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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
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Leveraging Account and Territory Growth Reviews to Ensure Sales Success

By Steve Smith, Vice President, Sales Performance International

Every quarter, about one-third of sales leaders fall short of their goals, according to recent industry research. If you have ever found yourself in this situation, you know how uncomfortable your life becomes.

If you want to avoid this situation, there are several things you can do to improve the likelihood of attaining your sales objectives.

First, look at your average sales cycle times and compare them against the opportunities in your pipeline. Identify the low-hanging fruit you can win in the near-term and dedicate the right resources to close those opportunities. For example, if your typical sales cycle is 2-3 months for average sized opportunities and 4-6 months or more for larger deals, you can easily determine if there’s enough in your pipeline to make up any missed production in the quarter.

If your pipeline is too light, you can expand your current quarter pipeline by:

  • Closing opportunities slated for future quarters earlier, bringing them into the current quarter
  • Finding more recurring or repeating business in existing accounts that can be closed this quarter
  • Selling new offerings into existing accounts this quarter
  • Closing more new accounts
  • A combination of the above

Your First Focus

We recommend you first focus on your existing accounts. Sales cycles in existing accounts are usually shorter, and you should have more visibility into customers’ needs and where you can add value. It may also be easier from a financial, legal, and procurement standpoint if contracts and service agreements are already in place.

For your high-potential accounts, coach your salespeople to look beyond obviously defined needs and identify undefined needs which you can address. This can be accomplished more easily through a simple exercise called white space analysis.  White space analysis enables you to clearly and quickly identify new high-value opportunities in accounts. Download our simplified White Space Analysis worksheet to get started. This tool helps you find new sales opportunities by mapping your portfolio of solutions to a customer’s critical business issues and initiatives, thereby making a vital connection between your solution and its potential for solving an urgent problem.

Simplified White Space Analysis

Developing Latent Business

Once you’ve exhausted the identification of opportunities in existing accounts, turn your focus to new accounts. Selling into new accounts is usually a longer and more difficult sale, especially if buyers don’t know you or your company well. Most of these opportunities will be latent in nature.

Latent opportunities are those where the buyer is either unaware of a business need that they should address, or they are aware but aren’t yet motivated to do anything about it. Your salespeople will need to move these buyers from a latent state to an admitted state and motivate them to take action. This approach is very proactive, and creates a competitive advantage by influencing the buyer’s vision of a solution to one that favors you and your capabilities.

Turning latent opportunities into active opportunities requires a segmentation strategy.  A segmentation strategy can apply either at the account level in very large accounts or within a territory or portfolio of accounts.  We recommend creating an ideal account profile and then sorting accounts into three simple categories: A’s, B’s, and C’s.

  • “A” Prospects have the highest potential for new business, and should receive the most personal time and attention. “A” accounts are in a transition of some sort, or are being impacted by change, and thereby enable you to create a sense of urgency to act.  These should receive the highest priority for attention. Apply the white space analysis and mapping tool on your “A” accounts to identify specific opportunities to develop.
  • “B” Prospects are ones that do not have immediate potential for new business, but you have good existing relationships in place. Be opportunistic with “B” accounts by servicing recurring and repeat business as required, and leverage relationships to expand into new business units to create new opportunities, if possible.  Optional:  Apply the white space analysis and mapping tool on your “B” accounts.
  • “C” Prospects are accounts that have potential, but awareness is low, for both the buyer and the seller. You’ll really need to use digital media and micro-marketing, as opposed to higher-touch methods, to stimulate interest. The goal is to eventually convert “C” prospects into “A’s”.

Qualify Opportunities Rigorously

If your sales team is under pressure to achieve a difficult goal in a limited period of time, the temptation is to try to be everywhere at once and close everything. The savvy sales leader knows that the best performing sales teams qualify buyers against their compelling reason to act, and their willingness to share their problems (“pain”) and to collaborate to find optimum solutions. The best prospects collaborate and share their timeline and budget expectations. A good sales leader is always confirming that buyers are aligned with sellers and collaborative next steps are identified throughout the buying process.

If you are behind your number, we can help you develop a plan to get you back on track quickly. Please contact us for a confidential discussion.

Steve Smith is a vice president and sales team leader at Sales Performance International. He has served clients in the sales performance improvement industry for over 15 years, including many Fortune 500 organizations, to increase and sustain year-over-year sales productivity, revenue and earnings growth.


Understanding Buyer Decision Criteria

By James Touchstone, Director, Sales Performance International

Increasingly, organizations are making buying decisions using teams. As my colleagues Keith Eades and Tim Sullivan cited in their book, The Collaborative Sale, more than three-quarters of all B2B purchase decisions now include at least three people in the evaluation and selection process. Only three percent are now made by just one person.

A principal reason for using teams for buying decisions is that it reduces the risk of making poor selections from potential alternatives. Purchases made by buying committees are now the general norm, because they can mitigate risk and keep procurement costs under control.

And yet, we see too many sellers not taking the time to determine the different buying criteria of each individual on a buying committee. Sellers tend to over-focus on the perspective of their initial contact or sponsor, or they will take the formalized requirements listed in a request for proposal as the sole or most valid source for the buying organization’s decision criteria.

In contrast, smart sales professionals know that each person in a buying committee will have a different perspective about what is most important in a potential solution. Each individual will have their own vision of what a solution needs to do, in order to provide the most value. Some will be focused on financial value and cost reduction. Others will worry about how they could transition successfully from the status quo. And still others will focus on operational capabilities and new advantages.

Analyzing Decision Criteria

Sales leaders can coach their sellers to navigate through buying committees more successfully by analyzing and understanding the buying criteria for each relevant individual. By interviewing stakeholders, and verifying findings with friendly sponsor(s) in the account, a seller can determine the relative weighting of different criteria that will factor into each buyer’s choice.

Example of a Decision Criteria Analysis

In addition, analyzing the decision criteria for each key player can also reveal strengths and weaknesses against competitive alternatives, including maintaining the status quo – a.k.a., “losing to no decision”. This will inform sellers about what differentiators they can emphasize to prove their unique value, and what weaknesses they must address with alternative or creative approaches, if required.

As the end of the year approaches, now is a good time to conduct a quick analysis of decision criteria in significant opportunities. It will expose potential weaknesses, and guide actions to ensure a much higher chance to win the business.

We’ve created a template to help sellers conduct a Decision Criteria Analysis, which you can download here.

If your sales team needs help in winning more sales opportunities, contact us for a consultation: +1 (704) 227-6500+1 (704) 227-6500, email, or visit our website at

James N. Touchstone is SPI’s Director of Learning and Development, responsible for the creation and enhancement of advanced sales methodology and skill enhancement programs. He is also co-author of The Solution Selling Fieldbook.


How to Avoid Sales Slippage

By Timothy Sullivan, Director, Sales Performance International

For nearly all of our clients, the end of every quarter is an important milestone – each with sales goals to meet. As we approach another quarter-end, ensuring that sales opportunities close as expected is critical for every sales leader. How do top-performing sales teams avoid delays in closing sales, and minimize slippage of opportunities into the next quarter?

As we documented in our recent book, The Collaborative Sale, more organizations are increasing the use of well-trained procurement professionals throughout the entire buying process. A common tactic of procurement managers is to draw negotiations out until the very end of the month, quarter or year, because buyers know that sellers become increasingly desperate to close business as the clock ticks forward. To avoid delays at the end of the sales cycle, the sales team must be fully equipped to manage a formalized negotiation, not just at the end of a purchase decision, but throughout the entire sales engagement with a buyer.

Avoiding closing delays starts by knowing if and when a deal is closeable, as indicated by five indicators:

  1. Does the sales team have access to, and are aligned with, the individuals who have the power to buy? If not, the customer is more likely to use multiple rounds of negotiation with different levels within the organization, which could extend the final decision date.
  2. Has the customer agreed to the potential payback of this particular purchase? If they have not yet acknowledged the value of what you are offering, that will almost certainly result in a delay.
  3. Has the sales team and the customer received all the required approvals, not just from purchasing, but also from legal, technical, administrative, and any other customer groups that need to review the decision?
  4. Has the customer and the sales team completed all the required steps for the customer to complete a good evaluation? A good Collaboration Plan will include all of those steps. If your team tries to close before completing the evaluation process, expect pushback from the customer.
  5. How long has the customer known about the cost? The final negotiation meeting is not the time to reveal prices. Customers need a reasonable amount of time to socialize and come to consensus on anticipated costs within their organization.

In addition to the preceding criteria, it helps to identify a compelling reason to act (CRTA). A CTRA is a time-bound occurrence, beyond which, if a customer fails to make a decision to act, bad consequences will follow. For example, a customer might be launching a new product, and they need your capabilities to make the results of this event a success. If you can identify a CRTA, it can go a long way in helping to speed up final negotiations.

Even with a clear CRTA, quantifying the cost of delay is a powerful way to emphasize the value of an immediate purchase decision. Every day that goes by is another day that the customer is not receiving that value, increasing the lost opportunity cost. The more quantifiable the value of a solution, the more a customer can be motivated to come to a decision.

We have found that a little planning goes a long way in making final negotiation discussions much more effective. Even just a few minutes of planning will improve the likelihood of coming to a satisfactory conclusion on schedule.

We recommend using a simple tool known as the Get/Give List. It enables sellers to think sensibly about agreements they might get from the buyer in exchange for concessions. For example, a seller may ask the customer to extend the terms of business from one year to multiple years, or agree to be a referenceable case study. In exchange, they can offer equivalent value concessions which would be useful to the customer, and not just price discounts.

Now is the time to review opportunities expected to close at the end of this quarter:

  • Is it really ready to close? Verify the five closing criteria.
  • Has a CRTA been identified?
  • Has the cost of delay been calculated – and does the customer agree?
  • Have “gives and gets” of equivalent value been determined, for use in final negotiations?

With a little extra diligence and discipline, the sales team can bring in every opportunity they expect to win by the end of the quarter. Remember: hope is not a strategy for success!

Make your end-of-quarter negotiations more productive, by downloading a free Get/Give List planning tool.

Tim Sullivan is Director of Business Development with Sales Performance International. He is co-author of The Solution Selling Fieldbook, and more recently, The Collaborative Sale: Solution Selling in a Buyer-Driven World.


The Four C's of Winning Sales Presentations

By Timothy Sullivan, Director, Sales Performance International

Sales leaders know that the ability of the sales team to deliver value at every point of contact with buyers is critical to winning business. Buyers today are more impatient, demanding and well-informed than ever before, and they have little time for sellers who cannot help them develop or improve visions of solutions for their problems.

It makes little difference whether a seller connects with buyers in person, over the telephone, or through the web – in every contact, each buyer is critically evaluating both the seller and the potential solutions they are offering. As a result, the ability to prepare and present a compelling presentation, whether face-to-face or virtually, is still vitally important to the success of any sales professional.

And yet, we see far too many sellers fail to prepare adequately, and as a result, their delivery of presentations is lackluster, at best. This is a shame, since the elements of a good sales presentation are not difficult to master, once they are fully understood and practiced.

The four elements of any winning sales presentation are:

  1. Capture the attention of the audience.
  2. Connect with the audience by describing the purpose and value of the presentation.
  3. Provide the right Content that enables the audience to develop a clear vision of a solution to their problem.
  4. Conclude by summarizing and issuing a strong call to action.

Capturing an audience’s attention gets a sales presentation on the right foot – and this often means doing something creative and unexpected. Some possible ways that sellers can lead with a compelling opening include:

  • Make a bold statement that is a provocative point of view
  • Ask a question that helps the audience see a problem in a new way
  • Use a quotation that pertains to the problem or solution vision
  • Make a prediction relevant to the presentation content
  • Tell a story that illustrates a similar problem situation
  • Use a visual aid or prop to highlight a key point in the presentation
  • Use improvisation to redirect or reinforce an audience perspective

Humor can help make a presentation more fun, certainly, but it can also backfire terribly. Leading with a joke is not always the best idea, especially if it has little to do with the presentation content. Sharing a laugh is not the same as capturing an audience’s attention.

After capturing the audience’s attention, good presenters then briefly explain the goal and structure of the presentation – why they are there, and the intended results. In this way, a presenter can earn the audience’s buy-in, and demonstrate their own credibility.

We have found that most sellers who struggle with presentations do so because they have not completed the preparatory thinking required to develop adequate content. The main part of the presentation should focus on painting a clear picture of a solution, and showing how it solves a customer problem. Sellers who do their homework first, then can create this content more easily. If they do not prepare, then they tend to rely on bland product-focused messages, instead of tuning the content to the specific needs of the audience, which has much greater impact.

Every presentation should conclude with a strong call to action – a clear summary, a plan of next steps, and a recap of the initial, provocative capture statement.

There is no shortage of helpful tips and recommended techniques for presentations. But if sellers keep the four Cs in mind, and take the time to think through each of them in advance, they will do a consistently better job at differentiating both themselves and their recommended solutions to buyers – and thereby win more business.

We’ve created a guide to help sellers prepare for making a winning sales presentation, which you can download here.

If your sales team needs help in preparing for and delivering compelling presentations to buyers, contact us for a consultation: +1 (704) 227-6500+1 (704) 227-6500, email, or visit our website at

Tim Sullivan is Director of Business Development with Sales Performance International. He is co-author of
The Solution Selling Fieldbook, and more recently, The Collaborative Sale: Solution Selling in a Buyer-Driven World.


Recognizing and Rescuing a Failing CRM System

By Ken Cross, Sales Enablement Practice Leader, Sales Performance International

CRM systems have come a long way since the early, nightmarish days when project failure rates were between 50 and 80 percent. According to a recent study by Capterra, now over 70 percent of users of CRM systems are satisfied with their software.

However, organizations still face some significant challenges to get implementation right. Some of the most common reasons for failure include:

  • The CRM system is not aligned with how your business runs

    You have a sales process and nomenclature that is tailored to your business, but your CRM system uses a different process and language. This causes confusion, frustration, and workarounds.

  • The CRM system is cumbersome to use

    CRM companies have greatly improved usability, but there are always opportunities to improve. Some concerns can be handled through user training, but some are more difficult to fix.

  • Leadership and sales management haven’t embraced the system

    If your leadership doesn’t see value in the CRM, neither will your salespeople and sales managers and therefore, won’t use the system.

How to get your CRM implementation back on track

  1. Determine alignment with company goals

    If your CRM is not supporting the business objectives of your company, your first task is to determine how to regain or achieve alignment.  CRM can be modified in ways to drive behavior that aligns with your organizational strategies, whether that is increasing market share, maximizing certain types of revenue, raising profitability, or similar goals. Download this CRM Alignment Checklist to determine how susceptible your current system is to business misalignment.

  2. Survey your stakeholders

    If your CRM initiative isn’t getting sufficient traction with your sales team, figure out why. Start by asking a sample of salespeople, sales managers, and sales leaders what they like about the system and what they would like to see improved. Also, ask open-ended questions about the value they see in CRM (if any), and to describe any benefits they’ve received from the system. Leverage insight from your interviews to develop a survey that can be distributed to a wider user group, so you can then prioritize changes to improve adoption and value.

  3. Synthesize your findings and prioritize your recommendations 

    Based on the stakeholder survey, prioritize the improvement opportunities that are most critical for getting the CRM system back on track. Categorize each opportunity as a either a design, functionality, feature, training, integration, or other issue. Also, figure out the potential fix and associated costs and efforts. Then, synthesize the value and benefits that people are realizing from the system so far.

    At this point, you should be able to determine if your current CRM system can be saved or if you should start over. Use the insight from your survey to make an objective decision.      

  4. Regain leadership and management commitment

    Present your findings and recommendations to your leadership team. Revisit the objectives that they set when they originally implemented the system, and make sure that they are still valid. Then, ask for the resources you need in order to ensure a successful initiative. If you don’t get the commitment you need, inform them of the risks of complete failure and ask again – without leadership commitment, the project is doomed.

  5. Get some quick wins, communicate success, and follow through

    Once you have commitment and resources to move forward, don’t feel like you need to make a big announcement and draw a lot of attention to you and the initiative.  Document your plan and start executing. Develop a regular communication cadence to announce new improvements and wins – both big and small. When possible, use quotes and data from your survey to demonstrate that you listened and acted on stakeholder input. Develop a regular training cadence as well, recording and archiving sessions when possible. Finally, hold your leadership team accountable for their commitments.

Recognizing and rescuing a failing CRM implementation takes a lot of will, some finesse, and maybe even a bit of pain. However, it isn’t nearly as painful as blowing up an entire CRM initiative and either starting over or shelving it entirely.

If you need assistance making your CRM more relevant to your business, we can help.  Please contact us for a further discussion of your needs. Start by downloading this handy CRM Alignment Checklist to validate how well your system supports your sales team and your business.

Ken Cross is SPI’s Director of Sales Enablement, focusing on advancing sales technology and process automation. Ken is a frequent contributor to this blog and to industry publications and forums.