Guest Post by Kiva Kolstein of AlphaSense. Originally published here.
Choreographing Enterprise Sales: What Sales Leaders Can Learn from Hamilton
When sales professionals choreograph every aspect of their sales process – from initial research and prep to final negotiation and closing – they set the stage for success. Think about the last time you saw a ballet or Broadway show. Every dancer on the stage knew exactly where they needed to be during every moment. Hours and hours of practice went into preparing for that performance, and by the time you were watching from the audience, it looked completely effortless. Likewise, the sales process should be choreographed and made to look completely effortless.
If you think that a highly choreographed sales process runs the risk of sacrificing authenticity, that’s not true. Highly structured planning and forethought frees the sales professional to be truly creative and adaptive, to be present and in the moment.
For example, when many people think of memorization, they often fear that they’ll sound robotic. On the contrary, memorizing lines allows you to use your brainpower to hone your performance. When you don’t have to think about what to say, you can act in the moment. That’s why I like to train enterprise sellers to use forethought, rehearse and leave nothing to chance.
Let the Details Inform your Process
The process of choreographing a dance, much like strategizing an enterprise sale, requires attention to many moving parts. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by minutiae, the best choreographers employ the finer details as key performance components.
Andy Blankenbuehler is a Tony Award-winning choreographer behind the mega-hit, Hamilton, among other musicals. For him, the choreography process begins with the details. He explains, “Parameters are so good for me. So, if you know you have to wear boots, that informs the choreography. If you know that you’re supposed to be carrying a 30-pound rifle in your hand, and you have to load it a certain way, that informs choreography. So, in that way, Hamilton has been extraordinary to me in providing me rules.”
Sales leaders can also use parameters, restrictions, and other details to inform their team’s process. While your team may not be carrying rifles into the performance, they will be gathering ammunition at all stages of the process, in the form of gathering information for their prospects’ needs. At the end of the sales cycle, this ammunition will be used to win the inevitable fight and help them close the deal.
During the initial stages, your sellers are performing quick research on their prospect’s industry, company and the person they’re meeting. Based on what they learn, sellers should be able to communicate exactly why a contact should meet with them at this time. Later, the seller will walk them through a lengthy and specific discovery process; including a deep dive on challenges, quantifiable impact, ideal solution, the impact of success, players experiencing the pain and be involved in solving, priority, timeline, and budget. All the information they gather along the way becomes a stockpile of ammunition.
The best sellers are always on the lookout for an edge, and recognize every single interaction with a prospect may impact the outcome of a deal, so they leave nothing to chance. For example, when they first enter the lobby and are waiting for the meeting to begin, they shouldn’t be checking email. Instead, they should pay attention to their surroundings and the resources at hand. They can gather information from an annual report on the table in front of them, read the CEO’s letter to shareholders or review the 10K. Then, they’ll be able to ask their prospect, “I understand you’re expanding your business into China,” or, “I understand you’re developing this specific new product. How does your work relate to that?”
There are many other resources available for pre-meeting research. The receptionist or assistant can answer questions if they’ve been at the company for a while. Many companies place a company history timeline on their walls. Sellers should look around. Simply being aware of their surroundings might earn them an edge that will be valuable later.
Through such attention to detail, sellers can replicate Blankenbuehler’s methods. Mediocre choreographers design their dances without paying special heed to context. Winning choreographers, on the other hand, reshape their dancers’ movements to be sensitive and complementary to their environment (eg. the heavy boots on their feet).
Coordinate your Ensemble’s Vision to Create Flawless Execution
Even the most brilliant choreographers are dependent on their dancers to carry out their artistic vision. Similarly, successful sales leaders require coordination among their many team members.
While most people are more familiar with Hamilton’s stars, Blankenbuehler believes that effective collaboration across the entire ensemble has been critical to the musical’s success. He says, “The biggest collaborative thing was figuring out the ensemble’s perspective, the ensemble’s point of view, because the strength of the ensemble’s point of view, I think, determines the strength of the musical. If their point of view isn’t clarified, the audience doesn’t invest in them as the lens for the piece. We had constant conversations with ourselves, but also with the cast, like ‘Right now you’re being Aaron Burr’s ego,’ ‘Right now you’re being a jury that doesn’t have an opinion yet.’”
In other words, Blankenbuehler provided the ensemble with a clear role to play in every scene. This enabled every member of the cast to carry out his vision to perfection. Sales leaders must do the same thing in order to ensure that all coordinated efforts are executed meaningfully and effectively.
If you’re trying to close an enterprise sale, you’re probably going into the later-stage meetings with a team. Even if there are only two team members present, you need to have a clear plan for the choreography. Who’s taking which part of the deck? The demo? Who’s answering which questions? What if objections are raised they didn’t prepare for? Make sure only one person serves as the quarterback or chief choreographer for the meeting.
The chief choreographer should delegate tasks ahead of time, including a plan for all possible contingencies. You need to prepare for the possibility of a technology failure (projector doesn’t work or you have the wrong dongle). If that happens, who will assume responsibility for trying to fix the tech problem? Who will engage the prospect in conversation, so they’re not disengaging them with dead air time?
Every member of the team should know their role during the meeting, including responsibilities during Q&A. Throughout the meeting, the chief choreographer should direct the team accordingly: “That’s a great question about our product roadmap. John can take that.”
This method is effective, because it allows your team to establish yourselves as trusted professionals who have done this a hundred times before. At the same time, you can give your team members opportunities to show off their expertise and shine as individuals. Sellers should also have a well-rehearsed personal thesis they can share during introductions, establishing themselves as a thought leader so they can earn the right to be a thought partner over time. Most enterprise sales involve “land and expand” opportunities, so earning the role of thought partner is really important for the longer-term.
Acclaimed classical choreographer, Graeme Murphy says of dance, “I’m not interested in a group of people with some sort of incredible homogeny, a group that can do the movement I want. I’m interested in people who can take the movement somewhere.”
There’s a clear lesson for sales leaders. Choreograph the performance in detail, but collaborate with your team members in doing so. They need opportunities to prove their expertise, if you want to establish your company as a thought partner.
Move with Purpose
Obviously, I’m a believer in choreographing all aspects of the sales process. Even seemingly innocuous details, such as where everyone will sit and the order in which they’ll give introductions, are critical. However, when choreographing your performance, you need to keep sight of the essential purpose of sales. Legendary modern dance choreographer, Hanya Holm explains, “Dances without purpose have false starts and stops.”
So, what’s the purpose of the sales process? The seller’s goal should be to provide so much value to the prospect throughout the process, price becomes a non-issue. That’s what will generate sales.
Every move your seller makes throughout the sales process is oriented towards establishing your organization as a thought partner, who is deserving of a place at the table. Once your seller has accomplished that, they’re in a position to articulate a strong value proposition, so that prospects will prefer to work with your company vs. your competitors.
If you can’t reach a point where your seller can articulate value above price, you’ve failed somewhere along the way. By carefully choreographing your process, you position your team and your company for success.
By Kiva Kolstein, Chief Revenue Officer at AlphaSense