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. 

    Times have never been more uncertain. Unpredictable events have become the norm, and effectively responding to disruption could be the difference between success and failure in 2023.

    The number of crises, and the frequency of these events, make it ever more important to be prepared to respond.

    In a recent survey (source: Alix Partners Disruption Index) 85% of the CEO’s interviewed agree it is becoming increasingly challenging to know which disruptive challenges to prioritize.

    Here are 4 take-aways to help you navigate through uncertain times:

    1. Align with your customers long term strategic vision or better yet, help them create it

    Make sure you truly understand the issues of your customers. Be aware that content is a significant driver in the buying decision. Value contribution has to be the #1 focus, and it takes deep relationships to understand your customers and to help them become more successful.

    2. Broaden your buying center relationships since more people are involved in the buying process

    Depending on the research source and business complexity , between 6,8 and 19 people are involved in B2B buying decisions. The length of the sales cycle increased by 22% since 2010. Make sure you are communicating with everyone involved, and connecting on a personal level with internal and external people that influence the buying process.

    3. Be sure to get involved with the customer buying journey early enough to enrich their vision of a better future state

    The following illustration outlines the customer journey. Getting involved early when the customer is investigating root causes of challenges, ways to solve and establishing decision criteria is really the only time to influence the path the customer will ultimately take when selecting a solution and a supplier. If you can help shape that vision you are more likely to be the supplier your customer chooses.

    Remember selling is all about ‘earning the right the influence’.

    4. Start from the customer’s point of view and embrace their perception of their current situation

    Put yourself in the shoes of your customer by “taking your shoes off” so you can put your own needs aside and act in the best interest of your customer.

    It’s not about what your service or product can do, but about its value to the customer. Knowing how your solution impacts their organisation and how you can help them achieve the results they desire is at the heart of helping customers in their buying journey.

    We at Perpetos strive to support our customers in continuous improvement and help them navigate through uncertain times.

    Last week, I had another meeting with a Head of Sales in order to determine improvement opportunities within his sales team. Once again, the Head of Sales expressed to me the closing skills of his account managers should better. 

    While this might be true for some, the reality is that this is mostly the symptom of another problem.  

    While conducting several assessments to determine skill and proficiency levels within and across sales teams in several organisations, we noticed a recurring pattern: sales professionals induce the difficulty of closing themselves

    How? They often go for the kill too soon in the selling process.  

    Let me explain. We all know buyers go through their own buying journey. After being triggered by something, their interest is raised, they become aware something should change, start exploring,… to finally end up deciding what specific solution they need and whom shall be the best provider of this solution.  

    If, as a sales rep, you start proposing a specific solution while the buyer just became aware something in his current situation should change, or worse, if you start telling him why he should collaborate with you, you will create a lot of friction.  

    When you think of it, it is no rocket science. It all has to do with the mental phases we all go through in our decision process towards change. This mental journey is illustrated by buyer journeys. This is something your sales reps should be aware of so they can determine what they should and should not do, and when to do it.  

    So, what about your sales reps’ closing skills? It is quite simple, really. If you want them to be efficient in applying their closing skills, first ask yourself if your selling process is aligned to the buyer journey. If so, your sales reps are able to identify the buying readiness of prospects, know what to do accordingly, and when to close.  

    Want to know if your selling processes is truly buyer aligned?

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