Today’s Lesson: Beatus Aures

Over coffee last Friday a coaching client of mine told me about an RFP he was excited to answer. “It’s in our wheelhouse, but I have to go soon so I can get the answer out. It’s due today and they are making a decision Tuesday.”

I responded that I could see why he was so excited and asked him a few clarifying questions including:

  • Who are your competitors? Um, I don’t know.
  • Do they have a prior relationship with the prospect? Blank stare.
  • How many individuals and what are their roles do you know at the account? Just my one contact.
  • Have you asked to meet with all the decision-makers before agreeing to answer? No, she answered every question I had about the work they need.
  • If there are competitors, how can the prospect possibly make a decision in one business day? Mouth agape.

Read More

Today’s Lesson: “Social” Selling

No, this is not another post on using online sites like LinkedIn to build your pipeline. Rather, I want to talk about my friend Mitch (real person, fake name). Mitch is looking for love. He’s a good guy. Works hard, takes care of himself, and is a true mensch. Over the years, I’ve lived vicariously through the ups and downs of his love life, trying to support him.

Why am I telling you about Mitch? No, I’m not pivoting to match-making, but I do want to talk about your social life.

This year among other things, I’ve taken on two coaching clients who have the express goal of improving their business development efforts. These engagements have reminded me that the early stage dating scene which Mitch is not shy about going through is very similar to early business development conversations. The same goes for other areas of your social life, like making new friends. Read More

Today’s Lesson: Don’t be a Poodle

During a recent workshop I described how we sales people need to constantly work to be perceived as our prospect’s equals. What do I mean? Here are three examples where we are equals, but not necessarily perceived as equals:

Like you, I am a busy professional.

Often, towards the end of our conversations with prospects or even customers, they will suggest you “circle back” or “re-connect” next week or next month or some time in the future.  At times, your prospect is genuinely interested in this subsequent conversation, but thinks since you are in sales you can’t be as busy as she is. So, in between your checking Facebook and Instagram, they think you have tons of time to call them in the suggested date range and maybe catch them at an available time.  Or that at your leisure, you can bang out an email that you hope they answer. Read More

Regarding Sponsors and Referrals

When inbound leads from marketing just aren’t cutting it, do you work with internal sponsors and trusted advisors for referrals to grow your business?  Or, do you do it the old-fashioned way and cold call and email blast your market?  My friend, social media extraordinaire Barbara Giamanco, recently posted correctly that the best two ways in b2b sales to “get to the right decision maker fast, shrink sales cycles and close business more quickly” is either through a sponsor at the target or a referral from a trusted third party.

Totally agree.  Fantastic advice.

One Question:

How do we do that?

Well, now the rest of the story. 

Sponsors at the Target Prospect

Sponsors at a target prospect fall into two categories: Business and Personal.

Business Sponsors

Business Sponsors are those who have enjoyed the benefits of your offering(s)’ capabilities already and are willing to sponsor you in another part of their organization.  These individuals are willing to sponsor you because you have helped them in the past with overcoming an issue or challenge or reaching a goal or objective.  These sponsors, however, may or may not have the clout to just suggest a meeting between you and the decision makers and make it happen.

To increase the probability that your sponsor gets you a meeting, you need to first collaboratively build the sponsor’s success story. The success story arms your sponsor with a rationale for pushing for the introduction – he helped me, he can help you. Since it will be based in fact and told by a co-worker, the story will help you build an emotional connection between you and the decision makers without you even being there.

This conversational success story should brief enough to be told in a five minute meeting between your sponsor and a decision maker perhaps over coffee, at lunch or during a more serious meeting.

To write it, come to agreement with your sponsor and draft the following:

1)    The sponsor’s goals or objectives before you started to work together.

“Back in 20–, we knew our company needed to improve/increase/decrease….”

2)    What was the business problem or issue prior to our working together? You should be able to describe in two or three sentences the crappy situation they were in.

3)    What capability or set of capabilities did they need to bring on board? Simply,

“when faced with … we needed to be able to ….”

4)    The tangible and intangible payoff or payback.

“Once we implemented or bought from xxx, we increased/decreased/improved ….” 

This puts the cost v. benefit on the table and implies that the decision maker would be smart to meet you.

Once the Business Sponsor has this story in hand, he can confidently make the introduction for you and ratchet up the probability of your getting a meeting with the decision maker.

Personal Sponsors

Personal sponsors are friends and loved ones with whom you have a personal relationship but have not yet helped in a business sense.  You are trying to get your personal sponsor to say to a decision maker,

“Hey, you should meet with Adam.  He is a bright guy, maybe he can help us.”

Will that be enough?  Maybe.

To turn that “maybe” into a probably, you still need to arm your Personal Sponsor with a story.  In fact, it may be more important. Personal relationships are great, but in today’s busy world, might not be enough to get you a meeting.  In fact, it may be a detriment.  Cynical decision makers may think your sponsor is solely trying to help because it’s personal.  Decision makers every day need to determine who they will or will not have conversations.  So, give your Personal Sponsor some help in the form of a success story fashioned like the one above only describing another similar company’s success. Alternatively, work with the personal sponsor to write a usage story for the sponsor’s company.  This will turn the personal sponsor into a business sponsor.

The sponsor’s usage story goes something like this:

 “You know how we are struggling with …. We can’t stand it when….Well, my friend/relative Adam Shapiro says that when his clients are/have been in that situation, he provides then with…..He says they enjoy an increase/decrease/improvement in…. to the tune of …..Can I suggest he contact you to set up a conversation to see if our situation is similar?”

With either the similar success story or the usage story, you can turn your personal sponsor into a business sponsor.

Referral from a Trusted Third Party

Direct Referral

You know someone who not only knows your target’s decision maker, but is in a position of trust with that person.  We can call this person “TA”, for “Trusted Advisor.” You want TA to make a Direct Referral for you. In a very similar fashion to the sponsor scenario, the big question then is, “Can TA tell your story and get you that meeting?”  Just in case TA is not at a consigliere-Tom Hagen level, I suggest  arming him with as well with some of your conversational success stories or usage stories to re-tell during the referral. It will make it easy for the decision maker to agree with TA that he should talk to you.

Indirect Referral

But, what if instead of a direct referral, TA authorizes YOU to reach out to the decision maker and mention that TA suggested you contact them?  This is the Indirect Referral.

In your opening remarks, voice mail or email, offer a success story or usage story.

It should go something like this:

“TA heard about my success helping other companies overcome …. And felt you would want to learn more. In one such situation, they were struggling with ….needed…. we provided them with the capabilities they needed and now they’ve improved/increased/decreased….”

“After hearing this story, TA suggested I contact you.”

Careful, though.   In this situation, you also need to make sure TA is familiar with your success and usage stories because you have to anticipate that the decision maker will seek out TA for confirmation.  Help you and TA save face by having a preparatory conversation first before contacting the decision maker.

So, I agree. Follow Barb’s advice that if you want to sell more, faster, and to the right people, you will need sponsors and referrers.  Your sponsorships and referrals will be strongest and get you to decision makers faster, though, if you give create and deliver meaningful content in the form of success and usage stories as described above.

Good Selling.

Success Story: In-Boarding

reprint from 2006*

Leadership Strategies – The Facilitation Company is a leader in facilitation training and meeting facilitation. With a network of over 200 facilitators under contract, LSI provides organizations with dynamic, professional facilitators who facilitate executive strategy retreats and problem resolution sessions and lead training classes in facilitation, leadership and consulting skills.

Despite the organization’s high quality products and services and its strong competitive position, early in 2005 several factors led Wilkinson to conclude that the organization needed to transform its salesprocesses and approaches.

  • Year-over-year revenue was stagnant.
  • Most of LSI’s new business was coming from Internet inquiries and call-ins rather than from proactive contacts by the sales team.
  • Too often the sales teams “winged-it” on conversations, which made turning lookers into qualified leads, hit or miss.
  • Product and sales training focused merely on the features of the offerings and not sales process or tools to use when working through an opportunity. Salespeople were left to their own devices to figure out a sales process.
  • With everyone doing their own thing, coaching reps was difficult. For example, some reps had trouble identifying where opportunities were or what steps needed to occur for opportunities to close. They would have great meetings or calls, but the opportunity just seemed to peter out. Other reps, though, needed help with prospecting. They felt they lacked the credibility to make calls outside their comfort zone of HR professionals.

Wilkinson recognized that LSI’s fast growth had come from “early adopters” and that the organization sales had stagnated because they had not successfully penetrated the major market buyers. While the “wins” were usually buyers who understood intuitively how to use LSI offerings, the “misses” were often losses to either an internal training team or “No Decision, Inc.” With these misses, his client relationship managers either had trouble positioning offerings in ways the buyer would grasp or had trouble cost justifying the engagements.

Wilkinson needed the following capabilities to ramp up sales:

  • A customized best-practices LSI sales process, from first initiation, through customer success. This process had to contain pipeline milestones, deliverables and needed to be 100% auditable for sales management in coaching sessions.
  • Sales messaging that would give the client relationship managers the tools to have quality, consultative conversations which would be mapped to the pipeline milestones established in the sales process. Since the core of the sales process is the sales interactions (conversations between client relationship manager and buyer), the core of the conversational, consultative messaging included:
    • How to obtain targeted buyer’s business goals and explore needs;
    • Actual diagnostic questions for each targeted buyer, that would help the client relationship manager extract the buyer’s issues that are currently preventing them from achieving those goals;
    • How to help client relationship managers build value by architecting the questions for them that would uncover the financial impact of the issues; and
    • Then, product positioning that would help the buyer build a vision on how the use of Leadership Strategies’ offerings would help them achieve those goals.
  • Tools and know-how for managers to review each client relationship manager’s documentation of their selling efforts in the form of customer correspondence. In doing so, managers would have visibility into each sales process and could monitor activity levels and competence in key areas with development in specific areas as needed.

LSI contracted with consultant Adam Shapiro to gain the above capabilities. In June 2005, Shapiro worked closely with the company’s sales and marketing leaders to develop the sales-ready messaging for LSI key products and services. A month later, Shapiro taught a customized workshop to all customer-facing personnel at LSI, using the actual sales-ready messaging tools the reps would employ post-workshop.

Wilkinson has been thrilled with the results. “We had an incredible September – the best in the company’s history. September was followed by the best October and November in five years.” One customer relationship manager who was having a difficult time closing opportunities and having executive interactions, “has been lighting up the sales board,” says Wilkinson.

“LSI has terrific offerings for increasing the organizational effectiveness of employees and delighting customers,” Shapiro says. “Their customer relationship managers just needed a way that described the offerings in terms of usage so the mainstream market would get it.”

LSI now has a repeatable, auditable sales process that gives salespeople confidence during their sales interactions and a roadmap for success.

“Adam has done a terrific job for us,” says Wilkinson. “By taking the first month to customize our messaging, he was able to deliver training that was far more impactful then anything we had experienced before. He has superb consulting and training skills and diagnoses issues quickly. Because he lives the selling approach he espouses, he served as an excellent model for our customer relationship managers and sales manager. We were so impressed with Adam’s skills, we extended the contract to have him sit along side our sales manager during the first month of opportunity reviews. Through the value he continually delivers, he truly serves as a trusted advisor for our organization.”

*NOTE:  Admittedly, this success story is a re-post from a few years ago.  It was lost in the transition from Typepad to WordPress.  I continue to work with Leadership Strategies providing strategic and tactical sales and marketing consulting and training.

Asking and Listening Even Through Email

I am often asked, “So, what are your sales conversations like?” My response is that I ask questions and share successes around two related themes: 1) How are you doing with getting new hires, new partners, new investors, etc. on-board with your sales process and how do you want folks to behave, communicate within that process; and 2) How are you doing with getting your existing team understanding your desired sales processes, patterns, or some might say, sales rhythms?

Below is the content of an actual email conversation I am currently having with a prospect.

I hope you will notice that I ask specific diagnostic type questions that map to my offerings.  My prospect’s answers, if I am listening, will guide me on where to take the conversation. I know, for example, that it’s a recipe for disaster if a manager or executive is not asking tough questions about individual opportunities during sales forecasting meetings. I also know from my experience that forecasting disaster is something I can help my clients avoid.

Do you know what answers to your questions indicate a need for your product or service?  Have you socialized these questions and highly probable answers internally?  Do they map to real world example which you or your teammates can effortlessly and confidently describe?

Although this was an email conversation, we could have had the same conversation over the phone, in person, or even over twitter.  The key is that I have been thoughtful ahead of time with the questions I want to ask.


I have been talking you up big-time around here, Adam. “Get our sales act together” has made it into the top 3 priorities for 2012. Pipeline, account planning, you name it….

So, how do we make this happen – me helping [company] out?

The timing is perfect. It’s now recognized and internalized that we need to get a number of areas of our act in order. (Pipeline mgt, real forecasting, account planning in particular.) Everyone on the exec team (about seven-ten folks) recognizes this. What kinds of things could you do? The urgency is that we know/want to crush it in the first half of the year. We’ve got a handful of big accounts (~12) and a myriad of dogs-and-cats. We’re trying to consolidate to go deeper/broader (both in portfolio of our services purchased, as well as number of BUs across BigCo’s like XXX) rather than try to service a gazillion clients. Gimme an approach I can take in. [key player] is here today, and I’m having dinner with him this afternoon/evening. 

(I responded with a series of questions to understand my contact’s situation more specifically and to indicate the sort of capabilities I provide my clients.  He replied to my questions with in-line answers.  Check it out.)

Is there any concept of a pipeline?


Do you have the stomach for a pipeline and business review to see where you are with particular opportunities that you hope will contribute to “crushing” it in the first half.

To wit:

1) What deals are in the pipeline with new or existing customers that can get you to “crush it” status?

We have a list.

2) With the identified deals – a subset of these must close – why do you think they will close?

There is the big question…it’s “gut feel.”

3) Defend the realism of these ID’d deals by undergoing an opportunity review:

  • What has happened so far?
  • Who do you know will champion us with the selectors, funders, implementers?
  • Why should they? Have they agreed to the value, usage and implementation stories and what are they?
  • What are the steps to gaining a signed contract?

This would be a hugely valuable exercise.

4) If you do not have enough real deals to gain “crush it” status, what are you doing to get more into the pipeline?

Need a plan.

5) What is your business development process and within that process, how do you execute each step?

Not that structured.

6) Have you identified the conversations you want to have – with whom and what IN PARTICULAR you are going to say – to generate interest to the point of gaining trust and having your prospect kick off an evaluation of your skills and capabiiities?

Nope. Need this, too.

I can help with all of the above.


No, I am not cursing at you!

What I do want to point out is one of the most often overlooked sales closing tools.

I know, “every one knows the key to increasing sales is a good cost v. benefit analysis.”  Then, ask yourself if you’ve ever had a terrific sales presentation, felt the deal was going to close, slacked off (maybe decided to play a round of golf or angry birds) and then NOTHING HAPPENED?

No Angry Birds until after you've inserted #$%E! into your Cost v. Benefit

Why?  Maybe because you were so confident the buyer would buy, that you neglected to put together and gain agreement on the Cost v. Benefit of your prospect using your solution.  The prospect did not feel attached to your capabilities and either chose to stay pat or worse, go with a competitor.

Notice that I did not call it a “return on investment”.  That expression is so yesterday.  ROIs seem so far in the future that buyers don’t believe them.  Even worse, “return on investment” might remind them of their meager personal investment returns and make them shudder.

Alternatively, Cost v. Benefit is upfront and factual.  “Here’s the cost.  Here’s the short and medium term benefit using the information you told me.”  It may be semantics.  So what.  Inituitvely, a cost v. benefit sounds more reachable and less risky than an ROI.

The tricky part is the benefit side of the equation. How do you get there?  THAT IS THE SECRET SAUCE!!!  You get there early in the sales cycle by asking the right questions to gain clarification of what’s actually happening within your prospect’s environment that your capabilities could improve.

Once you both understand and agree on the frequency the challenge or issue arises (“#”), the amount of dollars overcoming the challenge is worth (“$”), and the percentage of time the challenge occurs or percentage of individuals who suffer with the challenge (“%”).  It helps then to know whether the prospect is emotionally connected to improving the situation or circumstances (“E”).  If you are not sure, then ask.

For example:

“How does it make you (your team, the effected group) feel?”

“How badly do you and your team members want to fix …?”

This gives you and your prospect an idea about the emotions of the situation. At times, all the hard dollar gain in the world may not help you close the opportunity if your prospect isn’t connected on an emotional level to your offering or solution.




Even better, plan out the questions prior to the call that will draw out value or benefit, questions that will lead to your gaining agreement from the prospect on #$%E! of their current situation.  Now, what are you going to do next?  Take aim at some sheltered pigs or have a #$%E! conversation with your prospects?

Good Selling.

Intro to Cross-Selling

How do you leverage success with one customer into a cross-selling opportunity with another?
I hope the below presentation that I delivered earlier this week helps.

View more presentations from Adam Shapiro.

Are You Recapping your Sales Calls? Do You Know How?

Reviewing clients’ sales call recap letters – reinforcing the letter writing process: Goals/Objectives, current situation, capabilities needed, value, next steps.