May 11, 2009

Struggling to sell IT during a recession - So you cannot close deals without getting in front of the customer? Wrong!

If closing in the present market environment is an accomplishment, then closing without being able to meet face to face with the potential customer is a supreme art.

We have been lucky enough to work with some of the top sales professionals in the world - one of whom last week closed a $500,000 deal without any face to face time with the customer.

Interested in finding out how it was done we interviewed the lady in question, gathering many valuable insights in the process.

Question: So how did you do it, we were trained in solution selling and it requires lots of face time?

Answer: There is no doubt selling a software solution over the phone is challenging. It takes longer to build rapport selling over the phone. What you might achieve in one face to face meeting will take at least 6 phone calls.

Question: How long did you think it would take to build rapport?

Answer: Initially, I thought maybe 3-4 call but it takes six at least trust me and that is when the client has an explicit need.

Question: You couldn’t see the white of the buyer’s eyes. How did that affect the sales and buying process?

Answer: A number of points that were really important:

  1. Questioning and checking was absolutely crucial. You have got to do a lot more checking by phone because you can’t see their eyes and can’t judge the body language.
  2. We held lots of one hour conference calls. As we moved from one topic to another, we summarized actions and understanding of key points to ensure we were all on the same page. This is slightly different to a face to face scenario where you might summarise at the end of the meeting.
  3. Every single phone call no matter how short was followed up by an email. We ensured the buying team felt they were the most important customer in the world to us. The immediate follow-ups were crucial to advancing the process. It made us seem closer to them.
  4. Patience is a virtue they say, but even more so when testing tension for change/compelling reason when selling face to face. It’s a bit different over the phone you need to be more direct and explicit at times without being pushy. If you think you are going to come across as pushy you need to be willing to say “I recognise I might seem to be a bit pushy but”. Doing this makes sure there is no miscommunication.

Question: What about the time difference?

Answer: There was an 11 hour time difference at one stage. We worked to the customers schedule and time zone. We had a few calls at 12:00 at night and a few at 07:00 am. We never once mentioned the fact we were up late or early. The customer didn’t once mention the time difference. Why would they, or I?

Question: Were you asked to visit them?

Answer: Yes we were, but we made it quite clear form the first call that we could not travel. The customer understood our reason’s, and were happy with the process to engage via phone and webinar. We made sure people understood how we would work with them.

Question: What internal support did you have?

Answer: The sales team on this account included: our sales manager, pre-sales support person, our services director and my good self. The support provided to me was brilliant. This was a team sale. It could not have been done without the four of us.

Question: Selling in the current climate is tough; we all know that, are you doing anything radically different from same 24 months ago?

Answer: Understanding the financials behind any deal/potential project is more crucial than ever. In the past we worked hard at qualification, uncovering needs, building requirements and cost justifications. This took quite a long time, anywhere from 6-10 meetings with senior executives. Now I am putting indicative levels of investment for every potential project/deal on the table after the third meeting and maybe even after the second meeting.

Question: Does this not go against some of the principles of relationship selling and solution selling? I mean does this mot make you look pushy?

Answer: Business buyers realise they need to understand investment levels so an outline business case can be built early, they need to see if the numbers stack up as part of the early stage of their buying process. Experienced buyers and business executives will work with you to build the case for investment. They will work on the case with you. This is win:win, but assumes the buying team is working collaboratively with you.

Question: If there was one tip you would give someone starting out selling high value solutions what would it be?

Answer: Sit down with your financial controller and ask him to explain internal rate of return (IRR) and the cost of money to you. You need to understand these terms to be able to build a business case with your customer. Solving a customer’s point of pain is great but not enough in big organizations and in complex sales, every project needs to have a certain IRR now more than ever.

Question: Have you noticed any change in buyers?

Answer: Yes for sure, the serious buyers are more collaborative than they have ever been before. I have been selling software solutions for 20 years now and I have seen more business cases from customers in the past 12 months than I have in the whole of the previous 19 years of my career.

I hope you take something from this post.

John O’ Gorman – sales activity, sales effectiveness, sales process, sales skills

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