The Qualified Sales Leader, by John McMahon

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Proven lessons from a five times CRO


Book details
Author John McMahon
Release Date 9 Apr 2021
Pages 346
ISBN-10 0578895064
ISBN-13 978-0578895062

Nov 2022 read.

Table of Contents


One of the best, if not the best VP Sales playbook.
Essential read for anyone in Sales - VP Sales & CROs obviously, but also reps & founders/CEOs.

I recently finished reading what I believe is one of the best sales books for B2B enterprise sales. It is a first-person account of a consulting engagement with a software company in need of improving their sales team, led by a 5x CRO named John McMahon, who worked at well-known software companies.

The book is written in a clever and engaging format, avoiding the common pitfall of sales books that provide generic advice that lacks context or applicability. As a reader, you follow the journey of the consulting engagement as if you were a fly on the wall, gaining insight into John's approach and techniques.

This book is a must-read for anyone in an active role in enterprise B2B sales, including VPs of Sales looking to improve or revisit the foundations of their knowledge, sales contributors at any level, sales trainers wanting to understand what best-in-class looks like, and CEOs of enterprise solutions. It covers all the basics of sales, supported by concrete examples and real-life interactions between the sales trainer and the sales trainees.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking to improve their enterprise B2B sales or Sales leadership skills.

It is both easy to read and informative, covering the foundations of a Sales process, and Sales leadership.

Book flow

The B2B sales Process:

18. Sales Process Example 
Potential Champions 
Discovery Questions 
Art of Discovery 
Immersed in the Customer Conversation 

19. POC Win Rates 

20. Ramifications of Skipping Steps 
Small deal sizes 
The customer is low in the organization. 
High Probability of deal “churn.” 
Inaccurate forecast. 
Rep Attrition Rates Increase 

21. Slow Down to Go Fast 
Get “Above the Noise” 
Common Pain Areas 

22. Scoping 

23. “Box Up” 

24. Target Customers 
Unique Product Differentiators 
Defensible differentiators 
Pain Points 
Quantifiable Business Value 
Negative Consequences 
Use Cases 
Environmental and Infrastructure 
Industry Segments and Company Size 
Company Support 

25. Propensity to Buy and Sales Complexity 
Propensity to Buy 
Sales Complexity 

26. Leading the Witness 

27. Q & A with the Managers 
Recruiting Defines You 
What to Look for In a Recruit? 
Knowledge and Skills 
Skillset Match to Target Accounts 
Recruiting Character 
Character Traits 
Persistence, Heart, and Desire (PHD) 
Coachability and Adaptability 
Character is the Difference Maker 
Execution Experience 
Getting Started 
The Golf Coach 

28. With the Sales Reps 
Calls with Hannlin and Shannon 

29. Finding Champions 
Org Chart versus Power Chart 
It’s Tough to Find Champions 

30. Why Would Someone Be Your Champion? 

31. Earning Trust 
Selfless Story 
Developing Trust 
How Champions Evaluate Trust 

32. Educating the Champion 

33. Testing the Champion 
Questions to Test Champions 
What activities could we ask them to perform? 
Testing a Qualified Champion 
Testing Stealth Champions-The Professional Walk Away 
Testing a Champion-The Boss 

34. How Do You Know You Have a Champion? 

35. Difference Between a Coach and a Champion 

36. Economic Buyers Need a Champion 
Why you need a Champion for your implementation

37. The Competition’s Champion 

38. The Economic Buyer 
Defining the Economic Buyer 
The Economic Buyer Meeting 
A Big Lens 
Question to Ask the Economic Buyer 
What is the Economic Buyer Going to Ask Me

39. The Tree 

40. Sales Manager Advice 
Gray Boy 
Mirror of Reality 
Don’t Be in a Hurry to Make a Mistake 
Two Buckets 
Comfortable Being Uncomfortable 
Not a Popularity Contest 

41. Caring Through Competence 
Competence Drives Winning 
Pride is What People Want 
You Own It. Take Responsibility 

42. Validation Event 
What Is A POV (Validation Event)? 
What Should Reps do During Validation Events? 
What to do After the Validation Event 

43. Business Case 
Buyer Risk 

44. Negotiate and Close 
Strength During Negotiation 
Procurements’ Techniques 
Remain Calm 

45. Role Models 
Showing Up Unprepared 
Focusing on Non-Performers 
Emotional Proprioception 

Analyzing Deal Progression:

46. Analyzing Sales Effectiveness 
An Effective Analysis Tool 
What is MEDDPICC? 

47. Identify the Pain, Problem, or Initiative 
Why Do They have to Buy? 
Why Do They Have to Buy from Us? 
Why Do They Have to Buy Now? 
Qualifying Reps on the 3 WHYs 

48. Metrics: The Quantification of Pain and the Solution 

49. Decision Criteria 

50. Decision Process 
Evaluate products and select a solution 

51. Champions 
Deal control 
Who Controls the Deal? 
When the Customer Is in Control 
When the Rep is in Control 
When the Competition Is in Control 

52. Economic Buyer 
Qualifying Reps on EB Meeting Preparation 
Qualifying Reps on Meeting the Economic Buyer 

53. Competition 
Qualifying Reps on the Competition 

54. Paper Process (Or Signature/Approval Process) 
Qualifying Reps on the Paper (Approval) Process 

55. End of the Quarter 

Forecasting Strategy :

56. Forecasting BANT vs. MEDDPICC 

57. Forecasting Qualification Strategy 
Push Deals Off 
Peas and Carrots 
Reconciliation Lesson 
Forecast Reconciliation 
Pipeline is Hard Work 
A Huge Pipeline Masks all Problems 
Take Me to Your Champion 


Did they have a coach or a Champion?
What information did they lack?
Why did the customer have to buy?
Who had final budget approval?
Who controlled the deal?
What is the urgency to buy?
How will the customer justify the purchase?
What is the customer’s evaluation process?
Were they winning or losing?
Were they in control?
page 27
Ineffective listening generates ineffective questions
page 73
‘Bad news can’t wait’.” As a leader, I want my reps to be able to share bad news quickly, so we have enough time to remedy the situation.
page 78
On the whiteboard, I wrote the chronological order of a typical B2B sales process.

- Discovery
- Scoping
- Economic Buyer Meeting
- Validation Event
- Business Case
- Final Proposal
- Negotiate
- Close
page 95
Champions have influence in accounts, which gives them access to the Economic Buyer.
page 97
A rep’s ability to find a Champion starts with the rep finding and quantifying mission-critical business pain during Discovery.
page 97
Champions want to attach themselves to the solution of a major business pain.
page 97
I wrote a simple logic chain on the whiteboard:

- Find pain
- Pain finds Champions
- Champions get you to the Economic Buyer
- The Economic Buyer has access to major funds
- Sell big deals
page 97
“Jim,” I said, “tell the group what the hockey saying, ‘skate to the open ice’ means.”
“It means skating with the puck to the part of the ice where there is open space and time. Then, as you skate, constantly sensing when you’re running out of time and space and passing the puck to your teammate,” Jim explained. “Same analogy applies when we are talking with customers. Take the time and space they give you to get as much information as possible but be acutely aware of when to pass information to them about the impact your product can have on their business or customer success stories.”
page 99
For example, reps need to know base knowledge items below, without thinking:

- The customer persona
- The customers use case
- The persona job measures
- Typical pains in the use case
- Open-ended discovery questions
- Their unique product differentiators
- How their product differentiators solve pain
- Typical quantifiable value of their solution
- Customer success stories with before and after scenarios
page 99
Being immersed in the conversation is a constant loop of four core actions:

1. Questioning: Asking the open-ended questions
2. Listening: Listening to understand
3. Confirming: Verifying your complete understanding
4. Feeling: Sensing the customers response
page 100
The rep should share the confirming email with you and calendar the customer meeting for the next stage to indicate completion of Discovery.”
page 102
Activity without a deep analysis of results, without ever understanding the cause of the reps’ selling problems, is meaningless.
page 107
Customers buy the benefit they get from your product, not the product itself.
page 109
Because the rep is solely focused on whiz-bang product features instead of business issues, they never gain access to people high in the account, who are oriented toward operating the business.
page 110
Anyone with experience knows, “you get relegated to whom you sound like”
page 110
"If you want to sell high in an organization, get above the noise."
page 114
“From now on, I want you to stop saying POC and start saying POV, Proof of Value.
Proof of Concept is pointless. Your product works. You’re not trying to prove the concept of your technology functioning. What is important is that you can prove that your product capabilities deliver business value to the customer for their specific use case.”
page 117
three major parts to the journey:
Scoping: A method to understand and quantify their business pain and outline a potential POV. (The method will decide if there is alignment between product capabilities and pain, between seller capabilities and customer value.)
A Go/No-Go Meeting: A meeting with the Economic Buyer to confirm whether or not the pain is a priority to solve
The POV: An outline of the POV criteria, incorporating the required product capabilities and timeframe for a POV
The Scoping journey will generate three documents for review: A Cost Justification with as-is and to-be metrics
A POV Plan that directly correlates to the POV criteria and preliminary cost justification
A Preliminary Pricing Proposal which is a price quote based upon the preliminary cost justification
page 118
“No wonder I can’t find Champions,” Kathleen muttered. “I never understand the business implications of not solving the pain. What potential Champion would care if we don’t seem to be offering the solution they need? It’s why we wind up with low-level coaches.”
page 119
shared the entire process on the board:

Create a list of unique and defensible product differentiators.
Target pain points that the differentiators solve.
Map pain points to specific use cases.
Quantify the business benefits of solving pains in each use case.
List the negative consequences of customers not solving the pain.
Discover companies/industries which have those specific uses cases.
List the specific personas that own those use cases.
Prioritize companies and industries based on highest customer value.
page 127
prioritize their top ICP targets based on those companies that would receive the largest business value from their solutions.
page 131
“Let’s wrap up Scoping by adding to this:

Found business pain creates opportunity.
Quantified business pain drives higher price points.
Implicated business pain drives urgency. Business pain and urgency finds business Champions.
Business champions get you to the Economic Buyer.
The Economic Buyer has access to major funds.
You sell big deals based on value.
page 139
A sales leader only has two things to produce bookings (or revenues):

page 142
These are my top five key positive characteristics:

- Intelligence
- Coachability
- Adaptability
- Integrity
- Curiosity
page 150
A national billiards Champion was once asked to explain the difference between winners and losers. He said:
"The loser’s practice until they get it right, and the winner’s practice until they never get it wrong."
page 151
Coaches look through what I call small eyes of product fit.
Champions look through the large eyes of business fit.
page 194
This is the reason you need to speak in business terms to find a high-level Champion. If you only speak in technical product terms as you get higher in an organization, you’ll get relegated down the organization to the level you sound like.
page 194
Coaches provide information but never take action Champions take action
page 194
page 195
The Economic Buyer (EB) is the person with discretionary use of the funds.
page 200
With that as the definition, the Economic Buyer meeting becomes the Go/No-Go stage of the sales process.
page 200
reps need to meet the EB prior to the POV, to frame and finalize the evaluation of their product differentiators into the decision criteria.
page 201
The key to a successful meeting is how you prepare for it with your Champion. You need to ensure that you have agreement on the EB meeting deliverables and the talk track with your Champion prior to the meeting.
page 202
In a typical EB meeting, you need to substantiate the following with the EB:

A high level summary of your Discovery and Scoping findings
The company’s current state. The as-is
The negative consequences of that current state
Your proposed future state. The to-be
The benefits of the future state
The required capabilities to achieve that future state
Customer success stories with quantified before/after metrics
High level description of your solution based on the criteria
Confirmation of the remaining decision-process steps
page 202
The higher up you go, the bigger the picture, the larger the lens.
page 207

Question to Ask the Economic Buyer:

Where in your priority list does this particular problem rank?

What specific business measure does this issue most effect?

When would you prefer to solve this issue?

Would you be willing to allocate budget for $Y? E.g., If we could prove during the Validation Event that we could save your company $X for an investment of $Y, would you allocate $Y budget?

Besides yourself, is there anyone else required to approve a purchase of this size?

If we are successful in the POV, what would be the remaining steps in your decision process?

page 208

High level questions Economic Buyers almost always ask fall into four groups:

  • Much-ness
  • Soon-ness
  • Sure-ness
page 209
there is one final question I like to ask before I leave their office: Would it be OK to call you under only two conditions? After the validation event, if we recognize that our final business case is materially different than the preliminary justification. If anyone decides to significantly change our agreed validation criteria prior to the POV.
page 210
“Be aware: As you climb the tree, you need to understand that there’s a different language spoken up there. Speak on their business terms. Take the time to understand their business and the business problem you are solving.”
page 215
“What do you think we should do?” Dick immediately answered, “How the f*ck should I know? You and I have never done this before.” At first, I stared at him, startled into silence. But then I thought about the genuineness of his answer in admitting that he didn’t know. “Figure it out,” he said. “Make the best decision you can with the information you have. And use your gut. Your best instincts. If it turns out you made the wrong decision, change it quickly. Don’t get married to your decisions. Don’t tie your ego to your decisions.”
page 225
The job of the sales leader is about maximizing bookings by recruiting the best people, training and developing people, holding them accountable to standards of performance, getting individuals to perform as a cohesive team, and creating a culture of competence to help people win.
page 226
You show you care when you take the time to become intimate with your people, understand their strengths and weaknesses and dedicate your efforts to training people and developing their knowledge and skills, so they can succeed in their jobs and their careers. Making your people competent is truly caring for your people.
page 227
The roots of a truly positive workplace culture lie in helping people win and achieve their personal goals.
page 228
The only way to achieve an environment of pride starts with the leader doing whatever possible to help people win.
page 229
ask yourself, are my people competent and committed?”
page 230
Managers tell me to do things by speaking to my head. Leaders motivate me to do things by speaking to my heart.
page 231
anytime you have to terminate a rep, it’s a reflection on you. You either hired the wrong rep or you hired the right rep and couldn’t develop them.
page 232
The Business Case should be thought of as the customer’s internal document rather than the vendor’s document. Write the business case from their perspective—as if they wrote it. It should include everything you need for the meeting: Their corporate objectives Their strategic initiatives The business problem or opportunity How their problem or opportunity fits into meeting their strategic initiatives
page 239
Descriptions of the before and after use-case scenarios with an explanation of how your solution uniquely solves the business problem
An explanation on how your solution delivers the business outcome with the people, processes, and timeframes to solve the problem/achieve the goals
A final cost justification that translates the quantifiable benefits of your solution into business value in the Economic Buyer’s terms. (i.e., revenue, margin, risks, time to market, market share, production costs, etc.)
page 240
Your Business Case becomes the post-implementation baseline for measuring the success of your solution. It should establish a baseline for comparison to actual post-implementation results.
page 240
“You also need to present an Implementation Plan,”
page 241
Inaction as a leader creates a culture where non-performers know there is no penalty for mediocrity, and the A-list players are disgusted by their leader’s inaction to hold people accountable.
page 255
Three WHYs:

- Why do they have to buy?
- Why do they have to buy from us?
- Why do they have to buy now?
page 267
You have to control the criteria to control the deal.
page 278
“The Economic Buyer is the person with the discretionary use of the funds. That means the Economic Buyer can reallocate the budget. When the Economic Buyer approves, all other signatures are simply rubber stamps.”
page 289
we have to confirm with the Economic Buyer the priority to solve their pain and their willingness to reallocate budget,”
page 289
During the Economic Buyer meeting, you’ll qualify their desired business outcome, their budget, the EBs authority, the priority to solve pain, and the timeframe to purchase.”
page 289