Prepare To Sell At The Board Level
Early in the campaign, the important thing is to get all your team members on the same page, share available knowledge, and plan ways to gather other required information. The first few meetings should be formal, with a printed agenda, including clear goals and time constraints (showing respect for team members' time). Their objective is to determine the prospect's requirements, based on research, preliminary conversations, and even request for proposals (RFP), and what the best way is to find out what the prospect isn't telling you, or perhaps doesn't know, about his company's business needs. This process, of course, is called "discovery."
It's useful during discovery to categorize by type the information you need to collect. But it's also helpful to think in terms of which team member is in the best position to get it; people who don't have "sales" on their business card are often the most effective intelligence operatives.
Know what your customer is buying before you begin selling.
When you're meeting with the prospect early in the discovery phase of your campaign, it's better to ask questions than to present. Try to bring along a business, domain, or product expert. Agree ahead of time what areas of questioning you and your support resources will pursue and, if you can, prepare some crucial questions. The best pre-sales consultants and support people I know have made questioning a fine art. They impress the prospect just by asking questions—insightful, probing, open-ended questions based on their knowledge of the industry, the prospect, and the prospect's competition. What a great way to differentiate your team and build credibility with the prospect.
This is Part Two of a two-part note.
Part One discussed how to build a Virtual Sales Team.
Meetings and Presentations
Every meeting or presentation with a prospect warrants a plan, even if it's only five sentences long. It's really your sales plan in microcosm: (1) situation assessment, (2) objectives (yours and theirs), (3) strategy, and (4) tactics. You and your team members must understand all four components.
What are your roles during a meeting or presentation? That depends on you, your team, the audience, what your objectives are, where you are in your selling cycle, and the venue.
The first thing you must do is prepare, prepare, prepare. Here are some pointers:
- Before the meeting, contact the prospect to come up with a mutually acceptable agenda and objectives.
- For any presentation or demonstration, rehearse. Check your PC, screensaver timeout, batteries or power cord, and room lights. Make sure you've got the right version of the presentation. In case your computer crashes, have hard copies of your slides. In fact, plan for a rehearsal the afternoon before the presentation. At least a week in advance, give each team member a packet containing the sales plan and a checklist of things that could go wrong. By showing your concern with the details, you will motivate them not only to attend rehearsal but to be prepared for anything.
- Discuss with your team what objections might be raised and who will handle them. Do circumstances suggest they should be handled during the presentation? Or can you still be credible if you respond to the issues immediately after the presentation or even days later?
Here are some points above and beyond what most representatives do at a meeting:
- Execute the usual introductory steps with a new level of precision. The tone of the meeting gets set during the first few minutes. Your prospect is buying technology. Sloppy technology doesn't work. Sloppy meetings leave a bad impression.
- Address specific points that are crucial to the prospect's business. Be brief, but not generic; you can't differentiate yourself by being generic. If one of your team members has tested the points in advance with someone who will be attending the meeting, you increase the likelihood of a successful meeting.
- If your team members are strong enough, let them facilitate part of the meeting or presentation. Remember, though, you own that sales opportunity—not your team or your manager or your CEO. Your team's actions should communicate this to the prospect.
- Even if one person takes notes on a flip chart, have all your team members take notes during the event. Questions, concerns, ideas, action items, and especially audience comments should be captured for your debriefing immediately after the event.
Sometimes the seller's or buyer's company will require contacts to be made within a single level—your boss to your contact's boss, VP to VP, and so forth. Adhering to this type of policy requires tier-level selling. It's common in parts of Europe and Asia, where calling on your peer's boss is considered inappropriate. For big-ticket sales in the United States, the same holds true; the prospect's CEO or CFO will usually want to establish a relationship with his counterpart in your company. This should not be something to avoid, but there are pitfalls you need to be aware of when executive management gets directly involved in your deal.
You need to communicate to the exec—as diplomatically as possible—that he is working for you on the sales opportunity, not the reverse. The best way to do this is to present a complete, well-thought-out strategic sales plan that specifies when, where, and how the exec will be involved. When you've demonstrated that you've accurately assessed the sales opportunity and designed appropriate objectives, strategy, and tactics, the upper-level manager is more likely to follow your lead.
Tier-level selling should be strategic and proactive, not the result of a lack of planning or effective teamwork.
Too few sales teams bother with this important step. It's usually, "Whew, that's over. Let's get to the airport and see if we can catch an early flight." Here is where your leadership is crucial. You need to let your team know in advance that there will be a debriefing, and you need to manage the session for best results. It's really not that difficult to answer several crucial questions (and take one further action):
- Did we achieve our objectives, and the prospect's, for the meeting?
- If not, where did we fall short, and why? What do we need to do about it? Is damage control required? Who will follow up? When, how, and with whom?
- If we did achieve the objectives, what could we have done better?
- What new issues were raised? What do we need to do about them? Who will follow up? When, how, and with whom?
- Review and validate the next step(s) in the sales plan.
As an individual sales rep, your skills and knowledge can bring you your share of business. But if you can organize and manage an effective virtual sales team to execute a team-oriented sales plan, keeping your eye on all the variables discussed here, you'll have gained a key component of sustainable competitive advantage.
Remember, a critical component of successful enterprise software selling is doing an effective job as CEO of your virtual sales team.
About The Author
Dave Stein, an expert in selling and marketing enterprise software and services, has over twenty years executive management and consulting experience in technology. He provides vendors with insights and strategies around ethically positioning the business value that their offerings provide, especially in fiercely competitive situations.
On the user side, Stein guides buyers through the specific vendor-caused risks associated with the acquisition of enterprise software and services in today's environment of hypermarketing and hyperselling. He assists user companies in effectively mitigating those risks.
Dave Stein has sold to and consulted with companies from $10 million in sales to the Fortune 100 - in 48 of the 50 states as well as more than 20 countries.
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