No surprise at the closing: "Closing Plan

I recently wrote about a few unpleasant experiences at one closing or another. One of the sales tools mentioned there is the sgt. "Closing Plan". It sounds simple, is effective, but is often not used. Maybe I can encourage you to try it at least a few times.

I'll start with an experience here as well. We had a sales colleague who was very successful in his previous company. Accordingly, we had great confidence in his numerous contacts at potential customers, but above all in his skills to design and close a deal. In fact, we had a deal in the high 6-digit range in front of the shotgun, which, however, could not be won at first.

What happened there? The colleague spoke with many departments in order to determine the customer's overall requirements. However, he failed to realize that purchasing, the legal department, etc. also had to be involved. In addition, a multi-stage approval process usually has to be followed even for higher sums. In his old company, there was a team that almost automatically ensured that everything ran synchronously. Unfortunately, that was not the case with us - smaller company, often still in a startup mode. In the end, we didn't lose the deal, but there was a significant delay, which in turn impacted all other dimensions of the company's strategy.

We have therefore introduced the concept of the Closing Plan, especially for larger deals. A Closing Plan means that you plan with your contact person on the customer side what all has to happen until the launch of the product and, if necessary, afterwards. After all, there has to be exactly this common goal: we want to get started in January in order to achieve goal xyz (if this does not exist, there is usually nothing else to do apart from drinking coffee together on a regular basis).

Such backward planning can help both sides to do the necessary things at the right time. This can be, for example, the contract review, onboarding as a supplier beforehand, naming technical contacts, agreeing the purchase price with purchasing, etc. I have also not yet experienced a customer resisting to create a joint closing plan. Depending on the customer, things can work differently, and an open, joint agreement helps everyone to also achieve the goal or to determine if there is a sticking point somewhere. Another positive result is that CRM-based reporting becomes much more reliable when there is not just wishful thinking and hope behind the individual CRM stages, but a solid plan.

Preparing for the close. Or: some, mean buyer tricks

During one of my larger product deals, I experienced a negotiation situation that has remained in my memory for a long time. Once upon a time ...

... the appointment was shortly before Christmas, it was cold and wet outside, so we were dressed "storm-proof". We were made to wait in a very warm hallway. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, half an hour. Then at some point the customer's negotiation manager came and said: "my boss can't come and I only have 15 minutes". Our timely inquiries regarding a review of the contractual terms were dismissed with reference to *the* deadline. Only to tell us: their terms and conditions must fit on 2 DINA4 pages, otherwise our lawyers won't look at it. Of course, it was also not allowed to simply change the font size, as a first spontaneous thought suggested. Actually, price and discount had already been pre-negotiated, but then came the final trick of the buyers: they tried to hold a carrot in front of our noses and negotiate corporate discounts right away, even though only part of the company actually wanted to take the first step.

Our sales manager actually wanted to go home after the first two tricks, and in retrospect I admit to myself that this would probably have been the better way. After all, the purchase was to take place in the calendar year on the part of the specialist department, so that a certain counter-pressure could have been built up here.

I myself feel that the above tricks are unfair, because you don't meet the supplier at eye level. This may also be one of the reasons why I have relied on sales professionals and tried to coach them from the background and develop negotiation tactics.

And that leads to the insights I have gained:

  1. The owner/manager should not (immediately) join in the negotiation, otherwise there is no possibility of escalation.
  2. Furthermore, it is advisable to draw up a "closing plan" together with the customer, in which all relevant milestones up to go-live are jointly defined. This then also includes the commercial and legal negotiations, as well as a realistic time schedule.
  3. If all this is not given, a clear NO can also be right at the bottom line. You should not sell at any price (if you can afford it - that is sometimes easier said than done). Often the real negotiation starts only after a NO.

Of course, that's not the end of it. From a current coaching I have collected some more topics, which I will write down in the next weeks and months. Good luck and never give up!

Selling through Partners. 100%.

I have written about Partnerships in Business(the Win:Win:Win triangle) before. I support some management teams of product companies and like to share the idea of selling products through partners only.

A key assumption here is that a product company is not offering consulting services (for many reasons, for example, a) because focus is getting blurred, b) because it could destroy certain partner markets, c) etc.).

Here's my view:

  1. WHY NOT selling through partners? One of the first counter-arguments against selling through partners is: we are quicker if we go direct. We safe money because we don't need to pay their sales team. We can better support the customer in the after-sales phase. Etc.
  2. WHY selling through partners? Direct sales might sound attractive, however, it a) takes time to establish market recognition, b) takes money to pay your own sales force, c) might destroy the partner's opportunity to offer services for your product. Last but not least: if you make your sales team all partner managers and each partner manager can support 2-3 partners, you can easily see the huge leverage effect.
  3. Quick thoughts on how to get started:
    1. Define possible quick wins and focus on them. It could even be an idea to hand over some leads and prospects to partners in order to remove initial "resistance" before the wheel is turning.
    2. Go as a team and bring in your market and technical expertise("direct touch" sales) but never be a competitor to your partner. Instead your partner knows that they can start without risk since they can rely on your support.
    3. Clear rules of customer engagement: how prospects are registered, what that means, and how registrations are extended / ended. By the end of the day this is teamplay and your partner managers should be very close to your partner's sales team.

You walk better if you never walk alone!

100% protection against Covid-19 viruses

In July, I wrote about the idea of killing Covid-19 viruses with appropriate technology. In the meantime, a lot has happened.

As the first electronic respiratory protection that kills viruses 100%, the "Securer" is to be available from autumn 2022. The current status is presented in a recent press release:

"Currently, SecureAir GmbH is looking for technology partners who would like to produce under licence and/or distribute the product or who would like to acquire the complete technology in full as a world market leader."

I held the current state of the product in my hands yesterday. A lot has happened here, it feels very valuable, looks good and all the reviews show that it works.

The "Securer" kills Covid-19 viruses (and many more).

It remains exciting.

My new rocket: Mac Mini 2014

As I have written before, I don't really care which computer I use. I can be an Apple, a Windows machine, or something else. I have an old Mac Mini from 2014 that I use for managing my music library, for some playback, and minor audio editing stuff. Lately, I was more and more frustrated, because the machine seemed to get slower and slower. I took ages until it started and was usable. Also, there was a lot of dead time when the machine seemed to be idling.

So I started to do some research whether I can fix or whether I need something new. The hardware is still good for a Mac Mini: 2.6 Ghz, 16G of RAM, and 1TB hard disc. How to unleash this power again on an 8 year old computer?

I found this step-by-step guide that contains many useful links like cleaning up autostart items, removing slowing down settings with the free tool KnockKnock, cleaning up the hard disc, etc. I found that I have already applied some of these tips but some not. I went through the entire exercise but the results were not that promising. Startup time was better, but responsiveness not.

During my research I have also found some commercial tools helping you to clean and speed up your Mac. You can find a comprehensive description of "CleanMyMac X" here. The software is very powerful and goes much deeper than anything you can do yourself. Besides an initial "get clean" scan, it can be used to "stay clean" and stay happy. My Mac Mini feels like a new machine and the tradeoff is great: 50 EUR for a perpetual license (break even of subscription in 2 years) vs. re-installing the OS and the apps vs. buying something new.

ADDENDUM: after a few days working with the Mini, I still can't believe it. It feels like a new machine and is all fun again. Thanks to the IT god for the healing.

I did it: Upgrade to Windows 11

I am quite dispassionate about operating systems and hardware. I use macOS, iOS, Linux and Windows. Windows has actually been around the longest - since release 2.1 in 1988.

Today, it's important to me that it shouldn't matter which computer I'm sitting at. The data is in my own or a public cloud and the typical office software is also available everywhere. Only a few specific programmes (e.g. for sound, image or video editing) run only on certain machines.

And yesterday, the time had come for my Windows computer (an Intel NUC): the upgrade to Windows 11 was available.

This is always a special moment, as there is the not unjustified worry that it will somehow go wrong. Keyword: "never change a running system!". But hey, he who dares not! The data is not on the machine anyway, system reset point created and off you go ...

... and an hour later I could log in again. That feels like a small IT miracle. Now it's time to get familiar with the new features. Here's to your upgrade going as smoothly.

We are the best. Why (not)?

At the end of 2021 I was asked to conduct a market analysis of German companies in a certain IT domain. During that project I have screened 200+ websites and corporate data of potential target companies. And one key finding was that many companies fail in telling their visitors what they really do for them.

Let's drill that down.

These days, a companies website is usually not only the first touchpoint of a prospect, it's also the place where people try to find out as much as they can before they really get in touch (note: I write this from B2B perspective). Accordingly, I would expect that the content focuses on the need of the prospect. Need means: how do we deliver value for you? What's your benefit? What's a positive outcome for you if you use our stuff or work with us? etc.? The focus should be on the WHY.

Instead of taking a customers view, many companies focus on their super technology, their great service, or themselves and why they are so great. This is an ego thing only. Even if all of that is true, why should a potential customer care? They don't know you. Accordingly, they wouldn't dive deeper if you don't explain to them the WHY.

While I understand the inner need to speak about great things in and about your company (I felt into that trap many times, too), I like to encourage you to turn the storytelling upside down: First the WHY- this is so much more important than technology, etc.. Then the HOW (the rationale), then the WHAT (the proof).

My 2021 in Review - on Success, Failure, and the big C.

Last year was a special year for me. In summer 2021, I have started this blog around topics that inspire myself and fill my days: business, fitness, and fun stuff. Since that time I had 15.000 visitors on my blog and a lot of personal exchange around "my" topics. Thanks to everyone for this joyful experience.

A few thoughts on each focus topic:

  • I consider myself being successful reinventing myself as an advisor for several companies. I was looking for environments where respect, loyalty, and passion are not only words, but core values for growing a business. I really enjoy each of my assignments and I'm particularly happy having executed an M&A market analysis (I have learned a lot around that and will share some thoughts soon) at the end of the year. It's great to use my own experience for such projects, it's really big to share insights, and being part of something bigger.
  • The fitness side of my life was more disappointing. Year on year I set some personal goals, but I failed on all of them in 2021 due to an injury. My key lesson of life here was and is: if you cannot reach your goals anymore, adjust them, make alternative plans, and execute on that. That's how I found new ways (for example working with fitness ropes and digging into Yoga again) to keep a healthy body (as foundation of a healthy mind).
  • The fun stuff side of life was also very rewarding. For example, I made a lot of new contacts just by driving that nice '66 Mustang convertible. You meet all flavors of society at car meetings and that's another experience that I really like. Everyone shares the same passion for one thing and colour of skin, religion, politics, gender, etc. are not important at all.

The biggest impact on our life is for sure the global pandemic. It has changed every aspect of living on every scale. While I enjoyed business travel so much, that came to a complete hold. I like to go to public music events, that came to a complete hold. I like to meet friends personally, that was at least much more difficult. And I have talked a lot about that also before/during/after my business sessions - mostly on Video these days. I know that the pandemic can bring individuals down and make them depressive. We don't hear and read a lot about that. Even more importantly, I'm grateful for everything that I can give and that I receive on my mission of life.

Have a great and peaceful 2022.

The Mandalorian, the 13th Warrior, or: learning SAPanese

I smiled when these thoughts came to my mind again. I have evaluated Disney+ for the kids (could also be that I need to see The Mandalorian) and stumbled over a movie that I really liked when it was released. The movie was broadcasted in 1999 and one of the coolest moments was when the protagonist, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, all of a sudden spoke the language of the northmen. That didn't come over night but was the result of listening to this strange language and adopting it piece by piece.

When I joined SAP a few years later in 2003, I felt a little bit like that. I couldn't understand what the guys were talking about. All of those 3 or 4 letter acronyms, all those different concepts, this very special architecture. Just one example: an RFC was not a "Request For Comments", but a "Remote Function Call". It took a while digging into this new world but finally, I could join most of the discussions with confidence.

As a security academic that I was by that time, I can say that it's possible to learn SAP. As an entrepreneur and founder of a company offering SAP Security solutions, however, I found it easier bringing people with SAP background on board. It's quicker teaching them key security concepts than teaching a security professional all of the alien SAP concepts. Who (dis)agrees?

Bad Products, Good Products

In my new role as advisor I speak a lot with people in charge for the companies' portfolio. As former managing director responsible for go-to-market (among other things) I went through such discussions many times. What's a good product? What's a bad product?

A product is not necessarily good ...

  • ... just because your CEO and management says so
  • ... just because your engineers tell you it's the best in class
  • ... just because your marketing tells great stories about your stuff
  • … just because <add further internal only opinions here>

It's always the customer and the market that makes the decision whether a product is good or bad. Thus I attend many customer demo sessions these days to understand what they like (and what not). This really helps you to tell a compelling story to the market. Assuming that your product is good, you need to have the right words for the market:

  • Stakeholders with budget often don't speak a technical language. Thus, you need to translate technical terms to customer value: how does your product help the customer? Are they getting more productive? Or does it help them to avoid bad business outcome? etc.?
  • Whenever you get new features from engineering ask yourself the value question again. How can this specific feature help a customer?
  • Write down customer value for your target groups, refine this while you go, and apply this messaging consistently. Over and over again - it's not done if you use it only once.

You get this started by speaking with your customers and prospects exactly about this: what does value mean? How can your product help? What do they expect? Open minded customers appreciate such conversations and you should not be shy not to do this. A key challenge can be that your crew is not willing to do this because they might perceive this approach as too offensive. So start this discussion internally and never let go again.