Landing a large, technical sale is like going deep-sea fishing and hooking a really big marlin. You’re straining at the rod, trying to reel the fish in, and you need help – someone to grab a net, another person to keep the sharks from grabbing a share, and someone skilled at the wheel.
In a complex technical sale, the account manager also needs to be able to rely on a wide range of overlay resources – engineers, architects, network design consultants, financial people to help with financing the deal, maybe marketing resources as well.
The problem is that all of those supporting professionals may be juggling their part of the work on a dozen other deals too. They may recognize that each sale is important, but this one big fish might not be the only one they have to help reel in. Getting some of their time, or even to get them into the same room or conference call, can be difficult.
But the stakes are huge – if those overlay resources aren’t able to come through, the sale may well founder.
Landing the Big One
To make achieving the right business outcomes even more challenging, there are often cultural and personality issues at play. Many salespeople excel at building relationships, finding opportunities, and finding ways to make their proposed solution work. While it might be considered a stereotype, not many salespeople are organized in a way that helps them determine what internal resources they need, and then develop a detailed plan to follow up on all the steps that need to be carried out.
Our company’s experience supporting many large, complex technical sales points to three principles for ensuring that the “fish” actually gets landed – rather than slipping off the hook.
Complex sales must be managed as projects.
A large sale must be treated as a project, with a project manager who determines the steps required, which individual people must play a role, and the timelines and deadlines.
The project manager must also be able to trouble-shoot, check to see when aspects of the project are getting behind schedule, and have the “pull” needed to make the process happen smoothly.
Our experience is that although there are some salespeople who are good project managers, this isn’t usually the case. It’s much better for the company to play to their strengths, which include relationship-building, and take the “administrivia” off their desks. This frees up their time to allow them to sell more.
Pay attention to the inside game.
At a risk of feeding too many stereotypes, salespeople and the technical staff often don’t see eye-to-eye about what’s important. Salespeople want to minimize the amount of desk time they must put into the sale – they’d rather be out of the office, meeting prospective customers, and making the next sale happen. Their total compensation, value to the company, and in some cases their sense of self-worth are based on moving on to close the next sale.
The internal staff – the overlay resources – have multiple priorities, thrive on a calm work environment, and strive for technical excellence. While they may understand the need to make the process successful, they must juggle many different priorities. And, they’re on salary – which might depend partly on their 360 reviews including the views of the sales staff, but they are rewarded based on their technical excellence.
We’ve found that, while in many cases there is appreciation and respect for each others’ roles, sometimes the “inside” people see members of the sales team as loud, pushy and disorganized – and the salespeople may in turn see those on the inside as uncooperative, reclusive and hard to work with.
Part of the solution lies in education. The salespeople must understand the processes that the various overlay resources must follow, and what those “inside” people need in terms of information in order to do their jobs. Another part of the solution lies in better information flow, so that everyone involved in the transaction process understands the steps involved, which have been completed, and where bottlenecks may be developing.
Consider IT solutions that will move the process forward.
There is a wide range of information tools that will help account managers focus on what they do best, with minimal frustration for the company’s support staff.
This includes business-support software that helps select times for meetings, record action items, provide a project workflow, and flag items that have been missed so that action can be taken before the problem becomes serious.
One of the keys to making these solutions work lies in building a culture in which everyone keeps their calendars up to date – so that, for example, a meeting doesn’t get scheduled at a time when a key person is on an airplane.
It is also important for all people in the company to keep the software up to date regarding their workflow – which tasks they have completed, and which have yet to be done.
Another success factor is demonstrating success – if all parties involved are convinced that keeping the sales management system up to date helps deliver that purchase order, they’ll be more supportive.
So there you have it. A big sale isn’t the same as a small sale – it needs a teamwork approach. Manage it like a project, with someone attuned to details and processes at the helm. Realize that the time available from that team — the staff supporting the sale – must be used in a way that moves each possible sale forward. Part of the solution is effective use of IT resources to indicate where the overlay resources have extra capacity, where the bottlenecks are occurring, and what can be done to be sure that the sales process has the support it needs.
Lesek Demont is Director of Sales, Sales Beacon; Contact email@example.com. Cynthia Spraggs is President and CEO of Sales Beacon, firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more, view their video at http://bit.ly/2cdHF1f