Sunday, August 22, 2010

DOs and DON'Ts for Technology Salespeople

As an IT enterprise architect, I often meet with salespeople from among the best-known and most reputable technology companies, as well as from younger companies staffed with industry veterans.   I am often flabbergasted by the mistakes they make as they try to sell complex solutions.  But I also depend on these salespeople to help me make the right recommendations and build internal support for my efforts, so I often work with them to refine their approach.   Here is a sampling of the advice I give:
  • If you are selling something, say so.  I have gotten email from a company requesting my help in doing "research",  when they were in fact trying to sell sophisticated software. 
  • Do your homework.  I have written extensive requests for information and proposals, and spent hours explaining what we needed, only to receive generic presentation and sales materials in return.      
  • Don't rely exclusively on simple associations to construct your sales agenda.    Salespeople have spent many hours preparing and presenting materials that are only tangentially related to my employer's situation, or that cite customers with vastly different circumstances.
  • Don't sell things that customers are not ready for.    Recently, after briefing a sales team extensively, I was rewarded by an hour-long presentation on an advanced capability that my employer could not possibly use in the next several years.   Some foundational IT-enabled business capabilities can take years to mature, due to the need to re-engineer business processes, develop organizational culture and capabilities, and perform complex integrations with critical older systems. 
  • Don't assume that a close working relationship can easily be extended.  I have seen salespeople casually introduce themselves and start selling complex solutions to people whose names they have just learned from their their regular contacts.  
  • Don't try to undermine the IT-business partner relationship.  I have seen salespeople directly confront business managers with specific proposals without the support of IT.  IT organizations rely on close working relationships that pool technical and business expertise to make commitments that shape the organization for many years. 
  • Get the team right.  After extensive pre-meeting preparation, I have often spent hours meeting with pre-sales consultants who did not fully understand the problem at hand.
  • Keep your word.   I have made detailed plans with salespeople for joint investigations or technology demonstrations that could have laid the groundwork for new business deals, only to have the plans fall through because the sales team did not do their agreed-upon part.   
This advice may seem obvious, but I find that the few salespeople that follow these rules consistently stand out from the crowd and are a joy to work with.

1 comment:

  1. Iver, you've hit several proverbial nails on their proverbial heads! Obvious your advice may be, but it's golden!

    A couple of observations. First, you make advice explicit - effectively "contracting" with your sales people about the nature of the relationship you expect. Second, you ask that they not undermine the IT-business partnership.

    If I may tie these thoughts together, I've developed and taught many course for IT-business relationship managers over the years, and one of the things I teach is for IT-business partners to practice joint account planning with their business executives. I'd note that in making these relationship principles explicit, you are, in fact, kicking off an account planning process with your external (vendor) relationships. This is a great practice!

    I hope your would-be vendor partners appreciate your advice, and that those that don't heed it are eliminated from the right to win your business!