Sales Leadership in the Era of Economic Uncertainty

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Jeffrey A. Koser, CEO and founder of Selling to Zebras, LLC, and the co-author of the award winning book "SELLING TO ZEBRAS", releases two tips organizations can use during this record breaking financial crisis to improve sales. These two tips are components of a "best practice" sales cycle which will help ensure short term survival and long term growth.

According to Ram Charan, in his best selling book, LEADERSHIP IN THE ERA OF ECONOMIC UNCERTAINTY, "A key part of your comprehensive plan is the determination of which customers to keep. Even in a downturn, not every customer is worth having."

Award winning author Jeff Koser says, "Boards and CEOs must gain "first hand" knowledge of their best customers and top sales prospects. Your existing customers and top sales prospects are hurting. They will be looking to eliminate, reduce or consolidate spend. If you rely on your VP(s) of sales for this information you are not properly managing during these record breaking financial times."

Koser offers two components of a best practice sales approach to help you deal with the current economic uncertainty.

The record breaking financial crisis has turned into a world-wide business crisis. The business crisis is going to affect your company's revenue driving engine. It is time for chief executive level--CEO hands-on management of the sales function.

Your customers are going to categorize all expenditures into one of three buckets;

  •     Keeping the business light on
  •     Compliance--there will be more than ever
  •     Discretionary spend--there will be less than ever

Survival of your business will require that you put in place a "best practice" sales methodology, tools, and ensure compliance. That starts with you.

Here are two specific actions from a best practice sales approach that you can start to put into action today.

The first action is to create a "customer audit process". When you originally win a customer's business promises are made by a person in a position of power regarding what you would do for their business. Find out what promises were made, who made them, and conduct the audit to determine how well expectations were met. As you do this audit you'll verify the specific quantifiable value you create for your customers. You'll learn the critical power-level and operational-level business issues (in their words) that you solve.

As a result of the first audits you conduct you'll start to develop "best practice" recommendations for how your products and solutions should be used. Use this information so subsequent audits include a "best practice" comparison with how the customer is utilizing your solution, identification of gaps between present use and a best practice use, and the incremental value achievable if a your best practice recommendations are adopted.

Part of the result of the audit will include no-cost recommendations on how the customer can get more out of what they are already paying for. This is obviously a win for your customer but also ensures they know the value they are already getting [I.E. there are consequences to no longer doing business with you] so they don't reduce, consolidate, or eliminate you in a cost-cutting move. As you conduct the audit invariably other opportunities to create value will surface. Create a cost justified proposal for additional products and services to address these opportunities.

As you create this new proposal recognize that you will be competing with every other way they could spend that same capital dollar.

Where do your solutions fit between keeping the lights on, compliance and discretionary spend? This is a view through your customers eyes not yours--so be honest. To answer this question you'll have to determine your sales mission. No not your companies mission statement--the weak proclamations spun in the 1980s. Your sales mission is defined by determining who and what creates a "compelling" reason to buy from you. These are the only people who are going to buy in a crisis. Put a process in place that defines perfection as it relates to a customer and a prospect. Identify the type and size of companies, culture, geography, power-level business issues, operational-issues, organizational make-up, technology, and service levels requirements from your best customers. Use this knowledge to create the perfect sales prospect. Next measure all of the sales opportunities you are counting on for the quarter against your newly created perfect prospect. Put a process in place that allows you to actually "score" each sales opportunity against the perfect prospect. Go backwards and score the opportunities that did close last quarter. [Business closed before this financial crisis began is not useful - use only last quarter's data.] Finally, as you evaluate the "scores" of those opportunities that did close you'll learn "the score" needed to ensure you will close the business in the current quarter.

Remember this is a crisis so your customers are preoccupied with short term goals. As previously mentioned, in these tough economic times your project will compete with ever other use of the available capital dollars. To overcome the added discretion, present the classic ROI and payback period, but also learn to present the economic value add (EVA) of your solution. EVA is the most prolific form of value claim because when it is calculated correctly, demonstrates the value your solution provides over-and-above the best project return your prospect is considering.

Learning to "execute" these two aspects of a "best practice" sales cycle--customer audits, and measuring all prospects against the profile of your perfect prospect, will have the following "impact" on your business;

  •     Specifics--in your customers words of the compelling business problems you solve
  •     Value you create by solving these problems
  •     Best practice use of your products and/or services
  •     Preservation of the business you already have
  •     Incremental business within your customer base
  •     Emergence of a value-based approach for pursuing new customers
  •     Higher-level relationship than you currently enjoy with your customers
  •     Reliable specific knowledge of this quarters revenue

If you commit to these two aspects of a "best practice" sales cycle you'll restore "reliability" to your quarterly predictions, and start to show real sales leadership in a time of economic uncertainty.

Selling to Zebras" is being talked about as "…book may be most valuable to CEO's and General Managers whose companies' performance relies so heavily on the ability of their sales organizations' ability to close deals." - Kenneth C. McMillan, CEO, TEC Chair, and Vistage member (

"Jeff and Chad Koser wrote a book that I consider one of the best sales books I have read in the last decade. What made this book interesting was their methodology and process for identifying a company's best prospects. They developed a very scientific analytical model that can be used by any company." - Marc Kramer, Wharton School of Management

About Jeff Koser and Selling to Zebras, LLC: Jeff is the founder of Selling to Zebras, LLC (, a sales tools and consulting firm established in 1999 that works with CEOs, top executives, and sales forces of both large and small organizations including: American Express, Kronos, MG Industries, Inc., Smart Choice MRI, and StarCite, Inc. Jeff and his family live in Hartland, Wisconsin. Koser is the former Chief Operating Officers of Baan USA, Inc's Supply Chain Software Division. Koser is also a member of TEC 60.

Contact information: Jeff can be reached @ mobile phone (414) 659-1494,,


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