There are many books that come to mind regarding sales techniques all claiming to have the approach to selling. Some are very good as they offer prescriptive approaches and or methodologies for approaching sales. Having been on both sides of the fence as a pre-sales consultant and as a customer, I thought this topic might be an interesting blog. My sales experience goes back to 1989 working as a pre-sales / technical person that both helped sell and deliver and or manage project delivery. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some talented pre-sales and enterprise sales reps that have taught me several lessons that I will share in this blog.
Back in 1989 I was fresh out of school, had worked at IBM in large enterprise accounts for a few years as a CSR. Then left and worked for a small VAR in the city that was adopting services as many did at the time to boost ailing product margins – back in the day PCs sold for $25,000.00 each. Lesson 1: Product sales is all about speeds, feeds, price and availability. Taking orders for products or downloads such as software is much different than an enterprise sale. Specifically, the level of skill , duration and acumen is much different and therefore some companies (Managers and owners) have a difficult time grasping this. The sales staff at the VAR were inside sales order takers and the owner of the company (the main sales person) leveraged his relationships from University to penetrate major enterprise accounts and pass order onto inside sales. This worked fine for PC orders but once the sale got complex there was a skills gap (level of discussion, technical depth, risk management, scoping, negotiations etc.) missing that their model could not fill – enter the Systems Engineer, a sales savvy technical person. We all know this role well, establishes credibility based on solution area expertise, flies under the sales radar, scopes and writes proposals and SOWs, helps farm accounts. Today the Systems Engineer may be called a Strategic Advisor, Senior Consultant, Solution Architect etc. names that help them fly under the sales radar.
So back on the topic, your introduced to the client what must you do next?
- For quick spot check scenarios, questions to ask are; 1) Do you have an inside coach? 2) Is there a compelling reason for the client to act? 3) Is there allocated budget? Why ask? So many times sales reps have just thrown leads over the fence completely unqualified.
- Building relationships – constant networking in the account, getting to know people from these areas:
- Business – business impact, pain and requirements (This should be a priority area).
- Technology – technical pain and requirements – tracability to Business need.
- Purchasing – steps, signatures, reviews etc. – helps with estimating timing of close (This should be a priority area).
- Legal – purchasing timing, contractual risks, penalties and also helps with estimating timing of close (This should be a priority area).
- Operations – operational pains and risks (Will roadblock everything, hate change and usually no incentives).
- Third-party service providers – leverage incumbent contacts and partner (Watch for competition, what’s in it for them?).
Lesson 2: Call high in organization chart, business area because they have budget and incentives to improve. So many times sales utilized IT relationships – that’s all they had and were almost useless. Utilizing relationships across the organization you will gain a complete view of the opportunity and enable you to craft a compelling solution that aligns with all parties. Networking will help with targeting, leverage what you have an think of it as the thin edge of the wedge. Lesson 3: Never tell a client you want to be their trusted adviser, that is so unprofessional. A junior rep did that in front of me on a joint call a couple years back, the client looked at me and rolled their eyes – she lost credibility on the spot. You earn Trusted Adviser by delivering what the client perceives as value consistently. Finally, remember people do business with people they trust – establishing and retaining credibility is a must and yes its a difficult task.
Example of an ideal engagement:
- In contact with business sponsor (Solid relationship)
- Purchasing and legal contacts (Working with you – coaching)
- Contacts and relationship with impacted technology areas (Working with you – coaching)
- Competitive risk(s) addressed (identified and able to reduce competitive risk)
Keep in mind technology departments are generally dis-empowered and avoid change (Especially operations). If your contacts are technology people or managers only, your at risk (generally speaking). If it’s a PM then your in a better place as they have access to broader audience such as business and purchasing.
So lets dig a little deeper:
- Learning how decisions are made – as your building relationships ask how decisions are made, this will help with networking and being able to predict the sales probability. You’re looking for people that are exposed by risk / benefit from the solution and those that support and don’t support the need for a solution. Questions to ask, who makes the final decisions and signs? Who influences the decision makers? Who are the anti-supporters?
- Learning the technical / business environment – working with your contact you must gather information about the environment, pain points, risks as this will help you with crafting your solution – build value proposition you might say. If possible obtain documentation and conduct white boarding sessions, these are of great opportunities for sharing knowledge for both parties if it doesn’t turn into free consulting. Ask yourself why would the client want to participate? What’s in it for them? Use caution because if not well positioned you could look foolish and disorganized.
- Learning how purchases are made – through the relationship building process you learn how purchases are made. Simply ask how they are made, start with the Project Manager, ask purchasing, managers, legal with purchasing / signing authority. Gather the information from multiple view points and use it to assess your understanding of the customer and your level of relationships. These relationships will also help with questions such as, are we competitive? Will this deal close? When?
- Competition – know your competition, simply ask and in some cases vender of record information will be available. Also leverage your professional network as someone there might have worked with the client before and could help. If your relationships are strong enough one of your contacts might help you better understand the landscape.
- Know when to walk – some just don’t want to buy, simple as that. No urgent need, no budget or maybe they don’t like your company and have someone else in mind. Beware of the sales rep with the “sunshine pump” as they will string you along chasing that account what seems like forever and then blame you when the deal doesn’t close.
- The useless manager – I’ve worked for several, Colin, Adriano, Dave, list goes on and on.You can identify them by their style, motherhood like guidance, or no guidance and or plain old blame, disconnected conversation – you get the vibe they are out of their comfort zone. As one good manager told me, watch out for Spreadsheet Jockeys, Stuffed Shirts and Desk Flyers. If your reporting to such a manager, look for leadership in the team and in other departments. Also have well documented plans so you can educate your manager.
- Sales people and the sunshine pump – ran into this a lot over the years. Sales throws lead over the fence, says its yours to lose. When you ask questions to qualify you get nothing of value back or just that’s its a great opportunity for the company. Or that it will close but no real info about whose making the decision, when, if they budget etc. Lesson 4: Before taking on a pursuit, scope it with the sales person and loop in your manager (Make sure you have a email or paper trail). Ask the quick scoping questions I mentioned earlier and press for good answers. If your manager wants to pursue a bad deal get it in writing.
Aside from the aforementioned points, know your companies products and services inside and out. Know the good and the bad so that you can scope and manage expectations effectively. Also, be prepared to compare your competition and know how to handle questions and push back.
From a more practical perspective, I use the Holden method of sales as a basis, it helps me focus on specifics for an account and fill in the blanks. Its gives you a methodology that helps you plan building relationships and gathering information. What it won’t do is repair a damaged relationship instantly. Lesson 5: It will take time to repair relations your company or past staff have damaged. For example, I worked for a software company a while back and they “Hit and run…” their clients in my region told me the company was amateur in their practices and untrustworthy. Most sales managers suck at coaching and or managing.
The following templates will help you collect information and focus on developing beneficial relationships with your clients. They include the following:
- Company Background and analysis
- Opportunity analysis
- Decision making analysis
- Quick spot check analysis
Enjoy reading? Want to learn more? The following are recommended:
- The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation – By Mathew Dixon
- Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond – By Deepack Malhotra and Max Bazerman
- Mastering the Complex Sale: How to Compete and Win When the Stakes are High – By Jeff Thull
- The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential – By John C Maxwell
- Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress free Productivity
– By David Allen
- Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Coworkers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day – by Linda Durre
- Professional Services Marketing – By Mike Shultz and John Doerr
- People Styles at Work: Making Bad Relationships Good and Good Relationships Better – By Robert Bolton, Dorothy Grover Bolton
In the end your approach must be tailored to your client and company you work for. Lesson 6: A company I worked for was a street fighter, their entire sales team was technical and had never been in an enterprise sales role. Their approach was “speeds and feeds – product comparisons” focused on short term sales cycle – note you must be comfortable with both approaches as each customer/employer is different. Enterprise sales people didn’t fit into the mix, the company wasn’t willing to invest and change to go after larger accounts and repair the “Hit and Run…” damage they caused. Lesson 7: Some managers/companies won’t get it, their culture and management team are stuck in their ways due to lack of experience, choose jobs carefully or else you could be placed in a no win situation. Specifically, you will enter into a situation where the plan isn’t based on reality. Could be as simple as market perception, not competitive in the market they are trying to enter (rates, skillsets, products), sales force isn’t trained or lacks experience with complex sales. Lesson 8 – not all companies that want to enter a market have a clue what they are doing (don’t understand barriers to entry) and will churn through a lot of people and money before they decide to abandon their pursuit.
Have feedback, suggestion or want to share your experiences? Contact me email@example.com .