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Selling The Dream

Zack Urlocker
Saturday, July 10, 2004

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Dreaming Of Sales

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One essential ingredient that is sometimes overlooked in the early stage of a company's life is sales. Everyone gets jazzed up about raising money, building a product, launching a website then, lo-and-behold, a few months or even a year rolls by and you wonder why the customer service team always goes home early. Rest assured, if you don't have sales, you won't have to worry about any other problems for long. Good sales are a critical ingredient in growing any company. If you think of sales people as the human fertilizer that helps to grow revenues, you won't be far wrong.

Many technology companies are built by engineers who may be bright, but they are not equipped to close deals. Let's face it, engineers are, for the most part, honest people. And as any successful sales person knows, that can work against you when you're trying to make the quarterly number. Good sales people know when to tell a "little white lie" to make a deal and when to unload the biggest truckload of BS you've ever witnessed. Consider these typical sales scenarios and how they might be handled by an engineer as compared to a good or a great salesperson.

Scenario 1 - The Customer Is Always Right

Prospect: Can you integrate your software with my accounting system?

Engineer: We haven't actually built that module, but we could probably do it in six months if you need it. Nine months at most.

Good Salesperson: Sure. Works like a charm! We can talk about it over a round of golf. How about Pebble Beach?

Great Salesperson: Technically, that's an add-on, but let me see about getting you into our preferred customer beta program for, say, an extra $75K.

Scenario 2 - Taking Care of Business

Customer: Do you have any customers I can speak with?

Engineer: Actually, you're the first account we've gotten this far with.

Good Salesperson: A lot of our early prospects are top secret government agencies and for national security reasons we can't disclose their names.

Great Salesperson: Sure, no problem. In fact, we're putting together a customer advisory team and we'd love to get you in on that. Of course, we'd want to give you some stock in advance of our IPO for helping out.

Scenario 3 - Negotiating the close

Customer: This price quote is outrageous! I don't have that kind of budget.

Engineer: To be honest, we'll work within whatever budget you have, we just want to close a deal.   

Good Salesperson: It's the end of the quarter so we have a "drop your drawers" special going on. I can reduce the price by $50K if you buy right now.

Great Salesperson: If you sign right now, I'll take you to Il Fornaio for lunch and I'll let you drive my Ferrari.

A good salesperson always figures out a way to meet the customers needs, even if that requires stretching the truth. And a great salesperson can stretch the truth the way Pamela Lee Anderson stretches spandex. Even if you know what's underneath isn't completely real, it's still quite impressive.

Caveat Empty?

Finding good salespeople is a unique hiring challenge. There's more to sales than just a fancy suit, a nice car and a charming personality. Maybe not a lot more. To be honest, most salespeople really aren't that charming once you get to know them. So there must be something else to it.  If you figure it out, let me know. 

At any rate, one of the challenges in hiring good sales people is that they can likely pawn off second-rate goods on any sucker, yourself included. If your company's products are technical, you should screen obvious technophobes who have trouble with complex tasks like call-waiting or typing with more than two fingers. And while it's good to hire an aggressive sales team, you definitely don't want to hire anyone that could result in the two of you sharing a cell block for three-to-five years in an executive offsite meeting, if you know what I mean. A few warning signs include:

  • Declines to give you a reference from their previous employer due to a "legal situation"
  • Says it shouldn't be a problem meeting tough quotas since his brother-in-law owns a warehouse
  • Lists a brief stint in telemarketing at San Quentin Software
  • Claims to have worked in Sales at Netscape from 1987-92, technically before the company existed
  • Lists prior sales experience at "Macy's Software & Shoe Department"
  • Slips a hundred dollar bill in with his resume to "help with the paperwork"

Method or Madness?

When you hire a new sales force it's important to invest in their training. Not only will that help get everyone "on the same page" it will enable you to spend some serious time bonding with new hires, especially over $8 beers at bars you cannot tell your wife about. In order to help fill the training gap a virtual industry has sprung up offering all kinds of sales training courses, seminars and materials.

Some of the popular training courses in high tech sales include:

  • Target Account Selling
  • Solution Selling
  • Spin Selling
  • Low-Carbo Selling
  • Selling To VITO (Very Important Top Officer)
  • Selling To Guido, his brother
  • Selling To Tony, his barber
  • Sell Your Way To The Top
  • Sell Your Way Out Of Prison
  • Willie Loman's Guide To Closing The Deal
  • Sell Anything to Anyone Even If They Hate Your Guts

These are definitely worth the money in order to establish a common vocabulary for the sales people. Mostly of the vocabulary will be along the lines of "this training sucks" but it will certainly be common.

About the author
Zack Urlocker is a pseudonym for a Silicon Valley marketing executive who knows what he doesn't know about selling.

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