A few tips I’ve learnt since landing my first $20K sale through to my first multimillion dollar deal.
I am not a salesperson. But this has made me good at landing sales. And selling has become my favourite part of my job. Ultimately selling is creative, challenging and requires extreme levels of authenticity.
A sales person’s role is to identify and solve problems. Often, the problems the client has identified- are not the real problems at all. Navigating this is the most important skill to develop. If you were to just listen to your clients needs and not analyse them with your expert knowledge- you would not make many sales.
The sales process should be value based and essentially free consulting for the customer. If you do not treat it this way- your competitor will and the client will go with their solution as their sales process provided more value. It’s not even about the product at this point- they are investing in you- the expert. So you need to prove that you are indeed an expert by providing consultative value. Don’t just go on about product features. The product is just a prop if you are selling a solution. But this does not mean you can sell a lemon- the product will need to pay off eventually.
This is good advice to be a likeable person in general. No one buys a solution from someone they do not like or respect. There are exceptions to this- usually with monopolies- like when you have to deal with Telstra. To be likeable you need to be honest and authentic- and you cannot fake this.
The first step to being authentic is to be knowledgeable. If you do not understand something- do not try and fake it. How can you authentically promote your product to solve a client’s problem- if you do not know if it technically can?
The second step to being authentic is to be sincerely passionate about the problems you solve. Life is too short to be doing something you are not passionate about. If you do not love solving these particularly sets of problems- why is this your job? You have to truly believe you are providing value to the customer- not just with the product you are selling- but with yourself being involved in the project.
Lean in to any differences between yourself and whatever a sales person looks like in your head. This is what will make you authentic at the end of the day. Approach these differences as opportunities to stand out, be refreshing, or build a relationship, not things to hide from a client’s view.
Be a specialist generalist
In solution sales you need to know a little bit about everything. From business processes, what your customers do, and of course the product domain knowledge or technology. In some ways you need to know more about elements of the technology than some of your technical team, just at a higher level.
For example, your front-end developer does not need to understand site-based network infrastructure, or cloud deployment methods. But to know how these technologies come together is important when selling and scoping. In other words you need to become a specialist generalist.
Just like a General Practitioner at a hospital; there is a lot of knowledge needed to reach a diagnosis before delegating to a specialist. The GP’s general knowledge is their speciality.
The main actionable advice here is to absorb knowledge constantly. Read about market trends, sales techniques, technology developments, open source projects, university research papers, hardware blogs, economic trends, tax law changes, company news, client’s financial reports, industry news, attend tech meetups, attend industry conferences, monitor competitor's announcement and setup google keyword monitoring. Most importantly, travel and talk to people that know more than you do.
Learn the buying processes and corporate structure
This is sort of a boring area, but if you want to improve your sales you need to learn how your clients buy. Anyone can have great positive sales meetings but turning good meetings into a sale is what sets great sales people apart.
So many things have to line up to make a sale. It’s not as simple as convincing a room full of people that your product is the best. You need to be there with the right people at the right time, provide the right information, be the right price, have the right business model and get sign off from IT, user groups and business leads. Then it goes to the procurement department for even more processes. It’s amazing anyone manages to sell anything to a corporate.
Start with your business model. Does the client’s funding for this project come from an operating or capital budget? Maybe they really want your solution, but only have an operating budget to work with. So if you split your costs across three years, you might have a better chance. Or maybe they received a government grant that has to be spent as one off capital purchase- your SaaS model won’t work here.
Gartner has great research on how buying and sales processes are intertwined. One of their stats is selling takes twice as long as the seller expects, but buying takes five times as long as the buyer expects. Both would rather close the sale sooner.
In fact, you should be an expert in buying as well as selling your product. Your clients might buy something for a major project twice a year; whereas you sell your product every day of the week. Consider yourself a buying consultant- not as sales person.
As hard as it has become to sell in today’s world, it has become that much more difficult to buy. The single biggest challenge of selling today is not selling, it is actually our customers’ struggle to buy.
Distinguished VP, Advisory, Gartner
Treat the buying process like a project and manage it like a project manager. Set expectations as part of your sales process. Prepare templated documents on what you need to speed up the sales process and identify the key people that are likely going to need to sign off. Also identify the key blockers and have an action plan for them- before you hit them.
Have a buying case study and talk through the process it took to sell to a similar customer and the resulting structure of your engagement. Set a timeline and ask for any procurement guidelines. It is also important to let them know that their own processes might delay the project- if they expect to have a solution in place in a few weeks- they might not even have sign off until then.
Know what you don’t know- but always be learning.
I’ve sat in on many meetings with external sales people. My number one pet hate is when they brush off technical knowledge as something they can not possibly attain. It was either with Telstra or Optus where the sales guy referred to programming as “the dark arts” and palmed off every technical question with “we’ll leave that to the guys in the basement”. Wanker. If you sell a technical product, you need to understand tech, otherwise what value are you creating?
Of course at some point you need to bring in an engineer. But, if you are too lazy to learn a bit of tech, go get another job.
Wrapping things up:
Overall, be confident in yourself, your abilities, the product you are selling, and your ability to call bullshit on yourself. Be effective, proactive and as knowledgeable as you can be - not to keep up with anyone, but to stay ahead of them.
You are not a salesperson. You are a specialist generalist. You are a buying consultant. You are a constant learner. And you are an authentic and likeable human being that provides value to your clients in any way possible.