Sales Tales: the 12 Step Programme to Close that PO

Today’s tale: follow your customer’s purchasing process step by step

Stephen Allott
7 min readJul 1, 2020


by Stephen Allott, Venture Partner, Seedcamp Sales Tales

with grateful acknowledgement to Wayne Barker

Mont Ventoux, France from Bedoin — Image taken by the author

Need to close that order and win the PO?

Today’s Sales Tale explains how to extract purchase orders fast and efficiently by mapping your sales process, tools and materials to each step of the customer purchase journey.

In the first half of today’s Tale, we explain the 12 key factors in a buying process and how to walk through them. Think of them like dance steps. Understanding the dance steps should be at the centre of your business strategy and also act as your guide in your weekly sales meeting. Knowing the dance steps will help you assess progress, identify what your sales team need to do next and help you decide your prediction likelihood % for each forecasted deal so you can tell if you are on track to make your numbers.

Then, in the second half of today’s Tale, we showcase 12 tools that sales management should be building and developing to ensure the sales team can align to and influence the customer’s purchase journey. The intensity and quality of these tools will directly impact your probability of winning and of a new customer staying loyal and becoming an advocate.

This is what you need to stay on top of your targets.

Understanding the 12 factors in your customer purchase journey.

A need drives people to make a decision that gets a result.

The Need

1.Your customer’s purchase journey starts with a pain which you both CAN solve and also which you WANT to solve.

2. A project needs to be created with a project owner, a goal, a budget and a compelling event. The project is to do something which will require buying some software.

3. The project will need a business case. The economic buyer will need actually 2 types of business case (“BC Two” and “BC Three”) out of the 3 types that exist. “BC One” is the sound bite that gets your champion interested. Think a statement like: “would you like to double your productivity?” “BC Two” is the ROCE tree joint discovery used to justify the creation of a project and its prioritisation over other competing projects. “BC Three” is the formal business case created by the customer finance team when their project budget is signed off.

The People

4. You need a champion inside the customer who will sell on your behalf. They will keep you informed as to how you are doing.

5. Find your economic buyer; they are the person who owns the P & L that will be paying for your solution. They may be a different person from your champion.

6. You have to identify the decision makers, their roles and their power. Who are they? They mark the exam. Do they inform, review, approve or decide?

The Decision

7. The purchase decision which will decide which software they will buy will need some decision criteria. Shaping the criteria in your favour (“writing the exam questions”) is a key success factor in sales.

8. You have to win the votes of the decision makers, tracking and influencing each decision maker; building management consensus and securing finance and board approvals

9. You have to find out about the decision process: when and where it takes place.

The Result

10. Make sure all the compliance and hygiene requirements will be met: such as legal, GDPR, security, disaster recovery and supplier on-boarding. Do this upfront as much as possible so you parallel process rather than wait to the end.

11. You need to map the purchase order extraction process. Find out which purchasing agent will create your purchase order in their ERP system. What is the supplier on-boarding and approvals process?

12. Along the way it is important to understand how a project will transition to onboarding. Decisions can easily be delayed by operational teams not being ready or dependencies on other vendors.

The “Sales Tales 12” management tools

We have covered how to close a deal using the 12 dance steps. Let’s move on to the high impact tools you can use to manage your sales team.

  1. Use Sales Ready Messaging: these are structured questions for use in customer meetings to diagnose pains. The Event, Question, Player, Action structure recommended by Bosworth is excellent. You end up with a question like: “When you interview a candidate (Event) would it help to have a transcript of the interview (Question) for the interviewer (Player) to score the candidate more objectively (Action).”
  2. Create a library of responses to RFI, RFP and RFQ questions. Formal Requests for Information/Proposal/Quotation are often used when a procurement function is part of the buying process
  3. Keep an up to date list of reference-able customers. Validation events (trials, customer references, supplier visits, analyst calls) will be part of the buying process and the best examples could influence the customer’s business case in your favour.
  4. Collect and circulate sales success stories. Many of my most skilled sales leaders have done this. The success stories share craft knowledge amongst your sales team. They increase both skill and will and help raise the motivation, excitement and ambition of each team member.
  5. Teach your sales team to deliver free style whiteboard presentations created on the fly and tailored to the specific customer meeting. This is a top class skill. We use a Google document as a digital whiteboard. Tools like Schema are the latest tech, enabling easy assembly of multiple format documents. Presentation decks, case studies and white papers to send to the customer are all standard.
  6. Work with your customer to run joint business case discovery workshops to create the required business case(s). Your customer will expect you to bring new ideas to the table and this is an opportunity for your team and your product to be distinctive.
  7. Use a customer organisation chart to inspect progress on an individual sale. Your sales rep is on top of their deal if they can create a comprehensive organisation chart. It is a most elegant tool. Include reporting lines. It pulls a lot of the information together neatly and should cover the following: a. Location of the pain b. Champion identity c. Decision makers d. Decision process e. The status of decision maker votes.
  8. Co-create a schedule of events / project plan jointly with the customer.
  9. See what remains to be done on a deal and use that to predict the likelihood of a deal closing using the 12 step dance set out in the first half of today’s tale . As well, use this exercise to identify risks and assumptions and then take steps to mitigate.
  10. Design and refine your pipeline qualification criteria to eliminate deals which will not close. This is how you implement your market targeting strategy. Qualify as early as possible. Refine the qualification criteria as your business evolves to reflect lessons learned and improve the accuracy of your sales forecast.
  11. Use your weekly sales meeting to set the priority for each sales person and each deal. You should discuss how to move the sale on to the next step.
  12. Make ‘Lessons learned’ a part of your management process. We call this “Kaizen”. All the steps above will bring new insights and they should be captured and used to improve your team’s tools and capabilities. This exercise should be owned by the best brains in the business and have the explicit support of the senior leadership team.

CRM choices and sales tech stacks are on the menu in a future Sales Tale.

The way to win — my story

I learnt sales management the hard way when I was pushed into the deep end.

Fresh from McKinsey, I had joined a scale up with great potential. Having identified Micromuse PLC (I was told it had “ no competition”), I wrote to the owner asking for a job. Bravely I said I could do any first line role. They hired over the weekend. They had 50 people in total of which 10 people were in the good bit “with no competition”.

What could go wrong?

After a couple of weeks, the bank called the £1m overdraft for breach of loan covenants. Undeterred, I made a plan to rescue the business and presented to the bank. They were happy with the plan and let us keep the overdraft but the owner put me in charge of delivering my plan and that included running sales. With zero prior sales experience I had to learn fast.

My baptism of fire lasted 6 months but we made our targets and more. I learnt many things over the next 6 years as we scaled to 800 people. Specific lessons included:

>>> Customers often lie. The “project is delayed” can mean “ we are evaluating your competitors”.

>>> When bad things happen to a deal, model events as though they are orchestrated by your competitor and use that to create an action plan to turn things around.

>>> To create an action plan; collect all the information you can about where things stand inside the customer. Use your champion to get information. Then, assemble your top brains across all functions for an idea brainstorm. Collect ideas and do not, at this stage evaluate. Note all the ideas and sort them into 3 logical headings. Then take action and things will improve. On one miracle deal that we had “won”, then “lost” and finally did win, I tried many things and one of them must have worked but I never knew which one.

If you give up on a deal you will definitely lose it. It is possible to turn things around.

Above all, work as team with your customer and help them through their purchasing process.

Our 12 step programme: use the Sales Tales 12 tools and you will dance up the 12 steps.



Stephen Allott

Tech vendor scale upper. Decide market strategy. Plan the numbers. Hire the people. Hit the numbers. Solve the problems. McKinsey, MUSE, SUNW, XROX,