Prospect Qualification

Sales cycles for enterprise products and services are long enough, do not retard the pace of these complex sales processes by neglecting the importance and necessity of prospect qualification. Be sure to include prospect qualification within every step of your sales process to ensure that you do not waste precious time.

A client of mine met six times with a prospect over a four month period only to determine, at the conclusion of the sixth meeting, that the prospect was nowhere near a purchase decision. In fact, we could not help but conclude that four months into an intense search for a solution, this prospect was still unsure about what he actually needed to do to achieve his objective. A total of four staff members had been included in the sales campaign to win this prospect’s business, three of whom were industry professionals who could have each played a productive role in another, more promising opportunity. What could my client have done to avoid the time and money wasted on this opportunity?

A thorough review of each sales meeting revealed that very little concrete information had been gathered about the prospect prior to the involvement of an industry professional within the sales development process. We also found that the meetings with industry professionals focused on presenting a solution including detailed reviews of product features. No time had been spent on answering critically important (and rather mundane and concrete) questions about the prospect like:

  • Are they committed to finding a solution for their requirement?
  • What is their requirement?
  • What is their desired solution?
  • Who will determine that the solution has been found?
  • Who will approve the purchase?
  • What are their expectations for this solution within their enterprise?
  • Do we have a solution for them?

When we looked further into staff roles within each of the meetings it became obvious that the importance of exchanging technical information had significantly outweighed the importance of collecting sales details for the opportunity, principally as the result of the fact that management of the opportunity had been assigned to an industry professional with little understanding of sales and little sales interest.

We remediate this problem by taking two steps: 1) requiring that answers to our list of qualifying questions be fully documented and vetted prior to approving prospect meetings with any member(s) of my client’s team of industry professionals and 2) assigning a customer relationship manager to each sales effort with demonstrable experience in sales as the engagement leader. Needless to say, prospect development and sales improved significantly as the result of a successful implementation of these two steps. My client now understands, clearly, why technology cannot, unilaterally drive sales; rather, my client firmly believes that a thorough understanding of each and every prospect must permeate each phase of the sales development process to ensure success.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Using Telemarketing to develop Leads for Complex Sales

Businesses selling complex intangible products and services typically steer clear of mass market advertising campaigns for sales leads. This strategy makes good logical sense when one considers the fact that intangibles have subjective value contingent on specific situations; for example, a software programmer who can only write programs with the CICS software language (Customer Information Control System created by IBM) has no value as a software developer outside of a computing environment run by a mainframe computing system, generally manufactured by IBM or some of its direct competitors . In contrast, effective mass market advertising is generally built around products that have commonly understood brands in the marketplace. Usually all of these products are tangible, for example, laundry detergent, automobiles, clothing, etc.

Direct marketing may provide a more fruitful approach to producing complex sales leads. According to the Direct Marketing Association, “[D]irect marketing is an interactive system of marketing which uses one or more advertising media to effect a measurable response and/or transaction at any location.” (Credits to Carol Scovotti, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Lisa D. Spiller, Christopher Newport University). Direct marketing techniques include telemarketing, a prodigious approach that produced $100 billion in sales in 2002 (credits to the Direct Marketing Association).

Telemarketing campaigns can be targeted to specific prospects. For example, a staff augmentation business with a roster of CICS programmers can utilize telemarketers to specifically restrict prospects to only decision makers at businesses with IBM mainframe computing systems. The success of this type of telemarketing campaign depends upon a high quality level for contacts; in other words, targeted individuals must play a role in decision making for the business, the computing environment must run on COBOL and CICS, and there must be a need for software development. If any of these three criteria are missing, the value of the telemarketing campaign will be diminished. Therefore, a useful contact list must provide the foundation for the telemarketing program. Useful contact lists can and should be obtained from sales personnel, from vendors, from an internal research effort, or from lead development over electronic media.

Successful telemarketing campaigns can lead to substantial revenue, often within a stealth marketing strategy. For competitive reasons it may be advantageous for a business selling complex products and services to operate in an invisible manner, “under the radar”. Direct marketing techniques like telemarketing are active selling techniques whereby prospects are contacted by a marketer. Therefore, these techniques are very useful tools that preserve anonymity within the market.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Dark Ages Marketing

Many companies selling complex products and services do not see a role for online marketing within the overall product marketing plan beyond the presentation of a simple website in the form of an online brochure. Dismissing Al Gore’s “information superhighway” as a useful medium for marketing communications by relegating online marketing communications to “brochureware” is a major and costly oversight. Let’s keep in mind that as of March, 2011, the online web has been around for at least 17 years and is clearly the most used medium of expression in the world. One would think that online marketing would be a “must have” for any business, regardless of type. Why the dark ages for complex products and services?

An answer, in part, can be found in the erroneous notion that promoting online drives the “commoditization” of products. Jeff Thull, in his otherwise insightful book, “Mastering the Complex Sale”, curiously makes this argument and, thereby, reveals a troublesome achilles heel. Of course, many commodities are sold online, much as they are sold in any other type of marketplace. But to argue that “[t]he emergence of new technology is driving commoditization.” (Thull, “Mastering the Complex Sale”, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010 p.13) is to suggest that an entire new medium for marketing communication maybe a path not to travel. I fear that Jeff has not accurately captured the geography of new media. From my perspective, new media present a perfect venue for the type of marketing that complex products and services require.

I am not alone. As far back as the mid ’80s, the ad firm Poppe Tyson popularized the notion of the web as the perfect venue for products and services that require a “considered purchase.” They observed (as did Don Peppers and Martha Rogers who developed the concept of online marketing as “1:1” marketing) that the web is uniquely capable of providing a robust medium for individualized and personalized marketing presentations; in fact, internet technology delivered a whole set of personalization tools which, when used precisely and adeptly can help ensure that customer decisioning about complex products and services leads to a purchase.

The advent of “social” media has only heightened the ability of electronic media to provide a “personal” experience for marketing communications. After all, what could be more personal than Facebook? An adept marketer sees an unprecedented potential for highly segmented prospect/customer presentations in Facebook, Twitter and Blogs and deftly steers clear of commoditizing his or her products and services.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


I’ll have an address book, make it fancy . . .

It’s well known in the intangibles business (including executive searchstaff augmentationadvisorymanagement consulting, etc) that a sales person with an address book is a valuable commodity.  No rocket science about it.  But why? The reasoning is inherent to understanding intangibles as commodities. Intangibles have no material value; rather, these commodities often (but not always) take on value from recommendations, referrals, and, generally, opinions about them voiced by a trusted colleague, or other confidant to a prospect or customer. No “trust,” no value and no sale.

Of course, there can be other factors that influence a customer to purchase an intangible (for example, to repay a favor, or to act on some other obligation), but for our purposes let’s just consider the value of trust as a component of a purchase decision by larger businesses in the market for organizational solutions that require change. The task of realigning organizations within larger businesses can be difficult, time consuming, revenue threatening and expensive. The sum of these factors add up to big ticket sales, almost always hundreds of thousands of dollars and, quite often, millions of dollars in cost. Advisory firms focus on selling organizational solutions that bring together several different stakeholders within a larger business precisely for the revenue that will be produced by these sales. Colleagues trusted by a circle of well placed prospects make excellent candidates for sales roles within these advisory firms, precisely for the authority that they can leverage to lead members of their circle to a purchase.

Salespeople with address books are often referred to as farmers. Referring to a sales person as a farmer is an apt title. After all, successful sales farming, or relationship selling emerges naturally from a substantial amount of time (often many years) spent nurturing contacts into a palpable level of confidence in the views of the sales person. These farmers are great candidates for complex sales. John Thull, in his book Mastering the Complex Sale notes that “[i]n the complex sale, the most successful sales professionals are seen by customers as valued business advisors and key contributors to their businesses.” (p.123, 2nd Edition, Wiley) Our sales farmers have established this value with their contacts through years of trusted collaboration. Furthermore, they have earned a position of authority which helps them immensely to “align their questions with the critical perspective of their customers” (p.127, ibid).

Look to published authors, industry spokespersons, academics, and other notable members of targeted communities for sales candidates. Each of these types of individuals will have a circle of contacts and an authoritative reputation. But can he sell? Now that is another question.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved