Software Sales Excellence Blog

November 19, 2008

photo_duncanlaw2This blog will explore key tenets for developing software sales excellence both for individuals and  organizations.  Beyond my own comments, you will find links to other esteemed authors who I believe have relevant and impactful perspectives that are important for today’s selling climate.
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Why Execution Intelligence is What Matters

July 29, 2010

My colleague, Rob Adams recently penned a compelling article regarding “Execution Intelligence”.  Here are the key “bullet points” :

“Execution intelligence has the following characteristics.

  • Domain knowledge. Experience in the market space equals special insight into customers’ unique problems. Is your management team experienced in the market space where you will compete?
  • Fast-growth scar tissue. Growth is hard. The more you’ve experienced it, the more effective you’ll be. Without it, you can’t deal with the ups and downs of rapid growth. At some point, a large, well-financed competitor will loom up overnight and bellow loudly. Can you deal with that?
  • Experience in competitive markets. Appreciate the competition. Know how to handle it. Know how to respond judiciously versus reacting emotionally.
  • Risk management. Those who can anticipate market trends can adapt more easily to market changes. Shifts in strategy or product lines are inevitable. Are you nimble? Can you cope?
  • A comprehensive experience profile across your management team. Marketing. Sales. Product development. You also need solid advisors. Taken together, your team members must have the marketing, technical, sales, and executive expertise it takes to grow and run a company.
  • Leadership know-how. Who can hire, motivate, and retain strong employees? Great leaders. As you grow, your corps of employees will expand faster than you can imagine and leadership will be critical. Can you recruit, retain, and effectively manage these people?”

Read the full post here.

The Best Qualifying Questions

June 4, 2010

As you have gathered, I believe in the value of intelligent questioning as the most important element in the qualifying process.  Here is another great example of a series of questions which will not only uncover the pain and it’s impact, but position you the seller, as a valuable resource.  Here’s an excerpt from Bob Apollo‘s recent post Sales People: can you resist the itch to pitch?.  The title is self-explanatory and Bob makes the point eloquently.  I’m a big fan of the questions. 

“Missing the golden moment…

Sales people who cannot resist the itch to pitch are missing a golden moment.  When a prospect acknowledges an issue that you are confident you can help with, the worst possible thing you can do is to jump straight in and tell them how.

Time to explore… 

Think of their acknowledgement of the issue as a golden opportunity to explore.  Instead of prescribing your “solution”, determine instead to learn more about their circumstances.  

What first drew their attention to the problem?  What are the consequences of the problem?  Who else is affected?  What would happen if no fix can be found?  Could they live with the status quo?  Have they tried to deal with it before?  With what results?  Why is solving it important now?

Interesting, important or urgent… 

You’ll learn an enormous amount by following these lines of enquiry.  You may even help your prospect to think differently, and to take a fresh perspective – and earn their respect as a result.  Perhaps most important, you’ll be a better position to judge whether the issue they have acknowledged is interesting, important or urgent to their organisation.

Interesting needs can get you considered.  Important needs can get you evaluated.  But only urgent needs will get you bought.  There’s no point in pitching a solution to a problem that isn’t regarded as urgent.  But by asking these questions, you may be able to elevate an interesting or important need to an urgent one – or to identify a related need that turns out to be truly urgent.  Or you may be in a position to conclude that there’s no urgent need to be solved, and nothing that you can do to secure a sale.”

Thanks, Bob, for your insightful post!

State of the Art Objection Handling

May 25, 2010

Dave Stein’s recent post Sales Objections: Opportunity or Death Knell provides a great roadmap to handling objections through a process of qualifying the buying criteria throughout the sales cycle.  Such qualifying questions will keep you apprised of changes as the result of internal priorities or changes in competitive pressures.  As Dave rightly states, controlling the buying criteria at the conclusion of the buying process wins the deal.  Dave concludes with some excellent examples of handling objections exposed by the validation of the buying criteria, as well as a solid recommendation for organizational support of objection handling.

There are only two reasons you lose a sale….wisdom from Donal Daly

May 18, 2010

Usually I try and add some interpretation to articles like this.  For this one, there is no need-it stands on its own!  This was originally posted on the Sales 2.0 Network Blog in April 2010.  Enjoy

“One of the issues that I’m often asked about is how to improve Sales Win Rate.  Sometimes the question is presented as “What’s a good Win Rate?”, or “What percentage of deals that I bid for should I win?”  Of course there is really no universal answer to this question – and the reason for that is that it’s the wrong question.  In my opinion, energy is more productively spent in determining why you lose deals, and in my experience, the explanation follows a fairly predictable pattern. If that is true, then if you can identify the common attributes of lost deals, you can work to avoid deals with those attributes, or focus on how to overcome the weaknesses that gave rise to the failure. Then by definition, your Sales Win Rate will improve.

In reality there are really only two reasons why you lose a deal:

  • You Should Not Have Been There (pursuing the deal) In The First Place, or
  • You Were Outsold.

I will substantiate this claim a little later, but first I want to share some alternative perspectives.

When I ask sales managers why their teams lost a specific deal the most frequent responses include things like:

  1. “Well, he wasn’t speaking to the Decision Maker.”
  2. “She didn’t understand what the customer really wanted to achieve.”
  3. “We should never have bid in the first place, the customer is locked into our competitor.”
  4. “Our solution just wasn’t a good fit, and he (the sales person) tried to squeeze a round peg into a square hole.”
  5. “The competitor had a stronger relationship with the customer.”
  6. “There was never a project there in the first place.”
  7. “We didn’t understand the personal motivation of the Decision Maker.”
  8. “He couldn’t get the customer to understand our value proposition.”
  9. “She never realized that the budget was way too small for our product.”

Responses from sales people to the same question include many of the above, but there are sometimes some additional reasons given:

  1. “We’re just too expensive.”
  2. “We couldn’t provide a reference because we’ve never sold to that type of customer before.”
  3. “I never knew [the deal] had to be approved the technology committee.  He never told me that.”
  4. “The customer just doesn’t get it. I don’t understand it – she really needs our stuff.”
  5. “I never knew that the competitor wrote the RFP.”
  6. “He never told me that Capability X was important.”
  7. “My [internal] sponsor just didn’t have the juice to make it happen – even though he told me he did.”

For mid-to-large deals in an enterprise B2B market, the costs incurred in pursuing a sale will typically range between $10,000 and $100,000. Our research at The TAS Group has shown that it takes 50% longer on average to lose a deal than to win one.  Think about that for a moment.  If your sales team is spending more time losing deals than winning deals, what’s that going to do to your quota achievement?  Or, if you could fix the problem, what impact would that have?

No matter how you look at the reasons given above, in truth there are really only two reasons why you lose a sale:

  1. You Should Not Have Been There (pursuing the deal) In The First Place , or
  2. You Were Outsold.

It’s as simple as that – just two reasons. In my experience, failure is weighted fairly evenly across both. So, let’s look at these in a little more detail.

Reason 1. You Should Not Have Been There In The First Place

At The TAS Group, we discuss ways to help sales teams win 4 of 7 deals, instead of 3 of 10.  This means that you pursue fewer opportunities.  It’s not about ‘getting up to bat’ more often. In fact it’s the opposite.  In practice it means determining at the outset if your solution can uniquely and competitively add value to the specific customer that you are targeting. Of course it means research, and work, and understanding of what the customer wants to achieve, and how your solution might be applied to solve their specific problem.  This information is only useful if you understand what the competitor might be offering.  Often, it’s as simple as defining your ’sweet-spot’ customer – listing the attributes that describe the profile of the customer to whom you can competitively add value. When you hear yourself saying “We’ve not sold to this type of customer before – but I think I can make it work.” – then move on. You’re wasting your time.

If you look at the ‘lost deal’ reasons listed above, items 3,4,6, and 9 in the Sales Manager’s list, and items 2 and 5 in the Sales Person’s list fall into that category – you should not have been there in the first place.

Reason 2. You Were Outsold

Sometimes this is hard to accept. I know that in my case, if it’s not Reason 1, then I’ve been outsold. I didn’t understand what the customer wanted to achieve, I was not politically aligned in the customer’s organization, I didn’t understand the customer’s buying process, I chose the wrong competitive strategy, I failed to articulate my value proposition in terms that the customer understood, I failed to demonstrate ROI for my solution, or, more likely, a combination of a few of these.  Looking at the lists above, items 1,2,5,7,8, and 9 in the Sales Manager’s list, and items 1,3,4,6 and 7 in the Sales Person’s list fall in to this category. I’ve been outsold – someone else did a better job.

Now, even if you’ve done a great job in qualification – and that’s what you’re doing to pass the ‘Should I Be There In The First Place?‘ test, you won’t win all of the deals.  Sometimes, you will be outsold, 3 out of 4 is a realistic Sales Win Rate target.

* * *

When I express the perspective outlined here, I get a range of reactions, ranging from animosity (“Who does he think he is? He doesn’t understand what I go through to win a deal”) to guarded acceptance and excitement (“Wow, if we could actually achieve that, it would be incredible. We should give it a shot.”).

As we’ve watched our customers move to these kind of ratios it’s been really gratifying to know that we’re making that kind of difference for some.  I’ve spoken at length to those who excel on this journey, and there are a number of common attributes – some organizational, and some with respect to the tools they use to help them.  Organizationally, the companies just seem to be run better, and sales is viewed as the engine that fuels growth, and investment is commensurate with that view.  From a sales tools perspective, the common elements are a sales process that maps to how the customer buys, deep analysis of the customer’s political structure, and collaborative interaction with the customer to truly understand their business problem and what they want to achieve.

To demo or not to demo?

April 21, 2010

Many software sales professionals rush to do a demo.  Such a strategy is fraught with risk.  Check out this post from Sam Reese (CEO, Miller Heiman) on the Miller Heiman blog which offers some great advice and perspecitve.   I enthusiastically support the comment to Sam’s post from Bob Hatcher (a former colleague of mine from Lotus) who points out:

One thing to keep probing for is what they want to see or learn from the demo. A key question to ask could be framed like this: “Our products solve a lot of problems for our customers, so I am sure to target this demo for you, what would you like to see that would convince you that our solution would have value for you and would help to solve your problems?

With this question, even if you don’t customize the product/demo itself, you can customize the presentation of the demo.

In scripting demos I always break them down into three components:

1) What you say
2) What you show
3) Why what you showed is important to the prospect.

You can’t get to number 3 if you don’t know the answer to the above question!

Dave Stein adds some insight to this important topic from the point of view of having a precise demonstration strategy in your sales process-particularly for technology companies.

Sales People, Sales Process and Sales Metrics

March 12, 2010

I’d like to share a great post by Greg Deming at Peak Sales Performance (listed in my Blogroll as well) which takes you through 5 important points on the role of sales professionals, an 8 step sales cycle, metrics for each stage of the sales cycle, some recruiting metrics, and how to use the metrics to create a “Sales Excellence Template“.  Given the title, it makes sense to include it here on my blog!

The “sales excellence template” provides the best framework for building sales process metrics I have seen.  It truly is as simple as a manager inputing their annual goal, and working backwards to identify the metrics they need for each sales person on their team.  Here’s a back-of-the-envelope example:

Annual Goal    =$12M

“Over Assignment” Buffer     =$3M

# of Sales Excs   =8

Annual Goal/Exec   =$1.875

Average Sale     =$100k

Annual Deals/Exec   =19

The Sales Exec’s Annual pipeline would look like this:

119 First Presentations (10/month) 

 95  Needs Analysis  (8/month)

 62  Formal Presentations  (5+/month)

 53   Decision Pendings   (4+/month)

 32  Negotiations  (2+/month)

  19   Implementations  (2/month)

By tracking these #s individually and collectively, a manager has a road-map to measure performance.  They also can be keenly aware at any given moment as to the status of their business with visibility into problem areas where they can coach, motivate, mentor or initiate change.

One of my earlier posts discussed the importance of looking at the front end of the pipeline with the same energy as reviewing what’s closing.  By employing Greg’s template, that process is much simpler.

Close Often! Throughout the sales process-

February 8, 2010

Great post  by Anthony Iannarino from The Sales Blog  on “closing” throughout the sales process, not just at the conclusion.  Constant focus on adding value with each sales interaction, and closing to “move forward” are key attributes for successful sales professionals.

Bite your Tongue!

February 5, 2010

By Kelley Robertson of Fearless Selling

Most people don’t realize how powerful a negotiating tool silence is. I discovered exactly how effective as I recently observed someone discussing a deal with a prospective customer.

The customer started describing his situation and after a few moments he paused – briefly. It was an opportune time for the sales person to make a comment or talk about her product and service. However, she remained silent, sensing that the customer had more to say. Her intuition proved correct – a few seconds later he continued talking about his needs, and when he had finished discussing his point he paused. The sales person refrained from speaking and her customer began talking again.

During this last monologue the sales person learned the exact information that she needed to close the sale without resorting to discounting. If she had spoken during those moments of silence, she may still have closed the sale but not as effectively.

I remember watching my wife use silence as a customer several years ago in a retail store. She had brought a few items to the cash desk and when the sales associate rang them in my wife noticed a discrepancy in price. When she questioned this difference, the employee mentioned that the items in question were not available for the price my wife had thought. Instead of complaining or arguing my wife chose to remain silent. The sales associate immediately began talking to fill up the “dead air” space, and before long, had talked herself into giving my wife the discount she had hoped for.

The next time you meet with a client or customer – either face-to-face or over the telephone – bite your tongue. Resist the temptation to talk immediately after they have spoken. Instead, pause for a few moments. Because most people are uncomfortable with silence they will automatically say something. This is a very effective recruiting technique (called the pregnant pause) and it can be used in the sales process as well. Here are a few other situations when biting your tongue will benefit you:

1. After you ask a question. I’ve seen more sales people answer their own questions instead of holding back and allowing their customer to talk. Let a customer tell you what’s on their mind and encourage them to give you more information. This is extremely easy to do when you refrain from talking after asking someone a question.

2. Anytime you ask for the sale. When you ask a person to make a financial commitment (aka a buying decision) you need to give them time to think about their decision and to respond. Too many sales people talk themselves out of a sale by continuing to speak afterwards. I recall one sales person telling me he would give me time to make a decision even though I had told him I wanted his product.

3. When you are not sure what to say next. From time to time, I have found myself unsure of what I should say after a comment made a prospect or customer. In these situations, an effective approach is to remain silent. It takes patience and a lot of control. However, in most cases, the other person will fill up that dead air space and give you information you would not have learned otherwise.

4. When people express disappointment. In situations of conflict our natural tendency is to explain why something went wrong or to immediately offer a solution. However, allowing people the opportunity to vent gives you the chance to offer the best possible solution. Many years ago I had a disgruntled employee and I gave her time to express her opinions. After several minutes of heated words and angry dialogue, I discovered that all she really wanted from me was the opportunity to vent her frustration. In another situation, my customer actually told me what he wanted done which was less than I had originally planned to offer.

I remember reading the following advice from an author some years ago – spend one day every few months being as quiet as possible and responding only when it adds value to that particular conversation. This will be incredibly difficult for the majority of people but imagine how much you will hear and learn that day.

Most people who sell a product or service mistakenly think that they must do most of the talking. However, my experience has taught me that some of the best sales people are also the quietest. And it’s because they actually hear what their customer or prospect has to say. They learn what’s important to that person. They find out the motivating factors behind the purchase. They allow the other person to dominate the conversation. And let’s face it, the majority of people will always talk when given the opportunity.

This was a guest post on Paul Castain’s Sales Playbook  from Kelley Robertson. Receive a FREE copy of 100 Ways to Increase Your Sales by subscribing to Kelley’s free newsletter at Kelley Robertson, author of two books including, “The Secrets of Power Selling” helps sales professionals improve their results by learning how to conquer their fears of selling. Kelley conducts workshops and delivers keynote speeches at sales meetings and conferences. Contact him at 905-633-7750 or

The essential attribute is self discipline

January 19, 2010

Great post by S. Anthony Iannarino on The Sales Blog.  Check it out at

  “To be effective in sales requires many and varied skill sets and attributes, all of which are essential. But only one of these attributes is the foundation for all of the others, making it the master key to sales effectiveness. It is the cornerstone on which all other attributes and skills are built. With this attribute your success in sales is all but guaranteed, and without it you are certain to fail.”

The Changing Face of Sales Leadership-

January 18, 2010

Another great post by Jonathan Farrington describing what company leaders should be thinking about as they assess their sales organizations and specifically, their sales leadership compentencies  (  There are some thoughtful quotes including: 

There is a difference between leadership and management. Leadership is of the spirit, management is of the mind. Managers are necessary, but leaders are essential. We must find managers who are not only skilled organisers, but inspired and inspiring leaders.” – Field Marshall Slim


Sales managers with an intimate feel for the selling process succeed because their staff regard them as part of the sales team but coaching the team is as important as playing in it. In other words, sales managers must be prepared to provide training, feedback and support to every individual within the team.”