Deal Hack Introduction

Can’t we just short-circuit the sales training process and use the tools and techniques directly in the deals?” asked Brian Sharp, my client. Brian was Global VP of Commercial Management at a multi-billion–dollar multinational corporation in the throes of transforming their sales force. Brian was frustrated that, once again, they had rolled out a sales training initiative, but the salespeople were still not using the required process, tools, and techniques. Intellectually they knew how to use the tools, but they were not putting them into practice. Despite significant investments in sales training and coaching by the business, there was a significant gap between what the sales teams were trained to do and what they were actually doing. As a result, sales performance was moving in the wrong direction. Yes,”I replied to Brian, We can hack the process.

After 20 years of leading and consulting in sales enablement for a number of global organizations, I have seen more than most of what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to organizational sales effectiveness and sales transformation. I recently asked an old friend who has a similar amount of experience in sales training and coaching for major companies, Do you not mind that the salespeople you train and coach will not change and will not improve?”

“It’s all part of the job,” he replied matter-of-factly.

The most shocking thing about this conversation is the acceptance that failure in sales transformation is all but inevitable. We know what we should do in the sales process, but, for some inexplicable reason, we do something else—and this failure exists at all levels in sales organizations. This was the failure Brian Sharp witnessed in his organization and, through frustration, wanted to develop another path beyond sales training and coaching, those primary tools in the sales organizational development toolkit.

Since that conversation with Brian, I’ve been running Deal Hacks for over six years, across a number of sales organizations. In that time I’ve perfected the Deal Hack process and scaled Deal Hacks through sales organizations. I’ve written this book to share my findings and demonstrate what Deal Hacks are and how they can be implemented and utilized alongside sales training and coaching to maximize organizational sales performance and transformation.

The film Alien was conceptually described to would-be investors as “Jawsin Space.” That was because there were two key concepts that came together to make the film—a suspense concept like that found in Jawsand the concept of it taking place in outer space. Deal Hacks are not held in outer space (yet!), and only occasionally can be described as a “horror,” but we can use the same technique to describe them conceptually: team-based deal reviews in a workshop.

The first concept is that deals are reviewed, but this is done in a team-based workshop environment rather than the traditional one-to-one environment. They are not training because training focuses on skill gaps while Deal Hacks focus on improving deals. Deal Hacks are similar to coaching, but they are specifically “deal coaching” in a group setting. Traditional coaching focuses on developing the coachee. Improving the deal outcome is the most important outcome of a Deal Hack. Improving deal outcomes has a more direct and immediate effect on sales results. Importantly, it is this focus on winning results that creates the engine that pulls change through the organization.

It’s easier to see the immediate and direct effect on their deals, something that is harder with more abstract alternatives such as sales training and traditional coaching. Through Deal Hack reporting we’re able to give sales leadership insight into the health of their deals across the entire sales organization. This helps them make better decisions when it comes to leading and managing sales performance and resources.

Part I of the book shows that our understanding of where our performance gaps are, or where they are not, is often significantly wide of the mark. This means many sales performance interventions are solving the wrong problems, and that is a major reason many sales transformation programs are ineffective. They have a fundamental flaw. Deal Hacks don’t suffer from this problem and they can make diagnosis more accurate for training and coaching interventions that sit alongside.

Deal Hacks narrow the gap between what we intellectually know we should do to win sales and what we actually doin practice—and there’s one more thing. When designing sales negotiation training for LinkedIn, Director of Sales, LinkedIn Learning Solutions, Ami Borsetti, said to me, Al, we don’t have the time to do all that design and development; we need results now. We’re building the plane as we’re flying it!” This describes the typical business environment we all experience today: the urgency and desire to improve sales quickly, and for sales populations to adapt more rapidly to market changes. Companies don’t have months to spend designing and launching sales training programs anymore. By such time, the opportunity is lost. To give you an idea of how quickly Deal Hacks can diagnose and fix sales performance gaps, I recently held a Deal Hack with a team of inside software salespeople. We worked on four deals and improved the deals while sharing best practices and insights across the team. From the results of the Deal Hack, the team agreed they all had gaps in value creation in the sales process. The next week we held a training workshop to fill these gaps based on the deals we’d hacked. The time from diagnosis to fix was one week, and we directly improved four deals in the process. No skills gap analysis, no vendor/program selection, and no scoping. No salespeople saying they were too busy or didn’t need the training.

The same company rolled out value-based sales training the year before. One metric used to measure success was how many salespeople were creating a value-based business case for their prospects. One year after the training, only five of the 100 deals forecast had a value-based business case. Time to roll out the training again? No. We implemented Deal Hacks and, in the next quarter, there were 50 value-based business cases, moving the value selling metric by 10 times. The training’s results alone were considered a failure, but implementing Deal Hacks turned the program into a success. The sales training focused on how the salespeople should sell, while the Deal Hacks focused on challenging and supporting the salespeople to help them change how they sold. The two are completely different problems to solve, as we’ll see. Changing sales performance through Deal Hacks is performed in the field. It aligns with how salespeople think and how they work. Training does not do that. The result of the combined approach is an immediate, direct, and instantly measurable impact on sales, which aligns with today’s fast-paced business environment. From these successes, momentum is created, people buy in, and sales performance is transformed.

This book shows what Deal Hacks are, why they are needed, why they work, how they fit alongside traditional training and coaching, and how they can be implemented easily and successfully in a complex business-to-business sales organization. I’ve created a simple five-step process called HACKS to guide you through the book:


Deal HACKS framework
Deal HACKS framework

This is a sequential journey that culminates in improved sales performance and sales results. Like any significant journey, there are necessary stops along the way. Each of the book’s five parts builds upon the other.

Part I, Highlight the Blind Spots, looks at the blind spots salespeople and sales leaders have that can shut down their ability to adapt and change the way they sell. We look at the problem of diminishing returns and understand the limitations of focusing too much on how people sell by simply using more sales training and coaching to improve sales performance, and not effectively working on the separate issue of changing how we sell.

Part II, Avoid Social Brain Thinking and Reactions, delves into the brain to understand how to design performance interventions that work withthe sales brain, not against it.

Part III, Create a Growth Mind-Set Culture, discusses how to create a growth mind-set culture in sales organizations that increases performance instead of shutting it down.

Part IV, Keep the Learning in the Workflow, is all about Deal Hacks, what they are and how they take learning outside the classroom and put it back into the workflow, thus creating an engine of change.

Part V, Set Up a Deal Hack Program,instructs how to set up a Deal Hack program and scale Deal Hacks across complex business-to-business sales organizations.

Tempting though it may be, jumping to the “solution” in part IV will leave you lost and confused. Please don’t allow your Social Brain to make the decision to short-circuit the process. We need you to switch on your Intellectual Brain to make the best decision because, as you’ll see in part II, Social Brain thinking is one root cause of low sales performance.