By: Tim Sanders



Tim Sanders knows a thing or two about sales. He’s spent his entire life structuring large deals for some of the world’s largest companies, and knows the transformative nature of closing a significant account.

He wrote Dealstorming to help crack the toughest accounts with a combination of dealmaking and brainstorming (hence the name).

Join me for the next 10 minutes or so while we explore why the sales environment is getting tougher, and how you can use the dealstorming method to close the accounts that previously seemed impenetrable.

PS: while this might seem like a book geared towards very large companies, this is a methodology that can be used by companies of any size. In fact, I’d argue that it’s even more important in smaller companies where one large sale can be transformative. If you are a solo entrepreneur, consider doing this exercise with a group of advisors or mastermind group participants.

Why Selling is Getting Harder, Not Easier

Every once in a while, an account comes along that you must-win. Maybe it’s because of the size of the deal, or maybe it’s because of the the significance of adding a logo to the “Customers” page of your website that will unlock previously untapped markets for you.

In these situations, a new approach is warranted - one where you take advantage of the collective intelligence of your team in order to get the deal done.

Sanders has found that the world’s most successful sales organisations often pull together cross-functional teams to work together to solve big sales challenges through highly structured meetings and project work.


There are four specific developments that have made sales more complex than ever.

First, especially for people selling business solutions, you are no longer selling face-to-face to a single decision maker. Increasingly, selling happens online, through email chains, and through many different decision makers and influencers.

Second, prospects these days have an incredible amount of information at their fingertips even before they decide to meet with you. One research study showed that almost 60% of the purchase decision was complete before ever having a conversation with a supplier.

Third, what we are selling these days has become more complex. The cutting-edge solutions we’ve created for today’s always-on world require more brainpower and time to understand.

Finally, the tools that are being build have made it increasingly less difficult to start a company, meaning that there are more and more competitors in the marketplace today.

When you put all of those factors together, it’s increasingly difficult to close deals - especially ones that could transform your company.

This Is Where Dealstorming Comes In

When your traditional sales approach gets stuck - whether you are using The Challenger Sale concept, SPIN Selling, or any other sales methodology - it’s time to bring the team together to get the deal over the finish line.

Which begs the question - where could you get stuck in the sales process? Sanders has identified four distinct phases you need to bring a sale through.

The first stage is Contact. This stage involves engaging with all of the relevant parties at your prospect’s company - the informers, influencers, mobilisers and decision makers.

The second stage is Conceive. This is where you come up with a vision of how your company can help your prospect company achieve more of what they are looking to achieve.

The third stage is Convince. At this point, it’s about getting your prospects to buy in to the vision you created. You’ll often find yourself arming your internal champions with ammunition to sell your proposal to other influencers and decision makers you’ll never get to meet.

The fourth and final stage is Contract. This step needs no explanation.

If you find yourself stuck on one of these stages with an important prospect after you’ve followed your current methodology, it’s time to move to the first stage of Dealstorming.

Dealstorming Step #1: Qualify

The first step is to make sure that there is actually a problem that can’t be solved without outside assistance. For instance, have you actually applied your current sales process correctly and completely?

Once you pass that stagegate, you want to determine the strategic value of the sales opportunity to your company. The things you will want to consider here are revenue opportunity, branding power and market penetration. Will this deal add to any or all of those business drivers? Sanders suggests that you give the strategic value of the sale a score on a scale from 1 to 10.

Next, you will assess the degree of difficulty in solving the sales challenge in light of the resources you currently have available. Again, give the difficulty a score on a scale from 1 to 10.

Finally, you determine the amount of people you’ll likely need from your company to solve this challenge by multiplying those two numbers together.

If you gave the strategic value an 8, and the degree of difficulty a 9, you end of up with a resource score of 72, and you fall within the highest category where you might pull in up to 12 people from your organisation to work on this problem.

(Scores below 10 don’t require anybody, between 10 and 29 requires 2-3, between 30 and 49 requires 4-5, between 50 and 69 requires 6-9, and above 70 requires 10-12)

Of course, you should use these numbers as a guideline only, and if you are going to err on one side, err on the side of including less people, not more.

Dealstorming Step #2: Organise

Know that you know how many resources you need, it’s time to decide who specifically needs to be involved. The guiding concept here is to include all the necessary internal stakeholders so that the problem solving and execution can work together.

There are four different roles you’ll need to fill in any dealstorm.

The problem owner is the person who is ultimately responsible for solving the sales problem. Usually this will be the account executive.

The sponsor is the person that will be in charge of qualifying the dealstorm, and then give guidance on the feasibility of the potential solutions. You’ll want to avoid bringing in a senior executive in this role unless you absolutely must.

The next role of that in the process is that of resource. This will be the bulk of your team, and can come from anywhere in the company. They will bring insights, objections, and participate in executing the deliverables of the dealstorm.

A question you might want to ask here is “Who is usually excluded from these conversations for the wrong reasons?” You should also consider seeking out people in your organisation that are in the same role as the people you are trying to sell to.

The final role in the dealstorm is the information master. This person is in charge of making sure that everything is documented and followed up on in the dealstorming process. If possible, they should create a shared workspace online for everything to do with the dealstorm - Google Docs is a good candidate here.

Now it’s time to recruit your team members and convince them to join your dealstorm. Remember, you are assembling a team of volunteers, not conducting a draft. So, you’ll need to be convincing in your pitch. Take the time to make a convincing argument about why they’d want to join you, on top of everything else they have to do. Reach out to each person individually, preferably in person when possible. If you can’t invite them in person, use video instead.

Dealstorming Step #3:Prepare

The next step is to get your team ready for the dealstorming session itself. The account executive prepares the team by writing a comprehensive but compact deal brief. It should give everyone involved the key information about the account and frame the sales challenge in four pages or less.

You should send this brief out to your team at least three days prior to the dealstorm, and when possible allow them a weekend to review the brief before participating. Remember, you are asking these people to participate outside of their regular day-to-day responsibilities.

Here’s the format it should follow:

  • Problem Question: here’s an example you might find often. You have a champion at your prospect who has given you some small orders, but won’t introduce you to the key decision makers so that you can close a more strategic deal. So the problem question might be “How can we get introduced to the key decision makers so that we can close a more strategic deal”.

  • Opportunity Statement: this should include the revenue opportunity, along with any higher purpose strategic opportunities, such as market share or beating the competition.

  • Influence Map: this is where you lay out the decision makers who make up the buying web. Also include anybody who can be a “blocker” of the deal - people who can’t actually green light the deal, but who could definitely put the breaks on the process. You should provide a direct link to a bio or more information for each player here.

  • Account History: show a timeline of what has happened in this account, including everything you’ve attempted to close the strategic sale. Adding context here from any conversations you’ve had with the prospect is helpful.

  • Recent Developments: list any recent developments that triggered the need for the dealstorm, along with any recent developments at your prospect’s company.

  • Constraints: include any limits that you’ll face in finding solutions. This will ensure that any pre-thinking that your team does before the meeting is on-point and won’t be a wasted of time. Research has shown that constraints actually improve creativity, not constrain it.

  • Assets: any assets you know of that you can use to help create a solution to the sales problem.

  • Pre-meeting Assignment: the final section should include an assignment that you’ve customised for each member of your team. Customise each assignment based on what you want them to research, prepare or think about.

Dealstorming Step #4:Convene

Next we move on to the meeting itself. The goal of the meeting is to set up the “next best move” on the account. The sponsor of the dealstorm needs to decide whether or not to bring in a facilitator. This meeting needs to run smoothly so that everybody has a great experience, and future dealstorms can happen.

You’ll want a facilitator that has the following three capabilities: listening skills, protectiveness, and assertiveness. Without these three capabilities, a group meeting with strong players can descend into chaos.

Now that you’ve got that out of the way, you need to decide where to host the meeting itself. The key factor here should be convenience. Exotic off-site locations are fun, but getting everybody to the meeting is your #1 priority. Sanders suggests using conference rooms that are centrally located. Make sure that the room has an information and idea-sharing space (whiteboards and or flip charts) that is visible to everybody in the room.

Don’t bother sending out an agenda prior to the meeting, you should post that on one of the charts in the room.

When you open the meeting, the problem owner should state the goal of the dealstorm, and remind everybody why winning the deal is important. Then, move on to introductions, making sure that everybody understands why each person was invited and what contributions they can make because of their position.

Then, go over the ground rules for the meeting. Sanders has found that the following 4 rules work well: 1. Ideas can come from anywhere; 2. Act on facts; research hunches; 3. Stay focused on the section at hand. 4. No distractions.

Next, move on to the problem discussion. You should allow 15 minutes for this discussion, and you should focus on the accuracy of the problem and why it exists. Your group will most likely add a lot of insight to the problem itself before you even get into the solution section.

Next, you move into he solution discussion, which is the heart of the dealstorm meeting, and why you’ve done all of the hard work of assembling this team together in the first place. This is where the “next best plays” are nominated, debated and agreed upon. Make sure you communicate to the group that you are looking for more than one idea to avoid the “primacy effect”, which is a strong tendency to be attracted to the first option that is suggested.

A great question to ask the group is whether or not there is anything “inside the box” that you can do - sometimes a best practice or two is all that’s needed to solve the problem. Once you’ve covered that ground, move on to the “out of the box” discussion. Make sure you review the “constraints” portion of the brief here to keep the discussion focussed on feasible ideas.

After you’ve collected all of the ideas from the group, switch gears into the “narrowing” portion of the solution discussion. As your team the following questions about each idea - “why does this work?”, and “what are your key assumptions behind it?” The purpose of those questions is to narrow down the ideas into the one or two that should be considered as the “next best play.”

Your goal here isn’t to create a consensus, but you DO need to make sure that everybody in the room can live with the solution if it is chosen as the way forward. Otherwise the idea will never get executed.

Finally, wrap the meeting up by going over the action items portion of the agenda so that everybody is clear on next steps.

Dealstorming Steps #5-7:Execute/Analyze/Report

This is where the rubber meets the road. While you already know that you should be doing the things that are describes in steps 5-7, it is CRITICAL that you do them, and do them well.

For Step #5 (Execute), there are three critical steps to the solid execution of a collaborative idea: 1. Confirm what was decided and agreed upon; 2. Verify the assumptions about the key issues and the solution; 3. Implement the idea methodically and in a way that allows for a test-iterate-launch approach, if possible. Basically, you are putting in motion the play you agreed upon at the dealstorming meeting.

Here’s a pro tip - if you’ve created a novel approach that you’ve never tried before, never lead with that in your meeting with the client. You shouldn’t try and deceive your client, but novel ideas naturally raise red flags for people. Just be aware of and manage that.

For Step #6 (Analyze), you need to figure out whether or not the play worked. When possible, measure using real data. If you were trying to solve a problem at the contact phase, your metric was whether or not you got the call or meeting booked.

In Step #7 (Report), you need to report back the results of your efforts to the team, whether they are positive or negative. Keeping your team in the loop is going to make it more likely that you can call on them in the future, and they may have input on what you can try differently next time. Make sure that when you do send your report that you praise the team for the solution they created.

Finally, you’ve come full circle back to step #1, and you should reassess the opportunity again. If you haven’t closed the deal yet, is this still an important strategic sale? Is there a new sticking point that requires you to get the team back together? If so, you start the process all over again until you’ve either decided that you don’t need another dealstorm, or you’ve closed the deal.


Every business - large or small - has potentially transformative deals that they should be looking out for. The problem is that these deals are often very difficult to close, for good reason.

Now you have a step-by-step formula to harness the collective power of your team to create a game plan for winning that account.

Here at we followed a similar process and landed our first big corporate account at Zappos. Our solution? Email the CEO directly with a detailed run down of why our service was a complete fit for their corporate culture, and how this could be a significant win for them. It took a long time to pull together, but it ended up being a transformational sale for us.

So, get to work finding that transformational sale in your business, and dealstorm your way to success.