Technology Selling in the Downturn

Why taking action now to improve the company’s selling effectiveness will pay off for the Sales Director


                                                                            By Graham French


Some CEOs and sales directors of small-to-medium sized industrial or technology product and services companies understandably feel that the current economic situation makes it impossible to achieve profitable growth. They are resigned to doing badly for the time being, responding to the situation by reducing their selling and marketing cost base, hoping that the company will survive the downturn.


But technology and industrial needs haven’t disappeared. The market is just depressed.  What would it take for your company not merely to survive the downturn but actually make gains over your competitors?


What ARE companies buying?

A survey conducted some years ago now by KPMG and the Computer Services and Software Association (CSSA) found that the drivers for IT purchasing decisions were cost savings and a quick return on investment. I believe that this still holds true, not just for high tech, but also across industrial and commercial markets.


Orders being placed now are about “fixing the leaky pipe”, i.e. fixing any process that costs money. For example, excessive inventory, repeated service calls, cancelled orders, delayed responses.


Although, apart perhaps from the public sector, there is typically little budget nowadays for anything new, money will be found to plug the leaks. If your product or services can address “leaky pipe” problems, this might be a good time to make your move.


Barriers to success

Apart from the economic climate, about which we can do little, what are some of the main barriers to sales success?


Not Knowing The “Buying Cycle”

Sales people generally think they know but the evidence is that very few really know how their prospects buy and hence companies do too little to make it easier for prospects to buy from them.  


ROI is Critical

Too few sales campaigns address the prospect’s need to overcome fear of failure or produce the ROI analyses necessary to gain funding.  This is fatal.  It leads to prospects making no decision at all, taking a year or more to decide or dramatically paring down their investment.


Prospects today are knowledgeable about the market and increasingly want solutions that bring a true return on investment. It is no longer enough for sales people to simply to “pitch” the product. They must be able to present, add value in sales conversations and deliver compelling business cases.


Each company must work hard to understand the true ROI contribution that their product or service makes.  But curiously, few technology companies seem to understand how their products and services actually benefit their customers.


The “Rock Star Trap”

There is a huge gap between the best sales performers and the rest. It not that unusual for less than half of a sales team to win 95% of the business – which means that over 50% of the team are bringing in just 5% of the sales!


Neil Rackham, founder of Huthwaite Inc, calls this the “rock star trap”. He believes that a company’s dependence on just a few selling superstars is too risky and needs to change.


One way to help this along is for sales management to be more pro-active in a) identifying the way their best people sell their products and b) imparting this know-how so that the entire sales team can succeed.


Being Small

In a recession, companies become more risk averse and tend to play safe in their purchasing. Larger more established “brands” are perceived to offer more stability via their larger customer base and bigger sales and marketing channels.  Customers are reluctant to move to new suppliers unless a considerable amount of benefit in productivity and performance can be realised. CSO Insights in their 2009 survey report that the top reason for winning deals is – the existing relationship.


This is why it is tough for the smaller company to break in.


Sharpen your Sales Approach and See Results This Year

How, with so much stacked up against it, is an SME technology or industrial product company with a good value proposition going to gain traction in a shrunken market?  The answer is simple.  Go back to the basics on your sales approach:


·         then teach your entire sales force to execute it


Couldn’t improving the way your people sell deliver a 10%, 30%, 50% increase in sales? How would this impact the success of the company?




Improving your seller/buyer interactions will have more impact on sales even than improving the product or service. In good times, there never seems to be enough time to sharpen the saw. But those companies that take the initiative now and decide to increase their selling effectiveness will move ahead of their less proactive competitors – downturn or no downturn. It has been said that you can get away with less than world class selling practice when the economy is up but when it gets tough, sloppy selling can kill.




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