How to prepare Sales for Conversations That Win


Share on LinkedIn

Here at idio, we’ve enjoyed the work of Tim Reisterer and Erik Peterson of Corporate Visions for some time. The duo’s latest line of thinking is encapsulated in their new book Conversations That Win The Complex Sale, and having heard them both speak recently at a conference in London, we’ve distilled their thesis down to our ten key take-aways:

1) Avoid ‘commoditized conversations’

The temptation in all sales conversations is to articulate how your product’s capabilities can solve the known needs of your prospect. The problem with this is that it invariably leads to ‘commoditized conversations’ where both you and your competitors lead with capabilities-first discussion. At best, you are then viewed to be on parity with your competitors and enter into a ‘competitive bake-off’, at worst it forces your prospect to stick with the status quo and not make a purchase decision at all.

2) Introduce unconsidered needs first

Timing is everything: leading with unconsidered needs is much more powerful than responding to stated needs and then introducing an unconsidered need at the end. Such was the conclusion of Corporate Visions’ research with Professor Zakary Tormalain of Stanford School of Business (you can read more about the study here).

3) Make your insights ‘visionary’

The Conversations That Win are those where a vendor can produce a truly visionary insight that it is provocative and unique enough that it makes the status quo ‘untenable’ for the prospect, and positions their proposition as the best option for the prospect to future-proof against coming change. A visionary insights both predict and defines what’s next and how it will affect your prospects’ business.

4) Get more senior decision makers into your database

According to analyst firm IDC, 80% of B2B decisions are being signed by decision makers with VP or higher titles, yet sales teams continue to spend the majority of their time speaking to lower-level employers. On one hand this is understandable: it’s exactly these people that will likely be using your product and – at a capabilities level – will benefit from it. However, B2B selling a team sport: it takes 5.4 people to formally sign off on each purchase according to Harvard Business Review. The output of this is to make sure that from the outset your database contains these senior decision makers and that they are also being targeted with relevant messaging.

5) Make sure the story continues at lead handoff

Even when Marketing have devised a compelling message with visionary insights that raise unconsidered needs, all that hard work can be lost at lead handoff if Sales are unable to continue to story. The key to solving messaging alignment problem is providing your salespeople with tools that help them connect the dots between Marketing and Sales stories.Lead-Handover-Graphic

Our sales team use idio for Salesforce to understand each lead’s interests and needs as revealed by their consumption of marketing content. This enables our reps to have relevant, informed conversations with prospective buyers based on actual pain-points, rather than assumptions made on job titles and purchase history information – to great effect.

6) Recognise the “business acumen gap”

Sirius Decisions research shows that executive decision-makers prefer discussion about business trends, issues, and insights four times more than product knowledge-driven sales conversations. These C-level buyers seek salespeople who can move on from only discussing business process problems and solutions to discussing the overall business results the customer’s company is trying to achieve. Unfortunately, a Forrester study that revealed business buyers felt 88% of salespeople who call on them are knowledgeable about their products and services, but only 24% understand their business issues. In short, there is a “business acumen gap”.

7) Conquer the fear of speaking to VPs

One of the speakers at Conversations That Win conference in London was Dave Jenkins, Global Program Owner – Financial Selling Portfolio, Sales Learning at IBM. Jenkin’s spot was a masterclass on how they prepare new IBM salespeople to traverse the business acumen gap. Methods included teaching new recruits how to make ROI calculations, learn the distinct terminology of each sector they are selling to, and to learn how to talk to CFOs, over a month. The training culminates with a role-playing with actual C-level executives where real scenarios from the field are played out and salespeople are tested on their newly-acquired acumen. Such programs perhaps won’t be realisable by every organisation, however, the core tenets of continual research and applied learning are.

8) The three numbers that need to be fixed

You’ll probably be aware of 74, 70, 10, Conversations That Win brought more numbers to terrify (or inspire!) better sales enablement. Not least that “90% of content that is created is unused” and “approximately 40hrs monthly invested by salespeople to build content that is fit for purpose”. It’s not all bad news: the problems with articulated throughout the morning are being solved by emerging technologies (not least by us).

9) Discounting – more trouble than it’s worth

McKinsey & Company found that for every 5% price discount you give up, you need to increase order volume by 19%. So while you might’ve thought discounting would help move the deal along, you’ve just made it nearly four times harder to make up what you lost. Ouch.

10) Listen, listen, listen

More McKinsey findings: this time it related to the top behaviors of high-performing sales organizations. In particular, a management team that had identify patterns of need in the market, and a responsive sales team that could see how their solutions met both declared and undeclared customer needs. In both cases the core skill was listening. Peterson advised having “listening posts that are close to the customer”, this meant taking onboard feedback from customers, analyst communities, and your sales team.


Complex sales are difficult (it’s in the name!). However, as we found at this month’s conference, Corporate Visions’ latest thinking will go a long way to better position B2B organizations operating in increasingly challenging sales scenarios.

Jonny Rose
Idio makes buyer-centric marketing possible for global B2B enterprises. Idio’s Demand Orchestration platform uses Content Intelligence to predict the interests of every individual, and automatically deliver relevant 1:1 experiences across digital channels. Global leaders including Intel, Fitch Ratings, and AllianceBernstein trust Idio’s AI to maximize buyer engagement and pipeline, whilst automating marketing complexity.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here