Neil Rackham

How to Build A Value Creating Sales Force

If you want to stand out in a sea of sameness, you must build a value creating sales force.

The other day I was thumbing through an old copy of Rethinking the Sales Force by John DeVincentis and Neil Rackham, recalling how far ahead of the market those two authors were when they challenged the traditional notions of value and competitive differentiation.  That book was written in 1999, and it took roughly a decade for many B2B sales organizations to start adapting to the reality that Rackham and DeVincentis illustrated in their book.

A great deal has changed for B2B sales organizations since 1999, but one thing has not changed. Sales forces must continue to adapt to the changing demands and behavior of buyers. You cannot achieve competitive differentiation simply by communicating the features and advantages of the products and services that you sell. You must understand how to create value for customers and know that it has everything to do with how you sell versus what you sell. (Follow the link here to see my post and video on LinkedIn regarding the new drivers of value.)

The big challenge now is how to build a value creating sales force that can continually adapt to the constant and rapid changes going on in the marketplace around us. It may be the biggest opportunity that you and your sales organization have out in front of you for the foreseeable future.  I recently recorded a video addressing that specific opportunity and some of the insights that my team and I have gained over the last six years while working with B2B sales forces to build value creating sales forces. That video appears below, so please take two minutes to watch it. Let me know if what I have to say resonates with you. You can do so by offering a comment in reply to this post, or you can contact me directly at

12 Questions on the Social Buyer’s Mind

What is going through the Social Buyer’s mind?

Have you grown weary of all the talk about social selling? I understand. So let’s forget about social selling for a little while. Instead, let’s talk about social buying.


Back in the late ’80s, Neil Rackham wrote about a model for buying behavior known as the “Buyer Cycle” based on the research that he and his team conducted into how buyers make decisions. That simple model served as a sort of de facto standard model for the B2B buying process for over two decades.

But over the past 25 years, a lot has changed in the way buyers buy. The most recent driver of change has been the advent of social media. By way of their social media connections, buyers have real-time, all-the-time access to information regarding challenges and opportunities facing their industry, potential solutions to their problems, and all the news that’s fit to print about potential suppliers. The pace, flow, and focus of buyers’ decision-making has shifted as a result.

Who is the social buyer?

For the purpose of clarity, social buyer in this context refers to anyone (whether a middle manager, C-level executive, business owner or otherwise) who uses social media to inform their purchasing decisions.

Before the birth of social platforms, buyers identified issues or opportunities affecting their businesses in a deliberate way. They went through a protracted phase in which they discovered challenges and steadily moved from their once satisfied state to a state of dissatisfaction.

In contrast, today’s social buyers are always conscious of issues affecting their businesses, and they are empowered by information available via social platforms to identify and classify them quickly. In short, the pace at which a buyer moves from satisfied with the current state to dissatisfied has accelerated because of social platforms. The social buyer is in a state of nearly constant evaluation and change.

The social buying process is complex, but sellers must understand it if they want to have a prayer of being successful. Rather than dive into a blow-by-blow narrative of what each phase of the social buying process looks like, it might be more productive to think about the questions to which a social buyer seeks answers as they progress through their decision-making processes. In so doing, we may discover opportunities to create value and insight for them.

What is the social buyer thinking about?

Here are some common questions that social buyers turn to their social networks to find answers to.

1) How do we compare to others in our industry?

2) Is there evidence on the social platforms I use that others in our industry are dealing with the same issues that we are? Which opportunities are they pursuing?

3) Do we need to take any action now?

4) Have others I’m connected with found a way to cope with the issues we’re experiencing? 

5) When did those people reach the point where inaction was no longer an option?

6) What can I do on my own to capitalize on this opportunity? 

7) Can I find like-minded businesspeople on LinkedIn or another social network who’ve dealt with this sort of situation before?

8) If I cannot do this on my own, who out there has relevant experience? 

9) Can anyone recommend potential suppliers?

10) Can I find proof that those suppliers can deliver the sort of result I need?

11) Once I’ve identified a solution/provider, how will I know if I can trust them?

12) Who has experience working with a specific provider? Does anyone have any success stories? Horror stories?

The point of thinking about these questions is to discern whether and where there is opportunity to create value or insight for a social buyer. If we can put ourselves in their shoes, how might we approach them differently over social media? How might we react to buyers’ questions or comments in LinkedIn groups or on Twitter? Can we be different from all the other “social sellers” who are quick to jump in with answers about their products or services without first considering where the buyer may be in their decision-making process?

I won’t supply the answers to these questions here. After all, I told you we were going to forget about social selling for a little while. I will, however, look forward to your feedback on this view into the mind of the social buyer. Let me know what you think in the comments.

This article by contributor Matt McDarby was first published on the HubSpot blog.

Great Selling: Two Keys to Success…Humility & Self-Awareness?

Great selling requires humility and self-awareness…?  Not all that long ago, saying that humility is a good quality in professional sales people would have been viewed as heresy.  Back then, we were all supposed to be supremely self-assured, assertive, and certain in our belief that we knew better than our customers.  In short, we were supposed to act like jerks.

It didn’t matter if we knew deep-down that treating buyers like children was probably the wrong way to go.  We had to fight back whatever awareness we had about our selfish, seller-centered approach, and press on until those buyers saw things our way.  Great selling back then was all bravado, all I’m smarter than you are, and a lot of BS.

Since then, of course, many of us have wised up, realizing that a good dose of humility and awareness of our own shortcomings as sellers can drive us to become great sellers.  If we are willing to be humble as we go about our work, then we can reflect an attitude of other-interest (as opposed to self-interest) and true buyer focus.  Buyers have wanted that from us for a number of years.

I am not the supreme authority on this subject (or any subject, for that matter), but I can speak to the need for humility and self-awareness in selling based on my own research and my own experiences.  About ten years ago, I was working in the technology services business.  I had the privilege of working with a great mentor who demonstrated real customer focus.  He was an inspiration, and I looked up to him.  Unfortunately, the two of us were surrounded by others who viewed selling as something to be done to someone else.  They may have known that their approach was wrong, but they didn’t care.  They were arrogant, and they wanted me to act arrogantly, as well.  I’d had enough of that approach to selling.  It wasn’t working for me, and I knew it.  My results were starting to show it, as well.  It was time for a change.

I left that firm and went to work for Huthwaite, the company founded by Neil Rackham (author of SPIN Selling, Rethinking the Sales Force, and other volumes on seller and buyer behavior), and my re-education began.  Since making that leap into the sales performance business, I’ve had a lot of time to learn about and reflect upon the behaviors and observable traits of great sales performers.  In fact, I spent a great deal of time in 2011 and 2012 researching what separates great account strategists from average ones(For more on my research, visit the articles to which I’ve provided links here.)  It turns out that great sellers are not so self-centered after all.  In fact, they are often precisely the opposite in the way they conduct their business.

To help illustrate what it means to be humble and self-aware in the context of selling, I’ve put together a self-help list for those of us professional sales people who struggle with humility and self-awareness.  Following is a short list of things that great sellers frequently remind themselves to do in order to ensure great sales performance:

1.  I don’t know everything about my customer.  There is probably more that I don’t know than I do know about them.  I should do something about that.

2.  I have to identify where my customer is in the buying process, so I can be in alignment with my customer.  Once we are aligned, then and only then should I attempt to influence their thinking.

3.  No one likes arrogant sales people.  I won’t act like one.

4.  I will stop pretending that I know a great deal about my customer’s business issues and opportunities.  I will strive to be authentic in my understanding of what they are trying to achieve.  I won’t fake it.

5.  I know how I can help my customers.  I understand the problems my company can solve, and I recognize the opportunities that we can help customers to capture for themselves.  I am first a student of my customer’s problems and opportunities, and second, I am a problem-solver and an opportunity creator.

What do you do to keep your SELF in check?  What suggestions can you offer others (by way of a response to this post) to help them stay humble, self-aware, and focused on the buyer as they pursue great sales results?

Politics vs. Sales: A Primer

On a few occasions during the current Presidential debate season, politicians have demonstrated that they have no idea what “salesmanship” really means.

In fact, they’ve been using the word “salesman” derisively, applying to it the same meaning as the word “lying” at several points in the debates.  I’ve chosen to write about this potentially sensitive topic this week because I think it’s time to explain to those in the political world that professional salesmanship has absolutely nothing to do with lying.  NOTHING.  Nowadays, if a salesperson were to get caught in a lie while trying to persuade a client to buy, then he or she might as well pack up the bag and go home.  Buyers won’t tolerate lying…not even for a minute.

What would a bureaucrat or someone who gets paid to play in the political arena know about that?  NOTHING.  They don’t get paid less when they fail to be truthful with their customer.  They don’t pay a significant price when their promises go unkept.




Perhaps those in politics need a lesson or two.  A simple primer might get the job done.  What do you think about the following, simple primer on professional selling?  Would politicians see the light if we shared these ideas with them?

1.  Professional selling is about creating insight and guiding buyers to a better path, and it is not about pandering.  To indulge a customer’s weaknesses or to sell them something that you know won’t help them is effectively pandering.  Politicians do it frequently, but for salespeople, pandering to customers leads to very short relationships and smaller transactions.

2.  Professional selling puts the customer’s desired outcome front-and-center, and keeps it there.  Selling does not entail putting a spin** on the crap that you want to sell.  Politicians tend to put their own agenda first, particularly after they’ve been elected, but they will tell constituents that they feel their pain.  Salespeople who want to succeed simply do not have that luxury.  Professional salespeople must have legitimate concern and interest in their customer’s success, and they will fail in the long run if they lose that interest and concern.  ** Note: “Spin” in this context takes the Beltway meaning, another method of lying.  This has nothing to do with the brilliant, research-based, founded-in-reality “SPIN Selling” model conceived by Neil Rackham and the folks at Huthwaite.  Politicians have bastardized what “spin” means, too.  Ugh.                                

3.  Professional salespeople really do have to understand their customer’s environment.  They can’t just say they understand their customers’ environment, like politicians do.  Buyers today will skewer salespeople who don’t understand (or seek to understand) their environment.  There’s no faking it anymore.

If you are reading this blog, you are qualified to comment on this simple primer.  What do you think?  What other lessons should politicians seek to learn from professional salespeople?

Please comment, share this with a colleague or anyone else who would find the discussion interesting, or contact us with your thoughts.  Thank you again for your time and your support!  We really do appreciate it.



Matt McDarby Featured in 3-Part Series: The Coaching Controversy on Matt Goff's Sales Performance Improvement Blog

On Thursday, April 5th, Matt McDarby contributed a post to a 3-part series entitled, “The Coaching Controversy, Part 2: Is When More Important Than How?”

The post offers five key principles for knowing when to coach salespeople.  Those five principles follow:

  • There is a time to sell and a time to coach.  It is not possible to do both at the same time effectively.
  • Who we are coaching affects when we coach.  We need to invest more or less time coaching individual salespeople because of who they are, their learning style, their workload, and a range of other factors. One size does not fit all.
  • Different types of coaching require different amounts of time and preparation.  Choose them wisely and don’t short-change the types of coaching that require a significant investment of time.
  • Coach early and coach often.  Our window for influencing the actions of salespeople closes earlier in the selling cycle than we might realize.
  • We should coach when the risk of not coaching is too great.  When future outcomes are at stake, the risk of missing an opportunity to coach is massive.

Matt appears periodically as a guest blogger or content provider on the topics of professional selling, sales leadership, value creation, and major account selling.  All inquiries related to Matt’s blog or his guest posts can be made to directly to him by email at  Thank you.