The digital economy has shifted from making deals to earning and maintaining loyal customers. In the sales process, strong qualification and discovery techniques are important since as much as 50%
of the buying process happens online.
CompTIA’s IT Industry Outlook 2017 describes the transformation taking place within businesses as they restructure around modern technology:
Businesses today are recognizing the critical role that technology plays in advancing corporate objectives. Nearly every goal from identifying new customers to hiring a skilled workforce to exploring new products now requires technology to move forward at a modern pace. Companies may have originally viewed transformation as an avenue for growth, but it is becoming a requirement for survival.
This recognition is happening across all industries, including industries that have traditionally not been aggressive adopters of technology. The creation of new products relies more on digital techniques (especially as those products are intelligent and connected), and customer experiences in digital spaces are now crucial for maintaining relationships. However, there is a big difference between knowing that strategic IT is needed and being able to implement it.
Very few companies are “extremely confident” in their ability to tie modern technology to their business goals.
IT sales processes must reflect the critical role technology is playing in corporate goals. Once you are at the qualification stage, and have successfully solidified your target markets, prospected
a new opportunity, and solidified your value proposition – effective discovery is one of the most important aspects of securing a long-term contract.
Qualification and Discovery
Suspect to prospect acquisition: There are three main categories to finding sales opportunities; a suspect, a prospect and a referral. A suspect is defined as the pool of potential prospects. A prospect is defined as a legitimate sales opportunity for a client. Referrals give you the highest likelihood of a sale to close. If your customer refers you to another prospect, you automatically start the sales process with credibility and trust, two of the most important ingredients to winning an opportunity. Ever growing in importance is your online presence. Online searches are a primary source of research in the IT buying process. Guidelines for effective personal and company brand presence in the suspect to prospect acquisition process include:
Brand presence on all relevant social platforms. According to Content Marketing Institute/Marketing Profs the top 3 networks for B2B are Linkedin, Twitter and YouTube.
Profiles. Reinforce your unique selling proposition, “why should they chose you?”
Relevant Content. Work with your marketing team to develop and distribute relevant content through your social networks that speaks directly to your target audience.
Outbound prospecting continues to play a role in lead generation. Traditional efforts such as telemarketing, email qualification, community participation and local industry events are still great ways to build a reputation and find new opportunities.
Effective prospecting also involves highly proactive engagements with your existing clients. Four ways to engage include:
Create a non-product related engagement with your executive level decision makers that brings industry, company, and partner value to the conversation. It’s forward looking but also serves to ensure projects and services are being delivered in a suitable way for the client.
Develop a cadence for regular meetings about your current service. Leverage a common outline so your client can count on this call as a safe place to bring up challenges, opportunities, and risks. This way you can mitigate early any challenges, and identify new sales opportunities along the way.
Earn the trusted partner and advisor status. Understand the personal motivations of your client, and bring them value beyond
technology and business. Have a personal and authentic relationship based on real value both ways.
Consistently share updates and engage on social media posts that reinforce your unique selling proposition.
Build weekly plans that include securing referrals, prospecting new clients, and managing your online presence and communities, both personally and professionally.
Customer buying process. About 25% of missed opportunities in the pipeline are because customers don’t make a decision. To avoid this, you need to qualify and understand the customer’s process. Here are some key considerations:
- Understand their company and where they have a need for new technology. Why are they looking to make investments into IT?
- Gather the facts for the business case around making a change in the area, and doing something different. What is the business case and overall ROI?
- Who would be impacted by the changes, who are their internal and/or external customers? Who must sign off on any changes?
- How the project is funded? Is budget secured and how is the investment acquired in the organization?
- What is the decision process? For selecting a trusted partner and supplier?
- What is the timing for the change? How solid is that timing?
- How will you build trust with the company decision makers? What is the path to becoming a trusted partner with them?
Understand the customer’s business,
Understand the customer’s business, who their customers are, and how they make money and/ or if it’s a nonprofit how they operate and who they serve. It’s also necessary to understand the overall health of the company, its financial condition and goals as an organization.
Learning the decision-makers. In this social selling, digital economy, it’s essential that early in the sales process you gain an understanding of the prospect landscape. To help identify the decision-maker, ask the person you are in contact with if they possess buyer authority (permission to purchase), actual budget (access to the
money) or the real need to buy (quantifiable and established need or want).
With almost 50% of the funding sitting outside of IT, it’s imperative to understand what department or division is making the buy. Then, ascertain who the others involved in the buying process are. Identify the key influencers who can impact the decision maker, who writes the check (in the event it’s different than the decision maker) and who will be the primary user and consumer of the solution in the organization. These individuals and teams have the potential to influence the sale and become champions and advocates for your solution and your company.
One other technique to use early in the sales cycle is to ensure the client has a budget. Go for the fast “no.” Many salespeople start to sweat when a prospect asks them about the cost of their solution. It’s better to be able to establish your prospect’s ability to buy early than waste your time chasing down a prospect that doesn’t have the budget for your solution. If asked about the cost of your solution, you can say something like, “Most of our clients pay an average of X for the solution, depending upon the options selected. Does that fit with your budget tolerance?” Prospects will usually tell you if they can’t afford it. This is not to say that you can’t have options: a “pilot” project, perhaps, or a phased-in approach might work, but don’t run away from the price discussion. If your solution isn’t a fit, don’t try to force it. At some point in the future your solution might work for them. Connect with the prospect on LinkedIn, add them to your email contact list and nurture them for the future.
Positioning value through effective qualification. Have you ever noticed some sales people and executives are great story-tellers? One effective way to position your value while qualifying an opportunity is to bring a relevant success story of something you did for someone else and then relate it to the client by asking a question at the end of the story.
Another way to bring value is by asking excellent questions. How many of us have sat with someone and felt we were really listened to?
Each time we shared, the person was genuinely interested, made a very insightful comment and then asked another highly relevant question. This open ended, effective questioning is an important part of effective qualification in the sales process.
Become an expert in the customer’s vertical, industry, and position. The deeper you understand the industry, the more effective questions and comments you will make in the discovery process. Another way to demonstrate your expertise, and further qualify a prospect is to share a similar use case of a noncompetitive, similar organization and what and how they achieved success; and subtly, the role you and your company played in the client’s success.
Each of these techniques come together to build credibility for you and your organization through the qualification and discovery process.
Proving Your Solution
Moving your prospect to “yes” involves key techniques for solidifying trust and confidence. Your prospect must:
- Believe in, trust, and value the person accountable for their success in the sales process.
- Value and have confidence in the company that they will buy from. CompTIA Research shows that over 60% of IT solutions are sold in an opex and recurring revenue model.
- Value the application or solution the person and company are offering. They believe that solution is economically affordable, and fits their needs.
As a sales person, the most fundamental ingredient to converting a prospect to a client is the trust of the individual person they are working with. Here are some tips to earn that trust and prove yourself.
Be educated. Prospects tire quickly if they realize the salesperson is not educated on the solution or isn’t aware of others’ solutions. Clients want solutions that are closely tied to their business challenges and they want to understand how that solution will give them a return on investment
in an average of 6-9 months maximum according to CompTIA’s 2017 research. Understand the language your prospects speak. Understand their level of expertise so you acclimate your conversation. You may need to start out with the basics with one client and go straight the higher level technical jargon with another. This goes back to knowing who you are selling to and what their pain points may be. Role-play or listen in
on another salesperson’s calls. Record them if necessary and practice your responses. You don’t want to sound scripted, but you also don’t want to sound like you’re winging it.
Be prepared and on time. This should go without saying, but how many times have you been on
a been on a sales call where the salesperson is late or their sales deck has the logo of the last prospect. Being late tells your prospect you have no respect for their time. Being unprepared or sloppy in your sales presentation gives the prospect the impression you don’t care about
them enough to be prepared. How is that going to play out when they are a client? Will they be just another number or will you cater to their needs? Remedy this by not scheduling demos or calls back-to-back. When you are scheduling meetings, give yourself at least 30 minutes of buffer time
so you can ensure you have enough time to make any adjustments, research the prospect’s team on LinkedIn and familiarize yourself with them, and be sure you will be on time.
Know the vertical industry. Your client operates in a different vertical than you. Become intimately familiar with the challenges, regulations, common solutions, and keys to business success. Deep industry expertise is fast becoming one of the best value elements a company can offer a client.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Many sales people say, “yes” when they should be saying, “let me get back to you on that.” If your solution doesn’t offer a feature they are requesting, probe why they need it to find out if it’s a deal breaker. Many times, features are “nice-to-haves” and not “need-to-haves.” Listen and find out exactly what they need. Your client will have more respect for you if you answer them honestly than if you say yes and then are not able to deliver.
Learn their business. Understand the cross- functional nature of the business, the different operations and how to tie results to different influencers and decision makers across functions.
This continues to increase in importance with the rise of the line of business decision maker. CompTIA’s research study titled, Considering the New IT Buyer provides insight on business
units’ approach to technology, buying trends and triggers, who owns budget, and finally, whether they collaborate with IT staff in tech decisions.
Proving your company is a critical step in the customer buying process. Demonstrate value in your company through these tactics.
Know your company. Discuss the company history and overview; and use examples of clients the company has and is successfully working with, especially if they are big and/or recognized names in a community. Show a list of clients the company has worked with, and how the company stands among competition or differentiates itself from others in the landscape.
Use case studies. Discuss case studies and use cases of the journey other clients have undertaken with the company, and how they have achieved their results. Do not to share
confidential information in these discussions but to share enough information that the client gets a sense of the services and business challenges your company solves. In these days of managed and cloud services, companies must believe they can outsource business functions and software to the company, and that company will give them good customer service, solve their problems fast, and train their people as required.
Leverage your executive team. Many senior execs are excellent communicators and champions for the business. If they are willing and good with customers, bring one or more in as appropriate. Conducting a phone, video, or face to face call with the executives demonstrates that the company is credible. It also builds trust and confidence for the organization.
Proving your solution requires a company to show prospects that the solution fits their needs now and in the future, and the services and education required for the company to successfully implement the solution are equally as important. Prove your solution as creatively as you can.
Demo the solution. Conduct forums or offer education where the prospect’s team can learn about the solution and ask questions. A “try-and- buy” model would work here as well, exposing prospects to a limited feature set to pique their interest.
Highlight partners. Reference architectures, partner ecosystems surrounding a solution, and showcase companies who market your solution or wrap services around it. These efforts all demonstrate credibility for the solution and/
or service offering. Each of these techniques gives additional integrity to the solution, demonstrating that it fits nicely with other vendors, showing that partners (and/or other suppliers) believe in the solution you have, and that you have partners in your portfolio that add believability to your offering.
Leverage testimonials. Client and partner testimonials and references also effectively demonstrate that your solution is the right one for the prospect. The key with testimonials are that they need to show all three: the solution’s performance, the value to the client, and the quality of the offering.
Leveraging Your Partnerships
Partnerships accomplish the following if you are managing them well in a client:
- Expand your influence in a client with other decision makers
- Give you access to the client and/or give you a referral into the client
- Manage some of the sales process along with you
- Sponsor the try and buy, the demonstration, or offer other value elements to make the offer more compelling in the sales cycle
- Build credibility for your organization
- Bring you access/relationships to different decision makers in the client
Partnerships are valuable when they are executed well in the field. According to Achieve Unite research, as much as 80% of partnerships do not ever reach their potential. Three reasons that partnerships are not adequately leveraged include: 1) One of the parties wants to control versus collaboration and control, 2) Teams don’t realize the value of the other party and are unable to harness the power of the partnership, 3) The company did not engage the partner early in the sales cycle.
Gaining Commitment and Securing the Contract
Securing a long-term customer relationship means securing a contract for an extended period of time. Contracts usually range from 1-5 years. The days of the ‘big deal’ are rare; it’s about bringing the client onboard with you for a journey. Throughout the sales process, learn to lean into objections. Many sales books talk about how to “overcome” objections, but if you’ve done your job in the previous steps, you’ll have already discovered who the decision makers are, what exactly they need to solve their pain, and how your solution is the best one to solve it. Further objections should be looked at as
opportunities to establish more of a rapport with the client. Sales doesn’t have to be adversarial.
In fact, you should probe for objections by asking questions like, “Does this solution sound like it would be a good fit?”; “Are there any obstacles that would stop you from buying?”; and “What haven’t I covered that would help make your decision easier?” You should be able to respond to their objections with what you have learned previously. If you skipped a step, don’t worry about it; just go back. For example, if the client says, “Well, you still haven’t addressed XYZ,”
you can say, “That sounds like it’s important to you; can you tell me more about that and why it’s important so I can make sure I address it correctly?” If the client keeps bringing up your
competition, don’t run from it. Say, “John, you are right that XXX has a great solution, but here’s how we differ. If it will help, I can send you some case studies or references from clients who decided to go with our solution and why they did.”
In recurring revenue models and cloud / IOT / managed services sales, about 40-50% of sellers often do not ask for the order, because they have been overcoming objections and building trust, solving problems, and anticipating needs throughout the process. The client then asks
to move the sale forward. Common objections center around managing and overcoming risk or threats. Helping your client understand you can help overcome risks and threats is vital to move the sale forward.
It’s also important to ask for the business. Many sales people forget this simple step. You can say something like, “Thank you for your time today Susan, it seems like our solution is a great fit for your organization and the budget seems aligned so would it be appropriate to send an SOW with a start date of X?”
Securing the Contract, Ensuring Customer Satisfaction, and Expanding Your Business
Once you have secured the contract, it’s important to establish formal and informal methods to ensure customer satisfaction and opportunity expansion over time. You are always selling, even after the sale is made. Keeping their team informed every step of the way on an install or a migration, for example, will go a long way
to making your company a long-term supplier. Delivering bad news quickly and in person is the best way to maintain a relationship with your client. Slowdowns and setbacks are common, particularly with technology solutions, but if you confront them head-on, you will be more likely to be able to salvage the relationship.
Five ways to do that include:
Assign a long-term program manager accountable for the customer’s success; and establish a scorecard and metrics to measure that success on at least a monthly basis.
Implement the non-selling QBR – spend 20% of the time reviewing the scorecard and any open challenges, and 80% of the time on the macro environment, what’s ahead for the client, and how you best continue to serve them.
Leverage your technical teams to hold non- sales meetings and to ensure customer satisfaction.
Follow-up and be persistent. Studies show that 44% of salespeople give up after one follow-up, but 80% of sales require five follow ups. Keep on them; be persistent, but not a pest. A follow- up can be as simple as sharing a new case study or white paper, blog, or article you saw that speaks to a pain point your prospect is having. Many automated marketing tools exist that will allow you to schedule communications so you can keep on your prospects’ radar.
Continue to maintain open lines of communication, bring new ideas, formally or informally. Be open, candid and proactive with the client.
Download the CompTIA Quick Start to Selling for Tech Teams for best practices on how to educate, leverage and include your technical team into the company’s core sales strategy.
As technology evolves, the people selling, and that you sell to, will also change. Through effective discovery and qualification using research and customer profiles, you will build
long-term trust with your clients. Partnerships will be essential as technologies and expectations continue to expand. Your clients will need to understand your solution and trust what you promise to deliver. You must prove your company, yourself, and your solution to earn a client’s business. All three have different levels of importance depending on the buyer. Expanding your products and services involves ongoing ‘value add’ to a client’s business.
Continually bring applications, anticipate and solve problems, and be innovative with clients. Create opportunities for the client to improve his/her business and continue to be innovative in responding to their needs. These sales techniques will provide a timeless, successful approach in an industry that continues to rapidly change.