Our new feature article, “Ask a Sales Leader” is designed to provide perspectives from the Sales Leaders that we have worked with and how they have used sales processes to win more business. We asked four questions below to capture this insight. In this edition, we feature Kevin Leak. Kevin is a two time customer of FSS, a 30+ year veteran in the Life Sciences/Pharmaceutical market and has lead teams in Sales, Product Management and Marketing capacities. To learn more above Kevin’s success click here.

1. Describe how your customer facing teams use your organization’s sales process.

They work together during opportunity development by asking a series of questions and listening to the customer, in order to identify and fully understand the root causes of the customer’s problem. In conjunction with Sales, the Product Engineering team has a check list of ways we could resolve the customer’s problem and deliver value through the four drivers of Speed, Cost, Quality and Innovation. Can our solution perform faster, thereby improving the customer’s efficiency? Can our solution help the customer lower their total costs? Can our solution help the customer improve the quality of their products and processes? How can our solution deliver innovation that creates a competitive advantage?

2. What is your Management’s approach to coaching sales reps?

The two key areas of coaching that we focus on are (1) opportunity development and (2) listening skills. Opportunity development coaching is the process we follow for identifying the critical factors that are required in refining an initially vague and undefined opportunity into a very specific and well defined opportunity that lists the decision makers, the timing, the value and the likelihood that we will be selected. Listening skills coaching is the process we follow for identifying, in the pre-call planning, the list of questions the sale rep should be asking, improving their ability to weave those important questions into the conversation with the customer and their ability during the post-call report (Meeting Summary) to show progress in our understanding of the customer’s situation.

3. How do you reinforce sales skill development for sales reps?

Repetition is the key. They must buy-in to our sales process that is repeatable and reproducible. The analogy I use to describe “repeatable” is that our sales process is a play book and everyone on our team has agreed that these are our plays, knows how to execute the plays and when we call those plays, everyone knows their role so that we professionally execute those plays. The analogy I use to describe reproducible is that our team plays at many venues (our different customers) with varied situational challenges (such as different competitors) and we sometimes need to bring in customized resources. When we execute our “plays”, based on the consistent use of our sales process, we successfully generate the consistent sales, margins and long term customer relationships that we are playing for.

4. What advice would you give to other sales leaders?

Break the “check the box” trap that many experienced sales reps fall into. Sales reps have their list of customers that they like and who like them in return. If the sales rep could, they would spend all of their time calling upon those “nice customers” and “check the box” each week when completing their sales call report. But frequently, they are not learning anything new that identifies new business opportunities or new influencers and decision makers, competitive threats or changes the customer is undergoing that could effect, for better or worse, our sales revenue with that customer. Challenge your sales reps to call upon the tough customers and learn something new about those customers.

We have worked with over seventy individuals in a Sales Kickoff Workshop that took place in Australia and New Jersey. There were many bright stars within these groups, meaning the top 10 % that simply gets things done. But for as long as we have been doing this (over ten years), it never ceases to amaze me when sales people, some very experienced, do not clearly communicate with their prospect about what comes next in developing an opportunity.  These same salespeople will be asked to forecast the likelihood of success in converting this piece of business from an opportunity into revenue at some time in the next 3-12 months, yet many don’t know what is coming next.

The cult-like sales movie Glen Garry Glen Ross cites the acronym “ABC” when it comes to sales, or “Always be Closing”. Well, this tired old tactic simply won’t work in today’s buyer-driven world. Instead, we embrace a concept, and practice this with our customers, that includes a related approach to “ABC”, or Always Be Confirming. For those of you who do this every time, we offer a round of applause. For those who skip it, or only do this when it feels comfortable, read on.

At each step of the customized sales process that we build with our customers, there is an action that the seller must take to qualify that the person they met with sees value in the conversation they just conducted, and agrees to proceed to the next step. This can be a formal document, or a simple follow-up email to identify clear next steps. In either scenario, we are asking the customer (or prospect) if we have a mutually agreed upon understanding of where this opportunity may go, and how they will work together to get there. This includes a situation when the two parties do not agree, and decide to stop. In our program, a “no” is okay, especially when it comes sooner as opposed to later in opportunity development.

The one confirmation of progress that all sellers will document is when they win. This is validated with a signature, check, or purchase order. But what about the 4-5 steps that come before, especially when it comes time to commit serious resources to winning the business? This generally plays out in the form of a demo, presentation, proposal or reference account to validate your ability to perform. Are your sales people making certain that when they provide that information, they will get an answer? Or is it left in that limbo zone of getting back with you when they’ve made a final decision.

By proactively managing the sales process, you can organize how the opportunity develops, and let your customer/prospect know that you will be asking for confirmation at certain intervals to confirm progress. Without doing so, many sellers are flying blind and can’t tell how well they’re progressing until very late in the game, which makes for messy forecasting and poor execution. To avoid this, make sure your team is trained on opportunity development and knows how to track progress from the very beginning of the customer engagement.



sales_mythHere’s a summary of common beliefs salespeople have that will do them more harm than good.

1. I need to educate my prospect; presentation skills are my most effective tool.  Premature presentations are the biggest challenge salespeople face today.  Let’s face it, no one ever lost a sale by listening too much.  When you’re educating, you’re talking.  When you’re talking it’s difficult to understand your prospect’s challenges and he will realize that and conclude that you bring little value to the relationship.  Your job is to qualify your prospect and investigative skills are your most effective tool.

2. Everyone needs what I sell; hearing “no” is a failure.  If you feel that “no” is a failure, you’ll resist it at all costs, creating a pressure filled atmosphere that will turn a skeptical prospect into a defensive prospect who’s main objective is to get rid of you.  If you believe that everybody needs what you sell, it’s difficult to be objective.  The buyer will conclude that your self-interest is greater than your desire to help.  A more productive belief is that not everyone is a prospect for what I sell and “no” is not a failure as long as I’ve qualified the opportunity adequately.

3. When the prospect says, “I need to think it over,” there’s still a chance.  Many “think it over’s” are just slow “no’s” with a free torture treatment. Prospects rarely say “no” to salespeople even when they have little or no intention to buy.  They believe that it is polite not to hurt the salesperson’s feelings or they want to avoid the pressure that they feel the salesperson will apply when rejected.  Sometimes prospects won’t say “no” simply so they can bring the salesperson back to pick their brains for more information.  Instead, you’ll be put in the chase mode, making a long sales cycle even longer.  You should be skeptical (not reassured) when your prospect tells you that he needs to “think it over.”

 4. My features and benefits differentiate me from my competitors; they give me an advantage.  Face it, most salespeople show up with the same tired old platitudes (‘we have the best quality in the industry, our service is outstanding and our prices are very competitive”).  It’s called “fluff.”  If you rely on features and benefits, you’re probably going to sound just like everybody else, and your prospect may conclude that what you sell is just a commodity.  When you’re perceived as a commodity, price becomes the most important buying criteria.  Bad news for you.

5. My job is to convince my prospect that he would benefit from purchasing from me; I need to be a good closer.  This is an antiquated belief and bound to lead to resistance. Following this belief will encourage you to put pressure on the prospect to buy.  People resist pressure in a relationship sale; it’s just human nature.   The prospect’s job to convince you that he has a problem, the budget and the decision-making ability to fix it and needs your help.  Try this attitude on your next sales interview and see how it will change your approach.

6. Financial considerations are the most important factor in determining who gets the business.  This belief puts the emphasis on price and that’s not what you want.  Price is very seldom the real issue in a complex sale. Conviction that you can help them solve their problem and get a return on their investment is the bottom line.  If you can help them increase their business or save them money, your price is relative to their gain.

7. If my prospects like me, they will buy from me.  Trust and rapport are important but the real issue is whether or not the prospect thinks you can solve their problem. If they do, you’re likely to get the business.

John is back in the new year with his first “On the Road Again” video of 2015. Here he is, literally on the road in his hometown of San Diego, CA, talking to us about what we have to look forward to in this month’s Flannery Sales Systems newsletter. Features include an interview with Brian Tracy, one of the world’s leading experts on personal and organizational performance and results, as well as an article on the growing importance of Sales Operations as sellers increase their reliance on technology to interact with today’s more sophisticated buyers.


John and team traveled to the snowy East Coast last week to lead a workshop in Ithaca, NY. In this video, John previews our upcoming newsletter featuring a video from Gerhard Gschwandtner, founder and publisher of Selling Power magazine and long-time FSS partner and colleague. Flannery Sales Systems will be heading to Australia in January (Sydney and Melbourne) and Spain (Barcelona) in February. If you’d like to join us for a session, or meet John for a coffee if your city is listed on our calendar, reach out to


featuresIf you’ve been following our blog or have attended one of our sales workshops, no doubt you’ve heard us talk about how a Features & Benefits approach to selling is no longer viable in today’s complex, relationship-based world. But have we taken a step back to explain why?

If not, here are some of our top reasons:

  • Features and benefits are used prematurely to create interest, rather than properly qualifying the prospect.
  • Features and benefits are used to differentiate a product from its competition, but everybody’s benefits (and often the features) sound the same (“we can save you time and money, and we’ll stand behind the purchase 100%”). When competitors look the same, buying decisions are made on price.
  • Features and benefits engage the prospect intellectually, and most buying decisions are made emotionally.   Research shows that most people don’t remember the features or benefits after a week or so, and if they felt any enthusiasm at all, it too had disappeared after a week.
  • Features and benefits are the seller’s bag of tricks (“we’ve got this, we’ve got that”), and may not be relevant to the prospect’s buying reasons. People buy for their reasons, not yours.
  • Once you’ve “dumped” your features and benefits, the only thing left to do is close and handle objections and, all too often, discount your price. From there, it’s all pressure, and you can’t go back and qualify further.

So as 2014 comes to a close, remember to work with your sales reps to avoid the temptation to dive into product features & benefits too quickly. Much more important is their ability to establish trust, ask intelligent questions, and thoroughly qualify each opportunity.


Watch Gerhard Gschwandtner, founder and publisher of Selling Power magazine and long-time partner and colleague of Flannery Sales Systems, discuss the importance of having a sales process to achieving company goals.




John Flannery has been invited to lead a workshop as part of European Language Industry Association’s (ELIA) Expert Training event in Barcelona, Spain.

This learning opportunity includes a series of in-depth workshops designed for all professionals who believe in personal and business growth. The event will focus on business-critical topics such as sales, creativity and conflict management.

John’s workshop is entitled “How to Win Business from New and Existing Customers”, and in it, he will work with attendees to help them differentiate themselves through the conversations they have during the sales process.

For more about the ELIA expert training, take a look at their event page. We hope to see you in Barcelona!

Flannery Sales Systems recently traveled to Richmond, Virginia. In this video, John discusses what you have to look forward to in our upcoming blog posts and newsletter, including guest posts from sales leaders like Brian Dietmeyer and a straightforward look at how FSS can help you sell more.


driveRevenueCycleIt would be great if I could sell to you. But I imagine that you will only buy from me if I can help you to sell more.

In order to do that, there are a few things I need to figure out before you’re ready to buy from me.

1. Who do you sell your stuff to? By this I mean what type of company.

2. What job titles do they usually have in the types of companies they work in?

3. What challenges do those customers have when they don’t have the things that your stuff helps them to do?

4. If nothing changes regarding the challenges that those customers face, what is the financial impact?

5. Do those prospects know enough or care enough about those challenges to make a change?

If they do, proceed to #6. If they don’t, you may need to tell them a story about someone who you worked with that didn’t realize the challenges they faced and how your stuff helped to fix it. See if they care. If they do, proceed to #6. If they don’t, move them into your call back file for later and move on to the next prospect.

6. Once those challenges are shared, and there is a reasonable amount of impetus to make a change, describe how your stuff can help them to address and fix the challenges.

See if you can help the customer to quantify the value that they could recognize with an improvement. If you can you have a qualified opportunity. If not, you may have to tell another story about how you helped someone to address the challenges and what the value was for them. If they agree, you may proceed. If not, put them in the same call back sequence as #5.

That’s it – six things I need to understand before I can effectively sell to you. And, guess what, they’re the same six things you need to understand before you can effectively sell to your prospects and customers.