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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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So what? Who cares? – The art of being relevant

October 2, 2012 4 comments

When I first joined FileNet, in 2003, all new recruits attended a two-week intensive training course which, for the largest part of it, was a sales skills course. For those of us that were hired in a marketing or technical roles, that part of the course had relatively little relevance other than to empathise with the sellers and as a general skill of communicating with customers.

Nevertheless, everyone took away something extremely useful from the course: A prop! It was a simple piece of card paper (imagine an A4 cut in half lengthwise) which said on one side “So What?” and on the other .”Who Cares?” in bold red letters. The purpose of the card was simple: As we were listening to various roll-playing presentations, we could hold up the cards when the presenter was making irrelevant points or describing product functionality without relating it to the client’s problems. It was a signal to re-think the message and reduce the unnecessary waffle.

So What?” i.e. What is the point you are trying to make? How is this relevant to a business problem? What would the outcome be?

Who Cares?” – i.e. Why is this relevant to the person you are talking to? How does it relate to their work or their own personal targets of ambitions? Who in the organisation feels the pain from the problem that you are trying to resolve? Why should they care?

Surprisingly, nearly ten years later, I still find myself using regularly this simple mental test. Both for my own presentation content as well as when reviewing others’. I find myself applying this principle to presentations, marketing material, website designs and even reviewing customer requirements.  And I often introduce it to conversations with colleagues and with clients. For most of my FileNet colleagues the principle is very clear and familiar, and just mentioning “So what? who cares?” raises a knowing smile and often a review of the task at hand. When introduced to other people, the first response is usually one of shock: “How can you be so rude?”. But a quick explanation makes them realise that I’m not being impertinent, the questions are quite literal and should be answered. And, usually, they take the principle on-board which allows for a much more productive dialog.

Try it for yourself! Next time you are reading a white paper or a marketing brochure or an RFI/RFP/Proposal or even a newspaper article (especially a newspaper article!!), check each of the points made: Do they pass the “So what? Who cares?” test? If not, they are irrelevant waffle and should not be there or they are valid points which should be articulated differently. I promise you, it will make for much clearer, concise and effective communication.

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