Aug 092010
 
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[Post #2 in the “Other Voices” series, featuring Executive Conversation.]

As the title of my blog implies, I approach revenue generation through the framework of “the leads.” I believe that repeatable sales success happens when companies commit to optimizing the entire experience of potential buyers, from the initial awareness to the buying decision.  How many times have we seen companies over-invest in one part of the buying process while neglecting an important function elsewhere? We can almost hear the prospects saying:

  • “We’ve heard good things about this company and we need a product like theirs, but we can’t get anyone to return our emails and phone calls, and I can’t get my questions answered on their web site.”
  • “The web site was beautiful but the salesperson didn’t know anything about the product and tried to close me on my first call.”
  • “We were impressed with their product and customer list, but when the sales person presented to our CEO, [his/her] inexperience was evident, and we decided to [delay our decision / build our own solution / buy from their competitor].”

In the last post from the Other Voices series, I featured recommendations for optimizing web and advertising copy, an important front-end tactic for attracting the quantity and quality of leads needed to fill the pipeline. This week, I’m featuring another expert contribution, this time from the “business end” of the buying process: the executive sale.

So much of the modern buying process takes place with no sales person present. Buyers today have more power than at any time in history. And they have an endless amount of free research and peer-sourced opinions at their fingertips, which can distract and dissuade them from identifying suitable vendor candidates. So when a buyer is actually willing to engage a salesperson at close range, with executive decision makers present, the cost of a sub-optimal buying experience is extremely high.

Executive Conversation works with sales organizations to build business acumen for effectively engaging and selling to customer executives. Founded 20 years ago by experienced C-suite executives, Executive Conversation has helped clients like ADP, Polycom, and Honeywell improve sales effectiveness in the moments when it matters most.

I’ve done some consulting work for Executive Conversation in the past and we’re both members of the same neighborhood business association. Their blog contains a wealth of practical advice to prepare sales leaders for success in the executive suite. Their view of the executive sale is similar to my framework for lead management; success is a function of solid performance at key moments. With their permission, I’m re-publishing a list of “4 tips to perform in the moment.”

1. Early in the sales cycle, validate your customer’s initiatives. Show that you both understand these drivers and see how they fit into the customer’s strategic plan.

2. Mid-cycle, secure agreement on the alignment between your customer’s business and your solutions. Extend this focus beyond the deal, to the formation of a partnership between your organizations.

3. As the deal nears closing, quantify its advantages. Underscore the return on investment, and relate it to your customer’s investment criteria.

4. Throughout your meetings, emphasize process and performance goals. When you come to a meeting, know the steps it must achieve to lead to the next stage. Make that the business of the meeting.

May 192010
 
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Early in my career, I worked in sales at Concur Technologies (now called simply “Concur“) and had the opportunity to learn from some great sales leaders. I specifically remember a 1/2 day training session led by Tim Fitzgerald, who was then VP of North American Sales at Concur.

With all due respect to Miller Heiman, Dale Carnegie, and others of their ilk, I have to say I received more practical, directly applicable knowledge out of those 4 hours with Tim than I learned in any seminar course I ever attended.

Over the span of my career, as I’ve participated in numerous sales presentations from both the buy and sell sides, I’ve often been reminded about how there’s no substitute for the fundamentals. And in sales, like in sports, fundamentals are unfortunately most noticeable when they are not being followed.

I was reminded of this topic today when I answered this question on Focus.com: “What are your tips for the optimal sales presentation?”  Here is the answer I gave, which is perhaps 5% drawn from the original Fitzgerald course content, and 100% confirmed by my experiences over the ensuing 13 years.

1. Arrive 20-30 minutes early. Use the time to overcome the inevitable conference room / projector / IT issues. And if none of those issue exist, get a pre-brief from your vendor-side contact on how to best run the meeting. And if you don’t get time with your contact, use the time to mentally prepare / relax / meditate before you enter the ring. In sales, most of your money is made by executing well at key moments, like presentations. Give yourself the opportunity to execute well.

2. Manage the clock. Re-confirm when the meeting starts that you still have the time allotted with all the key people that you thought you did. 5 out of 10 times, a key decision maker / influencer has a “hard stop” 15-30 minutes earlier than you expected. If you can accomplish your objectives in this compressed window of time, you can be more productive in your next meeting (assuming you get another one).

3. Manage your crew. Make sure anyone who may be supporting you in the meeting knows exactly what they are there to do/say and what they should NOT do/say. If anyone on your team is dialing into the meeting, they should:

(a) be in a quiet place

(b) be using a good phone

(c) not be distracted by anything else, and

(d) not have any chat windows or other screen pops come up during the meeting (Web conference scenario only).

I had a hands-down market-leading software vendor selling to my company a couple of years ago. The sales person was unfortunately not adept at managing his resources, and what should have been an easy win for him became a drawn out affair because his demo failed and his team was not prepared for the meeting. When our CEO came into the meeting, the disorganization was obvious, and there was no opportunity for the sales rep to show why his company was the clear market leader. Instead, a lot of doubt was created that I, as the vendor advocate, had to manage through over the next several weeks.

These are just a few of the little things that, if left unmanaged, can completely derail a sales presentation, and detract from the actual business of selling.