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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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The Doing and Being of Solution Selling

By Andy Smith, Senior Consultant, SPI

I recently attended a conference where 35 executives introduced their company in thirty seconds or less. Interestingly, two-thirds of them introduced their company as a provider of a product or service, with no reference to their customer.  Only 12 introduced their company in terms of the problems they solve for customers.

This makes me wonder: how many salespeople introduce themselves as representatives of a product, service, or technology, instead of solvers of customers’ problems and challenges?

After more than 25 years of working with some of the world’s largest sales organizations, I’ve come to realize that solution-centric sellers aren’t just something they do, it is really more about who they are.  

Doing Sales or Being a Solution Seller

So how do you know if you’re just doing sales or if you’re also being a solution seller? Reflect on the last time the heat was on to make the number at the end of the quarter. Did your selling become more about “doing the deal” as opposed to solving the customer problem? 

Sellers who are focused on just doing sales – those who lead with their product, technology, or service – can develop into salespeople who  are being solution sellers – those who lead with understanding their customer’s current or future problems. But this doesn’t happen just by training people on how to do Solution Selling.

In their book The Solution-Centric Organization, co-authors Keith Eades, SPI’s CEO, and Robert Kear, SPI’s CMO, list the four fundamental transformations that need to occur if Solution Selling is to become a way of being in an organization.

  1. Change the way your salespeople THINK of themselves

    Ensure executives lead by example as they teach, encourage and expect salespeople to describe and introduce themselves as solvers of customers’ current and future problems, and not by the products, technology, or service your company provides.  Make sure your sellers are crystal clear on the customer problems they can solve better than the competition.

  2. Change how your salespeople (and marketing) COMMUNICATE with customers.

    In customer-facing content (i.e., your company website, brochures, conference presentations, white papers, etc.), be sure to lead with how you address customer problems, trends, and emerging needs, and not the features or functions or your products, technology, or services.

  3. Change how your salespeople ENGAGE in customer conversations.

    Make sure you have salespeople with the right attributes, knowledge, skills, resources and tools so they can focus on customers’ current or potential problems and recommend solutions that provide measurable value – and not just talk about your company’s product, service, or technological superiority.

  4. Change how you train and recognize your salespeople, to REINFORCE solution-centricity.

    Invest in training that improves your salespeople’s knowledge about customers’ industries, issues, trends and challenges, in addition to your company’s product/technical knowledge.  Make sure your salespeople are fluent in how your company’s capabilities solve or prevent your customers’ critical business issues. Provide incentives and recognition to salespeople for selling a solution that actually solves customer problems and creates measurable improvements, as opposed to sales incentives based purely on commissions or attaining revenue/profit goals.

Like any transformation, becoming solution-centric requires strong leadership by example, ensuring you have the right people with the right capabilities and tools, and the resolve to stay committed in spite of inevitable short-term obstacles.  But the payoff is worth the effort, producing higher revenue growth, increased customer loyalty and improved employee engagement. 

Does your sales team truly know how to be solution sellers? Download a free checklist and see if your team defines itself as being a solution-centric organization.

Andy Smith is a senior consultant and account executive with Sales Performance International. He helps product-focused organizations grow revenue by transforming into a solution-centric sales and marketing team.


Aligning Sales Teams with Healthcare Buyers

Improving Life Sciences Sales

How to Align with How Healthcare Organizations Buy Today

By Brad Ansley, Director, SPI Life Sciences Industry Practice

All over the world, there is a growing middle class that expects better health care, and an aging population that requires increasing medical attention. Governments are taking action to control healthcare expenditures as a percentage of GDP. These are significant demographic and policy shifts that will dramatically affect suppliers of pharmaceutical products, medical devices and capital equipment. To survive, they must understand these changes and adapt accordingly. 

In the United States, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is forcing healthcare providers to change their business and practice models. In order to reinforce the mandate to decrease the cost of care and improve outcomes, the Department of Health and Human Services, for the first time ever, has set targets for the percentage of Medicare reimbursement that is tied to either value or outcome.  For example, in 2016, they expect 85% of all Medicare fees for service reimbursement to be tied to value or outcome, with the target increasing to 90% by 2017. This is driving healthcare providers to adopt more efficient and collaborative business practices.

As if that isn’t enough, accountable care organizations and other integrated delivery models are decreasing the decision making power of individual physicians. Surgeons used to be able to say, “I want a particular device in my OR every time I’m in there or I’m leaving.” Now, “value committees” consisting of clinicians, nurses, administrators, operations, and finance people are evaluating those decisions. Sales representatives have to deal with both clinical and administrative decision-makers.

To be successful, life sciences marketers and salespeople must get aligned with how healthcare systems are buying today, and they must understand the factors currently influencing buyers’ decisions. If they push marketing messages that don’t emphasize driving outcomes and value, then they will be left out in the cold. Even if the product costs more, if they can prove that it prevents patients from being readmitted to the hospital or shortens the hospital stay, then they can still win business.   

How to Align

To align with today’s buyers, life sciences sales people must be able to solve problems and position the value of solutions in terms of cost management and outcome improvement. How sales reps gain access, how they prepare for a call, how they manage the complexity of the buying process, and how they continue to demonstrate value and look for growth opportunities inside the account are all changing. The life sciences sales role will start to look more like what we see today in the technology industry – a more complex sales environment.

Conversations with buyers are changing. Traditionally, a pharmaceutical sales rep might come in and say:

“Dr. Davis, I’m here to talk to you today about our antihypertensive medication. Here’s a study that we published in New England Journal and what it says is that we lower blood pressure ten millimeters of mercury better than our competitor.”

This is a canned pitch that doesn’t require the rep to consider if the physician has a high population of patients with high blood pressure, and if so, if that problem was relevant to the physician.

A consultative, solution-based sales conversation plays out differently:

“When I have spoken with other clinicians that appear to have practices similar to yours, they have a large hypertensive patient population that has a significant impact on the quality measures for the practice.  I’d be interested to know how this patient population impacts your practice…

I’ve also found that their top clinical concerns are decreasing adverse experiences due to the use of multiple antihypertensives while targeting at least a decrease of 10 mm of mercury or more to reach their blood pressure goals.  Can you help me understand what your targets and goals are for your hypertensive patients and the tools you use to get there?”

After gaining an understanding of the critical practice issues, the representative can then begin to position their solution in context.  For instance, they could reach into their arsenal of clinical studies and say, “That being the case, I’ve critically appraised a  clinical study that was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and thought it might be of interest to you. I’d like to hear your thoughts on how these results from the trial could impact your practice.”

A consultative, evidence-based and solution-focused approach helps the sales rep uncover issues and priorities that will enable her to either help propose a value-enhancing solution, or to shift to another product in the portfolio if there isn’t a  current, compelling need for her initial solution. This is the kind of sales behavior that is now required to succeed in the new healthcare environment.

Download a free white paper on how buying is changing in healthcare systems, and how your sales organization should adapt to this new reality.


Planning for Sales Collaboration

How Value Drivers help buyers overcome fear

By Tim Sullivan, Director, Business Development, SPI

In our latest book, The Collaborative Sale, Keith Eades and I explored what sellers need to do to sell successfully to today’s well-informed and empowered customer, whom we call “Buyer 2.0”. In our research, we discovered that even if buyers agree on the estimated value of a proposed solution, they may still delay making a purchase decision. Their hesitancy arises from concerns about fully realizing the value of a potential solution, or even worse, about the potential for failure. The sellers who recognize this hesitancy as natural, and who make it easy for buyers to overcome their fears, are those who now close business the most consistently. We call such sellers “Value Drivers” – they rarely lose deals to the most significant competitor facing sales professionals today: buyers who choose to do nothing at all.

How Buyer 2.0 Buys

Buyer 2.0 would not need sellers at all, if they could prove to themselves with certainty that a solution solves a problem or capitalizes on an opportunity. In fact, for products they view as a commodity, buyers often complete transactions without sellers. For example, they routinely make online purchases for airline tickets, hotel reservations, automobiles, clothes, books and other commodities, without the help of a seller.

For purchases of more strategic solutions, Buyer 2.0 typically conducts their own research to understand the “what” – the capabilities they think they need – but they need more help on the details of the “how” – the way a solution delivers value. For this, they seek expertise to verify the specific impact of potential new capabilities, and on the likely timeframe for achieving their desired results. They want to work with sellers who can provide this expertise, and who can address their concerns about any potential risks.

Value Drivers can demonstrate their expertise, and also help Buyer 2.0 to allay their concerns, by providing a clear and methodical path for evaluating a potential solution – a Collaboration Plan.

A Collaboration Plan serves to align buyers and sellers by identifying the procedural steps in an evaluation process. For more transactional sales of smaller or limited solutions, a Collaboration Plan may simply be a short list of recommended actions by the buyer and seller, with responsibilities and suggested dates for each action. For more strategic or enterprise-level solutions, the Collaboration Plan may require a more comprehensive list of buyer and seller actions, resources and anticipated dates for completion.

Example of a strategic Collaboration Plan

Components of a Good Collaboration Plan

Regardless of the length or brevity of any Collaboration Plan, it should include recommended actions for addressing:

  • Operational Risk Issues – actions that prove the viability and applicability of a proposed solution to address an identified problem or to fulfill an opportunity
  • Transitional Risk Issues – required actions for a successful solution installation, implementation or conversion
  • Financial Risk Issues – actions for arriving at a mutually agreed upon statement of value and return on investment, and for identifying and tracking the desired business results for the buyer
  • Buying Process Issues – organizational procedural requirements including legal, administrative, technical and purchasing department reviews, and approvals by managerial or executive decision-makers

A Collaboration Plan addresses both buyer and seller risks, equally. It is not just a plan to sell, ending with a signature on an agreement. Rather, it is a jointly agreed upon series of events for charting a course through the evaluation and all the way to successful business results for the buyer. A well-constructed Collaboration Plan serves the mutual interests of both the buyer and the seller by making the entire evaluation and decision process open and transparent.

The Myth of Control

A collaborative selling approach recognizes that the path to success is not based on trying to control buyers. Control-oriented thinking is a throwback to selling practices based on outdated buyer behavior assumptions. Today, Buyer 2.0 is an empowered buyer, reluctant to give up control of their buying process. A Collaboration Plan demonstrates the seller’s alignment with Buyer 2.0 behavior. Complete collaboration between buyers and sellers is now the only reasonable approach.

When a seller offers a Collaboration Plan, the preferred outcome is to have the buyer make changes and additions to it. If a buyer changes the plan, then the buyer takes an ownership stake in the plan. A buyer who ignores a Collaboration Plan proffered by a seller, or who responds only with a perfunctory acquiescence, is not really committing to joint exploration of a potential solution. A buyer who amends and improves a draft Collaboration Plan in conjunction with a seller is showing that they are willing to work actively together.

For this reason, mutual agreement on a Collaboration Plan is an important indicator of alignment with Buyer 2.0, and is a verifiable outcome that indicates positive progress. It is proof to the buyer that their concerns about operational, transitional and financial risk will be addressed – and that a purchase decision can be made with confidence.


Download a useful template for developing your own Collaboration Plans with your buyers, and dramatically reducing losses to “no decision” and buyer inaction.


Developing Life Sciences Sales Teams

Adapting for Emerging Sales Competencies: a Golden Opportunity for Life Sciences Trainers

By Brad Ansley, Director, SPI Life Sciences Industry Practice

I recently had the privilege of attending the 2015 Life Sciences Trainers and Educators Network (LTEN) conference in Phoenix, AZ. The conference was attended by over 700 learning leaders and practitioners across the pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device, and diagnostic industries.

Over three days, I had over 100 conversations with conference attendees. From what I heard, it is clear that more organizations now feel increasing urgency to take action on recent changes in the healthcare market. The iconic driver of these changes in the US is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – however, most if not all countries in the world are facing similar changes. Unfortunately, there is still much uncertainty about how to adapt to these changes, especially in sales organizations.

Identifying the emerging new competencies required for sales success is especially challenging. This is because the changes driven by the ACA are so significant that examining lagging indicators simply won’t work. Your current and past high performers will not necessarily be your future high performers. During the conference, I got the impression that training managers are looking to sales leaders to tell them the behaviors and development their teams need. But so far, sales can’t explain to training professionals what new behaviors are needed, because they haven’t yet figured them out. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

Savvy learning and development professionals should look at this situation as an opportunity to get a seat at the table as a strategic business partner. This starts by being proactive and going to sales with an informed point of view.

Here are some ideas to get you started. Understanding required sales competencies starts with recognizing the changes in buying dynamics, which are being driven by market changes. Although the specific competencies required will be unique to each company for their product, clientele, and stage of market, these three are important ones that we see emerging as a result of the recent changes in the healthcare industry.

  1. Incorporating evidence into sales discussions

    The ACA ties a large percentage of reimbursements to patient outcomes.  In fact, many of the new business models (i.e., Accountable Care Organizations) require proof of an evidence-based practice in order to participate in the shared savings programs. Representatives that can’t leverage the principles of evidence-based medicine to prove that their product or solution either lowers costs or improves patient outcomes probably won’t be successful.  In contrast, representatives that know how to critically appraise clinical data and understand what clinical question the data answer, can then discuss products in the context of validity, significance and clinical relevance.  In other words, those representatives can deliver a clinically relevant solution for a specific physician and for a specific type of patient. 

  2. Speaking the language of different decision makers

    Increasingly, physicians will be employees of healthcare systems, and as a result, they will have less influence over buying decisions. Life Sciences sales have shifted far beyond simply detailing drugs or demonstrating devices, and now requires much more knowledge, skill, and business acumen. Decisions are now being made by committees at the integrated delivery network, managed care, or the accountable care organization level. These committees do not only have clinical representatives, but also from finance, operations, procurement, compliance, and other functional areas. Your sellers must be able to formulate and position solutions that meet the needs of the various committee stakeholders, and persuade these individuals to consider and select your product or solution.

  3. Executing a business-to-business style sales process

    This point is related to the preceding one. Not only do sellers need to speak the language of different decision makers, they must also manage a complex buying process. This requires them to understand the difference between a call model and a sales process. Traditionally, pharmaceutical companies had call models such as “Open, create interest, handle obstacles, and close” to guide reps through individual interactions with physicians. A complex sale requires another level of process to guide reps through identifying stakeholders, assessing their power and influence, gaining access to power, and covering your bases. It requires knowing how decisions are made in an organization and aligning your sales process accordingly. Executing a complex sale requires a high degree of patience, discipline, and skill. There are many lessons to be learned from other industries, such as technology and capital equipment, where this buying and selling dynamic has been the case for years.

If you are proactive, you will be rewarded. Bring a rationale for why emerging sales competencies are the ones that require training. Then, bring a plan to monitor progress every six-to-twelve months to demonstrate increases in proficiency level, end results, and ROI. You will add more value to the sales leadership and earn a seat at the table as a valued strategic partner.

Download a free white paper to learn more about preparing your sales force to succeed in the era of the Affordable Care Act.


Making a Comeback

How to Recover from a Weak First Half

By Keith M. Eades, Founder and CEO, Sales Performance International, Inc.

The first half of the year is now behind us. For those of you who are on track to achieve your annual goal, congratulations. For those of you who need to play catch-up in the second half of the year, do not despair – you can still make this a successful year.

First, realize that despite some geopolitical instability, most of the world’s economies are growing. Spending is up slightly, with the S&P 500 sales growth rate hovering around 4 percent annually. These are not the worst of times, though it may feel that way. Buyers are highly risk-averse and cautious about their purchase decisions, but you can still exceed your sales goals if you take the right actions now.


Do the math. Make sure your sales managers and reps take off the rose-colored glasses and assess their situation honestly. What are your current close rate, average deal size, and sales cycle time? Based on this information, how many opportunities do you need to close in the second half of the year, and do you have enough opportunities in your pipeline to recover any gap within the required timeframe?

If you don’t have enough opportunities, there are several things you can do.

  1. Get more opportunities in your pipeline.

    This will probably require you to increase your marketing spend, and since these will be brand new opportunities, plan for them to take longer to close. If increasing the marketing budget is not a possibility, then you need to enable your salespeople to be better micro-marketers and enable them to create their own opportunities. They need to be able to stimulate buyer interest, without waiting for leads to be generated for them.

  2. Expand the size and scope of the current opportunities in the pipeline.

    I suggest more aggressive cross-selling and upselling activity. We often help our clients assess the potential of each account and identify low-hanging fruit using White Space Analysis. This looks at critical business drivers and initiatives in an account, and helps you identify potential options to create more value. You can then create an action plan and provide coaching to win this new business.

  3. Close a higher percentage of opportunities.

    To do this, you first need to get an accurate assessment of your opportunities and their readiness to close, and then create an action plan to win each of them. We help clients do this through our Successful Sales Formula, which analyzes opportunities in six dimensions – Pain, Power, Vision, Value, Collaboration, and Compelling Reason to Act. When the right combination of these factors exists, you have a very high probability of winning that business. (See our last blog post for more information on the Successful Sales Formula, and for a free tool which you can download to analyze your team’s opportunities.)

Mid- to Long-Term

It is difficult to think long-term when you are behind. However, if you don’t take some measures to treat the root causes of your sales challenges, you will always be playing catch-up. This is a brutal way to live, and it is usually only a matter of time before you won’t be able to take it anymore. Here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Develop a suitable demand generation strategy to get enough opportunities to make your number.
  2. Verify that your sales processes are aligned with how your buyers buy, and then manage with discipline and consistency in sales process execution. This will help improve forecast accuracy and enable your sales managers to analyze pipelines and identify selling skill deficiencies, and also develop individually-tailored salesperson development and coaching plans.
  3. Create sales enablement playbooks to replicate success more effectively, and embed these tools into your CRM workflow, so they will be used more consistently.
  4. Get your talent right. Get rid of the dead weight. Then determine the skills and behaviors that make your best people successful. Leverage this knowledge to hire and develop high performing people across your entire team.

Managing Your CEO and Peers

Managing your CEO/President and your peers on the executive team while you are in recovery mode is a very important, but often overlooked challenge. You are in a tough spot and might be tempted to rationalize why you are where you are. I encourage you to be completely transparent and have a clear plan to address what’s happening. If you’ve got bad news, but also know what you’re going to do about it in both the short and mid- to long term, then you can clearly articulate your plan and stand behind it. If you determine that the problem is a result of systemic or organizational causes, then lead or create a cross-functional team to find a holistic answer. Missing sales goals is not always just a sales problem.

You can make 2015 a great year. Now, go make it so!

Download the free White Space Analysis tool, and identify potential cross-selling and up-selling opportunities in your accounts.

And read our previous blog to download the free Strength of Sale analysis tool, to accurately determine the quality of your sales opportunities using the Successful Sales Formula.