Dealstorming: The Secret Weapon for Stuck Deals (Part 2)


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In Part I of my interview with Tim Sanders, author of DEALSTORMING, we talk about how to leverage a new, collaborative problem-solving approach when you’re facing tough sales challenges.

In the second part of my interview with Tim, we focus on how to lead a dealstorming team. Believe me, you’ve never done anything like this before. 

Listen to the full audio recording or download the pdf.

Exclusive Interview with Tim Sanders

Jill:    Even just them thinking about that and taking the time to prepare a Deal Brief. Let me just stop and say that many people have not heard about the Deal Brief before. That’s the first time you’ve brought that up. You said earlier this is not a meeting. This is joining a team. That is fundamentally different.

Tim:    I’m going to use a football analogy, but I promise it to be my only sports analogy on this call. When you join a football team, they give you a big huge notebook, and the notebook has all the plays in it, doesn’t it?

Jill:    Right.

Tim:    It also has the schemes, such as “We run a 4-3 against this certain offense.” The point is you don’t join a team without getting the notebook, and sales collaboration works the same way.

If people are important enough to be on your team, you have to respect them enough to brief them. That’s something I learned way back in 2002 from Tom Kelley at IDEO, the innovation company. He told me, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Tom Kelley said the secret to their meetings was that everybody involved was briefed the Friday before the meeting, which was usually on a Tuesday. They were incentivized to read the brief on a Friday, so their mind could incubate over the weekend. The briefs were high quality, honest, and transparent, but they were still 2, or 3, or 4 pages at the most. As a result, they were read and people walked into the meeting with ideas and ready to start punching holes in the problem.

Jill:    I think that’s really crucial. When I read that in your book, I thought that’s brilliant, and I have a pretty extensive background in creative problem-solving myself, so I understand the value of the incubation time.

First of all, the salesperson has to pull together this brief, which encapsulates the issue and what they have done already. That helps the salesperson clarify and think through things that otherwise would not necessarily be top of mind.

To give this to your stakeholders ahead of time, and to get them to read it beforehand, and I know you said the last step is to give each person a very specific thing to think about, a very specific assignment, right?

Tim:    Right. If you’re going to invite someone to the meeting, they should have a clear role. How many meetings have we been invited to where you have no idea why you’re there? There’s that moment of OS where everybody just goes, “Okay. Well, what do you think, Jill?” “Well, I don’t know. I’m new here.”

I believe that when I bring you into the team, I don’t just brief you. I say, “Okay, Jill. I brought you in because you’re on the sales operations team that does all the inventory management after the deal is signed, and I want you to take a look at 3 or 4 lookalike accounts because you have access to that inventory. Would you’d be willing to talk to us about alternatives and delivery in the meeting?”

That’s a very specific assignment. It may not be part of the solution. It may be. But by telling you to think about that up front, there’s a lot of things that happen.

  • We know you’re more likely to read the brief now.
  • We know that when you come to the meeting, you will have a sense of expertise internally, giving you the confidence to speak up.

Quite frankly, it makes the meeting a lot more enjoyable because you’re prepared. What I’ve learned is that a great dealstorm isn’t just a meeting. It looks like an accordion. There are several meetings, and the trick is engagement.

How many times do we do the big project initiative kickoff, and it’s like 15 people in the room. We’re all eating cookies, and we’re excited, and then by the fourth meeting, there are 3 people because the meetings were poorly prepared and awfully run.

I think that deal brief, that personal assignment is a glue that gets a person really onboard.

Jill:    I agree with you because it invites them in and engages their brain before they get there. They know that they have a role. They know specifically what you want them to think about. They digest the information differently than if you just sent it out because they’ve got to be able to use it and come to this team as a contributing member, and know that is an expectation.

Tim:    And they see things. They read the brief and go, “Did you ever think about such and such and so and so?” I can’t tell you how many AEs would say, “I sent the brief out, and even before the meeting, we had a brand new problem, and somebody had already noticed the solution.” The solution was painfully obvious that you can see it.

Jill:    That’s really true. That happens when you’re just so focused on doing things the way you know how to do them, and you just don’t see things that are outside your normal scope of operation. You don’t think like if you’re an AE, you don’t think like a finance guy or you don’t think like the sales engineer on the account. You see life differently. You see food differently.

Tim:    Yeah.

Jill:    Let’s just go through the steps quickly. Can you list the steps because we’re not going to have the time to go through them all in this interview. Then I have a couple more questions.

Tim:    It’s a seven-step process:

Step 1, you qualify. We talked about that.

Step 2, you organize. We talked about that too. You invite everybody that’s a stakeholder, a couple of experts. They join a cause. It’s not just about the money. I want to stress sometimes, it’s about kicking the competition’s butt. That was a lever I use all the time both at Yahoo and in my consulting gig.

Step 3, you prepare. That’s the brief.

Step 4, you convene. This is a really important step. Meetings can produce magic if you run the meetings with strong ground rules and a really good sense of control over that meeting.

Step 5, you execute. You’re going to usually determine the next best play, and you have to execute vetting all the assumptions behind it, building the prototypes. No matter what idea you have, you have to have a prototype. A prototype is worth a thousand meetings. You might even want to test that prototype with your prospect.

I call it a “whisper test” with your champion at the company. All of that goes into execution. You put the play in action.

Step 6, you analyze whether you leveled up, and if a new sticking point has raised its ugly head, or whether it didn’t work and there’s collateral damage, but you got to analyze what you did.

Step 7, you report. Initially, you’re reporting how things are in progress or have turned out to the deal team, but when you find something that works, you escalate the innovation up to very quickly get the case study into the sales process. Our research says it takes 30 months from a field level innovation to make it in the average corporation’s case study list. That’s too long.

Jill:    Thirty months, that’s … how many lost deals?”

Tim:    There’s an old saying that Ed Deming, one of my old bosses in the quality movement used to say, “The only reason to think out of the box is to make it stronger, so please let us know when you get something right.”

Jill:    That’s good. I like that. Okay, let’s just say you’re at the meeting. Running a good meeting is very different from running a sales call for many sales people, and that includes the skill of facilitation. I’ve used that word before and people looked at me like I was crazy.

“Facilitation? You want me to facilitate a sales meeting or facilitate a meeting?” “Yes, I want you to facilitate.” Can you define … First of all, what are the skills? What is facilitation at one of these meetings? What does the person doing who’s the salesperson who’s not used doing this facilitating? What are they doing, and how do they do it well?

Tim:    You lay down your ground rules, you disclose the agenda, you keep people on agenda, you focus the meeting on continual progress and finishing on time, and no one walks out of the room without absolute clarity of who’s on first.

That’s the secret to facilitation. Facilitation is about personal strength. What I mean by that is the strength to keep people on agenda, to protect the introvert, and the misfits, and the ugly babies known as “new ideas,” to get people to reveal their assumptions, and to help debate, not become inner-departmental argumentation.

Believe it or not, I think the AE should always be the facilitator, and that really applies in the phase of corporate wisdom where you’d think, “No, that would be an SVP of Sales that runs it.” No, because the SVP of Sales is going to intimidate everybody in the room for really telling the truth.

Jill:    That’s right.

Tim:    If the AE runs the meeting, it’s a growth experience. I never ran dealstorms once I became a consultant. I refuse to. I made the AE did it and I coached the AE because when she ran a couple of this across departments, she became a leader at her company. It’s a tremendous exercise.

The most important ground rule is that ideas can come from anywhere, but we have to enforce that because “not invented here” is the enemy of dealstorming—and it’s something we say it all the time.

The reality is someone from outside of your department doesn’t operate under the same constraints you do in sales. They don’t even know your sales process. That’s why they have an idea that sounds harebrained that ends up being brilliant. Sometimes, the constraints of our sales process are still based on assumptions made in 1995.

Jill:    Yes, that’s true.

Tim:    Ideas can come from anywhere. It’s tremendously important to the process, but really, Jill, it’s about saying, “The meeting is never going to be longer than 2 hours. If possible, it’s only going to be an hour, so it’s not painful to come to one of my meetings. We’re going to spend 50 minutes debating the problem before we ever discuss the solution, and we’re never going to go forward or backward in the agenda.”

I think that’s the secret to successful facilitation of a dealstorm.

Jill:    It is a real difference, isn’t it, from what most salespeople are used to initially? It’s a learning and growth experience for many, many reps.

Tim:    It really is because a lot of times, the salesperson’s relationships with people outside of their group is either asking for a favor, gaining a little bit of favor or trying to be likable, et cetera,

Sometimes, they’re engaging with the client, but usually because there’s a deficit. There’s something they don’t know. They want that engineer to talk to the client to figure out, but this is really different. You’re bringing people to the table and saying, “I want to know your opinion,” and that’s risky. It requires a lot of courage, but if you’re strong, and you stay on agenda, and you follow the process. It’s a winner.

Jill:    You do say too in your book that this is not about a consensus decision. We’re not trying to get everybody go, “Ooh, yeah. That’s great. Let’s do this.” That’s not the purpose of this meeting.

Tim:    Sometimes, it’s not about getting everybody in the room to agree with the idea. It’s about getting the delivery team to say, “I can live with this. I may not like it, but I can live it.”

A little trick here is I learned … You stand up in the very first meeting, and you say, “We brought you in to improve our level of information, so we can win.” Okay?

Jill:      Right.

Tim:    “Likely, we won’t reach a consensus. Statistically, it almost never happen. I get that. If we don’t reach a consensus, my manager and I are going to go off, take all of it into account, and make the best decision we can.”

By saying that, Jill, you’d be shocked at how hard everyone in the room works to come to consensus. They work against that. They actively try to prove you wrong.

If you walk in here assuming everybody is going to hold hands and we’re going to sing campfire songs, they will fight you, and they will say, “You don’t understand this. You don’t understand that,” especially when the AE is junior.

That’s a little hack I’ve learned to be around that, but here’s the point. When you call a dealstorm, you’re not giving up control of your commission or your destiny. It’s really important to understand that. All you’re doing is making it more transparent about what you’ve done today. So that is the risk, but if you follow the process and you tell the truth, I don’t see the downside.

Jill:    No, there’s only upside to me. When I was reading, I was going, “This is really, really good.” Your book is an incredible asset to the sales profession. It gives them, like I said at the very beginning, fresh strategies that have not been out there before. I’ve never seen the clear application of creativity and innovation approaches applied like you have to get sales accounts unstuck.

Tim:    Thank you.

Jill:    I am highly recommending it to anybody who is listening in and/or reading this interview as it appears online because it is definitely worth it. It will get everybody’s minds thinking in new ways. Like I said, it’s fresh, and it opens you up to new ways to address the challenges that people face every day.

Tim:    Thank you so much, and I think it’s also a huge leadership opportunity for those that have a lot of ambitions to move up to greater things because if you can handle a dealstorm, there’s no storm you can’t weather.

Jill:    That’s a great way to wrap it up. Thanks so much, Tim Sanders, for being with me today. I truly appreciate your time.

Tim:    I do too. Thank you, Jill. I appreciate it.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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