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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 Four Types of Inside Sales

By Timothy Sullivan, Director, Sales Performance International

Recently, I was invited to speak on the “Interviews with Inside Sales Gurus” podcast, hosted by Chris Orlob. On the show, we talked about how buyers have changed, and why that has created an impetus for sellers to become more collaborative with customers. As Keith Eades and I documented in our book, The Collaborative Sale, the ability of sellers to develop their own personal brand around their individual expertise, and to apply their expertise to create value in every interaction with buyers, have become paramount to sales success.

One question that Chris and I explored was: Does the need for collaborative selling apply equally to inside sellers as well as those who engage with buyers face-to-face?

Based on our experience with our clients, many of whom rely in whole or in part on an inside sales team, the answer is clearly yes – but how this expertise is manifested with buyers will likely differ depending on what types of interaction an inside seller has with buyers.

When clients ask us to help improve their inside sales results, our first question is: “What do you mean by inside sales?” There is no one, uniform definition of what every inside seller does. This can vary significantly from one company to another, depending on what they sell, how they sell it, and what kinds of buyers they are serving.

James Touchstone, SPI’s Director of Learning & Development solutions, developed a framework for helping clients define the different types of inside sales interactions with buyers. In general, we find that there are four types of inside sellers:

  • TeleProspecting – focused mostly on identifying potential customers, who are then handed off to another sales channel for follow-up
  • Inbound – fields incoming calls from interested buyers, tends to be transactional in nature - this may also include a customer service variation
  • Short Solution Sale – can be both inbound and outbound calls, may hand larger or complex opportunities to another sales channel, but generally closes shorter-cycle business
  • Inside Solution Sale – mostly outbound, this kind of inside seller does everything an outside seller does, except they do so over the phone or through web collaborative tools

Generally, we find that most “inside sales teams” have a mix or hybrid of the four different types, depending on how specialized they are on different solutions, or on how they interact with outside sales channels, if there are any.

As I mentioned to Chris during the interview, there are many ways that sellers can bring value to buyers. This is true for every type of “inside sales” person, too. Even tele-prospectors can bring value by how they engage with buyers to discern their needs or potential opportunities – the helpful and collaborative nature of their conversations can differentiate them from other inside sellers who are simply polling for potential interest.

In addition, we see that there really is no such thing as an exclusively outside seller any more. In virtually every instance, outside sales professionals conduct more of their selling efforts over the telephone than ever before. They research, prospect and reconnect with buyers increasingly with collaborative web tools and on the phone, as a complement to their face-to-face meetings. It is very rare to find a salesperson who is not also using inside selling methods as part of their repertoire in serving buyers and closing business. The distinctions between what it means to be an “inside seller” and an “outside seller” are becoming increasingly blurred. In a way, all sellers are inside sellers today, at least to some degree.

We’ve put together a helpful chart that describes the four types of inside sellers – click here to download a free copy.


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.


Please help our research on Hiring Top Sales Management Talent

Receive a complimentary copy of the report (a $349 value) for joining our survey on Hiring Top Sales Management Talent.

In conjunction with the Sales Management Association, we are conducting a research study on Hiring Top Sales Management Talent, and we need your help.

Finding effective sales management talent is a critical success factor for high-performing organizations. Decisions involving attracting, hiring and promoting highly competent sales managers are a vital part of the talent management mix for growing organizations.

This research initiative examines multiple decision points related to attracting highly effective sales managers.

Objectives of this study include:

  • Identifying criteria for hiring sales managers that outperform
  • Prioritizing competencies valued for sales managers
  • Revealing common gaps in new managers’ capabilities
  • Assessing strength in cultivating a pool of promotable manager candidates
  • Identifying manager onboarding strategies
  • Assessing strategies for hiring outside talent versus promoting and developing from within

The survey only takes about 10-15 minutes to complete.

All participants will receive:

  • A copy of the report generated from this research topic (a $349 value)
  • An invitation to a Sales Management Association webcast in which summary findings are presented to our audience.

Your participation generates benchmarking research available to support and refine your sales force effectiveness practice.

Click here to begin. Thanks for participating!


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.


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.


How to Find and Connect with Early Stage Buyers

By James Touchstone, Director, Sales Performance International

There is a popular school of thought that suggests demand generation is the responsibility of marketing, and that salespeople’s time is too valuable to spend on prospecting. Instead, they should spend their time responding to marketing-generated leads.

Needless to say, we disagree with this point of view. Although we don’t believe that salespeople should waste time cold-calling low quality prospects, we do know that sellers can build awareness and credibility with targeted prospects, by using micro-marketing methods.

There is no doubt that buyer behavior has changed over the last several years. Buyers have more access to information than ever, and as a result, they usually don’t engage with salespeople until they are far along in their decision process. However, buyers will seek the guidance of peers, subject matter experts, and thought leaders early and often when seeking potential solutions to their problems. This is an opportunity for sellers to connect early with potential buyers, and win more business.

Seed Planting and Social Listening

Today, effective sellers are doing a lot of “seed planting”. For example, if they come across an informative article from an industry analyst that highlights an issue that they can help solve, then they can share a link to that article in a personalized email to a prospect or with a LinkedIn group. In doing this, they are not pushing their own product, but raising awareness of an issue that is of value to prospective buyers, and demonstrating their own industry expertise at the same time.

Good sellers are also devoting more time to “social listening”. For example, we recently discovered a VP of HR in a LinkedIn discussion group asking for recommendations on sales training companies. One of our sellers monitored and participated in that group. He saw the post, made contact with the VP, and it turned into a real opportunity.

Your salespeople should be proactively building relationships with individuals who have the potential to buy from them. They should dedicate a percentage of their time to business development activities that don’t necessarily result in immediate interest or action. Instead, they can educate themselves to gain expertise in their chosen domain, and eventually position themselves as a trusted resource – smart sellers are creating their own personal brand as a recognized expert among their peers and customers. Salespeople who become recognized experts have a much better chance of engaging earlier with buyers, and thereby gain a competitive advantage.

Keep it Simple for Success

This kind of micro-marketing activity can be done efficiently with common tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, Google and old-fashioned e-mail. Your salespeople should be connecting or following prospective buyers, listening for buying signals, and engaging in discussions when they can add value. While trying not to sell overtly, they can position themselves as experts with an informed perspective, build relationships, and engage early in dialogue with buyers.

Provide Value without being Obnoxiously Assertive

To be effective micro-marketers, salespeople must think from customers’ perspective and understand the challenges they face that are relevant to what they sell. Sellers should demonstrate thoughtfully that they have a unique perspective on how to address customer issues through their product/services. However, they must present a point of view in a compelling way that catches the attention of someone who is in a decision-making capacity. Then, they can post ideas wherever buyers are having online conversations or searching for insight.

How to Best Enable Salespeople

Sales leaders can help salespeople develop micro-marketing skills through a combination of formal and informal approaches. Formally, you can support sellers by making sure they have the right messaging and insights to offer to buyers.

However, sales leaders can also encourage salespeople to step up and develop their own expertise, or to take some of the ideas that marketing is providing and put their own twist on them. Sellers should be able to take big concepts and make them relevant to each buyer.

Sellers can be a powerful source of insight to customers, which will lead to more opportunities. As a sales leader, don’t let your salespeople off the hook for new business development, but instead encourage them to focus and develop their own expertise. Micro-marketing skills will go a long way towards helping salespeople to position themselves as experts, and engage with early-stage buyers effectively.

We’ve put together a helpful graphic that describes what effective micro-marketers do to engage with early-stage buyers.

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.