Unpacking the New Sales Force | Article

salesman with briefcase going into glowTechnology has changed radically in the last few years. So have the sales techniques of a successful technology sales force. The days of the “box-pusher” are over. Gone are the days when the gee whiz technology sold itself. Technology salespeople can no longer expect to make a handsome living simply answering the constantly ringing phone and taking orders.

Buyers don’t purchase the same way they did a few years ago, either. Nowadays, consumers want to know more than just how a product or service works. They want to know how this product or service will benefit them from a business perspective. Will it improve the bottom line? Will it enhance a strategic move? Will the business function more efficiently with it?

Technology salespeople must pitch more than the features of what has become a commodity when making a sales call for hardware or software. Most hardware and software share similar features today. Now salespeople have to sell solutions bundled with services to ensure their solution stands out.

Migrating to this mindset is not an easy transition to make, says Kyle Andrews, vice president of Pretium Partners Inc. The Columbus, Ohio firm is a niche market supplier that specializes in retraining sales forces to think outside the box.

“We help salespeople from technology companies discover what their solutions will provide to their clients from a business standpoint,” says Andrews. Traditional sales training like how to negotiate or close the deal is no longer the most effective way to sell. Sales training now focuses on management issues like how to mitigate risk, how to increase return on investments and how to generate operational benefits.

CEOs Driving The Change

Today CEOs are driving the large technology initiatives, according to Andrews. They want a strategic return for their hard earned dollars. “CEOs don’t care about the technical requirements of the technology. They care about the final results,” says the sales training executive. These corporate leaders want to know if the technology will allow them to pursue a new strategy or generate a bigger market share, for example.

The new breed of technology salesperson must work with a wide swath of people in the organization and ask them what they expect to achieve. Do they want to create a higher customer impact? Are they searching for a faster turnaround on their product? Do they need to lessen the cost of the distribution channel? Once the sales staff understands the buyer’s motives, they have to quantify the results they may receive. Andrews says CEOs won’t mind spending $10 million on this initiative if they can net $25 million in the first 18 months after its installed.

Companies seek to retrain their salespeople for many reasons. Maybe they get the sales, but it costs the company a fortune in sales incentives to make the customer sign on the dotted line. These incentives lowers sales margins. Or the staff spends too much time and resources on sales that eventually fall through. Sometimes salespeople are forced to compete on price alone. The new goal is sales effectiveness, according to Andrews.

The new sales approach eliminates the price-war mentality and replaces it with a higher-level discussion like strategy, risk and finances. “They have to make a boxes-to-solutions transition,” says Andrews.

Andrews and his staff customize their training to fit their customers’ goals. Andrews says the new job for salespeople is to sell the vision of what they see for the customer using the products and services they offer. “Nothing is one size fits all,” he observes.

When To Back Off

The executive also believes “if you don’t have a solution in your portfolio that can help the customer reach that goal, back off.” Most sales managers don’t like this approach because they have sales numbers to meet and exceed, he says. But knowing when to stop is as important as knowing when to call one more time, in his opinion.

Selling outsourcing is not always an easy task. Company managers fear losing control over any piece of the pie, especially anything financial. However, Andrews believes in the old adage, “You are never a prophet in your own country.” Outsiders can hold the key to newfound profitability for a company that may be stalled. The biggest benefit of outsourcing, in his opinion, is the availability of expert help for non-core functions like sales training at a fraction of the cost of hiring an in-house person.

Outside companies like Pretium can find training solutions quicker and better because they work with industry players – including their customers’ competitors. “We know the challenges professional salespeople face today,” says Andrews. Pretium Partners can also accelerate the results because they have done this before.

Pretium Partners typically dispenses its knowledge through corporate training seminars or marketing consulting. It also has two written training courses. But it has recorded its message on CD-ROMs which companies can distribute throughout their divisions world-wide.

Pretium Partners’ 10 principles of selling outsourcing:

  • Profile the customer situation early.
  • Sell from the top down and from business to technical.
  • Convert interest to confidence by using references and bridging internal relationships.
  • Focus on how value is created.
  • Understand and set expectations.
  • Build relationships by involving the operations team.
  • Demonstrate a relationship management process.
  • Prove financial acumen.
  • Emphasize intangible benefits.
  • Find opportunities to mitigate risk.

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