Monday, February 28, 2011

Mental Visio

In 25+ years of technical service and sales, the number one ability I have seen that is hardest to learn is troubleshooting.  I don’t mean basic stuff. OK, I do mean even basic stuff. 

Here is an example. You switch the wall switch that turns on the desk lamp, only this time it doesn’t. Here is a partial list of items that could cause the light not to come on.  The breaker has tripped, the switch is bad, the lamp isn’t plugged in, the bulb is bad, power has been disrupted, the lamp is damaged, or you’ve gone blind.  

A natural troubleshooter can quickly sort these mentally into buckets. Likely, probable, possible, and unlikely.  It is unlikely that you went blind, or the switch spontaneously failed. It is possible that there is a blackout or the lamp has shorted. It’s probable that the breaker has tripped or the lamp isn’t plugged in. But it is most likely that the bulb is bad. This is a process that takes less than a second. It is slightly harder to do this when troubleshooting a VM server setup with hundreds options to sort.

Now I have known some very good techs who are not good troubleshooters. They can follow flowcharts and step by step processes, but not generally create one. I have never yet been able to teach this to someone, I have just been able to give them some guidelines and processes.

So do you have members of your team that lack this skill? It doesn’t have to be a technician, salespeople need this skill as well. In my experience providing them as much support as possible to overcome this deficiency is key. This is not an issue you can train away, and you don’t need to, if you can document.

Just be sure to let them know, when they hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Too Much?

 How much is too much, or is there ever enough? In food, too much salt, absolutely, garlic, never. So how technical should your sales team be? Well, are they salt, or garlic? By that I mean are they expected to add that little bit of something to your technical sales process, or are the expected to be the sales process.
So if you are a typical service provider it is service first, and sales second. When you really want to ramp your sales, you need a sales professional. Odds are this sales professional will have trouble logging on to their computer. Now what? Well, the good news is I bet you have already been selling something, even if it is just you. You have a process, it may not be all that good, but you have one, so you are simply adding some sales to your technical process.
If things go well and the salesperson starts driving business, you will be spending a lot of non-billable pre-sales technical time. How much? Well I hope you are tracking this in your PSA, for me this is Autotask. Once you see how many billable hours you are bleeding, you need to make a choice. So now your choices are, train your salesperson to be more technically independent, or add more technical support, maybe a pre-sales engineer.
It is a right brain left brain thing, few of us can be technical and salesy, if you found one, great. If not, there are many things you can do to help them be less of a technical time suck. Training never hurts, but there are also guides and checklists. Discovery is such an important step in the sales process, help create a checklist with all the required data points for each product you sell. Flowcharts are even better with if/then steps. When all else fails read the instructions. I bet less than 30% of your salespeople have read even the user guides of the products they sell. We can fix that this week.
Does your process need some salt?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Digging Out

Another foot of snow fell yesterday. So time to clean the driveway again. I had my choice of tools all specifically designed for clearing snow. Shovel, plow, or snow blower. Each of these has their advantages. Plows are fast, but can cause damage. Shovels take a lot of work but allow you be very precise. Snow blowers are less precise than a shovel, but a whole lot less work, and do a lot less damage than a plow.

When you have a blizzard of new opportunities laying in front of you, which tool are you going to use? Fast, with a chance of damage, or slower and more careful? Do you have more opportunities than you need? More accounts? No one does, so I guess there is no reason to plow through them quickly.

How much of your process can you automate? A well oiled machine can do a lot more work than you can with a shovel, but it can’t do everything. So understanding what you can automate is important. Lead capture and ongoing communication is easy to automate. Understanding and solving their needs, not so much.

Sales tools, you can’t have too many of them, but you can use the wrong one at the wrong time. This can cause you to lose a deal, or even a client.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Why Polar Bears?

                Remember the cola wars? It is still going on. But not like in the late 80s and early 90s. Pepsi verses Coke. Personalities verses Bears. Remember for Pepsi, Davis Bowie, Michael Jackson, and Britney Spears. Each one launching the campaign like a rocket, only to have it blow up on re-entry. Meanwhile Coke kept running out those adorable bears. Sometimes even adding a baby bear. Steady consistent, positive marketing.

                So Apple shareholders want to know what the continuity plan is when Apple’s big personality Steve Jobs steps down. I seem to remember him retiring some time ago and Apple taking a huge dip both in product and loyalty. Steve Jobs returns, they sky rocket to the top, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, it goes on and on. Can Apple survive the coming collapse? Will there be one? Can they find a new personality to come out of the shadow of the black turtleneck?

                So, is your company marketed by someone’s personality, or a bear? Is your marketing a rollercoaster or a trolley? Do you have a continuity plan or does your business survive because you do? What can you do to add consistency to your business and your marketing plan?  

Thursday, February 24, 2011

He who governs best governs least

                Truth be told, the same goes for sales. I bet you have bought things before, never realizing you had been sold. How did that happen? Well there are several ways to sell by not selling, and all of them involve one key factor. Listen to what your prospect is saying. They will always tell you why they want to buy, all you have to do is agree with them.
                That sounds too simple, right? Well I did cut to the chase. So let’s talk about the start of his process. So the technique works best if your prospects are coming to you, but it is possible if you are approaching them. So let’s start with the easier process. A prospect reaches out to you about your products or services. Listen to what they say, what is their problem and what is their solution. Refer to my post Can I get a what what if you need a starting place. So if you can listen to their needs and provide a technical solution that is in alignment with theirs, what is left to sell? Value.
                How do you sell value? ROI? Charts? Tables? Those are all sales tools, we aren’t selling here. Has a salesperson ever changed your mind about the value of a product? They may have offered you a deal, but now we are talking about price. So price is one part of value, but I have spent a lot of money on products and services and received little value, and spent little and had huge value. So there is an intangible with value. This intangible is perception.
                Individuals perceive value. The prospects perceptions are formed by many things in their life. Age, background, position, all play a part. Try and find the need behind the need here. So what can we do to not sell this? The primary item that will tilt the prospects perception is confidence. Confidence in you. As you have listened to you clients, questioned them to discover additional information, and proposed a solution you believe in. do they believe you? In you? If that answer is yes, then they see value and want to buy. So agree with them, go ahead, sell it to them.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Can I get a What What

Technical Sales, where to start?
                You have a client that has a problem. How do you know how to solve their problem? Do you even know what their problem is? This is the first step in any technical sales process, discover what the issue is. Most likely your client can’t articulate this to you the first time they try. They may not have the language or the technical knowledge to tell you what they need. The one thing they do know is…they have a problem.
                Step one, identify the client’s problem. Sounds simple, but what if your client says they have an issue with their printer. It takes too long for their print jobs to print. Simple answer is a newer faster printer, the right answer might be adding memory to the print server, or adding a postscript driver, or updating the printer drivers, or, you get the picture. So how do we solve our first step? Well now it is time to act like Columbo and start with the W questions.  These are the Who, What, When, Where, and Why. We don’t have to use them all, but we need to use them. What is happening? Who does it happen for? When did it start? See, we already know more than we did.
                Step two, discover the client’s solution. This can be more difficult. If the client doesn’t know their problem, they have no chance of knowing their solution. But, they do, they just don’t know it. Well, they don’t know the solution, but they can tell you how they want it to work. One more question….How would you expect it to work? Notice I said the client’s solution, not what we do to solve the issue, there are different things. The Client’s solution is what they want or expect. So now we know what they want.
                Step three, figure out how to get there from here. This can take some time and technical skill. There isn’t anything the client can really help you with at this stage, except stay out of your way. Once we determine the technical solution that aligns with the client’s solution, we can see if it is a service issue, or a sales opportunity, it may be both.
                Step four, articulate to the client the proposed solution. The key things to be sure you do are, be clear, be simple, be confident. We are geeks, we want to know details, clients do not. They want to feel confident you will solve their problem. They will feel confident if you can simply and clearly explain to solution. Think explaining to your mother, not a 4 year old. Our clients are ignorant of technical things, not stupid. The fastest way to lose a deal is to be condescending. Be confident, not arrogant. If you can’t be confident, maybe it isn’t the best solution.


This is blog # 1. 
I just wanted to start the process of sharing what I have learned over many years of technical sales.
What is technical sales? I define it as the ability to provide easy to understand, discovery driven answers, to complex workflow driven questions. So when someone asks you how do I do this with that, you should be able to discover their needs and provide a simple answer.
Sometimes the answer is no.....