Category Archives: Lighting the dark side

Strive to challenge your assumptions
To shine a light in the dark, you must first find the dark

Ideas for a Sales “Game Changer”

The pendulum always swings.

The marketplace creates chaotic attractors; whether it is through constant tension between consumer and vendor, between commodity and complexity, centralisation or decentralisation or just plain human indecision.

Chaotic Double Pendulum

“Mastering The Complex Sale” is not a book for anyone supplying an item as a commodity, it talks of the chasm between the value driven complex sale and the simpler process of self service. Whether the “swing” attracts us to the commodity in the cloud, or a complex enterprise architecture it is “value” that drives us. The attractor of Cloud/SaaS serves to provide simplicity as it’s commodity.

Contemplating these thoughts while on a break in Bali (where a dress comes in “one size fits all”) invokes one to examine the bridge from commodity to true value. In Bali making it all work comes by way of jewelry: “Accessory Partnership Innovations” or API’s… not much different really.

But I digress. Building a “Diagnostic Business Development” framework is critical, making one that remains impervious to the foibles of the market pendulum is essential, and beyond the scope of “Mastering the Complex Sale”.

The book convincingly advises on avoiding the danger of promoting customer-self-diagnosis through an “Era 2” sales process suggesting that commoditisation reduces everything to price. This is in stark contrast to “Era 3” value creation (which benefits both customer and vendor).

Star Fort

Looking at what we do  I can see alignment with the philosophy, and an intuitive alignment to attaining a mastery of the complex sale. Reading the epilogue of the book I get to “Choose a Side”. But that’s where I hesitate and consider bastions against market tides.

What if a product was able to reach both those seeking a commodity as well as those seeking further complex value propositions? How would this work? Choosing a side is not as simple as segmenting a company, this creates silos (itself against the grain of the book). What is needed is a way to “have our cake and eat it too”.

The Game Changer

In part the “commodity” problem is fueled by:

  • Complex procurement processes that pay lip service to the philosophy of “value for money”;
  • Commodity products that fuel this procurement process;
  • Business silos that try to work around the system through tendering with specifications that have been fed to them by commodity vendors.

Sales and Procurement has become a game. Once you accept this then it is simply a question of how to stay ahead of the game?

Game Changer

So, this series of blogs has the sole purpose of exploring the next move after the “Mastering of the Complex Sale”. It is also about the practical implementation of Diagnostic Business Development within the sales and peripheral support structures. While calling it an “Era 4 Holistic Sales” process may be pretentious and premature (as it may only be relevant to certain industries), it is certainly relevant to the strategy being played out at Amristar, and the delivery of market relevant geospatial software solutions.

The next move?

The next move is really quite simple, but it has some fundamental requirements that must be true before the move can be played:

Chess moves
  • The organisation must have some appreciation of the complex sale
  • The organisation must have a product which can be projected as a commodity (with value)
  • The organisation must be able to articulate the bridge from a commodity product to creating further value (which is complex).

In other words to attain “Era 4”


Must aspire:

  1. To transcended Era 3 mastery of the complex sale
  2.  To have understood Era 1
  3. … and Era 2

    Spiral dynamics image
    Transcending through Spiral dynamics

A fabulous read on this topic across human development is spiral dynamics and integral theory.

Sales must also understand that the commodity offering is a tributary to the complex sale and Diagnostic Business Development process. It doesn’t make the job easier. just different

The organisation

Has likely self diagnosed a need to reduce the barrier to entry (technically, politically and commercially). It must be truly invested in it.

Attaining this practically?

Is the organisation shipshape? Is Value integrated into the company?

There are still many aspects of the organisation that need to be carefully and strategically aligned in avoiding “Value Leakage”. For successful Diagnostic Business Development this leakage must be minimised in the chain of supply (through to Sales and beyond).

Thull mentions these as:

  • Research and Development
  • Marketing
  • Pre-Sale Technical Support
  • Post Sale support
  • Human  Resources
  • Procurement

Obviously this needs comprehensive buy-in and spans across more than simply the Sales business unit.

There are systems such as the Hoshin Kanri management model, that through a hierarchy of Kanban boards can maintain focus on “the customer as the focal point of all activity”.

Alignment attained at the management levels need to percolate down through to execution:

This needs sales feedback on what the customers perceive of as value, and then monitoring its delivery across the whole chain. But a entrepreneurial  business needs more than that; it needs to try, fail fast, learn and move on.

Thull’s Complex sale is aspirational. If the product is complex from inception to realisation Thull’s mastery of the complex sale must be applied, primarily through education: Self education as to the customers problem; and then customer education as to the delivery of a valuable solution.

Commoditisation – it’s not such a dirty word

So what if you could commoditise the educational process into the product. It isn’t only conceivable in the software environment through SaaS but it is already being done!

This allows potential customers to realise the value for themselves. Done properly it allows the Business Development Manager to assist the customer in engaging at the level they need. This will be somewhere between simple pedagogy and the deep-end. The BDM becomes a teacher. The steps: Discover, Diagnose, Design & Deliver don’t change materially, only in substance.

The notion that “there is no such thing as a solution without a quantifiable problem that clarifies customer value” merely needs the organisation to work towards the bricks and mortar of solutions.

Commoditisation is thus reinvented as “sophistication  made readily and easily available”

And then comes the detail…

Other business units are likely to have different requirements and therefore different tools. A CRM is a typical example of where Sales will need a different tool and other areas such as Marketing, HR, Procurement, and even pre-post sale support may require a different suite for their function to be successful.

In all of this there are two facets of the business that will be key to the sustained delivery of Diagnostic Business Development: Training and Operations, the latter an overarching business unit not mentioned in Thull.

The “Dark” Side

Even with the best intentions the conclusion is inevitable.

It came from two of my core beliefs… they ambushed me:
  • Strive to challenge your assumptions
  • To shine a light in the dark, you must first find the dark
Shine a light in the dark

My father may have seen it in me. The seed doesn’t fall far from the tree and I was the seed of a Salesman. He fostered his thoughts but I saw the allure of logic, it seemed to offer a greater truth.

I struggled, I fought, I challenged his assumption

…eventually I challenged mine.

Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably. But to be of any use this story must start in the middle. It must leave behind where I’ve been, start from where I am, and evolve to where I will go.

So where am I?

I am in “Sales”. There I’ve said it.


Whether you call it “business development”, “sales consultant”, “sales executive”, “business consultant” or “pre-sales” the Faustian brush of “sales” brands you as a servant of Mephistopheles. So here I am on the dark side. Now I hope to shine a light.

I know I’ve honed my skills of logic and problem diagnostics, I’ve been in technical sales, I’ve seen and fought commoditisation, I’ve met and worked with good and bad sales professionals. Now how does one create a real spark? Fortunately others have tread that path and they align with the parable my father used to tell (whether it is true or not no longer matters).

He was in a bar. He’d just got some award for his sales target. After some probing his associate leaned over and challenged him:
“If you’r such a good salesman sell me this!”. With that he slammed a box of matches on the bar.
“Sure,” he said, and with this simply pocketed the matches.
The other salesman must have looked a little self satisfied at first and then frustrated because his game wasn’t being played with his rules. “Well, when are you going to start selling me those matches?”
“When you need a cigarette”
I imagine he then simply took another sip of his beer, and that the other salesman may have hesitated before saying “OK, you’ve made your point. Now give me my matches back”.

Knowing my Dad he might have said “As much as I’d love to I also need money to buy the final round of beer.”

He was a self professed devils advocate, and in no small part from his influence I moved from science to IT, through pre-sales and eventually set my flag firmly in sales. From the outset I eschewed one end of the sales spectrum at funeral insurance and used cars (probably much maligned). I also had to acknowledge that even in academia there is salesmanship where the commodity is ideas, and the currency a successful grant application. But I struggled at the other end of the spectrum where the melange of “sales” seem to fly under the radar.

Mastering the Complex Sale

Looking into your glazed eyes I know I need to stop talking, or say something you can identify with.

The sales canvas that I have to work with in my current role is not pristine. It has been painted upon and re-used several times. We are replete with fabulous innovations and ideas and have had some marked successes, but we must learn to play in the major league or dwindle and fade. The products we offer have real vision, benefit and value, the technical details of which will make the eyes glaze over for even the most stalwart coffee laden listener. We debate constantly about messaging and differentiation. We can see it, why can’t others?

Are we deceiving ourselves? I think not. Our customers are some of the most loyal and best advocates for us. We see them as evangelists that seem to be struggling with the same messages and differentiation that we do. We have used our products to solve some of the most challenging issues in the largest of enterprises. We have solved complex issues, we’ve done so with a complex solution. We do not want to cheapen the value but we are reducing the barrier to entry and complexity of access. All good stuff!

I recently noticed “Mastering the Complex Sale” by Jeff Thull in an airport. I got it from Amazon, I’ve read it front-to-back, and now I want to implement it back-to-front.

Why arse about face?

Map Upside down

It really is about perspective.

The book details, in a structured way, the challenges faced by the complex sale from “Discovery” through to “Delivery”. Throughout these early chapters it provides strategies to change the way you think. By the end of this process you are “sold” on the idea. Maybe not the whole thing all at once but enough to be convinced that you need to start thinking in terms of an “Era 3” sales approach and evolve with it

The closing chapters then tell you how to “Build a Value Driven Sales Organisation” and “Prevent Value Leakage”. In a strong sense it practices what it preaches. It has worked with me to develop a natural transition to adoption and then arms me with the means to become a part of the process.

So from the back cover forwards what then is value leakage? and why is preventing it so important?

Let’s get back to our reused canvas. We’re not attached to what’s there, I will have to start to reshape the strategy for sales and marketing. Fortunately the “technology” canvas we’ve adopted is flexible enough to adapt, but to what?  I have the opportunity to reuse what I can and throw out what I don’t

The bigger picture

In order to implement an Era 3 sales system needs to have the fertile soil of the other facets of the business to grow upon.

Preventing Value Leakage opens with:

“Value is the lifeblood of the business world. Value – in the form of improved efficiency effectiveness and ultimately , profit – is the only thing that business to business customers are interested in buying”

Value leakage diminishes the business and since the point of egress for a company’s product is sales it is often sales that bears the brunt of its effects. No matter what value is native at the ideal company it leaks through R&D, Marketing, Pre-sales, Post Sales, HR and Procurement. The company needs “alignment” with minimising value leakage before value can be sold. It needs buy in.

The next installment will be how we get the buy in going. It will be a process of defining our value from the opposing shores of our R&D and Customer ends, identifying roughly where the supports of marketing and branding fit and then building the bridge towards the middle.