Miller Heiman Blog

Intuition in Sales

When I engage with interested clients early in a conversation about sales, I hear often that their way of selling is based on past experience and, subsequently, their intuition. Typically, they provide numerous stories about successful engagements and big wins with no common theme, except some good historic customer contacts and situational flexibility. While digging deeper, I recognized a lack of a consistent selling techniques, defined processes, or best practices references.

We all agree that professionals in sales face plenty of challenges in handling the complex buyer-seller relationship with multiple people with different, sometimes conflicting, interests. They must not only cope with the ever-increasing amount of information about their products or services, but with the up-to-date buyers. We find buyers today better informed with predefined expectations, opinions, and preferences. While coping with this growing complexity, it is important to be very self-aware, to have emotional intelligence, and to be able to regulate one’s own emotions when interacting with potential buyers. In short, use one’s intuition.

What Is Intuition?

A practical definition comes from Herbert A. Simon (economist, sociologist, psychologist), who studied chess masters and revealed that they came to see the pieces on the board differently than the rest of us. Observing the chessboard has provided them, the chess masters, with a cue; this cue gives them the “expert" access to information stored in their memory, and this information provides them finally with the answer. Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition. Valid intuitions develop when experts have learned to recognize familiar elements in a new situation and to act in a manner that is appropriate to it.

How Is Intuition Best Used in Sales?

Answering this fundamental question is complicated by the fact that very little research exists explaining how sales professionals’ adaptability is shaped by their emotional regulation and preferences for deliberation and intuition. From Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow,1 we know that individuals can process information using a dual system: a quick, intuitive gut-feeling approach based on implicit knowledge and emotions, and a slower, much more deliberative approach that involves the conscious framing of reasoned arguments and logical judgments. While both of these systems may operate at the same time and interact, what’s less clear is which system should dominate in specific situations.

For instance, tailoring behavior based on intuition that is too clouded with emotion will result in missteps because it ignores the needed logical arguments and data analysis. Conversely, being only fact-focused in certain situations can cause “analysis paralyses” and cripple efforts to move the customer’s journey along.

Intuition Matters!

In professional selling we need both—deliberation and intuition in adaptive selling while ultimately maximizing sales performance. Indeed, intuition does matter; it is largely derived from deliberative, well-defined, and consistently used sales processes aligned with customers’ buying processes. For example, judging the different people involved in the buying decision requires some degree of intuition supported by a clear definition of roles, decision criteria, and a focused framework for analyzing those. In short, intuition can bolster deliberation in ways that contribute to increased adaptive selling and better sales performance. From a management perspective, this also suggests that sales professionals should be empowered to make such integrated decisions when facing selling situations requiring effective adaptation along the customer’s journey. It also suggests that companies ought to spend more time training their sales professionals on the benefits of knowingly using intuition and providing a framework for our deliberative system based on consistent language, well-defined processes, and productivity tools.

1. Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York, 2011).

By: Klaus Leutbecher | Sales Vice President Europe, Miller Heiman, an MHI Global Company
Posted: 5/13/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


Observations from the Sales 2.0 Conference

I spoke recently at the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, and I found myself exhausted but invigorated at the same time. This year, it was more than just hanging out for a few days with several hundred of my fellow sales professionals that has me jazzed. I also got to observe a long-awaited evolution in our profession, firsthand.

A customer-core culture
At MHI Global, we've been talking about putting customers at the core of your sales efforts for a long time. Even so, this was the first year of a true transformation: Listening to the conversations around me, I realized that every single one of them was about the customer and how company sales strategies helped customers meet their objectives. That's exactly what it means to have a customer-core sales culture.

It's a huge departure from the conversations of years past. I've attended six or seven of the nine years of Sales 2.0 conferences and spoken at three. My memories of the early years of these gatherings were that, as a profession, the discussions were very inwardly focused: what techniques we were using, how we were closing more business, what cool new tools we had discovered ... like others, perceiving the sales profession to be very me-centric.

You would expect those conversations to come up in a room full of sales practitioners, of course, but this time the entire focus was where it should be, at every table and from every speaker — on the customer. I'm so pleased with the evolution in our profession. I think it's time we started calling it at least Sales 2.5!

One of us
The second observation is something I heard from some of the attendees. They noted that there was an obvious difference between those presenters who came to speak to them as a fellow member of the sales profession and those who just came to speak. It wasn't that the latter necessarily understood them any less, but they just didn't seem to be one of them. Sometimes, they didn't even seem like they wanted to be.

I'm humbled and honored that they felt comfortable making those comments to me, but I suppose I shouldn't be all that surprised. I am one of them. It goes back to something Bob Miller, one of our founders, always said: It is incumbent upon us to be the best examples of what we represent. If we’re really out here to promote, enhance, and develop the profession of sales, we need to be the best of that profession.

Speaking of presenting to my fellow sales professionals, a video of my presentation, The Rising World of Buyer Expectations, should be available soon, and I'll be posting it on our blog.

By Rich Blakeman | Managing Director, Channel Enablers
Posted: 5/11/2015 8:00:06 AM by | with 0 comments


What Top Performers Do When the Client Says No

The average salesperson will turn and walk away from a client who says “no” and focus on other opportunities. Not top performers. What separates the average from the world-class salesperson is how the world-class salesperson perceives the “no” as “not yet” and the follow-up actions taken to continue to develop the client relationship for future opportunities.

Clients often say “no” to your proposal for various reasons including competition, internal solution development, or a change in priorities that pushes out their need for your products and services. Hearing a “no” often leads to feelings of rejection and failure. Turn the feelings of rejection and failure into ACTION:

•    Ask the Client Why. Many customers are willing to share what went into their decision-making process. Learn more about the client’s buying process, ask questions to identify any key internal stakeholders you may have missed, and ask what you can do in the future to better position yourself for a “yes.”

More importantly, be candid in your own personal assessment of your understanding of your client. Did you really uncover your potential client’s needs and why that need was important to him? Research has proved time and time again that it is still the salesperson’s mastery of the tried-and-true need satisfaction skills that distinguishes you from the competition and allows you to build credibility that earns the client’s trust.

•    Get 360° coaching … from your manager, from peers, from support personnel. Did you stray from your company’s proven sales call structure that prevented you from winning this deal? Did you pitch products and tout your product’s features that were not relevant to the customer? Did you place your personal win of getting the business ahead of the client’s win if he went with your proposal? Having a 360° evaluation of your sales approach with the client helps you identify the obstacles that stood in the way of closing the deal. Coaching sessions also allow you to brainstorm strategies to overcome similar hurdles in the future and can go a long way in developing world-class sales skills.

•    Build credibility moving forward. Stay connected with your client with messaging that is relevant to their industry, company, or role. Key messaging, when aligned to the client’s concerns, builds credibility and can lead to successful future endeavors.    
Hold yourself accountable for your performance and don’t give yourself permission to make any excuses. Take the recommended actions, build credibility, and turn “not yet” into “yes”!

Note: The concepts discussed here are based on MHI Global’s Professional Selling Skills program. To learn more, click here

By: John Riley | MHI Global Vice President for U.S. Sales
Posted: 5/6/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


There Is No Such Thing as THE Buying Process

At MHI Global, we talk a lot about the need to focus on the customer's buying process and map our sales process to it. Customers do what they do for their own reasons. Trying to make them follow our sales process is a recipe for lost sales and inaccurate forecasts. The only way to have your funnel accurately reflect sales reality is to gauge opportunity progress on the customer's terms.

Then I heard Joe Galvin, the Chief Research Officer, talk about decoding the decision dynamic the other day in a webcast with Salesforce.com, and it hit me. There is no such thing as THE buying process.

Joe makes the statement that every customer makes every decision differently every time. There are as many buying processes as there are customer decisions.

Note that I didn't say “customers,” but customer decisions. That's a key element of decoding the decision dynamic. Every time a customer forms a decision team, different buyers will be involved. Of course, there will be new buyers you need to get to know, but even those buyers you worked with before will have new experiences and new influences on their own decision-making processes.

And here's something we don't talk about often. An individual buyer's decision process can change throughout the buying process. Something a competitor said or maybe something the buyer read can cause what we called a paradigm shift back in the ‘90s. This can happen at any time during the sales cycle, so you need to be ready for it.

You can start by researching the decision dynamic on social media: What role do buyers have in the organization? Who's connected to whom? What is the background of each of the buyers? However, nothing replaces the old-fashioned art of asking questions. Perhaps today's complex B2B sales professionals might be wise to emulate the reporter or the investigator. They never stop digging.

Top-performing salespeople do the same. They live, eat, and breathe the customer's decision dynamic. The sales professional studies the customer and their buying teams until they know them better than they know each other.

Posted by: Barbara Bouljon | Sales Performance Coach & Consultant, Miller Heiman
Posted: 5/4/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


3 Reasons to Keep It Real in Sales

Going With the Flow

Mobile technology connects people. The sales professional has the opportunity to maximize this trend. One indication that top-performing sales professionals are doing just that came from our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study:

"Social media is a highly effective tool to identify new opportunities."

  • 72% World-Class
  • 28% All Respondents

What's most striking about these percentages is that when we first asked this question three years ago, the number of top performers who agreed with the statement was down around today's "All Respondents" percentage. Clearly, social selling has become more vital in today's device-obsessed world.

That said, excellence in social selling is only part of the secret behind world-class levels of performance. These organizations understand that you also have to excel in live interactions with other human beings. Very few complex B2B sales are made without actual face-to-face communication.

Bridging the Gap

Joe Galvin, Chief Research Officer at MHI Research Institute, recently spoke about bridging the gap between social selling and human interaction in a SalesForce.com Series Pass Webinar: “3 Keys to World-Class Sales Performance.” I heard him call out three ways that having competencies in face-to-face interactions is becoming even more important for today's sales professionals. Let me outline them here, plus add a little bit from my own observations on sales performance:

#1 Decoding the Decision Dynamic. Every customer makes every decision differently every time. For the sales professional to be successful, he or she needs to understand how this buying team is going to make this decision this time. That requires a solid understanding of individual buyer motivations as well as something of the political dynamics behind the scenes. To make things even more complicated, in today's complex B2B sale, buyers will come and go throughout the customer's buying process. Just as soon as you think you have the customer's decision dynamic figured out, a new buyer shows up, and the dynamics change.

#2 Team Selling Required. With the complexities involved in today's sales cycles and products, sales professionals must be experts on the customer, pulling in other resources when specialized expertise is needed to keep the opportunity moving forward. In the 2015 study, 93 percent of World-Class Sales Performers said they were effective at allocating the right resources to pursue large deals. While it's important for the organization to enable an easier allocation of resources, the sales professional still needs to have a level of situational awareness so they can request the right resources at the right time. As the selling team changes, they also need to have a high level of competency in human interaction in order to focus the team's efforts on the customer most effectively.

#3 Coaching. Personal interactions are becoming more important at the management level, too. Frontline sales managers (FSMs) used to be little more than forecast accountants. Their job was to keep an eye on the funnel and assemble a forecast for management. These days, sales force automation (SFA) systems are assembling the forecasts, and FSMs now spend their days coaching sales professionals on customer-management strategies and helping them keep opportunities moving toward a close.

All sales professionals need to do three things: Create opportunities, manage opportunities, and manage relationships. As important as social selling is, its primary power is in creating opportunities. Once the customer engages, human interaction takes over. And, of course, as soon as the customer signs on the dotted line, the next sales process begins with the handshake that follows. You can access the on-demand version of the SalesForce.com webcast here. If you'd like a copy of the 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study Executive Summary, you can request one here.

By: Anne Petrik | Director of Member Experience, MHI Global

Posted: 4/30/2015 9:12:32 AM by | with 0 comments


Why I Hate Big Data

In today’s modern world, access to information has never been easier. More and more buyers are sharing it, and more and more sellers are collecting it. Information and data is not a new concept. It has been around far longer than I have.  

The term “big data” is something new and, recently, everywhere I turn, sales leaders are singing the praises of big data. It’s a revolution, some say. It’s a big game changer, say others, No, I cry. I am already hating the term “big data”!

Don’t get me wrong. I love data. I just don’t like the term “big data.” It's not because I think companies are collecting too much personal information about customers and their habits. It's not even because I don't trust them to keep it safe or use it in ethical ways. (Although I do have my doubts sometimes.) It's more because they aren't using the data they already have.

Data for Data's Sake

When sales leaders ask me how they drive revenue by leveraging the plethora of data gathered from the public domain and the more advanced features in their internal sales applications, the first thing I do is ask a question.

How confident are you in the data you have now?

That question usually makes them cringe. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are supposed to be the system of record, the single version of the truth, for the sales organization. Yet, far too many sales leaders are working with data they can't trust.  

Big data is not a magic bullet. In fact, it could end up being lethal if it takes your focus away from the core funnel data that really tells you how the business is doing. If you can't trust the data from your CRM system, it makes no sense to me to start dumping even more data into an already flawed system.

As we continue to live in the information age, we have to define what good data means to us as sellers. Defining customer-management strategies that enable us to add perspective to prospects and customers is key. With so much access to information, sellers need to be able to use their expertise and perspective to help drive and fulfil the buyer’s concept.

Posted by: Sam Crawford | EMEA Sales Manager, Miller Heiman  
 
Related posts:

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3 Ways to Ensure CRM Adoption
Posted: 4/22/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


Some Sales Best-Practices Never Go Out of Style

I was going through some old Miller Heiman newsletters when an article from 1996 caught my eye. (I guess I've needed to clean out my files for a while now.)

The story was about a woman named Robyn who had been working hard to get a foothold in a large account for two years. Being someone who "writes it all down," she had copious notes on who the buyers were and what problems the organization needed to solve. She took those notes to a Strategic Selling® workshop and was able to apply the principles she learned to win a marquee account for the business.

The Rise of the Team
It's hard to believe, but 1996 was almost 20 years ago. Selling may be an old profession, but a lot has changed in the past couple of decades. For example, we've seen a dramatic increase in the amount of team selling. If Robyn were to walk into that same account today, she probably wouldn't be walking in alone. She'd have a team of product specialists and subject matter experts with whom she could discuss the customer's needs. Frontline sales managers have become a more integral part of the sales process and, hopefully, hers would be coaching her every step of the way. As she reached the latter stages of the sales cycle, she might even enlist one of her company executives to do a little peer-to-peer selling.  

Similar changes have happened on the buying side. Very likely, the customer's buying process has gotten more sophisticated, with more time spent self-educating before engaging Robyn and her team and more influencers at every stage of the buying process.

Writing It Down
With more people involved on both sides of the table, collaboration and “writing it down” have never been more important. Thankfully, Robyn and her team now have access to some pretty sophisticated sales force automation tools that can help them capture every interaction with every buyer no matter who is involved. When the team gets together to discuss the opportunity, they don't need to waste time bringing everybody up to speed. They can also make better use of the customer's time by being well-informed and prepared for every interaction.

Miller Heiman (now MHI Global) has adapted, too. We have automated tools like Sales Access ManagerSM to help companies adapt their CRM systems to leverage the MHI Global methodologies. Plus, we are now part of MHI Global along with other well-known companies including MHI Research Institute, Huthwaite, AchieveGlobal, Impact Learning Systems, and Channel Enablers. Together, this group of companies can help sales organizations in more ways than ever before, and I can't wait to see what the next 20 years brings. Maybe I'll just stick these newsletters back in my files and keep them for a little while longer.

Posted By: Jennifer Vodehnal | Director of Marketing
Posted: 4/20/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


The Doctor Is In: Diagnosing the Cause of Your Forecasting Headaches

Ever known someone who is plagued by headaches? After a while, they get so used to the pain that they just learn to live with it. For many of us, forecasting is like that. Our forecasts are always wrong, and that's just the way it is. The best we can do is raise or lower our estimates based on just how wrong we've been in the past or what we think is happening in the funnel. Of course, the worst we can do is raise or lower forecasts based on what executive management wants to see, but that's a topic for another time.

Time to see the doctor
If you had a persistent headache, you'd at least try to do something about it, right? If it got too bad, you'd probably seek advice from a doctor, an advisor you trust to recommend a course of action that will take the pain away.

To help you with your persistent forecasting headaches, I will be playing the role of doctor today. So let's get started with our exam.

What seems to be the problem? This, or something like it, is almost always the first question doctors ask. For most of you, the answer will probably be something like, "My forecasts are always wrong," or "I can't trust the numbers." After the doctor says, "I see" in that inscrutable tone doctors always use, he or she will launch into a series of questions designed to find the root cause of your problem. Let's do the same, shall we?

Do you have a sales force automation (SFA) system in place? A simple yes or no question to which I hope most of you will answer "yes." If you don't have an SFA system, we can cut this office visit short while you go take care of that fundamental need.

Do your salespeople use your SFA system? This is one of those questions where the doctor will say "uh huh” regardless of your response, leaving you trying to guess what he or she is thinking. Here's what your forecasting doctor is thinking: You can't possibly get accurate forecasts from the system if salespeople don't use it. It's like the guy who has an exercise plan but never follows it and still expects to get fit.

Do you have a prescribed sales methodology? Again, another simple question that sets the foundation for the rest of our exam. By the way, if you answered no to this question, that's a big problem. Among other things, the sales methodology describes the flow of opportunities through the funnel. If everyone is working from their own gut feel of where an opportunity is in the funnel, it's no surprise your forecasts are consistently wrong.

Does your SFA system reflect your sales methodology? Now we're getting somewhere. If your salespeople aren't using your system, this could be why. A system that doesn't support the flow of opportunities just increases their workload for very little return.

Do your frontline sales managers (FSMs) use the SFA system in their daily work with their teams and to assemble forecasts for management? Unhealthy people often have unhealthy spouses and children. We tend to adopt the habits of those around us—or they adopt ours. If Mom or Dad don’t eat their vegetables, why should the kids? The same thing happens in sales organizations. If the FSM isn't using the SFA system, why should the salespeople they manage?

Does your executive team use the SFA system? Remember, the doctor isn't here to judge you, so it's important that you be totally truthful with your answers. Like it or not, the rest of the organization will emulate the behavior of the executive team. You need to insist on SFA as the system of record and obtain all of your management data from it. With the dashboard capabilities in most modern SFA and CRM systems, this should be a breeze. If you feel you can't trust the data in your dashboard, reexamine your responses to some of my earlier questions. You've probably already identified where the problem lies.

Does your executive team consider forecasting a hands-on exercise? If so, you may be pressuring FSMs to alter their forecasts based on what they think you want to see. As a wise man once said, "Hope is not a strategy." Forecasts need to reflect reality if they are to be useful. Stay out of the process and let your system of record (SFA) generate the numbers.

Not counting the diagnosis or treatment of diseases and infections, doctors spend a lot of time telling us what we already know: Eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, don't smoke. … Nevertheless, we sometimes need a trusted advisor who sees us as we really are to help us spot our weaknesses. Thank you for letting me be that trusted advisor for the last few minutes. Hopefully, I was able to help you diagnose some of the root causes of your forecasting headaches, and you can now write your own prescription for success.

Posted by: Tony Gower | Sales Vice President
Posted: 4/15/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


A healthy lifestyle leads to connecting with Personal Wins

April has been a difficult month around our Reno headquarters with the unexpected, tragic loss of one of our very best salespeople and all-around great friend. I had known Jason for over three years, and one thing I admired about him was the relentlessly healthy lifestyle he led.

One of the things that made Jason so successful was his ability to make a positive, personal connection with just about any type of person on the planet (think of Personal Wins from Strategic Selling). It might be because he dipped his toe in just about everything people do outside of work: skiing, running, boating, golf, professional sporting events … the list goes on seemingly forever. This not only made Jason one of the healthiest people I know, it also gave him a unique ability to connect personally with just about everyone who doesn’t spend their life inside on a couch all day eating Cheetos.

In the throes of a complex sales opportunity, that meant that if he was speaking with a sales leader (where we commonly start discussions), he was completely comfortable proactively reaching out and having sidebar discussions with HR, sales operations, sales management, CRM system administrators—anyone who would talk with him. While business was always discussed, you better believe that the conversation always eventually made its way to discussing a recent day on the slopes, running a half-marathon, that day's gym workout, or possibly just a great afternoon sitting on the beach after a day of wakeboarding on Tahoe. Being a “doer” and not an observer allowed him to have perspectives to share on the best skis that season, suspension for the ride, gym routines and, of course, which cocktail tasted best at Zephyr Cove. Jason was a subject matter expert for all things fun & healthy.

What I learned from Jason was that the more active you are and the broader range of healthy activities you participate in, the better person you will become. It will also make it more likely you will find some Personal Win to connect on with each of your buying influences, making it easier to explain the impact your solution will have on the things they enjoy most—which, odds are, isn’t work or Cheetos.

Talk about the ultimate Win-Win!

Posted by: Brendan Hawkins | Director of Sales
Posted: 4/13/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


Differentiating in the Telecommunications Industry

I am privileged to facilitate around 60 workshops per year with sales professionals from many different industries. At the start of these workshops, I would hold up a Motorola RAZR mobile handset to remind my participants of this iconic mobile phone handset and to inform them that in the early 2000s, I was sales leader for the Australia and New Zealand mobile handset business for Motorola. Seldom does anyone NOT remember that mobile phone, but what staggers all of us is what has happened in the 10 or so years since it reigned as the most popular mobile handset in the world.

Whatever it was that got you to where you are today is not sufficient to keep you there

Where are Motorola mobile devices now? Answer: Recently acquired by Lenovo after being owned by Google.

Who was the No. 1 mobile handset maker when Motorola RAZR was at its peak? Answer: Nokia, recently acquired by Microsoft.

Who released the first iPhone? Answer: Apple, in partnership with Motorola in 2005!

The telecommunications business is constantly changing, and reflecting on the mobile handset business is an excellent example of this. I am fortunate to work with clients in this industry, and I characterise the industry as becoming more commoditised around data offerings. The increasing demand for streaming videos challenges carriers and service providers to increase bandwidth and availability. To succeed in this environment requires strong focus on the customer experience, and suppliers to the industry are challenged by the ever-increasing influence of procurement.

What IS the percentage of tenders or RFPs released where the decision has already been made?

When I ask this question in my workshops, the answers are north of 70 percent. Why? It happens because a specific vendor’s solution has influenced the tender or RFP. This is done very early in the process when the need for change has first been recognised. This is the time when there is the greatest uncertainty—and a critical moment when you need the help of a coach more than at any other time. The coach’s value becomes clear when you seek to identify growth and trouble: Who has the most to gain from the change? Who has the most to lose? Which of these people who feels motivated by the change would want our solution above all others? With whom would we have credibility, and who would have credibility with all the other buying influences involved in making this change?

The best opportunity to differentiate and be the seller who stands out in the tender or RFP is to influence as early as possible in the buying process. Miller Heiman tools are ideal for this purpose, as they direct sellers to the people of influence who recognize the need for and who are motivated to change.

Collaboration on possibility thinking

I tell my participants a quirky memory of my childhood and of two TV shows I always enjoyed watching: Get Smart and Batman. Near the end of each episode of Get Smart, and at the very end of each episode of Batman, one of the two heroes would be in a desperate situation where they were going to be killed, tortured, locked into an escape-proof room, or tied to a conveyor belt slowly moving to a horrible death. It seems hopeless. But what happened every time was that their minds focused on how to get out of it and, against the odds, they found a way. We know those were scripted situations; however, they serve to help me explain the power of possibility thinking. When the human mind understands the entire set of circumstances and has a clear and common purpose, it finds a way. Imagine how this works when collaborating early in a sales process with several like-minded people all focused on all of the variables and a single purpose?

Asking yourself who you know that might share more information on this potential opportunity early in the process is powerful. Those sellers who influence early win more deals at better margins.

Posted by: Murray Grimston | Sales Consultant

Posted: 4/8/2015 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


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