RAIN Group Sales Blog

Your source for sales advice, tips, research, and insights to unleash sales potential.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

- Benjamin Franklin

We acknowledge that sometimes you can't prepare for a sales call or—hallelujah—a buyer calls you out of the blue. It's reasonable to suggest that, on occasion, sales calls are appropriately deemed 'exploratory discussions'; the kind of discussion in which we just talk and 'see where it goes.'

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The word "no" can be a tough pill to swallow.

In selling, when you're trying to meet a quota, squeeze in an extra deal before the end of the quarter, or get your bonus, the word "no" is too often interpreted as a sign to run for the hills.

Worse, some salespeople see most objections as a call to battle. With this attitude, it’s no wonder they handle sales objections poorly. However, when we break it down, you can see that objections can actually be a good thing.

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Almost all sellers at some point in their career will consider adopting a time management system to improve their productivity. Few stick with it. The challenge is that many time management systems focus too deeply on the activity level—what to do first, what to do next, what the priority order is—without paying enough attention to the bigger picture.

We studied the habits of extremely productive people—we call them The XP—in a global productivity research study with more than 5,000 participants to date. Not only did we learn their habits, we found that the most productive people are also more satisfied with their jobs, more likely to be top performers, and are happier.

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Great sales questions help you find out what’s going on in your buyer’s world. They help you connect with buyers, understand their needs, understand what’s important to them, and help them create better futures for themselves.

They help you disrupt buyer thinking and change buyers’ perception of what’s true and what’s possible. They help you drive the sale forward and avoid pitfalls that can derail the sale along the way. 

Great sales questions help you win sales.

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TL;DR? Download the PDF and save it for later.

Many sellers assume buyers don't want or need to talk to them early in the buying process. 

This simply isn't the case.

In fact, our prospecting research reveals buyers want to hear from sellers early. 

When Do Buyers Want to Hear from Sellers in the Buying Process?


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Note: You can download this article as a PDF to save it for later! 

Developing relationships, collaborating online, leading virtual sales conversations, gaining and keeping attention, leveraging technology, making the ROI case, delivering value—these are hard to do regardless of the sales and economic environment.

But, do these become more difficult when selling virtually versus face-to-face? Are some areas more difficult for sellers than others? What influences buyers’ purchase decisions when buying virtually?

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Sales is about change. It’s about getting people to go from where they are—their current state—to a new and better place—their future state—or what we call the New Reality.

In our decades of work with clients globally and our proprietary research, we’ve identified 11 ways sellers can influence buyers throughout the sales process to guide them to their New Reality.

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Stop. Collaborate. Listen.

Sellers of a certain age know that rapper Vanilla Ice was actually onto something when he uttered those words at the start of his song, "Ice Ice Baby." Years later, the concept of collaboration and a seller's ability to work with buyers, instead of speaking at or simply selling to them, to close a deal has become more important than ever.

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At their core, top-performing salespeople are change agents. They recommend, advise, and assist buyers (what is typically known as consultative selling), and they aren't afraid to push when it's in the best interest of their buyers. Indeed, top sellers are Insight Sellers.

These people make five cases to ensure the value proposition for each buyer is as strong as it can be. They inspire buyers with new ideas and perspectives, and influence how buyers tackle their priority initiatives. They question the status quo and don't let buyers accept it, thus redefining reality.

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To succeed in sales, you need to have the right skills. You have to be able to lead masterful sales conversations, manage opportunities, uncover needs, negotiate the best deals, fill the pipeline, develop relationships, and manage sellers. And today, you need to be successful in doing all of this with no face-to-face interaction. 

That's a lot to have to master.

With the laundry list of sales skills needed, which are most important?

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Sales negotiation is a critical part of the sales process. It moves the deal to a close, and it's where both parties come to agree on the terms of the initiative, including the price. However, many sellers and organizations struggle with negotiating successfully.

Seventy-seven percent of sellers report that negotiating with buyers virtually is challenging, and only 27% of buyers say that sellers are very effective at negotiating with them (from our Virtual Selling Skills & Challenges report). That means that less than one in three sellers does well in their virtual negotiations.

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Value is at the center of all sales activities, including prospecting.

Often, discussions with our clients about buyers value focus on the reasons that buyers ultimately buy from you, using the 4 Whys:

  • Why act?
  • Why now?
  • Why us?
  • Why trust?
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Developing relationships, collaborating online, leading virtual sales conversations, gaining and keeping attention, leveraging technology, making the ROI case, delivering value—these are challenging regardless of the selling and economic environment.

But are they more difficult in a down economy while many sellers are transitioning to virtual sales? Are some sales skills more difficult to apply than others in a virtual environment? Where are sellers succeeding and failing according to buyers today?

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This article originally appeared in Entrepreneur and has been updated given the current sales environment. 

The first half of 2020 proved to significantly alter the way every single industry operates. Businesses have been forced to become more nimble and sellers have had to learn to sell virtually and remain productive while working from home. 

While this new environment has presented new challenges, many companies and individuals are adapting and succeeding even in tough times. 

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There’s a lot to think about when it comes to selling virtually. Projecting a professional image in your virtual meetings is an important (and often overlooked) factor to consider.

Here we provide guidelines and tips specifically focused on projecting a professional image in your virtual sales meetings grouped in the following five categories:

  1. Video
  2. Audio
  3. Lighting
  4. Background
  5. You

With a little forethought and preparation, you can make a great first impression with your buyers.

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We're weeks into stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders in an attempt to #flattenthecurve. This has caused millions of people to work from home—many for the first time—while also dealing with children being homeschooled, spouses and roommates working (or not!) in the same environment, pets, and all of the other distractions available at home. When working from home, it's imperative that you motivate yourself, focus, and learn to execute in the zone to be productive and get the most done.

Becoming more productive, maximizing motivation, and achieving results is about employing the right habits and routines. It's not something you do some of the time; it becomes part of the way you approach your work.

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It’s never been more important for your sales organization to be firing on all thrusters. As buyers are tightening their purse strings and uncertainty in both health and economic spheres are plaguing companies, you need an optimized sales organization.

In our Top-Performing Sales Organization research, we studied what the organizations with the highest win rates, revenue growth, and sales goal achievement do differently that allow them to achieve these results.

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As the global economy teeters on the edge of uncertainty, companies are already canceling engagements, dropping vendors, and tightening their purse strings.

They’re looking for any way to make their dollar stretch, and there’s no better time to do that than in contract negotiations.

For industries still in buying mode, negotiations pose a unique opportunity to take advantage of desperate sellers struggling to meet their numbers.

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As businesses shut down and stock markets plummet during this global crisis, buyers are more money conscious than ever. In most industries, sales are stalling. Buyers are cutting spend and pushing vendors for deep discounts. 

This is an unprecedented time. 

It's essential that sellers are the best they can be, and that includes in sales negotiation. In fact, every dollar preserved in a negotiation goes straight to your bottom line. How much of a difference can it make?

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Reinforcement has been a trend in the world of sales training for a while now. All the research data in sales training—and learning and development in general—supports the need for robust reinforcement.

But it’s still not happening often enough.

According to Aberdeen, fewer than half (44%) of companies formally follow-up initial sales training with reinforcement. At the same time, the companies that do reinforce training see 20% more sellers achieve sales quotas.

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Many sales managers and coaches are never taught how to lead effective sales coaching conversations. 

So they start with, “What’s up?” 

Then they listen to sellers for an hour with a bit of back and forth about this opportunity or that one. They may talk about the need to fill the pipeline or come up with an idea to move one of the opportunities forward. And then the hour is up.

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Seller: “Based on your requirements X, Y, and Z, with setup and 90 days of consultation time, the price for the project will be $475,000.”

Buyer: “Is this the best you can do? It’s more than I was expecting. While I’d prefer to go with you, [competitor] said they can do it for less.”

Seller: “We are pretty confident in our pricing, but let me see what I can do and get back to you.”

This is oversimplified, but it’s an all too common scenario in B2B selling. 

When you’re buying something big, you likely ask for discounts. If you do, it makes sense that others do, too. If you don’t ask for discounts, guess what? You’re in the minority. 

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Win-win negotiation is the way to go…except in one situation: when the buyer has their hand in your pocket. Whether they're doing it intentionally or just out of habit, sometimes buyers try to push down seller prices just to see if they can.

When they do, you should counter with value, but you also have to signal as you respond, "That won't work. I know what I'm doing." (Without, by the way, saying it like that.) You need to respond in a way that gets this message across and gets the discussion back on track.

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Everyone says, "Sell value, drive value, make sure buyers both perceive and receive exceptional value from you, and your sales teams will be more successful."

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Preparation is often the greatest determinant of negotiation success.

Across negotiation studies and surveys, sellers who get the best outcomes:

  • Know what they sell
  • Research buyer wants and needs through sources other than the buyer
  • Have a keen understanding of the buyer’s day-to-day life and concerns
  • Prepare for each negotiation with trades, counteroffers, and knowledge of their walk-away points
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Who should go first in a negotiation when it comes to offering a price, solution, and agreement to key terms?

Do you ask for a budget and then craft what you do from there?

Or do you, once you know what the needs and major parameters might be, suggest a solution and a price before talking about budget?

It’s a common question, one that continues to baffle many sellers. They fear that if they go first, they will leave money on the table, or risk going too high and having the buyer say, “That’s nowhere near what we were thinking,” or anything in between.

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There are few areas of selling filled with more uncertainty, challenges, and conflicting advice than prospecting.

Success in sales prospecting requires breaking through the noise to capture buyers' attention and influence them to meet with you. Which begs a few questions:

  • What does capture buyers’ attention?
  • Do buyers want to hear from sellers, and if so, when?
  • How should sellers reach out and connect with buyers?
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Finding and hiring new sales talent is a long and expensive process. Once the new rep is hired, it takes time to onboard them. Especially challenging during the ramp-up period is building their knowledge in:

  • Your customers' businesses—their markets, industries, customers, regulations, etc.
  • The needs you solve and how to identify those needs
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The cliché of clichés to open an article like this is to say change is afoot. So I won't open with "change is afoot."

In the world of sales training and enablement, change is explosive.

There's a revolution going on in training and sales enablement that organizations can no longer ignore.

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Everybody's brain has two different processing centers: emotional and rational. The emotional brain is old. It developed millions of years ago, first with raw instincts—like fight or flight—that all animals have, and then into more complex emotions for us humans like anger, aggression, desire, fear, hatred, passion, love, disgust, sympathy, and so on.

Then there's the rational side, which developed more like tens of thousands of years ago. This part of the brain is more deliberate, analyzing and studying, and thinking about the future consequences of various possible actions.

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Show them the impact.

Make a strong ROI case.

Sell the value.

Sales pros tout the benefits of making a strong ROI (return on investment) case all the time. Yet we see sellers time and again who don't know how to calculate and communicate the impact of their solutions.

They focus on features in their conversations and highlight the benefits, but don't convey what it means for each individual buyer and the difference it can make for them—financially, personally, and emotionally.

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This RAIN Group article was first published on Selling Power.

Sales managers face a myriad of challenges managing remote sales teams.

When seller and manager are in different places, though, one challenge stands above all else: ensuring sales productivity.

Seventy-one percent of companies don't believe their sellers manage their time and days effectively. If you want your remote sales team to be productive, this has to change.

Here are three habits from our Extreme Productivity System (XPS) to help your remote sales team control its time, get in the zone to be highly productive, and achieve the best possible results.

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How would you rate your organization's sales process?


  1. Ad-hoc: No consistent process
  2. Emerging: Some consistency and planning framework
  3. Defined: Guides sellers to plan for—and win—opportunities
  4. Managed (adoptive): Well-defined and easy to use, offering specific details and guidance for selling
  5. World-Class (adaptive): All of the above—and then some!


World-class sales processes aren't built overnight. And they never remain stagnant.

They are measured and improved regularly, with best practices for strategies and tactics outlined clearly across all six phases of the sales cycle.

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This RAIN Group article was first published on Selling Power.

When it comes to sales prospecting, sellers are frequently told the following:

  • "Cold calling doesn't work."
  • "It's impossible to get through to buyers cold."
  • "With all the information on the Internet, buyers do their own research and reach out later in the sales process."
  • "You shouldn't pitch your capabilities."

But rarely do sellers stop and think, "Is any of this true?"

According to 488 buyers (who get prospected to all the time) and 489 sellers who outbound prospect, these generally accepted-to-be-true statements are, in fact, false. They're sales prospecting myths that too many sellers follow, and it's hurting their results.

Here are the facts when it comes to sales prospecting:

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Everyone is a periodic procrastinator. Twenty percent of people are chronic procrastinators.1


We all have something we want to do or know we need to do, but it seems difficult, so we avoid it.

Often, that seemingly difficult task is the same activity that would provide you the greatest feeling of accomplishment, productivity, and return on your efforts. It's your Greatest Impact Activity.

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Productivity is often misunderstood.

One person might think being productive is conquering their never-ending inbox by the end of the day, while another perceives it as working as many hours as possible.

Here's the thing: it's not about getting through your email, and it's not about being a workhorse and cranking out eight or more hours of work every day.

It's about working smarter. (Cliché, yes, but still true.)

How can you take your productivity to the max?

Meet Extreme Productivity.

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What challenges do sales enablement and sales leaders encounter most often? Which ones are most difficult to tackle?

What are the top sales priorities for the next 12 months? How should they be addressed to ensure they're achieved?

To find out the answers to these questions, we surveyed 423 sales, enablement, and company leaders.

The results are fascinating. As sales researchers and analysts, it helps us to see not only what's changed, but also what's changing right now and where the industry is going.

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Fitness centers are packed in January—everyone's motivated to lose those holiday pounds. Then, a month later, the place clears out.

What happened? Where did everyone go?

I can tell you: their motivation crashed and burned. There one month, gone the next.

Is it gone forever? Thankfully, no.

What happens, though, is that most people wait for motivation. They don't do what they can do, at any time, to bring it forth.

They don't do what they can do to manufacture their own motivation.

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While there are many definitions of motivation, I like Business Dictionary's best:

/,mōdә΄vāSH(ә)n/ • noun

Internal and external factors that stimulate desire and energy in people to be continually interested and committed to a job, role or subject, or to make an effort to attain a goal.

Let's break it down.

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There's abundant advice on how to be more productive. Endless hacks, tips, motivational quotes, trainings, apps, and tools all promising to increase your productivity.

It's enough to make your head spin. It definitely made our heads spin over the years as we tried to help our clients increase execution and accountability after training programs. So, we asked the question, "What actually helps people be more productive?"

To find out what really makes a difference in productivity, we studied and analyzed the work habits of 2,377 business people, performing a statistical test called a key driver analysis.

A key driver analysis seeks to discover and demonstrate whether a factor (the key driver) causes a particular outcome. For this study, we analyzed work habits and behaviors to determine whether or not they impact the outcome of productivity (as well as performance, happiness, and job satisfaction).

When you run an analysis like this, sometimes you find something, sometimes not.

We certainly found something this time around. In fact, we found that 12 of the behaviors we studied were key drivers of Extreme Productivity.

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Buyer and seller negotiations are a fun dance. While these negotiations are usually partner-focused (win-win), buyers often use standoffish tactics to gain an advantage in the negotiation at the seller's expense. Even if you—as the seller—have a win-win mindset and approach, you need to know how to maneuver the situation when buyers throw you curveballs. You need the right negotiation skills to bolster your success.

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This RAIN Group article was originally published on the ATD Blog.

I always considered myself a productive person. I work quickly, type fast, and get a lot accomplished. Or so I thought.

One day, I came across a time-management book that talked about "time boxing." With time boxing, you assign a fixed amount of time to a specific activity. The idea is to work on the task and stop when you reach the time limit.

Since this strategy reduces distractions by forcing you to concentrate on one task—and one task only—for a set amount of time, I decided to give it a try.

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Sales compensation is typically the first topic discussed when looking for ways to boost sales motivation.

Want to increase motivation? Create a compensation plan focused on driving the actions that will create results.

The thought process goes like this: incentivize the right areas, see motivation increase, get the best results.

Sounds simple, right?

Not quite.

It's simple in concept, but exceptionally difficult to achieve.

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This RAIN Group article was originally published on the Heinz Marketing Blog.

Isn't it amazing how some days just start off better than others? You wake up feeling refreshed, the kids practically get themselves ready, and when you show up at work, you accomplish a lot within the first hour. It feels like everything is going your way.

Then there are days when it's a struggle to get out of bed and get to work. Even your computer fights you by turning on slowly or running virus scans. When the day starts, nothing goes your way. Then it gets worse.

Wouldn't it be nice to have more of the former and less of the latter? How much more productive would you be?

This can be your reality.

You can control how the day starts.

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This RAIN Group article was originally published on the LinkedIn Sales Blog.

Some sales leaders believe that a quota and an attractive compensation plan are enough to ignite the hustle, passion, and intensity in a seller.

It makes sense they think this way given recent Harvard Business Review articles with titles like "Motivating Sales People: What Really Works" that focus 100% on compensation.

But there's much more to motivation than compensation. As Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, said in the Washington Post:

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This article was originally published on the Sales Enablement Society.

Sellers often complain that it's impossible to get through to buyers. Gatekeepers are tough. Buyers are busy. Calls go to voicemail. Email goes to junk. The list goes on.

While getting through certainly isn't easy, sellers who work at it do get through. In fact, 82% of buyers say they accept meetings at least sometimes with sellers who reach out to them.

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"Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach him to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime."

This is a popular axiom in the coaching world.

You'll find it everywhere. Here it is in a CBS News story:

"Myth 8: Professional coaches tell their clients what to do and give them advice.

Fact: Bad or inexperienced coaches tell their clients what to do and are constantly giving advice. Good coaches do not…Instead, coaches help their clients explore and come up with the best choices for them based on where they are and the client's vision for their future. Coaches are experts at the process of changing behavior, which is much more valuable than giving instructions."

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This article was originally published in the Inside Sales Blog.

One of the biggest mistakes sellers make in a sales negotiation is letting buyers take control of the negotiation, leaving you to play defense. If you want to come to a great agreement (and you do), you need to lead the process.

In our white paper, 6 Essential Rules of Sales Negotiation, Rule #3 is: Lead the Negotiation. A key part in leading a sales negotiation is teeing up the meeting properly with an agreed to agenda ahead of time.

When you write the agenda, you can more effectively lead the conversation. 

Nearly all meetings in any given negotiation are unique, so you'll need to plan for each one specifically. Start by creating an agenda to determine what information will and won't be discussed.

If you bypass this step, the meeting could start off on the wrong foot with the buyer making demands or pressuring you on price.

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There are common competencies every organization needs to build a truly successful sales organization.

At RAIN Group, we organize these competencies around the Sales Competency WheelSM.

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The most popular and effective diets and workout routines—ones that lead to the most dramatic changes—have specific guidelines and rules for how to follow the system.

No such system existed for sales—until now.

And, it works.

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Most leaders agree the opportunity to improve sales performance through coaching is tremendous, including:

  • Maximizing sales wins for their most important opportunities
  • Filling the pipeline with new, qualified opportunities
  • Maximizing sales to key accounts
  • Focusing sellers’ time on the most important activities
  • Developing skills, knowledge, and attributes to get to the next level of performance
  • Keeping sales activities and motivation at the highest sustainable level

These leaders are turning to coaching because coaching is an increasingly popular—and increasingly proven—method of improving performance.

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Consider this: a CBS News / New York Times poll asked, "What percent of people in general are trustworthy?" 1

The answer: 30%. We're all pretty skeptical, right?

Not necessarily. At the same time, the CBS News / New York Times poll asked a similar group the same question, but with a slight difference. "What percent of people that you know are trustworthy?"

The answer: 70%.

This goes to show: when people get to know and like you, people begin to trust you.

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Setting goals is relatively easy. You think about what you want to achieve in a certain period of time and set a specific and measurable metric around it. For example:

  • Meet sales quota of $450,000 this quarter
  • Lose 5 pounds in 4 weeks
  • Exercise 4 out of 7 days
  • Launch the new product by May 15
  • Grow a specific account by 3x this year

Reaching your goals, however, is a bit more complicated.

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There are only 24 hours in each day. Some people are able to achieve incredible amounts in that time seemingly effortlessly. Others put in massive amounts of effort, but don't seem to get where they want to be.

What are those in the more productive group doing differently? How are they able to achieve so much more?

We have found those who achieve more and whose work seems to come effortlessly have mastered the 3 time management strategies below:

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This piece originally appeared in the August 2018 edition of Independent Agent magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

Word of mouth, repeat business and referrals used to be enough to maintain a thriving sales organization. But today, buyers have more options than ever before, they're more educated, and the phone doesn't ring like it used to.

That means sellers need to be proactive in growing their pipelines and securing meetings with buyers. Here are five ways to get started:

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Sales Training Defined: Sales training is the process of improving seller skills, knowledge, and attributes to drive seller behavioral change and maximize sales success. To be most effective, sales training should be viewed, designed, and executed as a change management initiative.

The global market for sales training is approximately $4.6 billion.

Yet most sales training fails to deliver lasting results.

This is because most companies do not define and approach sales training properly.

To deliver effective sales training, you need to redefine what sales training is. You need to focus on changing your sellers' behaviors to drive sales results and support this change as a change management initiative.

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To find and win business consistently, your sellers need to have the right mix of sales skills across the sales process, from filling the front-end of the pipeline to growing accounts. Too many sales teams have significant skill deficits preventing them from turning their potential for sales growth into reality.

In The Top-Performing Sales Organization research initiative, we looked at the differences between Top Performers and The Rest across sales skills and knowledge needed to drive sales performance. The gaps in skills are eye-opening.

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Written by: Mike Schultz and Gord Smith

When it comes to selling financial services, professionals are usually faced with three common challenges:

  • Creating new conversations with potential clients
  • Leading conversations and winning business against stiff competition
  • Maximizing business with current clients

The good news is that you can overcome these hurdles. There are specific things you can do in each of these areas to be more successful. 

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Technology sellers lament how impossible it is to get their buyers on the phone more than any other industry.

Phone is one of the top ways sellers say they connect with buyers, yet sellers in the technology industry report extreme difficulty using it to reach their buyers.

In our study on Top Performance in Sales Prospecting, we studied 488 buyers responsible for $4.2 billion of purchases and the prospecting habits of 489 sellers. We looked at results across buyer and seller sets, top performers, and industry. As part of our research, we compared how buyers prefer to be contact by sellers across multiple industries.

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The most successful sellers are motivated, proactive, focused, and goal-oriented. Indeed, they get the most done and achieve the best results in less time.

So what makes these sellers significantly more productive? We all have the same number of hours in a day, yet some sellers achieve considerably more than others.

The answer: They're systematic. They attack each day with a similar mindset and process to drive their productivity.

After years of study, we've boiled down what these extremely productive sellers do to just 3 keys.

By applying these 3 keys, almost anyone can achieve great leaps and improvements in productivity.

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Becoming more productive can make a dramatic difference in your work, sales success, and overall happiness.

Think about it. How do you feel after a day where you've been exceptionally productive and pushed important projects forward?

You feel invigorated, motivated, engaged, and ready for the next challenge.

Compare that to an unproductive day where you couldn't focus or spent the entire day working on tasks for others. You feel drained, overwhelmed, frustrated, and irritable.

The good news is you can control how productive you are and in turn how you feel at the end of each day.

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There is no magic way to achieve sales success.

However, there is one significant concept that helps the companies and sellers who embrace it—those who make it part of the fabric of who they are and who their sales organization is—experience wildly successful sales results.

If you want to boost sales and join their ranks, you must become a Value-Driving Sales Organization.

Value-Driving Sales Organizations have significantly higher win rates and revenue growth, and lower undesired turnover. They not only win more at higher margins, but also retain top sales talent.

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Too many sellers have the following problems:

  • Bloated pipelines filled with dead wood
  • Lack of clarity on what opportunities to focus on

In "How to Clear Your Pipeline of Dead Wood," we shared how to make your pipeline real and manageable. Here, you’ll find a framework that will allow you and your colleagues to define and focus on the best sales opportunities with clarity and confidence.

Sellers often treat their pipeline opportunities the same. They define need, qualify, propose, present, and wait for a win or loss. Maybe a few bubble up for more focus, but it's not always the right ones.

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There are a lot of opinions on what to do to drive sales success. I Googled the topic and found over 60 distinct pieces of advice for what to do and not to do, but most of the advice was, indeed, just opinions. Any references to research or proven success was tangential at best.

You deserve better!

Based on our work with B2B sales teams around the globe, as well as data from the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research, where we relentlessly study what the top sellers do and what buyers are looking for, we have gleaned 9 keys to achieving success in today's B2B sales environment.

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Challenges abound when it comes to sales prospecting. From targeting and using the right outreach methods to maintaining motivation and energy, there are plenty of ways to outbound prospect and fail.

Download: 5 Sales Prospecting Myths Debunked

For our Top Performance in Sales Prospecting research, we asked 489 sellers who outbound prospect about the biggest prospecting issues they face. The top 10 prospecting challenges can be grouped into 4 categories:

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Put me in front of 10 buyers and I'll close 7 of them. All I need is more meetings.

I hear this from sellers all the time. Get me more "at bats" and I'll get the hits.

To succeed in sales, you need a consistent stream of new leads to fill the front end of the pipeline.

You can't, however, just sit back and wait for the phone to ring or email to ding.

You need to be proactive in filling your own pipeline if you're going to succeed with prospecting.

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How many touches does it take to make a sale?

The simple answer is: more than most people think!

According to our Top Performance in Sales Prospecting research, it takes an average of 8 touches to get an initial meeting (or other conversion) with a new prospect. But the initial meeting is just the beginning. It takes a lot more to make the sale.

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There are 2 stats that are cited in sales articles all the time:

  • 57% of the purchase decision is made before a customer calls a supplier
  • 67% of the buying journey is now done digitally

The question, however, is so what?

Sellers and sales leaders often interpret this to mean that buyers don't want to hear from sellers.

This is far from the truth.

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Reverse auctions (also called e-auctions) are a common negotiation technique used more and more frequently by large organizations. For the most part, sellers don't dislike reverse auctions—they loathe them.

The point of a reverse auction is to drive down supplier prices to their absolute lowest while driving expectations of suppliers to their highest. As the process (typically) removes human interaction from the equation, sellers often feel at a complete loss to do anything but participate in the auction or walk away.

There's a lot more to it. Below you'll find negotiation strategies you can use before and during the reverse auction process to get the best results for you and your buyer.

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The state of sales management in many companies is disturbing. Consider these stats from our Top-Performing Sales Organization study:

  • 66% of companies do not believe their sales managers have the skills needed to manage and coach sellers.
  • Elite performers are 2.4x more likely to agree that sales managers and leaders are effective at maximizing selling energy.
  • 71% of companies do not believe people in selling roles manage their time and day effectively.

Almost 7 out of every 10 sales managers do not have the skills they need to do their jobs effectively! Astounding. It's certainly understandable, though. Sales managers are directed, by the very definition of sales management, down the wrong path.

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"Unfortunately, there seems to be far more opportunity out there than ability...
We should remember that good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation."

Thomas A. Edison

Preparation is often the greatest determinant of negotiation success. Across negotiation studies and surveys, we see sellers who get the best outcomes: know what they sell, research buyer wants and needs through sources other than the buyer, have a keen understanding of the buyer's day-to-day life and concerns, and prepare for each negotiation with trades, counteroffers, and knowledge of their walk-away points.

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To optimize your sales force, you need to have a highly-motivated team bringing their "A game" day in and day out.

Often times, it's up to the sales managers to make sure their team maintains this positive and results-driven attitude on a daily basis. According to our Top-Performing Sales Organization research, 55% of Top Performers agree that managers are effective at creating and sustaining maximum selling energy, compared to only 32% of The Rest.

But management is not the only key influence on sales motivation.

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My grandfather Sidney was raised during the great depression. Often hungry growing up, he learned the value of a dollar the hard way. It stuck with him the rest of his life. When I was in college, he never let me call him because he would say it was long-distance.

I told him that the distance was long, but the call didn't cost anything. Still, he could barely stay on the phone for 5 minutes. I could visualize the nickels clinking in his mind, making him uncomfortable with the cost of the call.

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It's common advice to minimize emotions in a negotiation. For example, the reading line of the article "Emotion: The 'Enemy' of Negotiation" is "To succeed in negotiation, says one Wharton expert, one must take emotion out of the equation."

We disagree. Emotions are primary drivers of decision making in buying, and primary drivers in negotiation outcomes. Emotions shouldn't be minimized. Instead, they should be guided and managed for both buyer and seller so that the best outcome can be achieved by all.

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"Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality."

Warren Bennis, Author, On Becoming a Leader

When it comes to sales negotiations, all too often sellers:

  • Don't plan for successful negotiated outcomes
  • Let the buyer define the negotiation process and venue
  • Allow the buyer to set the agenda for negotiation-focused meetings
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In our research report, The Value Driving Difference, we studied almost 500 organizations' practices regarding how focused they are on driving value for buyers. Companies that rose to the top as Value-Driving Sales Organizations had higher sales win rates, were more likely to grow revenue, had lower undesired sales staff turnover, and much more highly motivated sellers. They were also two times more likely to agree that they capture maximum prices in line with their value.

There's no question: If you want to succeed in sales, you should focus on driving value.

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If you want to maximize time, you must find more of it, and choose what you do with it carefully. We all have the same 168 hours a week to work with. Some people make the most of them, others don't.

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Alison Brooks and Maurice Schweitzer, two researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted an experiment to induce varying levels of anxiety among negotiators.

One group was subjected to the not-so-melodious screeching strings from Psycho. The other group was treated to calming Water Music by Handel. After listening for a while, the groups were sent off to conduct simulated negotiations.

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It's an all too familiar story. A seller's pipeline looks full! Bursting. Exciting. It stays like that for 2 months, 5 months, 10 months… more keeps going in. Nothing comes out.

It looked great, but it wasn't great. Not even good. Too many sellers have lots of opportunities in their pipelines that shouldn't be there. Neither managers nor sellers want mirage pipelines with visions of promised lands that simply aren't there.

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Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.
- Henry David Thoreau

Almost everyone at some point in their career will toy with adopting some kind of time-management system. Few stick with it. The challenge is that too many time-management systems focus too deeply on the activity level—what to do first, what to do next, what the priority order is—without paying enough attention to the bigger picture. Simply viewing the world through the lens of urgent vs. important is not enough.

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By: Mike Schultz and Jason Murray

After three months of talking and promises of moving forward, your fully qualified, enthusiastic champion is ready to pull the trigger. You send them a proposal and…silence.

It's frustrating when buyers go cold. Whether late in the process or after one good meeting, most sellers at least want to hear, "No," or, "Here's what happened," or, "I'm still interested, but something happened…"

Unfortunately, sellers often don't get the high sign from buyers, just the cold shoulder.

Before we cover tactics you can use to resurrect opportunities with buyers who go cold, it helps to understand why buyers go cold.

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Executives are always on a mission to prove Kirkpatrick Level 4 measurement of training: Results. Specifically, they want to know to what degree targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training event and subsequent reinforcement.

There is relatively little data on how sales training correlates to business performance and results.

That is, until now.

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By now you know that teaching people how to sell and become Top Performers takes more than a one- or two-day event. It takes ongoing reinforcement.

Sales training is a change initiative. Going through a single class in two days does not change the way sellers sell. Change happens over time, once sellers get back to work and start implementing newly learned skills.

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There's no denying that having a highly motivated sales team ready to give their full energy and effort day in and day out has a huge impact on your organization's success.

When it comes to sales motivation, companies commonly focus on compensation, bonuses, and incentives to get top performance out of their sales team. While compensation is important, it certainly is not the only, or even the main factor that drives sales motivation.

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Sales enablement is one of the eight categories of the Sales Performance WheelSM that we study when analyzing what drives sales performance. This category focuses on the different ways in which supporting sellers to be most effective allows them to reach their full potential, thus improving the organization's sales performance.

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When watching sellers negotiate, perhaps the easiest things to see are the mistakes. Having now spent two decades studying sales negotiation, observing negotiations, and coaching and training sellers to improve their negotiation skills, we've distilled the common areas that the best sales negotiators consistently get right.

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Selling like it's 1987 (or even 2007) doesn't work like it used to. The way buyers and sellers interact—and will interact—is changing significantly.

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It may not be considered the most glamorous aspect of sales management, but as business and technology have evolved, it’s widely acknowledged that getting sales operations right is imperative for a smoothly run, effective sales organization. On his blog, Matt Heinz of Heinz Marketing even hails it as “THE most important and unsung hero for sales teams.”

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While quite a bit of research has been published on what sellers need to do to achieve top sales performance, there’s relatively little on what separates top-performing sales organizations from the rest. To find out, the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research gathered data from 472 respondents representing companies with sales forces ranging in size from 10 sellers to 5,000 plus and published the results in the Top-Performing Sales Organization Benchmark Report.

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In our Top-Performing Sales Organization research, our goal was to assess what the Top Performers do differently than The Rest to achieve the best results. Top Performers have higher win rates, meet their annual sales goals, are more likely to set challenging sales goals, and are more likely achieve maximum prices in line with the value they provide.

We analyzed data from 472 sellers and executives representing companies with sales forces between 10 and 5,000+ sellers. Top Performers represent the top 20% of our database. The Rest—the bottom 80%.

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In sales forces of any size, changing the sales organization structure is an uphill battle. Structure relates to the organization of selling at the company, including sales compensation, territory design, account and lead assignments, and more.

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Since Mack Hanan coined the term in 1970, consultative selling has been the most widely accepted—and most pursued—sales approach. The approach is characterized as understanding buyer needs and positioning offerings as solutions to problems.

While this has been the go-to approach for many sellers, massive changes in buying technology and the vast amount of information on the internet is significantly changing how buyers buy at an unprecedented pace.

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As they say, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. If you want to drive sales performance at a company, you can focus on all sorts of tactical areas—from people and training to enablement and operations—but none of these address the fundamental questions: Where are we going? What are we doing to achieve our goals? Who will lead us there?

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For the last 50 or so years, consultative selling has been the go-to approach for most sellers.

In traditional consultative selling, the buyer states a need and the seller positions their offerings as solutions to problems. This used to be enough to win the sale. But today’s buyers often perceive sellers and their capabilities to be somewhat interchangeable.1 This leaves sellers stuck in a capabilities battle, fighting price pressure.

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Two sellers are talking at the end of the day. One turns to the other and asks, “How was your day?”

“I had a great day,” the second seller says. “I sent out two proposals this morning, had a great first meeting with a new potential buyer, and finally got a meeting with a decision maker I’ve been trying to reach for a year!” Feeling proud, he asks the first seller, “How was your day?”

He answers, “I didn’t sell anything either.”

This is one of the challenging-yet-great things about sales. It’s measurable. At some point, you have to bring in the wins or you fail. Which begs the question, “What brings in the wins?” A few years ago we studied this from the buyer perspective and published the results in our book Insight Selling.

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People often ask us, “What should we do to drive our sales success?”

It’s a complicated question. It’s not easy to decide what to tackle, when to tackle it, what results the organization should be targeting, where you can get the biggest bang for your buck, and what it really takes to get those results without further analysis.

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Sales performance analysis is typically quite involved and complex. It’s no easy task to figure out how to improve, change, or build a sales strategy. But for those sales leaders who are taking a longer-term view and looking into sales performance optimization, a performance analysis is a necessary precursor.

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Most sellers and sales leaders often ask themselves: "Is my win rate any good?"

Win rate is one of the most basic measures of your sales success, so it’s only natural to want to benchmark your performance against the average to see how you stack up.

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At some point or another, you've probably heard of the ABCs of selling: Always Be Closing. The mantra was popularized by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross (warning: strong language).

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What images come to mind when you see this word? Close your eyes and say the word out loud.

How does it make you feel?

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Brrrr... I've just been cold calling and boy could I use some hot chicken soup!

Just those two words together—cold calling—puts many people far away from warm and happy. Given that it's so much fun for so many people, and that I have heard a number of times recently that the last nail has been banged into the cold calling coffin, why is cold calling still even on our radar screens?
Because it works.

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If you've spent any time in complex sales, you know there's been a significant shift in how you win sales opportunities and grow accounts.

In our client work and studies through the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research, we've seen that:

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Sellers who win consistently plan to win from the start. They're methodical. They carefully match their sales process to the buyer's, set goals for every meeting, and do an exceptional job of communicating value.

Top sellers build strategies to drive sales opportunities, and use planners to help guide them through to the win.

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When it comes to winning big sales opportunities, sales leaders often share 2 complaints:

  1. Sellers aren't proactive. They fail to drive their most important sales opportunities forward with determination and rigor.
  2. Even when sellers are proactive, they don't follow a consistent process to put themselves in the best position to win the sale.
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Big plays are major actions you can take to win your most important sales opportunities and grow your most important accounts.

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Client loyalty is tough to earn.

Fred Reichheld, author of The Loyalty Effect and creator of the Net Promoter System, found that most corporations lose 50% of their customers every 5 years, 50% of employees in 4 years, and 50% of investors in less than one year.

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"What gets measured gets managed."

– Peter Drucker

Only when you have a good sense of what's going on in your organization can you decide which buttons to push to make the greatest improvements. Even small efforts to track key sales metrics can quickly drive better results.

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We've written a lot about our What Sales Winners Do Differently research, in which we studied more than 700 B2B sales purchases by buyers representing $3.1 billion in annual purchasing power. We've shared with you how sales winners don't only sell differently, they sell radically differently from second-place finishers.

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Some buyers are conditioned to try certain tactics to lower your price. Maybe they've read about negotiation in books or were trained to use pressuring strategies.

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"It was like a phantom swooped in in the eleventh hour and killed the sale."

We've all been there...You had a series of great meetings. You built rapport and developed a strong, trusted relationship. You uncovered (and got agreement) on the buyer's needs—needs that they didn't even know they had. You spent days working with your delivery team to scope the project and write the proposal. You sent it off to your contact and called him at the time you had scheduled to review it:

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I received a call the other day from someone selling website tracking software. We already use a marketing automation tool like this. I mentioned it to the seller. He then went on a rant about how he visited our website, recognized the tool we use, and how we weren't doing it right.

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Like anything, insight selling comes with its own potential pitfalls. To help you avoid them, we have outlined the most common insight selling mistakes. Some points are tactical, and others strategic.

Download: Your Guide to Insight Selling Success.

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What makes a great negotiator?

Negotiation is a craft that can be learned by just about anyone.

There are, however, certain characteristics of great negotiators that are difficult to develop through the even the most rigorous of training initiatives. They are qualities you either have or don't or that develop over years of experience, coaching, training, and self-reflection. If you have them, you're ahead of the game. If you don't, negotiation success may be elusive.

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You've been working on a sale for 4 months and everything's going great. Your potential customer, the decision maker, is talking as if the deal is done. But before final sign off, you must meet with the CFO.

You get to the meeting.

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There’s a revolution underway in sales. What used to work, even just a few years ago, is no longer enough to win major sales today.

As a result, a new breed of seller, who's beating out the competition and winning the sale, has emerged: the insight seller.

Insight sellers share new ideas and perspectives with their buyers, and they collaborate with buyers to develop the best solutions. They don’t just sell the value of their products and services, they become the value.

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There's been a lot of noise the last couple years declaring relationship selling dead. "The Internet has changed everything." "Personal connections don't matter anymore." "Selling is not about relationships." "Throw out everything you thought you knew about sales, Armageddon is coming!" Blah, blah, etc.

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In the latter half of the 1700s, German astrologist and physician Franz Anton Mesmer treated his patients by looking deeply into their eyes and waving magnets in front of their faces. Mesmer believed barriers in our bodies disrupted the natural flow of the processes that gave us life and health. He further believed his penetrating eye gazing and object waving restored natural order inside his patients and relieved all sorts of maladies.

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Lots of things have changed in the world of sales, but some things have not. Building trust was important 50 years ago, and it's just as important today.

When buyers trust sellers, they depend on them, listen to them, give them access, and spend time with them.

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Call it what you like: solution sales, consultative sales, consultative selling—at the core of each of these concepts is diagnosing and connecting the "pain" of the buyer with the products, services, and overall capabilities of the seller as "solutions."

Pain + Diagnosis + Offerings as "Solution" = WIN!

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Insight-Based Selling Defined: Insight selling is the process of creating and winning sales opportunities, and driving change, with ideas that matter. There are two applications of insight selling: interaction insight and opportunity insight.

  1. Interaction insight: Providing value in the form of creating insights through buyer and seller conversation
  2. Opportunity insight: Selling a particular idea or strategy a buyer should pursue but might not know about
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You finally got the meeting!

Now what?

While getting a buyer to say "yes" to an initial sales meeting is a battle in and of itself, much success is determined by what happens in that first meeting. There are many mistakes to avoid, especially when you’re the one setting the meeting, driving the demand for your offerings and when you're hosting virtual sales meetings.

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In our What Sales Winners Do Differently research, we found that the number one factor separating sales winners from second-place finishers is this: Sellers educated buyers with new ideas or perspectives.

In other words, the seller became known as a source of insight.

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Insight selling is an old concept that has recaptured the fancy of the sales world, and rightly so, because it’s about adding value. Specifically, it’s about the seller adding value over-and-above the product or service.

Too many folks, however, think insight selling is about educating buyers through presentations. They’re about half right, but without the other half, they’re missing out on the full impact of insight selling.

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More than ever, sales teams are struggling with unqualified leads, missed sales goals, and lost opportunities. Increasingly, company and sales leaders are turning to coaching as a solution.

And, why not? Executive and personal-effectiveness coaching have historically yielded great results. According to the International Coach Federation, the average company can expect a return of 7 times the initial investment in coaching.*

Shouldn’t the same be expected from sales coaching?

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You’ve worked on building rapport with your prospect and you’ve uncovered their aspirations and afflictions. The question then becomes, "So what?"

If your afflictions don't get solved, so what? What won’t happen? Will they get worse? How will they affect the bottom line of your company, division, or department? How will they affect your life?

If your aspirations don't become reality, so what? Will your competition get ahead of you if you don't innovate? Will you lose market share if you aren't aggressive in your strategy? Will you never be able to grow your business to a point where you can sell it and reach your personal financial goals? Will the promotion you desire continue to elude you?

Your ability to quantify the impact and paint the "so what" picture is the foundation for how important it is for the decision maker to buy from you. If you don’t answer the "so what" question, the initiative will fall to the bottom of the priority list.

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con•vince convince.png
  1. Cause (someone) to believe firmly in the truth of something.
  2. Persuade (someone) to take action.

Building confidence in the validity of an idea. Inspiring action.

The sellers who do these best sell the most.

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For our What Sales Winners Do Differently research, we studied over 700 major purchases from buyers who represented $3.1 billion dollars in annual purchasing power.

One question we wanted to answer was, “Is it the company and offerings that make the biggest difference in the buyer’s purchase decision, or is it the seller and how they sell?”

Guess what: it’s the seller and how they sell that most separates sales winners from the rest.

The following list reveals what buyers say are the top 10 areas where sellers who win outperform those who come in second place.

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In this post we noted we often get questions about The Challenger Sale. Perhaps the most common question we get is, “What do you think of the five seller profiles?”

The five seller profiles, as defined by the authors of The Challenger Sale in “Selling Is Not About Relationships,” a Harvard Business Review blog post, are as follows. We list them in order by what they found in their study to be least to most likely to be a top performer in sales.

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Ask 100 sellers at 100 companies why their customers buy from them, and you're likely to hear 100 answers with the same underlying theme: the value we provide.

Sellers describe their value to us in a number of ways: we get results. Our relationships are very close. They get from us what they've always wanted (but never gotten) from other companies. We bring innovative solutions to the table. And so on.

Pretty obvious, right? To win sales you have to maximize value.

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Having spent two decades in the sales training and consulting world, I get asked all the time what I think about this or that sales approach or book. When I do, it tends to make for productive discussion and learning. Importantly, it helps people decide what’s right for them when it comes to selling.

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See an article about differentiation and it’s likely to be about marketing. Differentiation often starts with marketing, but it’s in the selling process that it truly comes alive.

Here at RAIN Group, we recently analyzed just over 700 business-to-business sales made to buyers who represent $3.1 billion in annual purchases from industries with complex sales.

The purpose of the research was to find out what sales winners do differently in the selling process compared to the sellers that didn’t win, but who came in second place.

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How selling is changing?

What do sellers need to do to maximize their success?

To find out, we studied more than 700 business-to-business purchases made across industries by buyers who represent a total of $3.1 billion in annual purchasing power, and posed the question:

“What are the winners of actual sales opportunities doing differently than the sellers who come in second place?”

After many months of significant effort, we revealed the data and insight from our research in our What Sales Winners Do Differently research report. This report reveals data and insight from our in-depth sales research on what sellers do to win sales opportunities.

The results are both surprising and fascinating.

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According to ES Research between 85% and 90% of sales training has no lasting impact after 120 days. At the same time, companies are spending billions of dollars on sales training each year. That’s billions of dollars being wasted on limited sales performance impact and only short-term boosts in sales at best.

Training can be a disappointment right away when it just doesn’t go well, or it can be a disappointment months later when results don’t materialize. Regardless, sales training strikes out a lot. When it does, it’s usually because of common and predictable reasons. But if you can avoid these mistakes, you can set yourself up for a successful training initiative that leads to increased sales performance and long-term revenue growth. Here are 7 reasons why your sales training might be failing:

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Salespeople know what they sell, and they sell what they know. When it comes to salesperson knowledge, people know too little about their particular industry, their customers’ needs, and their company’s products and services to be able to sell the full suite of solutions. Without this knowledge they can’t:

  • Ask the right questions to uncover the complete set of customer needs
  • Match the right products and services to those needs
  • Position the value of their company as superior to other options available to the customer
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The following is expanded content from our new book Rainmaking Conversations: Influence, Persuade, and Sell in Any Situation. In this piece, co-authors Mike Schultz and John Doerr discuss the concept of a value proposition, and how to communicate your value to someone you are meeting for the first time. Read more about the book here.


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Are you giving yourself a chance of a bullseye?

“Like a poor marksman you keep…missing…the target. Kaaahhhnnn!!!”
- Admiral James T. Kirk

There's one sales person I know that worked very hard, but he always seemed to be middle of the pack when it came to results. He had good skills and he was a good guy, but the results just weren’t there.

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A while ago at a conference I had dinner with two people. The first—we’ll call her Janine—I had known since we worked together six years earlier. The second person—Ed—Janine and I had just met.

Janine described a sales challenge she was facing. She’d been working with two prospects at two different organizations, one for over a year and one for almost two. The typical sales cycle is 6 to 9 months, and these were both well beyond. She felt she was nearing a sale with both, but for all she knew, “nearing” might mean a year or two to go.

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Prospecting and setting appointments via cold call is not easy. But learn to overcome these objections, and you'll instantly find more success in it.

A recent business-to-business client of ours closed a mid-six figure deal that started with a cold call.

But it started out rocky. Indeed, about 20 seconds in to the cold call it almost fell apart.

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Tony Robbins, please accept my apology.

Many years ago, when I was a budding manager in charge of my first strategic business unit, I dissed you pretty badly.

I'm sorry. I take it back.

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If you don't know your destination, any road will get you there. When prospects ask for a formal proposal, they are telling you their desired destination: a business relationship with you. And they're asking you to answer the question, “What road do we take to get there?”

Since it's your job to give directions, you want to tell them the straightest, shortest, and easiest route. After all, you don't want them to get lost along the way, or so tired on the path that they give up before they get to the end.

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It's 2001. You work for a new company in the search engine space. Let's call this company Shmoogle.

Shmoogle has this huge new idea—businesses are starting to grow based on getting found on the Internet. Why not have businesses pay per click to get found? Brilliant!

You're a sales person at Shmoogle, and you know pay per click will be huge. You start prospecting on the phone.

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"Your fees are too high; can you do it for less?"

In the highly competitive marketplace we hear dreaded phrases like this all of the time. The easy thing to do is to offer a discount, but that cuts into your profit margins and sets a precedent for the future. You don’t want to become a victim of discounting gone wrong.

So what do you do when clients push back on your fees?

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