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

I’ve been in sales and marketing for about a decade, and before that I worked in IT.

I was no technical wizard, but I could speak to people, understand their requirements, and make sure that reliable systems were in place to meet those needs. That gets you a long way in IT.

The move from IT to sales and marketing was a big one. Most of my peers in IT held sales and marketing in contempt. Sales people were considered clueless, mercenary and devious, and the marketing folks simply vacuous.

I was head of IT for DigitalThink, a San Francisco-based startup, when my perspective changed.

Pete, the CEO, had a background in marketing, but he was sales through and through. My desk was beside his, and I had the unalloyed pleasure of listening as he spoke to customers, pitched investors, and wooed the unending line of analysts, journalists, and partners that the company needed to succeed.

Pete talked at machine-gun pace, and spoke in a way that brought customers, investors, and the best people onboard. Of course, in the early days the company had virtually no customers and faced formidable competition. But to hear Pete talk, you would have thought that we had the market already sewn up.

The marketing guy was Steve, and his background was branding and digital media. His genius was in communicating, first to the employees and then to the world outside, the purpose of our company. His description gave a wider meaning to our work. We weren’t just a dotcom doing web-based training; we were at the forefront of a revolution in pedagogy that was helping the world to learn faster and better.

In all the years I heard Pete or Steve speak, I don’t remember ever hearing a lie or misrepresentation. Instead, each corporate achievement was communicated strongly and repeatedly. Stories of individual brilliance, effort and success were blended skillfully with a wider narrative that explained where our industry was going and how we were at the leading edge.

The employees, customers, and investors believed it. DigitalThink went public in 2000, and was soon acquired by a much larger company.

Pete and Steve showed me that sales isn’t lies, and marketing isn’t bullshit.

I quit IT, went to business school, and I’ve been doing sales and marketing ever since. At Whitepeak we’re hands-on practitioners, but we read the literature on sales, marketing and strategy. More gibberish than insight is put to paper, but there’s an old quote from Philip Kotler that captures something of our approach.

There is only one winning strategy. It is to carefully define the target market and direct a superior offering to that target market.

Whitepeak gets to work with a lot of smart people in interesting companies. We’ve started this blog so that others can learn from our successes and failures. Most our work is confidential, and we’re grateful to the clients who’ve allowed us to share their stories. We hope that they’re useful to you, and we look forward to an ongoing conversation.

Category : Marketing | Sales