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.


learnPeople have been studying the science of learning for thousands of years – dating all the way back to the time of Plato and Socrates in Ancient Greece. Educators seek to improve the way they teach students, parents look for ways to improve the way their children learn, and organizations strive to improve the development they offer to their personnel.

At Flannery Sales Systems, we are also staying on top of the latest in learning development, as we seek to make a lasting impact for our clients. The science of learning is constantly evolving, and we continue to adapt our curriculum to leverage the latest in learning advancements.

Here are some learning practices that we employ daily in our work with our clients:

  • Self-discovery. People are most convinced by ideas that they themselves conceive; so don’t resort to a lecture style classroom if you can help it. Provide small group labs and workshops where students can be an active part of the learning process.
  • The experience matters. People learn best when they are in an engaging environment with a trusted instructor. They must be kept interested and entertained. Stories work well. Humor doesn’t hurt either.
  • Tailor, tailor, and tailor. Before you instruct a group, take some time to understand your audience. What is their age, gender, and education level? Where are they from? What are their interests?
  • Edu-tainment. Edu what? Edu-tainment is the idea of mixing education with entertainment for more effective learning. This is an increasing trend with the millennials, who have been raised to believe that learning should be fun.
  • Reinforce. Statistics vary on the number of times an idea needs to be presented before it can be ingrained. But what remains consistent is the theory that repetition matters. And in today’s always-on, hyper-connected world, the amount of times you need to present an idea for it to have an impact is only getting bigger.
  • Practice. Practice makes perfect. Well, maybe not perfect, but certainly better. Practice is key to successful learning, as people need the opportunity to “try on” what they have learned in order to fully master it.
  • Promote a “growth mindset”. This has been a hotly researched topic lately, led by Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck with the publication of her 2006 book entitled “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Having a growth mindset means that you believe that it is hard work more than innate ability that drives advancement. Students that come in with a growth mindset tend to progress farther as they actively strive to learn and improve.
  • Technology. It goes without saying that advancements in technology have revolutionized the way we learn. Technology can be used to reinforce a classroom-style learning environment, or provide “distance learning” allowing people to learn anywhere, anytime from the convenience of their laptop, iPad or any connected device.

What advancements in learning will we see in the coming years? While we don’t know for certain, we can be sure that they will include ideas new and old, and leverage technology and edu-tainment to reinvent the way people develop and grow.



This is a question I often ask Sales Managers.

Many of them respond that they do on the grounds of fairness. They try to distribute their time evenly between all team members and provide similar opportunities for coaching and development.

While I appreciate the intent, I disagree with the practice. At the end of the day, being a great sales manager doesn’t lie in giving your reps a similar dose of the same medicine, but rather in tailoring your prescription to each individual, which will likely result in a disproportionate amount of your time and energy spent with some reps and not with others.

Here’s what I recommend:

First, divide your team into thirds in order of performance – top 10%, middle 60% and bottom 30%. Many managers find this exercise difficult, as they’re reluctant to label certain reps as bottom performers. But it’s a critical first step in optimizing your coaching time.

Next, allocate your time with each rep according to his or her grouping.

Contrary to popular opinion, the bulk of your time should not be spent with the top performers (because they’re the most valuable), nor should it be spent with the bottom performers (because they have the most room for improvement). It should actually be spent with the middle 60%. The middle performers are the group that has the most to gain from focused skills coaching, and statistically speaking it’s with this group that you will see the biggest performance lift.

Of course you should still allocate time for your top performers. But your time with this group should be spent focused on retention rather than skills coaching – are they happy in their current position? Is there anything you can do to make their jobs better? Where do they see themselves 3 years from now?

Very little time should be spent with bottom performers. These team members can be an extreme “time suck” with very little payoff, and allocating the bulk of your time to coach the bottom tier very seldom translates into sales results.

So, is this a fair management strategy? Maybe not. But it is effective. It allows you to align your time and talents with the sales reps that stand to make the biggest gains, thus improving your ability to impact overall team performance and revenue generation. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what you were hired to do?

Part II

Screen-Shot-2014-06-02-at-8.19.06-PMEarlier this week, we discussed the importance of helping your team avoid discounting, especially during Q4 when sales reps are eager to close business and buyers are ready to play hardball.

The first skill we discussed is teaching your reps to prove value. If you missed that post, take a look here.

The second key skill is negotiation.

You’ll often hear sellers say, “he’s just a good negotiator,” as if it’s something people are born with and you either have it or you don’t. Nothing could be further from the truth. All sales reps can be trained to be great negotiators. Here’s what they must know:

Have a negotiation plan – you must be prepared for a negotiation – you can’t just “wing it”. Before walking into any closing meeting, sellers should assume that the buyer is going ask for price concessions and have a plan in place to respond.

Know your floor – calculate the lowest price you’ll go in order to preserve margin and revenue opportunities for you and your company.

Push back – remind your buyer about the agreed-upon value of your product and/or service and ask if anything has changed, or if they’re prepared to deal with the cost of not moving forward.

Offer other concessions – be ready to offer your customer other concessions that aren’t related to price, things like extended warranty, training, a dedicated service rep, etc. These offer your customers value without eroding your margins. But…if you do offer something, be sure to ask for something in return. What can your customer give you? Think about things like exclusives, referrals, testimonials, etc.

Be prepared to walk away – there are times when a buyer will not move forward without unreasonable discount requests, and good sellers must be prepared to walk. This can be especially hard in Q4, but it is essential to upholding the value of your offering. Tell your buyer, “I’m not going to be able to offer you the discount you’re requesting. But, what I would like to do is take some time to think about our conversation today and get back together next week.” Sometimes knowing that they’ve pushed you as low as you’ll go is all a buyer needs to move forward.

Practice – as with all skill development, practice is key to mastery. Role-play negotiations with your reps to get them prepared for big meetings. Have them practice pushing back and offering non-price concessions in exchange for something of value to your organization. The more they practice, the more successful they’ll be when they go to close business.

In summary, Q4 is upon us. It’s time to focus your team on proving value and smart negotiating in order to help them avoid discounting and maximize revenue achievement.


Part I

Screen-Shot-2014-06-02-at-8.19.06-PMQ4 is upon us.  How are you going to focus your team in the coming months to successfully close business and maximize revenue potential? One way is to avoid discounting. This may be easier said than done, especially in the fourth quarter when buyers are working hard to get the best deals possible. But, there are two proven methods of avoiding price discounts that we teach our clients in nearly every workshop we run.

The first is to prove value.

Proving value is one of the most fundamental and important skills we work on with our sales reps, and it is central to any customer-focused selling methodology. In order to avoid heavy discounting at the end of the sales cycle, sellers must thoroughly understand their customers’ primary business objectives, the key challenges they face that prevent them from achieving those objectives, and the financial impact of doing nothing. Then, they must align their product/service capabilities with those challenges in the form of a question, such as “if you had a printing service that could turn around jobs in 24 hours and offers free delivery, would that solve the challenge you’d mentioned related to compressed timelines and skyrocketing costs?”

Once that value has been established, when buyers ask for the discount at the end of the sales cycle (and they will ask for the discount), sellers can return to the value they had both agreed their product or service would bring. When asked for the discount, a seller might say, “during our previous conversation, you agreed that using our printing services would save you an estimated $50,000/yr in rush charges and delivery fees. Has anything changed since our last conversation?” Reminding buyers of the value of your solution and the cost to them of not changing is key to closing business without price concessions.

For more on the questions sellers should ask in order to thoroughly establish value, take a look at our three-part series “Helping Your Customers Achieve Their Objectives”.

The second method is skillful negotiation, and we’ll cover that in our blog post later this week, so stay tuned.

Click here to go to Part II

Flannery Sales Systems traveled to New York last week to conduct a training workshop. In this video, John talks about our upcoming content for the month of October. With the beginning of Q4 upon us, we’ll be focusing on how to effectively coach your reps to hold margin and maximize their revenue performance. Click to play video.

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John E Flannery of Flannery Sales Systems sits down with long-time friend and Olympic gold medalist Kerri Pottharst. Since retiring from professional volleyball in 2005, Kerri now works with businesses executives, managers and staff to help them overcome fears and reach their goals. John and Kerri discuss these topics as they relate to sales professionals.





john-for-feb-2011-cropped-2John E Flannery, President of Flannery Sales Systems, has been invited to present at a San Diego event sponsored by the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME).

AME is the premier organization for the exchange of knowledge in enterprise excellence. Members come together to explore Lean thinking and other enterprise improvement methods, network and exchange best practices.

During this event, John will be presenting ideas for building a lean, customer-focused sales process and discussing how sales and operations can work together to support business planning.

Topics include:

  • What does a customer-focused sales process look like?
  • What are the ins and outs of operations planning?
  • How can operations glean information from field sales (and vice versa) in order to optimize internal resources?
  • What are the key leading indicators from the customers that help to allocate resources
  • How can other departments benefit from this information?

The event will take place from 8am – noon on October 21. For more information or to register, visit the event page.

what_to_askEarlier this week, we introduced you to the idea that thoroughly understanding your customers’ key business objectives and the challenges inhibiting their fulfillment is the most important element to the sales process, and that traditionally salespeople do a poor job in this phase. If you haven’t read the first part of this series, “Why It Matters,” you can check it out here.

So, the question becomes – how can we help sales reps be more successful? First and foremost, we can arm them with a series of questions designed to get their prospects talking about their challenges in their own words. People are most convinced by ideas they themselves originate, so getting your prospects to define their own objectives and challenges is critical to getting their buy in throughout the sales process.

The following are three types of questions designed to get your prospects talking about their challenges.

Open Questions.  Your prospect has discussed his primary business objective – now how to get him talking about why he’s not able to accomplish that objective. These questions are designed to do just that. They uncover the tip of the iceberg, and are the first step in the discovery process.

  • “What are the main concerns you’re having with respect to…..?”
  •  “Usually people come to us for help in one or more of the following areas (list 2-3 problems you solve for people); are any of these issues for you?”
  • “Tell me more…” or “Tell me why…”

When you ask questions like this, look for the prospect to make statements like:

  • “My sales are not where I want them to be.”
  • “We’re spending too much on…..”
  • “We’re not happy with…..”

Cause Questions.  Now that you have the problem defined, the next step is to look for the reasons for the challenge.  What’s causing the disparity?  Typically there are several causes.  Pay close attention as these are the issues you will ultimately try to resolve for the prospect. This information leads you to your presentation.

  • “What are the reasons this is going on?”
  • “Why do you suppose this is happening?”
  • “Do you know what’s causing these problems?”

It’s vital for you to understand – even better than the prospect – what’s causing their challenges.  You’ll hear things like:

  • “Our current supplier is having quality and delivery problems.”
  • We don’t have the right software and our people need training.”

Keep Them Talking. Learn to direct the conversation and keep your prospects talking.  When they are talking, they are giving you valuable information. When you’re monopolizing the conversation, you’re losing an opportunity to discover what will motivate them to take action.  Add these types of questions to your repertoire and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the issues.

  • “Tell me more about that.”
  • “What else is there?”
  • ”Is there anything else?”
  • “Could you be a little more specific?”

With these three types of questions, your sales reps should be able to encourage prospects to fully define their key challenges, which is a critical first step in the qualifying process.

But, there is more. Next sales reps need to get prospects to quantify the impact these challenges have on their business. What is the cost of doing nothing? Here’s where they will be able to establish the value and ROI of your offering. To learn more about quantifying your prospects challenges, stay tuned next week for the third and final installment of our series.

Back to Part 1 | Go to Part 3


An elevator pitch is a short summary designed to simply define your company or product. As the name implies, it should be short enough that it can be delivered during the span of an elevator ride.

Why the brevity? The truth is that when you are “cold calling” into a prospect, ten to fifteen seconds is all you have to make an initial connection and get permission to continue the conversation. In light of this, it is critical that you can quickly establish trust and pique interest.

Today’s prospects are receiving so many incoming sales calls, that they are particularly wary of being “sold”. The old way of delivering your company’s message is no longer good enough.

Let’s take a look at how elevator pitches have traditionally been made and how they should evolve to become more effective in today’s selling environment.

The Old Elevator Pitch

The call starts with, “I’m Bob with XYZ Printing. How are you today?” 

The “clever” segue into the sales pitch, assuming we still have the prospect on the line, goes something like this.  “We’re the premier printing company in the area.  We’ve been serving the local market for over 20 years and have the most advanced digital printing equipment in the area.  Our specialty is quick turnaround and competitive pricing.  I’d like to set an appointment to meet with you to show you how we can save you time and money on your next printing project. Would Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning be better for you?”

Does that sound familiar?  It probably does and there are many problems with this approach:

  • “How are you today?”  Every telemarketer in the world starts the call by asking about the prospect’s “well-being.”  While this is an honest attempt at politeness, prospects know you don’t really care, so it comes across as insincere and makes you sound like a telemarketer.
  • The “compelling” pitch by the printing salesperson sounds like the other printing company that called the prospect yesterday.  They said they were the best in town and could save him time and money too.  Whom should he believe?
  • “Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning?”  How many times have we heard that over used alternative choice close?  Nearly every salesperson uses it.
  • The salesperson wants an appointment but doesn’t want to take the time to find out if there’s any pain.  This is the typical product pusher’s strategy and the prospect knows it.
  • The easy blow off that the prospect can, and often does, use is to say, “Just send me some information about it.”  And you know how sincere that request is.

The New, Improved Elevator Pitch

Never fear, there is a better way. Take a look at this new, improved approach.

This call starts with, “I’m Bob Smith with XZY Printing.  Did I get you at a bad time?”

If you get permission to continue, you’d say, “Thanks for taking my call.  Can I take about 20 seconds to tell you why I called, then you can tell me if we need to talk further?”

When you get permission, you’d say, “I’ll be brief, right to the point.  We’re one of the leading commercial printing companies in the area.  Typically companies switch to us because they’re upset with long turnaround times, concerned about the inconsistent quality of the final product or frustrated that their printer can’t offer any creative ideas to improve the job.  Are any of these issues for you?”

Or, you may want to give a specific example of how you’ve helped a competitor with a specific pain, something like “we recently helped [competitor’s name] save $2,000 per month on printing fees and reduce their turnaround time to 48 hours. Is this something that would be helpful to your business?”

If the answer is affirmative, you’d then go on to explore the pain further.

If the answer is negative, you could conclude the call quickly by saying, “Sorry to have bothered you.  Have a good day.”  And make another call.  Remember, you’re trying to find that gold nugget quickly and not waste time with people who are not good prospects.

There are many benefits to this approach:

  • Asking if you got him at a bad time is respectful of the prospect’s time.  (The overwhelming majority of the people we train say this tactic has been very effective despite the initial concern about making it too easy for him to say that he is busy.)
  • The “pitch” focuses on possible problems your company can address, thus begins the qualifying process quickly.
  • It’s different.
  • You won’t have done anything to destroy rapport.
  • You won’t sound like every other salesperson that calls.

Your ability to differentiate yourself in your initial call with a prospect will dramatically improve your success at developing new business. Try our new and improved elevator pitch for yourself – we’d love to hear how it works for you.