Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Learning How to Sell - Premature Pitchalation and Other Sins

In a prior post, I explored why so few MBA's go into sales.  The ability to sell is a skill of the highest value. In start-ups, sales is key to finding product-market fit, raising venture money, recruiting the best, driving revenue, pitching the press....

After three years at Flite, I am acutely aware of how important it is to sell and how poorly prepared I was for the challenge. I recommend a great book on sales to anyone eager to learn more : The Sandler Rules: 49 Timeless Selling Principles and How to Apply Them.

The 49 rules provide a framework and approach for better understanding the sales dynamic, process, structure, and path to more systematic success.

Here are a few mistakes that I continue to make and how I am working to improve.

Rule 2: Don't Spill Your Candy in the Lobby
This rule is classic - "have you ever shared too much information, too soon?"  In my rush to prove my credibility and the value of my product, I often jump right into an overview of what we do, why, how, who we do it for...all before we have even made it to the conference room. Another term: premature pitchalation - the prospect has no time to lay out their needs and asks and is bombarded by information overload independent of context. Needless to say, I am working hard to slow down and to let the prospect talk in order to allow for better fact-finding and qualification. Spilling your candy threatens to see you blabber on about features, functions, and issues of potentially no interest to the prospect.

Rule 14: A Prospect Who is Listening Is No Prospect At All
This one mirrors rule 2 , as Sandler asks, "are you selling or are you telling?"  I pride myself on being articulate and able to explain a value statement well. To often, I believe that if I can lay out an axiomatically perfect argument, then the prospect, by dint of my logic and persuasion, will buy right away. While I believe strongly in being able to express myself well, I am working hard to listen, to ask questions, then more questions, and to make sure that the customer's problems and goals are well matched with our offering.

Rule 17: The Professional Does What He Did As a Dummy - on Purpose
Here Sandler encourages the professional sales executive to ask simple questions, embarrassingly simple, questions to tease out information and to make sure there is total clarity. Are you comfortable with asking simple questions and leaving long periods of awkward silence? I am not, and I am working hard to allow silence to fill the room and for the prospect to fill it with information rather than for me to fill it with nervous energy and output.

Rule 30: You Can't Lose Anything You Don't Have
I've been guilty of spending far too much time on accounts that are failing to close.  Am I worried the customer will turn to another vendor, that the deal will eventually close if I just keep humping it...?  Sandler advises that one either close the sale or close the file - I need to do that better.

Rule 32: Get an IOU for Everything You Do
Often in start-ups, we are missionary sales people. We feel a huge need to prove ourselves worthy in order to break into large accounts. Accordingly, in our early days, I found myself doing lots of "free work" on the come. Sandler recommends that sales, by definition, does too much free work. The professional makes sure that the customer realizes that you are providing free service and that the IOU helps win future business.  One of Flite's major learnings is that we don't need to do as much free work as we thought, that asking for clear understanding that the customer will commit to buy if you we validate x, y, or z through a pilot works. If the answer is no deal no matter what you deliver, then why do it?  Get an IOU and be sure that any work on the come is tied to clear commitments to buy.

I learn more every day as I sell and found Sandler's book a tremendous reference for putting into words and simple rules problems that I encounter every day along with useful solutions for how best to handle them.

1 comment:

  1. Good Write up! The reference to Sandlers gave it a new buyer (Me!)

    As a Sales Personnel (Which is everyone who Works!) you learn by a series of success. Every Success adds to your confidence and you start believing that you can repeat it. Failures are important; however the reality is one should protect herself/himself from being affected by Failures, because in Sales, Failure can be very Personal.

    On your comment on " too much free work" early on; I think you needed to do that to get to where you are now. As a startup three years ago, you needed to do more "free work" to establish yourself. Your customer was not buying a Clear Brand and hence your brand as an individual/ your passion/ your willingness to bend and roll up your sleeve to get a deal mattered. Now after 3 years you have some of that out of the way and hence you can reduce "Free Work". But thats a Journey and if you do it again, you will be better served with the same approach.

    My 2Cents! :)