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Outcome Based Selling – Next Generation Sales Success

April 13, 2011 , , ,

“As your customer, your value is not in what you want to sell to me; it is in what you can help me accomplish.”

Jim Hays from the forthcoming book,  BOLD Selling: The Outcome-based Approach to Helping Customers Get What They Want Most (Authored by Jim Hays and Chris Luxford)

Sales training – we’ve all been there.  2-3 days out of the field listening to the wisdom of those that claim to know better.

Many sales trainers haven’t been sales professionals or if they have did it some time ago.  Also a lot of what is taught is common knowledge, and while there are often 3-4 nuggets of wisdom the shelf life of these is often quite short.  Think about a sales training event you attended over 1 year ago.  How much do you remember and how much do you still use in your sales engagements?

A common statement is “those who can’t do …teach”

So why given the often perceived low long term value of sales training, is so much time invested in by many organisation?

In short it’s often a cop out.  David Maister says it best in this article on why (most) training fails.  One point that David raises is that the act of sending a sales professional on training is a way for the manager to feel they have “developed” the sales skills, they’ve done their part. This is not a blight on sales managers, probably one of the most difficult jobs in any organisation caught in the middle of management who want extrapolate growth in performance and the sales team that wants time and resources.

In a previous post we have discussed how sales processes limit sales performance.  Without reflecting in too much detail on that post, the key concept is that one process does NOT fit all.

However in our experience the most successful sales people share a number of common skills, behaviours and methods.  These include;

  • Outcome based approach
  • Engage with many executives and link their offering directly with the executives outcomes (including IT, but not starting with IT)
  • Research – not generic research but really specific
  • Envisioning – help customers see HOW they can do business differently – really see, not just generic demos of functionality
  • Relentless focus on user adoption via process change – how will the customer drive usage and therefore outcome achievement

Likewise the most successful sales managers (actually sales coaches) also share a common set of behaviours, skills and methods, these include;

  • Focus on sales outcomes not sales outputs (in short they don’t ask when the order will come in – but focus on how the sales activity is helping customers achieve their outcome thus driving differentiation)
  • Mentor the research and planning activities, not manage the sales mechanics
  • Challenge sales professionals to define their personal and companies differentiation, not just with a customer’s company but with the individual executives within the customer (as each will be different)
  • Encourage partnering – not just with traditional “fulfilment” channels, but with partners that bring expertise and thought leadership that the customer and supplier cannot
  • Role play’s and debriefs – lots and lots of role plays on executive engagement not to embarrass people but to help them have the best possible engagement success, and debrief the what worked well and what could have been done better
  • A learning culture, but learning through doing, not just through training.  Training provides knowledge, doing builds skills and behaviours

Now it probably comes as no great surprise that many of the above are pretty obvious things to do.

The problem is that many people are looking for the silver bullet, the one thing that will make the customer stop in their tracks and buy from you and no one else.

Those days are long gone.  It’s rare now that product differentiation alone will win a deal.  It really just needs to be good enough.  For every feature you have that your competitor does not, they have one yours doesn’t.  Sure you can influence a customer to “need” your features more than your competitors, but in these days of increased organisation complexity, many products and services are not being considered in isolation, thus their unique feature differentiation is just one of many many buying considerations.

There is no silver bullet…just a lump of sliver that you need to work into a bullet for each unique executive engagement you have with a prospective customer.  Each engagement will be unique with unique points of differentiation.

It is commonly viewed that doing the above as a longer sales cycle.  Evidence from various engagements actually show this approach can be significantly faster in the “buying cycle”.  The reality is most sales start very late in the buying cycle resulting in demand reaction, highly competitive sales.  The most successful sales people rarely compete.

Time tends to be the enemy of the above.  Focus on the weekly, monthly or quarterly financial targets

Lack of time forces behaviours that minimise the effort in these areas, resulting in a non differentiated “generic” sales approach that is product led

Yet how much time is spent chasing opportunities that will be lost, 20%, 50% ?  If the opportunity to PO ratio is less than 50% then 50% of time is spent chasing opportunities that would be lost.

The challenge for most sales professionals and sales managers is to remove those opportunities from the funnel.  No one wants to go in on Mon and say my funnel is now 40% less than it was on Fri as I’ve cleared out all the stuff we know will most likely not be won.  Never a good discussion to have.

But if it were replaced by genuinely differentiated opportunities I do not know a VP of Sales or CEO that wouldn’t be happy to see new differentiated opportunities added to the funnel, as long as these were well qualified, targeted with a reasonable forecast timeline.  This timeline can only be achieved by using the skills and behaviours of successful sales people and sales managers.

Sales success in the future will require a new thought process on selling.  An outcome based approach that is not about what you are selling, but about partnering to help customers achieve their desired outcomes…no matter what or who is needed to do that.


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Great premise! You’ve hit on a number of excellent points so I’ll just focus on one. Training by itself, no matter how spectacular and transformational the content may be, is ineffective unless the trainee builds new skills and adopts new behaviours by doing. When these changes are revolutionary (like the ones you are suggesting will be for many), they can require substantial time and repetition before they take root.

With weekly commit calls and “unnatural acts” at quarter-end being commonplace, do you think business owners and Sales management have the patience (and the guts) to stay the course while these new habits are being formed? The more important question may be: can they afford NOT to?

Thanks for the blog; good stuff.

Jeff Palazzo

April 18, 2011

Thank you for a good post and good blog. I truly enjoyed reading the Outcome Based Selling.

There is definitely a learning curve for both the seller and the buyer and both are eventually nowadays focusing on the outcome. You have encapsulated the idea in this blog very well. Looking forward to your book!

Kaijus Asteljoki

June 22, 2011

Thanks, Kaijus. We completely agree with you that for Outcome-based Selling to drive better business results customers must also practice Outcome-based Buying as well. This is fundamentally about the reinvention of the old 20th century idea of Buyer/Seller relationships toward a world were there is a genuine “everybody has to win” attitude of collaborative partnership toward the singular goal of better business outcomes for the customer’s business.

Jim Hays

June 23, 2011

Great stuff Jim! I think there is a new world of eCommerce that could use this kind of experience vs a part number search which is really just a race to zero.

Ryan Pinke

March 5, 2012

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