My wife and I are watching “The Sopranos.” I know; I know it’s 2017. We are approaching season four. Raising three kids and having a big job are my excuses. My wife Sue says, “Chris doesn’t like new things.”
The series got me thinking about sales and how people win them. The back room, envelopes stuffed with cash passed in a folded newspaper. It reminded me of when I got into software sales over 20 years ago. The industry was finding its legs. Some would do anything to get a deal done. A few years into it, I knew I had to be different. I remember taking a prospect to Scores nightclub in NYC. Next we went to the Knicks game. By half time, they were behind by twenty points (some things never change). My prospect asked if we could go back to Scores. I got home at 2 a.m. The next morning, all four hours later, I dragged myself out of bed to trek into the city. My wife asked how my night went. “I have to find another way to do this” was all I could say.
The software industry has changed. Deals still do get advanced over entertainment, but it is more likely now to happen on a golf course or at a decent restaurant. An ideal situation: a follow-up conversation with your prospect. In her office, reviewing the key elements of the business case is always a good use of time. That’s a good sign. Real business conversations trump entertainment, every time. There is a place for the personal relationship activities, but I never liked them. I want to win because I represent the best product and value in the market. If you like me too, that’s a bonus.
But we have a problem. Many companies, particularly small technology firms, have executives who grew up with the advent of the industry. They haven’t matured to understand the sales process, how hard or complex it is. Many still think a pump fake and a price cut will win the deal.
Ah, sorry. No.
In my experience, what has to change, but hasn’t, is the reliance on the big deal to make the month, quarter, or year. Every sales-related activity is short-term focused, even for non-public and VC-backed firms. I was recently reading Peter Theil’s book, Zero To One. He outlined the importance of making good VC investments. Mr. Theil describes one of the decision filters like this. If he is going to make an investment, it has to have a return so high it will outperform the entire fund, combined. Wow! VC investment returns are results-focused, at any cost.
But here is how that translates to the people doing the work, the executives trying to market and sell products and services. The focus shifts to the deals with the most zeros to the right of a positive integer. Every time. Everyone becomes a sales executive, has an opinion on what to do, and pounds the table until they have to make a tough decision that involves risk. It’s funny how they back away when you refuse to cut price. You have decided to depend on value to get your firm to closure.
Remember Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 classic, Alice’s Restaurant? There is a point in the story where the protagonist gets picked up by the police for littering. As he sits in jail, another prisoner asks him why he is there. His response “littering.” The next line is “And they all moved away from me on the bench there, and the hairy eyeball and all kinds of mean, nasty things….”
That’s what is feels like when you have made a “draw a line in the sand” decision. You are relying on the strength of your product, service, and company to deliver. And you are betting with your commission dollars and reputation. This situation sucks.
Arlo continues his conversation with the other prisoner “and creating a nuisance. And they all came back, shook my hand, and we had a great time on the bench…”
You don’t get to do that in real-life enterprise technology sales. You have made a decision to stop price cutting on your deal and have become a nuisance with YOUR PEERS. In short, you are alone on the bench. No handshakes; hand gestures, but no shakes.
Here is the complication. How should you be spending your time? Wheeling and dealing to get the big deal closed and make your mark?
Hell no! Fugettaboutit!
What you should be doing is working with your marketing department. On what? Prospecting activities to fill your funnel. In sales school 101 they ask the question: “What should sales executives be working on, closing or prospecting?” Almost every hand goes up for closing. That is wrong. If you stop marketing and prospecting, by definition you will have nothing to close. Enterprise sales take on a life of their own late in the evaluation. Deals don’t always need you pushing and pulling them along, even if competitive. Trying to figure out how to game the other side is a waste of time. It only detracts from filling your pipeline. More deals, even a big one or two, sounds right to me.
Over the next five to ten years, many old-time software executives will wash out and retire. So here is your opportunity to make a difference in your career, right now. Always keep marketing and always be prospecting. It is the way to ensure you have enough deals to make a meaningful contribution to your company.
My best, Chris