We’re currently working with a small client that makes enterprise software. They’ve been around for years, and have built a very unusual set of skills and expertise in meeting the needs of a specific industry. I recently returned with a few members of the management team from the final pitch to a big prospect.

My client is one of about a dozen companies who were invited to compete for the business. They’ve been through a comprehensive Expression of Interest and RFP process. The field has narrowed down to the final four vendors, who have all been invited to present to the prospect face-to-face. The competition is strong; they’re big global companies with very impressive track records.

The prospect is geographically distant from our client. Supporting this sales cycle has taken a lot of commitment, time and money, but the client has stepped up. Winning the business and successfully delivering the solution have been defined as the main strategic objectives for this year and next.

It’s not just about the revenue. By winning the business, our client proves that their unique blend of technical skills and domain expertise can compete head-to-head with the world leaders. As a bonus, the prospect is a smart and well-respected organization. Successful delivery will put our client on solid footing to win a bunch of similar deals.

This isn’t an unusual engagement for Whitepeak. Often the work we do in strategy, marketing or sales leads to our helping a client navigate a specific competitive sales process.

It’s at times like this when I wonder why Sales is not formally taught.

There’s some art to sales, but there’s as much proven methodology as there is in marketing, operations management, or corporate strategy, all of which are taught in business schools. An effective sales capability is critical to the success of any company, but sales is uniformly absent from Irish business school curricula, and seems low on the agenda in the development agencies charged with ramping Irish exports.

It is possible that sales is simply considered a subset of marketing. There certainly some overlap between the two, especially in smaller organizations and start-ups. Understanding customer needs and behaviour and competitive analysis and positioning are critical to both disciplines. The problem is that big-ticket sales present a lot of challenges that are not addressed by marketing.

In getting our client to the final selection stage, Whitepeak has brought assistance in several distinct areas;

  • Eliciting explicit and implicit needs from the prospect
  • Aligning the product and service to the prospect needs
  • Mapping the prospect’s power structure
  • Identifying the emotional drivers of the stakeholders
  • Pressing comparative advantage in the sales cycle within a completely ethical approach
  • Enabling advocates within the prospect to communicate the client’s unique value
  • Getting the pricing right and aligning it with the prospect’s budget
  • Writing and managing the production of strong EOI and RFT responses
  • Creating targeted sales presentations

When we got off the plane, we fought through the jetlag and delivered a seasoned, confident and professional pitch. If we get to preferred vendor stage a whole new set of activities will start, including principled commercial negotiations and value engineering.

It’s a long list of activities. If you get any of them wrong, you’re unlikely to win a big-ticket sale. Some of those skills are best learned through experience, but most can be taught. There’s a sufficient body of literature out there to create a really great business course on the theory, strategy, and tactics of high-value complex sales. Ireland needs more people who can really sell on the world stage.

It’s a big world out there, and there’s lots of opportunity globally for innovative Irish technology. But innovative technology is only a small fraction what it takes to close a big deal. It would be nice if there was a greater emphasis on sales as a discipline in our universities and development agencies.

Category : Sales