There’s an old business adage that says, “All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends. And all things being NOT so equal, people STILL want to do business with their friends”. It is estimated that more than 50% of sales are made and business relationships are kept because of friendship. – Jeffrey Gitormer
One of the great joys and pains of my day job is meeting with all manner of sales people. Some are from manufacturers, some are from Value Added Resellers (VARs), and some are from consultancies or other interest groups. Their titles may change (Sales Consultant, Thought Leader, Technical Marketing Engineer, Lead Architect, etc.) but the demands on my time do not.
By way of background, I’d like to say that I don’t have a problem with sales. In fact, I spent 10 years of my career in the VAR space acting in both pre and post sales roles. Sales are a fundamental part of any good business, and I find that the best sales reps–no matter the title–are great people to have conversations with; they spend time with so many businesses that they often have great insight into trends and solutions that I may not have thought of.
However, since I get–on average–about 20 unsolicited phone calls and 10-20 pieces of mail per day, I am fairly guarded with my time. Add to that the fact that I have numerous meetings per day, and am busy even during the most non-eventful weeks, very few sales people actually get a call back or an in-person meeting. I think I’m like most people and just don’t like my time wasted.
So, to all of you out there who are in a pre-sales type of role and either are looking to meet with someone like me, or have a meeting scheduled, let me toss out a few helpful hints.
* Know your audience. This probably seems self-evident, but you’d be surprised how many people call me and don’t know my title, or if I am “a decision maker” or even the proper pronunciation of my name. If you fail this test, the first decision I’ll make is to effectively black-list you from ever doing business with my company.
* Have a point. Leaving rambling messages that seem to waiver between asking me if I need something and wondering if I might tell you what you should be selling me doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
* Don’t give me a corporate biography. You might believe that a 10-minute biography on how great your company is, how successful you are, and how many other large companies you’ve helped somehow helps you get in the door with me, but you’d be wrong. I do business with people who can help me solve problems, and I really don’t care much about your pedigree at the early stages of our conversation. It may come up later, but in the beginning you should focus on telling me what problems you might be able to help me solve.
* Understand my environment. I know this can be hard when you’re coming in blind, but it’s always good to ask rather than start in on a sales pitch. I can’t count the number of times someone has launched into a pitch about brand-x storage without realizing that we’ve just made a multiple six-figure investment in a competing brand. If sales is a numbers game, you want to qualify me before wasting a lot of both of our time with something I’m not going to buy.
* Don’t just ask questions–have a conversation. Don’t ask questions like a robot, or like you learned in a sales seminar, but do ask questions that will help you gain insight into where you might have a product or service that can help me solve a problem. Have a discussion with me so that you can understand my needs, my environment, and my initiatives. And for god’s sake, do not close out the conversation with any variety of the hackneyed “If it came in blue, would you be ready to buy”, “Are you a decision maker”, “Do you have budget”, or “What’s your time-frame for a decision.” Just talk to me and those things will come out during the conversation.
* Don’t be clever. I asked a sales-rep from a large software company what his new product would do for me, and why I should upgrade. His answer was some version of “It lets you leverage out-of-the-box, paradigm-shifting, team-focused synergies into business-enabling, next-generation…” etc. Don’t be that guy. You might think you’re clever, but I only have so much time to listen and if you can’t tell me how your product or service helps me in just a few clear, concise sentences then I’m going to assume it can’t. Just saying.
* Become my friend. All of the significant deals I have done in the last several years, even in cases where I have several choices in who to deal with (Microsoft Enterprise Agreement, Cisco SmartNet and accoutrements, Large-scale FlexPod deployment, etc.) have all been done with people who I have a friendship with. Deals are made between me and a person, not between my company and your company. In fact, my Cisco business in particular has moved three times in order to stay with the same sales-person–a person I trust and who has become a de-facto consultant to my company. Take a true interest in me and my business, and I’ll likely take an interest in yours as well.
I could probably add more here, but the bottom line is that if you have something that can make my life better, I’ll probably want to talk to you and we might even put together a deal. If not, you and I both have an interest in gaining that understanding early in the conversation. You shouldn’t want to fill some meeting quota with someone who has no desire to do business with you, any more than I want to waste my time listening to your sales pitch. If you can help me, and can articulate as much in a direct, intelligent manner, then I’m going to want to talk to you and I’m much more likely to buy than if you waste my time.