In a previous career, I worked as a pre-sales product specialist, providing support to a sales team responsible for selling telecoms test & measurement products to telecoms companies and telecoms equipment manufacturers around the world.
In theory, this meant that I would be called upon by members of the sales team who had identified a customer need and qualified an opportunity for a product that I covered. In cases where the customer had specific technical requirements that needed clarifying or technical assistance in product evaluations prior to the sale I would meet with customers, position our technical benefits, made sure that we had met all their technical requirements and flagged up to product management any requirements that could not be met but were still being requested by the customer.
Several years ago I accompanied a member of the sales team to a customer meeting, the sales person was vague about the customer requirements but had judged that I needed to visit the customer to fully position a newly released product in the company’s product portfolio over the competition. The sales person had provided the customer with an overview of the product and sent them some documentation already but they wanted me to come and support them in answering technical questions around the product.
As soon as the meeting started it became very apparent that the opportunity was far from qualified. As I spoke to the customer I was able to identify the requirements they had very quickly, and they had nothing to do with our latest product release. As I started to describe the product that would meet the customers requirements, which was a higher end, larger margin product than the one the sales person had wanted me to pitch to the customer, I could see that he was becoming more agitated as I talked to the customer, explaining the value proposition of the product and how the customer would benefit from its use in their environment. I asked the customer if they had time for a demonstration of the product and we started to go through an in-depth technical demonstration. I was in full swing, the customer clearly understood the value of the product and how it would work for them.
Then the sales person interrupted me.
“Um, Tony, could you start to talk about X” (the name of the product has been changed to protect the innocent).
We stopped, I looked at the customer. He looked at me. I looked at the sales person. “No,” I said slowly.
“But that is why we are here” was the reply.
At that point, the tone of the meeting changed. While the customer had been completely bought into the pitch that I had been making suddenly there was the prospect that I had been leading them down the wrong path.
Instead of demonstrating expertise and value to this customer suddenly there was a question mark hanging over the legitimacy of our whole conversation. I had to explain, in front of the customer, to the sales person that the newer product had no relevance to the requirements this customer had described, assured the customer that we were indeed talking about the correct product to meet their needs and carried on.
But it illustrated just how poorly this sales person had been at trying to qualify the needs of this customer and positioning the portfolio of products available to him to meet the customer needs. It shouldn’t have needed the support of someone in my role to identify the correct product to pitch for this opportunity. As so often happens when faced with a technical portfolio and the opportunity to call on a product support team, the sales person instead of using the team as a valued resource had used it as a crutch.
From the customer perspective it had been 3 weeks since the initial meeting with our company and in that time we had not provided them with a clear solution to their problem. During that time other manufacturers had met with the customer and positioned their own offerings, leaving us on the back foot and forcing us to prove that we not only could meet the requirement and add value but that we could differentiate ourselves from the competitive offering that was now already lodged in their mind.
In this scenario early qualification of the customer requirements and the correct identification was key. The sales person then should have had the familiarity with the product line to be able to describe the benefits of the product and then the follow up visit that I attended should have purely focussed on making sure that the the full technical requirements of the product were met as well as explaining any more technical value proposition items.
Once I had identified the correct product it was then easy to move on from there and cross sell other related products in our product portfolio. Some of these products had key USPs that none of our competition could come close to and so created a great overall solution. Again had this happened weeks earlier during the initial sales meeting we would have been in a much better position.
When faced with a technical product portfolio it can be difficult for a sales team to understand the products well enough to perform basic sales activities such as opportunity qualification. This leads to much longer sales cycles, the loss of momentum with the customer and in this case loss of credibility for the sales person who positioned the incorrect product.
What could be done to prevent this?
An immediate answer that springs to mind is additional product training. However a complex technical portfolio is never a static thing, and new product releases, revisions of functionality and products going end of life mean that significant investments of time & money would be required on an ongoing basis in order to keep this knowledge fresh in the mind.
A thorough NPI process would have helped with this. In many companies the NPI process for the sales force will involve a short Webex presentation from product management covering the benefits of the product, delivery of a new set of product presentations, a demo showing how to demo the product, a competitive presentation showing how much better the new product is compared to any competitive offerings and a short pep-talk saying how valuable the product will be for the company and how important it is to get out there in front of customers with the new product. In effect, the sales team are being sold on the product.
This pressure to “get out there and sell it” can skew a sales persons perspective on the new product, leading them to call up every one in their contact list to arrange meetings for the new product to try and cram it into any potential opportunities they can find instead of trying to position more appropriate products within the product portfolio.
At Sales Pitch Pro we believe that the use of front line sales enablement technology can help. Our sales enablement tool, in this case, would have identified to the sales person the correct product to pitch to this customer. Once that was identified, the sales person would be guided through the sales pitch, using the tool whilst in the customer meeting to identify and present the value proposition for that product, and then identify products that could be cross sold as part of a solution.
There would still be a requirement to use a product specialist for support in these situations, however, the product specialists would be able to focus on qualified opportunities and brought into the sale to bring value to the customer and deliver great sales experiences instead of delaying the initial pitching of a product. The value of this type of tool is the timely and correct qualification of the opportunity, followed by delivery of a sales pitch built on the best practises and success stories from across the sales force, displaying industry knowledge to deliver customer value as early in the sales cycle as possible.