This past summer, I had the chance to eat at Blackberry Farm, one of the top restaurants in the country. As with other really great restaurants, you can order an entrée that piques your interest or you can order the chef’s tasting menu. Our dinner party opted for the latter, and it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The individual items, admittedly, didn’t sound particularly appealing – ahem, crispy pig ear – but I trusted that the chef knew what he was doing, and that trust was well-placed. If I had simply ordered a single entrée, I would have been constrained by my own limited knowledge. I wouldn’t have known that there existed a meal much better than anything I would have chosen for myself.
This notion of ordering off the menu, a choice that limits the options to my finite understanding of fine dining, versus ordering the thoughtfully composed seven-course meal, a choice that allows the three-time Michelin-star winning chef to flex his muscles, is a concept that I like to apply to Sales teams in the Managed Service Provider industry.
Think about your Sales team. Is it made up of individuals that can expose your customers to new and different things they wouldn’t consider if left to their own devices, or do you just have a bunch of order-takers? Unfortunately, when I talk to people in the Service Provider Industry, I find that too many stack the deck with order-takers. It hasn’t always been like that.
In the past, Sales reps rose through the ranks of the technology industry, equipped to move the customer from zero to one by selling brand new products and services. They convinced customers to get internet connectivity, to buy email servers, to virtualize their servers, to buy a SAN. Over the course of the past five or so years, innovation has reached a standstill. Customers are sold more units and faster versions of what they’ve already deployed. The sales reps earn attractive W-2s doing this, but have they really served the customer? I’d argue that they haven’t.
Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” When Sales teams take orders instead of consulting with and guiding the customer toward a solution they haven’t considered, they forfeit valuable ground both as a consultant and as a resource for innovative thinking. Think about it this way: you would never accept this type of order taking in other scenarios. You wouldn’t walk into the doctor and tell him exactly what you want her to cut in your knee. You would defer to her expertise. Too often, Sales teams go in and yield the position of the expert to the customer by simply taking an order.
I’m going to add a layer of complexity to the sales process: your teams aren’t just selling to the IT department anymore. In fact, research from top analyst groups tells us that spending by the IT department is on the decline while overall spending on technology is up. Who is spending that money? The answer is Line of Business executives. The Marketing department, the Accounting department, and Sales leadership are spending money on on-demand services and SaaS-based platforms outside the control of the technology team. How then, do you get your Sales team talking to LOB executives? If your sales rep does get a meeting with the CMO, what are they going to talk about? What value will be added?
As you can see, I’m leading you into some pretty difficult questions:
- Do you have true sales reps or order takers?
- Are you having the right conversations with the right people?
- Are you providing value beyond turning a PO into an order with an estimated delivery date?
- If you aren’t adding value and coaching your customers toward new consumption models and approaches… who is? Your competitors?
What is a Service Provider supposed to do? The answer lies in transforming the structure and outlook of your Sales team. Now, before I go on, let me say that I get it. The answers here are hard, but as it so often happens, they are the only real way forward.
Some suggestions to begin the transformation of your Sales organization:
- Hire different people. You need a very clear profile of what you want in a sales rep. (Hint: “They know lots of people,” isn’t good enough.) You need a team that can communicate effectively, can challenge the customer’s viewpoint, is comfortable discussing money, and understands both the customer’s business and the drivers of that business.
- Have different conversations. Your new reps, hired against a tight profile, will be equipped to do this. You will have to train your current team to have different conversations. Force them to tear up the PO and instead have a discussion about consuming technology via a recurring consumption model. Trust me, it will seem awkward to throw away a sale, but this is the surest way to provide value.
- Structure your team differently. Too many organizations have a Sales team that is responsible for both new sales (hunters) and account management (farmers). You need to hire people with the right skills for the right roles, and you need to separate those roles into separate and distinct functions. Some members of your team – those that are best equipped to do so – should be hunting for new opportunities. Other team members should be farming existing accounts for growth opportunities.
- Have a story to tell. This is an important tool for your Sales team. When talking to customers, there is not greater tool than to say, “This is what some of our other customers are doing.” It is a powerful way for customers to connect with their peers and gain insights into how other companies are addressing similar challenges.
Anytime a sales rep speaks with a customer, they are essentially serving that customer in a “restaurant.” The customer may think they want the chicken or the steak, but it’s your rep’s job to introduce that customer to the tasting menu that includes all manner of things they may never have considered before. If you introduce your customer to new things and move away from order-taking, you are adding value and building trust. These are things that grow revenue and keep other people with tasty-sounding menus away from your customer.