If you have ever had the pleasure of being on a Fortune 500 sales team, you have probably heard the term “big deal.” Corporate executives always want the “big deal.” With their limited knowledge of sales, most executives assume that getting a large sale is the best way to build success.
In truth if you have a market dominating presence or even a monopoly, big deals are very possible. However, it you a new comer to a market, or someone with two percent market share, then winning big deals out of the box is nothing more than a Willie Loman pipe dream.
To build presence in a market, you do not just walk into a customer's office with your shiny shoes, smile and take a big order.
Any real sales person knows that you have to walk before you run. Customers, especially those in information technology markets do not switch partners at the drop of a hat.
While it is true that certain pieces of the information technology business have become commodity items, it is also true certain other pieces such as operating systems have become so entrenched that making a change just because a really sharp sales person shows up is out of the question.
While you might get an organization to switch from HP to Dell hardware assuming pricing differences are great enough and configurations close enough, getting the same organization to switch from Windows to Linux is a totally different ball of wax.
Corporate sales managers always assume that the right sales person is the key to success. Actually it takes the right product positioning, the right sales plan, and the right supporting characters to make even a hardworking sales person successful. The real magic is putting all those pieces together.
There are plenty of very good sales people in the world who can build terrific relationships with customers given the right amount of time. There are even sales people who can move from one product to another and bring some of their customers along. However, there are almost no sales people who can really swing a large customer without the right product and the right support from the corporation.
What all this really means is that sales today is not just an individual effort. Successful sales needs to be an integrated effort with top executives in the corporation an integral part of the sales effort. Success in large sales or “big deals”, requires corporate executives to be an integral part of the sales effort early on and continuously.
Putting the whole sales process on a single sales person is a little like betting all your savings on one unproven stock instead of a well managed mutual fund with a great track record over the last ten years.
The reality is that successful sales results from a well positioned product that has targeted marketing, the features that the customers need, the right price, and credibility in the market.
Credibility in the market does not come easily. It does not some from a single “big deal.” One “big deal” can actually set back efforts in a market if the product is not ready for a “big deal.” Just because you can sell something does not mean it is right for the customer.
In fact a product being right for the customer is the essence of real sales. Sales despite all the training courses is not a cleverly constructed set of questions. True high level sales is connecting with the customer, knowing when a product makes sense for a customer, and the willingness to walk away from the deal if it is wrong for the customer.
Companies put everything on the shoulders of the sales people. Selling should be a partnership with everyone in the company sharing the responsibility to deliver the right products for the customers. However, the right products for the customers only come from a continuing relationship with customers over time. Sales people can cultivate that relationship, but the real test of the relationship is the corporate executives and product managers actually delivering the products that truly meet customer needs.
There is always the corporate pride that the company knows best what the customer needs, but while that might be magic once in a while in the consumer world, at least in the enterprise technology world, customers clearly know what they need, and they have the buying power to enforce their requirements.
So remember the first step to a “big deal” needs to be made at corporate headquarters. That first step is a commitment to establish a close ongoing relationship with key customers. It means executives getting on air planes and visiting customers regularly on their territory. It often means a multi-year effort to deliver something which provides real value to customers.
Sales people can be a valued intelligence agents for companies seeking to penetrate markets where they have little presence. Unfortunately many product driven corporations live in their own reality so taking a trip from the ivory tower to customer territory or listening to experienced sales people only happens in the best of companies. The real problem is that most executives would rather spend their time in meetings listening to themselves and other executives than on the road meeting with customers. Getting out into the field is a chore to many corporate executives.
Unfortunately they do not see that it could be the key to their success and to the success of their sales people. The really sad fact is that most executives do not want to be too closely associated with the sales force, and the reason is that if sales tank they can blame the sales force which somehow has become an independent element of the corporation and of course has become a rogue element or has forgotten its expensive training and certainly is not doing what executive management tasked them to do. This is classic American corporate behavior.
The best sales person is not the one with the most notches on his or her belt. The best sales person is one who respects his customer and whom the customer trusts to be a valued consultant. That requires character first and then sales skills. Fortunately you can easily teach most people of character how to sell. The challenge is finding corporations committed to providing customers with real value all the way from their product design and feedback to their high quality sales people who are respected both by the customer and the corporations who seek long term success instead of ninety day results.