Connect With Us
Join the Solution Selling Alumni

Published Books
  • The Collaborative Sale: Solution Selling in a Buyer Driven World
    The Collaborative Sale: Solution Selling in a Buyer Driven World
    by Keith M. Eades, Timothy T. Sullivan
  • The New Solution Selling: The Revolutionary Sales Process That is Changing the Way People Sell
    The New Solution Selling: The Revolutionary Sales Process That is Changing the Way People Sell
    by Keith M. Eades, Keith Eades
  • The Solution Selling Fieldbook: Practical Tools, Application Exercises, Templates and Scripts for Effective Sales Execution
    The Solution Selling Fieldbook: Practical Tools, Application Exercises, Templates and Scripts for Effective Sales Execution
    by Keith M. Eades, James N. Touchstone, Timothy T. Sullivan
  • The Solution-Centric Organization
    The Solution-Centric Organization
    by Keith M. Eades, Robert Kear
  • Hope Is Not a Strategy: The 6 Keys to Winning the Complex Sale
    Hope Is Not a Strategy: The 6 Keys to Winning the Complex Sale
    by Rick Page
Privacy Policy

How to Protect Strategic Accounts from Competitors

By David Stargel, VP and Senior Consultant, Sales Performance International

How much of your annual goal depends on growing revenue in strategic accounts? Almost all of our clients tell us that a relatively small number of large accounts generate a disproportionate amount of their revenue. Protecting and growing revenue in strategic accounts are critical success factors for nearly every sales leader.

So, how awful would it be if a strategic account “went silent” and you found out later that a competitor displaced you?

Strategic accounts are among your organization’s most valuable assets. Protecting them against competitors, and growing business by creating and winning new opportunities, depend heavily on the breadth and quality of relationships in those accounts. Strategic accounts will always be at risk if your sales team is not aligned with the right people—the ones with the influence or authority to launch or sustain business initiatives.

Effective account managers develop and elevate their relationship levels in accounts by:

  1. Assessing Organizational Power and Politics

    It is common for account managers to get comfortable with a solitary relationship in an account, and often with a contact at an operational level. This is risky because buyers in accounts can leave and get replaced by others with different loyalties. To guard against this eventuality, your account managers must:

    • Identify all of the key stakeholders in the account
    • Assess each stakeholder’s power and influence
    • Determine political standing with each

    Your account managers must look beyond formal titles and reporting relationships and also examine each contact’s informal authority and power to get things done. Good account managers generally have an intuitive understanding of an organization’s political landscape, but it’s best to not leave this to intuition alone. By establishing objective criteria to evaluate stakeholders, account managers will have a more accurate understanding of the people with whom they must align.

  2. Gaining Access to New Stakeholders

    Once an account manager identifies a stakeholder with whom they want to build a relationship, the easiest way to gain access is to suggest ways to solve a problem with significant organizational impact. Current contacts in an account are much more likely to introduce sellers to other stakeholders, if they believe that seller will bring value. By identifying the specific business issues or potential missed opportunities of different stakeholders, account managers can suggest potential solutions, leverage existing relationships, and gain access to new stakeholders more easily.

  3. Nurturing Existing Relationships

    While approaching new stakeholders in an account, either directly or through an existing relationship, account managers must be sensitive to how that will be perceived – they must be careful to not risk alienating current contacts. Savvy account managers work to nurture existing contact relationships by collaborating actively with them, keeping them informed, and showing how they can bring value to other parts of the organization – and thereby reflect well on existing contacts’ reputations.

  4. Getting Credit for Value

    Nothing elevates an account relationship more than getting credit for value delivered. This means not only regularly measuring and reporting the business impact of solutions, but also in bringing new insight and business savvy to every conversation in the account. Account manager conversations must show understanding of stakeholder challenges – they need to demonstrate situational fluency. Good account managers also do their research and calculate the cost of the status quo and the value of potential benefits. Each conversation in an account needs to be value-based.

In modern account management, the best defense is a good offense. By using these proactive methods to develop and elevate the level of relationships, account managers will be much better able to protect strategic accounts against competitive encroachment.

Download our Levels of Account Relationship guide. It will help you and your team to accurately assess the quality of relationships in accounts.

Dave Stargel is a Vice President and Senior Consultant with SPI.  He is involved in SPI’s product development of key programs for strategic planning solutions, and works with key client accounts to drive sustainable revenue growth by aligning their sales talent with their strategic business goals.


Sales Training Buyer's Guide

15 Questions to Identify the Best for Your Team

Sales training programs can easily provide a return on investment of 50x or more. However, not all sales training is the same. If not properly scoped or implemented, selecting a training option can result in a lot of time and money wasted. Your choice of a sales training provider is critically important to the success or failure of your initiative.

In our experience, clients who achieve the most success are those who establish clear criteria before evaluating possible solution providers. For this reason, we have created a new Sales Training Buyer’s Guide.

The guide describes fifteen critical questions in four categories, enabling you to clearly identify and prioritize your needs. The guide also includes an evaluation grid, so that you can score potential providers consistently and make an optimum choice.

This guide includes questions that help you to evaluate sales training options in four critical criteria:

  • Business Strategy Alignment -
    these questions enable you to determine the degree that different training options align with your company’s business strategies, and how your customers buy. They also provide criteria for weighing the ability of providers to align with your organization’s industry, and with your marketing and sales support teams.
  • Process/Methodology Alignment -
    these questions enable you to assess how well different training options support key sales processes and methodologies, and integrate with existing methods and best practices. They also evaluate how well a provider’s can assess your sales team’s developmental needs and track improvement.
  • Management/Systems Integration -
    these questions enable you to evaluate how well training providers can help your sales managers to coach and reinforce the expected new sales behaviors. They also help you determine how well different training providers can design and implement effective sales processes and methods for your organization, and their ability to integrate with your CRM and sales enablement systems.
  • Global Access/Localization Support -
    these questions help you to weigh the ability of training providers’ options for content access, by using different modalities for delivery, and their ability to deliver content in local languages, with appropriate cultural nuances.

Buying sales training can be a big investment, and the decision can be tricky. Selecting the right sales training partner has a profound impact on the success of your initiative. Our Sales Training Buyer’s Guide will help you make a more informed decision. Please download the guide, or contact us with any questions.


How to Sell More in Key Accounts

By David Stargel, VP and Senior Consultant, Sales Performance International

Are your salespeople putting enough time, effort and thought into developing and retaining business with your current customers, especially in large key accounts? And even if they are, how do you know if they are doing this effectively?

Our clients tell us that the cost of sale for acquiring a new customer can be up to ten times more than for developing business in an existing account. Increased profitability of business over the life of a retained customer is why most organizations are allocating more resources to sharpen their customer retention and growth strategies. But not all are doing this in a disciplined and systematic way.

Too many salespeople focus on chasing the next big deal. Many sellers depend too much on inbound demand generation driven by marketing. This has conditioned many salespeople to be reactive – whenever a “hot” lead surfaces, they drop everything to chase it down.

Selling more to existing accounts means getting ahead of this reactionary curve. Your salespeople must dedicate enough time and thought to strategically analyze their customer, identify where the real growth opportunities exist, and determine how to add value. To maximize sales in current accounts, this discipline must be executed consistently by every seller with account management responsibilities.

White Space Analysis is an approach to help account managers to systematically understand:

  • What’s happening in a customer organization
  • The drivers and issues that are impacting the customer
  • The initiatives that they are considering to execute their strategy
  • How they can create value in the account by enabling the customer to succeed

These insights enable sellers to identify a customer’s performance gaps or problems, and where your solutions and capabilities align with those issues. Think of this as a two-axis matrix, with the vertical axis listing the problems that a customer is struggling to overcome, and the horizontal axis listing your solution set.

Our clients report that the White Space Analysis exercise, while simple to execute, consistently increases the number of identified opportunities to create value and generate new business by two to seven times.

Once an account manager identifies the highest-value solutions that match up to a customer’s most critical business issues, they can then prioritize the opportunities, assess their strength of relationship and access to decision makers, and develop a practical plan to gain access, build support, and secure the business.

White Space Analysis is one element of SPI’s Total Enterprise Account Management (TEAM) program for improved account sales planning and relationship development. The discipline of White Space Analysis enables your sales team to identify where they can create new value, for both customers and for your own organization, and thus, maximize results in accounts. It changes the reactive behavior of most sellers, and helps them to develop a higher level of relationship. This is especially important in large, key accounts, which represent the most profitable customers.

If you sense that you should be getting more from your existing accounts, then start by downloading our White Space Analysis template.

Dave Stargel is a Vice President and Senior Consultant with SPI.  He is involved in SPI’s product development of key programs for strategic planning solutions, and works with key client accounts to drive sustainable revenue growth by aligning their sales talent with their strategic business goals.


How Life Sciences Sellers Must Adapt

Five Best Practices for Sales Success in the Age of Evidence-based Medicine

By Brad Ansley, Healthcare Practice Leader, SPI

Changes in government healthcare policies are having a profound impact on how healthcare products, services, and solutions are being bought. Reimbursements to healthcare providers are increasingly based on the value or outcome of their care and not the volume of care. This leads them to favor treatments that either decrease costs, improve patient outcomes, or both. Increasingly, therapeutic decisions to meet these criteria are based on evidence from well-designed and conducted research.

As these changes cascade, life sciences companies must also change how they engage with healthcare buyers in order to drive business results. Below are five best practices to help life sciences salespeople achieve greater success in this new era of evidence-based medicine.

  1. Adopt a solution-centric sales approach

    Your sales reps must learn to have solution-centric instead of product-centric discussions. They must understand the clinician’s practice and patient population, and how a solution creates value by lowering costs or improving outcomes. Solution-centric discussions require new skills, such as discovery, collaboration, and solution development.

  2. Develop strategic account management discipline

    As the sun sets on the era of independent physicians with great autonomy, and gives way to the dawning of widespread physician employment and multi-stakeholder decision making, representatives must develop a new skill set.  They must focus on solving those critical practice issues that may impact not just an individual physician but their whole organization. Selling strategically requires sales reps to identify stakeholders and their critical business/practice issues, gain access to the right stakeholders and create a vision of a solution by establishing links between brand value and stakeholders’ critical business/practice issues.

  3. Develop your evidence-based medicine (EBM) skills and vocabulary

    Understand and leverage the principles of evidence-based medicine and know how to speak the language. Many of today’s regulatory changes are focused on the use of EBM to ensure treatments are based on the best available evidence. Additionally, regulators now require medical schools to teach five levels of competency in EBM. This approach is influencing physicians’ perception of your sales reps. Research shows that EBM holds the strongest customer buying influence, and over 90 percent of physicians want reps to make more use of clinical studies and EBM in their conversations. Thus, representatives must know how to critically appraise clinical data like physicians are taught and use that information to establish the validity, statistical significance, and clinical relevance of the data.

  4. Speak both clinical and business language fluently

    Representatives must not only have the ability to speak the language of evidence-based medicine that physicians are expecting, they must also have the skill to address the objectives and concerns of key stakeholders. In the morning, a rep might be speaking about clinical data with the physician representative on the Value Analysis committee of an accountable care organization (ACO). In the afternoon, he or she may be speaking with a finance executive that’s interested in patient outcomes and the impact it will have on the bottom line.

  5. Advocate for your customer

    Your reps may not have all the answers at their fingertips that they need, and will need to access subject matter experts in your organization. They should think of themselves as the quarterback while looking for those solutions for the individual physician or healthcare organization. They must learn to pull from all resources in your company, and at times, across the industry. Healthcare organizations and individuals expect you to provide information that will help them solve critical issues or practice issues. Rally the right expertise and resources.

The one constant in life is change, and massive change is rocking the healthcare industry worldwide. Respond to change and you will reap the rewards. Ignore change, and you’ll certainly face some less than desirable consequences.

For more insight regarding your sales team, and on their readiness to sell in the age of EBM, we invite you to download our Evidence-based Solution Selling skills gap identifier.

With over two decades of experience in the life sciences industry as a microbiologist, pharmaceutical sales and marketing leader, and sales training consultant, Brad Ansley leads SPI’s healthcare industry practice. He is a principal developer of SPI’s Evidence-Based Solution Selling methodology, and has helped dozens of companies to improve their ability to sell life sciences industry solutions to their customers.


The Personality Trap

Why Personality Assessments Alone are Inadequate for Sales Hiring

By Dave Christofaro, Talent Analytics Practice Leader, Sales Performance International

Personality assessments, such as DISC or Meyers-Briggs, have an understandable appeal. They are well-known and generally inexpensive. However, according to research by I/O Psychology expert Dr. Frank Schmidt, the predictive quality, or validity, of personality assessments for selecting productive sales hires is far inferior to other assessment methods.

As the graph below shows, personality tests ranked near the bottom of predicting success in a job, and other assessments methods scored much higher. This is consistent with our research and experience working with our own clients.

Even in sales, personality alone rarely correlates to success in a job. Using an inexpensive but also ineffective tool comes at a high cost—the increased chance of making a bad hire.  Research data proves that using personality assessments as the primary assessment during hiring results in bad hire rates as high as 50 percent.  Let that soak in… 1 out of every 2 new sales reps could be the wrong fit for your company.

The subjective nature of personality assessments in hiring also places hiring organizations that use them at risk of violating Equal Employment Opportunity guidelines. Cornell University HR Review recommends using extreme caution when using personality assessments for hiring. Needless to say, to depend so heavily on a questionable tool could lead to costly mistakes and potential legal action.

It’s all in the KSAs

Personality tests simply don’t provide hiring managers enough relevant information about the candidate’s ability to succeed in the job. It only gives one dimension, when you need to be looking at the whole person. Knowledge and behavior are also extremely vital components for identifying productive sales hires.

According to research by Schmidt and Hunter, the factors that ultimately drive performance and effectiveness are knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA). The success rate of hiring the right person with assessments that measure KSA, combined with a structured interview process, is about 70 percent. This is more than three times better than when using personality assessments alone. Again, this is consistent with our own research and client experience.

Rather than using personality tests alone, you should use an assessment that measures the traits that correlate to success in a sales role. This means… 

  1. Creating competency models for each role to identify the competencies that drive success and the corresponding proficiency levels.
  2. Evaluating candidates relative to these standards with a multi-measure assessment that measures these competencies.
  3. Adopting a uniform hiring process to consistently evaluate candidates, and training your hiring managers in behavioral event interviewing skills to uncover the right information to make the best decisions.

This approach not only helps you make better hires.  It enables consistent evaluation of candidates against established standards, which reduces bias in your hiring process.

So, stop wasting resources on personality assessments and risking a bad hire. Save yourself the headache in the long run and look towards things that are more reliable and accurate. Wave goodbye to the personality approach and say hello to KSAs.

Download our Checklist of Effective Sales Hiring Tests to help you make the best choice.

Dave Christofaro is SPI’s Talent Analytics Practice Leader, focused on providing sales talent optimization services for effective assessment of sales teams, and enabling improved hiring of sales professionals.