Selling Technology

Don LinderMaintaining differentiation based on product innovation is becoming increasingly more difficult. Customer demand for standards based products and the ready availability of basic electronics to all organizations is making most products look like commodities. In addition, customers in all marketplaces have an unprecedented number of options available to solve their problems. For example, a quick read through the advertisements in any personal computer magazine will quickly illustrate the vast and often confusing array of products and services available for the personal computer marketplace.

If product innovation is no longer a sustainable differentiator, how then can an advanced technology company create a sustainable advantage in a cluttered marketplace? The answer lies in developing strategic selling approaches to your marketplace. Confirming this view, Regis McKenna states in Relationship Marketing ". . . high technology sales people have become the Great Differentiators for their products and companies."

Companies employing the traditional unstructured selling approach of promoting faster speeds, great (but sometimes irrelevant) features, and low prices, frequently encounter these types of dilemmas:

  • Major discounts are needed to get orders!
  • We never really know why we lost the order!
  • Sales forecasts are not met!
  • No new customer orders are won!
  • Big orders requires major custom work!
  • The competitors keep getting tougher!
  • We're always told we're too expensive!

Profitably selling advanced technology requires you to clearly understand the measurable value of your product for your customer in their environment. To succeed, you must provide either:

  • Distinct competitive advantage for your customer in their marketplace; OR
  • Demonstrate substantial and immediate savings of clearly identifiable present costs.

Correct positioning of your value will identify your product as a high return / low risk investment worthy of immediate purchase!

Technology sales forces must focus on three difficult tasks:

  • understanding and measuring the value their product or service will have for their customer in the customers' marketplace
  • developing relationships with the executive and upper management level of their customers' organization
  • negotiating the "sales maze" to understand and influence their customers' decision making process for mutual benefit

Of course, identifying your actual customer is critical to your success. Many companies, particularly those who use resellers and OEM's, make the mistake of assuming that the next stage in the distribution chain is their only customer and miss the opportunity of expanding their sales campaign to their customers' customer. For example, a manufacturer of advanced aircraft components, whose major product differential is reduced component weight, met limited success in selling their products to aircraft manufacturers. Once they recognized the need to sell their product's advantage directly to the airlines who benefited from fuel savings and/or increased payload, their business improved dramatically as the airlines specified their components when ordering aircraft from the aircraft manufacturer.

In selling technology to major customers, additional challenges exist because many sales reps (and managers) do not realize that different selling concepts must be utilized to be successful with major customers. In fact, many traditional sales concepts are actually counter-productive when applied to these situations. In this complex selling environment, powerful presentations and demonstrations combined with aggressive closing techniques don't produce sales results!

Instead of a technical sell based on features and prices using traditional sales techniques, try a structured strategic selling approach for major customers. Key strategic selling skills for today's sales rep include:

  • an understanding of their customer's business strategy from the perspective of the customer's top executives
  • the ability to identify and adapt to different behavioral styles
  • the ability to develop long term rapport and trust with their customers
  • the ability to locate decision makers and influence their buying criteria for mutual benefit

Frequently, technology companies spend millions on research, development, beta testing, and promotional materials, yet spend minimal time developing a structured selling plan. As a result, many excellent products die an early death after being accepted by early adopters due to the lack of a realistic sales plan for succeeding in major markets.

Investing in differentiation through strategic selling results in substantial benefits including:

  • an increased success rate in winning new business
  • stronger customer retention through the inevitable cycles of decreased product competitiveness
  • focused strategies
  • reduced competitive pressures
  • the ability to charge higher prices
  • greatly improved forecasting of revenue and product mix

The bottom-line Return On Investment of differentiation through strategic selling is improved profitability, enhanced company stability, and sustainable increases in market share!

 

Don Linder, the founder of Major Client Selling, uses structured tools and creative strategies to solve the complex puzzle of selling to big customers. He's the author of "The Seven Deadly Mistakes that Cause You to Lose Large Sales." You can reach Don at don_linder@majorclients.com.

This article was originally published in The Monitor, the Journal of the British Columbia Technology Industries Association.

 

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