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

Is It Really an Innovation (If Your Customers Don’t Care)?

“Innovation?!?”  Your customers ask you to be innovative. You build something new.  You show customers your latest innovation, but they don’t seem to care. You wonder if they would know an innovation if it bit them on their behind.

Have you ever heard a salesperson complain about how their customers don’t quite “get” their latest offerings?  Perhaps they blamed the customer for not recognizing an innovation when they saw one.  Have you or <gasp> someone from your leadership team ever complained about this?

If so, take heart.  You are not alone.  Innovation is one of those “know it when you see it” sort of things, and sometimes, customers don’t see our innovations quite the same way we do.

What is innovation?  Ask this question of ten different buyers, and you might get ten somewhat different definitions.  In short, the word literally refers to a new method or idea.  I checked with Mr. Webster on that.

in·no·va·tion [n] a new idea or method.

But like a tree falling in the woods, if no one is there to recognize an innovation and its impact on a business, then we have to question if it really occurred at all.  Perhaps innovation has more to do with helping customers recognize new ideas or methods than it has to do with creating new products or services.  It may be about creating insight and not about building anything necessarily.  When you think about it that way, it seems that innovation is primarily the responsibility of the sales and marketing department and not that of the Research & Development team.

Perhaps innovation has more to do with helping customers recognize new ideas or methods than it has to do with creating new products or services.

Traditionally, R&D has been tasked with the creation and development of new products and services to sell to customers, but if innovation were the exclusive domain of R&D today, then all that department would be doing is creating more falling trees.

The question I pose to you is:  What have you done to help a customer recognize a new idea or capability as an innovation?  What have you done to help them appreciate the full value of that innovative offering of yours?

Have you struggled with this challenge in the past?  Are you struggling with it now?

If so, please send us your comments.  Let’s see if other members of this community will share their stories, as well.  If you’d like, you can also get in touch with me (Matt McDarby) or another member of the USR team directly to discuss the challenge of selling innovative products or services.


Why Cadence Matters

Establishing a formal cadence or operating rhythm for a sales team is Job One for the sales leader.

[This article is the first in a series of five articles authored by Matt McDarby and John Golden, authors of the recently published white paper, “Five Fundamentals of Effective Sales Management.” Look for the remaining articles in this series to be posted on the United Sales Resources and Focused Revenue Results websites in the coming weeks.]

It’s been a long time since my days as a high school quarterback, but one of the lessons I’ve carried forward from those days is that a quarterback can affect the performance of his offense simply by maintaining a steady and quick pace from the huddle to the line of scrimmage.

I remember it as if it were yesterday.  My coach used to give me a signal from the sideline to get the team moving more quickly to the ball, we’d break out of the huddle, run up to the line, setting the pace for the defense before they set it for us.  We had consistently better outcomes (i.e. more first downs, more scores) as an offense when we amped up our pace and maintained that pace for a full drive versus when we did not.

In a similar way, a sales leader can positively affect the performance of his team by setting an appropriately aggressive pace and maintaining that pace or rhythm for as long as is required to achieve the desired outcome.  Many sales organizations refer to this predictable pace as their “cadence.”

Image courtesy of Sailom /
Image courtesy of Sailom /

Every great performing sales organization with which I’ve worked has committed to a certain operating rhythm or cadence to enable effective behavior to take hold.  A sales team that follows a set cadence, in which it focuses deliberately on what is ultimately most important, and does not stray from that cadence, is going to be a successful team.

In the absence of a well thought-out cadence that spans from the top ranks of the organization down to field sales people, things such as early-stage opportunity planning, call planning, and proper focus on what is important to customers will predictably fall by the way-side.

Think about it.  How many organizations do you know that have made a commitment to be more customer-focused or more intent on creating and delivering customer value?  I imagine quite a few.  How many of those organizations have actually mandated that their leaders, their middle managers, and their field force adapt their calendars and change their daily routines to reflect that customer focus?  How many of them require that their people get together on a regular basis to identify ways to create more value for customers in the way that they sell and engage?  I bet the answer is, “Not many.”

In the end, the lack of a proper cadence boils down to a problem of management.  Managers who do not set the tone for their teams by establishing a cadence whereby they focus on the right things with the right frequency are doomed to patchy performance at best and at worst…failure.  Will you choose to establish a cadence for your team or not?

If your answer is, “Yes,” consider whether it would be useful to have a cadence checklist, along the lines of the following:

  • To establish an effective sales Cadence, do the following:
      • Meet with your team to discuss what will be required of the entire team to ensure the business outcome you seek to achieve;
      • Identify high priority discussions / meetings that the team must incorporate into its schedule going forward;
      • Identify discussions / meetings that the team may be having right now that are no longer of high value to the team or its customers;
      • Commit to a cadence with your team that ensures focus on high priority / high value items (e.g. early-stage opportunities, strategic account planning) at the right times and the right frequency.
      • Agree to treat important meetings (i.e. opportunity reviews, pipeline meetings, account planning sessions) as if they were important customer meetings.  Do not cancel them. Try not to reschedule them.
      • Stay true to the cadence that you agree to with your team.

Let me know your thoughts about establishing a cadence in the way I’ve described it above.  Offer a comment in reply to this post.  You can also send a direct message to me if that is your preferred method of getting in touch.  Thank you very much, once again, for your time!

Buyer Behavior Has Changed Yet Again

They just changed the game on us again.

“Who?” you might ask (especially if you haven’t read the title of this post).  Buyers, that’s who.  They’ve changed the game on us again, changing their behavior just to drive us professional sales people crazy.  I hate it when they do that.  

Which aspect of buyer behavior has changed specifically?  Buyers’ expectations of value are now even higher, and they appear to want results faster than ever before.  Sellers, who were already hard-pressed to meet buyer expectations, are finding themselves playing catch up and trying to close even larger value gaps than they had to just a few years ago.

Let’s go back in time for a moment.  Remember in the 90s, when “return on investment” became a widely used phrase in conversations between buyers and sellers?  That was twenty years ago, by the way.  “ROI” made its way into corporate marketing decks and sales pitches, and any buyer worth their salt would include a question about ROI in their Requests for Proposals to sellers.  Buying decisions were influenced by sellers’ ability to answer the ROI question effectively, and a great deal of practice time was spent on perfecting the answer to the question, “What will our Return On Investment be if we hire you?”

ROI calculators became all the rage, and sales teams spent a lot of practice time on directly addressing or dodging the ROI question when it was inevitably asked.  Two decades have past, and sales organizations are still refining their answers to the “return” question.  The fact is that Return On Investment (and some of its lesser known cousins, Return On Time or On Effort or On Resources) is still an important consideration for buyers, but what buyers mean by “return on investment” has changed…and therefore, so has the game.

It used to be that buyers would allow for a solution to be delivered and for some time to pass before they expected to see Return.  Now, the culture of immediate gratification that has gained hold in the 21st century seems to have changed that.  Buyers expect return on their investment almost immediately, regardless of how long it might actually take to produce actual return from that particular investment.  The fact that it may not be possible to generate real, verifiable return in short order does not seem to matter.


But it’s buyer behavior, so we need to address it.

Though the ROI wave made it challenging for sellers to justify the price of their solutions back a decade or two ago, sellers still had the option of helping buyers to define (or redefine, as the case may have been) what “return” actually meant.  Highly effective sellers would focus buyers on “leading indicators” of success versus actual or lagging measures, and for the most part, buyers accepted those leading indicators, particularly in environments where ultimate return itself would be difficult to measure.  Their was a détente of sorts between buyer and seller that sounded something like, “You show me how I can give evidence of immediate return to my boss, and I will go along with these ‘leading indicators’ you’re shoveling at me.”  And everyone was happy.

Fast forward to 2012, and that “leading indicators” (stuff) doesn’t fly as fast or far as it once did.  Instead, buyers are asking sellers for ways to mitigate the risk of not getting a return.  They say things like, “I want to know how much of this risk you are going to bear,” and they expect sellers to have an answer.  The seller or company that isn’t willing to share risk with its customers is going to have a more and more difficult time forging new relationships with buyers.  If you can’t give your customer a quick-reward, little or no risk proposition today, they’re not likely to buy from you.

The topic for today’s post is just another illustration of how the bar for professional sellers continues to be raised.  Either we plan and practice to get over the new bar, or we fall short.  When buyer behavior changes, we have to adapt to it.

What are you doing to show your prospects and customers that you understand what it takes to get real return on their investment?  How are you demonstrating your willingness to share in some of their risks?

Post your ideas here, or send them to me directly.  The best response will receive a signed copy of my new book, whenever I get around to publishing it!

Best of luck and continued success!