Category Archives: Sales Strategies

Dated competitive intel is about as useful as a Kardashian math tutor

Competitive intelligence can help you position your solution on higher ground if used properly, but if you’re an idiot, it can be accelerate to a quick departure.

The best way to start this story is from the end. We hired a sales rep, Steve, who had recently worked at a competitor, “Blue Spot Technologies”. After his hiring, Steve shared how, at his old company, he competed against us once at an account that was one of the most bizarre and easiest wins for him and his company. He barely put forth any effort and was sure that he had lost when he received a phone call asking for contracts and the client’s nervous desire to be implemented as quickly as possible.

Now, as we rewind a little, the situation was that “Horizons Corporation” was evaluating solutions and had narrowed the finalist down to us and Blue Spot.

As part of their due diligence Horizons decided to have a PoC or “Proof of Concept” exercise. A PoC is where a vendor comes on-site and installs a reasonable representation of the proposed solution and has the technical teams and client users perform scripted exercises. As a vendor I despise these things, but if I were recommending how to evaluate solutions, this would be it.

So we schedule the PoC with Horizons with our rep Don and the Sales Engineer, DJ, the guy who would have to do the majority of the work.

As always seems to be the case, Horizons was located a good distance away from a major airport and our team had to drive several hours to reach their location. Because of scheduling conflicts DJ and Don had to travel separately.

DJ arrived early morning the first day and spent the better part of the day installing, configuring, and finally setting up our PoC system.

One of the issues that we were battling was that Blue Spot’s user interface was perceived as superior and our team’s job was to educate the prospect that the effectiveness of a user interface is relative to the task at hand.

While Blue Spot’s interface was great for editing content that was already posted on a website, it was poorly designed for creating a multi-page document, one of our strengths. After numerous hours, DJ’s attention to detail and thorough alignment of our solution with their challenges was yielding us some leverage in the evaluation.

With two hours left in the day, Don showed up.

Don enters the office, makes a brief exchange of handshakes and asks for a private office where he “could make some calls”. Nothing like putting the prospect first.

After some time Don emerges and declares” Who want steaks!!!? Tell me your best steakhouse in town and we are going!!!!!” The legend continues that he finished this off with some Neanderthal “booyaaa”, but those reports can’t be confirmed.

Two poor saps, who didn’t really want to go, but felt awkward in not accepting this sudden display of generosity, raised their hands.

On a side note here, our marketing team was responsible for maintaining a library of intelligence on our competitors. The challenge is this endeavor is that your competition doesn’t inform you of updates, so it was our understanding that we used this information only to help establish our position, not as a fodder for a full frontal assault. In fact at that time our intelligence on Blue Spot was pushing 18 months old. Don was given explicit instructions, DO NOT SHARE THIS WITH A PROSPECT!!!

So after some very expensive steaks, Don whips out the document and starts going down point by point. “Blue Spot can’t do this, so that’s bad” to which the prospect replies “No actually they do that, in fact, come to think of it, they do it better than you do”.

At this point DJ, not one to enjoy witnessing career suicide, picks up his drink and goes to play Golden Tee.

15 minutes later, DJ returns to the table to witness the prospect actually defending Blue Spot, with a fervor and zeal that exceeded the pitch that they received from the Blue Spot Sales Rep the previous week.

Don, unfazed by the omnipresent sense of failure, continues on to the second page of the out-dated intelligence document. The prospects respond with a stunned silence that was on line with what you would hear if someone quite loudly broke wind in church.

The after dinner coffees are finished and the members of the Horizons team bolt out the restaurant like greyhounds.

Don decides to debrief DJ over a few beers.

Don: “Man, that went great. It is ours to lose”.

DJ: “No……No…I don’t think so”

DJ then points out that at one point Don threw this gem out there “”OK requirement one… interface. So our interface is… you know what, I’m just going to give that one to Blue Spot, let’s take that off the table, ok?”

DJ was so enraged that he unconsciously snapped his pen while having the discussion. It was metal.

We lost the deal. Steve got his blue-bird phone call. DJ was reassigned away from Don.

Don was arrested the following week for trying to solicit sodomy from a state trooper.

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Great Sales Sins – Trashing Your Competition

“Hi Bob, have you tried “natural” male enhancement? I saw the commercial on TV last night and immediately thought of you”

“Wow Barbara, that dress looks great. Did you get it in the “big girls” section at Lane Bryant?”

“So the wife and I just joined a swingers club……”

I would hope the readers of this blog would agree that these are lines that would exude a certain level of awkwardness and discomfort if they appeared in casual conversation.

However, as sales professionals we can generate similar feelings of discomfort with our prospects if we start to trash our competition.

I hate to burst your bubble, but you remember that great conversation you had where you felt like you and the prospect really “connected” and you shared how your competitor’s solution has been linked to Herpes Simplex 10?

Well here’s a news flash, your competitor had that same “connecting” conversation and when the subject of your company came up, he responded this with this:

“You are looking at ACME? You know they do very well in Java shops and I’ve seen some good press on them. However, knowing your internal infrastructure, project requirements, and with the fact that your CEO is sponsoring this project, I am confident that our solution, along with the reputation of our company, will not only surpass your technical needs, but offer a degree of comfort and validation that you are doing business with the industry leader.”

See the difference? Herpes vs. Industry Leader?

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Great Sales Sins – Spaghetti Selling

Spaghetti Selling is one of the reasons that former programmers make lousy software sales guys or why former bank examiners, or worse, consultants, usually stink at the revenue generation profession. Why?

Well first let’s clarify what we mean by spaghetti selling. You know when you cook spaghetti the easiest way to tell if the noodles are done is to throw on against a wall and see if it sticks, if it does its done. In spaghetti selling, you throw everything you know at your prospect and hope to hell something “sticks”. You pray for the “oh that’s interesting, I didn’t know you did that” moment.

Imagine you wanted to buy a car, and so you go to the dealership. When you get there two people sit you down and tell you the history of the automobile and the dealership, going into great detail about who invented the gasoline engine, when the dealership was started, how the pretty flags got hung in the parking lot, etc. Then after about 30 minutes, they start with the first car you come to and then show you ever other car on the lot. Then after the last car, you leave, they proclaim “call us if you want to buy something”.

When our sales teams competed against the bigger names in the business, a common complaint would be “they spent an hour talking about the history of their company, our CTO left after thirty min”. We loved these types of accounts!  We also found that our teams who kept their presentations relevant and focused on the needs of the client where far more successful than those who spent the first 20% of the meeting talking about the history, management, and market position of our company.

One of my prospects, who is now a client, shared with me at the start of our first meeting “What is it with you sales guys?  You are all the same.  I’ve had three presentations start with “Hey we are going to blow through a few slides then get into the good stuff.”  Then the first thirty minutes are spent talking about the least relevant and boring things.

I quickly turned to my Sales Engineer and said “Ixnay on the ideslay”.  We started the meeting with a dialogue with the client team and let that guide our presentation.  Not only was it far more effective for us, but we were able to expand the project so that it more closely fit our solution.

I am a big proponent of having only one slide dedicated to intros about you and your company, quite frankly the prospect has access to Google and can know everything they need about your company within a few clicks, don’t waste their time discussing the obvious.

To test your sales pitch for “spaghetti” find a big dude, someone bigger than you, to sit in on a practice pitch. The reason you want them bigger than you is because after a few minutes your desire to kick the crap out them will be overwhelming, and smaller people have a tendency to sue when you do that to them.

After each point in your pitch have the big dude yell at you “So what?”  Ex. “We have a virtual XML layer native to our architecture.”  Big Dude “So What?”  You “This will provide the ability to get broader distribution and use out of your content quickly and more cost effectively than other systems”.  If you do not have a credible reply, remove the point from your presentation.

Of course, this starts with effective listening. Know why the prospect is talking with you.  What problem is the client trying to solve?  What is the pain they are experiencing now? What are the direct and indirect costs of this pain?  Do they have written requirements? Whose budget will pay for this?  Who is the executive in charge of that budget?  What is their timeframe for making the decision?

To get you started, build one powerpoint slide with three bullet points and the title “We are to here to talk about….” With the following bullet points:

  • How we can help you <insert solution to primary problem> Example “How we can help you make your web presence more effective while lowering your operating costs
  • <secondary problem> How we can help you stay compliant with internal and external audit requirements, while speeding the flow of information internally
  • <monetary benefit> How we can allow your organization to accommodate future growth while maintaining a constant cost of ownership

Three bullet points that is it.  Trust me, the first time you build this slide it will be exhausting, because you will really have to dig deep into the client’s mindset to build this slide.  But once you do, you will have the attention of everyone in that conference room (or webex).

Good luck.

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The Wisdom of the Gatekeeper

One of the daily challenges for any sales warrior is trying to manage the position of the gatekeeper. These trained professionals a.k.a. “The Sales Prevention Team” are highly skilled at keeping us from sharing our incredible value with some of the most important business leaders in our territories.

After much begging, pleading, cajoling, and water boarding (just kidding), one of our favorite gatekeepers agreed to share a small amount of her infinite wisdom on how we should treat those who stand between us and our decision makers.

-From Michele Doucette – Gatekeeper Supreme

Having been a “hardcore” Gatekeeper for over 20 years, I have been asked many times, How does one get past the Gatekeeper? So many sales types are expecting that there is some set of magical words or phrases that will make me abandon my responsibility of protecting my executives and grant open access to some of the most important people in our organization.

Well, that’s not happening.

However there are some key “do’s and “don’ts” that will determine if your company gets included in one of our multi-million dollar projects or if you burned the bridge so badly we wouldn’t include you on a RFP for urinal cakes.

DO. Before calling, find the company’s website and see if they have a “Management Team” link in their “About Us” section. This way you may actually discover the name of the executive you need to reach BEFORE you contact the front desk. READ THIS AGAIN, absorb it into your pores, maybe even write it down. There’s nothing more annoying than hearing a LAZY cubicle monkey ask, “Can I speak to whoever is in charge of making your (fill in the blank) decisions?”

DO. Do speak to us nicely, we have feelings, and more authority than you can even begin to imagine. We deal with awkward phone calls and harassment ALL DAY LONG. We take a lot of abuse from telemarketers, recruiting agencies, irate clients, and occasionally our co-workers. Ask us how our day is going, how the weather is, etc. TRY to sound sincere; it can go a long way in helping you get where you need to go.

DO. Be aware of how Caller ID displays your company name. “Sell Co.” does not have a chance of making it through. If you block the name of your company with “Private Caller”, I will answer, keep you on hold while I Google the name of your company, and then tell you that no one is available. Sasser once suggested we try for “Free Beer, Hot Sex” as our Caller ID Badge. He really does think he’s funny.

DON’T. Don’t bother lying. Saying things like, “I’m returning (fill in the blank)’s call, or “I spoke with so and so last week and they asked me to follow up” just might get you through. BUT, if we find out you lied (the people we are paid to protect WILL let us know of our slipup), you will be our enemy, for life (this life term will not expire, we will remember you and your company LONG after we’ve left our current employer).

The next time you call, we will utter the words every salesperson loathes to hear, “REMOVE US FROM YOUR CALL LIST.” Ahhh, two years of silence from your pathetic spiels. We keep lists of who you are (I personally have a separate folder in my Internet favorites of each offending company’s website bookmarked for future reference) and we WILL contact the Better Business Bureau, the FCC as well as the FTC to file a complaint.

DON’T. DO NOT try to intimidate us. Many a salesperson (both men AND women, SHAME on you women) will revert to Neanderthal intimidation tactics when confronted by a diligent Gatekeeper. NEVER, EVER utter the words, “You’re just the receptionist” in anger, for this will be your death knell. The silence will be deafening just before you hear the almighty “click” of your last chance at getting through. EVER.

In your frustration and fury at my boldness for hanging up, should you feel the urge to call back and wish to speak with MY manager to complain about being treated with the same level of rudeness you instilled on me, (the Gatekeeper reports to EVERYONE, I can pick and choose WHICH manager to send you to), remember this…be careful what you wish for. I have no qualms whatsoever about passing you through, he/she will likely tear you a new one harsher than I because now you’re wasting both my time and THEIRS.

EXTRA CREDIT. If English is your second language and I have a hard time understanding you, YOU WILL NOT MAKE IT THROUGH. The kiss of death is to call, speaking in broken English, then ask for “whoever makes the decision on <insert topic here>”.

However, this may be a personal preference, but if you can affect an intriguing accent such as British, Scottish or Australian accent, you have a better shot at getting through a female receptionist. American women LOVE a bit of the brogue! Use words like lass, blimey, bits, ta, crikey, toodle pip and cheers. You will hear our voice light up! This will make it easier for you to “bond” with her while trying to “fish” for pertinent information.

A deep Southern accent, with a lot of “y’alls” and grammar that reinforces the fact that Georgia ranks 50th in SAT scores will not help. Mention that you have a blog, and I will hang up on you.

Thank you for calling and have a nice day,
Michele the Gatekeeper

Michele is currently protecting her executive team at a software company based in Boston, MA.

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