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IMG_9025“What questions should I ask when meeting with an executive?” This question came up about three times last week during various marketing events, coaching calls, and emails with clients – “Can we put together a list of questions for the sales team to use when talking to executives?”  I usually get this question when talking about Marketing Events and Demand Generation follow up – that’s about the only time I see sales people really engaging with executives in a proactive discovery process.

It feels better to have a list of questions – a list of 5 to 7 questions that can be read from a script, with a place to record answers.  But don’t expect this to actually work.  If it were that simple, sales people would be in front of executives with a list like this all the time.  My experience is, once you pull out the list, you’ll lose your audience’s attention.  One size can’t fit all – and if you need a list, it’s clear that you don’t do this very often.  Imagine pulling out a list to ask your spouse how their day went.  What would they think?  Well, they might wonder if this were a conversation or a project for school?

What Questions Should I Ask?

Instead, I recommend using a framework.  A series of topics that guide the conversation.  This framework has to be second nature – memorized.  This takes some practice.  In my book, The House & the Cloud (available for free as a PDF from my blog sidebar), I provide an example of a security focused discovery conversation.  I start out by exploring things that my client feels are critical to their business.  The heading reads, “What are you trying to protect?”  But the essence of the question goes much deeper – because its not really a question; its a framework.  I am searching for those applications and data repositories that contain highly valuable data.  It might be client data, intellectual capital, or some application that allows the business to work ten times faster than it would if certain work were done manually.

The second line of questioning focuses on threats.  “What would threaten these critical systems?”  This requires some give and take.  The client may not know how to answer this – the sales person might need to explore this with the client, coming up with possible threats based on the business vertical, type of data, cybercrime trends, or current conditions of the business (for instance, on the cusp of some new invention.)  The final area deals with the company’s ability to detect a problem before it’s too late.  This is a shorter question.  At this point, the sales person would have most of the data they need, but would want to know how comfortable this particular “Asset Owner” (as I describe in the book) is with their company’s ability to see into the network.  Don’t confuse this with a technical question about intrusion prevention software.  What you’re looking for here is a clue as to how safe or vulnerable this asset owner (who owns some level of liability) feels with regard to their data and applications.

How Does A Sales Person Learn This?

How does a sales person master this process?  The simple answer is, “training and coaching”.  Unfortunately, at least in this industry (technology sales), companies have substituted product knowledge for sales training.  Knowing your product is necessary, however, product knowledge is not sales training.  The executive discovery process is something that takes practice.  It’s intimidating to walk into a business owner’s or VP’s office.  One bad meeting with a CIO might be the final nail in the coffin for a promising account.  But what if the sales manager were to set aside time weekly, during the sales meeting, to run through a few tips and to have a couple of people practice?  What if it were part of the regular routine to provide new insights and experiences shared by other team members?  Perhaps you could master this skill.

Getting Started

A great conversationalist has a skill – and great sales people need this skill.  When it comes to working with executives, and working through the discovery process at that asset owner level, there is no substitute for having been trained and coached on executive level conversations and interview skills.  Here are three things you can do right now to get started:

1. Read the CIO journal section of the Wall Street Journal – be able to discuss trends such as cloud services, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), social business, and information security, and be able to make application to business.

2. Read the books other executives are reading.  This might require you to ask around – which can’t hurt.  Recent books by Jim Collins are always a good place to start.

3. Practice…look for people in social settings and push yourself to listen and learn from them.  Ask questions about how they got into their profession, what has made them successful, how they would advise a young person entering their field, and what cautions they might give to someone entering that field.  People love to share their war stories.

© 2013, David Stelzl

 

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Shooting in the Dark

February 10, 2011 — Leave a comment

Yesterday I mentioned Covey’s second habit – Beginning with the end in mind…how does this work in practice?

When planning a sales call, “the end”, or meeting outcome must be the first consideration!  Doing otherwise wastes both yours and the prospects time.  What should the call outcome be?  Almost every company I work with can tell me what tends to lead to a sale.  For instance, last week I was speaking at a software company’s partner summit.  They quoted a statistic showing that ninety percent of their “Proof of Concept” initiatives lead to a buying decision.  In another national sales meeting I spoke at, an access assurance company presented a similar statistic.  One reseller client I work with on quarterly marketing events says that he closes follow-on projects for ninety percent of the complementary assessments he offers.  With this in mind, they are generally able to quantify what qualifies their proof of concept effort, who should be involved, and how to run the program.  This is the goal, to get to this point with these people.  On the other hand, my non-scientific surveys show that companies are closing about ten percent of their proposals; even among companies who have shared their key to success as stated above.  What that tells me is we are writing the proposals before getting to that predictable key point in the sales process, or we just have not identified it yet.   If you don’t know the end goal, you’re just shooting in the dark.  If you do know it, you may be wasting great opportunities.

© 2011, David Stelzl

The Solo Age

February 8, 2010 — Leave a comment

Wall Street’s Article in today’s paper, Succeeding in the Age of Going Solo, has some great thoughts for sales people.  The article is really written for all of those professionals who at some point in the last decade faced a layoff and ended up on the street with a resume and no openings.  I am seeing this on the sales side more and more as sales get harder, margins get thinner, and companies are putting projects on hold (although there seems to be some warming on high-tech spending right now).

Here are a few key points:

  • “Waiting for business to find you is not something successful consultants (sales people) do.  Clients know a halfhearted attempt when they see one.”
  • “The consultants (sales people) who are most successful offer a technical skill or expertise that is too expensive or infrequently used for companies to keep in-house. ” (Do you sell one of these?)
  • Cutting edge expertise is vital to long term professional health. Successful consultants don’t let their skills coast, even for a short period.  There are simply too many consultants waiting to take their work” (this goes equally for sales people.)  This means investing in yourselves – getting training, coaching, reading, etc.
  • Bad service warning: “with social networking and the constant contact of email and texting, word or a perceived violation spreads rapidly.”
  • “Think like an entrepreneur” (a quote from my Making Money with Security Part 2 Class).  This means a lot of things…remember most entrepreneurs don’t actually succeed; probably because they are not thinking like entrepreneurs.
  • Entrepreneurs – “need a business plan and a mission statement.”  Sales people need this too – don’t rely on the esoteric statements coming out of corporate or through partners and vendors.
  • The author writes, “Interview after interview, I was also shocked by how unprepared so many new “consultants” were in organizing their businesses.”  I echo this!
  • “They lived in the moment…a business recipe for disaster.”

© David Stelzl 2010

Growing up, on New Years Day, my father would always say, we’re starting at zero today.  In other words, last year’s revenue doesn’t matter, what matters is, how will our business do in 2010.  It’s often said, dwelling on past success sometimes leads to future failure.  However, if you’ve taken some of the advice I’ve given over the past several years, you’re not starting at zero today.

  • If you’re managed services business is thriving, you’re financial state should be healthy.
  • If you’ve invested in security, Wall Street again predicts this to be in high demand in the coming year.
  • If you’ve established your brand around the value you bring, rather than the product you sell, you have a firm foundation for success in 2010.
  • If your team understands how to present solutions and value, you’ll do well in the coming year.  Wall Street’s article on trends a few days ago not only mentioned security, but also stated the need for high tech professionals to be less geeky and more business relevant.  This has been a core focus of mine since I started this business and it’s true – sales people must learn to meet with business people and develop peer relationships at the top.
  • If you’ve taken time to plan and strategize, and your plans are sound, you’re ahead of your competition.
  • If you have a solid team (right people in the right places) you’re way ahead of your competition.
  • If you’re partnered with vendors who support you financially through marketing and lead generation, you have what you need to start building new business in 2010.

Let’s get started…

© David Stelzl, 2010

Over the last 6 days at least 3 business owners that I am coaching have told me, “My managers don’t think strategically.”  “They do what I tell them, but if I don’t think of it, it doesn’t get done.”  Another client made the comment, “He uses his office to run another outside business in real-estate. I’m not sure he takes this business seriously”.  That employ was recently asked to leave.  We’re in some tough times right now, and I don’t see our economy bouncing back to the late 90’s anytime soon.  That means sales people and consultants need to get serious.  In a seminar I attended by webex this week one of my mentors made the comment that “Newer grads may not realize how hard they are going to have to work to stay employed.”  If you’re not a producer, your job is in jeopardy – especially if your boss has a coach.  I am counseling those I coach to follow Jim Collins’ advice, “Get the right people on the bus, get the wrong people off the bus, and then make sure you have the right people in the right seats, regardless of who wants to sit where.”  It’s the right thing to.  Choose today to be invaluable.  Use your time wisely, seek out wise counselors, invest in stepping up your game, and focus on profitable production.  Think strategically and be proactive – Habit One from the 7 Habits.