Monday, December 03, 2007

Complex solution sellers can learn from commodity salespeople

I've worked selling and marketing complex IT solutions for more than fifteen years now. I've done a fair amount of selling myself, and seen lots more people do it, with varying degrees of success. One thing I've observed, in myself and others, is that we can easily get entranced with the complexity, beauty and custom nature of our solution, and lose track of selling basics.

I was reminded of this a few years ago when our company was purchasing to manage our sales processes. has, according to its website, more than 38,000 customers. They can customize a few things about the offering, but the price point (around $75 per user per month) and the sheer volume of customers they serve don't allow for heavily customized solutions. Most of the tailoring you want, you do yourself. It's like self-service at the grocery store.

However, the staff was the best I'd ever seen on managing the basics of a sales cycle. The pre-sales engineer, who responded to my web inquiry, carefully asked questions about the size of the organization, what we did for sales management software before, who else we were considering, and whether we had appropriate levels of approval for the purchase.

He didn't hand off the account to sales until we were truly qualified--as I recall, when I had asked for a proposal. Then the salesperson picked right up on the trail of managing us toward closure. "What is your approval process?" "When is the meeting scheduled to review and approve the solution?" "Who will sign the contract?" "Who else should I be talking to to help you evaluate salesforce?" And, perhaps most powerfully, "When will you be taking your next action on this purchase?"--with a follow-up soon after that date had passed. (Click here and here for some simple but useful resources on sales process from the salesforce website.)

Virtually every salesperson knows these rules. But it's easy to lose sight of them when you're managing a complex sales engagement. Often times, we ask half the question or settle for half the answer. We don't want to be too pushy, or we expect the logic of our solution to be self-evident.

But putting the basics to use as religiously as the staff will allow you to close more deals--and stop pursuing losing deals earlier with much less effort wasted.

(Postscript: the salesperson didn't stop there. After we signed our agreement, she monitored our usage and called me when it appeared we weren't fully using the service. "When are you going to send your administrator to training?" "When do you expect all your salespeople to be adding all their opportunities to the system?" She understood that if we didn't commit to the system, we wouldn't get value from it, and wouldn't renew our contract a year hence. Another good lesson for all salespeople.)

(NOTE: I have no connection, financial or otherwise, to I have not talked to them on any subject in more than two years.)