Conference 2016: Day Two blog

20160608_025720160607_01261225: “What a day and a half! My head is spinning,” said the Association of Professional Sales chairman Nick Porter as he closed the 2016 conference.

“It has been a day and a half full of content, and hopefully you have all taken things away you can take back to your jobs and start using immediately.”

He revealed that his own highlight was the moment on the first afternoon when conference host Tim Riesterer pretended to be an over-confident salesman, bounding into the air and squeaking: “I’m Mighty Mouse, come to save the day!”

Mr Porter continued: “We have some amazing corporates on board, but we remain a very young organisation, less than two years old. Spread the word, we need more people to be aware of us and understand how important we can be to the future of their business..”

1220: It’s not often that America learns from Britain on matters of business, but conference host Tim Riesterer of Corporate Visions said that the Association of Professional Sales was blazing a trail by being the first organisation on either side of the Atlantic to aspire to make sales a true profession.

“There needs to be another level of professionalism, not brought in by outside consultants but from within the sale profession,” said Mr Riesterer.

“That is novel. We are so interested in this idea you have started here, we are talking about this back in the US. You people have started it, you own it. It has to go to the next level.

“Now is time to engage. You are crowd-sourcing or open-sourcing the profession of sales. I just want, as a founding corporate partner, to encourage you to do more of the same.”


1210: What are companies doing to recruit top salespeople with a track record in the new selling methods? Charlotte Campbell, EMC’s head of sales and partner enablement EMEA, led a panel discussion.

20160608_0238“Everyone is fighting to recruit from a very small pond of talent able to deal with sales of great complexity,” said Mike Bishop, EMC’s talent acquisition leader for UK, Ireland and Europe West.

Monitoring data on LinkedIn for key changes, and keeping abreast of internal HR records, were vital in understanding when and why sales people started looking around for a new job, he said. Often, staff left because they didn’t get an expected bonus. When that happened, a nimble employer would already have alternative prospects lined up to fill the position, after identifying and tracking them through online alerts.

“If you get the unexpected phone call on a Monday morning, you can be confident there are three people you can look at at once.”

Mr Bishop warned that while LinkedIn was central to job searches, Twitter was best used to promote a company as a good place to work, by subtly reinforcing how successful it was and how well it treated staff. There were so many hundreds of thousands of jobs advertised on Twitter that it was a waste of time trying to stand out.

Deborah Harding, EMC’s executive recruitment director EMEA, said that recruiting executives worked over a much longer time period, and was based more on personal contact than social media trawls.

“It’s about being ahead of the game, recruiting for the future, not once the gap appears. Planning is key to success,” she said. “You’re engaging with them early, asking them what they’re looking for. That way by the time it finally comes to offer, you can bring them in and they say ‘yes’.”

20160608_0245Executives increasingly had a strong idea about which companies they would like to work for and what path they would like their career to take. It was up to the recruiter to have conversations with them about their ambitions.

Ms Harding said that because it was destabilising when a leading executive left, it was vital to have succession plans in place for the top 5% of critical roles. “You ask, what’s my risk here? What impact would it have if they left or were promoted? What do I want to achieve?” She gave the example of a company president who made a practice when he visited a country of meeting not just the country chief but also their successor.

She described the success of using “landing roles”, when a new senior executive was placed in a preparatory job that would allow them to absorb the company landscape, its ethos and processes. They were able to hit the ground running when, six to nine months later, they were placed in the real role they were intended for.

Data monitoring was also useful to spot early when an executive was under-achieving, so that training and support could be offered, she added.

20160608_0250Ms Campbell suggested that online data was so comprehensive now that it was possible to recruit selectively to fill a perceived gap in the number of women or older people or those from differing ethnic backgrounds, to increase diversity. She asked how companies could “bake in” diversity.

Mr Bishop acknowledged being a middle-aged white male, and said most global companies were instructing their HR teams simply to go out and hire more women and people from a more diverse background. He said that before they rushed in, companies should make sure that these recruits were able to feel at home and to contribute to the maximum.

“If you don’t have a corporate ethos that allows diverse talent to thrive, there is no point. Don’t hire yet, fix that first,” he warned.

Ms Harding said that she would be uncomfortable with a quota system that overlooked well-qualified candidates in order to choose someone because of their age, gender or ethnicity. “I do believe in the best person for the job,” she said. “Holding someone back because you don’t have a female on that shortlist – I would probably say no. That’s my personal view.”

Ms Campbell asked if either would be impressed if they saw that a candidate was registered with the APS, and was part of its continuing professional development programme.

“That, for me, is absolutely huge,” said Mr Bishop. “If I see someone with “Certified Sales Professional” on their CV or LinkedIn profile, then I will be drawn to them.

“The fact that someone has invested their own time, effort and money to get themselves registered really resonates with me, it shows they take their career seriously and they’re proud of what they have achieved. It shows they have invested in themselves.”

Recruitment tips: avoid hiring in your own image, said Ms Harding. Mr Bishop advised that if your business is not getting the growth you need, take a step back; look at the talent you have, and think about the talent you need to acquire.


1120: Do you agree that 70% of lost sales are the result of the salesperson failing to articulate the value proposition? Tim Riesterer’s panel of industry leaders discussed their practical experience in transformation and differentiation.

Make that 100%, said Ashiq Hassanali, Wipro’s vice president of advisor relations Europe and Africa. “For me it’s enormous. At Wipro we are investing very heavily in value propositions.”

Bobbi Heath, F5 Networks Inc.’s director of field enablement EMEA, said that the ability to hold the right kind of conversation where value was articulated was linked to confidence and context for sales people. Chris Newall, Ciena’s vice president of global accounts EMEA, said that his company had recently junked a lot of its sales support material as no longer relevant. It took its salespeople off the road for some time to redraw their value propositions, and  was now supporting them to take a broader view of the business environment their clients operated in to help them find value.

20160608_0128Rainer Stern, SAP’s global vice president for sales acceleration and leadership programmes, said SAP’s three and a half year commitment to implementing the Challenger programme across all its sales teams and their managers – redrawing the rules on identifying and articulating value – had delivered massive uplifts in transactions and deal size. It had also delivered more value to customers. “A brilliant example is a three person organisation based in London, called Nix&Kix,” Mr Stern began, before being scolded by his host for shameless product placement.

Mr Riesterer asked the panel how they ensured that sales people were able to transmit the new value proposition.”You invested the time to build a better story. The stories and the skills must lock together to transform the value conversation,” he said.

Mr Hassanali said that one challenge for Wipro was to ensure its tremendous technical insight was matched by the soft skills of imagining and explaining when engaging with clients. One useful move had been to acquire a design company last year, whose staff were creative rather than technically minded.

20160608_0121Ms Heath said it was vital to validate salespeople at multiple points, and to support sales managers to reinforce the message by coaching their sales teams. “We try to use as many real-time workshops as possible. We need to validate sales people: do they feel competent and confident in the new message?”

Mr Riesterer asked how they supported sales people to engage with executives at chief officer level in their client companies,  with the power to influence policy.

Mr Stern said that the principle of “selling high” was vital, but studies showed it often wasn’t being put into practice. One study showed only 10% of contacts were at VP or higher. “Sometimes I fear that sales people have a fear of heights,” he joked. He added that salespeople gained confidence over time as it became clear that the new method was having a real, tangible business outcome.

20160608_0129“It’s vital to invest the time in coaching and process. It’s a big step for more established sales people, who may have been doing the same thing for 10, 15 or 20 years – going out with their powerpoint charts and going through them – now to go into a chief financial officer’s office and put the fear into them, activate their lizard brain, and then engage in that value proposition,” said Mr Newall.

Mr Hassanali said that Wipro had an in-house coaching team that could be called on when preparing for any big deal, to help sales teams practice and problem-solve the client conversation in advance.

Mr Riesterer asked the panel how they ensured that the new methods were sustained and not just a flash in the pan.

20160608_0127Mr Hassanali said that Wipro brought it’s sales teams together every three months in a forum where they could share experience and practice pitching to each other. “I think bringing sales teams together is always a powerful and productive time, so long as its structured – otherwise they would spend most of their time in the bar,” he joked. Wipro had a competition for individuals to put together videos demonstrating sales ideas.

SAP also holds a video competition, agreed Mr Stern – the prize is an Apple watch and half an hour of the CEO’s time. And every month, everyone in the company devotes three hours to understanding the mindset of a chief officer – one month the CEO, next the CFO, and so on – to build up a broader understanding that will help with executive conversations.

At Ciena, the sales teams held collaborative workshops with the marketing and product development teams, with everyone focusing on customer needs, said Mr Newall.

Ms Heath said that if they were serious about their careers, sales people needed to develop the habit of learning.

20160608_0134Mr Riesterer asked what percentage of salespeople the panel thought were able to switch from transactional selling to the new methods.

Mr Newall said that with the right coaching, everyone could. “We haven’t really had any failures in helping people make the transition.”

But Mr Hassanali said that to be realistic, no amount of training or coaching could fix shortage of experience or an inability to hold the new kind of sales conversation. “There’s a whole suite of elements that aren’t susceptible to training,” he claimed.

Mr Riesterer asked how you measured behaviour change.

Ms Heath suggested self-questionnaires and data-gathering.

Mr Stern said SAP compared sales data for each individual and each team one year before and one year after they had the Challenger training. Sales people were asked to identify and quantify which areas of training had helped them to generate revenue.

20160607_01811113: Who attended? Conference host Tim Riesterer establishes on a show of hands that about 50 per cent of the delegates in the auditorium are quota-carrying managers who lead sales teams, and the other 50 per cent are sales enablers and trainers.

Claire Edmunds talks to delegats

Claire Edmunds talks to delegates

20160608_01121013: Latest research shows that customers planning long-term, complex purchases want sales people to interact with them early, before even they have drawn up a shortlist of preferred bidders, says Claire Edmunds, CEO of Clarify.

The insight requires a move to a new, consultative, co-creative type of selling. But shifting towards the new kind of business practice is easy to talk about but harder to implement. Obstacles include:

  • the skill set of your sales team, as consultative selling require different skills from transaction selling
  • the tension between the pressure to continue to deliver on quarterly sales quotas while at the same time trying to develop complex sales which may take many months to complete
  • management that have failed to recruit for, resource, support and consistently model the new kind of selling
  • commission structures that fail to value and reward consultative selling.

Ms Edmunds described how she had seen a company plan to transform itself but fail within nine months and revert to its old model of transactional selling, because it had failed to tackle those obstacles.

She recommended six changes that would improve profitable pipeline and win rates: being pragmatic about problems, aligning resources, creating the conditions for creativity, careful planning for success, embedding a sales process and creating the climate for long-term growth. In particular, coaching sales people and sales leaders was vital to sustain change, she said.

Transforming a sales organisation was like climbing Everest, requiring training, planning, knowledge, understanding and timing to achieve successfully. The rewards of success were great, however, as very often it was the hardest kind of selling – bringing a new value proposition to a new customer group – that proved the most profitable.

0910: Don’t miss a moment of the conference by watching the video livestream here.

You won’t be alone: yesterday’s viewing statistics show that the conference was watched live by more than 500 viewers in the United States, Japan, France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, Romania, Serbia, Israel, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.


0830: Good morning, and welcome back to the Association of Professional Sales’s conference on The New Era of Differentiation.

Day two has a change of pace and emphasis, after the intellectual rigour of our four keynote speeches on day one. Today we will be exploring how the theories expounded by Professor Neil Rackham, Tim Riesterer, Dr Javier Marcos and Vernon Bubb are being put into practice by leading global sales companies.

This morning Claire Edmunds, CEO of Clarify, will be talking about what customers are grappling with as they move towards a more differentiated sale.

Rainer Stern from SAP, Ashiq Hassanali of Wipro, Bobbi Heath of F5 Networks and Chris Newall of Ciena, will each give their own practical experiences of leading transformation in their organisations as they move towards more differentiated selling. Expect some practical tips and habit busters.

After the coffee break, Charlotte Campbell, Mike Bishop and Deborah Harding of EMC will take part in a panel discussion on how companies are striving to attract talent.

Tim Riesterer of Corporate Visions and Andrew Hough, chief executive of the APS, will close conference proceedings, and delegates will have one last chance for networking over a takeaway lunch.

If you’d like to catch up with the speeches and events of day one, read the day one conference blog here.