Until now I have avoided the traditional metaphors of warfare or sporting competition to describe the skills and activities of a salesperson, but when it comes to beating the competition it is appropriate because it is a zero sum game. Either you win, or the competition wins. Either you earn some immediate commission and build a bridgehead (first warfare analogy) or you lose territory to the enemy. This is warfare as known in ancient times, it is not ideological it is about taking home the gold.
All of the techniques we have discussed help you improve your skills and your ability to strategise a sales campaign (uncovering requirements, understanding differentiation) which all contribute to you winning more than you lose. This section shares with you two specific tools which allow you to assess how you are doing against a competitor, and suggests what you might need to do to win.
The first tool is a status of the battlefield tool. What you do is to look at five “battlefields” and you estimate your current situation. The five battlefields are:-
Let’s look at them one by one:-
Requirement Identification is very often done badly by salespeople, often because they do not feel able to do it well. Let me give a few reasons why you might want to do it well, you have to invest the time in the skills necessary to do this phase because:-
- Gathering Requirements is a perfect excuse for meeting executives that will become harder to meet once a formal procurement process (RFP) gets under way. Access to executives tends to be in supervised formal meetings not conducive to forming relationships. If you think it might be helpful to have a friend or two in the account, you may want to do a thorough Requirements Gathering process
- Requirements Gathering gives you a perfect opportunity to build credibility with the same executives. A professional call on an executive will give him confidence that you and your company can and will deliver a successful outcome. If he is faced, three months later with a choice between two very similar proposals and one vendor has met with him and left him with an impression of competence it is clear which proposal he will vote for. (The opposite is true, if you give him the impression you are not competent then……)
- Requirements Gathering is a perfect opportunity to help the executives understand that there might be other requirements that they are not aware of. This is what is called shaping the requirements. So after you have gathered the usually short list of features & benefits the business is looking for you have an opportunity to add credibility to yourself and your company with statements like” when we did a very similar project with ACME Corporation we helped them to achieve some real value by also doing XYZ at the same time”. The best position to have with a customer is “trusted advisor”, someone who not only can ask the standard consultant question “What do you want” but someone who by experience elsewhere can offer advice on best practice.
- By the Way – adding value by suggesting an additional feature or benefit is an opportunity to get the customer to value a product differentiation. I am not very keen on the phrase Unique Selling Proposition as very few of them are Unique. However if you can get one or two of your product’s differentiated features in the Mandatory or Top Ten Requirements you will discomfort your competitors.
Enough reasons why you should do requirements gathering? I hope so. So how do you do a Requirements Gathering interview? Clearly you will have to do some work yourself as each product needs a different requirements gathering process. However the resources you should go to, and the basic approaches to developing one are the same everywhere.
In a well organized company the department responsible for implementation will have key questions they need answering before implementation. If you are working in a capital equipment market then go talk to your engineers or consultants. They will probably be very helpful; most of the issues they encounter in implementation come from poor requirements gathering in the sales phase. Who has not heard that classic sentence “Who sold you that then?”.
The second place to go for insight is again an existing customer. Either at the first lunch you took him (see Business Development above) to or a second one you can ask him what were the objectives of using your product, what conscious requirements they had at the beginning, what worked, what did not work, where there any unforeseen benefits or pitfalls. Again remember you are trying to educate yourself so that you can act as an advisor – be opened minded and allow the conversation to go where the customer wants to take it. This works as a source of information for a car salesman as much as a salesman selling 10 million dollar consulting engagements. Input like “I really appreciate XYZ because it comes in handy when ABC” should be incorporated into your conversation with the next customer who has similar requirements.
If you want to get really professional then there are courses, books and resources on Business Analysis that can help you develop a questionnaire for any product or Service.
One important skill here is the deceptively simple skill of asking questions.
One of the changes as you move through the requirements gathering – opportunity definition onto the solution presentation stage is that over time your behaviour needs to change. Initially you are mainly asking questions and listening (requirements gathering); in later meetings you confirm understanding (defining opportunity); and towards the end you present the value proposition (solution).
This is the phase of selling that most salespeople try to get through as quickly as possible and yet it is the part of the process where you can most effectively improve your chances of success.
So many salespeople in the Financial Services industry skipped this phase for so long, and sold inappropriate products to customers, that in many countries around the world regulators now insist that a standardized profile & needs analysis questionnaire is executed with every customer. Best practice has become a compliance issue that Regulators audit.
Qualifying opportunities well will create more time for you, and therefore contribute to your productivity more than any other sales skill. My view on life is that Time is the only finite resource. Many companies try to Qualify leads before distribution to salespeople, I have always felt that it is always worth doing for yourself.
Qualification is the process where you find out whether the potential customer is serious about buying or whether he is either “tire kicking” or “going through the motions” of a formal competitive procurement process where he has already selected a preferred supplier. The basics of qualification are fairly simple. You need to invest a meeting or two to establish credibility and a relationship, but as early as possible you should confirm with the main customer contact whether there is a budget, a business owner (decision maker), a defined set of actions to evaluate alternatives (a formal procurement process, or a less formal, give us a recommendation by ….) and a deadline when the business needs the solution in place. I also try to get the key contact to articulate the “compelling business reason” for the project. All these questions can be framed within and surrounded by Requirements Gathering questions to make them more palatable. A telesales call that just asks: “Are you serious? Do you have the money?” can be a bit bruising. These questions have to be asked, because if the customer cannot confirm there is a budget, and senior executives are not “business owning” the initiative, and if there is no compelling business need then you may be wasting your time.
Here practice varies greatly from company to company. In some companies the salesman receives pre-qualified leads from marketing campaigns that have been contacted by telesales and “qualified”. In other companies the salesperson gets given a couple of brochures and a telephone and is told to go find customers.
In general it is better to understand the skills involved in starting from nothing, even if you have “all leads supplied”. Much of what I talk about here is really the domain of marketing, but I look at it from a salespersons perspective.
As usual I suggest starting by thinking about your situation. Unless you are working for a complete start up the company you work for already has existing customers using the product you are selling. Unless you would severely upset someone I strongly recommend that you approach a customer that is friendly towards your company (maybe one of your reference customers who recommend your product to new customers) and take him out to lunch. Most people are responsive to requests for help and over lunch you can ask some key questions like “Why did you buy this product from us?”. Usually between this customer conversation and talking to your more experienced colleagues (not always as friendly and helpful as customers); talking to your manager and reading the training and marketing materials you will begin to understand the basic value propositions of your product.
What I am always looking for is a conceptual requirement / solution map that defines the target market. What do I mean by conceptual requirement / solution map? Well sometimes it is very easy, if you are selling X ray machines then your target market is probably hospitals. However the salesperson who realized that at some point when they became smaller and cheaper that dentists and doctors clinics could now afford them probably made a lot of money. The salesperson who realized that certain engineering processes might be improved by X Ray examination probably made even more. Always try to understand the conceptual requirement / solution map.
So ideally you can narrow down your target from the Yellow Pages to a specific set of companies that share a specific set of requirements that you might have a solution to. Now you can begin to gather data on those accounts.
This can be the most difficult phase, it is immensely time consuming to phone up switchboards and ask for names and contacts, and switchboard operators do not usually cooperate in this process. However there are a number of ways of overcoming this problem.
The first issue (that Marketing nearly always forgets) is that there is a 80:20 rule in this problem. I am fairly sure that in all corporate markets 80% of the spend on any product / solution is derived from 20% of the corporate target market, usually the 20% who are the largest in revenue terms. In Asia there is a publication “MIS Magazine” that annually publishes a list of the top 100 accounts in terms of IT investment in the previous year. They estimate that approximately 50% of all IT investment in Asia is spent by those 100 accounts.
So focus on the major accounts. Next decide on your approach plan. Again assuming you have no help, no existing contacts, one tactic I use is to write to the Chairman of the Board and ask for a referral “to the appropriate executive”. You had better be able to write a good letter with a good value proposition but it has several advantages as a tactic.
- the chairman’s name and address is always known, he is in the annual accounts, and probably on the website and he is based at the Head Office
- he will have a very organized personal administration executive who will probably intercept your letter and either bin it or forward it to the appropriate executive. So when you follow up on the phone, he or she will be able to help you, again if you sound professional (and friendly – do not try to bully this person on the phone, you will lose).
- If you do get referred to the appropriate executive you will get an appointment as you have been referred by the Chairman.
Sound far fetched? I know a salesman who worked for me in the UK who wrote to the Chairman of National Westminster Bank and the Chairman of the Prudential Insurance Company, the largest bank, and the largest insurance company in the UK at the time and within 12 months he had sold several millions of dollars of software to both accounts. He was a legend to his colleagues. Nobody ever suggested giving his accounts to telesales.
When Oracle announced it had purchased the marketing automation company “Market2Lead”, the CRM On Demand user community looked forward to the integration and launch of this new product.
I’m in Singapore today attending a two day training session for what will be known as Oracle CRM On Demand Marketing or “ODM”. Day one has been exciting and enlightening. Having been a user and administrator of Eloqua in the past, I was anxious to see the level of functionality that would be available.
I have been blown away with the depth of this product and tremendous value it will bring to our clients and prospects. I’m looking forward to launching our own instance of ODM and building campaigns for our own lead generation activity.
We look forward to bringing this product to market over the coming weeks.