Use the process of qualifying a complex sales prospect to weed out low probability opportunities

We recently had an opportunity to participate in 2 conversations with a contact for a prospect for one of our clients’ products. These conversations were intended to provide us with at least the basis for composing a picture of any quantifiable value that our products might deliver to this prospect. We were surprised to determine that the process, itself, provided us with a means of qualifying the low likelihood of making a sale for this prospect, at least through the contact who partcipated in the conversations with us.

The telltale indicators that we ought to be moving on to higher probability opportunities were found in the contact’s candid assessments of the conversations themselves. Based upon the questions and process of our conversation (entirely composed of a set of questions designed to facilitate free disclosure of any aspects of the prospect’s operations that would impact on the usefulness — or lack thereof — of our client’s offer) it had become clear that our offer would be “expensive” (?!) The sole reason that we can identify for this assessment was the fact that we asked a lot of questions. Evidently this contact had concluded from prior experiences that sales people who ask a lot of questions sell expensive products. When we digested this information we made two key decisions:

  1. These prior experiences with sales people who ask lots of questions had produced substantial projects
  2. Historically, our contact either failed to quantify the value of these projects, or had not participated in the final purchase decision

In retrospect, we need to note how valuable the qualification process had proven to be. After all, we had now determined that the contact involved in these 2 discussions constituted a low probability contact. In a mere 2 hours of our time we had collected enough information to support a decision to move on to other opportunities. Without our qualification process we may have spent 10 hours or more trying to run this contact down. The key for us, of course, was her statement that our qualification process indicated a high cost offer. In sum, she had let us know that she was after a commodity to satisfy an internal need, which our client does not offer. Any further momentum on this opportunity will have to be driven by this contact as our time will be better spent elsewhere.

If your company produces products that must be properly positioned for enterprise business customers it may well be that you, too, understand the need for a highly qualified sales process to produce the right type of opportunity from the market. We would like to hear from you.

You may telephone Ira Michael Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


To Connect or not to Connect Your Sales effort with Your Survey Lead Generation Program

We think it is mandatory to identify business sponsorship to any/all participants in a survey effort for lead generation. This point is simply a courteous example of professionalism. Further, once survey participants have made the connection between the firm conducting the survey and its sponsor any contact to any participant in the survey on the part of the sponsor will be, to some extent, expected and, perhaps (depending on how the survey has been conducted) welcome.

Of course, for optimum results a survey should be planned on a credible, entirely legitimate basis that makes sense for the sponsor and each contact who agrees to participate in the survey. If the sales history for your product, service, or integrated solution follows a pattern that is characteristic of a complex sale, meaning a sale that involves a number of individuals who contribute to purchase decision, a matching number of apparent needs for, perhaps, each of these contributors, and, perhaps, a matching set of assumptions about a solution for each of these needs, then it makes complete sense to stop selling and starting collecting as much information as possible about a prospect, the cast of contacts who will contribute to a decision about a solution for a problem that warrants fixing and your product. In fact, we don’t think that any interest in designing an efficient system to convert an attractive proportion of leads into sales will work if the activity of purely gathering information on known to be relevant operations, procedures, systems, etc. is not included as a preliminary to further engagement.

For their part, well chosen survey participants should see things in a similar fashion. Prospects worth the time of sales teams will have an understanding that decision-making is, perhaps, flawed. For these organizations your offer to conduct a survey (and to share with participants generalities gleaned from other participants in the survey) should be really good news.

Let’s face it, prospect who are unwilling to proceed through an information gathering phase as a necessary preliminary to any further engagement should be de-emphasized and, where possible, passed over for better opportunities. If you sense that the sales efforts of your business leave something to be desired (perhaps your team speaks with lots of contacts but closes only a small portion, thereby wasting time better spent on a different approach), please contact us to discuss your case. You may telephone Ira Michael Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


Defining Some of the Complexity of Enterprise Software Sales

We like approaching the topic of enterprise sales by first categorizing this unique process as a complex endeavor. Simply consider the typical first-effort process of an enterprise software sale to a larger business:

  1. First contacts are made to either a referral, or to a contact identified by direct marketing activity.
  2. An initial discussion with this first individual reveals that additional contacts within the prospect business must be contacted to obtain additional information that may be useful to qualify the opportunity (or to proceed further, whatsoever, with the sales campaign).
  3. Subsequent discussions with other identified individuals are held, but the information obtained from these discussions is inconsistent

What we can glean from the above three points is that several different individuals within the same organization need to be contacted, simply as we open a campaign to sell software to a large organization. Further, we glean that (assuming that we had the foresight to include the very same questions in our script for our discussions with each of these individuals) the opinions of these individuals very often differ on key questions that we have included to qualify the value of this opportunity as a sales prospect worth our time. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate to label this activity as a complex series of interactions.

What should be apparent about this complex series of interactions is that it is absolutely vital that we collect as much information as possible through each of these opportunities to interact with prospects. Our sales campaign will very often fail should we approach a large organization with a set of general untested assumptions about an organization, its needs, the benefits that matter, etc. Any general, broad assumptions become meaningless once we begin an information collection process while maintaining an open mind and simply listening to what our contacts are expressing, theorizing, etc.

Therefore, we think that the perfect personality type for at least the typical activities characteristic of the initial phase of sales campaigns for enterprise software is an individual who can make of an initial discussion with an otherwise unknown prospect a comfortable conversation where the prospect is invited to express as much information as possible. These initial conversations need not be approached as surveys, but, in fact, they have much of the same characteristics. The difference ought to be that the individual on the other end of the telephone conversation, or standing in front of your team, should have already been identified as someone worth the time it takes to go over your set of questions, meaning someone who truly will lose sleep some night should something go wrong with the computing systems that you are talking about.

We relish opportunities to work with innovative technology businesses looking to build organizations capable of successfully engaging in complex sales of enterprise software. Please contact Ira Michael Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


Implement Sales Methods that are Appropriate for Targeted Markets to Ensure Success

Software Sales teams targeting enterprise businesses and other large groups of users in the public or not-for-profit sectors can spend months, even years (if funding is available) wandering in a desert of low productivity that results in few, if any sales. Sales does not exist within a vacuum. Every other program with which a business is engaged impacts upon the success of sales efforts, especially marketing. Nevertheless, where marketing is working fine, then the actual sales method plays a dominant role in the success or failure of selling efforts. If this method is wrong there will be few if any sales. End of story.

We could use the remainder of this blog post to beat up on methodology that we think does not work for enterprise software sales. There are lots of these methods on the market today. Nevertheless, focusing on negatives delivers little value to anyone, least of all our precious readers. Rather, we need to focus on what works for us, from which, hopefully, the reader may extrapolate some value. We think that the Complex Sale methodology formulated by Jeff Thull of the Prime Resource Group provides the best method that we know of to deliver successful selling efforts for the type of markets that we are after.

The specific feature of this method that we would like to focus on for the remainder of this post is the “discover” stage of engagement with potential sales prospects. What catches us about this stage is the opportunity it presents to sales — as well as to a prospect — to fairly determine whether or not it makes sense to pursue a particular prospect or not. In the world of enterprise software sales the days of “any prospect represents a sales opportunity” are long gone. Time is in precious short supply; therefore, it makes complete sense to objectively study an opportunity presented by a prospect to determine appropriateness before committing more resources. Further, compiling a portrait of a prospect business in detail (which is, after all, the result of successful completion of this “discover” stage) will provide specific areas of opportunity, as Jeff Thull is careful to point out in his book, “Mastering the Complex Sale” where one’s solution can significantly lower costs for a prospect and, thereby, be worth a prospect’s consideration.

We have excellent recent experience dealing with enterprise markets for software products and services. We welcome opportunities to expand on discussions such as this one. Please contact Ira Michael Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


On the Need for Enterprise Sales Staff to Play the Role of Diagnosticians

In 2012 it is essential that sales planning for IT products and services targeted to enterprise businesses and other large organizations in the public and not-for-profit sectors allocate as much time as required for the compilation of a comprehensive diagnostic report on any/all prospects. As we have written elsewhere in this blog, purchase decisions are now generally much more complicated than heretofore; therefore lots of information needs to be accumulated on each aspect of how a purchase decision might be framed by a typical customer for a specific product or service, or integrated solution. This diagnostic process (we credit Jeff Thull, author of “Mastering the Complex Sale” for coining this phrase) provides sales with an opportunity to facilitate prospect movement along a path towards identifying needs (now commonly referred to as “pain points”).

We characterize many of the prospects with whom we have engaged over the last 2-3 years as “dysfunctional” decision-makers. Dislodging dysfunction is far from an easy task; nevertheless, we have obtained very good results through a thorough analysis of prospects, requirements, etc. By walking prospects through this information fact finding mission we’ve managed to help them clarify what they really need to do about all of the factors that influence a purchase, from budgets, to targeted areas for cost savings, to business units, etc. In the best of cases this process has produced sales. In the worst of cases this process has helped us to manage our time and move along to better opportunities. Regardless of outcome, we can say that this diagnostic process is the optimum way to engage with the type of enterprise prospects for the products and solutions that we have represented.

The complement to this type of purchase decision-making is an entirely online process where prospects identify what they are after, research possible solutions and simply approach vendors for pricing and availability. Typically this type of engagement — simply shopping price and timing a purchase — is characteristic of a commodity purchase; but we have seen this type of purchase occur, this year, with regard to complex intangible solution. The best method of fostering this type of sale is to optimize web sites with Search Engines for the most helpful set of keywords possible. Social media certainly may play a role in prospect decisions for these products, but the subject of how to leverage social media, effectively, to nurture sales, is still in flux.

We are most interested in hearing from innovative tech companies looking to improve sales team performance.

IMB Enterprises, Inc. is most interested in opportunities to work with IT innovators who wish to approach market opportunities with an effective sales strategy. Please contact Ira Michael Blonder at +1 631-673-2929 to further a discussion. You may also email Mike at imblonder@imbenterprises.com.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


A Post on Rising Above the Commodity Fray

I met recently with the president of an Independent Software Vendor (ISV) with software offerings built with the Java® programming language who expressed disbelief when I let him know that his prices are too low. I later learned that when I took a break to leave the meeting he asked of a trusted colleague “what does he mean that our prices are too low? Each of our competitors are priced into our range? How can we raise our prices?” I should state that this ISV offers a product in the online marketing category, a piece of software that delivers lots of reports about search engine placement for products by keyword, etc. I should also note that I’ve written elsewhere in this blog about the controversy implicit to online marketing for the sale of complex products to global businesses and other large organizations; specifically does marketing online get you anything besides a big dose of commoditization if you’re offering complex products with intangible value to an uneducated prospect? From my conversation with this CEO I must say that the same question applies to vendors of online marketing software, as well.

All well and good, but what’s relevant to marketing and selling big ticket software and other technology products to global businesses and other large organizations in 2012? Specifically that the old adage, “a sales person without a sense of urgency is no sales person at all” rings true. With a product with an entry level price of $199.95, lots of competitors, and a limited universe of prospects, I am of the opinion that the price of this software has to go up, one way or another, if this CEO’s business is to grow to any size of significance. I should also add that this ISV is located in Eastern Europe, where the cost of living is substantially lower than the cost of living here in the States, but no matter. Opening offices internationally will be an inevitable step forward for this ISV if/when they do manage to grow; therefore, at some point they will have to pay out higher salaries which will put lots of pressure on the present pricing model.

When I returned to our meeting I attempted to educate this CEO that he should think about turning some weaknesses of his product into the foundation of his higher pricing model. Our discussions illuminated the fact that this ISV assumes that its customers are presently only utilizing 10% of the capability of their product. My response was, is there a common additional value that most any customer can derive from the remaining 90% of the product that is under utilized? If there is such a common additional value, then why not take a proportion of that additional value (in hard dollars and cents) as an entirely justified additional cost for customers who want, need, and “must own” the remaining 90% value that is presently alluding them. Of course, then let’s take that proportion and build it into the pricing model of the product.

There is an old time precedent to this strategy. Just look back to the mid 1980s when Xerox Corporation successfully sold high end laser printers into the global business market against HP LaserJets. How did Xerox bring off these sales against a competitor with drastically lower prices? Xerox took the steps to integrate its laser printer products into the predominant computing environment of the mid 1980s–distributed mainframe and PC computing. Fact was that their printers had the necessary “hooks” to print mainframe data where HP’s products did not. It doesn’t matter that the required connectivity was rather trivial. What matters is that Xerox had it and HP did not. Xerox made the sales at a higher price point within a heavily commoditized market.

I specialize in these types of discussions. If you have a technology product with some broad market appeal for global businesses and other large organizations, I’d like to hear from you. Give me a call at +1 631-673-2929.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2012 All Rights Reserved


2012 Looks to be a Tough Year for Innovative Technology Product Sales to Global Business

Oracle Corporation reported earnings after the close of markets on December 20, 2011. You can register and then listen to the Oracle Second Quarter, 2012 Webcast. Your time will be well spent if you opt to listen to this presentation. Within literally the first few minutes of the 37 minute presentation, Safra A. Catz, President and CFO noted that with regard to Oracle’s sales of applications to global business and public sector customers that “. . . in the last few weeks, really for the first time in a while, in some regions we saw an increase in last minute additional approvals required for previously expected deals. As a result, we are putting in place better deal management so that we have the time and the approvals necessary to take this into account [for future deals].”

Kash Rangin, an Analyst from Merrell Lynch picked up on Ms. Catz’s early assertion. He noted that “[t]he only thing that we are scratching our heads about is the applications number . . . [i]s it Financial Services, Public Sector or the [industry] vertical [markets] that are talked about?” Ms. Catz noted that the weakness she had described was in the industry vertical markets. Translate that into global private businesses. Subsequent to further questioning from other analysts on the webcast, she provided this telling indicator: “What we did see was folks where all of a sudden the CEO had to approve [the purchase], or something like that, before it was all set. . . in some cases things literally closed the next day or a few days later once the approval came in. But those [deals], when we do run them right to the end you just run out of time . . .”

Keep in mind that Oracle is one of a handful of top tier purveyors of complex solutions to global business. Further, Oracle has a record of delivering satisfactory value to its customers. Therefore, if a business like Oracle has to note delays in closing sales (deals) and, further, has to note that final approval for these purchases has been escalated up as high as to the CEO of global businesses, then the coming year, or more, of selling enterprise technology solutions to global business has taken on a rather cold tone. I see this vignette as a very clear indicator that delivering measurable, quantifiable value through each and every sale of innovative technology solutions to global business in the coming year, if not longer, must be absolute status quo for any successful selling organization.

Of course, value is a specific quality that must be delivered to specific customers based upon their prescribed understanding of the benefits they seek through solutions. Therefore, substantial effort must be expended to understand the value specific customers are after. As well, successful sales teams will participate with theses customers in the creation of the prescribed solution. I will be happy to elaborate on these points upon request. You may reach me at 631-673-2929.

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


How to Win The Complex Sale of Technology Products & Services in 2012

Tom Pisello, Chairman and Founder of Alinean, Inc recently published a short article, Recovery Makes Selling IT Much Easier into 2012? Fahgettaboudit!. I was particularly taken by Mr. Pisello’s prediction that “[a]chieving success in 2012 will require evolving or implementing new strategies to help buyers navigate tough budget waters, and help facilitate sales to connect and engage frugal buyers to achieve sales goals despite the challenged economy.” Note his reference to a hopeful sales strategy that will look for opportunities to “connect and engage” the “frugal buyer” that he predicts will be the norm next year.

To me, Pisello’s hopeful sales strategy proceeds along the very lines of the right way to navigate away from the “dry run” as described by Jeff Thull in his book, “Mastering the Complex Sale”. Note that Thull recommends thoroughly reviewing “how you are currently engaging customers.” as a powerful method to overcome “dry runs” (lengthy selling efforts that ultimately fail). On pages 29 and 30 of his book he specifies three separate situations where connecting and engaging with prospects and customers may be helpful. I summarize these three opportunities as follows:

  1. Where the customer has a need, but can’t recognize this need. You can help illuminate the problem that needs fixing, but you need to connect and engage the customer to help
  2. Where the customer lacks the ability to specify the best solution to a problem, including implementation planning and, of most importance, calculating the specific value of solving the problem. You can help fill in these critical gaps, but, once again, connecting and engaging the customer are imperative to start the process.
  3. Where the customer lacks internal resources and should look to a third party, for example, your company, as the right resource to implement the solution and ensure that the sought after value is delivered. If you do not connect and engage, then you will not be in the running for this role with the customer.

Understanding how the techniques that Thull specifies can be utilized in the scenario that Pisello depicts, I can understand Pisello’s suggestions that a winning strategy for enterprise technology sales in 2012 will include methods of customer engagement that will, for example (he offers three examples of positive methods of engagement) demonstrate for the customer the real, substantial value to be realized through an effective solution to a recognized problem (in other words, bringing the customer to recognize the high priority of solving the problem as the result of illuminating the value of the solution).

I strongly recommend a quick look at Pisello’s article for any practitioners of Thull’s techniques to master the complex sale.


Wrong Turn at the Roundabout: Let’s Design It, After all the Customer doesn’t always know what she needs

Deborah Gage of The Wall Street Journal published an article on the 2011 rationale for software companies to make the dubious effort of building enterprise “solutions without a problem” — FASTech: Businesses Need Smarter Software, Whether They Know It Or Not.

Here’s the story line: [Software ISV VP of Sales] “We’ve gone down the path of the complex sale and yes, we fully agree with Jeff Thull that lots of these deals end up in a “dry run” (to use Jeff Thull’s method of referring to sales that, for one reason or another, never happen). In fact, we find that when the customer reaches the conclusion that she doesn’t truly know what she’s looking for, or that the systems are not in place within her enterprise to support the implementation of ABC solution; that she will not buy our product.”

Here’s the punch line: [Software ISV VP of Sales, with VP of Product Marketing at his side] “Therefore, we decided to build a version of the product anyways. After all, who knows where the market will go next. Our [half baked] solution might be just the ticket next year.” This decision to build the product anyways ends up costing ISV buckets of money and lots of development time that would be better spent working on useful solutions that customers will ultimately ask for once the dust settles and thoughts coalesce into workable requirements.

Our C level managers of sales and product marketing have made a wrong turn at the roundabout. What they ought to have done, as Jeff Thull makes very clear, is to dropped the sales plan to book the order this year, but make the marketing commitment to partner with the customer through the potentially lengthy process of identifying flawed decisions, assumptions and plans, renovating same and, finally, planning for a reasonable, workable solution that our ISV will end up building for the customer. After all, in all likelihood few, if any competitors of our ISV will be willing to partner with the customer to work this process through to a successful conclusion.

Bottom line: Customer driven product management still makes the only sense for innovative businesses with high expectations about market penetration. Wasting time building gadget software will not pay off over the long haul. Worse yet, decisions to build gadgets are indicative of a lack of patience with markets, the kind of character flaw that can threaten to deep six the best of plans.

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


Selling Products & Services for Enterprise Business Through Partners

A method can be used to mitigate some of the difficulties related to the complex sale for enterprise business. Specifically, enlist the assistance of an intermediary who is already entrenched within the prospect business. Opting for a channel sales strategy should be a natural decision where some facts have been determined through prospecting calls or visit with the prospect:

  • Products and services are purchased by a central procurement organization
  • Central procurement maintains an approved vendor list and
  • There is either no opportunity for your business to be added to the approved vendor list (they are no longer “taking applications”) or
  • Your contact lacks the authority to purchase in a manner but through the central procurement organization

If the above factors are in place then you have no choice but to work through one of the approved vendors. This necessity is not necessarily a negative. Choose a partner who is not an “order taker,” but a business with complementary offerings who can introduce your product or service to other prospects. This type of partner typically is not after a discount on your product; rather, the partner has a relationship with the prospect that will be benefited through provisioning products like yours. Of most importance, your partner, an approved vendor, is already a trusted resource for the prospect. Leverage that familiarity to cut through gobs of time that you would otherwise have to spend building trust with your contact, his/her management, etc as you schedule meeting after meeting in an effort to push the sale forward.

Neither does including partners within the complex sale strategy remove the opportunity of maintaining a national sales effort of your own. I have substantial experience working with businesses where it made sense to simultaneously operate channel sales and national sales efforts. Invariably these two teams of ambitious sales people would collide within prospects, but our solution was to provide a clear incentive to our national sales teams to defer to partners where possible. In fact, we utilized a lead generation system of delivering these national opportunities to motivate partners to allocate substantial attention to us. We also experienced strong cash flow as these “approved vendors” fast tracked our sale through the procurement organization.

Where products or services are built for the enterprise computing market–meaning personal computers, local networks and shared access to larger computing systems (mainframes, etc), it is a pure natural to leverage a channel sales strategy, which has always been a familiar characteristic of such markets. Use the channel to your advantage.

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