Graham Hawkins; author of “The Future of The Sales Profession” was the keynote speaker at the recent Sales Masterminds Forum, part of a series of events Harlow Group are sponsoring along with Salesforce and Linkedin.  I spoke with Graham after the event, where we spoke about many topics facing the IT sales profession.  In this section of the interview, we discussed the vendor rationalisation movement with the modern enterprise technology buyer.

You can watch the full interview here

Get “The Future of the Sales Profession“, by Graham Hawkins here

Come along to the next Sales Masterminds Forum on August 9!


We are delighted to be sponsoring this series of forums which are facilitated by Sales Masterminds APAC.

These event are designed to help sales leaders like you to improve the professionalism and success of your sales organisation.

The presenter for this one is Cian McLoughlin. Cian has invested the last 6 years in conducting win-loss reviews for his clients and has incredible insight into how customers make their buying decisions, and why they select one supplier over another.

Why will it be valuable for you?

Cian will will leverage case studies to reveal the science behind decision making and why human biology has such a profound influence on the reasons we say ‘yes’ to some requests and ‘no’ to others. I am sure it will help you and your sales team to position better to win.

The presentation will be followed by a panel discussion which will address your questions.

On top of all this it is a great opportunity for you to network with your sales leadership peers.

I hope to see you on August 9.

To your sales success!

P.S. – For more sales insights, SUBSCRIBE for email updates.




Youtube machine transcript of the above video:
every business on the planet is now
trying to arrange their vendors into a
vendor stack that’s efficient and so if
you’re a vendor sales person and making
the assumption that everybody can buy
from you think again
hi my name’s Steve Ludlow curator of the
hallo group sales leadership blog today
I have with me Graham Hawkins
thanks for joining us today great for
the sleeve like you know grain is an
author of two sales books most recent
one is the future of the sales
profession and so for those that don’t
know Graham grains got 28 years sales
leadership experience predominantly in a
tech space
author of two books as we’ve just said
recently completed an MBA and actually
doing some maturing and at the RMIT I
believe that’s correct what you’re
lecturing on yeah look a range of sales
and marketing based topics particularly
focused around procurement so and the
changes that we’re seeing there okay
from a sales point of your procurement
from a sales point of make a fantastic
interesting and to those that don’t know
actually was the keynote speaker at the
Sowers masterminds event that hallowed
group along with LinkedIn and Salesforce
sponsored it early on in the week which
is what brought us together today and
fantastic peanut and I picked up a lot
from it I think you said how would you
pick up a lot from it I’ve heard a lot
of content in space but there really was
quite a bit that I picked up from it and
I think the the first thing that really
stood out to me is the concept we were
speaking about with regard to extensions
studies where they’ve discovered that
amongst the sort of enterprise market is
a lot of being the rationalization going
on yeah and and you spoke a lot about
tier two and Tier three vendors being
pretty vulnerable in that environment
and hasseneen to qualify in or out
opportunities based upon this vendor
I guess movement and how a second and
third tier vendors you know supposed to
you spoke about qualifying the mineral
rights and that we just give up on that
sort of enterprise market and go for
tier two and Tier three clients or
having you to see that we should be
managing that as specialist providers in
the market yeah look it’s a really good
question the first thing we have to
acknowledge is that everybody is looking
to try and do more business with less
vendors so rationalization of vendors is
real everyone’s trying to drive cost out
of their businesses and managing you
know vast sums of vendors can be
extremely time consuming and costly so
every business on the planet is now
trying to arrange their vendors into a
vendor stack that’s a
and so if you’re a vendor salesperson
and making the assumption that everybody
can buy from you think again because in
many cases your territory is not as big
as you think it is during the research
phase of writing the book Steve I
interviewed a lot of buyers and lots of
them now put in place a policy for in
fact blocking off panel purchases so in
other words if you’re not already on the
panel you’ll never get on the panel
because they’ve got the door shut
basically so as a salesperson if you
don’t qualify that really really quickly
you can spin your wheels in an account
for eighteen months only to find right
at the end of the sales process when
you’re just about to get over the line
and get an order that someone says no
sorry we’re on you know we’ve blocked
off panel purchases so to your question
if you’re a tier 2 or a tier 3 vendor
looking to try and get into a new
account then you need to quickly find
out if they have got that kind of policy
in place yeah
if you’re a tier 3 vendor a single
private vendor then you need to work out
who the prime vendors are or the tier
ones and possibly align yourself with
one of those as a channel into the
account now you mentioned the Accenture
procurement report 2016 what they found
the key finding really was simply that
all businesses will align themselves
with a small number of strategic
suppliers in order to reduce risk and to
reduce cost sure so you know this is a
very real challenge now for the modern
vendor salesperson is how do you find
how do you identify which accounts to go
after and how do you make sure you’re
not wasting your time on ones where the
door is locked
yeah so as a specialist provider and if
you currently have a direct to market
strategy and you’re a salesperson or
sales leader working within that
function they had the ability to remodel
a go to market strategy to start
partnering with the IBM’s of the world
or fugitives or whatever that might look
like yeah is in your view in the tech
space at least would it make more sense
for these organizations to sort of
reframe who they’re going after and look
at the profile of the typical t1
enterprise that’s looking at this vendor
and and perhaps go after the mid-market
instead where they’re still looking at
innovating and expanding upon the way
they do business so that they can
challenge the t ones
hence looking at new inventors to
partner with in order to get a
competitive advantage yes 100% look in
every facet of go to market planning we
are we are being forced to get more
sophisticated and more targeted yeah I
think everyone agrees so when you sit
down and you do your your target
addressable market your market sizing
and you’re looking at your segmentation
plan you do your buyer personas you
follow that up with your ideal customer
profile yeah all of that needs to be
very sophisticated now you can no longer
afford to just go scattergun or you know
spray-and-pray as I call it yeah those
days are over so to your point we have
to get very very focused on which
segments which target customers you know
which buyers are our ideal sweetspot
type buyers and qualify them very very
hard I said to a client of mine recently
who is really just a very reactive
vendor responding to everything that
came along every proposal yeah I said
look if you haven’t got a very clear
view of the buyer and all of the you
know potential opportunities that you
have to sell to that customer you need
to qualify out and walk away it
strategically withdrawal or I call it
yeah that is you’re going to work out I
guess where you’re most competitive as
well just to be in the race is enough
you need to know that you’re going to be
in that top 2 correctly that was a
significant point of difference correct
and we hear it a lot as recruiters but
I’m sure you know many people viewing
hear this a lot from the initial person
they may approach that looked you’re not
only our vendor panel you know being
presented with a huge obstacle around
that and and that we’re not reviewing
that for the next 12 months is that the
other now on the back of that you hear a
lot of persistent sales people push
through that file at significant I guess
problem or a differentiator in their
product to bypass our procurement or to
be sponsored up if the salesperson to
listen to this each time and back away
early on in the process I could see a
lot of sales people walking away from a
lot of opportunity that potential
they’re competitors that may be more
persistent or innovative to find a way
in so how does a salesperson themselves
know the difference between a supplier
that’s just giving you the lines to get
rid of you and one that genuinely is
going to have that robot 18 months down
the track as you say look I think that’s
part of what separates great salespeople
from you know the also-rans yeah and
that is the ability to quickly work out
whether or not you’re a chance to you
know find a path of least resistance in
on the counter yeah so you make a good
qualifying very quickly and upfront
whether or not you have any way into the
account is critical so yeah being able
to strategically withdraw if you need to
or find a way another angle in you know
you talk about the different military
type strategies frontal attack flanking
to the side and all that kind of thing
you know when I did test planning years
ago we talked about all these different
strategies and at the end of the day as
a salesperson you may have to go and
actually align yourself with one of the
few ones an IBM or a HP in the
technology space in other industries it
might be one of the bigger players in
order to sell to the end-user you might
need to go in by a different channel
yeah that’s the way it is now


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“There is no doubt in my mind that to create a world class sales team, you need to know how to identify talent outside of your own industry.  Identifying common ESF’s is the first step in widening the talent pool available to you.”

When hiring sales people, many sales managers seek out someone from within their particular industry, thus minimising risk, with the understanding that a person from within the industry is accustomed to selling in the ‘environment’ in which they operate.  The pro’s and con’s of this selection strategy have been discussed in a previous post.  Although there are some great examples of hiring decisions made in this manner, this strategy often leads to us making a decision from a VERY ‘short’ list of candidates that happen to be on the market within our industry.

Look at the last few hiring decisions you’ve made in your sales team.  How many candidates did you have to choose from that you thought could actually do the job?  Most sales managers who like to hire from within their industry exclusively, would say, “One; and I had a vacant territory for around five months, costing me big money whilst I searched for them.  We missed budget because of it”.  This is understandable and common; after all we are in the midst of an acute skills shortage that I believe has hit the sales profession more than most (a subject for another post).  Often this person wasn’t the best of what the industry had to offer; they gained the job by default, they were the only one there!  So how can we expect to create a ‘best of breed’ sales force to beat our competitors if we are often recycling the sales people they let go?  The fact is this strategy severely limits the talent available to you when selecting the best sales person for the job.  It’s my belief that this selection strategy is born out of a lack of education on recruitment strategy or hesitance through fear of getting it wrong.  “Last time we hired from outside of the industry, they just didn’t get it.”  If every time we made an error, we never tried again, we would still be in the Stone Age.  It’s having the know-how that can change this.  The challenge is that most sales managers come from a sales background – they have little to no education on recruitment strategy, so they go for the safety of hiring from within the industry.

In all likelihood, the best sales person for your business on the market right now is not currently working with one of your competitors; but how do you know if they can make the transition across to your industry?  Well, without meeting them you won’t know – and in my experience, many great sales people are overlooked at resume screening stage due to a lack of industry experience (ever heard this one before?). 

Does this mean you should meet every experienced sales person that applies for the position?  Of course not, you’ve got better things to do with your time.  So how do you ensure you don’t miss that diamond candidate in the resumes hitting your inbox?

Consider this; there are other industries that face similar challenges to your own throughout the sales process.  Perhaps your sales people are challenged by the ‘type’ of decision maker the sell to (be it a CFO or HR Director etc.), or the fact they are required to be more of a ‘trusted advisor’ than a slick sales person (often the case in the professional services space).  Or perhaps your solution is particularly technical and requires that rare mix between a technical mind and a strong communicator.  These are not factors that are common across all industries, however there are some industries that do share these challenges.  Once you isolate the key challenges faced in the sales process in your industry, you can then go about isolating industries that share common ground in these areas.  Upon meeting sales people that have come from these alternate industries but share the ‘Environmental Selling Factors’ of your industry, you will be re-invigorated about sourcing talented sales people for your business.  You’ll have a new found understanding that you actually have far more talent to choose from than what you thought.

Here are the top 12 Environmental Selling Factors you should consider when sizing up candidates:

1.                  Commodity Selling Versus Value Selling.
Senior level management will rarely get involved in buying commodity products.  After all, the vendors are all offering solutions that are very comparable (by definition).  These buying decisions are mostly made at procurement level.  Someone that is accustomed to influencing at the ‘C’ level is unlikely to be effective when dealing with procurement and may not appreciate what drives decision making at this level.  The same can certainly be said visa-versa.  Often one is a price sell where the other is what many call a ‘solution’ sell, where problems are solved or efficiencies are improved, or previously unrecognised more effective ways of doing business are discovered (often the case with technology solutions).  In these situations, clients are quite prepared to pay a premium, as a clear return on investment can be argued.

Situational & Behavioral Interviewing for the Sales Profession2.                  ‘Technical’ Solution Selling
This is where one of the most severe skills shortages exists in the sales profession.  You’re selling contract pharmaceutical manufacturing to pharma marketing companies, or you sell raw chemicals to manufacturers.  You really need a brainiac with a science degree with the communication and sales skills to boot.  Often these skills are mutually exclusive by way of interest (scientists don’t like to sell and visa-versa); but when you find someone with the rare combination, you’re onto a winner.  Many engineering based industries have this challenge.  Perhaps they could be cross pollinating rather than limiting themselves to recycling their competitor’s staff?

3.                  Collaborative Versus Solo Selling
Collaborative sales environments are often found in the professional services space (among others).  You need to gain the buy in of internal delivery staff who will in the end be your ‘product’.  They will be delivering a bespoke solution that the sales person needs to design with the delivery team in the best interest of the client.  The sales person takes the time to understand the client’s needs, communicate them back to the delivery team and together they develop the solution to pitch to the client.  This involves selling both externally and internally and requires great stakeholder management, listening and influencing skills.  For example, the IT systems integration / consulting industry share this commonality with the management consulting industry.  Could these industries consider talent from one another, thus increasing the talent pool available to them?

4.                  Flexible Solution Versus Rigid Solution
Going into a sales call with a pre-conceived understanding of what you are going to sell to them based on the fact your product is one-dimensional, is an entirely different sales process to having any number of malleable solutions to offer a client dependant on their needs or business opportunities.

5.                  Trusted Advisor Selling (Creative Selling)
In many cases (particularly in the ‘flexible solution environment’ listed above) the sales person must position themselves as a ‘trusted advisor’ to the client; advising that a solution be built and delivered in a certain way, or advising the client on how they can go about achieving a better business outcome through doing things differently.  This is a fine skill that is typically only mastered after many years in the sales profession.  It requires a quiet confidence, composure, deliberate communication style and advanced commercial acumen.

6.                  Length of Sales Cycle
When selling strategically over a period of twelve months and five (plus) sales calls in order to bring in a piece of business, someone who is used to a shorter sales cycle may become impatient and lose motivation as they are used to ‘winning’ on a more regular basis.  They may feel a need to ‘close’ often and throughout the sales process, which will bring a sales person undone in this environment.  Strategic selling involves understanding your clients business at the deepest level and the ability to formulate bespoke solutions.  A shorter sales cycle may simply require one or two meetings, some discovery questions, a presentation, a Q and A and a close; two very different skills-sets required.  However, often sales people progress from one to the other over time.

7.                  Average Sale Value
Dealing with large scale decisions where significant capital outlay is required takes a certain skill-set and persona in order to be trusted by a client with such a commitment.  This is less about industry and more about seniority of sales position.  Selling a smaller solution may involve one decision maker where selling a larger scale solution may involve you needing to influence five key stakeholders and have them reach agreement with one another.  This involves an intricate understanding of organisational structure, behavior and business drivers and may require someone with greater commercial acumen and business experience.

8.                  Average Unit Price
Selling pens (regardless of the volume) takes a different skill-set to selling industrial capital equipment.

9.                  Markets Sold To
The buying behavior of government departments can be vastly different to that of a top 500 company, albeit they may both be making large scale purchases.  The motives in such buying decisions will often vary greatly, as will the process prospective vendors have to go through to be successful.

10.             Level Of Decision Maker Sold To
A CFO is driven to make decisions on entirely different criteria to that of a Marketing Manager.  Even personality types typically vary between job functions.  Knowing how an HR Manager typically thinks; how and why they make decisions and so forth, can be a great asset to a sales person.  You may sell Human Capital Management Software to HR leaders within large corporations.  Perhaps a sales person from a leadership training company would be worth talking to.  Both industries sell to HR decision makers and understand the typical buying drivers and behavior.

11.             Product Versus Service
Selling a product that can be touched, felt and demonstrated in action, is vastly different to selling something than cannot be seen, but can only be described.  The skill-sets involved with each sales process often vary greatly.  Sales people can sometimes struggle to make the transition from one to the other.

12.             New Business Versus Account Management
Perhaps this one goes without saying.  I’ve seen many sales people fail in making the transition from one to the other.  We must remember selling is not selling, even if someone comes from the same industry.  In this case, the day-to-day tasks and often the personal ‘make-up’ and occupational interests of the individuals a vastly different from one another. 

 So ask yourself; which of the above environments exist in your industry.  Sales people coming from alternative industries that have conquered these same selling environments may be quite capable of making a successful transition into your company.  Therefore, you have brought an enthusiastic new entrant into the industry that is keen to learn and do things ‘the company way’ rather than saying “at ABC and Co (your competitor) we didn’t do it this way”. This new entrant is stimulated by your industry (it’s new to them) and has no pre-conceived notions of how things should be done.  They are not underwhelmed about what your company does, having been in the industry for 20 years and a little ‘over it’.  Furthermore, they bring new ideas; and although of course many of them may be misguided initially, as they develop, their slightly different way of looking at things is sure to add value to company processes and selling strategies.

 The obvious benefit of being able to identify these ESF’s (Environmental Selling Factors) is increasing the number of sales people you have to choose from when hiring, thus improving the quality of sales talent in your organisation.  You can then focus on getting the person with the best selling skills with an aim to attract someone that is in the top 10% of sales people in Australia, rather than choosing from the one or two people you have in front of you from your competition.  If you did have people that only represented the top 10% of sales professionals, what could this do to your sales numbers over time?

The immediate challenge is learning how to identify the ESF’s in prospective CV’s and understanding the industries these candidates are likely to coming from.  If you’re like most successful sales managers, you’ve only worked in two to three industries over your time, so how are you to know the common ESF’s that others industries may share with your own?  This can take a lifetime of recruiting sales people or a strong recruitment partner that is able to be your ‘trusted advisor’ in your recruitment strategy development and deployment.  It may help to work with a specialist sales recruiter with many years experience to guide you through it and suggest industries to consider sales people from that have already mastered the ESF’s that exist within your industry.  If you’re short on such a contact, I can point you in the direction of a number of good consultants (cheap plug).

If you are a sales person looking to make a transition across industry, perhaps you can consider the above.  Which industries share the ESF’s that you have mastered over your career?  Perhaps these are the industries you should be pursuing. 

Without the common ESF’s, can a successful transition be made? 
Of course it can sometimes be made, with a healthy investment in professional development and plenty of time to be given to the prospective candidate to create success.  Unfortunately, not many companies are able to or are prepared to make such an investment.  However many acceptations are out there; companies that are more than prepared to make this investment in sales people early in their career.  Often the salary is not substantial at first as the company is investing in your development and is prepared to wait longer for their return on investment.  Unfortunately for those advanced in their sales career, asking $100,000 plus salary without any common ESF experience is unlikely to come off (of course there are exceptions).  This is due to the fact that this sort of salary normally demands a faster return on investment, larger result expectations, and lower risk (if you’ve not done it before, you are high risk, like it or not).

I hope this article has inspired you to lift the bar in considering what sales talent looks like and where it can be found.  There is no doubt in my mind that to create a world class sales team, you need to know how to identify talent outside of your own industry.  Identifying common ESF’s is the first step in widening the talent pool available to you.   Of course once you have a selection of talented sales people to choose from, you’ll need to learn how to employ situational and behavioral interview techniques to help determine which of the people you have in front of you has best performed in these common ‘Selling Environments’.

P.S. – For more sales insights, SUBSCRIBE for email updates.

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