My original plan was to follow up on the previous post with a discussion of how Outcome-Based Selling should be a significant part of addressing the shifting of technology sales from legacy IT to the lines of business. However, I’ve gotten a lot of requests like the following from Coralee Torrence: “The big problem is making that shift when all the relationships we have built are in IT. How do we get there?” I’d like to tackle this topic now.

For most legacy technology selling teams, their primary “relationships” are with IT. And we can infer that their conversations consist of “bits, bytes, feeds and speeds” (after all they are trained extensively on product features). However, what many technology selling organizations, as well as IT departments, lose sight of is that the sole purpose of IT is to support their internal business customers and the objectives of the business.

Recent surveys show that businesses believe that only 24% of the time is IT aligned with the business goals. This data and the advent of cloud computing and applications has surely contributed to the dramatic rise in “Shadow IT”.  Together, these are likely the underlying cause of the shift of IT spend to the business. The irony is that data and applications are not only more important to the business than ever, in many cases they are quickly becoming the primary business differentiator! Yet the data says selling to our current IT contacts alone should prove challenging –and many are finding it that way. Obviously, we need to be selling to both IT and the business, but how? Let’s start with a valid reason that the business will want to meet with us—and remember they don’t speak “techno geek,” nor do they care about our latest product features, etc.

It’s the Data and Applications

Assume that the account team understands the basics of the customer’s business as this should be table stakes in B2B selling (not always a good assumption but we don’t have time here to delve into this). To begin, let’s target what is extremely important to most businesses and that is the data and the applications used by the business. Now answer the following questions for opportunities you or your team are pursuing:

  • What is the customer’s critical data?
  • What are the key applications and how do they use them to make money and run the business?
  • What challenges are the business facing in fully utilizing the data and applications to achieve their objectives?

When I’ve pushed technology account teams to initially get answers to these three simple questions, they’ve very often developed compelling insights into potential approaches to the business stakeholders. Now we need a plan to gain access to the business. If we’ve already got business contacts, then we’re off to a good start. If not, do we go to the business alone or with IT? My preference is that we get IT to willingly take us to their business customers, because it will be in their best interests. But this will take a bit of planning and work.

Help IT Become “Heroes” to the Business

If the account team’s contacts are relatively low in the IT organization (often the case), these people are generally not that helpful in getting you to the business. They may not know who to take you to, or they simply don’t want another “project” to deal with. After all, they are often shorthanded and struggling to manage the projects they currently have. Therefore, we’ll need to get higher up in the IT organization to someone who understands and is responsible for addressing the challenges of the business.

Experience tells me this is at least a senior director of program management, but more likely a VP, SVP or the CIO – depending on the organization. Getting an audience with these individuals is straightforward when you present them with the opportunity to improve the outcomes of their internal business customers versus taking a meeting to talk about your products and/or services. These are the issues they’re dealing with every day. Our primary objective for the meeting is to get introduced to the right people in the business we might help. Below are a few examples of how this can be done.

We Just Sell Data Storage…

Such was the refrain from a client trying to sell a large data storage deal to a company that provides the back-office ticketing, luggage tracking, etc. for airlines. When you think about it, data and applications were this company’s only assets! We asked the three questions above and discovered they were seeing customer satisfaction issues because of downtime and losing market share primarily because their pricing was perceived as not competitive.

The downtime was a straightforward issue to address because of the nature of our technology. Digging into the pricing issue of their services, we learned they couldn’t reliably price services because they couldn’t allocate actual processing and storage costs to each individual service. Our solution provided that and we were quickly introduced to the CIO by our current IT contacts (storage manager).

When we showed how our solution could track and report actual processing and storage per service, he was ecstatic! Furthermore, he introduced us to the SVP of Operations to determine what additional issues he might want solved. We learned that the CFO desperately wanted to track costs on a per customer basis. With a slight upgrade and modification to our offering, we were able to provide those reports and insights too. As you might imagine, this deal, while competitive did not take long to close.

The customer was now able to effectively price their products and services based on actual costs. As a result, they began to win more business and increase their market share. Tracking costs by customer allowed them to further adjust pricing in order to increase their overall margins. Finally, solving the downtime issue led to significant improvements in customer satisfaction.

We Just Provide Web Security…

The customer was “unhappy” with the current provider of web security – which is always music to the ears of any account team—right? When I asked them what “happy” would look like to this customer, they didn’t really know. When I further pressed them to find out what “happy” would also look like to the internal business customers, I heard the usual response “we just provide web security…” The customer was a division of a high end credit card company that provides travel services to their card members. Pressing on, the account team requested access to the end users and were surprisingly (at least to them) granted it.

From the VP of Sales, they learned that the primary users of web security were the travel agents that searched multiple websites for deals on transportation, hotel rooms, special event bookings, etc. They also learned that the agents were extremely frustrated because the current web security system required them to log out and then back in when accessing different websites. As a result, this took a lot of time and led to lower sales per agent (productivity and overall revenues) as well as decreasing customer satisfaction scores due to long booking times.

We demonstrated how our solution would safely allow the travel agents to quickly and easily do their jobs without interruption and were awarded the business over a large number of competitors. By the way, the info sec team was “unhappy” with the current supplier because they were not responsive to adding new features (which, ironically did not address the travel agent’s issues) and the high cost of their solution. Our solution was more expensive…

The bottom line is that our account teams can gain access to the business if they earn the right by demonstrating they 1) understand the customer’s business and the critical data and applications the business uses to make money; 2) have identified potential areas for improvement for the business; and 3) talk to the internal business customers about the successful outcomes they will help IT deliver to them. I could give you hundreds more examples, but I hope I’ve given you some ideas to pursue right now.

Good Selling!