EDITORIAL COMMENT ON SELLING INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
Over the last decade, the tremendous impact of Information Technology on the way companies run their businesses has brought profound changes. Suppliers, to, have experienced significant changes. Having a ‘better mouse trap’ is no longer a guarantee of success. Penetration of the market needs to be fast before competition catches up. The front line marketing, sales and support effort needs to be well organised and effective to be successful.
For many years salespeople have been trained to apply 'classical' sales techniques with much emphasis on ‘handling
objections’ and ‘effective closing’ techniques. This has worked well in the 'short
sales cycle’ environment, FMCG or where the amount of money involved was relatively small, or the
orders on a regular basis.
These techniques just do not work on their own in the more complex sales cycle. A ‘your pen or mine’ approach is hardly likely to be appreciated in a board room when a major new IT solution is being considered, a decision that may effect the whole strategic future of the business for the next 5 years or so.
The traditional salesperson using his or her chosen sales techniques faces an uphill struggle. They are faced with senior managers concerned about major investment decisions and the risks involved.
Information Technology is a means to an end, an enabler, nothing more.
First and foremost an awareness of the business environment and the way in which decisions are made. He or she has to understand
the ‘buying process’ before a strategy can be developed to win the business.
Very often the customer needs help, so a salesperson will be a consultant and an educator for much of the time. To do this, he/she must be technically competent and know how to establish good working relationships. It sounds easy enough until we look at the multitude of skills needed!
To sell successfully, several hundred thousand pounds of systems, services or consultancy will involve some very important, discreet
skills. The obvious ones - prospecting, telephoning, presenting benefits, objection handling, closing etc.- are fine, but will not be
More and more the salesperson selling IT will need to be a true professional communicator. This means explaining complicated ideas and concepts in a manner which is relevant and understandable at every level in a prospect company. Understanding and influencing the prospect's basis of decision will be a key factor.
To communicate on a “one to one", he or she will need to be socially acceptable just to open the lines of communication and establish working relationships. This means having the right attitude and behavior.
Then comes a whole series of skills, for example, business letter writing and
use of e-mail. The salesperson may have to write several letters/e-mails to confirm
and clarify points raised during discussions. At later stages in the sales cycle, there will be a need to put together a good business
case, this could be a 'draft' document for discussion or a definitive proposal. This is not a technical dissertation or a ‘quote’, but a selling document written to provide good business reasons for
the client to proceed.
It has to be concise, well structured and easy to read, providing the right information to allow the decision makers to make a judgment about the solution proposed and the likely return on investment.
The salesperson will frequently be asked to demonstrate capability. If a product is involved then a full demonstration will be needed, but not a ‘standard demo’. Again, we are looking at ‘proving capability’ and great care will be needed to ensure that the demonstration is well thought out and relevant to the prospect’s actual business needs. If a support person is involved then the demo becomes a 'team effort'.
Perhaps the most powerful and important aspect that has arisen over the past few years is the need for salespeople to be able to present
well. By this, I mean the true stand up presentation to a group of people.
It is still surprising to see how a sales person can be good in the ‘one to one’ situation, but run for cover when asked to stand up in front of a group of senior executives and do a business presentation. The saying 'death by PowerPoint' has taken on some meaning in recent years!
In a competitive situation, the ‘presentation proposal’ can be crucial because the customer will be looking for competent thought processes that show understanding of his requirements. It still amazes me how few people are trained to present well. Surely, every salesperson should be a lucid presenter of his product, solution, company, support, etc. etc.?
These key skills are all linked together and form an integral part of any sales campaign. Forget winning business if your people are inadequate in any of these areas.
Another skill worth mentioning is that of negotiation. On the basis that a large number of senior executives and ‘buyers’ in industry
now attend negotiation skill courses, it seems to me that closing a big deal, even if you are a favored supplier, rarely happens without some process of negotiation.
As a good friend, a Director of IT, recently said to me," I get paid to buy the best systems possible for the company I work for at the best possible price. We don’t have an inexhaustible budget in any year, so I get judged by the way I handle resources, one of which is money. Sure I negotiate the best price possible, it’s part of my job and I enjoy doing it, particularly if my MD congratulates me afterwards."
To send an inexperienced sales person into a client in the final stages of a sale, without a knowledge of basic negotiation skills, is criminal.
Well, to all those Sales Managers and Sales Directors who will be reading this article, it’s getting harder and harder to find good
sales and support people with the right sort of attitude and general level of professionalism needed to succeed.
Good training and development of front line people was always important. Nowadays, it’s critical. If we are going to train, though, we should make sure that the training actually equips people to do the job we are asking them to do.
For IT supplier companies, the provision of key skills to everyone in the ‘sales team’ is essential. If you are recruiting experienced
people who already have the skills, lucky you. If you are not, you are probably finding the learning curve for someone to reach a reasonable level of competence and productivity is a long one.
Strange how we invest so readily in company cars, sign off the expenses and pay the hotel bills, yet baulk at spending a few hundred pounds on an individual each year for his/her development.
Yes, training takes time and money, but what is the cost of not doing it? Don’t we all feel better when our people are properly equipped to do the job we ask of them?
Developing sales and support people and giving them the knowledge, awareness and skills to succeed should be a major item on the agenda at any Board meeting.
IF YOU DONT BELIEVE ME, JUST ASK YOUR OWN SALES TEAM!
LMA Sales Training and Consultancy Services 6 Kensington - Silver Wharf - Sovereign Harbour - BN23 5NH Tel: 01323 471730 - Fax: 01323 471869