Friday, June 21, 2013

Show Up and Throw Up: Discovery process killers..

Most sales teams have a listening problem. And boy do they love to tell the prospect all the details about their product. That approach seldom works... Here's my recommendation for the discovery process do's and don'ts.. and the killers!!

Discovery process killers: For your discovery session to be successful, you have to take care of these things proactively.

  1. Team mates who can't shut up.The experts on your team who want to prove themselves. Make a deal with them, they will only talk in reference to a related client problem we have solved. No deep end technology of solutions discussions, please! 
  2. Develop and agree upon the "shut up" signal. This is critical rule; It should be well publicized to the sales team, that non adherence to the rule should have disastrous consequences. My rule is, I want my team mates to look at me once each minute to get my clues. 
  3. Jumping to conclusions; Don't assume The process could take several sessions. It could take  months across several client players, if you include ROI in the process.
  4. Have umbrella questions ready: Every time we get a point in meeting when there's uncomfortable moment. Have some umbrella questions. 2-3 of them. For example, "can you give me another example". OR "You mentioned earlier this thing, can you help me understand a little more". If nothing else, ask the killer sales questions. 

Have a focus to understand the business: See the discovery process as a science project. Get their facts clear.. Make sure you can articulate, Why would they buy from me? Focus on "why buy at all" and more importantly "why now"? Reaffirm your thoughts with the client..

Avoid product talk as much as possible: Because once you start with your product talk you are in selling mode.. Can't do that too early... The client's mental door shuts down, or the perspective changes significantly after that. Also if the client brings up "Tell me what your product does" too early, have a way to get out of that quickly. You could say things like.. Before I make recommendation. , I need to understand business problems a little more.

Carefully answer the "tell me a little about your company" question: Another key aspect of opening is when they ask "tell me  little about your company". Tell them a value proposition related to their industry, like for example I'd say for my current product... "We are a consumer predictive analytics company that helps healthcare companies like yours, better market health plans to their existing and prospective members, leading to higher member satisfaction and reduced churn. Our founders were the core team for Yahoo!'s analytics products and they identified a need for enterprises to want to provide it's consumers a similar buying experience as that what Yahoo! did for millions of users. Hence they started InsightsOne". Versus "We are a big data predictive analytics silicon valley startup providing targeting, recommendations and churn predictions for enterprises". Focus on why you do what you, and the uniqueness in the how, versus company profile which can potentially distract the client with biases. Then quickly get back to discovery. 

Be prepared to sell them on value of investing time in the discovery: That shows you are unique. Selling why they should invest time with you. Paint them a vision of how you walked a client through the process and the end outcome. Ask with the problem areas identified at other clients, if they have similar situation.

Happy Selling :-) 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Shake them up; before you say "I do"

Hiring the right sales person with acumen is critically important to a startup. There's a lot at stake and you need to be prepared to handle them when they come onboard.. For more on the significance and the preparation, read my other blog article on the subject of making your first sales hire.

It's important to have a frame of reference when technical founders interview sales reps. Here are my top-10 in no particular order..
  1. Prod their past Ask them about their childhood.. bumps in their career; how they recovered, where they grew up, how did they handle adversities and failure in the early defining stages of life. You want your sales rep to be a true hustler.
  2. Rile them up; challenge them, throw something new at them, like a puzzle. See how well they take to unchartered waters, rejection.
  3. Reject them: Tell them in the interview you don't think they'd make a good fit for what ever reason. See how they handle that; a good sales rep should roll with the punches and recover quickly.
  4. Observe their inter personal skills. Do they take interest in your life? would you want to meet this person over a drink? 
  5. How entertaining, well read is the rep? You don't want a comedian, but an aggressive shark without a funny streak or a well read perspective is of little use.
  6. Is he a closer: Did the rep ask direct questions on your thoughts on their prospects; did it sound offending, how well did they handle objections, did they manage to keep the door open to come back in.. see how balanced they stood on aggression and compassion.
  7. What kind of sports does he play? Does he/she sharpen his competitive edge each day.. Being physically very fit is a very important part of the job so as to pounce on the sale opportunity as and when it presents itself.
  8. Change the environment: Take the rep for a walk. See how they react to a new environment. 
  9. Test their extempore skills. Ask them to present an idea using a white board. 
  10. Make them wait before you start the interview.. observe what they do when left alone. 

Put that coffee down; customer conferences are for closers..

Customer conferences are great launch pads for young companies. That's where prospects are most relaxed, open to newer ideas and with giving advice. Yet few sales teams land quality leads at conferences. It's perhaps the lack of event ownership (marketing calls the shots) that leads to the typical shotgun sales approach. Sales can do better. If they choose to "co-own" the event and assume accountability.
To maximize your chance of getting quality leads, sales has to start by selecting the right team on the floor. The common trait needed in each member on your team is ..

  1. Aggression, devising unique ways to finding true prospects 
  2. Focus at forging a common bonding style with prospects and 
  3. Most importantly, at securing the follow on meeting at the conference or in person at prospect's office.
Note: Being well dressed, confident, and good looks are table stakes.

Pre-planning: You should start planning ~2-months in advance. By the time your team gets to the conference, you all should have the prospect hit list (memorized) by names, titles, backgrounds etc. Ideally, your team would have reached out to the hit list with targeted pitches and invites.

  • Use the attendee list: To gauge the audience types, identify your target sales plays and marketing campaigns that appeal to the select audiences. Contact the attendees, invite to pre conference webinars, surveys. If you don't have the current year, use last year's list.   

Throw a private party: Most important part of a conference! Sponsor a private party in the evening. Have a theme that relates to your solution; hand deliver the invitation; use personalized videos; use pretty faces to deliver the note; make sure prospects can't say no. A partner last year held their party off the conference on a boat, called in a standup comedian and had a reference customer give a sales talk on their experiences.
Invite the prospects through all possible channels; 1:1 meeting, snail mail, emails and phone call campaigns. When they call back, qualify the prospect. The goal is to filter out the A-list of prospects, ones you'd want to have your CEO, CTO invest time with at the party.

The hook; when show time is ON: You'd have a client's attention only if you solve their immediate needs. Time matters, so stand in strategic places in your booth; from where it's easy to read names on badges. Make sure prospects can easily spot exciting goodies first (raffles, alcohol, food, water, golf balls etc ) so they are drawn in.. As they review your marketing banners,  quickly decide if further intervention is warranted. Greet prospects by their name. And if the name rings a bell on the prospect hit list, immediately start the conversation. Hand them the party invite.
Never let a prospect leave without an agreement for the next meeting.. Simple things you should get is their cell number, and a quick connect on LinkedIn via the mobile app. Then do the soft talk.. Get their purpose for attending, what they like this year about conference, relevance to your offering and most important .. something personal.. what about life makes them sizzle.. Notice there's little product talk at this point.. Let's save that for the party session in the evening or next week in their office.

Use a speaking engagement to meet prospects: Nothing builds credibility, sells better at conferences like a team member do a speaking gig. Have a catchy title, send invites to potential prospects to attend session, solicit their feedback, connect with them after the session to plan next steps. Make your prospects feel they matter. It helps build trust. I hardly see reps going around the conference room introducing themselves, getting to know attendees and their interests in attending your session. Give the attendees goodies at the session; it helps ease the process of breaking the ice.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dare to build a sales team at a startup??

Dear Startup CEO:
If I were creating a field sales organization for my own company, I'd plan the sales strategy knowing the following:
  1. The stakes are significantly higher that a usual technical hire.. The cost of failure is significant at both ends. To some on your dev team or to your VCs, a sales person's success, could be a litmus test indicator if the company will succeed or not.. 
  2. Hire for sales structure, process and NOT the rolodex: Most reps have good contacts and that's a given. But that's not what will close your sale. Hire your founding sales team to create repetitive sales processes, to shorten sales cycles, create synergies with marketing campaigns, to establish sales models that require minimal involvement from precious dev resources to close.
  3. Plan for special needs: Outbound field sales teams have different needs so treat them as such. Their needs are certainly unique from what I suspect you have seen on your current team of marketeers, inbound, inside sales team members. Their motivations, apprehensions are very different from sales wannabe co-founders who've never carried a bag. They (field sales) are like sharks who can cover ground quickly if you can keep up with them.. but they also get tired and de-motivated as easily. They need a path to quickly and meticulously work through their designated territory. Your first sales hire should ideally have a plan for the processes, the tools and has to have this done before the sharks are hired. They need help with 
    1. Resources (comprehensive sales plays, email templates, elevator pitch, competitive analysis), 
    2. Operational metrics discipline (cold calling, research processes)
    3. Accountability (cadence call frameworks like SCOTSMAN). 
  4. Plan for our success or not: Startup sales is freaking hard.. The rolodex is a starting point but can't get you a close.. The career highs are amazing yet few! The lows are many and they can last long.. they can crush sales morale.. So you have to plan for success and (sadly) for failure too.. For the latter have a plan for 25-50% attrition each year.. to get the team to hit the ground running in under 30-days. 
  5. Avoid a shotgun sales strategy aka a generic sales pitch for all industries. Rather tailor the pitch for select verticals and particular use cases. Preferably ones with beachhead synergies to what solution has worked well so far..  Do so by doing the following. 
    1. Identify repeat sales patterns from your current customer base
    2. A barney B2B partnership sales relationship or one with Friends of Management (FOM) is great for a reference client rolodex but is rarely a repeatable deal model
    3. Create a heat map.. Have an A, B an C-list of companies to target in select industries, regions 
    4. Articulate the $$$ impact of the status quo  
    5. the ROI value of a potential Kinvey solution 
  6. Sell the sales person on your product.. With succinct examples, articulate a clear Compelling Reason to Act (CRA) and Why YOU and why not a competitor? What's the cost of non action? a.k.a Startup value proposition? What is the next best alternative to your story? Would someone loose their jobs for choosing the alternative? Those are the killer use cases. Identifying this stuff is not easy, I get it. You'd have to drill deep and be honest. Try selling the solution to the new sales hire prospect. See if he'd bet his new born on the sale? If he doesn't, then do the drill jointly... Ask for his help to come up with the winning model. But don't hire unless they are truly passionate about making the sale.. If the sales guy is skeptical and is raising objections/questions , that is a good thing. Take his perspective seriously and hear them out.. They are playing devil's advocate.. Sales is a team play. There's no one right perspective.
  7. Have a pragmatic pricing model: It can't be I'll take what I can get. To get the large 7-figure deals, you'd have to license differently like ELAs, ACVs deals. Even with that, it's important to identify the value based pricing model. At what price do you walk from a deal? I've created many (good and bad) such OPEX heavy models before so I can give you guidance on the same. 
  8. Double down on the larger sales strategy: To make the above model sticky with newer customers, you'd need at least a couple customers, and a proven execution model before a sales team can succeed on a repeat sales model. Your inside sales pitch, marketing collateral and campaign planning have to all reflect a plan for such deals. 
  9. Keep the comp plan simple, generous yet aggressive: It's possible to hit a balance here. Nothing motivates sales more than hard $$$ incentives. On the same lines, there's no bigger put-off  than a complex plan with inherent gotchas. 
I can go on and on but I'll stop now.. If you like this and want to now more.. it's best to drop me a line at 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cold calling for CEOs and Sales

Hey Mr/Ms Startup CEO, or first sales hire at a startup..

I know you hate cold calling but there's no way around it.. It's far too important a part of selling when your brand isn't quite established. How else would the world know you existed and that you can positively impact their lives and that they can pay-up in this quarter?? So here's my approach.. I've added a sample script below..

Prepare upfront and practice a lot:

#1. Less is more: Tell them as little as possible. Don't tell them what you do. Instead talk about a pain and what you have done with others do to address the pain. Short sentences.. Talk no more than 30-seconds in one go.

#2. Be direct, get to the point right away: No need to say courtesy crap.. like how's your day going?? People's time is valuable. Focus on why they should act.. now. Keep focus on wanting a 1:1 meeting.. to discuss a pain, a benefit or even better the money that a successful deployment will make. For example.. "I want to come by and show you how I helped the following companies save the following or earn the following.. what time next week can we meet??" Be prepared then for the rebuttal question about a potential incumbent solution. Have a one liner to say clearly why your offering is better. Don't let a objection spoil your chances of getting the 1:1.

#3 Prepare three to four key high impact questions: This is the meeting closer on the cold call. Be ready with some high impact killer sales questions. Look up my earlier post on the topic for more on that topic. The prospect should help you understand the current, the desired situation and the gap. Ask of the consequences of doing nothing? As they tell you more think if the gap is big enough for them to meet with you? If the gap isn’t big enough, be ready with additional 3-4 question.

Sample script:

Good morning.. This is Harpal Kochar … I’m the sales director at XYZ company,. We are in the business of delivery ZZZ capabilities our customers.. I’m calling you because your business profile fits others who have benefited from what we do. The following three capabilities of our solution that will interest you are.. A...B...C.. (you have to say this fast). That said and without knowing more about your business, this is what I’ve gleaned from my research, I can’t know for sure if what we do makes sense for you.. if I haven’t caught you at a bad time, I’d like to ask you a 2-3 questions. May I? (keep shut and let the prospect talk now)

If the prospect sounds interested, ask the following.. do you have 15-20 mins on your calendar next week Tuesday afternoon? I can tell you more, review with you what we’ve done with other clients in more details and learn about your issues to see if there’s a match? Suggest a time proactively

Happy Selling..

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Are you being a column fodder?

Hey Sales guy/gal...

Experienced sales execs do one thing well.. they are good at predicting column fodder opportunities early on.. This is critical in sales cycles where we work with a quarter end in focus. I recommend you view each opportunity (how-much ever promising it looks), critically from the column fodder lens. It might help you save critical time.. In the ideal case it will help you make a winning proposal and speed up the sales cycle.

Situation: You get a call from a prospect, saying they need a proposal with a quote right away..  They give you a set of defined RFP questions.. You aren't allowed access to decision makers, and are told to follow the "procurement process". On further probing your chances of success, they leave it at this.. All the proposals they have received so far are good and can't give you a reason why they perceive your value proposition as better or unique. They can't answer the "why you" question clearly. They can't even give you a hypothetical situation of what you'd have to do in an ideal world to win the business. They say price is the deciding factor of the vendor choice.

Analysis: Unless you are a rainmaker.. your chances of winning in such a situation are close to zero.

  1. If you did not write the RFP questions, someone in your competition did... 
  2. If you don't know you are winning and why, then you are loosing.. 
  3. In the decision making team, if you don't have a champion batting for you, either focus to create one or simply walk away.. 
  4. Forget believing crap like "we have the best solution and no one comes close to matching it.." I've lost several opportunities thinking just that..

Thursday, May 2, 2013

High Impact Sales Questions

High performing sales reps ask high impact questions early in the sales cycle. They are quick at identifying opportunities that will NOT close anytime soon. They attend to the ones that indeed will. Customers appreciate working with such sales people/teams simply because both parties mean serious business.

But it's hard to identify such questions and even harder to present them to customers. It takes practice, confidence and a few bad deals you did (for lack of this step), in your bag. The good thing is that high impact questions are more or less universal in all sales situations. Enterprise sales is a team sport. The entire account team should be comfortable asking them and should strive to elicit a predictable response from the customer.

Here's my list... Please note you don't have to ask all questions or ask in any particular order.. Most of these should be asked once a problem use case is defined by the customer. Lastly, don't try and memorize this. Feel the impact as you read this and make it a part of your sales lingo!

1.    Who in the business is impacted the most, by this problem?
[HK intent] Understand who’s ultimately going to pay the $$$.

2.    Who in senior management is aware of this problem?
[HK intent] How big is the problem? Does it have management attention? 

3.    Is this issue impacting other parts of the organization?
[HK intent] Who else will get involved in the buying process..

4.    What is the extent of the impact of the problem on you?
[HK intent] How important is this to you? Will you loose your job if this isn’t done quickly? 

5.    Who else will benefit most from this solution and to what extent?
[HK intent] who will loose his/her job if the project isn’t successful?

6.    How will solving this issue impact you personally?
[HK intent] Get personal.. Check out the pathos

7.    How do you solve this problem now?
[HK intent] If it’s really important then they must have some clunky solution in place.. What are the short comings.. Use the answer to build a value proposition in a business proposal. It will help you with procurement :-).

8.    Have you tried to solve this problem in the past?
[HK Intent] What should I do such that differentiates my approach from the past failure? Who is my ghost competition?

9.    Is someone trying to address this problem now?
[HK Intent] Is there a parallel initiative I'm competing with? 

Friday, January 25, 2013

SCOTSMAN: Because time is money (in sales)!

My Dear Sellers: 

We sales people hate loosing! It's even worse when we come in second... there is NO silver medal in our job! The winner takes it ALL.. But what hurts me the most is my personal time lost.. I want to know my chances of winning quickly and either stick around or look for other places for business.. Over the years, I've learned a technique that maximizes my chances of winning.. that I'd like to share with you.

Priority needs to be given to the business opportunities we can and would want to win. Chasing all deals is unproductive and may result in us overlooking the hot ones, by wasting time on the low value sales. Our time, the most precious commodity of all, is as important as that of the boss of our largest customer - we have an absolute right to decide where we invest our time. So is there a systemic way we can objectively qualify which opportunities we spend time on?

With some help early in my career, I researched a solution (Thanks George Yen!) and it has worked wonders for me! You have perhaps have heard of this sales methodology before. But with this read, I'll give you an actual modeling tool (linked below) to assist you with using the methodology... give the thinking a clear form factor! 

It all comes down to SCOTSMAN:
Solution - can we technically / physically meet the need?
Competition - Who is our real competition? Is it internal politics or an incumbent? does my competition have an unfair advantage against me?
Only Me - what does the client perceive is unique about us?
Timescales - is it too near or far for us to be involved now? Why will they buy from us now? What's the compelling reason to act?
Size - to small or to large to be viable for us? Can we handle this alone? Should we partner, or go alone? 
Money - do they have sufficient real, spendable budget? When is the last time they spent money on something like you are selling to them? 
Authority - what is the decision making process? Who is the influencer and who is the nay sayer? Who's opinion matters? Who does the main budget holder like? 
Need - What are they looking to achieve? What is the cost of NOT doing anything?

Score each of the above...  Use the model spreadsheet below.. a score of less than 34 out of 42 should raise alerts.. the deal might not close... Through the process we'll learn of certain areas where we are weaker than others; this is where we focus our energy to improve that score.

SCOTSMAN is a simple common language that can be understood across the organisation - now the technical folk for example, can quiz you on the qualification of a deal before they invest their time to help you.

If you like to build out a model and go deeper, I have a spreadsheet that goes into more details on the topic. It has more detailed questions and allows for a deal model and progression with it. 

Contact me at if you need more details and I'd be happy to walk you through the model...


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Our willingness to fail gives us the ability and opportunity to succeed where others may fear to tread...

My Dear Friends,

I'd like to share with you this powerful quote ... The words inspire me in harder times!

"Our willingness to fail gives us the ability and opportunity to succeed where others may fear to tread."
“I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." —Michael Jordan

2012 was the year of experiences for me! After one failed attempt and 2-years of rigorous physical training, I fulfilled my long cherished goal of completing a Ironman triathlon race. And that attitude of striving for harder goal rubs on ;-). Observing me, both my girls (aged 11 and 7) have taken to competitive triathlon sports. They both continue to better their vocal singing talents and their Taekwondo martial arts training. The older one earned her black belt first degree and while her younger sibbing can't get enough of yelling and shrieking with her moves in the class. As for my dear wife, her passion for dance and aerobics is unmatched and she continues to excel in her career as a IT business analyst. I've attached a picture of the four of us taken in early 2012.   
We took the girls for a fun vacation to New York city and Washington DC in the summer. I also took the time to connect with my roots... first by attending my college reunion over a weekend in Miami... and then a memorable hiking/photography expedition to Zion national park.

Work is rock solid as usual. I finally moved to the Mac! I enjoy selling and can't get enough of doing just that every single day. The learnings from being a part of a sales team at IBM are unmatched. So I continue to grow and reinvent myself. I hope you too have experiences in 2013 that impact you for the better. Please do stay in touch.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

10 Keys to the C-Suite

Working with the C-Suite can be intimidating at the least for many sales professionals. They are important, they are untouchable, they are too busy, they are speaking in a different language, they are..., they are..., they are..... Well, they are human. And the C-Suite is just like you and me...except they make a lot more money than us. That aside, here are 10 tips to communicating with the C-Suite.
  • Create a Value Inventory - A Value Inventory will help instil confidence in your products and service. It is an effort that pays off time and time again. In addition to your new found confidence, it is the foundation for developing all sales tools.
  • Use your Value Inventory to tie value to the C-Suite metrics - The C-Suite metrics are ratios that your products and services impact. For example, if your product reduces labor cost, you actually impact operating costs and profit. These are the ratio's the C-Suite cares about.
  • Do your homework before you call on the C-Suite - I cannot impress upon you enough as to the importance of doing your homework prior to a meeting in the C-Suite. They expect you to know their business. You should check LinkedIn for any relationships you have they may know who you are meeting. Do your homework or parish.
  • Create a Value hypothesis and estimate your value as it relates to the impact on the C-Suite metrics before the deal, “hits the market” - This document will establish a basis for your meeting. You can present the potential value you will deliver in their terms using basically a Business Case at the beginning of the sales process.
  • Develop discovery questions that lead your prospect back to your value proposition - Don't waste their time. Have discovery questions written down and ready to discuss. Be sure they are relevant, and challenging. Don't ask a question just to ask a questions.
  • Capture “current” cost and extrapolate that cost over time to set up a discussion on threshold for pain - People respond to pain. If you get agreement from your prospect as to what their problems and goals are and what the current cost of those issues, pains and goals, half the battle is over. Acknowledgement of pain and the ability to capture the cost will push a deal forward faster than any other thing.
  • Discuss threshold for pain and agree on a plan to move forward - All too often you lose to status quo. Why? Because of your failure to understand the prospects threshold for pain. Even if you get them to acknowledge they have issues, and you calculate the cost of those issues...the pain and the cost may be acceptable by the prospect. In other words, they don't care what it is costing them right now.
  • Constantly provide feedback to your prospect on your findings and analysis as it relates to their pain, cost of pain, and market comparison - We (sales people) have been taught our whole life to correspond with the prospect after we meet. This should be done every time you touch them, send a note of thanks and a short description of what you discussed.
  • Create a high quality Business Case that includes, issue, pain, goal, value, impact and investment - remember the C-Suite has very little time, a Business Case should be concise and complete with the issues, value estimates, costs, metrics and plenty of graphics the will help explain economic impact.
  • Provide comprehensive implementation plan that includes follow up on value delivered - A 360 approach will almost always pay off. You are now a partner not a vendor.
     Collateral borrowed from Michael Nick at