Whale Hunting Part II - Anchoring The Deal

Tony Hughes

Whale Hunting Part II

Budget. Timeline. Compelling Event. Success Criteria. Together these form the basis of anchoring a deal so that it does not drift away from you. The stem is success criteria. An enterprise deal cannot be anchored without these four points.


Psychologically, numerous studies show that when we present a client with the unit economics in a deal, we risk self-commoditization. In protracted negotiations, starting high and making limited concessions is the strongest approach. Mark Hunter and Chester Karass have written extensively on this. So anchoring the deal is also setting an expectation around deal size and volume required.

It's paramount to think and express only in terms of annual commitments, minimum thresholds and visionary partnerships. Assess these four factors in the crucible of high interest preceding decay rate and thereby accelerate the propensity to close. This combination in its simplicity 'anchors the sale.' It is just that simple.

Qualifying the pipeline is where most sales organizations shipwreck on the rocks of missed expectation. This is why their pipe is chalk full of barnacles and detritus. If you use the anchor above effectively, it's very hard to let garbage float into the ecosystem and miss your targets. If you get these questions handled up front, you'll psychologically anchor the prospect and the deal. Notwithstanding deft application of SPIN, TAS, RSVP tried-and-true frameworks / methodologies, a boat without its anchor is listless and susceptible to the fickle tides. You can easily lose control of deals without knowing these points and inserting them carefully into your sales process. Selling to the customer in their own words requires them explaining these to you.

In an effective discovery call, these four elements are ascertained but only in a ratio of 25% seller speaking to 75% customer revealing pain. I'm a staunch proponent of peeling the onion with Situation, Problem, Implication and Need-Payoff lines of questioning. The greatest wisdom shared with me early in my career, is that often the pain is seldom the true pain. We often diagnose mere symptoms to underlying problems. Great sellers get to the root. Great sellers dive 10,000 feet deep to the bottom of the ocean to understand their customer's business as well, if not even better, than their own in order to truly begin to solve the 'real' underlying problem(s). What is the risk of not adopting the new solution? Economically? Politically? Quantify the risk of inaction.

We have the ability to literally transform our customers' business, make them look like heroes and help them get promoted. That's how powerful a strategic seller's role is. So 'the anchor' benefits both parties, buyers and sellers. It's transparent and creates efficiency. No more circumlocution, equivocation and cluttered pipe. No more 'happy ears.' I will get push back that this is an old school tactic but the ocean is wide and deep, so boiling it is imprudent.

Never present without proper discovery and due diligence performed first. All presentations should be interactive with the customer fully engaged. This is a vast challenge in that studies revealed 92% of those listening in on a virtual meeting are disengaged: checking blackberry, calendar, doing email or simply drifting off. Since the entire world is moving virtual [inside] and pundits are prognosticating that the end of field selling draws nigh, here are the critical success factors for mastering virtual meetings.

Before you look at a customer's plans, data or roadmap, get a mutual non-disclosure agreement in place. Inspire clients to pile everything they can on you. Encourage them to drown you in data from their email, Dropbox or FTP. Why? Because that's how interested you must be in them and scouring 25 files which include marketing calendars, technical specifications, requirements or notes will allow you to tailor your meeting agendas, presentations and navigate how you'll chart your course to the stars. The compass is truth, the north star is value creation. The momentum of mutually executing an NDA triggers the reciprocity, the give and take and back and forth. You want to consistently add value with every email, call, follow-up and outreach.

The Earth is flat for many software companies. They sell seats and licenses and don't care much for customisation. They've frequently grown so large the presentation is mistakenly about their size and omnipotence: there is little need to fully understand the customer's specific challenges because they've provided 50 case studies of customers 'just like them.' Huge mistake, yes? Not only do we all love to feel like we are different but companies are indeed much like snowflakes. There is no one-size fits all solution-set, especially at the level of a six, seven - even eight figure deal. You must transcend the requirements, meet with various stakeholders in the account and map the political power base. Understanding the forces moving in the account, is like predicting currents. Wade out with your wits about you, always cognizant of the rip tides: competitive threats, status quo, 'do nothing,' point solutions and the homegrown, 'we'll just build it ourselves' approach.

I'm often amused by the number of books on Amazon still touting one-call closing or even two call. I'm afraid the 80s are gone and this isn't a door-to-door steak knife or vacuum cleaner route. The height of folly is to deliver a generic proposal. Being consultative and tailoring your deck will make the biggest impact. I know a CEO who approaches every possible opportunity as if the entire funding and future of her company rose and fell on whether this single deal went through. The result is a relentless focus on strategy, listening, seeking first to understand and then be understood and a pristine, crystalline proposal that's so well developed and nurtured, it's essentially written in the prospect's own words. She never crafts the proposal after the second call. A sequence of calls with various teams over weeks occurs as the customisations are refined. By the time the contracts are drafted up, there are no surprises. No more waiting on pins and needles and endlessly checking in or touching base...

When you present a complex solution to the client, paint the entire picture of transformation. If it requires presenting a million dollar suite of solutions in order to break off the first $250,000, have you not succeeded in closing that handsome piece of business in, as the relationship will grow? Contrast this with endless requests for pilots if you attempt to close solely the $250K? Always close 'sell the dream' with a valid, full menu of application. Prioritize together - land and expand.

The world has become enamored with the social selling craze and so I am releasing an eccentric book on this subject shortly. I have recognized a global gap in training and enablement. Old school folks like me who have sold for 30 years in the field, blend strategic selling with social selling. Thus I have dubbed this Strategic Social Selling or potentially Social Selling 3.0. My thesis is that social selling will be relegated to an oversimplified transactional 'slam and jam' medium, if we do not return to the fundamentals that govern the psychology of influence and the timeless principles that govern value exchange. A deal is a deal is a deal... And an enterprise deal is a wild and wooly animal, unwieldy and untamable.

We buy when we feel the solution has value. It's human nature. We seek out the premium and we actually are loathe not to feel 'exclusive.' Apple captures this ethos as does BMW. Even Starbucks is selling coffee at a premium. Virgin is an experience. Qantas in a safe flight. Ultimately, there are value differentiators that cause elasticity of demand, allowing us to defend price and margin. I recently debated with a junior sales rep, that all vendor solutions being exactly equal, I could sell at a higher price. His argument was that the way to win the deal would be to lower the price to be competitive. Our customers understand healthy profit margins as they too seek them. I created a program to sell that service based on the intangibles: value creation, service levels and by being the differentiator my self in how it was sold as a trusted advisor as opposed to features, functions, advantages and benefits that placed him into a commoditization downward spiral.

Beyond all other elements of anchoring a large enterprise deal is the chain of the anchor itself: Confidence. Believe in your solution. Be fully sold yourself. Communicate with your shoulders back, stand upright in a confident loud tone and speak in full sentences. End those sentences. I was recently listening to a candidate be interviewed for a client I was consulting and we had a "rattler" on the phone. He hemmed and hawed, droned and prattled on. Confidence will always sell and this is another achilles heel of social. How can a computer sound confident? Will AI ever convey true confidence won by experience imputed from inflection? Artificial Intelligence will always be logical indeed although ever confident in a synthetic way. The flaw of computers is they're only ever as smart as the humans that programmed them...

So that's a collection of my thoughts on the anchor. You've got the technology to be first in. You've 'opened' in social and you've generated the deal with your dream prospect. But now you must move faster than the decay rate before the status quo overtakes everyone involved. Anchor the deal! Be honest, forthright and confidently express what this will take. Align your incentives so that the strategic outcomes are a mutual win-win. Reduce the risk right out of the equation. Fear or pleasure may drive the close so take the temperature of your stakeholders early on. Which of the following will be your litmus test? Focus on the outcomes and management of risk. You will be delegated down to who you sound like. Have you ever seen a CEO's email? She rarely includes a salutation or signature. She communicates tersely, in economy of movement and time. She's powerful in what she does not do. Learn the language of strategy and carry this counterweight.

  • Do they have a budget sufficient enough for this exclusive opportunity? Yes, it's exclusive. Not every company has the need, solution fit or will innovate to the degree to apply the disruptive technology you extoll.
  • What is the precise timeline? Is this a realistic priority or something to be left for Q4 or 2016? Entire industries can come and go in the time it takes for a company that's 'just looking.' Remember the finish line is not the signature, it's the go-live date of production when your solution is adding value.
  • Is there a bonafide compelling event? What is the 500 lb. Gorilla of a reason to do this now? Mutually define a compelling business case. Uncover demand or create it. If there is any ambivalence in this regard, it's wasted time to continue.
  • What is their success criteria? How will your prospect measure their success? Are there systems in place, analytics and reporting to measure the ROI? How are they currently solving the problem with their existing team or vendor(s)? Remember a great way to land and expand in these accounts is to encourage multi-vendor approach for diversification.

Now it's your turn: How do you anchor your deals? What elements of influence are most effective for you during the sales cycle? How do you prevent junk from clogging your funnel?


Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.

Main image photo by Flickr: Christian Jensen and Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería


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