Guest Post – Michael Ashford
Selling to business can be a great profession for talented sales people who want to work in ‘big time’ sales. Especially as you work with medium and large size companies, B2B sales can mean large transactions and more opportunity to showcase advanced selling skills.
But B2B selling, especially to large corporations has evolved into a complicated process. This is no more true when selling technology to business – software, hardware, telecommunications, infrastructure, etc. Companies spend massive amounts of capital on technology, and as the technology has advanced, so too has their buying process.
In this post, we’ll discuss some of the reasons technology sales to business is so complex.
We’ll use enterprise software as an example to make our points. As it stands here today in 2013, its hard to find a medium or large size company that hasn’t purchased and implemented at least some enterprise software for their business.
Long Sales Cycles. I’ve experienced first hand what the sales process is like for real estate, manufacturing equipment, supplies, and countless other things businesses buy. It can be a long process, but none tend to be as long a process as software sales. Enterprise software sales usually involves a multi-stage process in itself, with several phases including RFP, demonstrations, references, review meetings, which together can take months.
Many times a 3rd party is brought in just to manage this extended process, which can last 6-12 months. Further, the real ‘selling’ often doesn’t start until all those things are over.
Large Evaluation Teams. Like anything other transaction in B2B sales, there are probably a small number of decision makers involved (maybe only 1), but with enterprise software, there is usually a large evaluation team. Since software like an ERP can be used by so many departments, they all need to be represented in the evaluation process.
As a sales person, navigating all these people, determining who is important and who isn’t, and determining the ‘hot buttons’ for each becomes one of the major objectives of the sales process.
Uneducated Buyers. As we all know, technology products like software evolve faster than any other products. As sales people, it is hard enough for us to keep up with latest features and their benefits. Its virtually impossible for buyers, who are much less educated, to fully grasp the differences in products presented to them from various competitors.
In software sales, so much of a focus is on education. But if you don’t walk the line carefully between ‘educating’ and ‘selling’, you can end up doing more of the former while your competitors do the later.
Complex and Changing Decision Making. One consequence of a large evaluation team is getting them to agree on decisions. With a large group, your buyer may have a well intentioned decision making process (i.e. “majority vote”), but rarely does it hold true once opinions start to differ, and politics get in the way.
Inevitably in technology sales, your buyer will have a hard time making a decision because of differing opinions. As a sales person, if you haven’t determined who’s vote really counts, your chances of winning drops dramatically.
Importance of Benefit Case. Probably more than any other type of capital investment, companies put a large emphasis on return of investment (ROI) when it comes to technology. In fact, many Chief Information Officers (CIOs) report to the CFO since they make so many capital spending decisions. Large technology purchases don’t happen without a strong business case.
If you aren’t building a strong business case or ROI analysis for your offering, or helping your prospect build one, you are at a serious disadvantage. Chances are the executives at your prospect have several competing projects fighting for the same capital.
Michael Ashford is a 20-year veteran in Sales and Consulting, and specializes in helping organizations use Return On Investment Tools as part of their customer efforts. You can read more from Michael at www.ROIforSales.com.