• Date: 1/28/2011

    How to Survive in Sales in a Technical Environment


    Living in a technical world, And Ajay is just a material girl. 

    There are two things wrong in the above line  A)  Ajay isn't a girl and B) He isn't material. He is a salesman who puts client satisfaction at the top of the list. But how on earth does he survive in such a technical environment? Ajay tells us all...

    It's often said that Techies and Salespeople are polar opposites in their approach to their work, what do you think?
    You need to be disciplined and be able to follow a set process whether you are a Techie or a Salesperson. Techies are also often client facing too so both types of people need to be a good listener and have the ability to build a rapport and credibility with customers ...and it goes without saying...you must be passionate and interested in what you are working on.  The customer will pick up on your enthusiasm a mile away!
    With regards to Sales, sales people from a technical background by nature tend to be ordered and logical in their approach.  This translates well when presenting to technical decision makers. The danger sometimes is that they can be overly enthusiastic about some aspect of their solution and feel the need to discuss this in great detail when perhaps they should be listening more to understand the customer's real needs. 

    As non-technical sales person, I'm really grateful that I have a great technical team around me.  My style is more focussed on the sales process and meeting my clients' needs (essentially a glorified fixer!).  If I'm asked a technical question to which I don't know the answer, there is no danger of me attempting to provide the answer there and then.  I'm happy to refer to a technical expert who would be able to support their queries in full and to their satisfaction. 

    In each case we find ways of achieving the same end point - Client satisfaction.
    Ajay wanted to keep his identity a secret so he can continue living a normal life away from the pressures of fame.

    What advice would you give to people starting out in sales?
    My first piece of advice would be to talk to a salesperson they know and respect.  Find out how that person goes about their work every day, their motivations, goals and what they enjoy in the sales profession.    How do they handle rejections and setbacks?  

    If they find that they have similar characteristics to this salesperson and can see themselves being able to do what they do with some coaching and guidance, then a sales profession could be for them.

    Secondly, I would strongly suggest that they join a company that will send them on a sales course or a number of courses.  Sales training is important to develop your approach, provide you with the basics of selling and helps iron out the potential bad habits at a very early stage of your sales career.

    Be in no doubt that selling can be a stressful job.  Facing rejection is part of the course and you've got to be able to handle that stress and have the determination to keep going when things are tough...but, with perseverance and doing the right things you'll find it the most rewarding career in the world.

    How do you approach software sales?
    With software sales I have to take a longer term view. My approach changes slightly because the sales cycle is different and I am more reliant on our technical staff to follow parts of the sales process.

    When I sell a training course to a client, it is most often done on the telephone by talking to one decision maker.  I can talk to the HR Manager or a training manager to understand their needs and the problems they need solving.  Together we can work out how to focus our training solutions to address the skills their staff requires.  Our trainers then deliver the training.  The whole process from understanding their needs to delivering the required solutions could take no more than 4-5 weeks.

    When promoting our software solutions, because of the considered value and the impact the solution could have the in solving the client's problems, I have to bear in mind that there may be more than one decision maker involved (commercial and technical) and other additional steps that I need to take before the client decides to adopt our solutions.

    These steps could include, for example; responding to expressions of interest, a testing phase, a feasibility study, a period for evaluation, contract negotiations etc.  This is where I need the support of our technical staff to understand the clients' needs at a more detailed level and to educate them on the benefits of our solution.

    As this is often a major investment for the client, the sales cycle could take anywhere between 6-12 months.

    How do you uncover client requirements they may not have realised?
    This is often the hard part of the sales process.

    Selling is a consultative process where you are working together with your client.  I ask a lot of probing questions that are open ended and encourage my clients to tell me their requirements, not just for now, but for what they think they will need in the future. This type of approach often helps our clients uncover needs they hadn't realised before.

    I very often find that a requirement that we've satisfied for one client in our industry may be a requirement that another client may not have realised yet.  This is quite powerful for us as the solution for one client in the industry is actually helping us understand what other clients are likely to need.

    How do you motivate yourself and the team?
    For me client satisfaction is extremely important.  Our company prides itself on the amount of repeat business we get.  So when the clients keeps on coming back year on year for our services means that we're doing something right. That in itself is highly motivating.

    Everyone in our team has different things that motivate them.  I try to understand what motivates each individual and then tailor appropriate incentives that make getting up each morning worthwhile for them.

    Most salespeople are motivated by money.  They need a goal to aim at, so knowing what their goal is helps to provide the necessary focus on what they need to do in order to achieve their monetary goals.

    There are many other things we do to motivate our team.  For example, we often have competitions and challenges to inject a little fun into the day.  I remember some years ago we set an unusual challenge in the telesales team, which was to include the name 'Kevin Keegan' at some point in their conversations with their prospects.  The person with the most counts would win a small prize at the end of the day.  This got the competitive spirit flowing in the team and just this small task resulted in a higher than average call rate in the day, not to mention the interesting conversations that took place.  It may be off beat, but it was inexpensive, simple and gelled the team.

    So, if you ever end up talking to Ajay, be sure to slip 'Kevin Keegan' into your conversation to make him laugh. I should add that Ajay no longer plays these games and has become wiser with age. I wish we could say the same for Keegan... 

    "England can end this millenium as it started - as the greatest football nation in the world" - Kevin Keegan. 

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