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!

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Where have all the prospects gone?

Any sales guy will tell you that it can be hard finding prospects and it's one of the most time consuming activities of sales. Building a pipeline of opportunities is critical to success in sales. No prospect. No selling. No sale.

I haven't been fortunate enough [yet] to be given a nice list  "These people want to buy our stuff. Ring then and they will buy".  It's been more of a case  "where's the list?"

Knowing where to find the next prospect, is like  the "little black book" of girls you can ring when you find yourself single. 

In an ideal world marketing is supposed to build a list of leads and these leads need to be contacted to convert into prospects and ultimately customers.  Nice dream!

Sales guys need to build their own list of prospects.  Creating that list of prospects isn't an easy task.

Selling technology has it's challenges. Let's start with something simple like water.  Everybody in the world is a potential purchaser of water. It's something we all need. Yet not everyone needs technology. In fact some technology is incredibly specific. In some cases selling incredibly specific technology is easier. You can name the people who will buy.

Let's say I was selling fibre optic transmission systems.  Your average man on the street doesn't need one yet telecom operators might. So a good starting point would be to get a list of telecom operators. OK. Do these telecom operators own or rent fibre optic cable? If the answer is yes then Bingo! They might want to buy....provided the rationale for buying or changing vendor makes sense.  When the customer profile is very specific, there may be a very limited number of customers in the world. It can therefore be a time consuming task hunting for new prospects. There simply aren't many of them.

This example is a vertical so it's often clear which companies would need what you are selling.

Now lets pick some more generic technology such as databases. Databases can be used for a wide range of things and they are not industry specific.  This is a horizontal product. Healthcare providers might use databases for storing patient records whilst a car manufacturer might use it to store inventory information for a factory.  Horizontal products often have a larger potential market than verticals yet they can be more challenging to sell. 

The market is less specific for horizontal products and therefore there are often many more  potential customers for this type of product yet this can be a challenge to figure out who will buy. People don't buy databases. They buy what it can do for them.  If I started explaining to a hospital the benefits of databases for car manufacturing inventory management, I would at best get some blank looks. A hospital is not involved with running a car factory. They want to hear what it can do for them. They probably aren't interested in how wonderful the database schema syntax is.

The challenge is therefore one of domain knowledge. To get the attention of a horizontal prospect you need to be able to communicate the value the product delivers in the language of the prospect.

The other aspect of horizontal products is they are often looking for a problem to solve. Lets look at hospitals again.  So wind the clock back 100 years.  Did we have hospitals? Yes. Did we have patients in hospitals? Yes. Did hospitals have access to patient records?  Yes. Did they have databases? No. Was there a market for databases? No.

Hospital's had a paper based system so the challenge is to find a commercial reason for changing from paper to a database. "You'll be able to access patient records far faster" [so what] "When a patient is admitted you'll have their information in seconds" [so what] "The time it saves to get the patient records could save their life".

Now who do you sell this to?  Let's start with nurses. They don't understand databases. They probably want to save lives but haven't got the authority to sell.  The challenge therefore is to find someone that has the authority to make such a profound process change (switching from paper to database) and wants the value delivered - in this case saving lives. Finding the specific prospect for this decision can be time consuming.  As you are selling a vision of the future, it also means it can be difficult to get their attention.  Imagine the challenge of selling a database 100 years ago - you are talking a foreign language.

In summary finding prospects for vertical sales can be a challenge of scarcity whereas the challenge for selling horizontal products can be one of targetting and messaging.

Good luck with the prospecting!

Monday 3 June 2013

Has the Amazon Kindle goldrush passed?

Amazon's Kindle is a wonderful thing. It has truly disrupted the publishing industry. It has enabled many wannabe authors to be exactly that by lowering the cost of publishing.  The Kindle has removed the barriers to publishing enabling authors to self publish without the gate keeper of a publisher.

This has however had some unintended consequences.  Many of the ill's and evils we have seen on the Internet have found their way into publishing.   Spam books - books which are little more than spam have emerged.  Copyright theft - books repackaged and sold under different titles.The sins of the Internet have infiltrated publishing.

In the past the Internet lowered the barriers and suddenly any one could have a web page and now Kindle has enabled anyone to be an author and monetise their words.  There has been a goldrush to get onto Kindle.

One of the reasons that goldrush has happened is that Amazon has enabled it. Amazon's KDP programme allows authors to give away their books for free for 5 days per quarter.  I've succumbed to this gold-rush myself - I've written several books such as Romancing The Sale. My thought process about giving my book away for free is that it's a great way to get my book into the hands of those who don't know me. The quality of my work should speak for itself - either they will love it or hate it.  If they love it they will tell others or buy one of my other books. The reviews and feedback for my books has been positive - this encourages me to write more.

Now you may be thinking giving books away for free doesn't make good business sense. You are right.  In 2012 Amazon's KDP programme did however create lots of sales.  By giving away your book for free you shot up the chart.  It was perfectly possible to be up there with 50 Shades of Grey in the best seller list. When the free promotion ended, you didn't automatically drop back to zero, there was some legacy sales which persisted because you were top of the chart.  People paid real money for your book.  Many authors probably sold more copies that way than through any other mechanism.

Around November 2012, Amazon changed it.  Probably quite rightly.  Now when the free promotion ends the book simply exits chart. It is listed in the free chart not the sales chart. No freebie sales for authors now.

Amazon has also closed a number of other holes such as tagging.

So where does this leave all these authors?  Well the reality is they are stuck with promoting their own book. No get rich quick options.  Writing a book is easy - it's probably only 10% of the task. The remaining 90% of the task is marketing and selling the book.  Yet the throngs of authors flooding to Kindle are still coming.

The average book sells less than 100 copies in it's lifetime.  I can vouch that if you do nothing to promote your book, you will be part of this statistic. So we have a perfect storm.  A large swathe of books being published - flooding the market with content yet I suspect people are not buying more books. Classic economics. Over supply of content and static demand of attention.

Authors are usually not marketeers or sales people. So how do they promote their book? The instant reaction is to drop the price.  The author sets the price not Amazon.  That probably has created negative inflation in the Retail Price Index with book prices jumping around on the whim of authors.  It is however classic economics and conomics tells us that if there is over supply, prices will fall. We've seen examples like Life of Pi being just 10p.  A truly best selling book priced at a bargain price.

Ultimately Amazon love Kindle.  No books to stop. No warehouses. No packaging. No people putting books in boxes. No factory. No shipping costs. Yet I suspect Amazon failed to anticipate the effect they would have on the economics of selling and authoring books.

I think the gold-rush has ended yet the prospectors keep turning up.  I'm wondering if there's a shovel I can sell them....