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Selling Tactics
Why Johnny (and Janie) Can't Sell
By Michael J. Nick, President, ROI4Sales, Inc.

In depth sales article co-authored by Michael J. Nick of ROI4Sales, Bob Kantin of, and Tim Sullivan of Sales Performance International

In the last few years some organizations have found that their sales processes have gotten more challenging while the performance of some of their sales professionals who were past stars has deteriorated. Selling complex products and services, versus selling commodities, has always been more difficult and sales professionals must have different skill sets, as illustrated below.


  • Simple product or service perceived as a commodity by the buyer
  • One or two calls perhaps telemarketing
  • One or two apparent decision makers
  • Low risk
  • Relationships less important, buyer views the sales professional as vendor
  • Technique selling
  • Price quote
  • Price and availability more important
  • Complicated product or service
  • Multiple consultative calls, demonstrations, and presentationsion requires technical sales support
  • Multiple decision makers, executive committee or board-level decision
  • High risk
  • Relationships very important to buyer, may view the sales professional as a business consultant
  • Value-based selling
  • Proactive sales proposal or response to a Request for Proposal (RFP)
  • Return on investment (ROI) very important or required

Other factors in most complex sales also have contributed to process and performance problems:

  • The economy, companies don't have the funds to buy
  • Fallout from the late 90's, companies no longer buy products and services without first completing in-depth analyses
  • Required value proposition, sellers must prove that their proposed products or services make or save money

Most companies recognize that the world and their buyers buying processes probably have changed forever. But, some companies haven't recognized the need to make changes in their sales forces. They wonder why Johnny can't sell like he did in the past. Perhaps Johnny and many other sales professionals don't have the skills or tools needed. Here are some questions a company might ask to assess their sales situation.

Do our sales professionals . . .

  • Follow a consultative sales process designed specifically for our unique products or services?
  • Have the ability to calculate an ROI for our specific products or services that is accurate, unbiased, and plausible?
  • Write customer-centric sales proposals that help buyers  make informed buying decisions?

If the company uses a contact management or customer relationship management (CRM) system, it needs to ask one additional key question. Does our CRM or contact management system tie our consultative sales, ROI analysis, and proposal production processes together?

Following a Consultative Sales Process

Sales professionals fall into two classifications: eagles and journeymen. The majority of sales organizations are composed of journeymen who rely on their knowledge of the company and its offerings in sales calls. Journeymen are most comfortable talking about their company's capabilities. They make lots of statements about their capabilities, in hopes that something will resonate with the buyer. In general, journeymen see their job as a facilitator of transactions between their company and its customers.

While representing less than 20 percent of most sales teams, eagles produce the bulk of sales revenues in some cases, more than 80 percent. What makes eagles so much more effective than journeymen? Eagles focus on the customer and their business issues and have intelligent conversations about their customers challenges. In general, eagles see their job as capturing pertinent customer information, diagnosing customer issues, and then prescribing the most suitable solutions.

Customers view journeymen as sales agents or vendors only. However, they view eagles as consultants, because they provide value in every meeting. Customers will buy from journeymen if required, but in general, they buy a lot more from eagles as much as four times more. And they like buying from them.

The good news is that journeymen can be taught to behave more like eagles. The methods and techniques used by eagle sales professionals can be captured in a repeatable process. But, this process must be tailored to the unique products and services of each selling organization. Once established, the process can be taught to everyone in the sales team.

With a consistent sales process, journeymen will know how to engage in consultative selling behavior on every call. They can have customer-focused conversations designed to gather the information needed to diagnose  the specific challenges of that customer. Then they can prescribe the most appropriate product or service to address that challenge and develop a supporting value proposition.

Most importantly, by following a consultative sales process, sales professionals will capture information that can be used to differentiate themselves from competitive alternatives. In other words, the sales professional can gain a competitive advantage by what they sell and also by how they sell. Specifically, eagle sales professionals excel in justifying the value of their proposed solutions and communicating that potential value to customers in their sales proposals. They can do this because they have diagnostic conversations with customers focused on the customers issues and challenges. They also can have sales tools and systems that reinforce and integrate with their company's unique sales process.

With a consultative sales process, a sales team will produce better ROI analyses for its customers, and improved sales proposals that are customer-focused. A consultative sales process is an essential first step in turning your sales team into a competitive advantage.

Using an ROI Analysis System

ROI and Value Justification are becoming "must-have" components in the selling equation. The ROI Insider on states that "more than 80 percent of IT buyers now rely on vendors to help them quantify the value proposition of solutions." In fact, many CIOs now elevate the ability of a vendor to proactively justify their solutions to one of the top five most important selection criteria.

Several key concepts discussed below provide insight into using ROI Selling and Value Justification in the selling equation. These concepts also support the Why Johnny Can't Sell proposition because companies don't give their sales professionals ROI analysis tools they need.

  1. The right questions for the right decision maker: Too often when a sales professional gets an opportunity to meet with a decision maker he doesn't have a logical, relevant, and consistent set of questions to discuss. He may have gathered data that is inconsistent, irrelevant, or not pertinent. A sales professional should have questions and data that will enhance the conversation, not delay the opportunity. These questions should be an integral component of a consultative sales process and some of the buyers answers to critical, key performance questions belong in a customer-focused sales proposal.
  2. The longer a sale takes, the less chance you have of winning the opportunity: Sales process research  consistently shows that the longer a sale takes to close, the greater the risk of losing the sale to a competitor, or worse, to no decision. Using value justification and ROI helps reduce time to revenue because this financial information defines the buyer's cost of delaying the decision or maintaining the status quo. A sales professional should be prepared to use these buyer costs in the consultative sales process and in the sales proposals.
  3. Quality of ROI model separates winners from losers: An objective, substantive ROI analysis tool integrated into a consultative sales process is far more credible than a lightweight ROI marketing ploy. Using a value justification tool during the sale and a value assessment program after the sale creates a paradigm shift for the buyer to the seller is a business partner, not another vendor. Brian Sommer, VP at Aberdeen, told us once, "Everyone will figure out the spreadsheet ROI, but no one will put a post-contract program in place and measure the milestones." It is critical to a successful sales team to follow up and measure the value delivered.
  4. Documented decision making: Some products, especially intangibles like software, are subject to scope-creep after the sale. As one vendor put it, "The customer buys based on an 80% fit to their needs, and then quickly focuses on the 20% that they knew wasn't there when they bought it." A consistent selling method, a sales proposal that clearly defines the proposed software application and ROI model, and a value assessment measurement program after the sale can keep the buyer focused on the key requirements and benefits that originally drove the purchase decision. The bottom line: Happy customers and quality case studies for use on the next opportunity.

Ted Matwijec of Rockwell Automation said it best, "Using ROI in the sales process has changed the paradigm between salesperson and vendor. We are now subject matter experts and can clearly articulate to our customers that we have their best interests at heart. ROI Selling has turned the vendor/customer relationship into a partnership relationship." Sales professionals must be prepared to use value justification in the sales equation.

ROI Selling is a program that includes all of the concepts discussed. Each component is equally important to a successful selling campaign. Further, it is critical (1) to use Value Justification during the consultative sales process and sales proposal creation and (2) to assess the value delivered after the sale. Ignoring the need to provide sales professionals with an integrated ROI model may result in limited success.

Using an Automated Proposal Production System

Some companies don't give their sales professionals the tools they need to write winning proposals. Often there are no defined content requirements, standards, or guidelines for writing sales proposals. Some sales professionals can write proposals without getting management review and approval. For many sales professionals proposal writing is a time-consuming, cut-and-paste task that often produces a document disconnected from the sales process. A low Proposal Close Ratio might more closely reflect a sales professional's writing skills or poor use of a word processing system rather than his selling ability.

A company must ensure that its sales professionals write sales proposals that help buyers make informed buying decisions. Equally important, the company must ensure that its sales proposals:

  • Are customer-centric
  • Contain the pertinent customer information gathered during the consultative sales process, including the results of the ROI analysis
  • Reflect the sales organization's quality and branding standards

The bottom line is that a proposal doesn't have to be good, just perfect! Perhaps one reason Johnny can't sell is because he can't write that perfect proposal because he is too busy being an eagle. Maybe he's not the best writer, or maybe he doesn't have the time or inclination to take six to twelve hours of Microsoft Office Word 2003 training, or maybe he isn't getting any help from the company.

Implementing an automated proposal production system can fix a lot of the problems and provide significant benefits to the company and its sales professionals. An automated proposal production system:

  • Allows the company to develop custom proposal models for each of its products or services to ensure content accuracy and consistency.
  • Reduces the time needed for sales professionals to write a winning proposals they only have to input customer specific information gathered during the consultative sales and ROI analysis processes
  • Generates proposals that reflect the company's quality and branding standards with no cut-and-paste or formatting tasks
  • Provides management with information to monitor sales production activities and measure results

Connecting The Processes

When sales professionals integrate their consultative sales, ROI analysis, and proposal development processes, they find process connections with those buyer information areas where their selling, analyzing, and writing activities overlap. These process connections are in several main areas:

  • General buyer information
  • Business challenge information: ways to reduce or avoid costs or to increase revenues
  • Product or service application: how the proposed product or service works in the buyer's business
  • Value Proposition: financial (ROI) and non-financial benefits the buyer receives from the product or service
  • Implementation: how and when the product will be implemented and the buyer's involvement in the project

Process Connections Belong in a CRM or Contact Management System

Putting process connections in a customer relationship management (CRM) or contact management system helps ensure that a company's sales force sells consultatively because the process connections represent the customer information a sales professional must gather (and use) to sell a product or service. If this information is contained in fields on an "opportunity" screen in a CRM/contact management system, then these fields also can become sales process guides that reinforce the organization's consultative sales process.

If a company uses automated ROI analysis and sales proposal systems, then the process connections contained in its CRM/contact management system streamline the analysis and proposal production processes. Facilitating the ROI analysis and proposal generation requires interfacing the CRM/contact management system with these two systems. The interfaces pass the appropriate process connections needed to generate the customercentric ROI analyses and sales proposals.

For example, to sell an automated payroll system, a sales professional certainly needs to know how many employees the prospective customer has. The CRM/ contact management system, ROI analysis system, and a proposal model in an automated proposal system would contain matching [Number Employees] fields. More importantly, the sales professional also needs to gather other consultative information during the sales process needed to calculate the ROI and write a customer-centric proposal. This other customer information might include key performance indicators, improvement opportunities, application variables, customer-specific benefits, ROI calculations, and implementation variables that the process connections represent matching fields in the three systems.

The diagram below illustrates how the following four components interface and overlap:

  • Consultative sales process
  • ROI analysis system
  • Automated sales proposal system
  • CRM/contact management system

The Value Proposition for Integrating the Sales Process Components

Integrating the four sales process components results in several benefits for a sales organization:

  • Defining customer information requirements, the process connections, helps reinforce a consultative sales process
  • Selling consultatively builds rapport and relationshipwith a prospective customer and also helps change perceptions this organization's sales professionals are more like eagles and less like journeymen
  • Automating the ROI analysis process provides the buyer with the much-needed value proposition which can reduce the length of the sales process
  • Automating the sales proposal development process reduces writing and production times and helps ensure the production of customer-centric, consistent, and quality sales proposals
  • Leveraging a CRM or contact management system as the process connections repository brings structure, accountability, and focus to the sales, ROI analysis, and proposal production processes

Integrating and automating the processes increases Proposal Close Ratios because sales professionals:

- Sell consultatively
- Gather and process the right customer information
- Produce accurate and plausible ROI analyses
- Develop customer-centric proposals that help customers make informed buying decisions

With access to and benefit of the four integrated process components, Johnny (and Janie) will have the tools and skills to achieve spectacular results. They will be the eagles of the new millennium, better prepared to analyze, consult, differentiate, communicate, compete, and win.

The process connections represent: (1) the customer information overlap between the four components and (2) most of the matching fields in the CRM/contact management and the ROI analysis and proposal production systems.


Michael J. Nick is President and founder of ROI4Sales and author of How to Build the Perfect ROI and ROI Selling. Michael speaks on ROI and conducts several public workshops and seminars throughout the year. His expertise has extended internationally with companies like Rockwell Automation, Oracle Systems, GEAC, and Microsoft™ Great Plains™ Software.

Bob Kantin is President of™, which provides sales proposal design, development, integration, and automation services. Bob has written several books on sales proposal design and integration, including Sales Proposals Kit for Dummies.™ offers Sales Proposal Builder, an Internet-based sales proposal production and management system.

Tim Sullivan is Vice President of Product Marketing and Development at Sales Performance International, a global provider of sales best practice consulting, training, and tools. For more than two decades, Tim has been an analyst of what makes the best sales professionals effective, and his findings on sales and marketing practices have been published in Marketing Management, SellingPower, VARBusiness Online, and many other trade journals.

Michael J. Nick is the President and founder of ROI4Sales, Inc. ( ) He has trained thousands of sales people on using ROI in the sales process and has appeared on radio talk shows, the tradeshow circuit and produced several public workshops throughout the world. His latest book ROI Selling (Dearborn Trade Press) is turning out to be the "ROI bible" for most sales, marketing and management people throughout the software industry. Michael can be reached directly at or by calling ROI4Sales at 262-338-1851.

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