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Deep in the complexity of the middle game, keep focus by imagining the Press Conference and concentrating on the “power of one”. April 29, 2014

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Deal-making, Enterprise Sales.
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This is # 5 in a serialized book called Enterprise Sales for the Digital Age, delivered here as 10 blog posts. You can get value from each in isolation, but if you really need to understand enterprise sales, reading the whole series is worthwhile.   You can buy an improved version, neatly printed and bound, for $6 from Amazon.  

Deep in the complexity of the middle game, keep focus by imagining the Press Conference and concentrating on the “power of one”.

Maybe you think that daydreaming sounds rather self-indulgent. Perhaps this is some new variant of the old “think positive” stuff?

Actually this is a very practical strategic selling tool. It is also a powerful visualization tool, similar to what great athletes use. 

Enterprise sales are complex and it is often really hard to see the wood for the trees; it is like the middle game in chess. Deep in the middle of the sales cycle, you are probably juggling internal politics, resource constraints, demo and proof of concept technical issues, pressure from partners, competitive moves and customer politics – and that’s all before lunch!

You need something to keep you focused on what really matters. You need to know what is the one overriding motivation for your decision-maker. This is the story that your decision-maker will be announcing when the deal is done. She will present why her great initiative will have a big effect on one of the company’s key strategic objectives and why she was smart enough to select the one vendor that was ideal for the project.

Unless you know what this story is, you are shooting in the dark.

Even big, complex enterprise sales come down to the personal motivation of the ultimate decision-maker on your project. Customer politics can get in the way when the personal motivations of different managers are pulling in different directions. However if you know the personal motivation of the big boss (and if you are reasonably confident the big boss will stay in power long enough to get the deal signed) you cannot go far wrong. You can then focus on helping the boss align the pesky, politics-playing managers to the big objective.

To cut your way through the complexity of enterprise sales, you need to simplify. Select one person who is the key decision-maker. Understand what is important to that decision-maker. Select the one big reason why he/she wants to do this project. Select the one reason why he/she will announce your company as the right vendor.

There is tremendous power in keeping the focus to one. Find one decision-maker, one business-driver and one vendor selection-driver. When you see multiple answers, keep drilling and imagine that press conference. The CXO will only have one minute to describe the vendor and why he/she chose you, so there cannot be lots of reasons.

Imagine yourself in the buying shoes. Remember when you have had to make an important decision and how you finally made up your mind. What you will usually find is that it was one simple reason and everything else was incidental. It was probably not a feature that hooked you; the anti-lock brakes on the BMW are good, but is that why you want to buy a BMW?


Even more powerful is the realization that there is often one precise moment when you win or lose a deal, even if the whole sales cycle is 6 months or more. My first job out of college was selling encyclopedias and you could see the moment you won or lost a deal in their eyes; it took me a while to understand that the same is true also in complex big ticket deals. Everything before that is preparation to sell and everything after that is managing the process to closure. Think about decisions you have made and how you made them. There might have been lots of research to get you to a certain point and then a key point when in your mind you think “this is it”. Then you may still spend lots of checking to make sure you are doing the right thing, but you want the answer to be positive. You are looking for verification not problems.

Selling is a people game where intuition is valuable. You will know when somebody is convinced. It is less about what they say, but how they say it, the expression in their eyes, their tone of voice, their body language. No, that will not fit into a CRM system but that is a criticism of CRM systems, not a criticism of the value of intuition.

In some sales, you may not be there when that key moment happens. This is not ideal, but it is the reality in many enterprise sales. At the crucial moment of decision, your decision-maker is probably sitting with the one manager he/she holds accountable for this decision (the “recommendation-manager”). Again, there is one key recommendation-manager, although lots of other managers may be involved in the research and diligence stages.

Although you may not be there at that critical moment, you must have a very close relationship with the manager who is doing the briefing and you and he/she must have total alignment on the key objectives.

In long sales cycles, take time to imagine the press conference. Use this to get clarity on the “key ones” – one decision-maker, one business driver and one vendor selection driver. When it all gets mind-numbingly complex – KISS and focus on those “key ones”.

Athletes do this kind of visualization. You can see downhill ski racers with their eyes shut before leaping out of the starting gate, their hands tracing the path they will take, their mind going over every bump and corner to the finishing line. It is hard to understand theoretically how this kind of visualization works, but the empirical evidence from athletes is clear.

It is also great practical reality check. Great sales people know that qualification is a process, you do it every day not once at some point prescribed in a sales methodology handbook. Great sales people do this because they understand that sunk cost means nothing. It does not matter if you have sunk 6 months and lots of company resources into a sale; that has no bearing on whether or not it will close. Circumstances can change. Or you may have misjudged it earlier. If you cannot visualize that Press Conference, if you don’t have a firm handle on the key ones”, it may be time to pull the plug.

 Next post in series.

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