A letter to software salespeople

The other day I was talking to an IT manager I work with and she was laughing about a meeting she’d just finished with a sales representative of a well-known vendor, a software vendor that was offering her a “super, duper one-time, bargain of a lifetime offer” on the upgrade to the newest, bestest (maybe he didn’t say bestest) release of its software. “Forty per cent off list price,” the sales guy said, “but only if you buy by Sept. 24.”

She was tempted to pitch him out of her office on his ear, and so too would I. What amazes me is that software sales guys (and gals) can make this kind of offer with a straight face — they act like and assume that we, the consumers of said software, will be eternally grateful for this kind of special opportunity, and that we don’t understand what’s really going on when the offer is made. They figure we don’t know how their sales and marketing systems work, and they assume that we don’t understand that they’re up against quarter or year-end sales quotas.

Do we look that stupid? I’m sure that the entire sales process would be much more effective if these sales types (and I’m sure that if you’re in software sales and you’re reading this column, you’re not one of these types are you?) changed their approach a little.

To that end, here’s my attempt to bridge the gap between potential seller and potential buyer, in the form of a brief verbal presentation. Imagine me standing up in front of all the software salespeople in North America and saying:

Dear software people: This is the voice of your customers speaking. If you really want to tick us off, this is how to do it: come to us with a limited-time, especially-for-you offer. Let us be direct about this — if we’re faced with one of your “but only to the end of the month” deals, we’ll likely say “Get out of my office, and don’t come back until after the end of the month/quarter. And if you’re not willing to offer me the same deal next quarter, don’t ever come back again.”

(Potential) friends, we suspect this is all part of bigger incorrect assumption that you make about us: you assume that we don’t understand sales and marketing as well as or better than you do. Wrong. At minimum, you’ve got to remember that many of us have been on the vendor side of the sales equation ourselves, and that the danger to your potential sale is extreme if you act like we haven’t.

This thinking should extend from the way that you identify an opportunity in the first place, to the way that various players in our organizations are treated before, during and after the sale.

Opportunity identification? Yeah, we’ve all taken some version of the Xerox sales course, just like you, and we know that you’re trying to get to the key issue that would drive us to make a purchase. The problem is that too many of you are making the process too transparent. We can almost predict the questions you’re going to ask, we can almost hear the gears turning when you speak, or worse yet, we can see the strings being pulled by your sales-target driven management. If you’re going to come talk to us, bring value to the conversation. First and foremost, it’s not about selling your product – it’s about identifying solutions that help us kill our problems. If you can do that, then we’ll talk about buying something from you.

We also know that you’ve been trained to identify the person who controls the budget, and the key people who can influence the buying decision. Problem is, once you’ve identified those people, it often seems that you’re less than interested in talking to anyone else in our organizations who you don’t think can influence the sale.

Let me tell you something – everyone in our organizations has input into buying decisions. If you ignore anyone in our shops, or treat them less well than the “influencers,” you won’t get our business. This means that when you invite a senior/buyer/influencer one of us to your golf tournament and we send a junior/non-buyer/indirect influencer instead, we’re doing two things:

1. Giving someone who usually doesn’t have an opportunity to attend these types of things a treat, and;

2. Seeing how you treat someone in our organization who isn’t a direct influencer. When we send alternates, we suggest that you welcome them and treat them the same way you would treat the most senior among us, even if the alternate is a rookie developer. You should know that we will be asking what they thought of your organization.

Keep these things in mind next time we get together for a sales call, and whatever you do, don’t offer us a one-time-only price deal, or well be tempted to say, like the Marvin character from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons, “Brace yourself for immediate disintegration.”

Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at [email protected].

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