Rethinking Renewals

A big deal is in the funnel; a must win, a secure deal – it’s a renewal. This one will make the quarter a great success. We all know this situation and the feeling when such a “must win deal” is lost. Hectic win/loss reviews are conducted to understand what has happened. Often, a competitor came out of nowhere, changed the game and won the deal.

Every customer makes every decision differently – every time

Underestimating this fact – that every customer makes every decision differently, every time – can lead to four “renewal pitfalls,” especially in complex sales:

  • The sales team feels over-confident and doesn’t pay enough attention to the current buying situation. Copying the previous approach is a dangerous behavior. Every buying situation is different.
  • Sales managers don’t pay enough attention to renewals, especially in the early phases of the deal when coaching can have the most impact.
  • Sales professionals are not involved early enough, based on the false belief that there is no customer awareness phase in the renewal. That’s dangerous, too. The awareness phase for renewals exists, but it is different.
  • If the renewal is based on an RFP, many sales organizations have a tendency to declare the deal a must win deal and to announce executive sponsors. But that’s too late to make a real difference in terms of approach and value creation. The customers have already made up their minds how to approach the situation this time.

The lesson here is that a renewal is a deal, and it must be sold, just like any other deal.

Context matters, and context is different in every buying situation

The sales team has to engage with existing customers very early in their new customer’s journey. The key is to analyze the current customer’s context precisely, from an environmental and a situational perspective. What has changed and what hasn’t? Are the decision makers the same? What is different or no longer relevant to the customer? Is the capability being used to its full potential? How happy is the customer? Has the expected value been created? What are their desired results and wins this time? Analyzing the customer’s current financial situation and how it may have changed since the previous contract is an essential foundation. Understanding the current business strategy is another key element. The approach has to be connected to the customer’s business strategy and to their financial situation. Often, a deep understanding of these elements opens additional possibilities for creating new value for the customers. A renewal should be treated as a new opportunity with all the advantages of knowing the past and the ambition to create extraordinary value for the customers.

Orchestrating the customer community to build a shared vision of future success

In complex buying environments, sales teams have to orchestrate and lead many different stakeholders that build the customer community. If buying decisions involve different functions, such as technology and business, very different buyer roles with different concepts about this particular purchase have to be aligned. The challenge for any sales professional is to establish a shared vision of future success, together with the network of stakeholders, the customer community. Based on the unique context and understanding the stakeholders’ different concepts leads to a deeper understanding how this customer community is going to make a decision this time. Building a shared vision of future success requires a salesperson’s individual expertise to address each buyer role with content and messages they need to feel comfortable in their role to make a decision to change. Without this shared vision of success – that will be different from the last contract – the customer community will never make a buying decision. Some salespeople believe that a renewal has nothing to do with changing the current state or solving an issue. That’s not the case. If your services are not required to achieve a certain result or a better future state, customers will never buy. Why should they?

Developing a customer community by providing perspective

Developing a customer community doesn’t happen by accident. It’s based on a systematic customer core engagement and messaging principle called providing perspective. Dynamic value messages play a central role, tailored to each stage of the customer’s journey and to each buyer role. Sales enablement not only has to provide those value messages; it also has to make sure that salespeople learn how to apply those value messages effectively. Sales professionals who can successfully provide perspective bring to the table their experience and professionalism, their skills and competencies, their knowledge base and their adaptive competencies. They know how to quickly adjust behavior, activities and messages to a specific situation. That also includes addressing different buyer roles, even if it feels uncomfortable. Sales enablement’s job is to develop salespeople’s messaging capabilities to feel comfortable in those conversations. Applying providing perspectives as an engagement and messaging principle helps to establish a shared future vision of success and to win the customer’s business – again.

Change the renewal game on your own – before a competitor does!

Enabling Principles To Develop Salespeople’s Adaptive Skills

Let me start by defining a couple of terms that I’ll be using throughout this article.

Principles provide guidance that are based on an organization’s core values how to deal with different customer situations. Principles require interpretation and adaption to the specific situation. Instead, rules are clearly defined statements with almost no space for interpretation. Rules define what and how to do in a certain sequence, given a defined situation.

Demanding, complex buyer networks require adaptive sales professionals

Today’s customers are very demanding and more risk averse than the customer from a few years ago. The number of involved customer stakeholders is growing, and buying processes are more formalized than ever. Decisions are no longer based on features and functions but on financial business performance criteria. Furthermore, every customer makes every decision differently, every time, which makes every sale different. Sales professionals have to learn, unlearn and relearn very quickly due to those changing buying environments. That covers all areas of knowledge, selling and problem solving capabilities. Therefore, an adaptive mind set is the prerequisite to remain successful even in complex environments.

Navigating complexity – principles are key to success

When embedded in a framework, principles, defined as guidelines (see above), and based on core values, such as providing perspectives, can be easily adjusted to those different and complex situations. Rules wouldn’t be flexible enough for complex environments. A customer’s journey has iterations, especially in the early phases. The more customer stakeholders learn, and the more new stakeholders get involved with different concepts, the more likely they will step back and tackle the challenge again from a different perspective. Ideally, a sales professional has provided a more value-creating perspective and caused such iteration. The flexibility of principles combined with the ability of the sales professional to apply those principles fast to new situations is an A-Player’s recipe for success.

Enabling Principles

Sales principles are focused to create a specific value for customers to help them achieve their goals. In parallel, they help to move deals forward. Sales enablement has to define those principles how to achieve each stage of the customer’s journey, derived from the sales methodology. As an example, the principle for the awareness phase could be to develop a shared vision of the customer’s desired future state to drive their desired results. There are multiple ways achieve such a shared future vision of success. But the success depends on the customer’s specific context, the stakeholder’s different concepts, and the sales professionals’ decision dynamic expertise and their adaptive capabilities to adopt principles to a specific situation fast and effectively.

Sales enablement has to build frameworks with enablement modules addressing those principles. Design point as always is: customers at the core.

  • Level one is the knowledge foundation. It covers packaging content modules stage per stage in interactive and dynamic playbooks. And it teaches how to use them effectively.
  • Level two is the skill foundation, it’s about all relevant selling capabilities, mostly provided as training services.
  • Level three makes the difference. It’s about training the sales professional’s adaptive capabilities based on the provided knowledge and methods. Training to create impact has to be an ongoing, consistent practice to achieve world-class performance. It has to be reinforced with a connected coaching practice by the front line sales managers.

Level three training – “selling simulation” would be the better word – is about practicing business awareness in different conversations with different stakeholders at different stages in different situations, but in a safe environment.

Enabling and sharpening adaptive skills is the missing piece in sales enablement that equips sales professionals to play in the Premier League, to deliver significant results in today’s complex and fast changing buying environments.

How do you equip your sales professionals’ adaptive skills?

What Sales Professionals and Formula 1 Drivers Have In Common

Formula 1 races are fascinating: Different races, different courses with different challenges, but they’re all based on the same rules that define how to win. The combination of speed, competition, precision, skills, and unwavering desire to improve using state-of-the-art technology is truly inspiring.

In the world of professional selling, every customer and every deal have different challenges. Sales professionals work in a defined playfield such as territories or accounts, the sales process and compensation plans, with rules that define how to sell and how to win.


Professionals show up every day, are always prepared and focused to master the relevant techniques. Professionals hold themselves accountable for their performance, and they accept no excuses. Furthermore, professionals are courageous, switch off distractions, prioritize carefully, share, and collaborate.

Professionalism is a prerequisite for both professions to be successful. Performance accountability is what separates the wheat from the chaff. Formula 1 drivers hold themselves accountable for their own and their team’s success. Sales professionals hold themselves accountable for their sales performance and for the customer’s results and wins. They make sure that the value gets delivered to exceed the customer’s expectations. As Formula 1 drivers never blame the course if they didn’t win the race, sales professionals never blame the sales process or the customer’s buying process if they didn’t win the deal. Instead, both take advantage of a given course or process and make the best out of it – to win.

Unlearning and relearning

The difference between good and great is the ability to unlearn and to relearn quickly. For a Formula 1 driver that’s a different set of rules or new technology that requires to unlearn old and to learn new skills. For a sales professional who was once a successful product seller, it’s the big shift from “I have to sell a product” to “I love to solve my customer’s problems.” That’s the ability to unlearn all kind of product pitches that were all about a vendor, a product or a service. New selling skills have to be mastered that are all about the customers, their specific context, their concepts, their desired results and wins. Product pitches have to be unlearned, providing perspective has to be relearned.

Competition and conscious collaboration

Formula 1 drivers and sales professionals are always in competition. That’s the case in every sport. Only in sales as a function compared to other functions in an organization are there competitors who work as hard as we do, who are dedicated as strong as we are and who want to win what we want to win – the customer’s business.

Both professionals are also aware of the need to collaborate. Formula 1 drivers know that collaboration across the team is the foundation for their success on the course. The sales professional knows that complex deals can only be won by a cross-functional team that collaborates consciously with the customer’s stakeholder network. Sales professionals lead those selling and buying teams to be able to meet the customer expectations at each stage along their entire buying process.

Based on organizational attributes, individual behaviors make the difference between good and great, between world class and all others. The Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study 2014 identified those individual behaviors in this short video.


Providing Perspective – A Customer Core Principle

Playing football/soccer on a regional level is different from playing football in the Premier League or the Champions League. Mental preparation, fitness, agility, training, coaching – all these requirements build on each other, but their characteristics and their intensity are different on each level. It’s a journey to get from one level to the next level.

In professional selling, we have come a long way. The industrial age was about mass marketing – product, place, promotion, and price. Product pitches were the results: “This is what we sell to you.” Then, selling solutions and invisible services became the core challenge. Capabilities were mapped to verticals and typical customer challenges. Selling evolved to presentations, meaning “this is what we sell to people like you.” Now, we are in the relationship economy, the customer age – you name it. More important than different names is what they all have in common. It used to be that sales professionals knew more. But since the internet changed the world, there is no longer a significant information asymmetry between sales professionals and customers. That does not necessarily mean though that because buyers are more informed, they know a whole lot better. Often, they are more confused, because their context, their concepts, their specific situation are missing. The consequence must be to change the design point of “how to sell.”

Changing the design point to the customer at the core

Providing perspective is an engagement and messaging approach that works consequently backwards from the main design point – the customer’s journey and the stakeholders’ network. It’s about “this is how you can achieve your goals.” It is about understanding the specific situational context, understanding the stakeholder’s different concepts on how to fix a problem, and how to avoid a risk or how to accomplish a goal. Context and concepts are essential, but not enough to design a unique perspective. Understanding how this customer is going to make this decision at this time – this is the key differentiator to orchestrate an entire stakeholder network toward a shared future vision of success.

Based on context, concepts and the specific decision dynamic, the mapping process to your own portfolio of products and services takes place. The purpose is to design a unique approach that connects the dots to this specific buying context, the stakeholder’s concepts, their situational dynamic, and enables them to achieve their desired outcomes.

Providing perspective requires more than enabling a sales professional with content on products and services and product training. Enablement functions need to sharpen their scope to improve a sales professional’s skills, his or her knowledge on verticals, challenges, buyer roles and their challenges, and specific customer management strategies. Additionally, leading and orchestrating large stakeholder networks is a differentiating skill – especially in complex buying environments.

Enabling perspectives requires sales enablement to evolve the discipline to the next level – that means to shift the design point from the customer core, to integrate currently missing elements and to redefine the scope of enablement content and training services.
Enabling perspectives and defining the next level of sales force enablement – Join me in Chicago for the SAVO Sales Enablement Summit, April 15-17!


The Difference Between Simplification and Simplicity

If only it was this simple: Hire to a sales stereotype, give them a pitch and turn ’em loose. Sales experience – not necessary. You need critical thinkers preferably without a sales background.  How did the sales profession miss something so… simple? Or maybe it just looks that simple on the chalkboard.

Simplification has its roots in math, following strict rules. The purpose of simplification is to make something easier to understand. Who wouldn’t want that? Simplification done the right way is a useful process to reduce an existing matter to its essentials, stripping away everything superfluous and redundant, which requires some heavy duty critical thinking.

Unfortunately nowadays simplification is often performed by people without sales experience ignoring the above. Taking the fast track in this case leads to “Experience doesn’t matter anymore.” An excellent example what can happen with a serious topic – oversimplified. Leading people in the wrong direction. Creating more confusion than value. As a sales leader, you cannot afford to follow a misleading approach based on overhasty and wrong conclusions.

Simplicity is different, it’s a holistic approach.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
–Leonardo da Vinci

Simplicity is based on clarity, which comes from a complete understanding of the issue to be simplified. Applying simplicity correctly means to define the different elements of sales experience in the first place, such as knowledge in different areas, conversational, questioning and social skills, collaborative and competitive behaviors, attitude, business acumen, vertical knowledge and others. Simplicity would require to look deeply at your sales system and at the buying systems your organization has to deal with. Then, simplicity would require to analyze all dimensions from both perspectives, then synthesize both views before making conclusions.

Then – and this is the visible difference – simplicity creates a framework in the beginning how to look at the topic from different perspectives to make it easier to understand and to navigate a complex issue. Simplicity would probably come up with a different framework for transactional sales and for complex sales. Simplicity doesn’t allow that important dimensions are not considered at all. That’s exactly the trap with simplification, that right in the beginning, relevant dimensions are taken out of the equation – ironically in order to “simplify”.

As customers make their decisions differently, every time, because their situation is different – so do sales leaders. There are no silver bullets. Every sales organization’s challenges are specific. Every sales organization’s customers are different. The way how your specific customers want to engage with your sales organization is different as well.

Simplification is taking the fast track – which includes the danger to be wrong, not to add the value you possibly could.

Simplicity requires more thinking in the beginning to create a framework which helps people to navigate a complex issue really easily – but only to create the biggest possible value at the end.

Simplicity is pure and precise.
Simplicity strives for perfection.
Simplicity requires critical thinking.
Simplicity accepts no excuses.

This blog post was first published at  The Sales Thought Leader Blog.