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Business managers must understand that all the horsepower in the world isn't going to help them win unless they have built the deployment of these resources into a strategic sales plan. That will ensure that you are advancing your plan the farthest with the efforts of each. Powerful sales support, executive, and external resources are not only used to impress. They should also be used to wrestle for some control of the buying cycle and to negotiate for access, information, and advantage.
In addition, you are going to want to fully brief (and coach, when necessary) anyone you will be bringing into your sales campaign. If the person isn't coachable, consider finding someone else.
Let's take a look at some of the functions within your organization and how you might deploy them to contribute to your winning the sale.
Back in 1987 my company had taken a first round of funding from Venrock Associates, perhaps the most respected VC firm at that time. They managed part of the Rockefeller family fortune. My sales team was working on a deal with a large corporation and the financial viability of our small company came into question. One of our new board members from Venrock sent a letter to the CFO of the prospect's company. If I remember, the wording went something like, "...and therefore the financial viability of this company should no longer be an issue." We eventually won that deal for over a million dollars .
When do you involve your CEO in your sales opportunities? Always? Never? When you are losing? Depending on the size of your company, the size (or strategic value) of the opportunity, and the value your CEO can bring to the meeting, you'll have to evaluate this resource for each opportunity. When you work for a 10-person company, you'll need the CEO to show up, perhaps more than once, and take full responsibility for that prospect's success with your product or service. Be careful, though. In smaller companies you can misuse a CEO, bringing them in too early, too low-level a meeting, or to answer the wrong set of questions. You'll need to do some planning and expectation setting on the part of the prospect as to what to expect from the CEO and when.
Among the many functions a CFO performs is that of managing a company's risk (except perhaps in financial institutions were there may be a VP of risk). Not only can your CFO recite your company's financial position but, perhaps more importantly, provide real comfort as to how they are managing your company's risk. These days, risk is a big concern to a lot of buyers and rightly so.Your product, support and service people will talk about the functional and operational details, but your CFO can be positioned at your prospect's CFO or CEO level to provide a top-down view of how they are watching out for your company and therefore for your customers as well.
By the way, an accountant from your company can become a valuable resource for you and your prospect when it comes to building an ROI model.
Bringing in the VP of R&D or Customer Service can be very powerful if timed correctly; if they meet with the right audience, and if they are meticulously briefed on the unique concerns, needs, and issues of the prospect. It especially helps if they have had some selling experience. (I have a very smart clients who have had me train their engineering and customer service organizations on how they can contribute to his company's value selling approach.) One of my clients has a stellar customer service organization. The VP of customer service knows how to elevate customer service on the list of the prospect's decision criteria. He talks about disasters that were averted, his people working on Christmas day, even his and his people's bonus plans. He is able to relate the service he performs to the specific requirements of each prospect. The competition tries desperately to devalue what this executive will say, but he is immune. His story is too tight, too compelling, and delivered with the right balance of empathy, passion, and confidence.
How many times have you had an engineer or technician say the wrong thing and threaten your meeting, presentation, or sale? That person may own or run your company. It used to happen to me as a sales professional. As with the CEO or any other resource, if you are not convinced this person has the right attitude, understands the situation, and can contribute in a distinctive way, find someone else if possible.
Subject Matter/Domain Expert
Much like the situation with engineers, SMEs can bring a lot to the meeting or torpedo it. Provide them with your sales plan, with special attention on the prospect's business and other functional needs. Talk to them. Tell them what to say and what not to say. If you can, do a little role playing. Tell them you are ready, willing, and able to take over if the conversation turns toward price or other issue that may make them uncomfortable. Here's a tip: Don't leave the meeting when your SME is presenting. You'll be inviting a difficult situation and lose their trust.
Having an existing customer attend a meeting with a prospect is fairly unusual, but I've seen it done. Often the prospect wants to visit a customer without you being there, or at a minimum, speak with them on the phone. If you have a customer who can offer a new perspective, reassure the prospect, or describe exactly how they accomplished what the prospect is seeking to do, that can be very powerful. If you're thinking about how to get the customer to your facility or your prospect's, consider having the meeting at the customer's site. If you employ this tactic before the prospect asks for it, it can have a big impact on your credibility and can provide you with a "bump" in terms of your sales momentum.
Outside Expert -- Analyst or Consultant
You may think you have all the credibility in the world, however bringing an outside expert into your sales campaign can provide what you can't--an outside view. One of my clients brings an industry analyst into important meetings with the prospect. Of course, the analyst has to be paid, but they can discuss, hopefully with authority, issues that the prospect and others in their industry are facing and how your company measures up.
If you blindly believe the old adage that there is strength in numbers, you could be headed toward a disaster. On the more positive side, bringing a business partner into a deal can add credibility and surety. When you do work with a business partner, make sure in advance that your sales plans are aligned, especially the objective and strategy. Prospects get really turned off when they hear different messages and positioning from representatives from two companies who are suggesting that they work well together.
For those of you who work for small companies, enlisting the help of a bigger partner could be a very wise strategy. I employed it myself when I was growing the European division of the company I mentioned earlier in this article. But be aware. Lots of small companies want big brothers (and sisters). What's your value proposition to the partner? How will they make money? How will you assure them that you won't screw up what will be your joint customer?
A Few More Points:
If you are looking for that competitive edge, deploy your sales resources carefully, as part of a plan based upon your prospect's requirements and the value those resources can deliver. Odds are that your competition isn't.
Dave Stein, after 25 years in sales leadership positions and delivering his own sales training and consulting worldwide, founded ES Research Inc. ESR offers independent, authoritative advice on Sales Training and Consulting and the Companies that provide it through weekly briefs, in-depth reports, online seminars and advisory services. For more information go to www.ESResearch.com or call 508.313.9585
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