The 10 Touch 'Sales' Model

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Last updated: 03 Jun, 2016
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Posted: 10 Jan, 2013
by Sliwa S.
Updated: 03 Jun, 2016
by Sliwa S.

During the past couple of decades I have refined my model for making large 'sales'.  By this I mean 'sales' in the generic sense, that is the act of convincing someone or an organization to give you something of significant value (presumably currency) in return for something that is offered.

Examples of 'sales' might include the following:

Corporate Sales

  • Products
  • Services
Corporate Fund Raising
  • Equity
  • Debt Instruments

Not-for-Profit Philanthropy

  • Scholarships
  • Facility Naming Rights
  • Endowed Chair Naming Rights
  • Designation as Patrons, etc.
  • ‘Goodwill’, Tax Benefits, et al


  • Initiatives for New Programs

These are all examples of where one party would invest significant amounts of their resources (money, time, future compensation, etc.) in return for something so valued.  These types of large ‘sales’ do not happen solely because of marketing (e.g., advertising, websites, brochures, mailings, etc.).  The scale of this type of transaction typically requires person-to-person interactions and an integrated strategic and tactical plan.

Having worked both in the private, non-profit, and government sectors, I was initially surprised how much the ‘sales’ activities across sectors are similar.  Seeking large donations for philanthropic activities at not-for-profits is very similar to fund raising for venture capital in a corporate setting.  Convincing a potential customer to make a significant commitment to your products or services in the corporate setting is remarkably analogous to trying to get new initiatives launched for government programs.

Typically these types of 'sales' activities are complex and involve: person-to-person interactions, relationship building, education, removing obstacles, managing politics, and dealing with other parties that might have influence in the process.

My conviction is that by developing a simple, yet powerful model of this process, it is easier to manage and motivate 'sales' teams, develop action plans, and report on the results.

The 10 Touch 'Sales' Model was initiated when I was a university president and getting involved in significant fund raising for the first time.  I later refined that model while raising venture capital for Insitu and then later as we transitioned to product and services sales.  I worked with my colleague, Steve Nordlund,  while at Insitu to infuse some of his sales expertise into the model.  Steve also spent part of his career within the sales organization at IBM and I am certain that some IBM concepts leaked into the model.

The model is described as:

To Make a Significant ‘Sale’ Requires 10 Touches.  

  • Touch is Defined as a Significant, Value-Added, Interaction that Results in a Positive Step Forward
  • Each Touch Requires About 10 Prior Contacts

This is a simple model that basically restated says that the 'sales' team needs to develop and execute an approach for every key 'sale' that is likely to take 10 touches to achieve success and each touch is likely to take 10 contacts.  It's not an exact science and the steps don't come uniformly.  But after every major success, in retrospect, it takes about 10 touches with about 10 contacts per each touch to be successful.

This model creates a simple mental image and allows us to directly address a number of conceptual issues in such a ‘sale’ as in the following list:

  • It involves ‘touching’ or human contact.  Many sales teams would rather rely upon sales collateral, advertising, or websites.  This will not work for significant or complex sales and one might say "it's a body contact sport."  Fundamentally, complex sales are accomplished by solving customers' problems with your products or services.  Hence engaging customers to understand their business or situation is critical.
  • Relationship Building.  Beond the human contact, sustainable relationship building must occur, and will pay dividends post-sale.  Many factors play into relationship building as it can not be computed or forced.  Individual chemistry, backgrounds, common skills, areas of understanding, style, and personality all play into establishing and building customer relationships.  People like to invest, buy, donate, etc. to people the like.
  • Planning is needed.  It is a complex multi-step process that requires a strategic and tactical plan.  Additionally there are major (touches) and minor (contacts) activities that need to be cohesively integrated.  Timing for engaging with the right content and deliverables for customer interactions (touches and contacts) should be incorporated into the plan.
  • Team work is required.  It will be difficult to get ten touches times ten contacts done by one person.  In fact, it’s preferable to share the load amongst a variety of players to maximize the probability of success.
  • No Home Runs.  It is unlikely that success will be achieved with just 1-touch (the baseball analogy is an out-of-the park homerun on the first pitch).  In fact, in my professional career I don't recall running into a situation where I or a colleague made the "perfect sales pitch” and someone just wrote a large check on the spot.  It just doesn’t happen, but for some reason many organize their approaches as if that will be the case.
  • Focus Required.  The sales model implies there are so many activities that sales organization focus is required.  In fact, it reinforces the concept of a sales funnel {graphic example}.  That is, the sales process starts out with many leads and at each step in maturity of the sales pipeline {graphic example} cycle it is important to leave some leads behind so that more focus can be placed on the remaining potential customers with the constrained resources available in the 'sales' effort.  So the ideal process effectively and efficiently narrows the potential customers down to the final set of those who actually become customers.

Discussing and Reporting

A major benefit of the 10 Touch ‘Sales’ Model is that it provides an excellent framework for discussing and reporting on the status of the sales effort.  It is my experience that without such a framework and vocabulary, it’s difficult to discuss the progress on a particular sales approach.  A common frame of reference allows a better discussion about the sales process and assures that everyone is on the same page consistent with the mental model described above.

For example, when a sales person or other colleague is getting ready to call on a potential customer, one can say, “Good luck!  Hope you get to Touch 2.”  This reinforces the need to build a relationship, but also patience.  Homeruns don’t happen and the harder one pushes for one, in my humble experience, the less likely it will happen.

As the relationship evolves and a series of contacts and touches are utilized it’s helpful to remind those in the business development, sales & marketing, development & fund raising roles, that there is a lot of activity to be done to get the large ‘sale’ accomplished.  Every day should be filled with actions to support the contacts to support the touches.


Sample spreadsheet showing typical Sales Pipeline exploiting 10 Touches Sales Model

I also find the 10 Step ‘Sales’ Process Model a useful way to track and report progress for various stakeholders (other employees, board members, etc.).  Included to the right is a hyperlinked picture of a typical chart we used for the executive council (highest ranking VPs reporting to the CEO) and the board. 

Note that in this chart we listed all of the opportunities vertically in rows and in the middle one can clearly observe the 10 touches status as green horizontal bars.  The further the bar stretches to the right, the higher the touch level.  At one glance it is easy to see the relative maturity of the sales pipeline.  

I remember at several board meetings when we reviewed the pipeline chart that some board members could remember the ‘shape’ of these lines from meeting to meeting.  One might remark something like: Line item ‘x’ has been at touch 5 for a long time, how come it hasn’t matured over the past 3 months?  Another comment I remember is something like:  Wasn’t line item ‘y’ at at a Touch 7 last month, why is it down to a Touch 5?


Second sample of Pipeline chart for Software Sales Tracking.

We had interesting answers for each, but notice how it created an opportunity for a good conversation.  The fundamental understanding of 10 touches and a pictorial representation of it made it easy to status the sales pipeline and identify issues at the stategic and tactical levels.

Other columns in this Microsoft Excel chart include the Customer Segment, the Opportunity Name, Customer Activity status, P-Go, P-Win, Point-of-Contact (POC) or Project Lead, and the Contract Values.  Under Contract Values we usually kept columns for size of initial contract, amount of potential revenue this year, and long-term potential sales for this opportunity as shown in the far right on this example chart.

Customer Activity status is basically a color coded cell (Blue, Green, Yellow, or Red) used to give an overall indication if the trends are going well with the customer and the expected speed of closing a deal (meaning, Ahead of Expectations, Proceeding as Expected, Some Warning Signs, or Stalled/In Trouble, respectivel).

P-Go is the probability that a customer program or project will go forward (the customer secures funding, gets required approvals, completes the tender process, etc.).  P-Win is the probability that if the project goes forward the customer will select you.  So the expected value of the opportunity is the P-Go times the P-Win times the size of the initial contract.  

Statistics teaches us that the expected value of any particular opportunity is not likely to be useful as you never actually receive the expected value of a contract.  You either win it or you don't.  But over a large enough number of opportunities and with sufficiently good estimates for the probabilities, the sum of the expected values will trend toward a meaningful estimate of the expected value of the collection of opportunities.

In the second Pipeline chart example it has been adapted for selling software.  This report is actually exported from into MS Excel with some macros.  Now the first column denotes a new opportunity; the 'Status" column has some special purpose, in this case the gray blocks refer to customers waiting for a new software feature; the "Stage" column is auto generated by the Milestone number saved with the opportunity; The up arrow, horizontal arrow, and black dot reflect how many days since a Milestone number has improved which is number along side; and, the Activities column shows the number of various contacts to that customer in the past 45 days where 1 gets a check and more a star.

Assessing Step Levels

Graphic Illustraing the tasks that occur during different touch levels.  
[Link to Larger Image]

Table showing example opportunity qualification steps.
[Link to Larger Image]

I personally view scaling to the touch level steps to be relative to level of effort toward closing a deal.  Touch 1 is when a prospect is qualified and touch 10 is when the contract has been awarded and signed and the opportunity is virtually certain of turning into revenue.  One can think of reporting on the touches as being a linear progression toward an assessment of percent to complete.  However, there are common steps required in each sector of the 10 Touch process as depicted in the hyperlinked chart at the right.

The first band of touches (1 through 3) are typically for qualifying the prospect, defining the customer problem or pain and the validate that you have a valid solution and that the customer is likely to find funds for such a solution.  The second range (touches 4 through 6) are generally where hard work is done to shape the customer.  The decision makers are validate, relationships are built with key influencers, and technical obstacles/issues/unknowns are removed or mitigated.  Finally in the third zone (touches 7 through 10) is where we drive toward closure.  Funding is secured, commitment is gained, and the contracting approach is finalized.   

In the early step levels it’s important to assess this particular opportunity.  One of the worst things is to believe a customer has the potential to close a deal, expend incredible amounts of effort trying to get to closure, and then discover that a deal isn’t going to get done and that this was a knowable outcome early on.  It would be a horrendous waste of time but the opportunity cost is likely to be even larger.  That is, the wasted time prevents spending time working on leads/prospect that have a higher probability of closure.

Best Practices

During my many years of leading sales , development/fund raising, or financing teams I have encountered some best practices.  Here is a summary of some of these:

  • Building Strategic and Tactical Plans - Every significant ‘sales’ opportunity requires a well thought out battle-plan.  The biggest opportunities are entitled to a full-fledged ‘war room’ with postings on the wall, full-time staff support, daily 8AM status updates and team members flowing in and out as necessary.  Smaller opportunities still need a planning cycle and it's up to the leadership to determine the level of effort for each opportunity.  Some of the key aspects of these plans include:
    • Identifying all of the ‘touch’ points, 'contacts' interfaces, and key influencers.
    • Developing relationship maps for each of the key people within the influence chain
    • Laying out any supporting activities that are needed such as marketing, trade shows, white papers, or etc.
  • Secure Funding for the Customer - Many times when making a ‘sale’ to an organization, the key person on the other side would like to buy your product or service but isn’t able to get the funds.  Reasons could be organizational priority, lack of visibility of the particular problem being solved, organizational log jambs, need for government approvals, or sometimes even that your particular customer contact doesn’t know how to get the money or exert influence within his/her own organization.  A sales team needs to be able to solve all of these issues and even help educate the customer on steps that need to be taken on his/her side.
  • Touch People Matching - One necessary trick in the bag is to determine who should make each contact/touch based upon the plans above, the relationship maps, the hierarchies and relationship impedance matching.   Every sales process requires this to be carefully tuned and orchestrated. 
    • For example, when involved in fund raising for the university, I was generally involved in ‘heavy lifting’ at about touch number 4 and touch number 9.  This gave the development team the opportunity to ‘build up’ the meeting with me so that it could be significant.  If I was making every call, contact, and touch, it wouldn’t be as special.  It also means when I help make 'the ask' it can also be special.  
    • In contrast, when doing fund raising for venture capital, the expectation is that I as CEO are involved in most of the touches, contacts, and calls.
  • Relationship Impedance Matching - This concept is mentioned above and is where we try to match personalities and dynamics between the participants in a particular touch opportunity. 
    • Occasionally sales teams and organizations rely too heavily on personnel titles and hierarchy to determine who makes particular calls and touches.  For example, I am ‘good’ in sales calls but I just do not sync with certain people.  It would be better to not use me in situations where I could aggravate the sales process.  So even though I was the CEO, I made it clear we should always use the best person for each 'touch'  interaction.
    • This is really hard to do in big companies, as org charts rule the day.  On could argue it’s harder in engineering type companies where IQ’s are usually more dominate that EQ’s.  But, should be underscored for both big and small companies.  And, as we know, it’s more than just aligning the right technical-to-technical contacts, have the CEO make a touch at the right time, etc…. it’s also the non-business chemistry – our experience at Insitu was alma maters, college football, home towns, etc.

My colleague, Steve Nordlund has a cute anecdote: "I remember my meeting with a key admiral that ultimately championed us onto a certain class of ship in the US Navy.  We were scheduled for 30 mins; the meeting actually went 1.5 hr; and for all but 15 mins we talked about Apple computers (he was a closet Apple guy inside DOD) after he saw my Mac laptop.  He told me at the end of the meeting he would get us on DDGs, and he did just that."  {Editors Note:  This was touch 3 and it still took us a full 10 touches, but the momentum was established.}

  • Advisory Councils - I have used advisory councils to great effect.  These are talented, experienced, people with diverse backgrounds who can monitor the pulse of customer segments, give advice on positioning, arrange for meetings for the sales team, determine if customer communications are sufficient, and in the event of a problem possibly intervene with the customer.
  • Collecting Data Prior to Meetings -- Prior to a major ‘touch,’ we try to use the opportunity’s relationship map and all of our resources to determine the touch-points and issues.  It’s a amazing how successful a meeting can be if the issues are successfully predicted and the materials are prepared that exactly address those issues.
  • Vocabulary - Although I have learned and adapted this approach using the terminology of "Touches" and "Contacts", I have since evolved for my latest business endeavor of call it "Milestones" and "Activities" to increase clarity.  The second pipeline example chart above reflects this update.
  • Getting to a Quick No - It is import to trim down the opportunities to the one that are likely to close as soon as possible.  Ten touches times 10 contacts per touch is a lot of activities that have to be organized.  Disaster would be to get tot he end and discover there is no match.

I remember when I was raising venture capital one friendly venture capital firm kept having me come back, make presentations, supply due diligence data, interface with colleagues, and channel my team to their issues.  In the end they said they didn’t want to make an investment because they don't invest in that sector.  Ouch!  We wasted so much time.  I asked them why they just didn’t tell me that at the start.  They said, in effect, that they liked us and didn’t want to hurt our feelings.  As could be imagined, their response was not appreciated.


Every organization in every sector needs to collect resources to execute its purpose.  We have used the term ‘sales’ as the generic process for the collection of those resources.  Herein a simple model is proposed and illustrated for discussing, reporting, organizing and managing the sales process.

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