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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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What is a Relationship Seller?

By Tim Sullivan, Director, Sales Performance International

A few weeks ago, I facilitated a selling skills development workshop for a client, a provider of industrial equipment. One of the participants told me proudly, “I’m a successful seller because people like me. It’s all about the relationship – and I’m an outstanding relationship seller.”

Indeed, this particular salesperson was one of the better performers in the organization, and he was definitely friendly, pleasant and affable – it was difficult to not take a liking to him immediately. He had been working in his industry for over twenty years, and he exuded confidence. I could see how customers would develop a strong rapport with him.

In his mind, likeability was the key to sales success. It’s difficult to argue with the fact that people buy from people that they like – and more importantly, from people that they also trust. But is that all that is needed to be a good “relationship seller”?

Organizational vs. Individual Relationships

When we explored this salesperson’s accounts more fully, we discovered a disturbing trend: in almost every account, he was working with only one customer contact – and those contacts generally were either operational-level managers or in the purchasing department. He had virtually no contact with executive-level buyers.

I asked him: “What would you do if one of your contacts left their company?” He admitted that he’d have to start over in that account, and until he could build rapport with that new contact, he’d be vulnerable.

After working with hundreds of clients, we have found that most sellers over-estimate the actual level of relationship they have with a customer organization. They tend to evaluate their relationship based on the quality of access they have with a single point of contact, and not with all of the key players in an entire customer company.

In fact, when I pressed this particular salesperson further, he didn’t know who the executive-level people were in many of his accounts – the ultimate decision-makers for his services – and he had no direct access to anyone at that level in any account.

A true relationship seller knows all the key players in their accounts, and earns access to as many of these people as they can – they aren’t content with just a single point of contact, because they know this can make them vulnerable.

Trusted Advisor Status

I also asked this salesperson a key question: “How many of your customers share information about their strategic initiatives or projects they are planning in the future?”

He thought about this for a moment, and then replied, sheepishly, “Well, my two best customers tell me about every project they are doing, but the rest… no, I don’t get that kind of information.”

One indicator of a high level of relationship is the degree to which a customer organization shares information about their strategic challenges and plans to deal with them. In fact, the principal indicator that a seller has achieved a “trusted advisor” status is when they ask a seller for advice on new potential directions, because they value that sellers experience and expertise.

A true relationship seller demonstrates their value as an expert in their field, and thus earns customers’ trust as a useful advisor on their future challenges, strategic initiatives and projects.

Value-Based Relationships

We often tell our clients: the best relationships are those based on value – this is a core principle of the Solution Selling methodology. Sellers who help customers to quantify the value that they receive from solutions, and who then get credit from customers for contributing that value to their organization, are then able to raise the level of relationship with customers more quickly.

One reason for this is because executive-level buyers need solid information about the rightness or wrongness of their operational decisions, so that they can be confident they made the correct choices, or so they can take a better alternative direction. Sellers who quantify the value of their solutions are therefore better able to gain direct access to executive-level contacts.

A true relationship seller captures and communicates the value that a customer receives from solutions, and thereby gains easier access to executive-level buyers.

I asked the salesperson in my workshop if he ever took time to quantify the value that his customers received from his services. He silently shook his head “no”.

“You’ve given me a lot to think about,” he said. “Perhaps I’m not as good a relationship seller as I thought.”

Do your sellers pass the test?

If you think your sales team is good at “relationship selling”, ask these questions:

  • Do your sellers know all of the key players in their accounts, at both the operational and executive levels – and do they have access to all of them?
  • Do customers share advance information about future strategic initiatives or projects with your sellers? Do they solicit your sellers’ advice about how they can solve problems or create new value?
  • Do your sellers quantify, communicate and get credit for the value of solutions they provide to customers – preferably at the executive level?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then your sellers are potentially vulnerable in their accounts. While your sellers may be highly likeable and trustworthy, those qualities may not be enough to maintain sales success.

To help you evaluate the true level of relationship that your sellers have with customers, we’ve prepared a helpful infographic, which you can download here.

If your sellers need help in developing and maintaining a high level of relationship with customers, we can help – contact us for a complimentary consultation at +1 (704) 227-6500+1 (704) 227-6500, or by email to

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.


Research Briefing: Companies Struggle to Find and Develop Sales Management Talent

By Tim Sullivan, Director, Sales Performance International

Last week, I had the opportunity to join Robert Kelly, Chairman of the Sales Management Association (SMA), on a web briefing to discuss the preliminary results of a joint research study we conducted. This research, based on a survey of over 150 organizations with a combined total of almost 17,000 sales managers, revealed the current state of practices for hiring and developing top sales management talent.

In summary, we discovered that companies of all sizes are struggling to identify, hire and develop sales managers effectively. Most look for good sales management candidates both internally and externally, but less than a third use a defined process or competency model to evaluate those candidates.

As a result, most of our survey respondents admit that their ability to predict future performance of sales manager candidates is very limited and inaccurate. There are widespread gaps in the ability of organizations to measure critical competencies required of sales managers.

The research shows a very significant opportunity for those companies who establish formal sales manager evaluation and development programs. This is a potential competitive advantage that surprisingly few organizations are pursuing today.

The SMA is compiling a final report of the survey findings, and will publish it in the next few weeks. We will comment further on the final results in this blog at that time. In the meantime, you can download a copy of the briefing presentation here - and if you’d like to hear a recording of the webinar, you can do so here.

If your organization wants to hire or develop consistently top-performing sales managers, we can help – contact us for a complimentary consultation at +1 (704) 227-6500+1 (704) 227-6500, or by email to


Three Collaborative Selling Personas

How to Sell to Today’s Empowered Buyer

By Timothy Sullivan, Director, Sales Performance International

In our recent book, The Collaborative Sale, we describe the significant changes in buyer behavior over the last few years. With easy access to vast amounts of information at their fingertips, they are now much more empowered and educated. Generally, buyers now drive their own purchase decision processes. They’re also more risk averse, and therefore, more likely to make decisions for strategic purchases by formal committee.

As buyer behavior changes, sellers must also change. But how, exactly? What new activities and behaviors will enable sales professionals to sell more successfully? According to our research, sellers need to be agile in how they interact with buyers – they must become proficient in three personae to work effectively with buyers at different parts of the buying process.


These personae are:

  1. The Micro-Marketer

    Sellers can engage with buyers very early in their buying process by being effective micro-marketers. A micro-marketer demonstrates their expertise by providing ideas and useful advice to help buyers envision better ways of doing things. Micro-marketers recognize that buyers are having conversations all the time, and they go to where buyers are having those conversations – today, that often means being active on social media and online resources.

    Micro-marketing helps sellers influence the thinking of potential buyers. If sellers can help buyers to create or enhance a vision of a possible solution, they increase their chances of winning by four times more than someone who engages later. It’s definitely worth the effort, even if the sales cycle might be longer.

  2. The Visualizer

    The visualizer is adept at sales conversations with buyers, whether they’re virtual or face-to-face. Visualizer conversations help the buyer to create, enhance or re-engineer their vision of a solution to their problems. Sellers must first understand where the buyer is in their buying process to determine the best type of sales conversation to apply. Visualizer sales conversations are collaborative, and help the buyer to paint a picture of a better way of doing things, so they can accomplish their goals and realize new value.

  3. The Value-Driver

    This persona consists of two parts. First, value-drivers identify and express quantitative value throughout their entire engagement with a buyer, beginning to end. Sellers who can collaborate with buyers to quantify the specific value of a solution help those buyers overcome their perception of financial risk. This builds buyers’ confidence and belief in solutions, and makes it much easier for them to buy.

    The second part is recognizing that there are other risks besides financial ones, which cause concerns for buyers. Buyers are always concerned about operational risk – uncertainty that a solution will work as expected. They are also concerned about transitional risk – how to adopt or implement a solution successfully. The value-driver anticipates these risks, and helps buyers to mitigate them, so that they can make a buying decision with confidence.

Click here for a downloadable infographic illustrating three personae of a collaborative sale.

Many sellers may have natural affinities for one or more of these personae – but proficiency in all three are needed to align with how buyers buy today. Fortunately, all three can be learned and mastered by sellers. They only need to know how and when to adopt the right persona at the right time – then they can be true collaborative sellers, working as equals with buyers to find optimum solutions.

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.


Preparing for Effective Sales Conversations

By James Touchstone, Director, Learning & Development Solutions Practice

In their book, The Collaborative Sale: Solution Selling in a Buyer-Driven World, my colleagues Keith Eades and Tim Sullivan describe how high-performing sellers excel at engaging in consultative conversations with buyers. These conversations enable buyers to clearly visualize a solution to their problem, and thereby make it much easier for them to buy. We call those sellers who can engage in these kinds of valuable conversations Visualizers.

Visualizers engage in conversations with buyers to create, enhance or reengineer visions of a potential solution. They use a collaborative approach to work with buyers and arrive at a mutually agreed-upon and optimal answer to a critical business issue or potential missed opportunity.

Effective sales conversations generally follow a pattern, beginning with acknowledgement of a buyer’s pain – a critical business issue, problem, or potential missed opportunity. The seller can then explore the reasons for that pain with the buyer, as well as their business impact or scope, and then discuss potential capabilities that could provide relief. At the end of a good sales conversation, both the buyer and seller will have a clear vision of a potential solution.

Pre-Sales Conversation Preparation

In order to conduct effective sales conversations, Visualizers prepare for them in advance. They must be ready bring their own perspectives and insights, so they can add value to the ideas that buyers may already have in mind. In a collaborative sales conversation, Visualizers ask insightful questions and demonstrate that they understand the buyer’s situation and how it might be improved.

To assist sellers in preparing for collaborative sales conversations, we have prepared a simple planning tool, the Sales Conversation Prompter, which can be used to prepare insightful questions in advance, and to document potential capabilities which may address the buyer’s problem. You can download this planning template here.

Sales conversations can be greatly improved with even a small amount of advance planning and preparation. Buyers expect sellers to bring valuable insight and perspectives, to help them develop and refine their own ideas for potential solutions to their problems. Sellers who simply “wing it” and engage in undisciplined sales conversations with buyers without a clear structure or direction, or those who rely on a canned pitch, are quickly exposed and discarded by today’s more educated and empowered buyers.

Those sellers who take the time to think about buyers’ problems in advance, and who come prepared to diagnose the reasons for buyers’ problems and then offer useful ideas on how to address them, are considered valuable assets – and are much more likely to win buyers’ business.

If your sales team is having trouble conducting effective sales conversations consistently, we can help – contact us for a complimentary consultation at +1 (704) 227-6500+1 (704) 227-6500, or by email to

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.


Maximizing Market Share in the Six Month Launch Window

By Brad Ansley, Director, Life Sciences Practice, Sales Performance International

Consider this: According to IMS, only one in five pharmaceutical products are able to significantly change the market share trajectory established in the first six months after launch.

Product launch is the lifeblood of the pharmaceutical world. New product launches allow pharma companies to overcome the impact of products losing patent protections and the corresponding loss of market share to competition or generics.

For medical devices and diagnostics, product launches have also been important because introducing innovative new products is a key revenue driver.

In fact, many healthcare industry companies believe, as they embark on a product launch journey, that they have the best roadmap for product launch success. But what happens when they find out mid-journey, that the roadmap they are following is out of date? That the road that used to get them to their destination in the shortest time, was no longer the best?

In essence, that is what is taking place in healthcare today. The importance of the 6-month launch window has not changed, but the skills needed to maximize market share in that window have. Customers now expect representatives to deliver patient-focused, evidence-based solutions that solve critical clinical and/or business issues for their organization.

To align with the changes in today’s market, successful sales reps must blend a higher proficiency in more traditional B2B sales skills with increased clinical selling skills. Today, a representative may be collaborating with a key value clinical influencer of a value analysis committee in the morning and a financial administrator in the afternoon. With this in mind, representatives must be able to identify and map stakeholders of IDNs to understand their impact on the decision making process. They must also understand each stakeholders’ individual value drivers and how their product meets (or doesn’t meet) that value driver.

The shift in today’s healthcare business model requires that sales leaders understand the proficiency level of their team regarding B2B and clinical selling skills and develop them accordingly to make sure the team is following the updated launch success roadmap.

For a more in-depth discussion of maximizing market share at launch outlined, download the white paper here.

If your organization is ready to align your sales talent with the market and maximize your launch effectiveness, we can help. Contact us for a complimentary consultation at +1 (704) 227-6500, or by email to

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.