Mike Weinberg’s book New Sales. Simplified is the sort of book that savvy sales directors should be reading and taking notes from. It draws a clear distinction between sales to new customers, and sales to existing accounts – and focuses entirely on the former.

When times are plentiful even sales people who don’t “do” new business can make quota, Weinberg argues. When times are tough, companies realise that they might no longer have the skills or approach they need. Even in the age of inbound marketing, content marketing, and buyers researching vendors online, sales people do often need to source their own leads to sell to (particularly if, like many, their company has so-far failed with marketing automation).

Weinberg provides a clear framework for anyone interested in new business acquisition to follow.

Reasons for failure with new business

Sales people fail at new business sales, Weinberg contends, because they are too passive, lacking in focus, unwilling to call prospects, focus on existing accounts too much, and because they lack the core sales skills. With the right approach, right support, and right targets, many (but not all) sales people could generate new business without needing to have things handed to them on a plate.

Company role in new business

To enable sales people to succeed in new business development, companies need to get certain things right. First, they need to actually allow new business specialists to focus on prospecting and closing deals. Second, compensation plans need to reward the desired behaviour. Third, the company needs to have a good story to tell – the sales messaging needs to be right, and the sales tools ought to be compelling and persuasive. This isn’t something a sales rep or even sales leader can do entirely alone – the company ought to at least stop getting in the way if new business acquisition is to happen.

Targets, weapons, attack

Weinberg’s model is in just three parts – select targets, create and deploy weapons, plan and execute the attack. If new business sales people are focused on the right accounts, have the right sales tools and skills, and plan and execute properly – Weinberg argues that they will succeed. It’s that simple. The rest of his book walks the reader through what to do in an easy-to-digest manner.

Target accounts

The chapter on targeting – like much of New Sales. Simplified seems almost trivially obvious. Yet companies everywhere will be asking Why aren’t we doing that? New business efforts ought to be focused, so write a list – an actual physical list – of target prospects. Identify companies that share key characteristics with your best current customers. This isn’t something that all companies do have, and it isn’t something that can be left to the inexperienced new rep to work out either. Thinking about which companies would make good customers is the first stage in new business acquisition.

Sales stories

Sales reps need an effective sales story to tell – yet often they are given something that’s lame and ineffective.

‘A bogus story unsupported by the brand experience creates an embarrassing, stressful, and demotivating situation for the salesperson. It’s also a huge deterrent to prospecting for new business.’

Sales stories need to lead with the ‘issues, pains, problems, opportunities, and results that are important to your prospects.’ Differentiation is key to demonstrating value. The sales story can’t come from sales alone – it needs marketing, and probably the C-suite – to agree how to position the company.

Weinberg actually walks the reader through the process of writing a strong sales story. It’s not a fluent read – because each company is different there are a large variety of examples, caveats, and blanks to fill in. But it helps the reader to understand what’s being recommended. There are a couple of examples too (one for Weinberg’s own sales coaching business), so it becomes relatively easy to follow along. Of course understanding what to do is a lot easier than actually getting agreement within a company. It’s also worth noting that Weinberg’s examples look at selling and positioning a company overall (solutions) – but a lot of reps will focus in a single product line or product area, and some of these reps will have new business responsibility too.

New business phone calls

The telephone is the element of new business sales that people most dislike. Making cold calls – sorry, “proactive phone calls” – scares people. (I hate doing it.) Yet ‘with proper targeting, reps will only be calling companies that would benefit from the product or service on offer’. Then ‘when we come to the understanding that our motivation for making the call is rooted in the fact that we can probably help the prospect, everything changes.’

Feel good about calling. Set time aside to actually do it. Have clear objectives for each call. Weinberg even suggests a few great opening phrases. This book is perfect to pick at for your own ideas, your own lines, and even your own call sheets. It’s simple, and practical.

Presenting and its pitfalls

Weinberg understands that it doesn’t make sense to present before you understand something about the prospects’ situation.

‘New business development success results from creating a sales dialogue, not perfecting a monologue.’

Don’t “show up and throw up” or “spray and pray” he warns (rather graphically). Yet, some ‘reps argue that we should first give our full presentation, thereby earning the right to question the prospect.’ Weinberg’s answer – ‘share enough meaningful information … to build credibility, create interest, and help the prospect warm up’. He might also have said that being afforded a meeting probably grants enough of a right to ask a few sensible and well-researched questions. Weinberg doesn’t suggest using slides at this point – but I think that could be an option if done well (i.e. visual slides, informally shared). Start a visual sales conversation – don’t immediately just open PowerPoint and deliver a full sales presentation at this point.

Weinberg isn’t a fan of presentations. He tells a funny story – a nightmare story – that will sound all-too familiar to anyone who has ever had to sit silently while a colleague delivers the wrong presentation, for too long. If you have ever been through something similar, the story will bring a smile to your lips.

Weinberg doesn’t think that presentations should happen at first meetings (although of course some first ‘meetings’ happen remotely now, making first in-person meetings more like second meetings). When prospects insist on hearing presentations, sales reps ought to ask questions. Yet he admits that when done well a sales presentation can be one of our most powerful sales weapons.’ To be effective of course:

‘It’s essential the focus of the presentation be squarely on the customer.’

What about situations where sufficient discovery is impossible? Weinberg recommends showing a slide listing the prospect’s likely challenges, and asking them to prioritise them. Target accounts share certain characteristics, so sales people ought to be able to be able to draft a reasonable list to share. Could we then use polling technology to ask the prospect to prioritise, and then dynamically alter the slides that we go on to show? Absolutely. Weinberg pretty much describes our Visual Conversations approach:

‘Does it take guts? You bet it does. Will you set yourself apart and leave a memorable impression of the potential client? No doubt about it.’

Summary

For some companies, the flow of leads from a well-oiled marketing machine might mean sales people always have 100s of leads to chase after, and don’t need to source their own. For others, sales people aren’t always fully occupied with productive work, and could be busy creating their own opportunities. Weinberg makes a strong case that new business requires time and effort that most sales people simply don’t put in. That doesn’t mean that the age of outbound sales calls has gone.

Without spending the time on making calls to generate interest and set meetings, it’s hard to use those meetings to acquire new customers. A pipeline needs to be full, and balanced, and moving. Without setting time aside to pick up the phone, it won’t happen. With New Sales. Simplified the chances of actually getting new business development right will go up. You will know what to do. Some of it will feel obvious, but if you weren’t already doing it, sometimes it helps to have somebody remind you of what you aren’t doing. That, I think, is the point of the book.

New Sales. Simplified is a really good read. To be successful with it, companies will need buy-in around strategy and positioning, marketing for effective sales tools, sales leadership, and those reps who focus on fulfilling a new business role. Because success in new business needs engagement from sales managers, sales leaders, and sales reps – it might have been useful to have advice for managers expanded and separated out. Having read the book, I’m still a little unsure as to how to hire someone for a new business position. I might have liked some PDF downloads on an accompanying website to make the book even easier to use. But the raw information you need is  in the book.

This is an essential read if you or your colleagues need a reminder of, or a start in, the art of good old-fashioned new business acquisition.

And once you have secured those opportunities, check out our resources on how to create compelling sales presentations: our blog posts describing how to make the ULTIMATE sales presentation and 6 sales presentation techniques you should learn, and our set of video resources on crafting better sales presentations.

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Joby Blume

Director

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