One of the things that I found interesting in the way we conducted presentations to clients was Bill’s uncanny nack of teasing out and confronting the hidden issues that someone that he had never met before would open up to him. It really was a case of drawing on a lot of experience.

The essence for our approach was drawn from Spin Selling. The Spin Selling Fieldbook and Major Account Sales are required reading if you want to understand the process of creating opportunities and realising them in sales.

If you have not come across it before, SPIN covers 4 key parts to a sale:
Situation: what are the facts you need to know about a customer and their environment to determine if your product will be a fit for their business. In application development terms, this might be a question like, “are you a J2EE or .Net shop?”. Best to do your homework prior to seeing a customer if you can, so that you don’t spend the meeting like an interrogation.
Problem: Having established the environment, the trick is to explore problems that the customer might be experiencing. You must have thought about your product and service, and the types of problems it solves for customers. Again, such a question might be (again, in application development terms..), “Have you been having trouble implementing the latest flavour of .Net?”
Implication: Generally this is where the probing is really starting to add some value for the customer – as much as it may be causing a bit of discomfort. For example, the above question might have yielded a response such as, “yeah, a little but we will be ok and just grab a book or google it..”. You then need to be able to ask the question, “If you do that and it doesn’t work out, what is the implication on service levels for your customers?” or other similar question that probes the next level of depth – the aftermath of the course of action going pear-shaped.
Need – payoff: At this point, a great outcome is a client saying, “I hadn’t thought of that, I need to get that sorted out. At this point, the next question is, “well, if we able to eliminate that as a problem for you, what would that do for you?”

Notice that during this process you have not been selling or even talking about your product at all? This is the hard bit for most salespeople who get trained up in the product, grow to love it, and want to share their passion about their product to the customer. The customer, of course, is only interested in their own problem. If you focus on closing in a complex sale, chances are you will be nowhere near as successful as you could be. So, grab those Spin Selling books, I highly recommend them.

Some shortcut key points:
1. Business Development Processes if you can systematise your process, you have a more rapid way of fulfilling customer enquiry. I have found that by responding with a solid proposal quickly, you stand a much better chance of success. Many companies do not really track the time from enquiry to delivery of proposal, conversion rates, or the time to develop a proposal and aim to shorten it.
2. Market Segmentation – you just simply can’t sell to everyone, but the question becomes who to really focus on, and in depth.
3. Analytics – Looking at what data you capture and making sense of it
4. Database clean up and management – and integration. In your business, you probably have a bunch of people referred to in different parts of your business as customers, clients, debtors, creditors (if they both buy from you and sell to you) – and probably all in different databases, accounting systems, and email clients.
5. CRM – the big question here is “what does CRM mean to you?”. Technologies have been fantastic at undertaking demos on products that seem to solve all of the problems – it is the implementation of the technology AFTER people and process issues have been resolved that delivers success. Our experience is that this needs to be very much customised to the individual company rather than trying to meld the company to the software. As I run a business specialising in application development, I do have a bias here – but in many cases is cheaper and more effective to build software for purpose as a core business system rather than buy something with features you will never use.

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