Archives For network

Illustrated by David Stelzl

When do you use Power Point? As far as sales calls go, I am not a Power Point Fan.  While PowerPoint is a powerful tool when used incorrectly it can put an audience to sleep, kill discussion, and alienate your audience.  On the positive side it gives a sales person the ability to display diagrams and process, as well as photographs of products with bright colorful images and flare.   As a speaker, I can communicate to a larger audience where dialogue is not expected, and imaged help people track through the points I am making.

That said, once the lights dim, the propensity to slip off into dreamland grows with each slide unless I can hold the audience’s attention.  On the other hand, slide shows  have a tendency to distance the smaller audience and come off as canned (such as in a board room) – one size fits all.   I remember an incident years ago while working as an IT manager in a large bank.  The local sales rep of a prominent networking company called on me.  His objective was to convince me to move from my current network operating system to his.  We had met before, but he was persistent and charged with breaking into this lucrative account.  As an IT person I was only an influencer, so his tact should have been to educate me on more technical things, helping me expand my own expertise.  When he arrived I even coached him on my need – to know more about network operating systems.  Instead he pulled out his projector.  I pleaded with him to put it away, hoping to use our meeting time to address particular questions.  While I wasn’t about to change operating systems, education would have been the key to my heart.  Instead, he proceeded with his own agenda.  He promised all of my questions would be addressed in his slide show.

Thirty minutes later I was out of time.  None of my questions had been answered because his slides addressed things outside of my core interests.  It was a total waste of time, except to be used as an example of what not to do.  He left that afternoon, having had his last sales call with my department.

© 2011, David Stelzl

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How will the next sales person be chosen?

So how are sales people chosen in today’s market?  It used to be  that a friendly, enthusiastic person, who was able to find common ground through activities and interests had it made.  Frank Bettger wrote a powerful book many years ago called, How I raised myself from failure to success in selling, focusing on these strengths; and they are still relevant today.  However, there are millions of sales people with enthusiasm, so there has to be more.  Here are the typical things I hear when I ask, “How were you chosen?”:

 

Word of Mouth.  This requires a reputation for results in a market driven by demand.  One or two opportunistic deals may come through word-of-mouth, but to rely on this method for new business requires a buzz in the market – meaning you are offering something in high demand and people are talking, and, you are fast becoming a leader in your space.  People talk, so make sure your reputation is above reproach.  Working higher up in the organization increases the effectiveness of this process as executives exchange ideas at social functions.  Few IT people ever interact with peers from other companies so don’t count on business growth through this channel.

Direct Reference. Trusted advisors are chosen by the buyer.  Gaining credibility in a crowded marketplace is not easy, but references can help.  Sales people that do a good job of collecting and farming references are way ahead if they use this information correctly.  When it comes to calling on clients, posting web content, or even sending a letter or datasheet, well placed quotes from recognizable companies can go a long way in establishing trust before work has been sold.  Sales people would be wise to take this into consideration on the heels of every  well executed engagement.

Vendor Affiliation. Established connections with other recognized organizations should not be underestimated.  This is particularly true when it comes to aligning with manufacturers.  I know many companies who live on leads from vendors they partner with.  That said, don’t be deceived into thinking that being a “Cisco Reseller” or any other brand reseller will help you.  It won’t unless the sales people on the street are aligned with you.  Channel programs rarely produce any reasonable leads – rather it is the sales people who are encouraged to push business to the channel that feed the reseller.  And they generally choose who they feed.

Personal contact. I generally steer away from selling to friends.  This is the problem with multi-level marketing; these people have no friends once they sign up.  They are encouraged to reach out to the neighborhood, selling to friends, church members, club members, and anyone in their immediate social circle.  It won’t be long before everyone is wary of spending time with this sort of sales person, knowing that every invitation or phone call is an underhanded attempt to sell something.  However, that said, personal contacts that are not used to overtly sell can be powerful, and establishing helpful relationships in the marketplace through LinkedIn and other business oriented networking tools or events can be powerful.  The key here is to become a valued resource to those around you.  One of the things that has worked well for me has been helping people who are actively seeking a new job or who have been displaced from a current position.   Pro bono, I offer to help them with resumes, interview skill, and contacts.  I don’t do this to overtly solicit their help in new business, but by being helpful.  The favor is often returned.  The idea is to become a valued contact rather than a leech, and as people observe your creativity and value, you’ll be remembered when they need help later in their efforts to succeed.  One word of caution, don’t keep score, just be helpful.

Educational Marketing.  One of the most effective means of winning new business in today’s market is education.  Consumers want knowledge, and those who establish themselves as educational resources become the advisors of the future.  Add trust to this equation and you may find yourself being chosen as the next “trusted adviser”.  Blogs, articles, events, and even sales calls that center around education rather than widget sales go a long way in establishing value.  They also create business where none existed.  Become the best educator you can be.  This is where your efforts should be spent…read, listen, learn,…teach.

* Advertisement.  I’ve purposely placed these last two items, well,… last.  Advertising in a crowded marketplace is generally a waste of time.  By this I mean, high-involvement selling such as programming, designing, integration, security, etc.  Print ads target masses of people who have no interest in hopes of finding that needle in the haystack.  Years ago this worked, but junk mail has taken over the US Post Office and they are non-profit.  No one looks forward to visiting their mail box any more.  When was the last time you received a personal letter in your mail box?    And email has followed.  Spam is a problem, don’t add to it.

* RFP Response. Here’s another waste of time.  Unless you are in the account, writing the RFP (Request for Proposal), chances are you’re wasting your time.  Some companies are required to do this (for instance, Government offices), however, when commercial companies do it, they are wasting your time.  The purpose of the RFP is to create a level playing ground.  Is that what you want?  Does it make sense to strip a company of their value, selling skills, creativity, etc. when looking for an advisor or solution provider?  No!  If you are making tons of money on RFPs, more power to you; feel free to keep going.  If you are like most, this is a losing game, one you would be better off avoiding.  If sales are lower than expected, choose to educate as stated above and build your pipeline accordingly.  Don’t mistake busy work for opportunity.

© 2010, David Stelzl

Are you keeping up with the tech news?  There are some interesting things happening out there in the midst of a broken economy.  IBM is looking to pick up Sun – whether or not you are in this market or not, there are a lot UNIX servers being sold out there; it’s not all Microsoft.  Can IBM resurrect some of the momentum SUN had in the late 90s?  The more interesting news is Cisco’s entre into the server market.  If you recall a Fortune magazine article last fall detailing Cisco’s  data center strategy, selling enormous switches with a green side to them, this is the next step.  To be honest, I was expecting a storage acquisition by now, leveraging Cisco’s SAN switch technology.  I’m certain this is next.  While it may sound to some like Novell buying Wordperfect, I think there’s more to this.  A recent Harvard Review article provides some insight on what may be happening here: 

  • 1. Taking control of future cloud computing resources
  • 2. Building a compliant infrastructure in expectation of new “green” legislation
  • 3. Redefining data storage and server capabilities as part of the network (Something SUN tried to do from the server side, but never actually succeeded on)
  • 4. Positioning for a more mobile and lightweight computing world that will better serve minis, iphones, and other PDA type technology.

I recommend the Harvard Review article: http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/sviokla/2009/03/does_cisco_have_its_head_in_th.html

But wait!  There’s another side of this.  These companies are expanding their brand and foot print while others are wallowing in economic depression.  They are cutting wasteful spending while spending strategically to grow their brand.  This is part of the downturn strategy.  When things do finally turn around, these companies will have new offerings ready to go, a brand that’s remembered, and cash in the bank to restart their momentum.