It wasn't that long ago that there wasn't much to the sales techniques used by Stan Kania and his team at Software Link. "When I first started doing sales," recalls Kania, owner of the Atlanta-area based Sage reseller, "it was show me the money, show me the check. We would do a demo-show up and throw up [the presentation]. Here's my proposal-it would be a one-sheet proposal-write me a check."
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But for resellers of all sizes, the "show-up-and-throw-up" approach has turned into a more complicated process, as systems have gotten more complex, prospects more sophisticated, and competition more intense.
"The sales process has gotten much more in-depth," says Kania, whose company had $2.3 million in revenue for 2005 and expected to hit $3.4 million by the end of 2006. "Acknowledging that you have to have a sales process is a big thing."
The increasing size of deals has been a major factor in driving the need for sales education. When sales were principally of MAS 90, negotiations usually took place between the owner of the reselling firm and the owner of the target company. But as Software Link has grown increasingly more reliant on revenue from Sage Software's higher-end MAS 500, the sales process has changed dramatically simply because it is a more complex procedure that involves influencing a lot more people who participate in decision-making.
"With a lot of companies, you really have to have a sales process because you touch so many aspects of the company," he says. In a recent sale, the prospect formed a steering committee and the sales cycle took six months.
"We have to touch and interface with every one of the steering committee members and find out what their pain point is," Kania says. The sales process includes meeting with all key players and analyzing the companies' needs and who the competing resellers are.
One key tactic is that Software Link tries to avoid making its presentation before its competitors make theirs. And in general, it tries not to move more quickly along the sales process than the opposition does. Kania says that if his organization moves ahead to other steps before competitors do, prospects often forget about his company.
Discovering client intentions as early as possible is another major issue. Often, Kania's company doesn't lose business to a competitor, but loses it because the prospect decides not to buy anything.
"They are ready to do something and then they get into the process and they realize, 'I can wait,'" he says. "You tend to waste a lot of time with these." It's also important to avoid those people who are interested in buying simply to avoid losing a discount that may expire at the end of a month.
It is also important to Kania's organization to make sure it follows all the steps, so that it can diagnose cases in which it doesn't get the deal.
"You have to have discipline," says Kania. "If you miss any of the steps, you don't know where you are, or why you have lost a sale."
One sure way to lose the sale, Kania says, is to fail to demonstrate the return on investment that the prospect can achieve.
"If we do not do that, typically, we do not make the sale," he says.
There are a lot of factors at work in the sales process. Prospects who may be on their second or third accounting system are more knowledgeable and harder to sway than they were when many resellers started out in the business.
Just how things changed was described by Taylor Macdonald, executive vice president of channel and sales operations, in the Mid-Market Division of Sage Software, and himself once an award-winning reseller for both Sage and the former Great Plains. Recently, Macdonald accompanied a reseller on a presentation involving a large deal. This was an organization that had spent perhaps four days preparing before going to the prospect's site for due diligence. The reselling team went door to door within the organization, gave scripted demos, and provided an overview of Sage. "They brought in a router, speakerphones, and a projector. They hosted a dinner for the people who made the decisions," he says. "They probably had $10,000 to $20,000 invested in the process."
With that kind of money on the line just to get a deal, it is no wonder that vendors like Sage are providing more courses and more tools to improve reseller sales skills.
"I think it is the most important initiative we have," says Macdonald.
Sage has supported the need to improve sales skills through programs such as 100/100, under which Sage has provided $1 million a year that is divided among 100 partners and is designed to fund the hiring of a sale professional before that person starts contributing to reseller revenue.
But many partners probably never go to the extremes of detail in the example cited by Macdonald. In fact, he says that many fail to be thorough, and that they especially fail to determine "what's the problem, what's the pain" that the prospect is experiencing.
He continues, "They don't do due diligence. They don't craft the demo. The partners who are having trouble selling simply aren't willing to invest the time to sell in today's environment."
Macdonald says that there are also probably substantially fewer opportunities to make a sale, which makes acquiring sales skills even more critical. Over the last two years, Sage has intensified its effort. Resellers, he says, must understand the sales cycle, and the products they are selling. Probably the most important tool is role playing, and it's a tool that can cull the sales herd very quickly when the session is videotaped.
"People have cried, washed out, and gone home over something that is pretty simple," he says.
Overall, Macdonald says, it's easy to point to the failures that stop dealers from performing better. These are, he notes, "lack of knowledge, lack of practice, and lack of professionalism."
Similarly, Microsoft is providing training and sales resources, both online and in the classroom, with training tailored to different points in the process. That includes a general Microsoft Solution Selling course, along with the Partner Skills Builder, which has a companion Tech Skills Builder, to help dealers improve that end of the skill spectrum.
More recently, the company has released a tool it calls "Demo Showcase."
"This is a different tool than we have provided in the past," says Don Nelson, Microsoft's general manager of partner sales and readiness. Roles- and scenarios-based, the showcase provides examples of selling to small, medium, and large companies, with role playing that demonstrates how to make a presentation to a vice president of operations different "than what you would do for the CEO or the vice president of sales. It puts the right words in people's mouths depending on who they are in front of," Nelson says.
Nelson, like Sage's Macdonald, notes that no matter how much help the vendor provides, the resellers must practice their skills, and that's what the showcase provides.
"It's practice. You need a foundation and a place to start," Nelson says.
Beyond that, Microsoft provides personnel as sales resources, including what are called opportunity managers, sales specialists who help out in large and important deals.
"In a manufacturing sale, we would be able to provide a manufacturing specialist," Nelson notes.
Vendors that talk about the need to learn sales skills and to practice them, particularly by role playing, have the full endorsement of Roy Chitwood, the Seattle-based president of Max Sacks International, which markets the Track Selling system.
Track Selling has been used in a variety of workshops held by Sage Software and the Information Technology Alliance. The company offers one-day and three-day programs, but, of course, that isn't enough to give people all the skills they need.
Role playing is a key to the process. Chitwood believes that it is central to providing training. Classes are divided into groups of three, in which each member rotates between one of three roles-the sales person, the prospect, and the observer.