Archives For solution selling

This morning I will be presenting to a sales team in DC on the topic of moving up (Accessing Decision Makers)…if you read the recent Harvard Business Review article I posted last week, you know that calling on influencers is largely a waste of time in the new economy of selling.  Not that you want to disregard IT relationships, but IT is a maintenance organization, not a strategy group, and getting new projects funded depends on the needs of change agents in the organization.

While reviewing my material this morning I realized – I don’t really mention character in the slides I’ve put together.  Did you know that most people are hired for their skills, but fired for character issues?  Don’t gloss over this statement too quickly because, in my opinion, this has a lot to do with the success you have in trying to move up to more strategic meetings with those making the financial decisions.  In my book, From Vendor to Adviser, I cover several essential character traits, that when not present, lead to all kinds of attitudes and behaviors unbecoming to the effective adviser.  I recommend you study these if you are looking to grow your business.  They apply to customer service, management, selling, and certainly moving up in the sales process.  Enthusiasm is one of them, and one that is lacking as I talk with so many sales people.

What is Enthusiasm?

You might think I am talking about drumming up some excitement, or pasting a smile to cover up an angry, disgruntled feeling you have from that last contract you lost.  The other misconception is that enthusiasm requires a certain set of circumstances…nothing could be further from true.

Enthusiasm is a condition of the soul.  It comes from a clear sense of personal mission.  Simon Sinek talks about starting with the WHY.  This WHY is the thing that drives this person, and because they love their WHY, they are enthusiastic.  The problem is, so many people have lost their WHY – they have no purpose.  You need this to succeed.

Enthusiasm is the opposite of apathy.  So if your work experience is unfulfilling and has become “just a J.O.B.” you may find you’ve lost your passion.  This might be considered a circumstance, but it’s not, it’s state of mind.  Perhaps you’ve taken your eyes off of serving the customer, and so work has become, well…work.  It’s not fun any more.  You might have a company that doesn’t really care about serving the customer, and so they treat you like a contractor.  This is enough to kill anyone’s enthusiasm.  My advice here is to move on.  There may be a shortage of jobs out there, but not in the high-tech sales world.  Every one of my clients is looking for great sales people.  But don’t call me for a job lead until you’ve renewed your vision and recaptured your enthusiasm.  The apathetic sales person is bound to fail.

Signs of Apathy

People know enthusiasm when they see it. You can’t fake good character, and since enthusiasm is a character trait, it must be developed.  If you are faking it, chances are you come over as overbearing or aggressive in your sales approach.  You may also come over as nervous or even fanatical in your presentations.  Without true enthusiasm, the light in your eyes seems dim, and you tend to rely on sales tactics more than a sincere passion to help.  The executive who notices this, will likely pass on anything you have to offer.

True Enthusiasm Doesn’t Care

When you love what you do and your passion is strong, you know your offering is good.  There is a confidence there that cuts through the bureaucracy of the traditional business.  Nervousness goes away because you know you have something worth gold and you love it.  When a client says, “No”, you move on, knowing there are bigger opportunities around the corner.  When people buy what you have to sell, your enthusiasm grows because you know your products are services are going to help that person acheive their goals, and you personally get satisfaction out of helping them achieve their goals.  Money is simply a reward for helping them get where they need to go.

Building Enthusiasm

You build enthusiasm.  No one else can do it for you – it’s all your responsibility.  You can choose to dwell on the problems, or you can fix them and move on to better things.  Enthusiasm requires a renewal of vision and passion.  But it also requires that you fix those things that weigh you down.  Bitterness, discontent, unreconciled relationships,…these all cause stress.  And where there is stress, enthusiasm and passion get crushed.  When I speak to a group, people often come up and say, “You love what you do, I can tell…you’re passionate about your topic…”  It’s true, I do love what I do.  But my enthusiasm requires that I keep short accounts, focus on the areas I am passionate about, and keep my client’s needs  at the center of my purpose.  As soon as I started focusing on money, tactics, and sales manipulation, my enthusiasm dies.

First Things First

So today I’ll be presenting on accessing buyers – decision makers.  But without character (and in this case, enthusiasm), the strategies I share are all meaningless.

© 2012, David Stelzl


Before we get to scorecards, I just posted a 60 min audio recording on how to accelerate your managed services business…check it out on the bottom of this webpage (click and scroll to the bottom) *****

The Scorecard

Is your company using the outdated scorecard?  A few days ago I posted a link to a recent HBR (Harvard Business  Review) article on solution selling, and the outdated methods of solution selling.  There’s an interesting section in this article on the scorecard – the criteria sales managers give their reps as a means of allocating time. In other words, who do you spend your time with?  These cards are more likely to be found in the larger sales organizations that employ a more formal pipeline management process…but this information is great for any size to company.  Everyone should be evaluating their use of time.  The old scorecard looks like this:

  1. Management has acknowledged a need for change
  2. They have a clear vision or set of goals
  3. There is a well established procedure for making a buying decision

In my book, From Vendor to Adviser, I recommend a different approach…I was happy to see that the HBR article also calls this old school.  In my book I discuss the need to go after companies with a predictable message.  This means having a message that targets needs we are seeing in companies 90% of the time.  This is why I like leading with risk mitigation strategies, regardless of what other technologies might be sold in the future.  Operational efficiencies would be a second best approach.

Once the company has an acknowledged need, it’s too late. IT is out on Google solving the problem, purchasing is price shopping, and vendors have surrounded the fort, working to break down barriers with low prices and limited time offers.  The winner walks away with a 5% margin and no promise of future business.


Instead, HBR calls for 2 things; customer agility – is this business full of red tape?  Is there a long drawn out bureaucratic process in the way of seeing this through?  And secondly, is the customer in a state of flux, growth, or change?  The busier people are, the more money they will spend on things they don’t have time to do themselves.

In the risk sale, the prospect with security troubles fits the bill, as long as their data is important to them.  An emergency, like the discovery of a major hole, removes all red tape, and secures the needed budgets overnight.  The urgency of a security issue, puts the company into a state of flux, no matter what else is going on.  No one has time to deal with this, and so an immediate project ensues.   Forget the outdated scorecards and look for unsuspecting companies open to some education on security trends…move to the assessment phase, and follow the steps outlined in my House & the Cloud Book – Free in PDF format.



Over the weekend one of my long term technology selling friends sent me this article on Solution Selling, a recent article from Harvard Business Review (Click).  In his email he noted, “This is exactly what we are seeing in our business – read it.”  So I did.  A few notes I made in the first section of the article reinforce exactly what I have written in my recent book, From Vendor to Adviser

  1. 60% of a typical purchasing decision (researching solutions, setting requirements, benchmarking prices) is done before a company ever contacts possible suppliers…in other words, the “Value Add” VARS supposedly contribute is no longer needed – the client is way ahead of you before you even begin.
  2. The solution sales process of asking open-ended questions is more annoying than it is helpful given the research that has already been conducted…something I have been saying for over a year now.
  3. Reps need to engage earlier.  In my book, I talk about high-end consultants and the need to get involved in strategy using the four things buyers buy.  I cover this in an audio format in great detail in my 5 Essential Topics for Moving From Vendor to Adviser.
  4. Instead of going after companies with a need, look for companies in transition, accelerated growth, etc.  Come in with predictable needs and educate them on possible direction – help them get there by providing the tools and processes they need to succeed.
  5. Target Asset Owners…the article doesn’t use this terminology, but the person they describe is exactly this person (the one I describe in my books).  Forget about coaches and advocates, and get involved with change agents who are driving the company forward – in some cases pushing the company where it doesn’t really want to go, in order to gain a profit.

The writer makes the statement, “companies need to rethink the training and support provided to their reps.”  This is so true.  Vendor funded product training is useless in this scenario.  I’m not saying you don’t need to know your products, but I am saying you can’t just know your products.  Getting involved early requires more than an early phone call.  It requires the ability to advise.  The trusted adviser is both trusted and able to advise…the latter is the harder one to learn.

© 2012, David Stelzl


If you sell, you should be reading Wall Street…that is, if you want to call on decision makers.  This morning’s article on Cisco is important information if you resell Cisco, especially when your clients start asking, “Should we stay with Cisco?”  Statements like:

  • …shares languishing at 1998 levels
  • …the company’s problems run much deeper than a few disappointing quarters
  • …a byzantine management structure
  • Mr. Chambers…seems to be repeating mistakes.

These are tough accusations.  In Rolfe Winkler’s article he notes that most of Cisco’s revenue comes from core networking, and Juniper is taking market share.  Is the product bad?  I don’t think so – core networking is a commodity business and Cisco has been the long standing champion and has delivered strong networking technology – still does.  I can’t comment on the reasons why market share is slipping – perhaps Wall Street has a good handle on this.  However, my video recorded just about one hear ago – The History of the Channel stands out in all of this.  The reseller must have a value proposition that does more than point to a vendor’s product.  Recent Cisco acquisitions and their move away from security over the past decade (which I see is starting to rekindle) have put resellers in competition with their other vendors (like HP), but have not given them discontinuous innovation to take to market (such as Unified Communications eleven years ago).  This has placed the Cisco resellers in the middle of Geoffrey Moore’s Technology Adoption Life-Cycle, where margins are at their nadir, and competition – it’s zenith.  What is the solution?

Your value proposition must proceed the product sale.  Helping clients solve business problems is a business level sale.  Technology is used to help solve the problem, but only after the theory has been sold.  None of this depends on a vendor brand…their brand “stamps” stability on the solution once that phase of the project comes into play.  So what should resellers be selling?  Risk mitigation, ROI, Efficiency, competitive advantage…the same 4 things I’ve been writing about for years.  It’s your brand that matters at the start of the sale, and your position as an adviser will largely determine which product gets the budget.

I’d love to hear your comments on this article!

© 2011, David Stelzl

Made by Christine – My Niece

My son asked me the other day, “Daddy, what happens when you run out of people to call?”  What a great question for a 15 year old to be asking…this is the problem every sales person has at some point in their career.  That’s what marketing is for!  But how many companies really have their act together when it comes to marketing?  In most cases it is up to the sales person to generate new interest – it would be great if marketing and sales would get together on this…

There are three primary platforms for marketing consultative and high-tech solutions; customer events, one-on-one seminars, and social media.  But using any one of these platforms for something other than education builds distrust with the prospects you call on.  In other words, effective marketing (in B to B high tech sales) must be founded on education, not hype.

Its through this well-thought-out process that a continuous stream of new names will continue to come through your office giving you a growing source of new people to call.

While I have you here – I wanted to point out that the pizza on the left is one of the best homemade pizzas I’ve ever had!  This one comes from the Charlotte North Carolina area where the average pizza consumer is happy with Pizza Hut…however, if you’ve been following my pizza posts from all around the world, you know that I hate Pizza Hut.  Christine, one of nieces, was kind enough to make me this pizza last night since my family was traveling (meaning all of the cooks where out). Thanks Christine, it was a real treat!

© David Stelzl

How will you get to the right people?  This is the question every sales person should be asking and it seems to be the focus of just about every sales training program or methodology.  Several years ago I had been working to get a meeting with a large healthcare organization in the southeast.  Our team had successfully met with the IT people several times and had established fairly good rapport; however, sales were slow in coming and budget seemed to be our primary obstacle.

Our strategy was to land a meeting higher in the organization where perceived business value might move some budget our way.  Finally, I was granted a meeting with the Vice President of Operations.  This person had the authority to approve money and would certainly be central to a successful proof of concept or pilot type project.  Our meeting started with the Vice President showing up late, but we were ready with our list of promising questions and discovery skills.

After an initial greeting and introduction, I launched into my “solution selling discovery process.” Giving me just enough rope to hang myself, our VP prospect answered the first question.  But as soon as I began presenting my follow-up question, he looked over at our IT advocate and roared, “I thought you said these guys had something important to share with us.  So far all I’ve heard are a bunch of open-ended sales questions.  What is the purpose of this meeting?”  How do you recover from that?

There are all kinds of tricks and strategies for getting that meeting at the top. However, in my experience, this is not the real challenge.  The real challenge, which is not adequately addressed in most sales books, is that of building peer level relationships at the executive level.  We have all gotten the “Big” meeting at some point in our lives, but how many are consistently staying at this level after the first meeting?

© 2011, David Stelzl