Thursday, February 10, 2005

Can you sell? Can they buy? You don’t know until you ask the right questions!

I often wonder to what degree we can blame our fast-paced lifestyle for the difficulties so many software companies have meeting their sales goals.

I have recently been involved in a number of interesting exercises with several software companies that are trying to improve their marketing and sales processes. It has been interesting, and at the same time disappointing, to see how difficult it is for salespeople, marketing managers, and company executives to come up with a clear definition, not to mention a unified one, of what constitutes a qualified lead.

Now, I’m not talking about the terminology. Granted, “qualified lead” could mean different things to different people (read about The Fallacy of Qualified Leads). I am talking about salespeople not being able to come up with a clear set of questions that could tell them whether a company is a good fit for their solution.

So what do salespeople do when they don’t know these questions? They ask the easy question: “Are you looking to buy?” “Do you have an active project?”

That’s an order-taker question, not a salesperson’s! A salesperson is looking for a problem to solve, a goal to help a buyer fulfill, a pain to be relieved.

That’s where our hasty culture and go-getter attitude trip us. We are all in a constant race to do more and faster, that we don’t put the time to think through and come up with a solid, customer-centric selling process. Rather than take the time to understand the customer’s issues, we rush to tell him how great our product is.

The skill pool of solution selling is dwindling, and as a result, companies are missing their sales targets, while new salespeople and managers keep coming and going every 12 to 18 months through the endless motion of the company’s revolving doors.

How do we put an end to it? How do we get our salespeople to stop chasing and pushing and start engaging and cultivating?

I don’t have the answer, but I believe we first have to take the time to evaluate what we do. Going through these exercises, the companies I mentioned are taking first steps in this direction. I just hope they have the patience to see it through.

1 comment:

Eran Livneh said...

Here is a response to this post I received from Dave McNamara, one of the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to marketing and sales. Like many marketing and sales executives, Dave started his career as an engineer and made the transition over to “the other side”. Dave is currently Director of Business Partner Sales at Application Security, Inc.

Here is what Dave writes:

“Why is it that there are so many sales professionals that make so much money (if they are successful), but there isn't a single higher education institution in the United States (at least none that I know of) that offers a BS or BA in Sales or even Sales and Marketing?

Everyone offers programs in all other aspects of business, but the one discipline that companies bank the most on for their success is Sales... and for some reason higher ed doesn't seem to see that all industries need well educated sales professionals that understand business, marketing, sales methodologies, psychology, channel development, federal and local government procurement law, processes, etc. etc. It would be fantastic if someone could create a curriculum for a new program that produces a BS in Sales and Marketing!

I for one, would strongly encourage my son to sign-up for such a program.... with his personality and ability to learn and with the right background and internships, he'd be a perfect candidate to be trained as a sales professional.”

I agree all heartedly with Dave. I did a quick search in Google and on the websites of some business schools and couldn’t find such a program.

I think we all make the mistakes of treating sales too much as an art and not enough as a science. Is it really that different from marketing or general management, which are offered as degreed programs by hundreds of business schools? I think not.

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