It’s a strange phenomenon, but, if you ask people in the technology business three questions, they can all answer the first two, but not the third.

The questions are:-

1. Name your top three customers?
2. Tell me how much they spent with you last year?
3. Tell me what they got for their business as a result of that spend?

It's always the third question that causes problems. The reason is simple; it's because they don’t care. They know what their product can do and they can express it beautifully in “technospeak”. They can argue the case for their USP’s (unique selling propositions) with the best of them, but they don’t really understand what they can do to help a customer's business.

This is, of course, the fundamental reason that the industry always bemoans the fact that its salespeople spend all their time talking to IT. The IT people are, of course, the only ones who speak the same language as them. The simple truth of the matter is that sales reps don’t call on other people because they don’t know what to talk to them about.

Marketing feeds sales with the latest information on its latest “shiny funky stuff” and, of course, they got that from the Product guys, but they had to simplify it for sales.

Let's just stop here and think a minute. We’ve got developers who are in love with technology, building shiny products (sometimes because they just can), feeding technical information to marketing, who simplify it for sales people. Notice anyone missing in this? Yes, it's you, the customer!

Life and death in sales
Two important things should be borne in mind by sales reps (and suppliers) at this point:-

1. All the stuff out there is pretty much the same.
2. Customers generally don’t care whether you live or die; they do however care if they live or die.

They are interested in how you can help them (today). What does your stuff do to improve their business? That last phrase, by the way, means money.

How can you help them save it or make it, or protect it, or avoid spending it? Once your sales people can translate what your products do into these terms, they can have conversations with pretty much anyone inside a customer's business.

leads
A most useful source of leads is still the newspapers, if you can translate what you have to sell into what it can do for people. If you read about companies cutting budgets, then they are trying to save money - how can you help? If you read about companies striving for growth, then they need more revenue (money) and, again, how can you help?

Other leads come from being generally aware of what's going on inside customer accounts, of having sensitive and listening antennae.

In terms of winning, if one sales team is talking to the business and a competing one only talks to IT, you tell me who wins? If your sales key contact is the IT director, think about how many key decisions they make in your customer company and where they are made.

IT directors aren't the be-all and end-all in the generality of customer company decision-making. So if a salesman is hanging a key opportunity on an IT director ask him who his own is? He probably won't know. It tends to get him thinking!!!!

Testing, testing
Test the above. You know salespeople who have very poor product knowledge but win good business regularly; how do they do it? They do it because they know what the products they sell can do for a customer's business.

So how do you train people to do this? You open their minds and bring out what is already there and join it up for them. Sales people know their customers and their markets, but nobody ever asks them to use that knowledge. They try and over-ride it with product information. Generally support (pre- and post-sales) and marketing need to be part of this journey. Together they can find huge levels of opportunity right under their noses inside the customers they work with.

Need more evidence? Have a look at some of your support logs that relate to when customers were shouting at you. They normally tell you how much whatever product is not working and is costing their business - you do capture this information don’t you??

David Morris is a founder of ECT, www.ect.eu.com.