We are in the enterprise content management business or more explicitly in the information management business and we provide a range of solutions including contract management, records management, document management, asset management, HR management, policy management, etc. We are a software company that designs and develops its own products. We also develop and provide all the services required to make our products work once installed at the customer’s site.
However, we aren’t in the ‘creating innovative software’ business even though that is what we do; we are really in the ‘selling our innovative software’ business because without sales there would be no business and no products and no services (and no employees).
We have been in business for nearly 30 years and have watched and participated as both technology and practices have evolved over that time. Some changes are easy to see. For example, we no longer product paper marketing collateral, we produce all of our marketing collateral in HTML or PDF form for delivery via our website and email. We also now market to the world via our website and the Internet, not just to our ‘local’ area.
Another major area of change has been the interface between the customer and the vendor. Many companies today no longer provide a human-face interface. Most big companies and government agencies no longer maintain a shopfront; they require you to deal with them via a website. Some don’t even allow a phone call or email; your only contact is via a web form.
Sometimes the website interface works but mostly it is a bit hit and miss and a very frustrating experience as the website fails or doesn’t offer the option you need. My pet hate is being forced to fill in a web form and then never hearing back from the vendor. Support is often non-existent or very expensive. From my viewpoint, a major failing of the modern paradigm is that I more often than not cannot get the information I need to evaluate a product from the website. This is when I try to find a way to ask them to please have a sales person contact me as I need to know more about their product or service.
I look forward to a sales person contacting me because I know what I want and I know what questions I need answers to. However, the sad truth is that I am rarely contacted by a sales person (and I refuse to speak to anyone from an Indian call centre because I have no wish to waste my time). However, experience with my customers and prospects tells me that not everyone is as enamoured with sales people as I am. In fact, many of the people I have contact with are very nervous of sales people, some are even afraid of them.
Unfortunately for me, we aren’t in a business where we can sell our products and services via a webpage and cart checkout. We need to understand the customer’s business needs before we can provide a solution so we need to employ high quality sales people who are business savvy and really understand business processes. It is not until I know enough to be able to restate the customer’s requirement in detail that I am in a position to make a sale. Conversely, the customer isn’t going to buy anything from me until he/she is absolutely sure I understand the problem and can articulate the solution.
So, in my industry I rely on a human interface and that usually means a sales person. But, do I really need a sales person and do my customers and prospective customers really want to speak to a sales person? Is there a more modern alternative? Please trust me when I say I have pondered this question many, many times.
Those in my business (selling information management solutions) will know how hard it is to find a good sales person and how hard it is to keep them. The good ones are less than ten-percent of the available pool and even after you hire them they are still besieged by offers from recruiters. Finding and retaining good sales people is in my opinion the biggest problem facing all the companies in our industry. They are also the most expensive of human resources and after paying a recruitment fee and a big salary you are then faced with the 80:20 rule; that is, 20% of the sales force produces 80% of your revenues.
Believe me, if I could find a way to meet my sales targets without expensive and difficult to manage sales people I would. However, as our solutions are all about adapting our technology to the customer’s often very complex business processes this is not a solution that can be sold via a website or automated questionnaire; it requires a great deal of skill and experience.
So for now dear customer, please deal with my sales person; he or she is your best chance of solving that vexing problem that is costing your organization money and productivity. All you really need to do is be very clear about what you want and very focussed on the questions you want answered. There is nothing to be afraid of because if you do your homework you will quickly be able to differentiate the good sales person from the bad sales person and then take the appropriate action. I never deal with a bad sales person and nor should you. I also really enjoy dealing with a professional sales person who knows his/her business and knows how to research and qualify my needs.
A good sales person uses my time wisely and saves me money. A bad sales person doesn’t get the chance to waste my time. This should be your approach too; be happy and willing to deal with a sales person but only if he/she is a professional and can add value to your business.
Sales people call this the value proposition. More explicitly; if the sales person is not able to articulate a value proposition to the customer that resonates with the customer then he/she shouldn’t be there. Look for the value proposition; if it isn’t apparent, close the meeting. Make each and every sales person understand, if they aren’t able to articulate a value proposition for your business then there is no point in continuing the conversation.
Dealing with a sales person isn’t difficult; it is all up to you to know what you want (the value proposition) and what questions to ask. Do your preparation and you will never fear a sales person again.