I have just concluded a warm call Zoom sales pitch from a major vendor talking about Oracle on a Cloud. I came away with the impression that technology salespeople have not understood the difference between selling widgets using Glengarry Glen Ross techniques* and what it really takes to land major accounts.
I was presented with a sales team that didn’t research our industry, didn’t know how or how much of their current services we already consume, and didn’t seem interested in how their services could solve our problems (or were interested in us learning about them). And worst of all, while prepared to present a list of Frequently Asked Questions which was far from complete, they didn’t have answers to anything not on that FAQ list, nor were they prepared to address such questions they couldn’t answer immediately and delicately.
This article is about what you should be doing if you consider yourself a sales professional in this industry responsible for being the probable point-of-first contact for any OATUG prospect or customer. OATUG members are customers who may have just signed a multi-million-dollar, first-time subscribed to a SaaS (Software as a Service) product line from Oracle, or multi-decade, experienced customers who are looking for partners to help solve a current or future issue. This means that when you are speaking to an OATUG member, they are already pre-qualified in many respects as having made a significant financial and resource investment towards some Oracle product or service. That does not mean you should launch directly into a media pitch for your represented company. You still do not have enough information to answer the question: “How is what you’re selling going to benefit me?”
I came from the background of learning sales in the trenches of a major musical instrument retailer, who, in turn, had become famous for its sales techniques. After all, they recruited salespeople from other ultra-high sales competition industries like jewelry sales, real estate, car sales, car service management, and motorcycle sales. You learned why commissions were bigger and faster than anyone could imagine in the other industries. But most importantly, you learned the gory details behind the greet -> establish rapport -> qualify -> close -> repeat cycle that every entry-level salesperson learns. And most distinctly different, because this was an industry in which a sale can succeed or fail on thousands of competing variables, you had to learn how to improvise quickly and master both confidence and alacrity by being comfortable when off-balance.
Start with the advanced tools you have (for free) at your disposal as a contemporary salesperson. Your organization's pre-existing data and prior contracts with this prospective customer are paramount. You need to know if you are selling to a cold prospect because of prior mishandled projects. Or, have you over-sold this same customer by repeating the same mistakes by not doing your research first? What do they already own from you? Who have they dealt with in your organization in the past? Are those people still with your company, or did they leave and become potential warm competitors?
You have the internet and AI: find out what this prospective customer does. Who is this point of initial contact, and how are they connected to their organization? What is their connection to the product or service that I am pitching? Since you are reading this, go on OATUG.org and find out more about them as an OATUG member: do they hold any thought leadership positions or participate in Special Interest Groups (SIGs) or specific geographic groups (GEOs)? Have they presented or been on panel discussions, and what did they talk about? Why do all this extra research? Do it because it represents your investment towards your commission on the sale and establishes the solid footing of a continuing partnership.
If you have a pitch session scheduled, such as the one I initially described, make calls and contacts to find out what audience will be on the call, and repeat the same prospect data mining exercise as described in the previous paragraph. Figure out how each statement you make should resonate with each one of the audience members – if not individually, then by functional group or responsibility. Do this well before the call, so instead of a cold “Hi, we are X company, and you might be interested in us...” you instead present a warm invitation to converse about the prospect’s potential problems such as, “I’m Mary and our team is interested in assisting you to [lower your ongoing costs, get your next upgrade done efficiently and effectively, get your systems up-to-date and supportable, etc.]” Save time during the pitch session by gathering all the “introductions” chatter ahead of time and provide it in your written meeting invitation instead. You can even show some true personality by including hints in the invitation like, “And we will be addressing Jane’s concern about the new systems learning curve in Aditya’s portion of our talk.”
You know your audience and what they want from you as a solution provider. You can and should use the introductory portion of your session to confirm those points. If unplanned audience members are added to the call, take a few seconds to find out their name and role, and have someone in your team prepare something about your company that would interest them directly at some point. Double-check whether anyone in your audience has a time limit and juggle that part of the discussion first.
The presentation itself would be most effective if it were provided to the prospective customer ahead of time to review and develop questions prior to the session. While it is entertaining to show slide pages with “Wow factors” and “Surprise, It’s Free!” that tends to work better in environments like car shows and retail product pitches. You should not include content in your presentation that is difficult to interpret by a customer or is contextually specific because that gives the appearance that you have a generic presentation for every prospect and do not do anything specific for any customer, especially the one you are presenting to right now.
This kind of presentation is different from a project planning presentation or training session in that it should generate questions from the customer, not just provide a mass set of answers to everything. You want the answers to be coming from you and your team members, not the slides. If it were the latter, OATUG customers would “buy a book” and not need your assistance. Because this is a technology-related pitch, you do need to address all the basic data elements like architecture, pre-requisites, and differentiation points; but think of the content being designed to facilitate and encourage further inquiry and discussion with your team, and not to answer every question in writing and graphic form.
Suppose you are performing this pitch as a virtual session. In that case, you have a unique advantage over the in-person equivalent – you have multiple channels of communication available before, during, and after the session. While you are on a slide, prompting questions and interacting verbally with your audience, you should also have a team member on chat documenting questions that arise and providing short text and graphic responses to show your team is not just pitching but also actively listening. Audience members will multi-task, but you can use that to your advantage, especially in a virtual environment. Have streaming short video customer case studies or introductory setup and use video links available that you can pass along to the prospect in chat during the session. Always act and present as though you are being recorded, even if you are not formally doing so physically.
After the formal pitch session is complete, you should have acquired an even richer amount of information about your prospect’s challenges and be already thinking about how your organization can help solve them. You should have an idea of what places on an organizational flowchart your prospective attendees would occupy. You should have a rough estimate of how soon or how far in the future this potential prospect would need to engage your services to accomplish their goals. You should even know how they can afford your services (an entire sales topic is devoted to financing deals.) Most of all, you and your team should know at the end of this session if this prospect is going to be a good fit for your abilities as a service provider. If the fit is good, this is the start of the relationship-building process and needs to be tended and encouraged over the life of the project. If you are thinking, “Deal closed. On to the next prospect...” then you just left 90% of your future revenue on the table.
Finally, after all that work, how do you follow up? Hopefully, as part of your virtual session, you also posted DM contact info within the chat channels or are using your offline communications to build your relationship and start creating the custom jigsaw puzzle pieces that help your prospect transform into a long-term customer. Now is when you are reaching out through your social networks and building connections via OATUG.org, LinkedIn, and others to ensure your ability to communicate is never impaired and always have a handshake confirmation of message receipt. You do not only rely upon e-blast newsletters or online seminar invitations to reach your customers.
Your presence at Ascend is not only punctuated ahead of the conference by setting up appointments with your customers at your booth or presentations with specific topic items of interest to those customers but further reinforced during your social events at Ascend by matching up your prospects with your current customers and allowing their loyalty to develop further organically. You know your tchotchkes and takeaway souvenirs from the booth are simply social advertising and that it is your generosity and creativeness being measured, not the exact value of your gift card.
If you’ve read this far, then you should realize that probably every one of your competitors has reached this stage too. So, now you need to think about differentiation - the separation of your brand from every other one on the market. How do you stand out if everyone else has also read articles like this, gotten their training up to professional sales levels, and is no longer just casting out to random leads, but actually developing both their up and downstream sales channels? This is where you bring yourself into the frame. Your individual approach and how you decide to do it is your uniqueness. Also, consider the integrity of those you develop into customers as becoming your permanent clients for the rest of your professional selling career - because while organizations grow, shrink, and transform through acquisitions, mergers, and dissolutions, you are here until you aren’t. Most likely, that trait and portfolio of customers will become your CV if you change organizations or are valued by those you stick with. But this is where your personal selling brand, style of presentation, alacrity to field multiple questions and challenges from multiple directions, and persistence to follow up and develop leads into customers actually transform your skills from theory into action.
Let’s say you’re alone in your own booth on a trade show floor. You don’t really have any snazzy giveaways, or major booth attractions to stop people. What do you do? Besides what we mentioned before about developing your own schedule of people who should be stopping by invited to see in person what you can demonstrate or problem-solve only in person, you should be greeting each person who wanders by with some kind of introductory phrase that means something to anyone listening. Your goal is simply to start a basic conversation, not leap into an elevator pitch.
This takes practice. Be observant of what’s going on in other booths and how people are reacting to different booth presentations. If needed, keep a “Will be back in X minutes - but message me at (xxxxx) on the App if I can help you with anything before I return” sign handy so you, as a new vendor, have time to walk the floor and start learning from the best elements of others. The booth is not your remote office to focus on your laptop and get extra work done. Presence in the booth should always be noticeable, attentive, positive, even charming, entertaining, and never passively sitting behind a table handing out giveaways. A Zoom robot with a dispenser could do that.
Think of every person as a lead, even if it’s a competitor (because some of the greatest joint venture proposals started with 2 sales leads getting together and combining strengths). If you’re in technical sales, but the person you meet isn’t, at least establish rapport and see if the person knows who might benefit from what you have to offer. That doesn’t just mean the co-workers of the organization that person works for - you’re looking for anyone of interest: friends, relatives, or other people that person has encountered. Every single person is a multi-dimensional network of possible lead development. And remember, just because today’s connection isn’t a lead, that doesn’t mean a year from now or 10 years from now, they won’t be.
As the cycle begins again for the next project or the next transition your team will assist in achieving, you demonstrate reinforcement of your determination to build a successful customer story with every task and build your brand reputation without having to resort to mechanical fanfare and artificial mass persuasion because your integrity is demonstrated every time your customers talk to each other about how you helped them achieve success. You invite those customers to share their experiences, even informally, through podcasts or quick streaming media recordings of your follow-up touchpoint virtual calls.
And just like any solid long-term relationship, even if a task or project does not work as well as planned, or your solution is not the right fit at the right time, you are still positively ensuring that each member of your audience understands what you do offer is not only valuable and distinct, but something they can consider wherever their future positions take them. You create positive, memorable moments every single time.
The essential takeaway is that by stepping into the shoes of your prospective customer and dealing with them as you would want to be treated by another service provider, you not only demonstrate empathy with why the customer should choose you as a partner but also differentiate yourself and your organization further from the competition by delivering not just an assumptive close, but a true provision of a solution for the customer to consume easily, especially if you are already considering their budgetary constraints and internal hurdles to acceptance. That is what we call a true OATUG Partner.
*Glen Gary Glen Ross is a play by David Mamet that later became a famous film. It's well-known for its sharp, realistic dialogue and intense, driven characters. The techniques often associated with this work are generally focused on sales, persuasion, and the high-pressure environments of business. (ChatGPT)