One of the more grateful experiences I have had thus far as a software engineer is the ability to develop my soft skills to face clients. In the technology scene, there are typically two distinctive group of clients, tech and non-tech. Tech clients are often the ones implementing the solution, dealing with network issues, firewall issues, or simply the one to help you navigate the insides of their company’s technical policies. During my first year of employment, these are the people I have issues talking to; you got to know your stuff inside out clearly and be able to articulate your solution in a concise and precise way. The ability to articulate your thoughts in a value-added way to me, seems to fall under domain of Sales. Quite frequently, there are always distinctions between a sales person and a techy. One perceived as one in blazer while the latter in a tee shirt with a tech logo. Yet I realize:
If you have an idea, and you wish to share with your team and convince them of your idea, along with the value it brings to the table, you are selling!
Sales goes beyond the payment for an exchange of product and services. Fundamentally, its to convince your buyers that whatever they are about to get from you is valuable and helps them in ways they did not previously see before. In the age of technology and internet, knowledge is ‘practically free’ (well, we all know these ‘free’ knowledge out there are provided at the expense of your privacy). More often than not, people come to you knowing what they’re looking for. Assuming you are a company that specializes in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools. Even before you could have your first conversation with your potential customers, they would probably have done their homework, figured out the differences between your competitors and you. They know what they are looking for, and the price they are willing to pay for it. You need to give more beyond the benefits or the cost savings of your discounts. In this article, I will share with you how you can go about selling yourself beyond your product or services in 3 key steps. But of course, these are just my two cents worth as I was reading about sales.
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End of solution sales, the start of Insight selling.
1. Avoid the established needs of your customer. You want to do insight selling and not solution selling.
As mentioned earlier, customers now already know their problems. They also know the solutions in the market, and most importantly, they already know the price they are willing to pay for. Sales reps cannot just enter hoping to sell the value to their needs. Your potential buyer at the other end of the table already know that. Most companies already know 60% of what they want before they even contact vendors. What you want to do is to go into sales meeting helping customers see what they have missed out, overlooked, and then how the solution can help to oversee the emerging needs. You have to help them see what they do not already know.
This is true in the realms of technical discussions as well. Frequently, as software engineers, one of the common discussions you will have revolves around the choice of your solution’s implementation. If you want to go for a scalability solution, there are many ways to go about it (Master-slave pattern, multi-trended, Scatter and Gather, etc). Often times, each of these solutions have their pros & cons in which you have to weigh your priorities. The ability to convince your team of the solution you think best first requires you to know your options really well. From the inside out, you can are able to illustrate your point, the benefits of the solution, and definitely, your workarounds for the cost you are incurring. Now that need for coherence to provide insights to your team members whom are previously convince of another solution, is sales. Yet, one must remember, nothing is given. You’ve got to do your homework on all these options first.
2. Target mobilisers, not advocates
There are 7 groups of users within customers’ company.
- Go-getters > they gather the upper management decision to make a purchase call. They tend to be vendor agnostic, backing an idea instead of a solution.
- Skeptics > they tend to pick the solution apart before proceeding. Don’t mistake their scrutiny as dismissal instead of an engagement. “If they are not asking me hard questions, either I have done something wrong, or they are just not serious about it”
- Teachers > passionate about sharing insights, teachers are sought out by colleagues for their inputs. They can influence decision makers.
Guides> tells you the latest gossips within the company that external people will not have access to Friend> readily accessible Climbers> me more than we. Go for their own personal agendas Blockers> not interested to engage in conversation with external vendors at all
Ensure to validate that these go-getters are willing and ready for change. More often, these changes and thereupon sales of a solution requires them to be ready to embrace and concede that its existing approach is significantly underperformed. Therefore, recognize that sales rep should be allowed to ## apply creativity to each of their individualized clients.
Just as you go for mobilisers, as willing as they are to buy, they may not be willing to advocate your solution on behalf of you as a supplier. There are mainly two reasons for that:
- Firstly, they are naturally not sales people by training, and thus not able to articulate the supplier’s benefits for the company even if they were to believe in it.
- Secondly, it will be require more of a personal appeal rather than an organisational one, and that they fear losing credibility or respect if they were to push for an unpopular choice, or in the event the choice they seek to advocate is unwise, and/or has a bad reputation after implementation. More often than not, sales representatives are focusing too much on the wrong aspects rather than an individual appeal to support the mobiliser to ‘sell’ the solution’s value to the buyer’s buying team.
3. Coach customers on how to buy
Don’t rely on a customer to coach you through a sale, you have to coach the customer through the sales. You have to “discover” the customer’s purchasing process. Don’t assume that customers have accurate answers to “how decisions are made” and “how a deal is likely to progress”. More often then not, behind every big ticket projects, the purchasing managers have senior managements to give an account for. They have to figure out how to justify their choice for your solution to senior management. Often times, the benefits of selecting your solution needs to, first and foremost, address their business needs. From there, we can then address other matters, on your experiences in the field of Artificial Intelligence while dealing with other clients of similar business needs. Most importantly, is to give them a sense of togetherness, when we are able to start thinking alongside them to extend their productivity or business services with our solution in the picture. Now they are starting to tie their possible and brighter future with your solution’s capability in the picture.
Reality happens twice. First in their mind, then it happens before their eyes.
One other point I took away from my read into sales was the purchase progress is not entirely unique between companies. Consider the company’s exposure to risk and its readiness to move to an outsourced solution; then sell the insights and help them foresee what issues they may face, then understand how our solution will fit into the picture. All good sales representatives have to know the grounds, and in-and-outs of the industry of interest.
Always look out to do insight selling, not solution selling. Insight selling is the ability to sell your product and services along with an insight in which they have not considered before in their research for a solution. That requires emotional intelligence and ever more judgement & critical thinking skills to identify customer’s go-getters and verifiers - to navigate the complexity of customer’s buying process effectively.
I do not have as much experiences as most sales representatives in your specific industries. I just wanted to share some of my learnings and knowledge that have helped sharpen my thought process in the way I approach sales. Not just from a product and services standpoint, but also the ability to sell an idea to another person. Here’s the book that I highly recommend: HBR’s top 10 sales article
To those that wishes to go deeper into the topic of insight selling, I found this video that talks quite neatly about that as well. Do check it out and leave a comment below on what are your thoughts on insight selling!