The No 1 Reason Losing Your Customer

(the blog post also available as a podcast here)

Recently one of my friends Richard told me he got a new customer, barely without efforts. He was served the customer with a golden spoon – he didn’t even searched for the prospect first.

Most of us wouldn’t believe in such luck. We know the hard work to set up the selection criterias, search for potential customers that fit the criterias, cold calling to book the meeting, be lucky they’ve got need and budget for you stuff, get rid of competitors and, if you’ve passed the needle’s eye so far, negotiate and win the deal.

Richard told me he got the lead qualified: the potential client got the need, the budget and he was also invited to exactly the right decision maker when the timing was perfect. He just closed it straight away.

How could that be?

And, if you think about it a little further; he replaced an existing vendor before they had any chance to stop it! Could the same happen also to you?


Of course it can. If I explain what happened, you may get some clues to prevent it happening with your customers.

So, it all started with a friend to my friend. Let’s call this person Joe. Joe was just about to change job when Richard met him. Politely, Richard asked Joe where, and Joe told him. Nothing more, until Joe really started his new job.

Joe saw, as most of do when we come into new situations, needs and problems at his new job with new fresh eyes. Quickly he increased his credibility and gained confidence from the bosses.

Most of us make business with people we trust. Joe’s bosses were listening to Joe’s ideas and trusted him when he told them he got a friend – guess who – that could solve exactly their problems.

Richard became invited just in time to meet with Joe and his bosses. Of course Joe had told Richard every little details about their needs, problems and decision makers he needed. The win was almost ready when the meeting started.

I don’t say this will be true in all cases, but if you don’t take control over such potential situations, you’ll be out before you may react. And vice versa, may this be a strategy to gain new sales as well?

Good luck,


(BTW: Richard and Joe have another names in the real world)


The Sales War Room

Many times the sales rep is left alone to build his case, what products to sell, set the strategy to win, decide on how to communicate and how tough he should be in contract negotiations. And it’s often anticipated that these skills are mandatory for sales people to have. We all know there’s no such sales person available. The top ones may be close enough to make a success, but we all are a mix of congenital and trained skills. It’s like in every sport; the top performers are always those where optimal congenital skills are combined with the right sport, where these skills are utilized at the most. I other words, very seldom – Michael Jordan, the former Chicago Bulls basket ball star or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, soccer player for Manchester United, are such rare examples.

Still, there are ways to reach ultimate sales skills without invest a fortune in sales training of mediocre or even pretty good sales reps, to win large complex deals.

The Sales War Room.

Sales War Room


Shortly after the millenium shift, there was a huge dotcom death. Hyped IT companies valued billions of dollars just went bankrupt in a few months. I’d been successful in sales of IT for some years and was recently recruited by a large enterprise selling huge complex ERP systems to large companies. I was a young ambitious sales rep and it was a challenging business environment – nearly recession, but the most frightening thing was how I would be able to sell those complex systems?

But I managed. I was more successful than ever before. The secret was our Sales War Room.

When all other business units in our enterprise failed, my own unit won everything we decided to go for. The sales war room was a way of compress the very best experts available in one single place for one single day. The outcome was a sales case playbook for just that case: Exact what products or services to sell, how to sell, what to communicate to whom, how to get rid of competition, what to negotiate, what not to negotiate etc – simply all single details how to win the specific sales case.

A sales war room can surely be set up in many ways, but one of the keys for success is time. We gathered all the very best experts we could find in the entire business unit from all relevant areas. By doing that, the time was very limited. All best experts really have very limited time. So we decided pretty long time in advance what cases to go for and invited early – a month in advance was not unusual. We couldn’t book more than a day in total, just to keep it intense and efficient and the activities for the day were:

  • Brief introduction of the sales case by the sales rep (me)
  • Every expert then prepared a preliminary proposal or solution in his expert area
  • All experts were gathered without participation from the sales rep, to create a common solution together
  • Experts adjusted their proposals or solutions
  • The draft solution was presented to the sales rep
  • More adjustments were performed by the experts
  • The final presentation of common solution and proposal was done, where it was secured the sales rep did know exactly how to act and behave towards the potential customer.

I feel most sales reps are too lonely doing these steps, with the impact that less deals are won. A rep always need help, but in more complex cases there are no supermen available.

Having a Sales War Room at hand, you will win all your sales cases anyhow.

Real Customer Need Is Not What They Are Telling You

I’ve just started to use my new Apple Watch. It was an unexpected gift on my recent birthday. My first thoughts was:

  • What will I do with such thing?
  • I don’t wear any watch at all
  • Actual time is always displayed on my mobile’s lock screen

Today, that little thing is one of my best friends. And that happened in about four weeks. How did that happen?


The answer is of course Apple showed me an alternate behavior I couldn’t resist. As I know Apple they are excellent of showing alternate behaviors. The best – and most discussed – example is of course the introduction of iPhone 2007.

At launch, most people said a lot about the iPhone – it’s was too expensive, too bad to make calls, too slow, etc… But when the war was over, it was named The Invention of The Year in 2007 by Time.

In 2007, the market for smart mobile phones was completely dominated by the Nordic companies Nokia and Ericsson. They made phones evolved from a history of making just that – phones. They hadn’t the culture to create anything but phones. Of course, there were some alternatives – but who remember Microsoft CE nowadays…? A compressed windows interface into a small screen, delivered along with a stylus pen. Microsoft claimed it’ll be the way to go, since people would like to have the user interface just like the same as in user’s PC.

In summary, the dominators’ proposal was either to use just phones or micro-sized computers on mobile devices. What Apple created instead, was a new behavior for a lot of people, ending up by taking  the computer into the streets.

Exactly the same happened 2010, when Apple launched the iPad. I remember my words of wisdom; “OK, I have an iPhone and a PC; why should I bother to buy an iPad?” We all know, Apple took the PC to the couch, giving internet surfing it’s natural place or to the kitchen creating a fast and convenient way of searching and reading baking recipes. Again, Apple changed our behavior.

To learn from this stories in your everyday selling, you have to stop think about the needs your prospect tells you about. To make you successful, you have to make your prospect successful – that’s the usual way to go in all sales. To accomplish that, you will have to investigate harder not what they tell you they need today based upon what they see in the near future. You have to propose to them where you think they have to go to change their customers’ behavior.

It’s not enough to make them successful today, to be the one they hold on to in the future. You need to visualize for them what they need tomorrow to get major competitive advantages.

Just as simple as that, Apple Watch changed my behavior in many ways, for example while running. I can follow my pulse, average pace, distance and at the same time discuss my new sale with a colleague. All data collected and summarized in nice presentations compared to my health and business goals.

Apple took my office into my running trails – and gave me additional productive time while keeping my body in good shape. That’s a success for me. Think of what successes you would like to provide to your prospect’s customers in the future.

Only then you will be successful as a salesman.



Passion Makes Excellence In Sales, Too

Did you know one of the most successful songwriters and producers is Max Martin, the man behind numerous hits by Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Backstreet Boys (yes, I’m really so old…) and incredible twenty-one No 1 on the Billboard list?

What is his burning flame? What are his key success factors? If we can define them, may we translate them to a sales environment as well?

Passion in heart

Let’s give it a try.

Definition No 1. Learning the craftmanship.

Recently I read an interview with Max Martin in the swedish newspaper DI Weekend (interview is in swedish) by Jan Gradvall. Max Martin invited passionated young people to his studio to “get the right feeling” for years. The “pupil’s” work tasks included making coffee and other basic alternative boring tasks, not connected to music at all. But they consumed the atmosphere, the culture in the studio. They learned the details the hard way by just being there. Why would talented producer wannabes spend that enormous amount of time just making coffee? One reason is of course the fantastic opportunity to meet famous pop stars. Wouldn’t it feel nice serving a cup of coffee to  Bon Jovi ? But that’s not my point. To produce a song going to the top of the Billboard list, it requires craftmanship.

In sales, the craftmanship will start being a sales or marketing assistant to senior sales pros or learn from them by listening or reading their books.

Definition No 2. The fuel is Passion.

To learn to be a craftman it takes years – and blood, sweat and tears. If you like to be a famous producer, being in an environment like Max Martin Studio would be the perfect place learning perfection. To cope with daily coffee making I believe you have to have a lot passion for music. The passion is the fuel you will be putting into it, it’s your investment in your education.

What is passion in sales? Of course, it’s the love of talking to prospects and customers, but I think of it on a little higher level. It’s the every-day moments in your life. If you choose a crime novel before you go to bed in the night instead of a sales book by Dave Stein, you probably haven’t got the sales passion. But if the shoe size of your prospect’s CEO does matter to you, you’re on the right level. If you are taking classes in your spare time (instead of watching a movie or playing softball) to learn more about the prospect’s business environment, you are on track having sufficiently high content of passion in your blood.

Because there are no short cuts creating perfection. And you will need perfection to exist in a never ending increase of competition.

Take care / Stefan



What is Lean sales? – Create a Sales Plan!

Continuing from my last blog…

In order to pursue customers you need to define how you will seek new customers, how you will win them over and how to retain them. A sales plan is the best way to create a clear communication of how you will do this in your company. This plan should build on the strengths of your products/services and the people in your company.

In my earlier blog “Sales role in Sales and Operation Planning (Demand Planning)” I talk about what is needed as output from the plan and who to collaborate with. Essentially you need to take the following steps. Set a budget -> Set a strategy -> Connect budget to Strategy and decide how to make it happen (sales plan). You need to describe how your sales team will work towards your goal and how you operationally will measure if the goal is being achieved.

I have listed some models I find useful for creating a Sales Plan:

PEST (Political, Economic, Socio-Cultural and Technological)

Using the tool is a 4 stage process:

  1. You brainstorm the relevant factors that apply to you, using the prompts below.
  2. You identify the information that applies to these factors.
  3. You draw conclusions from this information.
  4. Use your conclusions in your SWOT analysis.

The important point is to move from the second step to the third step: it is sterile just to describe factors without thinking through what they mean. However, be careful not to assume that your analysis is perfect: use it as a starting point, and test your conclusions against the reality you experience.

PEST Analysis is a useful tool for understanding the ‘big picture’ of the environment in which you are operating, and for thinking about the opportunities and threats that lie within it. By understanding your environment, you can take advantage of the opportunities and minimize the threats.

PEST is a mnemonic standing for Political, Economic, Social and Technological. These headings are used firstly to brainstorm the characteristics of a country or region and, from this, draw conclusions as to the significant forces of change operating within it.

This provides the context within which more detailed planning can take place, so that you can take full advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.

SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats)

SWOT Analysis is a simple but useful framework for analyzing your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities and threats that you face. It helps you focus on your strengths, minimize threats, and take the greatest possible advantage of opportunities available to you.

Strength and Weakness are an internal focus, whereas Opportunities and Threats are external.

SWOT Analysis can be used to “kick off” strategy formulation, or in a more sophisticated way as a serious strategy tool. You can also use it to get an understanding of your competitors, which can give you the insights you need to craft a coherent and successful competitive position.

When carrying out your SWOT Analysis, be realistic and rigorous. Apply it at the right level, and supplement it with other option-generation tools where appropriate.

KANO model

Kano Model Analysis is a useful technique for deciding which features you want to include in a product or service. It helps you break away from a profit-minimizing mindset that says you’ve got to have as many features as possible in a product, and helps you think more subtly about the features you include.

To use Kano Model Analysis, follow these steps:

  1. Brainstorm all of the possible features and attributes of your product or service, and everything you can do to please your customers.
  2. Classify these as “Threshold”, “Performance”, “Excitement” and “Not Relevant”.
  3. Make sure your product or service has all appropriate Threshold Attributes. If necessary, cut out Performance Attributes so that you can get these – you’re going nowhere fast if these aren’t present.
  4. Where possible, cut out attributes that are “Not Relevant”.
  5. Look at the Excitement Attributes, and think how you can build some of these into your product or service. Again if necessary, cut some Performance Attributes, so that you can “afford” your Excitement Attribute.
  6. Select appropriate Performance Attributes so that you can deliver a product or service at a price the customer is prepared to pay, while still maintaining a good profit margin.


Where possible, get your customers to do the classification for you. Partly this will keep you close to your market, but partly it will keep you and even the most out-of-touch people in your company up-to-date with people’s changing expectations.

Also, make sure when you choose customers who are typical of the market you want to sell to.


When setting goals the goal should always be:

Relevant Helps the employee understand how the expectation fits with the company’s/department’s goals.
Understandable Makes the goal clear to the employee. May need to be restated in different language or the employee’s own words
Measurable Describes the results for which the employee will be accountable. Usually stated in terms of quantifiable criteria.
Beliveable Goal must be stated in a way that it is relevant and credible
Achievable Goal is realistic

Get started!

The year has started, the race is on! Sit down and put a plan together! If you as a manager don’t know what needs to be done, you can be sure no one else has a clue either. Bring your team on board to help if you are stuck. If they get a clear understanding of the budget, your strategic thoughts on what customers to approach and what products to promote, they should be able to give you some good advice. Using the tools I have mentioned or other tools you are familiar with you will have a good structure for keeping the information structured/understandable and also help you ask the right questions.

What is Lean sales? – Identify your internal customers!

Continuing from my earlier blogs:

What is Lean sales?
Identify your external customers!

This is where I believe we all assume too much. Most people in an organization have their own networks and routines for communicating within the organization. This has been developed during a long period of time and is handed over from person to person as people change position in the company and as the company grows. It has not been put in place, it has just happened…how do you know that this is the best way to perform the tasks in your company?

Understanding is better than believing, so find out who in your organization you as a sales group hand over information to. Is there a secondary party within your organization that receives information that comes from your group? Should this information not be passed on directly?

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” ― Albert Einstein

Is there a white spot on the map? Is there a group within your organization that is seeking information that you could be providing, but you are not?

I heard a great example of a white spot. In a company working with industrial installations in the 80’s. In some cases the customer provided engines that were supposed to be used in the final product. Normally the purchase department was responsible for all the incoming goods and when they placed the orders, goods management was already planned and article numbers were in place. The customer unique engines would turn up out of the blue, the team handling the receiving would call the purchase department and ask about them, but since the purchasing department had nothing to do with these engines they had no information to provide. The result was that the engines would be stashed somewhere and many where lost on their way to production costing a bundle of money and irritated customers. If the sales department had seen the goods receiving department as a customer and understood their responsibility they would have set up a routine with the receiving group and communicated to the customer how engines need to be labeled and shipped in order for their company to manage them.

These days Big Data is widely discussed. The requirements to enter information are constantly increasing. A lot is probably rubbish, but some will definitely bring value to you or to some other part of your organization who is a customer of this information. Look through your entire business process and organization scheme and truly define who is a receiver from your sales department. It is better to do a few things well rather than trying do a lot and making a mess of it all…so find out where your input will have the biggest impact.

What is Lean sales? – Identify your external customers!

Continuing from my last blog

By “External Customers” I mean customers outside the boundaries of your own organization. In sales this is who you define as your lead/opportunity/customer.

I admit that this area is out of my depth, all I have is the theory about haow to define a market, but I know what you need to use this for, so the requirements are not a problem to define. You need to have a clear aim on what types of customers you will be targeting, what the markets that will supply you with leads are. This is probably not something you do very often and I brought it up because of the importance this step has for the rest of the work.

When working at IKEA I was part of the teams in development of new products. My role was to assist with the forecast information regarding the potential of the new product and gather knowledge about the product so that I could make a plan for how the forecast for the new product and other products in the range will change once we launched.

This was about understanding who our customers are and how they would react (e.g. cannibalization on other products). This was also about understanding what customers we did not have, how the offer potentially would create a new customer base and how we could reach as many potential customers as we could.

I don’t see that B2B sales can be any different. If you have a clear idea of who you are targeting, the rest of the work becomes so much easier.

Usually when I talk to people about the problems they are facing at work I can hear that the client base is so diverse you wonder how they managed to find the deals and if any of the deals made any money. “Selling all we can to everyone…” is not being fair on your organization.

Once you have decided on who your customers are you should write down your assumptions. You have assumed that this group is correct for your company because… (fill in the blank). If you write down your assumptions it will make it easier to see what you might have missed over time.

This customer description needs to be communicated throughout your organization. Everyone needs to be in line with who your customer is. Now there may be parts of your organization that views the customer different e.g. Customer Service, because they deal with another part of the customers organization, but marketing, product development, project teams, production, logistics, and so on, need to have a collective idea of who you talk about when you  “the customer”.

“Know what your customers want most and what your company does best. Focus on where those two meet.” ~ Kevin Stirtz

In the next step you will need to create a Sales Plan in order to reach these customers, so you need to put some real effort into getting this right, because if we get all the other steps right, it will be a waste of time if we don’t target the right customers. The perfect execution of a misdirected plan is not something you would want…

First, let us get look at your internal customers.

//The picture is from my infochart over Lean Sales