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Archive for the ‘Sales Alignment’ Category

How does your Garden Grow?

July 8th, 2015 by Emily Nicholson
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Sales professionals know the hard fact: in the end, it really IS a numbers game.  But how those numbers actually run – whether in your favour or against you – has a lot to do with expanding your focus not only to the next deal, but investing deeply in more than one phase of your sales cycle at any given time.

Sales process can have a lot of analogies – consider gardening.  Most sales activities can be divided into three phases: 1) scatter and sow, 2) water and weed and 3) reap and re-plant.  It can be challenging to put a huge amount of effort into all three phases simultaneously, but maintaining a core focus in two of the three areas is crucial to filling your opportunity pipeline and achieving your revenue targets.

Scatter and sow: Many salespeople often love the acronym “ABC”, or “always be closing”.  But in order to close, you need to do the work up front and make sure you’re prospecting enough to bring in a variety of opportunities.  If you are in B2B sales, focus on new leads in existing accounts (farming): What cross-selling could you do in your existing accounts? Are there other divisions with whom you could potentially work?  What current success could you leverage to gain more business?  Similarly, focus on new business development (hunting): get outside your comfort zone and sell new products or solutions to new contacts. 

07.07.15 - How Does your Garden Grow_Emily Nicholson

Water and weed: every salesperson knows “you can’t win them all”.  Yet, as you pull opportunities through your pipeline or funnel, expert salespeople can identify crucial steps that help “water” the best opportunities and “weed out” that ones that aren’t as good.  As you learn more about the customer’s needs, consider what kind of “watering” would help.  Do you have a subject matter expert (internal product or technical specialist) who could add value to the customer’s business?  Act as a strategic orchestrator to align internal resources at the right time to move sales forward. Similarly, don’t be afraid to “weed out” your funnel: are you running after work that isn’t profitable or doesn’t fit your selling criteria? The time you spend on these less fruitful opportunities mean less time and attention for those with high-yield potential. Act early and make these decisions.

Reap and re-plant: Consider ways to accelerate closing the sale.  Are there objections that need to be correctly identified and overcome? Forum’s research shows that an objection actually helps you do one of three things: educate your customer, involve your customer or verify your customer is interested. Consider how you can accelerate the close: do you have a contact in a similar account who is delighted with the work you’ve done or the value you’ve provided? Don’t hesitate to offer making connections so that your prospect can hear it for themselves.  And once you’ve won the work, ask regularly for referrals: “Who else do you think would benefit in a partnership like this?”  Referrals can accelerate and grow revenue exponentially.

If you only focus on closing the sale, once the paperwork is signed you may find you have nothing in the pipeline (volume)!  Similarly, review your prospecting work and determine which opportunities could move faster (velocity).  By applying these principles, you can ensure that your “patch” is thriving at all times.

A Walk in the Buyers’ Shoes

June 3rd, 2015 by Ainsley McLeod
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06.03.15-A-walk-in-the-buyers-shoes-300x200A recent research by McKinsey identified that B2B buyers would on average use six different ways to interact with potential vendors to obtain the information they need to make their purchasing decision. Alarmingly, two thirds of buyers come away frustrated with the inconsistency of the experience. ¹

To me, the most critical component of a sales role is to understand what the buyer values. Then highlight that value through the solution on offer and use that to build on the relationship.

By understanding what they value you then understand what’s important to them and what’s driving the need to buy. This is a good way to appreciate the world within which they work and to spend a moment to walk in their shoes. The things I tend to consider are:


On a high level, business buyers are typically driven by two basic emotions – fear and aspiration. On a professional level they may fear that they will lose business or won’t be as successful as their competitors and aspire to achieve increased profits or improved efficiencies. For personal reasons, buyers are driven by the fear of loss of professional credibility and by aspirations to succeed and to be recognised within their organisations.

Naturally, business partnerships will be formed with the above in mind – most of them unknowingly. For successful sales conversations, it is essential to mirror these emotions and provide the best solutions to drive your prospective client’s professional and personal success. The objective of the partnership is to be beneficial and should not be a burden – quite the opposite. Empathy and looking at “what’s in it for the customer” will go a long way.  A good starting point is to question how your clients measure success and what is their overall business strategy. Your clients are not buying your solution’s benefits – they are buying the results. Describe how your products and services will have a quantifiable impact on your customer’s success and the company’s success as well as the impact on the customers’ customers, processes, and people.


Social networks and digital technologies are allowing for rapid progress in the area of collaboration. With the rapidly increasing number of users, the area of influence and interactions is not only widening, but also naturally increasing. With this impact in mind, internal and external collaborative networks directly impact the purchasing decisions. As a result of this shift, business buyers are becoming more consumer-like and sales executives are expected to have extensive knowledge about the business as well as the buyer’s individual profiles prior to the initial conversations. This makes the conversations much more personal, as both sides would have already reviewed the other person’s and company’s online profile prior to meeting face to face.

The decision making is also widely influenced by the brand’s online reputation and buyers often consider public opinion expressed online. They would also reach out to the online community for recommendations and feedback on their purchasing plans prior to making a decision. The increasing impact of social media is becoming a key factor in forming an opinion that is not based on what the brands themselves are presenting, but more so the voice of the wider public interacting with those brands.

Walking in the client’s shoes has a powerful impact on sales conversations as this enables a better understanding of key drivers and objectives and how to best match them. We are all people, so remembering the human side of sales will make those shoes walk much further.

¹Do you really understand how your business customers buy?, McKinsey & Company

The Importance of Being Where Your Client Is

May 20th, 2015 by Tom Gooderham
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businessman in airport

As I prepare to embark on another business trip abroad, I have the time to reflect on why this type of activity is still relevant?

With today’s ever so progressive technology, I can be on a Skype call, WebEx, Adobe Connect, Face Time, Lync etc. So why spend my time and the company’s travel budget on this? If you travel a lot for work, I bet you ask yourself the same question. Well, one of the best pieces of advice I got when I started my career was to ‘be where the client is’ and it is fair to say that I took that on board. In fact I had enough air miles for two First Class BA tickets from London to Delhi by the age of 30! But the question is, ‘Why be where the client is’?

My point of view is that in order to sell globally one needs to understand the cultural dynamics of doing business in different regions. I work in a people business (and to that extent we all do) and in order to earn the right to engage in commercial conversations with a customer, it’s not only vital to have that inherent knowledge of how your product or service will benefit them, but also how do you position it to them.


Engaging with clients from a different country or culture requires acquainting yourself with the basics in advance – something as simple as online research will yield several web sites with information and resources to help you understand cultural norms and cautions.  When meeting customers face to face, simple gestures and body language can mean wildly different things in different cultures. For example, sitting casually with a foot resting on the opposite knee is showing one’s foot, which is a highly offensive gesture in the Middle East; and although shaking hands is common practice in the west, it may be deemed inappropriate when working in different regions.  Having sight of these differences can prevent awkward and somewhat embarrassing situations occurring just by getting the basics right.

There are also clues in what I like to call the ‘Opening Pleasantries’. Take cues from the other person’s communication style – what they say before they start talking about business is a clue about the individual’s communication preference. Remember Wolf of Wall Street? The Swiss Banker scene? ‘Excusez Moi Jorden, Swiss culture requires 10mins of ‘chit chat’ before business can be discussed!’ A comedy example, yes, but the sentiment is there. Having an understanding of how to position yourself early on in any client meeting or interaction can be quite crucial to the overall success of that meeting and any longer term relationship that you are hoping to develop. Anyone who’s seen that movie knows that particular relationship didn’t go that well!


In addition to thinking about both your verbal on non-verbal communication, it’s also important to think about your attire and etiquette. Sounds simple, right? But that said, be prepared to dress professional when meeting people in certain regions, or specific industries. Not all business etiquette accepts the causal business attire often advocated by the US and the UK. I remember meeting with a Japanese client in London a few years ago and being advised by a manager who had worked in Asia that it’s important to always wait to be directed to your seat for a meeting, as the seating indicates the status of the meeting’s participants and that I should always wait for the leader of the meeting to finish and remain seated until the leader stands at the end of the meeting.

Respecting and understanding these types of cultural manners is something that is key to relationship building and is easy to do. There are a number of good books on the market related to communication and etiquette when working with different cultures so there is really no excuse for getting it wrong.

So in summary, in the information age it’s possible to do business wherever you want, whenever you want without ever leaving your office or home! That said, with businesses becoming more and more competitive with many products and services becoming commodity sooner, compacted by the ability for customers to use technology to identify solutions and find providers at the click of a button; being where the customer is and doing business in a way that is respectful and in line with their cultural preferences may be your differentiator when looking to generate business in the highly competitive environment.

Taking Pride in Using the “S” Word

April 14th, 2015 by Ainsley McLeod
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04.14.15 - Using the S word.jpgSales in the English language is defined as “the exchange of a commodity for money”

Unfortunately it is often perceived as buyer manipulation. Hence the reason many sales professionals can sometimes feel hesitant to talk about their roles in anticipation that they will be perceived negatively.  However, quite the opposite is true. Selling represents the foundation and life blood of every private business and the discipline requires a complex set of consulting skills, including the classic skills of asking questions and listening to address the buyer’s needs and expectations. Sales is a fundamental part of any client facing role, whether we are aware or not and therefore we should all take pride in using the “S Word”.

Businesses with the aim of growing and increasing revenue are the engine that drives the global economy. All departments in private organisations whether you’re in HR, IT or Operations are there to support the sales and revenue generating activity. This directly impacts the quality of life in general and supports ongoing innovation in all directions; which would not be possible without the sales functions and the ability of businesses to find, win and keep customers. The difference between selling to consumers and businesses is gradually eliminating, as it purely comes down to selling between humans.

It’s not companies or brands who sell – it’s the people behind them. Customers expect consistent value and beneficial relationships from suppliers based on trust and interdependence, which goes way beyond transactional sales. In fact, the initial approach and first purchase are only the first steps in building customer relationships. It’s customer loyalty that truly drives sales. Selling is no longer a matter of communicating the features and benefits of products and services – to stand out its necessary to communicate the unique value proposition linked directly to the buyer’s perspective.

In a highly competitive market where there are a number of organisations that offer identical products and services, at times it can be the buying experience that differentiates businesses. Buyers form their opinions on the initial experience which then impacts their choices. The sales executive’s challenge is to influence the decision making and make steps to eliminate the competition.

Knowingly or unknowingly we are all sales people. Every interaction creates a perception of the individual and the brand they represent which directly or indirectly impacts buying behaviours. People buy from people and they prefer to buy from people they like. Therefore the importance of personal approach that treats all clients as individuals is the one that creates long term value on both sides. It’s not companies or brands who sell – it’s the people behind them.

To be able to guide prospects and customers through the buying journey, sales executives are required to master their interpersonal skills, product knowledge, questioning and listening skills – all of this whilst managing their stakeholders expectations and handling their objections. Yet, sales executives are not formally educated and need to adapt to the changing requirements of the role on individual basis.

The complexity and the requirements of sales roles are extensive and varied, but it takes specific skillset and attitude to succeed. Everyone utilising these skills on a daily basis should speak proudly of what they do.

Forum Named a Top 20 Sales Training Company by for Fifth Consecutive Year

March 24th, 2015 by Brian Hawthorne
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The Forum Corporation is once again pleased to announce that we have been named a Top 20 Sales Training Company by for a fifth consecutive year! This award would not be possible without the continued relationships of our exceptional clients and partners who work with us to help salespeople develop strategy-specific skills and improve their overall performance. compiles its annual Top 20 Sales Training Companies list to continually monitor the training marketplace for the best providers of outstanding service, and a proven track record for delivering superior sales training and improving the impact of the sales organization.

2015 - selected us based on the following criteria:

  • Industry recognition and impact on the sales training industry
  • Innovation in the sales training market
  • Company size and growth potential
  • Breadth of service offering
  • Strength of clients served
  • Geographic reach

In addition to our clients, we would also like to thank for this award.

The Business Impact of Sales Coaching

July 24th, 2014 by The Forum Corporation
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Earlier this year, Forum and the Sales Management Association conducted a survey of sales manager and leaders from over 200 companies to discover the impact that coaching has on sales organizations. Many businesses recognize that sales coaching is one of the most powerful tools at a sales leader’s disposal, yet many fail to implement it effectively.

This infographic looks at the impact of sales coaching on the bottom line, challenges facing sales managers as they attempt to coach their teams, plus shares four practical tips to improve sales coaching.

For more information on the results of our  sales coaching survey, you can download the full report or watch an on-demand webinar.


Sales and Solitaire

January 16th, 2014 by Emily Nicholson
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solitaire and salesHappy New Year!  Yes, it’s that time again when B2B salespeople all over the world turn over a new page.  Everything is possible!  Prospecting, hunting, farming, it’s all necessary as your milestone sales figures are now part of last year’s history.

Over the holiday break, I got to thinking that working in sales has a lot of similarities to playing solitaire.  In sales, in solitaire and in life, you have some control over the game, but you must start by playing the hand you are dealt.

Point One: “Some days are diamonds, and some days are dust”.  Sometime games are quite easy and everything falls together very quickly, winning the game with a minimum number of plays.  Some sales are like this and salespeople can use their skills, their thinking and their networks to advance sales like these.  I’ve found that referral sales are similar to a quick, winning solitaire game:  you start off with a better hand as the referral builds your credibility and momentum faster than with a “cold” lead.   We all know we should ask for referrals, and many of us intend to.  How many have you already asked for in January, 2014?

Some days in sales are “dust.”  I remember one GM telling me, “Emily, if the day starts out badly, you might as well go home and start tomorrow.”  While I am sure every salesperson (and sales manager!) has an opinion on this, my perspective is that salespeople can’t have a bad day.  Due to the roller coaster nature of our jobs and having many sales deals going at the same time (all with their own challenges, client value and revenue amounts), a salesperson should only have a bad 15 minutes!  If your hands of cards are all coming up difficult to win, shuffle the deck, take a break and start again.  The analogy?  Shake it off and set aside time to think.  Maybe ask a colleague’s advice, or pause and find a referral to pursue, and then jump back in to the difficult scenario.

Point Two:  Don’t be afraid to take two steps back to get a win.  In playing solitaire, sometimes if you “undo” some of the plays you’ve made when you’ve hit a dead end, you can find a way to win the game.  This isn’t quick and it isn’t most salespeople’s preference.  However a valuable lesson is provided here for sales:  sometimes you need to go back to the client, clarify their feedback and then re-propose. You can often still win the business, though it may take a bit longer.

Point Three:  “We could be Royals…” Sometimes the opening set-up has no face cards.  Frequently this is a sign of a “go-nowhere” hand.  This is where strategic thinking and working our networks really comes into play.  Am I working “higher, wider, deeper” in this account?  Or do I only know one or two people?  Get senior stakeholders involved as soon as you can, after first “earning the right.”

Point Four: Lay the Foundation – When I was growing up in Boston, my grandmother loved to play solitaire (although she called it “Canfield”).  One of the lessons she taught me is to always get your Aces out early.  Lay a strong foundation with clients and pay your dues; don’t take shortcuts, but make sure to find the real need early on and build from there.

Sometimes, no matter what you do, it doesn’t come through in the end. But just like in  solitaire, the more hands you play and the more you learn, the more you will win.  Get involved, learn from your mistakes (and the “dud” hands) and keep playing, over and over again.  You’ll win more games — and more business.

Sales and Service Intertwined: The Future of Retail Banking Success

September 5th, 2013 by The Forum Corporation
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In the financial sector, the only constant is change. Well, perhaps not the only constant. Yet it is virtually impossible to speak to anyone in the financial sector without mentioning change or uncertainty as a driving topic of conversation.

With that in mind, most financial professionals are all but too aware of the fickle nature in today’s retail banking customer. Numerous surveys have resoundingly concluded that more than 50% of retail banking customers today would consider changing banks within the next six months. Furthermore, Gallup has concluded that of all the factors affecting a customer’s loyalty, positive experiences resonated most as driving factors for customers staying where they are.

This insight begs the million (or perhaps billion) dollar question: how do banks transform a positive customer experience into long-term loyalty?

Deliver Service Experience

The first step involved in delivering a differentiated customer experience relates to the execution of such, as this is the first impression that will be made on any customer.

So how do you transform a customer experience into something that is truly unique and differentiated from the competition? At Forum, we have found that thinking backwards, or, having the end goal in mind before you even think to design the solution, is best.

To think backwards and truly transform your service model, you have to start with

  • A comprehensive profile of each client type that is served by the financial firm
  • The driving principles of client service and factors of service quality that resonate most with your prospective customer base

Once the above have been identified, you are ready to begin considering what the ideal client-interaction model might be. It is important to keep in mind that a positive customer experience is not necessarily differentiated from your competition. Think of customer experience/service as if it were akin to writing a 3 minute speech – value must be provided with every interaction, along every turn of the way (or in every line, as is the case with a compelling speech).

Linking Sales Skills to Customer Experience & Transforming Engagement

In our experience delivering results in sales transformation and customer engagement, there seem to be a few common denominators that unite these two areas of focus. The following skill-sets transcend both sales and customer experience:

  • Connecting – Establishing a personal bond with the customer.
  • Encouraging – Keeping the customer participating in the interaction.
  • Questioning – Gaining in-depth information about the customer’s situation, needs, and problems.
  • Confirming – Ensuring that the interaction is explicit and specific to the needs of the customer.
  • Providing – Share information and insight that creates a clear, positive image of you, and bonds the customer and employee together in a mutually trusting relationship.

Whilst instilling the above drivers will assuredly create a positive experience, which will serve to stabilize your existing customer base, the smooth execution will lead to a differentiated experience that empowers customer advocates with compelling stories and a will to share them.

A large part of how leaders channel the power of employees lies in creating the leadership climate that enables employees to deliver the experience that ‘sticks’.  In our experience, connecting, encouraging, questioning, confirming and providing do just that.

So I’d like to end this story with two questions: What value have you placed on sales through service in your organization? and, Where are you in the process of defining your own differentiated experience?

How to be a successful sales manager

June 5th, 2013 by The Forum Corporation
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Sales managers have to wear many hats.  They have to develop the sales strategy, make sure that their team is hitting their sales figures, coach and motivate all while developing and driving sales strategy.  Most sales managers were promoted into their roles because they were excellent salespeople, but being a successful sales manager isn’t as much about being a great salesperson, as it is about leadership skills and business sense.

What can a sales manager do to ensure success? In this article for The Guardian, Managing Director of Forum EMEA, Graham Scrivener, shares three areas that a sales manager should focus on to get to the next level of sales management success.  You can read it here.

What do you think it takes to be a successful sales manager? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social media.

Winning with Point of View Selling—Despite Constraints

March 28th, 2013 by The Forum Corporation
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Selling is going through a bit of a transformation.  An emerging practice is challenging the established approach of consultative selling.  It goes by several names, including challenger selling and insight selling—but they all focus on the notion of proactively bringing compelling ideas to customers that demonstrate significant value.  As we’ve written about in some previous posts here and here, Forum defines this practice as Point of View (POV) selling.

Our recent practitioner work and research has led us to see an issue that organizations are struggling with related to POV selling. As we’ve spoken about in our webinar, this approach to selling can be especially relevant in the sale of complex, multi-faceted solutions, where the selling organization has significant room to creatively redefine value, integrate offerings, customize, and invent.  In contrast to this, organizations with more fixed offerings are asking questions like:  “Can we apply POV selling to what we do?” and, “How creative can we be around defining value beyond our core products?”  Our recent work with a top-10 pharmaceuticals company provided a unique context to answer these questions.

A critical function for a pharmaceuticals company is its managed markets area, working with a wide range of healthcare organizations to get their products “on formulary,” or positioned optimally to be prescribed to patients.  Dramatic changes in the healthcare industry and significant competitive pressures prompted this pharmaceuticals company to consider POV selling—looking for ways to bring new ideas and sources of value to their customers.  However, not only are their products highly targeted to specific disease states, but they also must speak to the impact of each drug in precise ways, carefully regulated by their compliance organization and outside entities.

So, can managed markets sales people in a pharmaceuticals company use POV selling, in the midst of these kinds of constraints?  The answer is yes, though our work with them took a different approach than with other organizations.  We placed a premium on idea-sharing.  It turned out that the elite-performing sales people across the group were experimenting with unique sources of value that they could control (vs. needing to be funded heavily by the company) and that weren’t affected by compliance considerations.  We interviewed these high performers, designed and facilitated brief POV Selling sessions at their National Conference, and are in the midst of rolling out a series of highly tailored webinars throughout the year—focusing on how to blend the best thinking from across their organization, with the research-based POV Selling practices that we’ve defined for high-performing sales people.

Perhaps the best way for me to bring this work to life is to give an example of a bold point-of-view that one account director was able to implement with one of their key customers.  The customer was a healthcare provider in the southern United States.   The pharmaceuticals company wanted to create greater awareness for cardio-vascular health, which was relevant to several of their products—The healthcare organization wanted to target the Hispanic population in their state (a practice called Population Health Management).  The point-of-view/idea prompted by the Account Director was for the two organizations to collaborate together to put on a Heart Healthy Weekend event— where the organizations co-delivered promotional radio spots in Spanish and in English, co-sponsored the event, provided a range of interactive and educational activities, and had a significant impact on the heart health awareness for this key population, creating a win-win for both parties

This was one of many points-of-view that these sales people have been able to proactively bring to their managed markets customers—demonstrating that they can gain the benefits of Point of View Selling, despite the important constraints in which they need to operate.

For more information on POV Selling and to download the POV Selling toolkit, please visit