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Software Solution Selling Practice Overview

Sales Account Executive Critical Success Factors
What's it take to be successful?

The sales profession is getting tougher and that's a very good thing. The software technology industry's evolution is resulting in increased prospect expectations, decreased product differentiation, worldwide competition with no permanently safe markets, longer sales cycles and shorter product-life spans. I reiterate this is a very good thing, as long as you aspire to elevate your sales talents and dominate your market-niche. The increased product competition, and decreased differentiation, results in the sales professionals skills and talents being the consistently more powerful and more effective factor in winning business. Fortunately for those of us whom are driven, most sales people just don't get it. They pedal their product and go through the motions without strategic planning and without insight to political considerations which ultimately drive buying decisions. Solution selling and competitive selling are processes that will both thin the heard and elevate the few who get it to higher levels of success.

To be successful, you need to incorporate several facets and factors. You need the mind of a detective to probe for your clients needs, to spot subtle buying signals, to know when to foster and open dialogue and when to shut up. You need the discipline of an architect to prepare and organize a sales call in such a way that you continuously emphasize and confirm the benefits of the creative solution you've devised. You need the articulation skills of a Sci-Fi writer in order to clearly paint the vision and predict the future so that the prospect can visualize themselves benefiting from the use of our system. You need the patience and tact of a diplomat to establish rapport, overcome objections, clear up misunderstandings, and deal with problems or disputes. You also need that patience when a complex sales situation peaks, where something substantial is riding on the outcome and serious challenges begin to appear. About the worst thing a salesperson can do is blindly rush ahead. When the game is on the line, your actions should not be based on an emotional attachment to the sale. They must be governed by a cool, poised, incisive analysis of the situation. Confusion must be eliminated. The impulse to do something must be dominated by the disciplined determination to do the right thing.

There are several factors that lead to sustained sales success. From my experience as both a successful salesperson and a manager of successful sales professionals, I have outlined the top 5 critical success factors in a software-based solution selling environment. Learn, implement, practice and relentlessly execute these factors and you will be successful.

  1. Prospect Religiously
  2. Successful sales professionals always have this in common - they prospect on a regular, routine and religious basis. They prospect daily, the process has become habitual and over periods of time they have perfected the process. Sales people who prospect consistently are the ones who have the highest earnings, the most predictable deal flow and the lowest stress.

  1. Choose Prospects Carefully

    Successful sales people don't allow themselves to be drawn into phantom or unqualified sales opportunities. They recognize the value of their limited time and they choose to pursue new prospects rather than pursue prospects whom are unqualified and will ultimately consume major time and not lead to a closed sale. These sales professionals often utilize 'qualifying out' exercises when they are not sure if the prospect is qualified. For instance, after exchanging information with the prospect, the AE may state "I'm not sure our solution is viewed as the best solution by (prospect name), are there any reasons I should continue to invest my limited time in this sales opportunity?" If the prospect cannot identify multiple substantive reasons, either the message did not get across or the prospect does not see the value, and the sale should likely be abandoned. Obviously, this exercise should be tactfully executed so as to not come across as argent or alienate the prospect. Consult your sales manager for practice or advice.

  2. Adopt The Right Sales Mode

    There are two different sales modes. Your success as a sales professional will depend upon which selling mode you utilize. The two selling modes are:

    1. Proactive Selling.

      The proactive sales professional is the one who aggressively and systematically pursues their prospect base and target market. The proactive salesperson never rests on his or her laurels and at all times maintains an active prospect base in excess of fifty prospects. The proactive sales professional blankets their territory with the view to identifying targets of opportunity. Further, proactive professionals have control of their financial destinies and consequently have reduced anxiety and stress levels.

    2. Reactive Selling.

      The reactive sales representative literally waits for things to happen. They often appear to be very busy, making routine calls, writing quotes or speaking with customers, but in reality they are not proactively seeking additional sales from either existing clients or new prospects. This person may feel that asking for sales orders or growing a customers market share would be viewed as offensive. A reactive personality is better suited to retail selling than the sophisticated realities of solution selling. Reactive sales representatives have little control over their revenue ability and career achievement, which generally leads to great stress.

  1. Adopt The Right Selling Style

    Successful sales professionals gauge their prospects and adapt their selling style to their prospect (they sell in the way the customer wants to be sold). There are five different selling styles in today's sales industries. It is quite possible that, in the course of any given sales day, a salesperson may call upon several of these styles. Successful salespeople recognize both their predominate style and the style most appropriate for each prospect contact. Recognize that an inappropriate selling style for any particular prospect is almost a certain way to lose the sale.

      1. Consultative Selling
      2. Consultative sales professionals utilize their analytical capabilities to gain a firm understanding of their prospect's needs. These professionals rarely sell a product or service based on features alone. More often they articulate a vision and focus their conversations and proposal on the results that will be generated by the implementation of their solution. This kind of solution selling builds value and credibility in the perception of the prospect.

        Consultative salespeople are further characterized by high levels of activity. Regardless of the selling style utilized, there is virtually no replacement for high activity. Consultative salespeople prospect incessantly and rarely lose due to price objections - largely due to the fact they are focusing on results not just 'features'.

      3. Stimulus-Response Selling

        This mode of selling is only appropriate when the prospect has firmly recognized their needs and buy criteria. Sales people may encounter prospects who approach you requesting a firm solution or a proposal. These prospects are 'self-activated'. After qualifying the situation, it is this self-activated prospect that may warrant stimulus-response selling. Unlike a consultative prospect, the stimulus-response prospect has an understanding of the merits of the software solution. In this situation, you should focus your efforts on relating the tangible benefits that we offer. Do not rely on the prospects knowledge to make an intelligent choice.

        Most sales people are stimulus-response sales people. Unfortunately, stimulus-response selling is only valuable when the prospect has a thorough understanding of the benefits they will derive as a result of doing business with our company. Prospects often appear to be knowledgeable, and lull the salesperson away from their job of understanding their needs and responding to them. In this event, the sale will almost certainly be lost.

      4. Commodity Selling
      5. The Fortune 500 is the realm of commodity sales activities. These accounts often already know what kind of systems they want and at what price they're willing to pay. These prospects typically use their procurement staff to solicit proposals or price quotations from multiple vendors. In this arena, the prospect's primary buy criteria are price, availability and support. Frankly speaking, commodity selling can be a very frustrating selling style, as it takes control of the sales process away from the salesperson and puts it in the hands of the prospect. Sales are often lost as a result of a mere point or two differentiation in price between one offering and another. It can be very difficult to differentiate yourself in a commodity sale opportunity. Recognize however that is possible through diligent and long-term application of superior salesmanship to shift a commodity buyer to a relationship buyer or even a consultative buyer who will pay for value added. This cannot be accomplished, however, in a reactive mode. You must be very proactive to make this happen.

      6. Relationship Selling
      7. Relationship selling is the ideal selling style for the Fortune 500. This is a selling style which requires an extended period of time to build a strong relationship. However, once the alliance is solidified, the relationship is strong enough to endure the 'hiccups' which occur along the way. More importantly, the relationship sale is one that is on-going and punctuated by recurring purchases by the client. The most successful relationship sales people adopt a philosophy of working at the side of the client, but not on their payroll. When you can position yourself to offer value to the relationship, your client will 'stand by your side' and work with you to facilitate a stronger relationship.

      8. Retail Selling

      Retail selling has no place in our selling process. It consists of showing an activated prospect what they ask for, and answering their questions. I generally refer to this process as the 'show up and throw up'.

  2. Chart Your Course. There are many tasks which are important and must be done in a timely manner, however, should not interrupt the primary activities to be completed during the AE's Golden Hours. Tasks may include the many operational, administrative and development activities such as following up telephone conversations with e-mail letters, producing proposals or other prospect correspondence, gathering prospect intelligence for tomorrow's new prospect calls, reviewing sales step strategies or other Intranet sales content, updating your Top 100 accounts or acquiring competitive intelligence (CI).

Both Oracle and SAP have made this advice standard practice and proven it successful multiple times over.

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