My job is selling technology. Actually I'm more of a translator. I sell technology to other businesses and that's where things get weird. There is a bewildering array of tech out there and unfortunately many companies think technology sells itself and the value that the technology delivers should be obvious. Wrong. That's where I come in. I said I was a translator. My job is to translate techno babble into value that customers understand. This blog share my adventures with high tech sales. Selling high tech is fun so come join me on my sales journey!

Thursday 26 April 2012

The Sales Dating Game – The first date

I've always thought Sales is a lot like dating. Not the transactional selling you find in shops but the complex protracted sales process of selling anything remotely complicated. I did think of an analogy for transactional selling but its probably best not to mention it.

If you wind the clock back to your teenage years when you first wanted to find a girlfriend you devised a plan to get one. The first step was realising you needed to be where there were girls. If you were really lucky your sister would bring her girlfriends to your house creating a captive audience. But for most of us it meant hanging out in bars, clubs etc. In sales the same is true - “we need to be at this trade show – all our prospective customers are hanging out there”.

When you got to the club (sorry trade show) you stood nervously around looking at the girls (sorry prospects) not quite sure what to do next – naievely assuming being there would be enough – you didnt have a sales plan of who you wanted to target and how to get their attention.

Irritatingly there always seemed to be some guy who stood out and the girls wanted. In fact the competition for the interest of the “hot guy” seemed to get him even more girls interested in him. Here is another sales lesson – you need to stand out to get customers to come to you and in fact the more customers that are interested in you, the more attractive you become.

For the majority of us we stood around nervously waiting to pluck up the courage to approach a girl (sorry customer) or waiting for a prospective customer to look in our direction. It is always interesting to see some booths at the trade shows where the boys are huddled together in their booth too afraid to make the advance – as the show comes to a close and the last dance starts to play they look sullen, withdrawn and rejected.

Some are brave enough to venture from the safety and security of their booth and approach some girls (sorry customers) with their one liner chat-up lines, with similar levels of success it must be said to my bar and club one liners. The girls (sorry customers) have a picture in their mind of what they want – they might need you but you're not what they want. Here's an important step in dating (sorry sales) you need to interrupt their thought process to stop them thinking about what they want. Confusion is a good strategy for breaking their thought process for a few seconds to get their attention. Hesitate and their old thought process resumes and your toast.

Some girls (sorry customers) might be interested to hear about your Ferrari (what's in it for them is to be seen in a Ferrari – so does that mean they are really going out with the Ferrari or you?).

Some girls (sorry customers) have a specific problem they need solving so are more receptive to solutions that might present themselves. “I'm a teenage single mum – I really need someone to look after me....he looks alright, might have a bit of money, a job and a car...I'll take him”. Not a great deal of selling there, you just happened to look a reasonable fit to their needs.

As your sales experience improves, and you are more confident doing the initial approach (sorry cold calling) your tolerance to rejection improves. There's plenty more fish in the sea – it's just a numbers game – ask enough girls for a date and you'll find some that want to place an order.

You're meeting your quota but you're boss (sorry mum and dad) is not happy with the quality of deals you're bringing home. They really want you to find the big life changing deal.....

To be continued.

Monday 23 April 2012

Networking vs selling

Is networking a substitute for selling?

Business networking groups such as BNI, BRX are geared up to help their members get new business. Business networking is where groups of like minded individuals meet with a goal to help each other out in business.

So is networking a substitute for selling? In today's cluttered market-place where buyers are usually unreceptive to selling advances, it looks like networking definitely has a place in today's selling landscape.

However the selling landscape is a complex one. There are millions of products and services on offer. There is a vast spectrum of products from commodity eg florists where the buyer is familiar with what is on offer through to complex industrial products such as bio-digesters where there are relatively few customers on the planet.

Non specialist business networking events are well suited to relatively low value commodity like purchases such as holidays, accountancy services, legal services etc. Firstly the general population are likely to be consumers of services associated with the members whereas it is unlikely that many will want to buy a bio-digester plant. Secondly networking members can provide referrals since their will recognise the opportunity and understand the offer enough to qualify the prospect in order to make the referral. End result is well qualified leads.

In general the level of selling sophistication for selling these types of services is not high – the buyer wants to buy but the question is whether the supplier is a perceived as a risk or not. The part of the sales cycle that business networking supports is matching the buyer's need for a service provider with an awareness of a “trusted” supplier of a service. Networking therefore replaces part of the early sales cycle but it doesn't eliminate the later stages of selling such as closing. The lead could come from a trusted relationship or recommendation so the buyer will perceive lower risk with the buying decision.

However in more complex sales, particularly in a business-to-business context, networking provides little more than a warm lead who is willing to explore – for the sales person this is a great alternative to cold calling. It does not however replace professional selling practices such as SPIN selling: understanding the customers need, what business value they place on satisfying the need and demonstrating how the need can be satisfied.

Given everyone is bombarded by selling messages, is networking going to become the de-facto lead generation machine? For commodity products, business networking should be a very cost effective alternative to cold-calling or advertising. Referrals from trusted sources whether face-to-face or through social networking sites are likely to increase in prominence in the coming years- word of mouth has been effective for millennia and networking is just a variant of it.

For complex industrial sales, non specialised networking events are likely to be a waste of time. Business is about relationships so there are few alternatives to that face-to-face touch. Just like marketing, the networking events need to be on target – often specialist conferences are the right forum but may not have the explicit and open structure of a network event to foster deal trading. Today there are relatively few specialist networking events. I am considering setting one up for high-tech/IT networking in the UK – if you would be interested in attending, ping me.

As it gets harder to get the buyer's attention, it is likely that there will be an increased proliferation of specialist networking organisations emerging to cater for the face-to-face need to build relationships and do the sale. Unlike the BNI like events, involvement with the specialist networking group may involve a long haul waiting for the right opportunity to emerge – how often do people want to buy a bio-digester after all?

Outsourced Technology Sales