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Commentary & Analysis

Target Your Sales Team or Accept Chaos

Sales is the start of every business process, this is where expectations are set. The temptation to say “yes” to everything has repercussions downstream especially with technology sales.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: March 17, 2011

What’s my least favorite statement made during a technology sales demonstration?

“We can change virtually anything, we can make this look exactly how you want it!”

Thank you “sales dude” you just unknowingly did the following:

  1. Focused the prospect on what they want to change in the solution vs. what they like about the system. From that comment forward, the prospect may be inclined to look and keep track of everything they think should be different with the solution.
  2. Created an expectation you’re implementation team can never meet. Even if your solution is highly configurable, it doesn’t mean you should waste the time or money configuring everything! Implementation should be about achieving ROI as efficiently as possible, pushing pixels around the page rarely gets you any closer to ROI.

Before we beat up sales too much, lets talk about who is really to blame when sales resources “sell without boundaries.” Good sales people are (or should be) by their very nature thinking beyond limits, because it’s their job to create new business. Left to their own devices, sales will sell without limits. So if no limits have been set, sales is just doing what sales does.

The problem really occurs upstream from sales, where “productization” should have occurred. You can call this a marketing function, but every business has to do it whether they have someone with a marketing title or not. Productization means you define the value you’re providing to the customer and what problems you solve through that value delivery.

Lets take an example from the world of web to print. The printer’s prospect expresses the challenge of managing collateral across a large network of distributors. The print sales representative steps in and suggests a web to print platform to manage the collateral distribution. During the software demonstration the client asks, “can this website be designed to look just like my intranet?”


Choose your words carefully.

Productization means you define the value you’re providing to the customer and what problems you solve through that value delivery.

You’re in a sales call, and you’re dying to say, “yes” to everything without hesitation right? Some times questions are better answered not with answers but with clarifying questions. Do you know why the client would want the site to look just like their intranet site? Of course we can all make an assumption, but it’s usually more interesting to actually get the answer to the direct question.

“What would your objectives be to making the site look just like you’re intranet site?” The client then says, “I want the distributors to feel like this is part of our overall offering by seamlessly inserting it where other products and services are offered.” (Juicy fact #1 – you just found out they provide other products and services via their intranet site to their distributors). What other products and services do your distributors procure from your intranet site?

More listening, more questions, more knowledge about the customer and NO lame commitments to functionality that isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. I’m not trying to teach you how to avoid answering questions. The answer would be, “we can accommodate your requirement to make the user experience familiar to your distributors.”

Did you promise that everything could be customized? No. Did you say it could look EXACTLY like their intranet site? No. Did you find out some more information about how they support their distributor network? Yes.

How do you appear in the eyes of the prospect? You appear to be someone who is genuinely curious about how their business works today and most important you seem to be listening because you’re asking intelligent follow-up questions rather than raddling off features.

How do you aim or target your sales team?

  1. Take the Time to Productize Your Offering
    Each time you add value to your offering, take the time to define the value to your sales team. Brainstorm about how to best present this new value to prospective customers. Don’t assume everyone is on the same page – proactively take actions to assure everyone from sales to accounting understands the new product offering.

  2. Keep them focused on overall objectives, rather than in the weeds
    The natural tendency for both sales and prospects is to dive into the features. A good sales person keeps the conversation on what matters most – understanding the core objectives of the customer and then showing how the solution meets those core objectives.

  3. Build Trust in what Your Solution Does Well
    Sales people who are “insecure” about the solution they are selling tend to exaggerate / lean more into the “yes it can” answer to everything. One of the best ways to build trust in your sales team is to explain how existing successful companies are using the solution. Focus on the customers who are utilizing what the solution does best. You want to sell to customers who have the challenges that your solution solves out of the box. This applies to any sale, once you go down the path of trying to make your product/service do something it was never intended to do; you might make it through the sales process but everything else after that will be an exercise in frustration.

  4. Provide Sample Answers / Explanations
    A customer asks, “Can you customize the look and feel of the site?” This is a very common question. Instead of the default, “yes, you can do anything you want,” give the sales representative an alternative like this; the site is built around a framework, which allows for controlled configuration within that framework. This approach allows us to offer customization while preventing you from doing anything that would break the solution. You sound smarter, your company sounds smarter because why would you allow people to make changes that might break the solution?

We like to divide things up into silos, sales are over here, operations is over here, and management is over here. The whole thing is a process and everything starts with sales. When sales presents and sells what you have, the whole process is easy. When sales presents and sells what they imagine you should have, the whole process is a no fun. Connect the silos of your business through productization each and every time you add value to your offering.

Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software section as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions. You can reach her at jen@whattheythink.com.



By James Daly on Mar 17, 2011

Jennifer, your piece is now on my required reading list for sales reps et al.

It helps a great deal to have validation of the exact concepts and vision that I espouse.

Thanks so much for the help!


By Erik Norman on Mar 17, 2011

Jennifer, this is a great article. Getting sales people to do more effective discovery work and teaching them how/when to answer customer questions with great open-ended clarifying questions is always a challenge, but a key to their success. Thanks for emphasising this.


By Jennifer Matt on Mar 17, 2011

Its counter intuitive at first, wouldn't you think answering "yes" to everything would earn you the sale? Remember everyone goes into a sales interaction a bit jaded (expecting some level of exaggeration). When you stop exaggerating or simply saying "yes" - you're differentiating yourself as a sales person.

The prospect starts to think, wow this person actually wants to learn more about my issues. When humans feel they are being listened to - you are on your way to earning respect in their eyes. Listen and ask well formed clarifying/leading questions. Your sales interactions will be longer but your close rate and satisfaction rate with go sky high.


By Ian Flynn on Mar 17, 2011

Jennifer - excellent advice for solution sales. By qualifying their "yes" the sales person will elevate the respect they receive from the client and become a true business partner.


By Joel Salus on Mar 17, 2011

Jennifer - thank you! Outstanding article! I'm going to alert my associates in Russia, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to you article. Joel


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