THE 9 Ps
Before I get started, I would like to thank my parents for providing me decent enough education to enable me to write this e-book. I acknowledge my list buddy Lindy Asimus, from Australia who inspired me to write this after having read one of my mails to another list buddy who was seemingly lost and confused in a sales situation. She inspired me to put my thoughts together and write this e-book. Thanks Lindy. And thanks to the technology that makes it possible.
I would like to acknowledge my ex-employer; a Boston, MA based Solutions Company operating in the PLM domain, for having taught me most of what I have attempted to pen down here. Moreover, I would like to clarify that I am still a student of life and at no stage do I profess to be an expert or a guru.
Before Getting Started
Hello folks. If you have read this far, then you must certainly want to learn about selling to corporate clients. I hope this e-book / guide is of help to you in terms of organizing your efforts and setting off in the right direction towards handling big- tag selling situations. This e-book is written with the presumption that you have a compelling offering that you believe in. Many a time, if the value message does not reach the right ears in an organization, it might as well have been told to a wall. This book is all about getting the right message to the right audience and keeping the sales process in control. I would suggest that the sales person refrain from misrepresenting or exaggerating what his organization can deliver. Also I may have used the word ‘him’ and ‘he’ for various people or positions being referred to. I would like to clarify that I am not a sexist, and at no point am I suggesting that only men are at such positions in the corporate ladder. It is merely a figure of speech, and women today are as likely to be in decision making situations as men.
Many of us are engaged in some kind of solution selling without knowing in definite terms how to go about it. The one important thing that we normally mess up with is to have total control over the entire sales process. At any point of time, in a sales situation, if you leave things to chance, then that is exactly what you are doing, taking chances, not just with your numbers, but with you job and career, and maybe more. This e-book here suggests a strategy, much better than the proverbial ‘quote and hope’ situation.
This 9P may not be a perfect fit for all sales situations, but rest assured, if you are into value selling ‘enterprise solutions’ that involves big numbers and requires you to ‘map’ an organization to make the sale happen, then you should read on.
Most people have heard the terms ‘influencer’, ‘decision maker’, and the like, but are not sure how to go about identifying these people and making them assets to meet your objectives. Needless to mention here, I am assuming the sales person has immaculate integrity, is committed to his organization and his customers, and is a hard worker dedicated to the cause that his organization represents. We are often under pressures for meeting monthly /quarterly quotas and profitability targets and tend to get lost in the situation that seems over-whelming and appears insurmountable. I hope this short e-book, by presenting some easy, learnable methods, will help you find comfort in a sales situation and thus, help you better your sales graph. If, in your heart, you are convinced that whatever you are taking to the customer will bring value to him and make him a winner, read on. If not, try and get sold to your own solution first, before you try to project your confidence and conviction to your prospects. And remember, winners do business with winners.
[EB Is the person who holds complete sway over a decision.]
First let us get some jargon out of the way:
Economic Buyer (EB): Is the person who holds complete power over making a ‘buy’ or ‘not buy’ decision. He need no one’s permission but may take suggestions and ideas from others, or in other words ‘consult’ others. When you are proposing, say, an ERP system to an organization, the CEO or the Chairman / Owner is the EB. He may consult many people, but if he makes up his mind to but BAAN and not SAP, or otherwise, he will do so without any hitch. His interests are not technical features and he may not be interested in how many flips your software or solution can make without a trapeze. He gets sold by how much savings your solution can bring to his company, or how you can make his organization look better to the investors. Most likely DC for the EB is ‘business gains’. We should always try to position our product as a business proposition to the EB. The EB would want to do business with you because he sees value in associating with you. Period. If this was a game of Chess, the EB would be the King. He is your ultimate aim to impress in any organization.
Technical Buyer (TB): He is the person who is going to technically approve your solution. He may be a CIO, the CTO or the Head of R&D, depending on what you are proposing. He is the one who scans for new technology, makes comparatives, has a list of features he thinks will look good or make him look good. His interests are not how much money the organization will make or save, but how much gizmo factor your product or solution has. His weak points are technical features and he usually drools over them. As far as possible, keep the technical detailing to need to know basis and never get entangled in a technical feature battle. Such a battle is likely to prolong the sale and waste your time. In any case, the most likely DC for the TB is the Gizmo factor, and that is the language he talks. Sometimes the TB may engage you in lengthy series of Demos, discussions and more demos. Try and always know where to draw a line. Always keep in direct touch with the EB so you are in control of what the customer really needs and not get drawn in a feature massage for the TB. Beware of the typical Mr. Seymour (See More) who are time wasters and keep you busy with no real purpose or intent of investing.
They are also usually the ones who have initiated the buy process, in cases where you have not initiated it by approaching the EB and set the process in motion with your own efforts.
User Buyer (UB): A user buyer is the person or persons who are going to actually use your product or solution. They are the ones that will be bothered about how easy it is to use the product or solution and how less taxing it will be to move or migrate to your solution. Usually, this is one group that either initiates the sale or provides the most resistance to it, if initiated by others. They have a wish list that is very practical, and usually requires you to fulfill them before they will allow you to move on. The UB is the one who will buy more in the future and it is best to keep them in good humor. In most likelihood, the DC for the UB is ease of use, easy learning curve, career advancement, and jewel in the crown factor. It is quite possible that some knowledge or skill that currently resides with the UB is now going to be available to the entire enterprise using your solution as a vehicle, so expect resistance from this quarter. Also this is an important group for you because a successful implementation and feedback to that effect depends on this group.
Influencer Buyer (IB): Is the person or persons who will influence the sales process though they do not take a decision themselves. They may be the EB’s confidante, secretary, COO, CFO, professor at his B-School, or even his son or wife. In any case, you need to find out who the influencer is or are, because they will affect your sale tremendously. If you are able to find a Champion in an IB, your life is all the much simpler.
A champion is your proxy salesman in the organization.
Champion: A Champion is your friend and internal salesman in the organization. He/she is a person who should be close to the EB and should have influence over him and help him decide one way or the other. He should be a respected person in the organization. He should have a personal win in the implementation of your solution in the organization, either as a career highlight or as a professional achievement (E.g. If he is the CIO and you are proposing an ERP solution, then it may look good on his resume to have implemented that ERP solution or he may
[No Champion, No Sale.]
be so bogged down by fragmented systems that implementing an ERP system will make his life easier, in either case, he may be the one pushing the EB to get the ERP ball rolling.) They say that no Champion, no sale. And in fact, one must try to have multiple Champions so that there are multiple internal salesmen working for you in the organization.
Coach: A coach is the person who may not hold sway over the decision process or have much say in the organization, but he acts as a guide to tell you who the right people are and what you need to do next. The coach is usually the information point in the organization. A coach is not a Champion but a champion may be a coach.
60 Second Pitch: This is that 60 second message, also known as the elevator pitch that delivers a crisp message about what your product or solution can deliver in business terms (not technical terms) and you should have one rehearsed and memorized for quick delivery any time, any place. I remember our trainer once woke us up at 2 in the morning at this in a lovely resort hotel in Hong Kong where we were training. I was predictably sleeping in my boxers. To add to the embarrassment, he had a team of 10 odd trainees in tow. He made me recite my 60 second pitch to him, pretending he was a CEO of a famous Automotive Company. I made the grade. On ‘passing’ this test, he made me cover my nudity and move on to the next victim’s (read trainee’s) room. By day break, he had short-listed a couple of people who were not going to make the boot camp. All for lack of an effective 60 second pitch. Yes it’s so important to have one, or so he thought. “You should be able to deliver your 60 second pitches in your sleep”, he would argue, and none of us complained. When making your 60 second pitch, make sure it’s you, don’t borrow or copy words or phrases from others, or you may risk sounding rehearsed and mechanical, and remember EBs are very smart, if not intelligent or bright people, for that is why they are where they are, and will filter out such rehearsed ‘sales talk’.
You need to remember that all you are aiming is to get the EB to meet you in his office, where you have his undivided (hopefully) attention for say 30 minutes. Ask for an appointment for a definite day and time, for vague requests to see him ‘next week’, will get lost under the heap. Instead ask him if he would prefer to see you 3 P.M. Friday or 10 a.m. Monday. They like to choose, so give them a choice, not between meeting and not meeting but between meeting one day or the other.
Once you secure this meeting, prepare really well. EB’s are not time wasters, and the moment they realizes you are wasting their time, they will cut you short and there goes your opportunity. There is a concept known as EBS or Equal Business Stature. When you are before the EB, you have to understand that you are at the same Business Stature as the EB. If you act subservient or inferior, they are most likely to delegate the task of meeting you to somebody else.
Paper Trail: Is the trail the paper follows from the RFP stage to PO (Purchase Order) stage. The paper trail may be more a procedural requirement and may not really mean the actual decision process, which may already have been made before the paper trail is initiated to conform to the procedural requirements.
[We need to ask why they need a solution and we may be surprised by the answers. Ask questions !!]
Decision Process: This is the real process that decision to buy or not buy your product or solution will follow. The decision process could be as simple as EB refers to his friend at the NASDAQ who gives thumbs up, or the UB refers to TB, who approaches the EB who in turn asks his son freshly graduated from MIT about the new technology. His son gives thumbs up and the sale is a go. That is the decision process.
Decision Criterion (DC):The decision criterion is the least understood factor for a sale. If you walk up to Ms. Hilton and show her how your product could save her $10 a day on telephone bills, you may be using the wrong reason to ‘sell’ to her. Maybe if you showed her how your product could make her look good in front of the other girls in the club, or make her sound desirable or hipper, she is more likely to buy. Very often we don’t try to find out what the prospect is looking for in a product or a solution and assume that they are looking to save money or improve efficiency, which may well be the case, but we need to ask. We may sometimes be surprised with the answers. Maybe the reason they need to buy the product is just because it looks good on their annual report and they don’t care. I do remember one case where a Canadian company was sold the idea of opening an off-shore back office in East Europe. They were not interested in how much they will save or earn by doing so, but were interested in announcing this in the market so that their stakeholders would see it as a positive move for cost savings and help rally the share prices.
Ho-Hum crasher: The opening line in your 60 second pitch that doesn’t make the EB yawn. Make your own ho-hum crasher inventively and aim to put a smile or a question mark on the face of the one getting the 60 second pitch.
Expectation Management: Setting the right expectations is one of the most important parts of a sale. Most customers’ satisfaction does not depend on how great your product or service is, but how high his expectation was. Keep it realistic. Over committing is one of the worst things sales people do in order to shorten the sales cycles. Avoid. Many a bad implementations of solutions are due to over commitments and it is one ghost which will come back to haunt you.
Objection Handling:Objection handling is one another aspect of value selling. In our heart, we should be convinced about our offering and the value our solution can hope to bring to the customer. But, when a prospect tries to dodge your value points, we assume that he is misinformed, prejudiced, or just plain ignorant about what you can do for him. We treat such behavior as an ‘objection’. Some examples are:-
“Your proposal is too expensive”. “We have no budgets this year”. “We have not planned for this”. “We already have a competing product with us”. Etc.
Fair enough, and our most natural instinct is to come back with, “But I can help you justify the cost”, or “We can help you show the advantages over the competing product”. Nah. It doesn’t work. Probably sounds like loserese.
So what is more likely to work? Here is a 4C process to handling ‘objections’, wherever you come across them in your sales process. Or as a matter of fact, any place in life, except maybe with your better half. J
Power Chart: A power chart is the org-chart of the organization that you are currently engaging, with the names of the people that matter marked and noted. It is like a progress chart for your control of the organization. You need to create the organization chart that relates to your sale and make notes on it. Circle the people that have been positively influenced by your efforts in green and work on those that are not yet green. The more green circles that you have, the more control you have on the sale process. A very simple example is given below:-
The following process, an 9 step process is something that I did not invent, but have learnt during my days at some of the companies that I have worked with in the past decades in India as well as in USA. This process is said to be loosely devised by the one of the best B-Schools, and some variations of this are being used in some of the blue chip organizations worldwide.
The 9P PROCESS
1. Prospect: Finding your customer
2. Probe: Getting to know them
3. Present: Showing what you can promise
4. Penetrate: Mapping the organization effectively
5. Prove: The viability of your promise
6. Propose: Taking the ring out
7. Purchase order: The marriage
8. Perform: Living happily ever after
This is self explanatory. You need to find a company that may need your solution. Prospecting methods could include phone, fax, email, networking portals, etc. There are many lists available to help you carry out this step, i.e., prospecting. In my opinion, it is best to prospect as high in the organization as you are capable of. If for example you meet the CEO and he likes your idea, then he may direct his CIO, CTO, CFO etc. to look into your idea and report to him. These other guys will then take you seriously and not make you run from pillar to post, or summarily dismiss you as distracting noise in their daily work. Remember, if your solution is a business proposal, which it should be, then sell it to the businessman.
The Affirmative Principle: Now, there is a rule for initiating conversations that you might need to know. If a person has said ‘yes’ a few times in a conversation, then he may find it difficult to say ‘no’ a little later. Have you ever wondered why those telesales people ask you obvious questions like, ‘Are you so and so?’, ‘Do you hold a such and such policy?’, or ‘Do you own a so and so car?’ when they already know you do. They are just making you say ‘yes’ a few times, before they ask the pointed question like ‘Would you like to talk about how we could save you such and such?’. Before you know, you have already said ‘Yes’. Use this rule when trying to get past gate keepers like secretaries to the EB and the like.
Meeting @ 30K feet: Now this is about getting creative, and just shy of getting desperate. If you are unable to get a meeting with your target EB and If you are really hardcore sales, you may consider going to the extent of finding out the traveling plans of your EB. Get on the same flight your EB is taking, say, from New Delhi to Mumbai, only to take the next flight back, if you must. You need to be networked with the EB’s staff to get this semi-classified information. Talk them into letting you know where he’s headed and check with the airlines to make sure. That part is easy for a persistent, consistent seller. Once you arrive at the airport, ask the airlines staff to seat to next to Mr. XYZ, your EB, and they would have no reason to decline your request. Once on board, you have your EB on the next seat and you have his undivided attention for the next few hours, where he cannot state the regular excuses; “I have an urgent meeting”, “an urgent phone call” or even that he needs to pick up his daughter. Get him to listen to your pitch, and he is likely to bite, if you are any good. Make him commit to seeing you in his office. If you did not manage to get a seat next to him on the flight, catch him in the baggage claim area, or in the boarding lounge, and always be ready with your 60 second pitch. Shoot .They are normally more friendly and open in such situations and you are most likely to get your message across, or at least get that appointment you seek.
Google is your friend. Find out more about the EB, like which school he attended, what club he affiliates with etc. Once you have a docket on him, he’s putty. Do some networking to find out if there is someone you know from his school, college or an ex-company. Using a reference is the best way to make a good pitch.
Many EBs are known to frequent places like Golf Clubs, Spas etc. and you should certainly consider becoming a pro at swinging the club. You may try the 60 second pitch at EB’s favorite Golf course or in the Pro Shop, or at his favorite spa in town. It works.
Find out more about the company you have chosen to sell to, their needs, and pain areas. Find out who are the people that make a difference and their brief histories; check the companies’ financials and study the ratios to see how healthy they are. Google for news about the company and find out if they have made any press statements about their new initiatives, etc. that might be in line with your solution. If you do a thorough research, then the next step would be more effective. e.g. If you know a company is fighting with quality issues and you make a presentation and show them how they can use your solution and improve their quality by x %, it is more likely to evoke a positive response. On the other hand if the company is already following 6 Sigma and has little quality problems and you ignorantly talk only about ‘quality’ in the 20 minutes they gave you, you may as well have spoken to the boardroom walls.
Qualify the prospect to make sure that they need your solution, have the required pains to justify and have the financial wherewithal to afford your solution.
I would normally research for days about an organization, check recent news about them online, check their balance sheet and various ratios to see their financial health, and make notes of their recent acquisitions, collaborations, press releases etc. so you know what line the CEO is towing and you are talking his language when sitting across the table from him. Obviously, you have to find a way to get there first.
At this stage try and qualify the lead as far as possible and if you get talking to someone, ask them direct questions. It is always easiest to talk to the sales people in the organization. The operator will connect you without many questions if you ask to be connected to sales. Ask the friendly sales person for a favor and he is most likely to oblige. He relates to you and is forthcoming with information that might be useful for you. Ask him what the best way to get to the EB is and you may just get lucky.
At this stage you must meet the UB, and understand their incumbent system and get their wish list. Probe their needs and wants and remember, the more information you have collected at this stage, the better you will look when you are presenting them with their own data at the next stage. I have seen good slaes people look like idiots because they did not prepare well enough for the presentation and were bombarded with questions that they had no clue about, or were just not familiar with the processes at the customer and did not understand their philosophy or pains etc. If you probe well enough, you can offer them a suitable solution, or you cannot. This is like a doctor’s diagnosis, and he can offer you a good treatment only if he has asked you good enough questions leading him to the right treatment. I hope you are getting the drift?
Once you have done the prospecting and secured yourself a presentation or a demo, pat yourself on the back. But wait. Have you been able to make sure you have the right audience? If you think that your power presentation will make them fall off their cozy chairs and sign a check at the end of your learned discourse, well, you may need a reality check there. First, you need to control the audience. You need to make sure you have the right people attending the presentation. If you have done your initial pitching to the EB, then you might emphasize to him the importance of his presence in the board room while you are delivering your sermon. If not, then the second best option is to ensure that the presentation has the blessings of the EB and that he has deputed his trusted team personally to weigh your solution. Prepare well for the presentation; use specific examples and do not resort to cut-and-paste jobs. Use company financials which are in public domain and employ them as examples in your presentation. Do not use embarrassing data, or present any data in an embarrassing manner.
Be prepared for all kinds of questions, but don’t get dragged into prolonged discussions. You may want to stick to the ‘business’ proposal that your solution brings to the table. For them to appreciate this, you either need the EB or a ‘Businessman’ in the board room, maybe the Finance Head or the Head of Corporate Strategy. The point I am trying to drive across here is that you need visionaries in the board room to appreciate your pitch, so make sure you have them in there. In order to keep the presentation gripping, show examples from similar industry or even competition, without revealing confidential data. Sharing confidential data of another company is a fatal error, because once you do so, they will never trust you with their information ever. Also you must ‘earn’ the attention of your audience for each slide you show. Be relevant, avoid ranting, and be earnest. No one is obliged to sit through the presentation, so make it interesting and full of information. Also never get into the detailed specifics of what your solution can do but stick to how the customer can benefit in terms of saved time, cost and quality. During the demo, make a note of who the ‘businessman’ is looking to for information, or is consulting, or who he is talking to the most (or even who is sitting closest to him). These are the people who will 'buy' your product. Choose a prospective Champion from this group.
You are becoming more familiar with the company, meeting more and more people, making multiple Champions, meeting UBs, TBs, EB, decision makers, paper trail pushers, etc. You are learning who these people are and getting them on your side. Spend the most time at this stage so you don't miss anything important and don't end up barking up the wrong tree. Everyone in the organization is a source of information, your friends in place. At this stage you have learned about their processes, their pains in detail.
The people at the customer must begin to perceive you as a consultant and a savior and share their darker professional secrets with you, which they might have been sweeping under the carpet. In general, you aim to become a part of their extended family. They do not see you as an intruder trying to up-sell them on some solution, but as someone who is a bank of information and who is there to make their life easier. Spend a good time at this stage to prepare for the next stage amply.
You have already learnt all about their pain areas, and now you show them how your solution can help them. Avoid exaggeration and be truthful. Make sure they know the limitations and the pit-falls. This is similar to step 2, but this time you are working with real data collected from the company rather than hypothetical or superficial data. Show them ROI, ROE, Breakeven Point and whatever it takes for them to be convinced that you are capable of delivering on the promises you might have made in the earlier stages. Make sure the EB or the UB and IB are involved at every stage, especially at this stage. Make them see that you are the right choice for a solution partner who will go a long way in helping them grow their business. It is at this stage that that will finally make the ‘buy’ decision. Remember, that you are a solution provider and not a salesman, so here is where you show them that the solution works, and that they should invest. Be ready with financial data about how your solution can and will impact their business. Don’t short change the home work.
You finally talk business. You make a proposal to the customer based on your findings. I recommend that you do not short cut this stage. In fact, take a lot of pains to develop the proposal. I also recommend that you keep the proposal short and sweet. If the customer needs you to include a copy of the commitments you have made into the final proposal, do so in a separate document and do not confuse the customer by linking it with the proposal. The moment the proposal reads like a book, it is most likely to bounce off many tables and finally pull you into more discussions and lengthen the sales process.
Also map out the buying process of the company in detail. Does the file go to, Japan, for approval, or does it go to Sydney for example. Who all will need sign the paper to make sure your proposal is accepted? Find out who all need to be contacted to speed up the process. Paper trail may not be the same as the decision process already discussed. This may be a procedural requirement, but an important one, none the less. The file may go from UB to TB to the Finance person and to procurement or vendor development etc. But once the decision is made, this may just be a formality. You need to map and contact the people in the paper trail to ensure your 'sale' is not in jeopardy or delayed.
This is the buying process. Many people mess up here. You need to negotiate good terms, prices, support prices etc., and make sure all paper work is in order; that the license agreements, NDA's etc everything is signed and nothing is left out due to anxiety of collecting a purchase order. Make sure the Purchase order or the Work Order that the customer issues is a plain document without many clauses. Keep payment terms simple and be a Devil’s advocate here. Many a relations turn sour because there was misunderstanding of some clause or term in the documents. Envisage such situations and be thorough in your approach. Make sure the payment milestones are clearly defined. This is also known as sales hygiene. Keep the paperwork clean and avoid having to chase the customer for payments later. Drive it from the top, rather than have the Procurement person dictate his terms. In my experience, I have always taken a draft of the Purchase Order to the EB and told him that I will need the Purchase order in that very format. In most cases I managed, thus reducing problems later.
Make sure you are involved with the implementation team if you are not doing it yourself. Make sure all the commitments you made are kept and the customer is happy and glad to have met you. Keep your Champion/s in good humor, since they are the ones who will help you keep the engagement going and probably buy more the next quarter, or the one after. I would help them with information / data / white papers etc. that will help improve their knowledge and make them more effective at their jobs. I would also help them network with their peers in other companies so they see me as an asset and are looking for ways to return my favors. And you too could always use this help from your Champions. Well, another quarter is around the corner. J
…… and Persevere
This is not really a step, but to remind you that the 9P process is a continuous process. Once you have reached the 8th P, you need to find another reason to engage the same customer with a larger value or maybe take your value proposition to other group companies or sister companies. In any case, the work of a value seller never ends. Continuously keep turning this circle.
This 9P method works in most situations and I can guarantee it will work for you. Corporate selling is a science and an art and can be fun, as long as you don't over commit or set unachievable expectations, that is, do not manage the customer expectations well. Here we have seen how we can control the value selling process and how anyone with even little knowledge of ‘sales’ can become good at it. If you are an entrepreneur setting up your own business, then this e-book can help you grow your business much faster by engaging your customers effectively.
DO NOT MISS ANY STEP.
I have had cases where customers called up asking for a quote, (or taking me to 6th P right away), missing the earlier steps. But I insisted on meeting them to understand their pains. Essentially, I took them back to stage 2nd P. I met the UB, managed the EB, TB, the works. And, lo and behold, by the time I am back to 7th P a month later, the company realized that we could help them in a much larger way then they had initially perceived, and now they were going to implement a much larger chunk of our solution and increase the scope of the implementation. So, compared to what I was asked to ‘quote’ a month earlier, I was now sitting on a deal almost 10 times larger in value and scope. And all I did was follow the 9Ps.. I suggest you do too.
Further reading: Look for further reading material Prospecting and Case Studies and Experiences of corporate engagements that I have had in my work life. Coming up soon!!
If you have any suggestions or feedback, you can write me at email@example.com
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