The original source of this article's headline is not known, just one of those statements that has stuck. Nothing of what we do or report in the channel has any significance if not for sales. Selling strategies are as different as the individual personalities or company cultures concerned, yet in the Australian IT marketplace many organisations - vendors, service providers and resellers - are trying to sell to the same people. What are the common successful selling strategies being adopted by those in the IT industry? How, asks Tom Allen, are channel businesses dealing with the changing environment?
Noted American sales trainer Tom Hopkins describes the profession of selling as being about helping customers to make buying decisions for the mutual advantage of the buyer and seller. In corporate selling, the buyer or decision-maker is often not only spending an organisation's budget, but also risky his or her individual professional reputation. It is never more risked than in the delivery of IT services.
So corporate selling involves trust, confidence and, ultimately, money. It has been said that the price people pay is purely a tangible measure of their trust and confidence in the product or service provider. The paradox for IT organisations is that winning the customer's confidence in your ability to meet their needs requires some sort of relationship in the first place. And it is fair to say that if information is the currency of relationships, this is a major key to corporate selling.
Laurence Webb, the newly appointed Asia-Pacific director of customer relationship management software vendor Sales Logix, has had a career in sales and sales management in several segments of the IT industry. Webb said that he has seen what he believes is a trend towards team accountability in selling which is now increasingly being adopted in the IT channel.
"One of the challenges facing a CRM company like Sales Logix is that the key product is designed to be employed across an enterprise, and there are many complexities about team selling," he said. Webb believes that a salesperson no longer has the luxury to do all the prospecting and drip-feeding of information themselves.
One of the biggest changes to corporate selling, and in particular the IT market-place, is in how sellers and buyers acquire information. According to Jon Osbourne, sales manager at Hummingbird Communi-cations - Connectivity, many customers are not willing to meet with a sales representative until they have already made their purchasing decision. "People can get most of the sales information they need from the Web. Our prospective customers can go to our Web site and download a sample of the product and all the information they want about the company," he said.
"Generally, before we get too far down the track in the larger companies and government departments, the business case for our product is well known to them. A lot is usually done before they talk to us. Most senior non-IT people do not have time to play with new technology.
"The direct relationship virtually starts at the point of the sale," Osbourne added.
Describing a typical sales process, he explained that a sales opportunity can be identified via a telemarketing operation. "Once we know that they have the technical environment that our products require, we look at how satisfied they are with their existing products, in terms of performance and support.
Many of our competitors have no local representation, so sometimes local support is something in our favour.
"We of course also look to qualify prospects by their available budget and who is the decision-maker. We have a suite of Web products, and while a lot of people in Australia are not in the process of moving to a browser-based style of computing, many are at least investigating it."
Osbourne added that as sales that involve substantial capital outlay often have a long sales cycle, not having an existing budget doesn't stop the sales process as the end of the current budget year could only be a couple of months away.
"Because our products are highly complex software products, we work very closely with our resellers, and I would be personally involved with every piece of business in excess of $20,000," said Osbourne.
Compared to even five years ago, according to Osbourne, presentation and demonstration is no longer a significant part of the sale because most software companies make evaluation software available.
"Another major effect on selling strategies has come from the impact of the Internet. A lot of the information a prospect might get from a sales meeting, including a sample, can now be acquired from the Web site. So all these things that we could use as hooks to get into a face-to-face meeting are no longer there," he said.
With the amount of information readily available, Osbourne believes you have to research your prospects a lot better, and send them an e-mail detailing why you want to talk to them and what you have to offer. He believes it is important to get to meet with prospects, because a lot more can be ascertained in a meeting than a telephone conversation, although he says for the customer, it is becoming less and less appropriate to have people come in to provide sales information.
"By the time the first face-to-face sales meeting occurs - the prospect has already evaluated our software and determined the cost is reasonable - we are looking to handle any objections and present our company as a desirable partner for the long term," he said.
Greg Wyman is regional sales director for Seagate Software's network and storage management group. Wyman estimates that in three years Seagate Software's share of the Australian NT market for backup software has gone from 20 to 65 per cent.
He spoke about some of the factors that have led to this success. "You have to be enthusiastic and believe in the solutions you are selling, even if it's backup software," he said.
Wyman said the second aspect is commitment and motivation.
"You must be committed to the solutions you are selling, the organisation you are working for and the [channel] partners you are working with," he said.
And like most successful sales people, Wyman sets what he describes as attainable goals. "I set annual, quarterly and monthly goals. Once a week for about 20 minutes I sit down and go through every one of them. And they apply to every aspect of the business. From one person 18 months ago to 15 people in Australia today was one of the goals."
Wyman says that focus is an "especially relevant issue, both for our reseller partners and ourselves. There are lots of solution products pulling the attention of our resellers, and we have to identify which resellers we can work with as strategic selling partners."
Like Osbourne, Wyman is involved in the sales process, either because it is of significant dollar value or a prospect of strategic significance. As a director of Seagate Software, Wyman believes he can support the sale at the highest level in the potential customer's organisation. Over the last 12 months, he has invested in marketing and advertising to create awareness of the brand and solutions.
"What I'll typically do is send an introductory letter to the CIO or CEO saying this is who we are, this is why I would like to arrange a meeting. I'll give you a call next Thursday at 10 o'clock. It's amazing how easy it is to get through to these people if it's done professionally and they can see a business benefit. If that person is not interested, and it's a strategic prospect, we consider the next tack. Who is the next-most at-risk person in the organisation if the CIO loses data? That's the next target we concentrate on."
Seagate Software applies the third-party principle of selling by way of "strategic briefings", which Wyman said CIOs or CFOs are happy to attend to learn about what is happening in the industry. Wyman described this strategy as critical, adding: "We will bring in people from the US and other industry leaders for industry briefings with about eight people at a time."
According to Wyman, the best way he can support his reseller partners is by bringing in (or in some cases being) "the out-of-town expert". "Our job is to sell the software to the end user. The reseller's job is to build the relationship and introduce us into the account."
One company on a high-profile sales campaign over the last few years is year 2000 tools vendor Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). GMT Asia-Pacific managing director Zoran Fistrovic said that three years ago, getting people to understand and believe there was a problem was the main challenge. In an awareness campaign that could be compared to an epidemic, GMT ran a marketing program called "Project Sherlock Holmes" in which telemarketers would ring IT managers, follow up with an information pack and, if appropriate, business development managers would do a "proof-of-concept demonstration" on-site. This involved doing a scan on five PCs to report on year 2000 compliance. "We were going out there to educate the market for free, and they had no choice but to sit up, listen and take action," Fistrovic said. "This has been a huge overhead, but any such education campaign is expensive, and in the end it generated the demand," he added.
Increasingly, a personal sales meeting has higher and higher stakes, with a greater need for IT organisations to leverage the time invested both by sales support staff and customers. The key is relationships and the currency is information.