Finding Your Zone to Win: An Interview with Geoffrey Moore

Author Geoffrey Moore shares his secrets for success in the ever-changing world of sales.

Time to read: 5.25 minutes

Tiffani Bova
Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist, Salesforce

Over the last 25 years, Geoffrey Moore has established himself as one of the most influential high-tech advisors in the world. His classic bestseller Crossing the Chasm has sold more than 1 million copies by addressing the challenges startup companies face transitioning from early adoption to mainstream customers. Now, his latest book Zone to Win is set to help guide established enterprises when they seek to add a new line of business to their established portfolios.

I spoke with Moore about Zone to Win and the challenges that sales teams continue to face as the speed of business continues to increase. Here, he shares his insights on how sales can embrace a new model of selling as well as the collaborative role of sales and marketing today.

What do you see as the biggest challenge and opportunity for a team to harness sales cycles in a startup environment today?

There’s a wonderful model that came out of Zone to Win. It takes a direct look at the disruptive innovation from the point of view of a vendor’s customer and the three places [vendors] can apply it: infrastructure, operations, and new business models.

An organization could decide to take on a new technology and essentially bring it into the infrastructure, making it much more efficient. It could also be brought in to change the underlying operating model, which typically means reengineering to be more modern and contemporary. Or it could be the foundation for an entirely new business model, changing the way companies earn money or provide value to their customers.

Looking at the various options is so valuable to sales professionals because different customers want to do different things with the same disruptive innovation. You think you may have a hammer and a nail, but it turns out you have a hammer, saw, and power drill. Depending on how an organization will use it, it could be any one of those three tools. Sales people understanding the different use cases can provide significant differentiation during the sales cycle.

It can be challenging for a salesperson to have the talent, skill, capabilities, and process understanding in order to handle talking across these three models (that is, infrastructure, operations, and new business models). What strategy would you advise?

I think the first thing to do if you’re starting a new territory, an entry-level sales professional, or just breaking into new accounts, is to go to the infrastructure level. It’s the only place where budget (that is, for the CIO and IT) is available to compete immediately. They’re going to buy something from someone, and you can go and pitch your company’s product. It tends to be somewhat transactional as opposed to a long-term relationship. But it’s a great way to get into an account because you can qualify it and do all the kinds of things you’re taught in Sales 101.

Once you’ve tackled the infrastructure sales, what’s the best way to move on into the operational level?

The only issue with the infrastructure level is the enormous competition for budget, which is probably 1–2% of the total corporation’s budget. The other 98% is available to be redirected into IT, but only if you change their operating model.

Of course, you can’t tell them to change their operating model; they have to want to change it. An organization will do this when their industry has been disrupted or a new technology has entered. They have to modernize their business if they’re going to stay competitive. Maybe a bank wants to get into mobile computing, or a hotel business is trying to compete with online rentals. They are still in the banking and hotel businesses, but they need to do it in a modern way.

Sales at this level does become more challenging because you have to go to executives for a conversation, many times outside of the IT organization. By discussing how the world is changing within their industry and the new expectations from customers, you qualify the interest. If the answer is yes, then you can introduce how you can help achieve those objectives. The payoff is it’s a much bigger deal and more strategic within the context of the long-term relationship going forward.

How does sales then tackle the new business model angle?

The new business model is the top of the pyramid. A customer might say, “My goodness, with all these new technologies (whether it’s artificial intelligence, cloud computing, mobile, machine learning, and more), we can get into a new business.” However, this is a whole other level of risk, reward, and expenditure. It means raising capital as opposed to just diverting operating budget to buy things. Normally, it’s a conversation that can only be conducted at the executive level, executive to executive. But if you can find that opportunity in your account, it’s a huge game changer for you, your company, and your role in the customer’s success.

Right now, there is an increasing conversation about how to get sales and marketing working together and in a closer relationship. What do you see as the roles of sales and marketing here?

This is really important because it is very different depending on which of these three levels you’re playing. When you’re on the operating level, it’s more challenging for sales and marketing. But it’s also more fun and potentially a lot more synergistic between sales and marketing. Now you need thought-leadership marketing. You want to deliver something that’s closer to a relationship opportunity, more like a referral than a cold call. It’s a referral to have a conversation, not a referral to sell something immediately.

Marketing can now bring a lot to the table by doing the background research in order for the salesperson to know the likely issues that might apply to a particular industry. But sales can’t be too overactive right at the beginning of the relationship now. If the salesperson gets this rich set of opportunities for a conversation and tries to turn the first or second conversation into a closing sales discussion, then they’ll get a fraction of what was available to buy and might also alienate the customer. They might think, "I see, you just wanted to sell me whatever your widget was. You really didn’t care about what I was dealing with." What’s exciting is this is a higher art, and it’s a lot of fun. But it definitely requires patience and discipline on the sales side, and creativity and diligence on the marketing side.

What final bit of advice would you like to give to sales reps and leaders?

As a sales professional, you spend so much time mastering the basic presentation and your own product. At the end of the day, you have to realize that no one cares when you’re talking about yourself or your company. At some point, the knowledge is going to be important, but not at the beginning. What they really care about is what they’re going through. It should be the sales rep’s ability to invest in empathy, sympathy, and domain expertise to understand what they’re going through, not just theoretically, but in more detail. That’s the most valuable thing a sales professional can do.

Sales people understanding the different use cases can provide significant differentiation during the sales cycle.”

Geoffrey Moore | Author, Zone to Win, Crossing the Chasm


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