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!

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