While some could debate that The Complex Sale (http://www.complexsale.com
), by Rick Page, also covered in his book, Hope Is Not A Strategy (Publisher: Nautilus Press, 2002) is similar to those listed above, it approaches the process more from an account executive perspective. My sense is that the Complex Sale sets realistic expectations of what an account executive will do or not. It doesn’t require an account executive to fill out lengthy reports that many often do only to content management – once complete documentation created rarely sees the light of day. The Complex Sale key steps are:
1) Discover and confirm
a) On which product or solution area is the account executive going to focus
b) Which market/customer is going to be most receptive
a) Organization Chart
b) Power Sponsor(s)
e) Develop Strategy
a) Value Proposition
b) Align and Validate
i) Shark chart – just as it sounds, it is the decision “food chain”
c) Benefits Agreement with Power Sponsor
i) This is a step where the account executive gains agreement from customer that if customer uses his/her company’s offering they will achieve specific and measurable business advantages. This is an important differentiation, it is important to note that it is not the account executive claiming that his/her company will solve business problems or create certain advantages but rather the customer agreeing that if they (customer) use the offering they will achieve the benefit. This distinction can be important when looking at issues or problems that could occur after purchase. Simply, who owns the problem? While I realize this can sound cold and callous, it is actually a great business opportunity and the best account executives know how to use these customer needs to everyone’s benefit. At Apple and Microsoft the best account executives sold not just product but a suite of services from pre-installation consulting through multi-year service agreements that ensured the highest levels of business success for the customer. Of course the other benefit is that these account executives had fewer inbound customer complaints about issues they were having with the offering the account executive had “sold” these customers. At the end of the day, its better to walk away from a sale (yes, actually lose a sale!) than sell a product or service with less than what the customer needs, certainly when the customer is expecting more than what they are buying.
a) Define Team Roles
b) Validate Proposal Draft
5) Negotiate and Close
a) The Crucible
The crucible, described in Page’s book is the point at which multiple decision makers come together often with competing agendas and ultimately decide whether or not to make a purchase, not to purchase, or put off the sale for some reason. It is a time that if they decide to purchase when features become less of an issue and price, terms, and conditions become more prominent. Decisions can also be put off because the account executive has not aligned business needs with an urgent deadline or involved the right power sponsors.
There were times when we had closure on an opportunity by the power sponsors and business decision makers then discovered there was yet more selling to be done to another set of decision makers. This, the second crucible was something that was uncovered and defined while at Apple and discovered and noted by Blake Batley, a Principal with The Complex Sale. The account executives at Apple noticed that the further they got into the 2000’s that the end the sale became more complex and protracted than in prior years because budgets were tighter, additional pressures on compliance, and general challenges of selling a “non-WinTel” product such as Apple. Essentially account executives were going through an additional order/contract approval. In some cases this process would kill a deal even after we gained full agreement from new power sponsors and key decision makers. We found that the account executive had to dig deeper in anticipation of the second crucible. Once the Apple account executive got in front of (anticipated) this issue they were much more effective in closing opportunities and meeting the expectations of their customers and those of Apple corporate.
b) Set the Strategy
i) This is a meeting, hallway discussion, or email, that can result in a document that defines what needs to be accomplished and how the team will approach it.
c) Decision Timeline
6) Deploy Solution
a) Success Story
i) This is often considered an onerous task that some account executives find a waste of time. However, those who have read and used them find them very valuable. Early on at Microsoft a VP of US Sales created a contest and then a program to publish the success stories and sales wins. It always seemed to be viewed as a hassle by many. I found it a better a strategy at Apple was to have someone from marketing work with account executives in order to get these wins published. We created a weekly newsletter and published these on page one. These wins, I always hope, became a point of pride for the account executives.
b) Reference Account
i) There are never enough of these; however every account executive should be working with his/her accounts to make them referenceable. Whether formal or informal, a customer who is willing to make positive comments about your company’s offering is worth its weight in gold.
c) Start Again
i) The issue of hunter or farmer always comes up in every sales organization. Many see the hunter account executive as someone who finds new opportunities then moves on and farmers take over where hunters left off. This hand off can be disrupting to the account. I believe that all account executives should be hunters. If an account needs ongoing support, then it should be supplied as part of the solution or at an additional price. The account executive (hunter) is in the account to find, develop, and win new business.
Farmers are consultants, project managers, or in some cases inside sales organizations. Farming also needs to be hunting within an existing customer. My sense is that everyone working (inside) with a customer should be actively looking for new opportunities. A Microsoft VP of sales talked about the Microsoft Consulting Services organization in this way, “What a great situation, we have very smart business and technically savvy consultants inside of our customer’s organizations and the customer is paying for them.” These people are the farmers. I’ve been asked, “Why would technical people working for a vendor help find new opportunities for the sales team?” Incentives need to be put in place for all technical staff to help continue to grow the business for their company if for no other reason than they will continue to have a job. The positive posture is that the technical person can become involved in more challenging situations that will help them grow and perform more cutting edge, technically challenging tasks.
Hunters are also “sales animals” – I love this term. The head of world wide sales for Apple was passionate about this term and felt that we should only have sales animals on sales teams, I agree. They should love what they do – love getting up in the morning facing new, fun, and challenging opportunities to help new and existing customers, and make money. I’m a sales animal, I love meeting with customers and helping them solve business problems. The “sales animal” mentality is about passion. Whether you are selling or dancing on Broadway, be passionate about what you do.