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Sales 101 – Planning the perfect crime

Dead of night (c) George Parapadakis

“In U.S. criminal law, means, motive, and opportunity, is a common summation of the three aspects of a crime that must be established before guilt can be determined in a criminal proceeding.” (Wikipedia)

I have been around Enterprise Software Sales & Marketing for over twenty years, both as a buyer and as a vendor. I’ve trained many new and experienced sellers and I’ve got to know both extremely successful ones and spectacularly unsuccessful ones. Selling is an art, not a science.

Over the years, I’ve collected a few nuggets about selling, that they don’t necessarily teach in Sales School. Things which seem to be pretty obvious when you think about them, but which tend to be forgotten in the mad rush to close the Quarter and to make the numbers. So, in the next few articles I’ll relay some of these nuggets and hopefully help some of the less experienced sellers in our industry.

Let’s start with the basics: Sales is not about selling

If you want to succeed as a seller, stop thinking about selling and start thinking about buying. What makes or breaks a sales deal is not your ambition to sell, it’s your buyer’s willingness to buy, so start thinking as a buyer. To get a corporate buyer to send you a Purchase Order, he needs to be committing the perfect crime, and your role is to help him set it up.

Why the perfect crime? Have you ever watched police dramas on TV? CSI, NCIS, Law & Order, that kind of thing? If you have, you’ll know that when detectives qualify someone as the suspect of a crime, they are looking for are means, motive and opportunity (and to commit a perfect crime and get away with it, you also need an alibi). When you are qualifying a corporate sale, you need to look for the same criteria for your buyer.

Motive: Why do something? What’s in it for them? In most cases, the purchase may have a business case that justifies the expense to further the company’s goals. But ultimately, the buyer needs to look good by doing the best for their company: lower costs, achieve compliance, enable growth, retain employees. Why? So that he can further his career: a pat on the back from his manager, a promotion, a better commission. There is no buyer that commits his company’s resources without risk and without an ulterior motive. Find your product’s personal benefit to your buyer and you have his attention.

Opportunity: Why do something now? Here is where you are looking for the compelling event. The biggest enemy you have as a seller, is their option to do nothing. What is it that will compel your buyer to act now, this quarter, this week? A new regulation? A new manufacturing plant? A round of redundancies? A change in strategy? An audit? Your job as a seller is to identify their urgency. What is it that will convince your buyer that they can no longer wait before making this decision. If buying now or in six months makes no difference to them, you don’t have a sale.

Means: It goes without saying that they need to have a budget. Or some other vehicle for releasing funding. No money, no sale! Again, as a seller, you need to understand their funding cycles, approval routes and budget constraints. Also their priorities – there may have been budget allocated for your solution, but an expensive plant failure, or a company acquisition or a legal dispute may take precedence and grab that money. Look for confirmation that the funding is approved and still available, when you expect it to be.

Finally, alibi: You have established that your prospect has a need for the solution, they have the funding and the urgency. Why would they buy your product? How do they justify their decision internally? Your USP, your differentiators, your Total Cost of Ownership, your customer support – what is it that will convince them that your proposal is more defensible to their peers and their manager, over your competitors? You may think that you product is the best in the market, but does your buyer think so too and do they believe it strongly enough to be able to sell their story internally? Your job is not only to convince them but to give them the tools and the confidence to become an advocate and a champion internally.

Buying enterprise solutions is the same as buying anything else: an emotional decision, on top of a rational one. Ultimately, you may not have control over your buyers emotions, but at least you can make sure that the rational part of the decision making – the premeditated part, to continue the crime metaphor – is secure.

I know that comparing a corporate purchase to a crime is a bit crude, but I believe that the analogy of the mental process behind it is accurate. I have found it a useful and quick mental check to qualify and validate new sales opportunities.

Remember: Good sellers don’t sell. They enable their buyers to buy.

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