They called you and asked for a quote. Or information, and a reference. And you had not spoken with them before, whether it was a customer (with a new key player), prospect or suspect.

What did you ask for in return? And what did you then receive?

The dynamic is so basic in sales that it is often skipped. Buyers ask sellers for something in the beginning, middle and end of the buying process, and what do we ask for in return?

Are we asking?

I know what you (the seller) wants. The business, be it the order, the opportunity, the account and/or the whole enchilada.

But it starts in the beginning; the negotiation that is. And how well do you set yourself up for success by staying on par with your buyer?

And what did you get in return?

Lack of Preparation, aka “Winging It”

A few years ago my family and I experienced an amazing day snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in Australia. It ended as a day we will never forget, but it did not start out that way. We took a day trip out to The Reef from Cairns.  Anxious to get away from the other people on the catamaran, we hurried off to find our own “secret spot”.

There was no real preparation on our part.  We didn’t ask any of the crew where we should go.  We decided to literally  “dive into it”…. but what a mistake!  We snorkeled for a while on what was largely a sandy, barren bottom beach.  About an hour into it, a wild rain storm forced us out of the water, and scrambling for cover.  This was not what we had hoped for, but that’s what happened without proper planning.

When developing your own selling skills, or coaching the skills of those who work for you, do you have a plan going in to make sure you’re working on the right skills?  Is your coaching regiment one that allows the seller to self-discover where they need to improve, and understand HOW to do so?  Jumping right in without a plan may leave both your seller and you with a washed out feeling that not much was accomplished in your coaching session.


A Good Plan and the Right Coach Makes All the Difference

Walking back to the boat on the pontoon pier where we started from, my 12 year old son, at the time, said dejectedly, “so much for snorkeling on the GBR”. I didn’t want to say it, but I was disappointed too, and said to Shane “We will get some ideas from the crew on where to go, and hopefully the weather will clear”.

We did. And it did.

During the busy lunch rush on the ship, I sought out  the Captain who was greeting the guests. I told him the challenges we faced on our morning snorkeling experience.  As all good coaches would do, he asked some diagnostic questions before suggesting a recommendation for our next dive.   He asked about our experience with snorkeling and what type of things we were looking to see.  Captain Peter said something that later made all the difference; he said “look for the small things and then the larger ones will appear”.

How do you or your sales manager pinpoint the skills needed to further develop your effectiveness? And once challenges are identified, is there a plan in place to advance those skills?  Having a specific plan, practiced on a regular basis, is the key to any skill development. Try to keep the development focused on one skill at a time, building on the “small things” that will then allow “the big things to appear”.

Here is a quick checklist to use when coaching selling skills:

  1. Identify what skill(s) you want to improve.
  2. Get the help of a Coach (Peter the Captain), and put a plan in place.
  3. Focus on the smaller items, THEN the big ones will appear.
  4. Breathe slowly, pause as needed and generally slow down.
  5. Document your success for others on the team to learn from.

It’s amazing what one can learn on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia!  Preparation is key to success!

Great sales managers are great sales coaches. It’s critical. Without coaching, sales processes are not applied, sales trainings short-lived, and sales rep performance falls short.

So, what makes a great sales coach? There are many things – we’ll share a few:


1. Respect. In order to really hear and receive your coaching, reps must respect you as a leader. Without that foundation, your coaching will fall on deaf ears. What are you doing to ensure you have a solid relationship with your team members.

2. Focus. We could have said “tailored” or “personalized”, but these words often get overused. So, we’ll use “focus” instead. What does it mean? Simply that great coaches narrow their feedback to development areas specific to each individual. Where do they most need to grow? What techniques can they use to drive the sale forward? (hint: great coaches spend more time coaching at the beginning of the sale cycle than at the end).

3. Question. Great sales coaches understand the power of self-discovery. People are most convinced by ideas they themselves create. As a coach, often the best way to teach your reps a certain skill is to ask targeted but open-ended questions to get them to arrive at the answer on their own terms.

4. Push. Sales reps are often asked to do things that are outside their comfort zone – like go out and get new business or ask tough questions to fully qualify an opportunity. As a sales coach, do you encourage them to stretch themselves in order to improve? Do you provide a safe environment to nurture that growth?

5. Believe. Last but not least, you must believe in the potential of your sales reps to meet and/or beat their sales goals. Without this genuine belief, your reps will lack the confidence they’ll need to practice and try and build and grow.


If you’re in sales, you need to read “Redefining the Elevator Pitch” before you pick up the phone to make yet another cold call. You’ll quickly realize that there is a better way to approach those people who haven’t yet expressed an interest in your service or product. And then your next step? Refine your approach using the advice below.  

Your first step: Review your current approach 

First, think about how you currently approach your cold calls. Consider the following: 

  • What do you currently say to prospects? 
  • How effective has your approach been in getting them interested in talking to you further? 
  • Do you try to keep a prospect talking using typical telemarketer “tricks” only to find yourself wasting your time in the end? 
  • Do you quickly get off the phone or out of the conversation if the prospect doesn’t seem interested vs. trying to spend more time getting them to buy? 

Be honest in your feedback to yourself, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Your goal is to improve, and that makes the discomfort worthwhile.  

Your second step: Refine your approach 

After you’ve objectively considered your existing approach, look for way to improve. Here’s an exercise for you to try: 

  • Before you even pick up the phone, do some prep work. Identify one or two business capabilities that your product or solution has helped customers solve in the top three industries where your products and solutions sell.  
  • For each one, write an interest generating statement, using this formula: 
  • “Typically our customers find that X problem is causing them Y pain. We’ve been able to help them solve this problem by providing Z solution capabilities. This has resulted in (list benefits, ROI, measurable outcomes, etc.) for our other customers.”   
  • End the interest generating statement with the following question: “Are any of these issues for you?” 
  • Once you’re on the phone with a prospect, use the appropriate interest-generating statement. Then ask for permission to speak with them further about how your products or solutions can help them.  
  • End the call with a clear action or next step that is designed to lead to additional discussion. For example, request a follow-up meeting or phone call and schedule it on the spot.  
  • Follow up the call with an email confirming the conversation and the action item/next step, plus any information you promised them. Send the email within 24 hours of the phone call. 

After a few weeks of trying this refined approach to your cold calling, do another review and consider how it is working for you. Do you see increased interest by prospects to learn more? Are you more quickly getting off calls and on to other business if the prospect isn’t interested? Are you seeing more prospects in the sales funnel? The answers to all these questions should be yes. If not, refine your approach yet again using this advice.  

Because the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result. And you don’t have time for that.  

A buying cycle begins with a motivation for change. In Neil Rackham’s description of the buying cycle, he uses the word “needs” to describe what is most important to the buyer early in the process.  We have renamed needs “primary business objectives” or PBOs to emphasize the buyer’s point of view at this stage.  

Just like Rackham’s needs, however, PBOs must be determined at the onset of the sales process.  

How do you determine the PBOs of a prospect when you meet them for the first time? If you’re lucky, they will simply tell you and you’ll be saved the hard part of digging for the key driver in the motivation to make a change. But salespeople shouldn’t count on luck.  

Or maybe you can safely make an assumption. If you have the title of an individual that you will be meeting with and that person is in a similar role as another customer you have in that same industry, will their PBOs be similar? Perhaps.   

Regardless of whether or not a prospect tells you the PBO at the outset, or you can make an assumption based on previous experience, it’s critical for salespeople to understand the importance of getting a PBO shared before launching into a presentation, asking a series of questions, or giving testimonials.  

This seems obvious, right? Yet, as simple as it seems, it is often overlooked–even by the most seasoned salesperson.  

As long as we stayed focused on learning this information, it’s usually easy to discover. Here are three ways to get the PBO shared by the key players:  

  • Ask questions. Ask questions to understand their business problems and pain. 
  • Offer a menu. Probe with a menu of business objectives that might be relatable. 
  • Tell a story. Tell a story about how you helped a similar customer, although you’ll have to make some assumptions to do this. This is also a way to share your insight into an area of the prospect’s business that they might not have thought about.  

Once you define the PBOs with a prospect, you’re well on your way to helping them identify a solution to address their problems: your solution! 

kpiIn a meeting with one of our customers, the CEO used a powerful analogy while discussing KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) with his senior leadership team: “The rear view mirror in a car is 50 times smaller than the windshield.” There is an obvious reason for looking through the windshield while driving a car, but that same focus may not be quite as obvious when the objective is to drive revenue in your organization. What is your focus on; lagging or leading indicators?

Lagging Indicators – What are they?

Lagging Indicators are measures that a company uses to gauge performance by outcomes and results that are measured in the rearview mirror…at quarter-end or at year-end.  In most sales organizations, these indicators get most of the attention because they are captured in reports, which are monitored, by executives and shareholders. Lagging indicators include metrics like:

  • Total Sales Dollars
  • Revenue Growth
  • Margins
  • Market Share
  • New Customers

Leading Indicators – Real Time Data

In contrast, leading indicators are measured as you look through the windshield, navigating how you are tracking toward your destination.  They can be viewed as signposts along the way, warning you of speed limits or detours that may need consideration on route toward the revenue goal. As pipeline is being managed, leading indicators include activities that measure the progress of each person’s revenue journey.  Leading Indicators may include:

  • The number of qualified opportunities in the pipeline with qualification criteria that is clearly defined for each pipeline milestone.
  • Validation of  the customer’s business objectives and corresponding solutions from Decision Makers approval
  • Decision Maker input and agreement on the Value Proposition your product or service can influence
  • Evaluation Plans and Implementation Plans co-drafted with Decision Makers prior to proposals being submitted

How to Tune Up the KPIs in Your Organization

Before you jump in and hit the gas on the KPIs you wish to measure in your organization, make sure that your destination is clear.

  • Identify your goals (personal and organizational destinations).
  • Develop KPIs that indicate a step-by-step approach of how to achieve the business objectives outlined.
  • Validate that your KPIs will appropriately measure progress toward the attainment of the long-term objectives outlined.
  • Determine how the KPIs will be tracked and monitored so that re-routing may occur when necessary.

Connecting Leading and Lagging Indicators

As your team becomes more effective at executing Leading Indicator Activities, the Lagging Indicators will improve. There are other advantages to well-constructed KPIs:

  • KPIs set expectations for sales reps, indicating key activities for time allocation and opportunity prioritization which are tied to their performance and compensation.
  • KPIs improve team communication by putting sales activities into context as a measure toward a common goal:  To Drive Revenue.
  • Appropriate KPIs will give reps and managers real-time “caution signs” about current opportunities and provide them the insight to make educated decisions with regard to any re-routing of opportunities that may be required.
  • KPIs take the guesswork out of evaluation and coaching.  With each KPI tied to a coachable sales skill, Managers can use this data to customize coaching conversations with reps which will address skill gaps and boost performance development.

Evaluate the KPIs you are following now. Make the proper adjustments, and you will reach your destination of increased revenue this quarter!

Each of the engagements we have with our customers begins with a thorough understanding of their business objectives. We then back up and attempt to help our customers to identify how their customers get to them or if they initiate the contact. We delve into questions such as, what steps did the prospects that looked at their organization go through to get from interest to onboarding?  

The concept of the buyer’s journey
There is a lot of noise in the sales enablement space today about mapping “the customer’s journey” and then aligning it to the sales process. This is hardly a new approach. It is a dustoff of a threedecadeold concept, decked out with fresh wrapping paper, buzzwords and a shiny bow to get companies to think more about customers than themselves and the products they sell. A dust-off yes, but still a useful approach if it helps sales teams to understand the phases of the buyer’s journey. 

In order to help our customers understand what is important to their customers, we rely on the research done by Neil Rackham. Rackham is the author of SPIN Selling. Rackham’s research yielded a chart that documents the three phases a buyer goes through, as well as what is important to the buyer in each of the phasesMuch has been written about this research, and the use of the model has gone through adaptations when major innovative and market forces, such as the Internet, have entered the environment. But in general, the phases hold true.  

  • Phase 1 is called Solution Development. At this time, the main concern of the buyer is their needs, although we often replace the word “needs” with “business objectives.”  
  • Phase 2 is called the Evaluation. During this phase, the most important component to the buyer is proof: proof that your organization’s services and capabilities can match the buyer’s business objectives.  
  • Phase 3 is called Commitment. The most important component to the buyer when they are ready to commit, or make a decision, is risk. The risk comes from the uncertainty of knowing if their selection will do what was promised. This is especially true when moving from one competitor and another in the same industry.   

Note that price and cost are of course concerns for the buyer, but never are they the most important concern at any point in the sales cycle. Despite what you have heard about phrases like “sharpen your pencil,” or “give me your best and final,” price is rarely the final factor, and you’ll see it’s conspicuously absent from the three phases described above.    

Do you know which phase your buyer is in? 
It’s important to understand what phase your customer is in when you engage with them and make sure you identify what’s important to them. You also must recognize when different buyers are in different phases. For example, you could have three different buyers in an organization at different places along the buying phases spectrum.  

It is the sales person job to make sure that they cover all three of the buyers’ phases, regardless of where the buyer is on the initial contact. This is one of the reasons that proactive new business development is critical for sales people. If they can initiate the identification of a business objective, they will be in the driver’s seat to shape how that gets addressed, preferably in a specified solution that your competition can’t offer.    

An engaged sales process means knowing your buyer’s business objectives, offering them proof, and getting them to commit.  

The Flannery Sales Systems’ OLP is another tool we created to:

  1. Enable our customers to understand buyer behavior
  2. Reinforce the core concepts and selling skills of Sales Process for all individuals in customer facing roles.
  3. Provide practice and repetition of skills in a self-paced, ongoing basis.
  4. Help Managers to understand where their sellers are competent, where they need coaching, and how to improve results.

The web based portal (view screen shot here) includes:`

  • Six reinforcement videos by sales stage and skill; each are 5 to 7 minutes long (click here to view a sample)
  • e-Toolkits that support each stage
  • A reinforcement quiz for each stage
  • The Manager’s Coaching Room
  • Support with live phone coaching sessions

In a previous article (How To Make Learning Stick), one of the key tenets of Adult Learning Theory emphasized a need for a learner (salesperson) to use repetition as a way to embed additional skills into their everyday routine.

Coaching is a major component to reinforce the use of enhanced skills, but until the new skills are entrenched, coaching will be difficult. The portal is designed to provide the repetition, and then offers the visibility for a specific skill that needs improvement (i.e. qualification, establishing value, negotiation, etc.).

Once the salespeople go through all six modules, Managers will be able to see the results of the scores on the quizzes completed. This provides the Managers with the objectivity needed to pinpoint coaching efforts.

Sales skills is often one of the last things to be addressed in the overscheduled world of most Sales Managers. The OLP provides Managers with an objective way to assess skills, as well as a platform to create skill related topics for sales team meetings.

Marketing, Customer Service and Inside Sales personnel can also benefit from the use of this valuable tool, as the OLP provides a window into the buyer’s world, the sales process that is being used in the field, and how other customer facing roles can use it in their respective roles.

For your FREE 30 DAY TRIAL, please contact John Flannery at or call 858-518-7039.



A Go To Market Strategy is the high level view of the vision or mission of an organization’s long and short term objectives. The strategy is carefully formulated by upper management to move an organization toward their specific destination. If, for example, an organization has the desire to increase revenue, a sales strategy for increased revenue may be formulated with the careful consideration of many different factors: assets, competition, the marketplace, margins, operational costs, the number of product lines, distribution, channels, value propositions, and plans for growth, to state a few.

We recently worked with an organization who wanted us to help them build a sales process to “get more sales now”! Their short-sightedness of only looking at the “close up” of the map gave them the misguided idea that their destination was nothing more than to get the reps out there selling better!  We were able to guide them through a sales strategy exercise, and THEN helped them build a sales process on how to execute their strategy.

One Conversation At a Time

The principal component of a sales strategy is execution. Sales process outlines the step-by-step, most efficient, customized directions of execution to get to the final destination.  It provides information on how to get to the destinations in specific detail, based on selling skills. The steps are broken down one conversation at a time for practice and mastery.  This specificity enables the implementation of strategy by providing the following advantages to the entire team:

  • A common path and language
  • Functional messaging tools based on the strategy
  • Skill sets that are tied to process steps
  • Flexibility to use the process in practical terms as competencies are mastered
  • Process steps that are tied pipeline milestones

Visibility with Leading Indicators for Success

If you ensure that all sales reps and managers follow the sales process, you can outline expectations and more easily benchmark your sales team against common criteria, providing an excellent evaluation of the strategy at the rep level.  A sales process provides:

  • Confirmation that opportunities are moving, or stalled, as the case may be
  • A measure of the skill of individual sales reps
  • An opportunity for focused skill coaching of sales people by managers
  • The backbone of reporting tools for leading KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) of performance measurement against key outcomes of the sales strategy.

When determining your organization’s sales strategy, take the time to ensure your understanding of the entire landscape.  Then, implement a sales process that allows you to execute toward your objectives, with the ability to gauge your success along the route, and soon, you’ll arrive at your destination:  Success!

In three separate conversations, I was contacted by 2 sales representatives and one entrepreneur who asked to provide a critique of a presentation that they were taking to a prospect. While the circumstances around each were different, there was one common challenge I identified following each conversation-information around a solution, product, or service was being presented way too soon! None of the three understood how the prospect ran their business without the recommendation that they would prescribe. And only one realized how this approach would lower their chances of a successful outcome, even if they did (for some strange reason) win the business.

A sales presentation is often the prelude to closing the sale.  Stop for a minute to think that the sales presentation is more like third base.  Understanding how a prospect would use your product or service, what their title was, what the decision making process is, what problem is solved by buying from you are all the issues that will get you to first or second base.  Jumping right to the boilerplate sales presentation is one sure way to be knocked out of the game.

Today’s marketplace is very unforgiving.  Buyers have more information and less time than ever before.   Asking the right questions and taking the time to listen and learn about how to help solve a buyer’s problem is the road to success.  Sellers will have fewer opportunities to be “at bat” so make sure that your presentations count.  Make sure your sales organization is not squandering those opportunities by practicing “spray & pray”.

Flannery Sales Systems helps organizations develop and implement a repeatable sales process.  Improving the effectiveness of your sales organization is a key success strategy for the coming year.  We would welcome an opportunity to explore your needs and understand where you could benefit from an improved skills and processes.  Only then would we consider making you a presentation!  Flannery Sales Systems works with a broad cross section of industries and we are confident that we can enhance your results.