Applying Complex Selling Techniques to IT Commodity Products

The same principles of complex sales can be applied to selling technology commodities like PCs, servers, printers, routers, etc. to enterprise customers with high value results. When prospects are permitted an opportunity from an initial conversation (and thereafter) to endorse a notion that value can be derived from the implementation of products, services or an integrated solution, they take a position in the outcome that is lacking in a typical sales dialogue where a sales person jumps into presenting a product with an objective to simply “get to yes.” The inquiry may not produce a sale, but for the duration of the dialogue a customer will be much more engaged, not to mention forthcoming than would be the case with a less open exchange of information. Therefore, it makes complete sense for teams selling IT commodities to adopt the same approach, wherever possible.

Learning about why customers are looking to buy commodities like desktop computers can produce very useful information. For example, perhaps a customer is in the market for desktop computers not simply as an upgrade to existing equipment. Rather, a plan is in place to automate a cumbersome manual procedure. The computers are required to support data processing for the procedure. Therefore, in the context of collecting this information from the customer, a sales person (by virtue of having strictly adopting the stance of a listener/facilitator in any/all early stage discussions with the customer) has opened an opportunity to, perhaps, contribute unique value to the customer’s effort that would not have otherwise been the case through a typical commodity discussion about price and availability.

We think it always makes sense to attempt to engage with customers with open questions (who/what/where/why/how). In fact, we advocate passing on, right away, should customers be unwilling to discuss requirements in this manner. Why waste time with customers who are simply shopping a solution? The results of early stage discussions conducted in a controlled manner to gain as much information about the customer’s unique situation will be quite useful to determine whether or not it makes sense to devote substantial effort to a specific opportunity. There is absolutely no reason that we are aware of that would preclude sales personnel from proceeding along the same information gathering effort for commodity sales. If you subscribe to our thinking and need your sales teams better equipped to collect the information required to make for promising sales, please contact us.

You may telephone Ira Michael “Mike” 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


The Importance of Track Record to Successful Repeat Business with Enterprise Class Businesses

It’s absolutely essential that your first successful sales into enterprise class business prospects are completely successful for your customers. Whether you’re placing a piece of computer hardware into Clorox, or you’ve just closed a complex sale of hardware, software and advisory, your level of satisfaction with the sale is rather irrelevant. Rather, as I have just noted, it’s the level of customer satisfaction with the purchase that truly matters. You will need to use that satisfied customer, either as a reference or much like a patron to make your next sale into your valuable and long sought prospective customer. It all boils down to this simple hint along the enterprise sales trail: “Your best customer is a customer”; in other words, there is no one easier to sell than someone to whom you have already sold something. Never lose sight of the truth of this time worn adage and you will have come along way along the path to successful enterprise selling.

With regard to the level of your satisfaction with the sale, make sure that you negotiate the right terms and pricing up front. If you handle the negotiation correctly, then your satisfaction is “baked into the cake.” But take every step that you can to ensure that the customer is completely satisfied or risk losing a very valuable prospect who is capable of subsidizing your business for several years to come, or, perhaps for your entire career.

An important preliminary to making initial sales into a top prospect is choosing the right opportunity. There are times when obscure and rather unimportant contacts at top prospects will constitute the right opportunity to pursue. For example, if you are operating under the radar and are tentative about your market position, then proceeding with a sale into a top enterprise class business prospect (albeit through contacts on the periphery of the business) makes sense. This type of opportunity will provide you with an excellent basis to test important characteristics of your brand within a typical target customer environment as, worst case, you will fail with a contact who lacks the authority and/or visibility to destroy your follow on potential.

Only choose a patron level contact when your brand is secure, your product positioning has been completed and your at least 70% certain of a successful implementation on the part of the prospect. More about what a patron level contact is all about later.

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


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