2015 has gone by so quickly and there has been lots of change here. We have grown the C24 business, made great new headway into delivering analytics solutions and have merged with Six Degrees Group – all in one year.
We have continued to grow in a challenging economic climate and have expanded our range and breadth of customers.
So how do I recommend sales teams in companies such as ourselves (in the technology industry) approach 2016?
Year of simplicity
Firstly, I believe 2016 will be the year of simplicity. As technology solutions at a business and consumer level become evermore complex and interconnected, IT purchasers will be looking for help through the confusion. Sales people should be looking at how they can radically simplify their propositions and also the challenges facing customers. Don’t try to overcomplicate an already complicated situation.
As Confucius said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated”.
In any sales scenario, the situation is pretty straightforward. The customer has an issue, need or desire. Or usually all three – they have a business issue, so they need a solution and desire a successful outcome.
You have something that can appeal to one of those three motivators. If you don’t, then you had probably best move on.
Getting in touch with the customer, explaining how your solution could make their life better/easier/more profitable is a way of you helping the customer – they should want to hear from you. If you get that message correct, then the selling has already been done for you.
When customers are struggling to see the value of a solution, it’s usually because you haven’t done a good enough job of first understanding why they want it. Take one of our solutions as an example. We sell a business analytics solution to help people make sense of their data. But until we speak to customers and truly understand their business processes and objectives, they don’t understand that what they need is in fact a business analytics solution. It’s your job to link up the dots to build a picture for your customer. They might be struggling to formulate a marketing strategy. That has nothing to do with IT. Or does it? In fact, business analytics is a great tool for building marketing strategies, setting targets and measuring results. But as the sales person, you should do that for the customer – not the other way around.
Get the basics in place, then think about the rest
Secondly, I still regularly meet with sales people who are failing to do the basics. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day admin that stops you evaluating your activities. But there’s no point looking for fancy software or solutions to problems if you aren’t doing the sales basics. The fundamentals of selling often revolve around data; collecting data to identify target customers, collating information about your customers to define strategy, taking down data points from customers in meetings, plugging that data back into CRM systems to aid future marketing activities and analysing activities to form data trends and insights about your selling processes.
Data collection in sales can be seen as a fairly new trend only in place over the past 10 – 20 years with the advent of slick CRM systems. But data, or customer information, has been the backbone of selling forever. If you don’t understand your customers and the basics about their industry, then how can you credibly hold a conversation with a client?
If you’re working in the IT sector and selling complex solutions to multiple contacts across a business then you can’t afford to not know about the industry, market challenges, specific line of business departmental challenges and competitor products being sold into that customer.
Keep trying, keep selling
This brings me nicely onto my third point. Tenacity. I have been lucky enough to be working with a number of new business startups and the story is the same across established sales teams and startups. Tenacity is often lacking when it comes to the sales process. In the product development side, people spend years refining a product and making it function. On the admin side, people hire the right people to help them with accounting or their orders to make it work. But on the sales side, a knock back often results in giving up.
People speak to one person in an organisation and then give up if the answer isn’t positive. But a relationship can take years to develop and multiple contacts across the organisation are often required to get a decision in place.
I have recently been called a number of times by a sales person for a particular marketing product. The sales person has kept in touch and regularly phoned to check in on where my thoughts are at in terms of a sale and if the situation has changed. They have displayed tenacity without hassling. If they had given up after the first call then I would have forgotten about them by now. But because they have made the effort to regularly touch base in a polite and respectful manner then I remember them and will probably look to make a decision in the New Year.
Your solution might not fit that person’s priorities on one particular day. But it might fit tomorrow or the day after. That’s not to say you should hassle them every day, but you should work on building an initial relationship and seeing the process as a long play with ups and downs. If you believe the client has a genuine need for your type of solution then it’s your job to stay in the running.
Tell a story, build a picture
Finally, in 2016 we will continue to be big on stories. We make sure our sales people are well versed in real-life, relevant stories that help them to paint a picture about the solutions they sell, where they fit and how customers can be supported on their IT journeys.
Customers’ expectations of sales people are higher – they don’t want to do the work themselves to make a solution fit their own story, they want the sales person to do that for them. Sales people should look at how to personalise stories before visiting clients, with use cases and industry relevant perspectives readily available to draw on.
For instance, if I were going to visit a bank to talk about C24’s business analytics product, I wouldn’t go in and talk about how well it can visualise data or pull in multiple feeds. I would look at the financial market and find out a few insights about what is going on in the industry. So a few examples might be that banks are delivering more services online, customers want to view their info on the go within mobile apps and data security requirements are higher than ever.
If I were visiting that customer, I would now be much better placed to look at how my analytics product can deliver against each of those trends, and I can make it into a compelling story – providing a view of what the future could look like and how it would be delivered. Then you can build in the potential outcomes and results for the bank and its customers.
So to recap, my 4 ‘resolutions’ for sales people in the New Year are:
- Simplicity: making the complex incredibly simple
- Basics: ensuring the basic skills are in place and the fundamental sales activities are being completed
- Tenacity: making sure we don’t stop at the first no and looking for other ways to help the customer
- Stories: ensure that every customer conversation we have is tied into a relevant, compelling story