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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Will The Real Customers Raise Their Hands?

After the bars closed, a cop sees this guy on his hands and knees crawling in an empty parking lot. He asks the crawler what he is doing and learns that his keys were dropped and lost as he was getting into his car in the back of the parking lot.
“So why are you looking for your keys under this streetlight?”
“I can see better here.”
I heard that story about selling several times recently.
Yesterday I was talking with a strategy consultant who said a small company was going to sell to government agencies by going through integrators who held program contracts.
I asked him why an integrator would sell his customer’s offering. He said there was a legal requirement. I said there were a lot of solutions for that requirement, and the least expensive was ignoring the requirement. I knew it had been ignored for over a decade.
Years ago I was with another small company. One of the salesmen prided himself on getting us on “the best teams.” That meant that we had to participate in a lot of proposals. It also meant we got very little work from this effort, usually not even a task order. Management was thinking about legal force, since “we were on the team!” That never went anywhere.
I was privileged to bring a unique solution to a global integrator. However, that was not apparent to them at the beginning. I broke in by bringing them a project they badly wanted that I had won. The salesmen loved it. Their management was furious.
As we learned to work together, on two consecutive years my guy working civilian agencies was the top salesman on the globe the first year. The next year the DoD rep had the honor. For me, that was like winning the Superbowl two years in a row.
From them I learned that they had eight account reps in the federal space. Seven were totally focused on getting in to agencies. They never made a sale. The eighth was in charge of integrator relationships. He would get an inbound phone call, go over and make all the sales.
The company had come up with this organization when they realized that without penetration to the end customer, there was no demand for their product. Salesmen wanted to spend time with the integrators. That was where the sales came from. But the sales were usually created by the agencies.
I have seen similar in commercial sales. Someone represents that they have a “connection,” and want to get paid to use it. Months and years are lost by rookie sales teams that fall for that. Sales managers are trying to “recruit rolodexes.” Two problems with that. One, who still uses a paper rolodex? Second, people hold jobs for short periods of time. You want to be able to see the person holding the position, not the person who formerly held the position.
One time my boss wanted me to go to a networking party with my sales peers. I asked him, “Why, will there be any buyers there?”
Tom Peters said, “Networking is helping someone,” and I have given and been given referrals that resulted in sales. However, even though they are harder to get, the majority of my time is figuring out how to get the focus of the end users. Once I get their interest, it is much easier to work back to funds, end user permits, budgeting, agent networks, and whatever else their culture requires.
Build your machine to interest real customers.
Comments?