The ASPIRE! Group Blog

The ASPIRE! Group Blog

Go-to-Market Innovation at the Intersection of Business and Technology

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Why Technology Adoption is the ONLY next “big thing”

February 7, 2011 4 Comments

Simple fact – most business executives don’t believe they are getting the anticipated benefit from their technology investments.

Don’t believe that statement?  Ask any IT or non-IT executive, even ask yourself about your own companies technology deployments…

Sure the technology has certainly delivered some benefit, no question….but not what was “promised” or “expected”.

There is only one barrier to outrageously successful adoption:  TIME

Most organization and people simply do not plan / invest the time required to build the plan and execute the plan for formal adoption.

In the last few blogs I have focused a lot of discussion on sales and selling.  A key theme in these blogs has been around the shifting nature of the skills required to differentiate in the technology sales arena.  A few blogs worth a review if you have time include, Why Demand Creation Selling is SO hard, Why no one likes to be “sold” to, Successfully engaging non-IT Business Executives

Today however I’d like to shift gears a bit and talk about adoption.

At the ASPIRE! Group we have developed a framework we call BOLDTM Framework.  BOLDTM is both an acronym and a challenge.  It stands for Business Outcome Led Delivery, and you need to be “bold” to change your engagement strategy to BOLDTM to drive real differentiation.

Before we jump into adoption, a few questions:

  • Do your customers, or do you in your own organization, implement technology that does not get used, or is used sub-optimally ?
  • Is there a view that IT buy technology that ends up being a waste of time and money (your customers opinions or your opinions of your own IT group)?
  • Do small groups people use new technology more than others ?
  • Are collaboration “solutions” deployment projects value measured in terms of revenue contribution, etc, or (as I see in most engagements we are involved in) more IT based metrics such as “on time and on budget” and/or “cost savings”?

I am assuming there were many nods or “yeses” to the above questions.

Unfortunately history shows that many many technology, especially software, investments, don’t deliver the desired outcomes.

Which leads me to adoption.

In our previous blogs we focused on how to get an executive excited and committed to buying technology.

Implementation is the mainstay of Systems Integrators, Vendors, Service Providers and IT organisations.  They rock at getting the technology installed on time and on budget

But who owns adoption?

Who is accountable for making sure the technology is used to deliver the anticipated benefit or business outcomes ?

In a study conducted by Sandhill Group and NeoChange they sight that the most important factor in realizing benefit from any software investment is “user adoption” (see diagram below)

The report also goes on to show that buyers are seeking additional support from technology suppliers in driving adoption and usage.

Importantly customers are also willing to pay for that support.

With more and more software based, cloud based, niche, broad, functional or enterprise wide applications, targeted collaboration applications coming on to the market every day customers are no longer technology constrained.  There is more than enough technology for them to choose.

So why would they choose yours over someone else’s ?

What does the customer really want ?

They want the investment to help them achieve their desired business outcomes. There is a really acute understanding that this simply will not happen without appropriate user adoption.

We have all at some stage started using new technology.  It might be a new phone, or a new online application, Microsoft Excel or other business applications. Do we use every function and feature available to us?  Rarely !

We are all so time poor that we spend the majority of our waking hours in “task mode”.  With a growing list of things to get done, we focus on the things that need to get done, by doing them in the ways we know how with the tools we know how to use.

In fact most of us barely have the time to even learn the basic features and functions and only “use” the new technology as our tasks require us to.  Most new technology slows us down as we have to learn it.  So we learn and use only what we “have” to, and miss many of the real benefits that the technology offers.

Adoption is a double edge sword.  Take email.  It has 100% adoption within just about every organization, in fact maybe even more than 100% with some people having to manage multiple email accounts.  Some would argue that in today’s business environment less email would be better.  But to the point, without adoption it wouldn’t deliver any benefit.  Oh and try taking someone’s email away…

In our engagements with clients it has become apparent that many organisations tend to approach adoption in one of 5 ways.  While no way is “right” or “wrong” there is a direct correlation between effort and reward.  Like all things in life you get out of it what you put in. The greater the effort and formality with adoption the greater the adoption.

The 5 Adoption approaches (typically used)

What’s interesting is we see companies use methods 1-4 (left to right) but rarely go into 5 on the right.  Why?  Formal planning is hard, execution of that plan is even harder – it takes lots of time and lots of effort and resources.

Yet 1-4 are usually executed over 12-24 months, and DON’T deliver any meaningful benefit (or expected benefit).

So over the same time scale (as execution of a formal plan) lower value achieved.

“By failing to plan, you are planning to fail” – Benjamin Franklin

In summary what your customers really want is to achieve their desired business outcomes.  They don’t want to buy technology.

They realize however that technology plays a critical role, but only if it is adopted.

Your customers want you to help with adoption and usage.  But not at the left hand side of the adoption approach diagram above. They’ve been there done that……They want help on the right hand side, where the most value can be achieved.

How are you addressing this, what is your adoption offering ?

In my next blog I will share with you an idea for a framework to provoke some thought on what a holistic adoption offering should / could look like and the skills required to execute it.


Why No One Likes to Be “Sold” To

January 30, 2011 3 Comments


Last week in a discussion with a senior business executive he admitted that he rarely takes calls or meetings from sales people selling technology.  When probed on this he told me that in his experience technology sales people:

  • Come prepared to dazzle with a polished presentation on their products and services and how they can “help”
  • Always try to “find a problem” – usually generic (more with less, cut costs, etc) and then tell him that they can fix that problem
  • Lead almost exclusively with how the technology can save significant amounts of money
  • How their product is incredibly unique

He followed to say, but every sales person has the same presentation with the same value proposition – just the logo changes, and rarely does their technology deliver what they promise.


Here’s the catch.  This executive was a non-IT sales executive with a technology company.  The reason we were in discussion was he was attempting to craft a plan on how his technology sales people could be more relevant and successful with their prospective customers, especially outside of IT.

When I pointed out that he was in fact the A typical prospect for his own companies products, yet given his experience with sales people, are his peers in similar roles in prospects feeling the same?


Everyone is looking to buy….but no one likes to be sold to.


This simple shift in thinking can be a powerful differentiator.


In the above case we had a sales executive of a technology company, who is struggling to have his sales team operate successfully outside of IT, saying he would not take a call from a technology sales person.


Wow !!


A couple of recent articles that I have found quite valuable in making the point that business executives are keenly focused on business outcomes, but recognize that they will need to invest in IT are:

What CFO’s want from IT

My summary of the key points in this article are that from the CFO’s perspective:

1. It doesn’t need to be the greatest and best technology – it just needs to be good enough

2. Exploit the technology they already have – they all know that there is latent untapped value in the existing technology – they just don’t know how to unlock it

3. Traditional ROI calculations are NOT believed – real business cases are required that look at all aspects of the investment AND of value (and the contributors to value) – Impact on OutcomeTM

4. Like any good “change” program there needs to be quick wins

5. Interesting tip on how to sell to the CFO – we would concur in principle


In short for me it is the battle for dollars versus risk….When times are good their is a greater appetite for risk, when times are bad, risk aversion is priority #1 (hunker down). Right now we are in the middle.  The recovery is trying to get started, but keeps tripping up… many companies are playing an interesting game.


The second is a longer term prediction for how IT architectures and offerings will be defined and implemented.  In this article (written in 2009 – but extremely relevant) a CIO predicts the growing shift towards process driven IT investment.  This is a significant trend and one The ASPIRE! Group has been aggressively predicting for over 3 years.

A quote from the whitepaper that I believe best sums up the shift is:

I truly believe that BPM will become the mainstream approach to IT solution construction. If that’s so, 3 years from now, what are the odds that you’ll be great at IT without being great at BPM? I think the odds would be about zero.

Toby Redshaw Global CIO Aviva



Both articles / whitepapers for me simply reinforce the changing nature of IT buying behaviours.  There show that buyers are looking at IT not so much as a utility (infrastructure) as it has been traditionally viewed, but more as a strategic asset that needs to be well defined and constructed in line with desired business outcomes and where the company is looking to invest.

As technology sales people we need to shift the way we sell.

We need to help customers buy !

Coming back to the Sales Executive from the technology company referred to in the opening remarks.  That executive further indicated that he would gladly meet with a technology sales person if they could / would share with him how their technology could/would assist him to change how his sales team sells to allow him to achieve / exceed his revenue and margin targets.  Not generic value statements but a deeper understanding of their business and how it could positively impact.


Successfully Engaging with Non-IT Business Executives

January 23, 2011 2 Comments

There are two critical steps in a successful initial conversation with a Non-IT executive:

  1. Get the meeting
  2. Know what to say when you get there

Through recent sales coaching globally with sales professionals that have traditionally sold “technical things to technical people” most of the coaching and skills development has been in the latter of the two areas mentioned above, how to construct a successful dialogue.

It was somewhat assumed that successful sales professionals were well adept at “getting the meeting”.

What has become apparent is that while technology sales professionals all over the world are fantastic at what they do, very successful, very competent, like any person in any role, when you ask them to get outside their comfort zone skills and ability are not the only essential foundation to success…..CONFIDENCE is

Asking a technology sales person who has spent years honing their skills and ability around getting meetings with IT and having successful conversations with IT to now do the same with Non-IT executives is paramount to asking someone with a massive fear of flying to parachute out of a single engine plane from 15,000 feet.  Even if they had all the instruction in the world, they are still incredible scared that it isn’t going to go well.

This in itself however is a bit of a paradox.  Sales professionals are NOT part of IT.  They are in fact part of “the business”.  They are not technical people, they are “business” people.  Yet the executive (IT or Non-IT) that they have the most in common with….the Head of, VP of, Director sales is the executive they have the LEAST interaction with.  They should be less confident talking with IT, than with the VP of sales.

From our research the fear is that when in a conversation with a Non-IT executive they will not be relevant.  They feel they cannot conduct a credible conversation with that executive as they do not understand “the business” well enough and as such cannot add any value.

When put into context why then can a successful conversation take place with IT?  Especially given the sales person is NOT an IT person…they are a sales person.

It comes down to frame of reference.  When talking to IT it’s much more of a one way dialogue.  Pitching, presenting the products and services they sell.  The very traditional sales model.  Discussing and presenting ones products and services is very easy.

However when engaging executives outside of IT, it’s more of a conversation.  These executives don’t care about the products, the services nor the technology.  They care about what the products and services will do for them.  How it will help them change the way they do business to achieve their business outcomes.

Therefore in order to be successful in engaging outside of IT, time needs to be taken not just in building the skills and capability to have the dialogue (structure, content, etc), but also building the confidence to get the meeting in the first place.

Even with all the skills and ability, if people are not confident they will not make the call.


When given a new account / prospect that your company has never done business with before, every IT sales professional will find a way to engage with IT.  Why? they are confident they have value to add to IT.  The same goes for Non-IT engagement.  If you are confident your company has value to add to a Non-IT executive there should be no doubt in your mind that you should engage with that executive.

My tip for building confidence is to start with the executive you have the most in common with.  The Head of Sales.  How has your companies technology offering helped your own company evolve it’s sales process and success.  What are the challenges in successful selling (and delivery) that your company has.  There is a strong likelihood that your prospect shares similar challenges.  Can you confidently discuss the in’s and out’s of sales, what works, what’s difficult and what would make it easier (regardless of product)?  Can you discuss the goals of the sales process?

In short of course you can.

The even better news is if you can show demonstrable value to the head of sales this general results in revenue generation which is a significant goal of just about every organization on the planet.

Define yourself not by the products and services you sell but by the customer problems you solve.  Confidence comes, not from being a CEO or COO or CFO, but being able to connect how your products and services help these executives change the way they do business (change the business process) to achieve their business outcomes.  By knowing this and being able to make the direct and highly specific connection of usage to outcomes you can successfully engage with any executive.

Ask yourself, why can I confidently cold call IT?  It is these same reasons you can confidently cold call outside IT.  The ability to help them achieve their outcomes.


Is Your Sales Compensation Program Hurting Sales Performance ?

January 18, 2011 3 Comments

There isn’t a sales leader on the planet that hasn’t tried to create the ultimate sales compensation plan;

  • variable targets,
  • pay for performance,
  • margin dollar targets (not revenue),
  • overlay KPI’s,
  • 1x retirement to sell the new product or service
  • SPIFFs
  • Etc


The goal is always to drive increased sales performance (and sales behaviours) by dangling big carrots in front of the sales person to execute the desired behaviours.

These “incentive” plans are often used in conjunction with a massive “stick”, the threat of being fired for non performance.

In short the compensation plan is a massive risk, massive reward plan.  Do well and you live handsomely, not so well and it’s out on the street.


Every person, sales or otherwise, has two primary motivation levers;

  • Extrinsic and
  • Intrinsic

Extrinsic are the outward looking tangibly measurable.  They are usually underpinned by bonuses and rewards, managed by managers and require investment in time and cash to administer and control.  Interestingly they also re-enforce the traditional hierarchical management structure….”Do as I say”.

Intrinsic on the other hand are much more aligned to people’s desire to do the right thing.  Their passion, loyalty and values.  These are very hard to measure, as they vary by individual, yet drive inter-dependence yet accountability.  They provide the “sense of purpose” and the personal energy to invest quality effort in a task or program, not just because they have been told they have to.

The interesting element of the above is that most people, especially sales people, are actually mostly motivated by intrinsic motivators.  The extrinsic are in fact just “a bonus”.


Sidebar:  For more information on what really motivates people, I would strongly strongly recommend watching this 18 minute video by Daniel Pink on “The Science of what really motivates”.  Very interesting discussion

TED Speech

or another version with greater description of the details of motivation (Animated)

So enough of the warm and fuzzy philosophy on motivators, how does this impact sales performance?

Question:  Have you ever had your highest paid best performing sales person leave for another company?

Did they leave for money?  Sure they might be getting paid more, but is it really more?  More base or more “on target earnings”?  A new company means new products to learn, new customers to reach out to, new support structures and staff to build relationships with.  Moving actually places significant risk on their commission or bonus.  Yet still they left?

The unfortunate aspect of sales compensation plans is they are usually one size fits all.  Yet there are many varied types of sales, from demand creation, demand reaction, transactional to transformational.

The result is that the compensation plan is made complex in an attempt to “cover all bases”.

In a recent post we discussed the investments and capabilities required for successful demand creation sales.  In this we talked about creativity and time in preparing, planning and research for discussions the customer is not yet thinking of.

Traditional sales compensation plans work well for traditional logical sales, typically demand reaction with IT.

Differentiation Levers


In the current predominant sales approach, the sales person is acting at the direction of the IT buyer.  Even with models such as SPIN, Solution Selling etc, demand creation is still undertaken with technical buyers (mostly inside IT).  Yet IT as a “get budget” group, go through a very specific buying process.  The traditional compensation models align well with this mechanical task based approach.  But they also drive most sales leaders crazy, as they incent closing the deal, not how it’s closed.  So often discounting, free services, additional products, extended warranties, etc are used as differentiators by the sales person to close the deal.

Result = lower revenue and margins for a higher cost of sale.

In addition the need to chase many many more opportunities to yield the same or better profitability.  A vicious cycle.

Add up commissions.  When I was the CEO of a systems integrator a few years ago, a simple calculation revealed that as a % of revenue commissions for the sales person, sales manager, SE, sales director, CEO etc…when you laid them all out, they equated to close to 4% of revenue.  Thus when closing business at single digit margins a large percentage of your available profit has been spent on incenting people to “close the sale”.


For outcome led demand creation, traditional compensation plans simply do not work.  Outcome led demand creation requires creativity.

  • It requires people to invest passionate energy in looking at ways to assist customers in ways they have not thought of yet
  • It requires a strong belief and emotional attachment in your companies offerings being truly impactful on your customers desired business outcomes
  • It requires a different sales approach, one that is more team based, open and fluid

In short the incentives must reward the impact on outcome as measured and defined by the customer.  The greater the positive impact to the customer’s outcomes the greater the revenue, margin, employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction achieved – and the more differentiated your company will be.

Result = greater differentiation, greater revenue, greater customer satisfaction


The easy answer that many organisations apply is to segment the sales force and apply different comp plans to each segment.  However for the most part these different plans are still built on the same basic premise.  Reward, with cash, higher quota retirement.  They reward the close…..NOT the outcome.

Easiest way to close a deal is wait till someone is looking for a “solution” then throw all your resources at it.  Or as once said….”bite off more than you can chew, then chew like hell”.

They even reward “demand creation”.  But going to IT and talking about new technology is not demand creation!  How does this technology help a customer achieve their outcomes when the primary value proposition is cost savings?  Most business executives we talk to want to grow revenues.  What conversations are technology sales people having with IT around how new technology can help achieve higher revenues?

The problem is an increasing cost of sale and declining margins.

The old term “sales people are coin operated” is an insulting term that needs to be forever banished.  In my experience sales people genuinely want to add value to their customers.  They are looking for ways for their company’s offerings to have a meaningful impact.

However sales processes (see previous post on how sales process hurts performance) and compensation plans drive this reactive mechanical strive to close.  They don’t drive sales behaviours around helping customers achieve their desired business outcomes.

The answer is not to throw away the current compensation plans, but to introduce new plans that allow people to be rewarded for adding value, for investing their time and energy is helping customers achieve their outcomes.  In short it is rewarding people for doing the things they are most motivated in doing….offering meaningful contribution to the company they work for and their customers.

The organisations that break free, that will differentiate themselves will be those that reward creativity and thought leadership.  Not those who reward for completion of tasks.

Why Demand Creation Sales are SO difficult

January 15, 2011 4 Comments



Demand Reaction Sales Demand Creation Sales

Number of Opportunities












Close Rate



Customer Interface



Decision Maker

Rarely engaged

Always engaged


Customer Driven

Sales Person Driven

Sales Process

Customer Controlled

More creative




Creativity required Low



“Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks

“I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars: I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over.”

Warren Buffett


Warren Buffett is renowned as the world’s most successful investor, not just slightly better than the rest but a standout, who may never be exceeded in his investing skill.

So what do Warren’s investing skills have to do with demand creation selling?

One word.  Investing

Every sales person has three core assets that they can invest to drive a successful return – quota retirement !  The three assets are:

  • Their time
  • Their knowledge
  • Their passion

The only difference between Buffet and a sales person is what is invested.  Buffet invests $$$, sales people invest Time.

In recent engagements with technology sales people, a common trend has emerged.

  • Most are predominantly selling technical things to technical people
  • Margins are declining as IT buyers demand more for less
  • Most sales are demand reaction, where IT is either already looking or wanting to buy
  • All sales people are looking for a new and better way to sell, to create demand and to differentiate
  • But most interestingly, even when shown a new way to create demand outside of IT, and coached and mentored in this approach, most sales people still continue to invest all their time in demand reaction with IT

Researching why it is that many sales people struggle with adopting new sales approaches has uncovered an internal conflict; RISK.  Another key foundation of investing.

Selling to IT using traditional convincing, influencing and persuading techniques by leading with product features and functions is low risk.  It’s tried and true.  The down side is that the sales person must jump through many many hoops to achieve a successful close.  They must also chase many many opportunities.

The investment choice here is to chase lots of opportunities, using low return techniques.  Time, as the key asset of a salesperson, is devoted to the sales activities that are mostly dictated by the customer:

  • Do a demo
  • Present your value proposition
  • Pilot
  • References
  • RFP
  • Bill of Materials
  • etc

The world’s most successful investors, however, invest their time in managing risk, yet as sales people we don’t do this.  We invest time in mitigating risk.  Managing versus mitigating?

According to the Oxford Dictionary definitions:

Mitigate:  make (something bad) less severe, serious, or painful; or lessen the gravity of.

Manage:   be in charge of; or use sensibly; maintain control over; succeed in achieving or producing (something difficult); succeed in dealing with or withstanding (something)


Mitigating risk is doing what we can to stop the negative from happening as we transact the sales opportunity at the customers pace.

Managing risk is being far more proactive – taking action in advance so the negative isn’t even possible.


The challenge is that a shift from demand reaction selling, to demand creation selling requires a massive shift in how our time is invested.

In demand reaction selling, our happy ears drive our behavior.  We do the things the customer asks of us.  The demos, the presentations, the references etc.  By doing these and meeting the customers requests, we feel good, we feel in control, we feel that the customer will make good on an order given we have done what they have asked.  But more often than not, they don’t. As we are responding to the customer, they are asking three or more companies the same things, searching for the lowest price, as we have failed to differentiate our offering.

Demand creation selling requires us to invest our time in things that the customer is NOT asking for.  We need to research and prepare and define an offering that is outcome based and will add value for the customer. But not only must we add value, we must also present this offering to non-IT buyers to gain their support for the offer.  Opportunities of this nature rarely result in price being the primary buying factor.

The risk is –

Do you invest time in doing things the customer wants you to do?

Or do you invest time in things that will allow you to highly differentiate and create demand?


The world’s greatest investors do not invest time in doing what the market or the brokers ask or tell them to do or is already doing.  They invest in research and planning, allowing them to act proactively in areas everyone else is not, and manage risk to use it as a competitive weapon.

If time is one of our three major assets as sales people, do you want to invest it in low risk, low return demand reaction, or do you want to harness risk through careful preparation, research and planning, and become a remarkably successful sales person?

The curious observation is that technology sales people, even when shown a different and better way, rarely embrace it and change their selling behaviours.  They keep doing what they used to do.  It’s safe, low risk but they know they just need to work hard, have more meetings, do more presentations and more meetings to drive greater success.  The alternative…demand creation sales…is just too hard…yet this is the EXACT reason why we should change our behaviours.

The even more interesting observation is that there are a ton of demand creation methods out there and all are well documented, well laid out, well structured and actually amazingly easy.  But they require sales people to operate outside their comfort zone, invest in research and planning and creative brainstorming of how their offerings can help customers achieve their outcomes.

Demand creation selling requires far more “right brain” lateral thinking, rather than “left brain” task completion.  Therein lies the challenge for all sales people, how to “think” for a living !


What is a Goal – Defining Genuine Business Outcomes

December 14, 2010

In last week’s blog I discussed the value of goal research in providing a platform for truly differentiated sales.  But to operate at a level well beyond your competitors reach genuine goal research was going to require a lot of effort.

Recently as I have been coaching technology sales professionals around the world on outcome based consultancy-led demand creation and I have observed that there are three primary types of content that are gathered during the research activities:


Lets start with Information.

Information is important data points, facts and content about the company or executive, while important they unfortunately do not create any level of sustainable differentiation.  Nice to know but not really game changing.

Information tends to be facts or rearward looking data.  For example, they have this many offices and employees.  Operate in these countries, sell in these markets.  Last year’s revenue and profit was $X, have this much cash in the bank etc etc

In demand creation this information does not set you apart…it table stakes.


Many people mistakenly sight initiatives as goals.  This is probably the most common hurdle in having a great demand creation sales outcome.  Even customers often inappropriately list initiatives as goals.  So given this is common both in customers and sales professionals, how can I suggest they are not goals……

My simple definition is that an initiative is an activity or project that has investment in (any of) time, effort, resources and/or cash with the objective of achieving some form of outcome.

If you are presented with what you think is a goal in your research ask one question…why?  Why are they doing this.  If there is an answer to that question, then it is an initiative and not a goal.  If there is no answer or the answer is aligned to the definition of a goal (see below) then it is a goal.

Here is an example from my coaching sessions this week, in fact I’ll share two.  The sales professional had done a fantastic job in research.  Had well documented and understood corporate goals and a stella job in using various techniques to research the target executives.

The identified “goals” (research) were (please note they have been slightly tweaked to protect identities but no radical change to the wording so as not to alter the example):

Personal Goals for a Group IT Director

1) Delivery of customer satisfaction (less support calls to the helpdesks)

2) Software & hardware compliance

3) Delivery of Global IP TelePhony project

4) Delivery of new Datacentre migration

5) Delivery of 2500 Window servers & user desktop refresh

6) Maintain flat headcount

7) Cost Savings

Looking at the above, and they were stated in this order, 1, 6 and 7 are goals.  2, 3, 4, and 5 are all initiatives.  When you apply the “why” question to 2-5 one could argue they are all investments in activities that the IT team believe will allow them to deliver the desired (goals) outcomes of 1, 6 and 7.

At a stretch you could also argue that 6 is an initiative, it probably has an element of both.

The second was a product manager for a specific financial product, his researched “goals” were:

1) Exceed 2011 revenue target for products under management.

2) Change culture of branch customer relationship managers from reactive selling to proactive selling of products under management

3) Improve understanding of Management Information (MI) via new dashboard

This one is a little clearer, again as you apply the “why” question we can easily see that point 1 is a goal, it’s revenue growth.  However items 2 and 3 are again initiatives and not goals.  Why are they looking to move to proactive selling and have a deeper analytical understanding of their data…in short to make better decisions and investments in striving for revenue growth (point 1).

People and organisations tend to talk and publish more on what they are doing, not what they are doing it for…

So to the obvious question, what is a goal?

Goals or business outcomes are the ultimate objectives.  One could argue it’s things like shareholder value, but that is something that is not really 100% controllable by the company (think what the Global Financial Crisis did to shareholder value for many companies).  Goals are the end game objectives for the company and for the executives within.

In last week’s blog I discussed the differentiating value of personal goals over corporate goals.  Our experience shows that goals are really manifest around 3 common themes.  These common themes exist in EVERY single company in the world we have worked with, but there are two categories of organisations:

For Profit organisations – 3 Common goal foundations

  1. Increase Revenue
  2. Decrease operational costs
  3. Manage risk

Not For Profit organization (Government, charities etc) – 3 Common goal foundations

  1. Improved service delivery to constituents and stakeholders
  2. Decrease operational costs
  3. Manage risk

When applying the “why” question if the answer is either one of the above or essentially a more detailed more descriptive outline of the above you have identified a goal.

OK but what about targets ?

Targets are the metric or the measurement of goal achievement.  The goal may be increase revenue.  The target could be by 20% over last year.  It is important to know both. If your demand creation idea may only yield 1-2% revenue growth it may not be compelling or impactful enough to gain interest from the buyer.

Both goals and initiatives offer points of differentiation.  If you can present ideas to help a customer achieve their desired business outcomes they have not yet thought of great, if they are compelling enough even better.

But note that your competition is not the other companies trying to sell their competing products.  Your competition is in fact the initiatives the customer has already elected to invest in.  Your ideas (if different to their initiatives) need to be compelling enough that they choose to invest in your idea in conjunction with or in place of, what they have already decided to invest in.

Furthermore, if your idea is aligned to an existing initiative it needs to be a new idea to execute that initiative better and faster than planned, otherwise it’s likely to be something they have already thought of or are doing, and now you are in demand reaction commodity land and not doing real high margin, high value demand creation.

In summary, personal goals provide a genuine platform for real differentiating demand creation, but the key to successful outcome based demand creation is to get to the real goals, not just the initiatives.

If you are interested in understanding more around outcome based consultancy-led demand creation selling, email me at

Goal Research – The Simple Act of Successful Sales

December 8, 2010 2 Comments

In previous articles we have talked about many aspects of successful selling, these include:

  • Buyers buy on emotion and justify on value, facts and logic
  • Successful sales people differentiate themselves first, then their offering
  • If no goal has been identified then there is no prospect

While there are many others the above three are extremely relevant to the topic of goal research that I wanted to share some insights on.

In recent engagements with professional sales people (through coaching and mentoring) around the world it’s become apparent that one of the key differences between incredibly successful sales people and those who have to work very hard to eek out average quota retirement is goal research.  The highest performing sales people take goal research to a level their competitors do not.

Having a deep knowledge of your customer or potential buyer is fairly obvious, I’m not really introducing a concept or idea here that hasn’t been a valid foundational sales element for thousands of years.

Yet even though this is obvious how many of us genuinely have a deep knowledge of our customer’s goals?

Lets define goals.  There are really three types of goals:

  • Corporate, company or organizational goals
  • Personal Corporate goals (ie organizational related but specific to that executive)
  • Personal goals (ie I want to be the CEO one day)

Successful sales people differentiate themselves first, then their offering.  They do this by having a deep knowledge of the specific personal (corporate) goals and desired business outcomes of the executive they are meeting with.

I suggest there are many types of goal related information that you can source in preparation for a meeting with an executive.  The easily found information, is always the least differentiating.  The goal related information that is hard to find is always the most differentiation.   That is the sales / credibility differentiation reward is linked to the research effort.


Asking for goals.  A very easy approach.  Arrive at the meeting and post introductions ask the executive what their key focus areas or objectives are.  Requires very little time on research and preparation, can result in understanding the goals, but not very differentiating.  Any competitor can do that.  Also means that you can’t really be prepared with solid ideas that are directly goal linked and valuable.  It means you are winging it, or you need more meetings to get “interest” but will you get that given the executive has now perceived your not very well prepared


Success story.  An approach that leverage experience, demonstrates credibility through results from previous customers.  Every customer, however, feels they are “different”, also every competitor has success stories they can share.  Again a valid approach, but one better used when customers are evaluating your capability, rather than when you are trying to generate demand for your offerings.


Generic goals.  There are really only three generic goals and they exist in every single organization:

  1. Increase revenue
  2. Decrease cost
  3. Manage risk

The exception is government and not-for-profits who replace revenue with delivery of services to stakeholders.

It does not matter which industry, market, country etc a company operates in every company is looking to increase revenue, decrease cost and manage risk.  Every other goal, problem, need, outcome that is sighted can always be broken down to these 3 key generic outcomes.

Using generic goals you know you will be correct and in alignment with the buyer.  Are they looking to save money, of course they are, but again how differentiated will you be?  Are your competitors sales people also positioning their offerings with the primary value proposition of cost savings?  They rarely position revenue or risk benefits as they cannot be quantified and are viewed as “soft benefits”.


Menu of Goals.  This approach, introduced in the CustomerCentric Selling Methodology is a more differentiated approach, when used correctly.  The menu of goals should be goals that are relevant to the vertical industry and to the role of the executive you are meeting with.  Whilst any competitor can also develop a Menu of Goals it requires a detailed understanding of the vertical and of the “care abouts” of the executives (outside of IT) within that vertical to develop the menu.  A well detailed menu of goals is more differentiating and credible than the previously covered areas.


Corporate Goals.  The amazing part of this one is that you would expect every sales person regardless of longevity in account, experience, or process to have a deep understanding of their customers corporate goals.  Yet in our research we have found that less than 10% of sales people can confidently sight in detail their customers corporate goals.  Key being detail.  Many sales people can talk generically “oh they are looking to grow”.  Really, I wasn’t expecting them to shrink….how are they looking to grow, in what areas, and what are their key targets in each of those areas.  Having detailed knowledge of your customers corporate goals is highly differentiating, as many sales people just go with the generic goals, so by having the detail you are more credible, being more customer centric and will have ideas that are significantly better aligned to the revenue and risk related areas which tend to offer more value than simply cost savings.


Personal Corporate Goals. The holy grail of sales differentiation.   If you know the personal goals of the executive you are meeting with you will be incredibly empowered to assist that executive in meeting those goals via the enabling technology you’d like them to buy.  Through knowing these goals you can:

  • Differentiate yourself, as very very few sales people prepare to this level of detail
  • Create demand, as executives are always looking for great ideas and initiatives to help them achieve these goals and outcomes
  • Get the executive emotionally connected to your ideas via a direct linkage between the idea and their personal goal

Personal goals are what every working person invests their time, effort and energy into.  Those that present compelling ideas to help customers achieve their personal goals are always far more successful than those who present ideas around corporate or other generic goals.


Do you know your customers personal goals?  Or are you simply taking the easy, non differentiated way of relying on generic goals?


Getting Personal Goals

As stated up front in this article, it is very commonly understood that the more specific and relevant the preparation the more successful any meeting will be.  Yet even knowing this over 90% of all sales meetings with a executive do not have the level of preparation completed to engage around personal goals.  The reason is it is hard.  It’s difficult to find this information.

Having a series of techniques that you can use to establish and executives personal goals is a wildly differentiating sales capability.

If you are interested in understanding 6 techniques we recommend for getting executive personal (corporate) goals, email me at


Innovate your thinking on Innovation

October 29, 2010

Don’t you just love management consultants!  It took me a good 15 mins to come up with that title.


But what does it really mean?  In this blog I’d like to share some recent observations that I have made with respect to innovation, it’s role in creating competitive differentiation and the common trap that most organisations and people tend to fall into, resulting not in innovative differentiation, but in competitive “sameness”.

Ask yourself, when selling (oops see this blog) what makes you different?

Common answers I hear are customer focus, reliability, knowledge or expertise

What about your company, what makes them different?

Often response are our people, our technical skills, or knowledge of networks, our ability to integrate, our financial stability, our brand, our partners and the like

How many of your competitors, both company and person, in fact provide exactly the same answers?  They nearly all do.  As such these are no different.

So what will make you different, what will enable you to sit in front of a customer and have them say, “wow these are the guys that can help us achieve our outcomes”.

Firstly I believe strongly that you need to define your differentiation in at least 3 areas:

1. Your Customer Innovation Differentiation – how do you help customers make money

2. Your Operational Execution Differentiation – how do you deliver to help customers achieve their outcomes

3. Your Commercial Differentiation – how to you help customers fiscally (note – this is not dropping your prices)

Doblin, a leading innovation enablement company has completed some very interesting research that supports many of my recent observations.  In this research they sight that there are 10 types of innovation (see diagram below).

They break the 10 innovation types into 4 categories, Finance, Process, Offerings and Delivery.
Interestingly when you think about how most people define their personal or company differentiation, it’s mostly definitions of differentiation in either “Offerings” (products and services, install, support, managed services) or in “Delivery” (brand, partners etc).
With this in mind, we note that most believe their current differentiation is in Offerings and Delivery, yet all their competitors do exactly the same with the same differentiation assertions. It’s interesting to then follow Doblin’s analysis further.
In which of the 4 categories (Finance, Process, Offerings or Delivery) do you think that most innovation efforts take place?  That is where do most companies invest their cash, time and effort in innovation to create competitive advantage ???
When asked, most people say products or services…that’s right building better, faster, bigger offerings.
Doblin’s research confirms this (see graphic below)

OK, so what’s all this got to do with you innovating your thinking on innovation.

If most companies define their differentiation in Offerings and Delivery and most innovation efforts are undertaken in products/services, non differentiating (read cost controlled admin based) processes and channel to market you would expect these types of innovation to drive significant competitive differentiation….right ?

Well they don’t.

They don’t because everyone is doing the same thing, innovation to stay the same !

Doblin’s research in fact shows us that innovation in the areas of Finance (how companies make money – revenue generating processes, how they partner) and how they evolve their core differentiating processes and customer experience deliver a 2x to 4x times greater benefit to the creation of genuine competitive differentiation than equivalent efforts in products and channel to market.

As a result the real question you need to ask yourself is:

Are your innovation efforts (products, services and channel) really innovative? or are they just keeping you market competitive?

Are you innovating your business model, partnering model, core processes and customer experiences so you can help your customers innovate THEIR business model, THIER partnering model, THEIR core processes and THEIR customer experience to create their own genuine differentiation?

Are you simple helping them to improve their business by “innovating” (sic) in sameness…

or should you innovate your thinking and create true differentiation and help your customers do the same


Why Technology Projects Fail – A new Perspective on an old Problem

October 20, 2010

“It’s about recognizing that there’s no such thing as technology projects. They are all business projects with technology components.” – Stuart McGuigan, CIO, CVS Caremark


In our consulting engagements we ask technology suppliers and their customers “what percentage of technology projects are delivered on time, on budget and with the desired functional outcomes” .  What amazes me are the responses.  Suppliers rarely, rarely sight success above 20%, most say less than 20%.  IT customers tend to be higher, without suprise, but again rarely over 50% and “the business” customers are usually around the 30% mark.

The Standish Group Chaos Report validates “the business” customer’s view at 32%.

There are hundreds and hundreds of reports, whitepapers and books on why technology projects fail.  They all conclude roughly the same primary issues for failure:

1. Lack of alignment / linkage between organisational outcomes and IT projects

2. Lack of planning

3. Changes in project scope

4. Lack of management executive sponsorship

etc etc

So why, if we know all this, and we have countless resources on HOW to drive a successful project do these projects continue to fail?

Why – well to quote Stuart above there are no technology projects, only business projects.

IT Projects are measurable and accountable:

  • Well defined change plan – buy XYZ technology and install it
  • Well defined success criteria – on time and on budget
  • Clear responsibilities – who needs to do what and by when (either supplier or customer)

IT projects are almost always run as isolated islands.  The project plan is simply buy, instal and support.  Without consideration for the broader business project (exceptions apply).

But business projects, in today’s increasingly complex business arena are a lot harder, but they needn’t be.

To achieve desired business outcomes (revenue, cost or risk based) organisations need to change their business processes to drive competitive advantage and differentiation.

Although there is a whole industry related to Business Process Management and that the BPM industry has countless tools, methodologies, software applications and frameworks, the fact is that most companies do not know what their processes are, or if they do, they seek to simply “tweak” their existing processes.

As technology continues to evolve, it provides the opportunity to drive greater levels of innovation, but in turn to successfully leverage the innovation opportunity technology investments need to be viewed as a small part of the overall project.

But to change something you must first know what it is today.  You cannot change what you don’t know.

One of my favourite questions I ask in many consulting engagements is “can you detail for me your sales process, the process you use today”.  The initial response is always sure!  Then the long silent pause as the individual thinks about it.  The reality is for the most part they can describe the various “stages” of a sale that their CRM system requires them to track the opportunity against, but they are unable to detail the “process” as it is either not documented, or it is simply a series of activities that pretty much everyone loosely follows because “that’s the way they have always done it” and it’s passed down from generation to generation.  Does this happen in your company?

Interestingly the most IMPACTFUL processes on genuine business outcomes (like the sales process, marketing processes, design process etc) tends to be the ones that have the least process discipline.  The back office less outcome impacting processes do tend to be highly disciplined and well documented.  Why, they are targets for cost reduction.  They are overheads.

Yet game changing innovation is more likely in revenue generating process innovation than in cost reduction processes.

Whether you are buying or suppling technology a new way to drive success is to infact change the process….

  • Shift from isolated technology projects to business projects
  • These business projects must start with shared goals and well understood directly aligned business outcomes
  • The projects must be based on changing business processes (improvement or innovation)
  • You can’t innovate processes that are not documented
  • To truly create game changing differentiation the target processes should ideally be those directly linked to revenue or customer service delivery – if they aren’t they are not game changing, they are simply what you must do to stay in line with competitive pressure

Technology projects fail as they are too far removed from the business process change required to create value or they are aligned to low impact “administrative” type processes that are overheads anyway.

The companies that drive genuine success are those who change revenue impacting processes through enabling technology.

Which projects are you involved in “Business Projects” or “technology projects” ?


Should the word “Sales” be forever removed from the dictionary?

October 19, 2010 3 Comments

Hands up who’s mother or father wanted their son or daughter to grow up to be a “sales person” ?

Anyone ?

When asked “what do you do?” how do you respond?

  • I work for XYZ Company and we sell technology solutions to enterprises
  • I sell Unified Communications solutions to customers
  • I’m a sales person that provides high value technology offerings to my customers

Or something similar?

However what do customers really want?  Do they want to buy technology.  How many CEO’s do you know that say, “Let’s buy more technology?”

The reality is they don’t, in a world that is getting more and more complex by the day one thing remains timeless, companies of all shapes and sizes want exactly the same thing:

To differentiate themselves in their own market so they can grow revenue, manage risk and decrease costs to ultimately deliver shareholder and stakeholder value.

That’s it, plain and simple.

Yet as an IT sales industry we are two or three steps removed from this reality.

Yes customers buy technology, and yes they follow a very traditional buyer / seller relationship.  In part as most technology projects are deemed by “the business” to be unsuccessful (there are countless reports validating this fact).

In addition “the business” sight their number 1 priority as improving business processes (again a number of reports over many years validate this).  However as providers of technology our inability to tangibly link the enabling technology to process improvement has left us as a perceived high cost necessary overhead.

There are a significant number of factors that have lead to this:

  • History – in the past many technologies have had a direct, meaningful and visible impact on business process without trying to hard.  Email is a classic example.  It absolutely changed the way we worked – some might say for the worse
  • Fear – fear that if IT and Procurement allow a technology vendor to interact with “the business” that a simple new contact centre application will turn into a complete network re-architecture.  In short they just do not trust technology providers to stick to what is being discussed, they believe the hard sell will ensue and “the business” will believe all the empty promises the technology sales person makes and IT will be left to explain why those promises were not met post deployment.  Letting the technology provider loose on “the business” is the fastest way to failure for IT or Procurement (in their minds)
  • “The business” don’t believe that technologists understand business process
  • Process change is hard, IT projects (in comparison) are easy.  They are measurable have a clear start and stop and it’s easy to break down tasks into actionable chunks.  Process change on the other hand is the exact opposite, in no small part due to most companies not having all their processes well documented and defined.  Ask yourself, is your companies sales process highly documented and detailed, flow charted and well understood?  If not when you implemented your CRM system, did it deliver the business outcomes you were expecting?  Is that the fault of the CRM system (probably a highly successful “IT Project”), or a failing to exploit the technology through a lack of process change

With all the above in mind, shouldn’t we sell harder?

Don’t we need to get to the business and show them we can be trusted and we do know about business process?  In fact most technology sales people are not technical, they are in sales, and as such they are “the business” in their own organization.

A major shift in thinking must take place, we need to redefine how we describe what we do.

Customers wish to improve business processes to achieve their desired business outcomes (Revenue, Cost, Risk).

Therefore if we are truly customer centric and outcome focused we should define what we do as:

I help customers innovate their business processes.

If you get up in the morning and say:

  • I sell technology solutions

That will drive a very clear set of behaviours and it will nicely pigeon hole you in demand reaction with IT and Procurement.

However by defining yourself around the customer outcomes you address:

  • I help customers improve business processes

It drives a radically different set of behaviours and activities and requires a holistically different set of conversations with various groups within a customers organization.

So do you sell technology, or do you help customers improve their business processes to achieve their desired outcomes?