQL, they always intervene at a different moment in the buying journey. And that requires specific content.

Sales content that works  

It’s impossible for the marketing content mentioned above to satisfy the non-linear need. After all, marketing content is fundamentally different from sales content. The latter needs to support a salesperson before, during and after sales conversations. The customer does not consume it directly; they access it through personal interaction with the salesperson.  

To increase the use of content in sales and so improve sales productivity, make sure your sales content has these characteristics:  

  • Snackable: short and powerful, simple to use and easy to understand
  • Accessible and quickly findable, so salespeople can spend more time selling and less time searching for content
  • Adapted to the customer’s mental stage in the buying journey
  • Interactive: inviting participation and interaction
  • Just in time: supportive for the salesperson in every phase – from preparing for the customer conversation, to interactions with the customer, and in the follow-up process
  • Focused on action: usable, helpful and encouraging action.  

Are you ready to get to work on your sales content strategy? Let us know!

In our conversations with CEOs and sales and marketing directors, we keep hearing the same comment – that fewer and fewer salespeople are meeting their targets. And further investigation has made the reason for this very clear: salespeople have insufficient knowledge of their customers and the market, and are lacking some of the specific competencies required in today’s marketplace. 

Various research has shown that revenue and sales quotas are becoming increasingly difficult to achieve. For example, one study by Sales Insights Lab in 2021 demonstrated that only 24.3% of salespeople were managing to exceed their sales quota. So is there a problem with salespeople’s productivity?  

Much depends on how we present sales productivity, because the concept is very often seen as a combination of efficiency and effectiveness.  

Sales Productivity

And this presentation is a good reflection of traditional sales training, where the main aim is to clone top salespeople’s behaviour into the DNA for other salespeople. According to figures from the Association for Talent Development, the US alone spends $24 billion per year on this.  

But this approach has a disappointing outcome. Fewer and fewer salespeople are achieving their quotas, and fewer and fewer companies are achieving their revenue targets. So the main challenge is no longer effectiveness, but a lack of knowledge about the customer and an inability to link any available knowledge to products and services.  

What has changed? 

Almost everyone agrees that customers are much better informed nowadays. And one consequence of this is that customers prefer it when we are less active in trying to sell. They don’t want us to try to convince them, and instead like to make their own minds up. So traditional methods of talking about the company, products and services simply don’t work anymore because customers can find all the information they need on the internet. They used to accept the information we gave them and were happy with that because there was no alternative, but now they can find all the information they need about products and services without any help or intervention from salespeople. 

The fact that customers can now serve themselves with this information also has a significant downside, however. How do they deal with conflicting information and advice? How do they know what is correct or relevant?  

And this is where the opportunity now lies for customer-facing professionals: providing added value, offering useful content, and having meaningful conversations. These are now the most important reasons for customers wanting to engage in dialogue with a salesperson. They expect the salesperson to know their environment and responsibilities, and don’t want to have to bring them up to speed themselves. But they do expect the salesperson to engage in dialogue, share their experiences from other companies, and enhance the buyer’s perspective.  

What has not changed? 

All of this has led to a steep rise in content production over recent years because we want to ensure customers can inform themselves. Some suppliers and analysts even claim that content marketing is taking over from sales. Unfortunately, however, it’s not quite that simple.  

Customers may well be informing themselves more, but content marketing has not solved the problem of declining sales quotas and salespeople productivity. In B2B, digital interactions are just as necessary as personal interactions with sales – as a recent study by Forrester confirms (Sales Enablement: Planning Assumptions 2022, Forrester Research Inc., September 2021). Interactions with customers have only increased recently, e.g. from 16 to 17 between 2017 and 2019, and from 17 to 27 during the pandemic. Customers are seeking out information for themselves, but they still need answers. And this is where the salesperson comes in – because they are still seen as a partner here.

Furthermore: the type of interaction (digital versus personal with the salesperson) is independent of the phase in the buying process. It’s not the case that a salesperson is only forced to join in at the end of the buying cycle. So we need to make sure we interpret the almost mythical figure – that 57% of the buying cycle is completed before a salesperson is involved – from research firm CEB (now Gartner), correctly. As mentioned above, the customer is better informed these days. So their decision criteria have typically already become more influenced.  

A salesperson with the right knowledge can therefore engage in dialogue with the customer and avoid this pitfall. It’s all about having meaningful conversations. And it’s not relevant whether these conversations take place through personal interaction or indirect communications – as long as the buyer finds answers in every phase of the buying cycle. Again: content marketing is essential, just like sales. And one cannot do without the other in complex B2B environments. 

And what about training?  

Traditional sales training has become outdated, just like the focus on quotas based on efficiency and effectiveness. What we need today, more than ever before, is more focus on sharing knowledge and experiences (see graph). 

Our advice to sales managers is therefore to enable salespeople to share useful information with customers during sales conversations, and to introduce a common language in your training that encourages team selling and experience sharing. Customer-facing professionals want to be able to have meaningful conversations that are relevant to the context and the customer’s phase in the buying cycle. ‘Just in time’ is the key phrase here. We are therefore seeing increased benefits in training that teaches competencies which allow salespeople to introduce contextually relevant cases, from themselves or at least from their environment. 

Increasing sales productivity again 

Our analyses consistently show that salespeople who possess the right knowledge, skills and tools are more likely to meet their quotas. This clearly falls under the realm of sales enablement, a continuous process of giving your customer-facing employees the knowledge, skills and tools they need. 

Figures from Miller Heiman Group from 2019 support this claim (see graph below), and they show the impact of sales enablement in their 5th Annual Sales Enablement Study. Organizations without sales enablement achieve a win rate of 42.5%, 3.9% lower than the average (46.4%). Organizations with sales enablement achieve an average win rate of 49.0%, a huge 15.3% increase. 

Win Rates for Forecast Deals

Win Rates for Forecast Deals

Creating an environment like this in your organization can therefore significantly improve your sales results. But how do you do that? First and foremost, you need a company culture that encourages continuous learning and improvement. Additionally, it’s also best to make relevant content available in bite-sized pieces, easily accessible, and with clear instructions on when and with whom to use it.  

In other words, the solution lies in continuously sharing knowledge and experiences to improve the productivity of salespeople and the entire sales team.  

To find out more, get in touch with one of our experts who will be happy to provide you with specifically tailored and actionable input. Book your appointment today. 

Want to learn more? Download our eBook:

Who are the hunters and farmers in your sales team? Or do other characteristics determine the DNA of your salespeople? If you want to improve your team’s sales performance, you need to know their DNA. 

The classic way to look at salespeople is the dichotomy between hunters and farmers. In a nutshell, this is the difference between salespeople who acquire customers and who maintain customer relationships. 

Unfortunately, this dichotomy is a bit outdated, and no longer useful for maximizing your team’s sales potential. Further in this article, I explain why. But let me start by stating how we may look at this in a better way. 

Three important sales competencies  

Research has shown that every sales profile is, to a greater or lesser extent, a combination of three components or competencies. And one such competence is a mix of knowledge, skills, attitudes and convictions.  

These components are:  

  • Account Management: This competency focuses on supporting the customer in the best way. This translates into customer support and taking responsibility to resolve problems quickly and appropriately. Account Management also means coordinating and connecting the right people within the company and the customer. Everything is about service and maintaining existing relationships. 
  • Account Development: This competency includes actively seeking up-sell and cross-sell opportunities. Important attributes here are proactivity and thinking with the customer to cover their needs with the available range of products and services as much as possible. Account Development requires that you can extend relationships to colleagues of your relations who may also benefit from a partnership. This allows you to sell other products and services and maximize the share of wallet. 
  • Business Development: The three main characteristics here are building new relationships, empathy for the customer’s business and influencing from trust. This competency is necessary to develop new opportunities within the same company, but also to activate and bring in new customers. 
Sales Profile by team example:
Sales profile by team

Healthy mix  

Every salesperson has a unique blend of the three competencies listed above. Some of the underlying skills can be learned, at least up to the point where the salesperson steps outside their comfort zone too far or when personal beliefs become too much of an obstacle in a business environment. In that respect, it is not strange to speak of the salesperson’s DNA. An obvious example is that you would teach someone who scores very high on account management and has virtually no business development competency skills, to market a new product or focus on new customer acquisition.  

Based on the unique mix of competencies, you can better distribute roles and responsibilities in your team. A balanced distribution ensures a consistent and positive customer experience across all touch points. 

For example, someone with strong account management competencies and little affinity for business development will function best in a commercial support function. Customer Success and inside sales are two typical job titles for such a profile. Someone with strong business development competencies and little affinity for account management will thrive on bringing in new customers, and preferably non-recurring customers. 

Why the hunter – farmer model is no longer adequate 

The dichotomy between hunters and farmers may have been useful as a shortcut, but today’s more complex sales practice requires a much more nuanced view. Today we see sales profiles more as a unique blend of three competencies that every salesperson possesses to a greater or lesser degree. 

Today’s reality brings forth new challenges: 

  • The Internet and social media often lead to better informed customers, but just as often to misinformed customers.  
  • The number of people involved in B2B decisions has increased to an average of 6.8 people and can be as high as 20.  
  • Products and services have become more comprehensive and complex. 
  • Market volatility has never been greater. 
  • The speed of change and evolution continues to increase. 

The best way to deal with this new complexity is to organize sales as a team sport. Make sure all competencies are present in the right dosage so you can offer your customers a consistently positive experience throughout the entire customer journey. 

Better performance based on your team DNA   

The distribution of the three sales profiles across your team is what we call your team DNA. That DNA will have an impact on: 

  • How and who you are hiring, and which competencies you need to reinforce  
  • Which roles you assign to the different people in your team  
  • Which skills and knowledge areas need to be developed  
  • How you compose your customer portfolios. For example, you want to avoid having pure acquisition customers in the same portfolio as retention customers. 
  • How you manage and coach each team member in line with what they like to do and what they want to improve in quickly.

Do you want to maximize the performance and mental fitness of your sales team? Then, first and foremost, you need a certain balance in the available profiles adapted to your goals. An efficient, flexible and balanced team with the right DNA consists of motivated employees who each individually do the right things at the right time, together with the right stakeholders, both internally and with the customer. 

Discover your team DNA  

Do you want to map the DNA of your sales team and use this to improve their performance? You can. At Perpetos, we use a sophisticated audit that we can also link to sales performance. 

For example, in this audit we examine: 

  • The preferences and spontaneous reactions of team members when handling a range of customer situations  
  • Time spent on each type of sales activity
  • Time lost on activities that should not be the responsibility of a sales person 
  • What energizes your sales reps and keeps them mentally fit 
  • To what extent they are satisfied with support from other departments 
  • In some cases, to what extent compensation is perceived as “fair” and in line with expected performance 

We call this our Account Development Audit™. The audit is most effective for companies that derive a significant portion of their revenue from recurring customers and sales. For companies that sell investment goods for example, we have a different audit that is more suited to that typical environment. 

An audit of your sales team is an important step towards making better use of the people available to realize your goals.

Do you want to know more about the possible impact of a DNA analysis of your team?

The war for talent is raging. On top of that, B2B buying behavior is changing dramatically. Commercial teams have a hard time finding answers to these ongoing challenges. The changing environment has a serious impact on sales functions, responsibilities and competencies. What your sales team needs now is new skills. Even more than that, it needs a program that enables your team to continuously develop and hone its competencies, through an effective learning method. At Perpetos, we call this your Sales Academy.  

We can think of at least five reasons why your team needs its own Sales Academy: 

  1. Consistent training: A Sales Academy will provide your team with consistent commercial training, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals. This will help to deliver a consistent and positive customer experience in all the touch points with your organization. In turn, this will lead to improved sales effectiveness and better results. 
  1. Customized training: By developing your own Sales Academy, you can customize learning according to the specific needs and performance priorities of your company. This requires a company-specific integration between individual competence gaps, business performance gaps, team interactions, effective messaging that engages customers, and new ways of working. This can include messaging about specific products and services, that are most effective and translated into your sales teams’ reality. 
  1. Increased sales: Sales is not that different from athletics. Training and mental fitness are key for a top performance. By providing your commercial team with the tools they need to succeed, you can improve their ability to close deals, improve customer loyalty and maximize revenue for your business. 
  1. Improved customer experience: Well-trained people in today’s reality understand how people buy and are also better equipped to do their job. By understanding the different phases of the customer journey and knowing how to adjust messaging accordingly, your sales team will be able to influence buyers more successfully and build stronger relationships. 
  1. Increased employee retention: Providing continuous learning opportunities will help to improve employee satisfaction and retention. But just as important is a commercial academy to groom sales talent and facilitate internal job mobility, from a technical role into sales and moving on to key account management. All this requires is a well thought out training strategy with competencies linked to learning modules, which allow people to grow in their career and be guided with Just In Time learning.  

Signing up for a Sales Academy in your B2B organization means that you are serious about installing a culture of continuous improvement, and that you want to stimulate peer-to-peer learning.

People uplift each other when they are challenged. They acquire new competencies and are being reminded about the things they know but no longer apply. After all, the hardest thing to achieve is closing the gap between knowing and doing. 

The digital landscape has profoundly changed the buyer journey. Today, customers go online to find answers. But does this mean that the salesperson is no longer necessary? Not at all. The magic word here is relevance. In addition, sales reps need to find the right balance between digital and personal touch points throughout the customer journey. 

We’ve all read it before. According to one study, customers have already completed 57% of their customer journey before the first appointment with a salesperson. According to another study, even 70% of that customer journey has already been completed. No wonder it’s so hard to get an appointment, you might think. 

Relevant touch points

And yet, many of those so-called studies on the customer journey draw the wrong conclusion. Not surprisingly so, if you look at who publishes or sponsors the research. Very often they are providers of marketing automation solutions who would love to have all those salespeople replaced by their content marketing platform. If only it were that simple.  

What those studies do expose are symptoms of another phenomenon, namely that customers no longer accept being bombarded with irrelevant company presentations or product pitches. What customers do expect however, are relevant touch points tailored to the buying phase the customer is in. This applies to both digital and physical interactions. 

An earlier study by SiriusDecisions, now part of Forrester, proves this statement. Their figures show that prospects are willing to interact with salespeople at any stage of the customer journey, regardless of the complexity of the product. The prerequisite is that the salesperson can detect the right buying stage and align the conversation accordingly. 

Providing value

This obviously requires a different approach. Now, the focus is increasingly shifting from push to pull communication. In other words, sales reps will need to put less effort into arguing and persuading, but focus more on dialogue and bringing new insights.  

In addition, as a sales professional, you are expected to know your customer’s background. Asking about your customer’s challenges is therefore pointless. After all, the customer doesn’t have time to train salespeople on the challenges of their job and their industry.   

A relevant contact does not necessarily imply knowing the customer’s exact priorities. What is important here is to deliver a message that is recognizable to the customer’s industry. That is enough to start a dialogue. Once your client feels that there is value in it for him, those priorities will come forward naturally.

Tools that help you stay in touch  

Based on dialogue, the customer and salesperson can decide together whether a follow-up action or further contact is needed. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical appointment. As a salesperson, you can also keep the relationship warm by offering valuable, relevant content. That’s why a good collaboration with the marketing team is recommended. They can offer you the tools you need to keep the contact with the customer going.  

Some examples where the marketing team can help you: 

    • Background information and descriptions that help you empathize with the different roles and markets where you want to build and maintain relationships 
    • Clear value propositions that demonstrate the link between customer challenges and aspirations and the products and services you offer  
    • Relevant content, such as case studies, ebooks or research results, which allows you to communicate digitally in a relevant way in between your face-to-face contacts with customers  
    • A digital preference center, where you can link content to customer profiles and topics, and which is customizable by the customer  
    • A CRM where you can easily start linking relevant content to a contact that has not been added to the system 

    Don’t believe the hype  

    No appointment? No panic. There are ways other than physical contact to keep the relationship with the customer warm. Despite what many ominous studies tell you, the salesperson remains relevant, and at every stage of the buying cycle. So, don’t believe the hype. Do try to stay relevant and engage with the customer. With the right marketing tools, that task will become much easier. Good luck!

    Today’s buying cycles are more like nonlinear, networked journeys. As a sales professional, it’s almost impossible to handle this complex fuzzy logic process on your own. That’s why selling is a team sport. It needs multiple people with different roles who need to work together to achieve a common goal: solving customer challenges and aspirations.

    5 reasons why sales is a team sport

    1. Selling is a complex process that requires different competencies.

    Selling includes building relationships, qualifying, gathering insights, enriching the vision of the customer, influencing based on your strengths, negotiating and closing. Each phase of the buying cycle requires different skills and knowledge. Developing sales talent to prepare them for all these competencies takes too much time. It is too risky and it prevents companies from reaching their full potential. Collaboration between team members is the name of the game.

    2. Selling is a competitive process that requires differentiation and mental strength.

    In today’s crowded, noisy market, customers have many options and alternatives. The abundance of available information makes it hard to distinguish what is relevant. A salesperson can help customers by pointing out what is relevant to their business and challenges. Sales can help by visualizing what the impact will be when they use their products and services. This can help the customer to break the status quo and actively seek a solution. Only then is it the right time to talk about products and services and link those to the solution the customer has in mind. To drive the buyer towards a favorable decision, a commercial organization needs to make use of the strengths and resources of its team. This includes seeking assistance from marketing, product development, product marketing, technical experts, application engineers, and customer service.

    3. Selling is a relational process that requires trust.

    Customers always buy from salespeople they like, know and trust. Yet, the number of people involved in B2B buying cycles has increased to at least 5, even up to 20 people, depending on the complexity of the offering and the size of the customer’s organization. How can one person build rapport and credibility with so many people in different roles? How can one person have relevant conversations to establish long-term relationships that go beyond the transaction?

    Commercial organizations have to enable a team to build relationships in parallel. Sales can be the orchestrator in this to ensure a consistent and positive customer experience throughout the buyer’s journey. That is a big change for traditional sellers, because it means they no longer own the relationship. Many people and digital touchpoints are now in play in parallel.

    4. Selling is a dynamic process that requires adaptation.

    Customer needs, preferences and expectations change over time. The offering evolves, the competition is changing, new competitors enter the market, sometimes with a totally new perspective. A salesperson needs to stay on top of market trends and customer feedback. This requires the team to adjust its strategy and tactics accordingly. That’s why they need to learn and grow with their team, and continuously build ‘next’ practices instead of ‘best practices’ based on these insights and lessons learned.

    5. Selling is a rewarding process that requires recognition.

    Salespeople work hard to achieve their goals and overcome challenges. They need to feel appreciated and valued for their efforts and contributions. The new context has a huge impact, because they no longer are the hero. It’s the team who is realizing success and failure together. That’s why they need to learn to celebrate success as a team and acknowledge their achievements, express gratitude and enjoy the fruits of the collaboration. It’s an important role for sales leaders to facilitate this, while keeping the mental resilience of the salesperson high. At the end of the day, the salesperson is like a deep striker in soccer. If they don’t score enough, the team can’t win.

    5 tips on how to organize sales as a team sport

    1. Define clear roles

    Define clear roles and responsibilities for each team member involved in the customer journey. Make sure everyone knows what they are expected to do, when they are expected to do it and how they are expected to do it. They all need to understand how they contribute and what others in the team are expecting from them.

    2. Foster communication

    Establish regular communication channels and feedback mechanisms for all involved. Make sure everyone is informed, aligned and engaged with the sales goals, strategies and activities.

    3. Stimulate collaboration

    Create a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement. Make sure everyone respects, supports and helps each other to achieve the common goal.

    4. Keep learning

    Stimulate a culture of learning and development. Make sure everyone seeks, shares and applies new knowledge, skills and ideas to improve their performance.

    5. Celebrate success as a team.

    Cultivate a culture of recognition and appreciation among team members involved in the sales process. Make sure everyone acknowledges, praises and rewards each other for their efforts and results.

    With today’s complex buying cycles, we need to have everyone on board to make the sale. Everyone is in sales and can contribute to ensure a consistent and positive customer experience in every touchpoint.

    In our previous post, we explained that a complex business negotiation is much like a chess game. It’s about making a move and anticipating your customer’s next moves. One of our customers, a packaging company, recently learned this by following our Complex Negotiations Implementation Track, an intense training & development program for sales teams and management professionals. Throughout the process, our customer started to have a pretty good idea of what they were doing right and should do more of, what they needed to stop doing, and what they needed to start doing. We packed all the valuable lessons in a practical overview.  

    What they need to CONTINUE doing 

    Have strategic conversations

    Before going into the negotiation and even quotation phase, start by exploring the customer’s challenges and priorities for improvement. During preparations, also talk to technical teams or people on the work floor. 

    Sell the value, not the product  

    Sales reps like to see their customer relationship as a partnership, where they jointly work on Total Cost of Ownership. This is a much better choice than just defending the value or margin on your product. To do this successfully, you need to be able to prove the value you are offering, whether it’s a cost reduction, cost avoidance, increased revenue, or decreased risk.  

    You need to make clear that taking your company out of the equation would have a negative impact, one that outweighs the potential price gain from working with a cheaper vendor. The value you offer, including the specialty services on top of your product, is something unique.  

    Prepare, prepare, and then prepare some more 

    Hamlet knew: readiness is all. Preparation does make a difference. Prepare your meetings and calls by inputting data and insights from the customer in a structured way and always determine a next objective before starting any new customer interaction.   

    What they need to STOP doing 

    Give discounts  

    Discounts don’t exist. Concessions are always a value transfer. Giving a discount without getting something in return will undermine your integrity and credibility. You are always offering the best price as part of your partnership. That is why you need something in return when your customer needs a lower price.  

    Enter price negotiations before issues are solved  

    Before going into the negotiation endgame (where you discuss what to give and take), you should reconfirm all actions that have been agreed upon and that have led to resolving all objections and concerns. It makes no sense to start your endgame discussion when some issues are still on the table.  


    Don’t talk about features or benefits before you are sure that your customer will perceive these as valuable. You need clear confirmation from your customer about the relevance of your features and benefits.  

    Ask self-serving questions  

    Questions like ‘when are you taking a decision?’ do not help the customer. Instead, ask things like ‘by when would you like to see the first shipment or implementation?’ 

    Assume things  

    It’s dangerous to assume things. What happened yesterday or today, will not necessarily happen tomorrow. Don’t assume something to be true even if it is true 99% of the time. Instead discuss it with your customer and get confirmation. Remember: one mistake with one customer is 100% failure. 

     “Give” before preparing a give and take list 

    You should always have a list of “gives and takes” before entering a negotiation. You need to know what concessions the customer is willing to do in exchange for your give list. Remember, it’s not wise to start giving before the Middlegame (all non-price related matters) has ended.  

    What they need to START doing 

    Ask the magic opening question 

    ‘What has changed since the last time we spoke’ is a great opening question. You don’t always know what has happened since you last spoke with your customer, so you should ask this question every time before going into the meeting agenda.  

    Close every meeting  

    ABC – Always Be Closing: try to get as close as possible to your next objective. Summarize what is agreed upon and ask for confirmation. 

    Use the pre-close technique  

    You have explored give/take scenarios and you have confirmed these with your internal team/management. The next thing you want to do is apply the pre-closing technique. This means that you assess the mood of the buyer before asking for the sale, so you can move your prospect forward more easily.  

    Use the Game Plan template  

    When reaching the Middlegame (resolving objections and concerns), use the Game Plan template. This is a tactical support tool which challenges you on all levels. 

    Assess the Balance of Power  

    Before going into the end game, assess the Balance of Power to prevent procurement from using pressure and emotion as a negotiation tactic. Many sales professionals underestimate the power they have over the customer. You might be surprised about the impact you have on a customer when you talk about what they would lose when moving to a competitor or what they would gain when they do (more) business with you. If you negotiate with more confidence, you will achieve more margin. 

    Let’s play chess 

    Negotiations are much like chess. And when you apply these lessons learned you’re much more likely to make the best moves and win the game.  

    Even if you’re an experienced sales professional, there’s something to be learned here. Based upon my own sales leadership experience, I firmly believe it’s good to be challenged sometimes, especially when you are confronted with changing circumstances, or when you have been in the same company or business for quite some time.  

    Just like our packaging customer, it’s a great, eye-opening exercise to draft your own start – stop – continue plan. In fact, I believe this can benefit any sales professional, whether you are experienced or not. It’s useful to always refresh your skills, polish your good habits, and have a fresh pair of eyes looking over your shoulder.

    My colleagues and I have supported many experienced and senior professionals in this. If you are looking for a negotiation trajectory, similar to what we have offered to our packaging customer, we can be that partner for you.

    If life is like a box of chocolates, then a business negotiation is definitely like a chess game. It’s about making a move and anticipating the next move of your customer. That’s the analogy we use in our complex negotiations implementation track, which we recently offered to a customer in the packaging industry. Let’s have a look at how we improved this customer’s negotiation outcomes. 

    A few days into the implementation track, we already received encouraging customer feedback:

    Thanks to the Perpetos workshop on Complex Negotiations, we were able to close a difficult negotiation that had been going on for several months, and we brought a good result home.

    Of course, this didn’t come out of nothing. Just like a chess game, the negotiations had a well-prepared opening, middlegame and end game. Here is what happened. 

    Opening: price pressure  

    Our above-mentioned packaging company was suddenly confronted with one of their long-term, high-volume customers who after a leadership change decided to bid and test the market. The customer wanted to reduce their current raw material prices by 5% and even succeeded in obtaining a price offer that was 12% below our packaging company’s proposal.  

    The customer was not opposed to a 3-year agreement per se. However, they did not want to be tied to automatic material (price) increases. Instead, they preferred to negotiate and test the market annually. In chess terms, the customer had made its opening move.  

    Middlegame: a well-conceived game plan  

    Was giving in to price pressure the only option for our packaging company? Far from it. This is how they handled it differently. For starters, the packaging company’s sales representative prepared his case using our Game Plan Template, which focuses on the customer’s needs and helps to map out all possible scenarios prior to the first customer meeting. 

    Next, the sales rep assessed the balance of power. Based on that, he came to an understanding how he could influence that balance and determine his starting position. His plan A was a 3-year contract with a 16% price increase. Plan B included a 3-year contract with an 11% price increase and 10 M$ of new volume. 

    The sales rep started the meeting with one simple question: “What has changed since the last time we spoke?” The question brought him a ton of new information about the buyer’s priorities and additional responsibilities. During the discussion, the focus was not so much on selling the packaging, but it shifted towards the added value and services provided by the packaging company. The sales rep also made sure that all open issues were closed at the table. This boxed the buyer into a position where he did not have any leverage relating to service or quality.  

    End game: giving and taking   

    Despite expecting a 5% price reduction, the customer did sign a 3-year contract with a 16% price increase. In exchange for this concession by the customer, the packaging sales rep agreed to reduce the increase to 11% for business or additional volumes coming from a new plant.  

    Everybody wins  

    Both buyer and seller came out better from the negotiation. This may sound easy, but in practice it’s not. It can be hard to sit in front of a customer who believes the market is softening and who demands price increases based on outdated material indices.  

    You could also argue that all the above is obvious. So, why would you need a training or implementation track for that? Our answer to that question is: anyone who has been sitting in front of a customer lately, anyone who has sensed the heat of the moment, will know that these things aren’t obvious. We don’t always apply what we have learned, especially when we’re in the everyday rush. People do not change their behavior overnight, especially salespeople, who can be a bit stubborn. (I’m allowed to say that, because I am one.) 

    Tools for negotiation success  

    At Perpetos, we develop tools, we provide handles, and we give tips to put all the above advice into practice and to embed it in your daily sales approach. Implementation is the most difficult part of a change process. That’s where we go the extra mile. We do not just train people, we help them to implement change as well. 

    Here is some feedback we received from participants of our recent implementation track: 

    Negotiation is a chess game indeed. No matter how close your relationship with the buyer is, they can never be completely truthful. Preparation is so important. Confidence in the value you can provide, makes all the difference for your mindset.

    When a customer makes a request, it’s OK to push back and ask something in return.

    I need to dig deeper and find the underlying request. Never just assume!

    Great session, it gave me the tools I need to take this to my customer.

    More chess  

    In our next blog, we’ll discuss some more lessons from the field. We’ll share the key takeaways from the implementation track followed by our packaging company. These lessons were learned during several workshops we had with the EU and US leadership team and global key account managers. 

    Many of today’s interactions take place via automated, CRM or CX management tools, which often don’t tap into the full customer potential. There’s still immense value to be had from our ‘human touchpoints’ – our moments of personal contact, which are often the only way to clearly see if your offer matches customer expectations. But it goes further than this. These moments can actively influence the customer vision and develop new potential. Customer-centric conversations are also the topic of one of our ongoing client programs, in which we’re teaching these techniques to 30 teams throughout EMEA. Over the space of three months, we’re preparing our client’s in-house and external sales teams for these challenges.  

    Human interaction is still incredibly valuable for assessing your customer’s potential and influencing their decisions – something we sometimes forget in today’s hectic world with so much focus on data. Conversations with your customer are the ideal opportunity to find out whether they can clearly see the benefits of your solution and how they will help their organization. After all, what you think you can give doesn’t always match up to what the customer is trying to buy.  

    Buyer alignment + sales effectiveness  

    Exposing this value to the customer at the right time and influencing their potential are critical for continued growth. So ask yourself whether the customer can see the value you bring, and if you can use it to accelerate their sales cycle – the intersection between buyer alignment (where your sales process aligns with the buyer journey) and sales effectiveness. Successfully combining these two aspects creates real value.  

    Value selling  

    It’s also the exact combination that we’re working on in our upskilling process for 30 teams, where value selling is still a critical component. And that’s why we – together with our client – are developing this further on a new messaging framework, and helping to convert this value and messaging in the workplace. Ready to use and available for their teams. 

    In the beginning of February, we launched a successful kick-off event for an EMEA program deployment with 30 teams. Our aim: to bring the customer to the heart of the organization.

    During the event, we worked with the customer to get up to speed with proactive selling. 6 Perpetos people on stage, a high-energy event, and an exceptionally motivated audience. We’re grateful for having realized another success.

    Implementation & results

    Since COVID, Perpetos has proven to be a global boutique for implementing commercial excellence. Yet, we are humble and grateful for being able to co-pilot critical programs for international and global organizations. Our boutique size, our proven methodology, and our team of field experts formed the winning combination of this event.

    Implementation is key in everything we do. Supported by tools and technology, we implement change at a speed that allows our participants to pick up the message fast and make it their second nature. On top of that, we value authenticity, and respect cultural differences, while still ensuring our one way of selling.

    Pascal Persyn, CEO of Perpetos comments:

    We always want to bridge the gap between our advisory position – providing knowledge – and the practicalities of implementation. In other words: we want to see results too.

    Motivation is key

    According to Pascal Persyn, the willingness to change and the motivation to overcome the inevitable hurdles are critical.

    The question is not whether we can prevent these hurdles, but whether we are ready to deal with them when they occur. That’s one of the reasons why experience in the field is a must.

    Stay tuned for more!

    All together, we experienced a vibrant kick-off event and we are ready to meet more teams all over EMEA. No doubt, sales and implementing commercial excellence are team sports. 

    In our next blog post, we will go more in depth on how we brought 30 teams up to speed with the art of proactive selling.

    Today, investing in learning and development is a must. But does it actually pay off? Far too often, training is just a box-ticking exercise and knowledge is quickly forgotten. So, how do you build an effective learning journey, one that embeds knowledge into your organization, and that drives a change in behavior and mindset?

    2 rules of thumb before you start

    When we map out an effective learning journey, we always consider the following rules of thumb:

    1. The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve: up to 90% of new tools and concepts get forgotten after a workshop or training.
    2. The 70-20-10 rule, or the balance between the different modes of learning:
      • 70% = on-the-job learning
      • 20% = social learning by working together, coaching and mentoring
      • 10% = learning from courses and workshops

    3 stages in a learning journey

    1. Train

    Trainings and workshops are only one stage of the learning journey. For optimal effect, we work with various techniques in this stage, such as breakout sessions, self-paced learning and role-playing. These techniques make knowledge more digestible.

    2. Transfer

    In the next stage, we apply that knowledge to the workplace. Again, we deploy a mix of techniques and formats, such as working with assignments or incorporating learning nuggets.

    3. Sustain

    The most important thing, of course, is that learning not only leads to one-time knowledge accumulation, but also to long-term impact. Through coaching or peer-learning, for example, you not only embed knowledge, but you can also achieve a change in behavior and mindset.

    From our experience in designing learning journeys that really pay off, we’d like to offer some tips & tricks: