January 15, 2010

Talking to business people (Pt 1)

I take special assignments from companies that want to leverage my expertise to address business challenges. Recently, I've been preparing for an engagement with a leading technology company. I'll talk to account executives about how to talk/sell/connect with business decision makers.  

For years, most technology sales executives dealt with technologists such as Director of IT, the CTO or the CIO (for customer relationship management). The conversation centered about pre-existing budgets, requirements, reliability, price and total cost of ownership. Features led the conversation and geek speak was a plenty. 

At the end of the day, however, the business decision makers either funded or rejected any tech investment. As the economy got worse, this became even more pronounced as incremental spending was scrutinized for short term business results. Some companies sell directly to the business lines (VP Sales, VP Marketing, VP Operations) and when they do, they dramatically speed up the pitch-to-deal cycle. Most companies wait for an internal "tech sponsor" to introduce them to business decision makers. When the tech sales person talks to the business person, the conversation changes from features to benefits and from tech capabilities to financial realities. 

In a few weeks, I'll post some video clips or real world business decision makers talking about how they like to be sold technology -- and what turns them on/off.  If you sell any type of technology from software to hardware to services, stay tuned to this (RSS).  In the meantime, let me give you a few suggestions: 

1. Research how the company makes money before the first presentation. The more you understand about the business model, the quicker you'll dial in to the save money/make money opportunities that drive business decisions and budgeting. 

2. Don't start out by presenting your product's capabilities. Start out by asking questions about current task challenges, business process inefficiencies and corporate initiatives.  Later, when you present your slide show, you'll be able to "translate" on the fly - connecting dollars to features. 

3. Talk their talk. If a VP of Sales at an apparel company is in your audience, talk about how many "doors" they have to manage (retail stores that carry the product) and how your product can help. If they are a manufacturing executive, talk about the supply chain and use correct speak (Costo doesn't say vendors, they say partners, for example).  Every time you meet with them, let them know you are listening by adopting their jargon. 

4. Leave your jargon at the door. When talking to a business decision maker, unless they are a known geek, don't use any terminology and your lawyer or accountant wouldn't understand.  

At Yahoo, this was my specialty. I spent years working on this system, and even produced a funny parody video of 50 Cent's hit "Wanksta" for the 2003 Yahoo sales conference to illustrate the importance of learning the prospect's space and talking their language. It made the difference between presentations and closed deals. 

Bring me in to speak to your sales staff on how to sell to business decision makers

Posted at 3:56 PM in Business Effectiveness , Tech Stuff  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)  |  TrackBack (0)



In the spirit of St. Francis, let us seek first to understand our prospects problems, needs, and world view before we seek for them to understand us. After many, many years in the sales world I'm still shaking my head at sellers' impulse to dump features and benefits with no understanding of why someone would buy them. The answer to that question is always the prospect's.


I like #4. At one place I worked at, they hired an IT consultant to look at everything the IT department had done. It's a funny story actually. The IT department was run by a guy who created tens of thousands of lines of unnecessary code and interfaces to do things that were incredibly simple. He spent more than a year programming all this stuff because he was the only one who knew anything technical and they trusted him.

The CEO of the company was figuring out after a year and a half that all the systems (site, inventory, etc) were wacked out. So he hired a IT consultant to look at what was done and help him. The CEO's problem was the the consultant was just as bad as the CTO! The consultant used only doubletalk jargons that the CEO, employees and myself (I could overhear the speakerphone) couldn't understand at all!

Anyway, all that to say that if we want to communicate we need to use language that makes sense to the other person. Nothing is so valuable in a technical person than the ability to explain technical concepts in simple terms that everyone can understand.

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