The uncomfortable truth: We all work in sales

Picture of a car with a price in the windowSay the world “sales” to many people and you’ll get a negative response.  Perhaps they’ll remember a time that a desperate salesperson tried to “hard sell” them an expensive extended warranty that they didn’t want or need, or perhaps they’ll remember a time when an unethical sales executive sold them a car that turned out to be completely impractical, unreliable and not fit for their needs.  In fact, for many people the whole idea of “sales” and “selling” is uncomfortable.   It conjures up negative images of unethical and unfair behaviour.

 

Yet selling is a crucial part of what organisations do, particularly those organisations that sell ‘big ticket’ items or complex services.  The reality of sales can be very different from the cliché—it really doesn’t have to be murky and unethical.  Good sales involves understanding the customer’s needs, finding a solution that meets their real needs and ensuring that solution is deployed successfully within any relevant constraints.  It involves building relationships , providing advice and advocating what is best for the customer whilst keeping the organisation’s needs firmly in mind too.  Clearly this is quite a broad definition!

 

But do you have to have the title of sales executive or salesperson to work in Sales?  I would argue not—in fact, there is an element of sales in just about everyone’s role.    Whatever your role—whether you’re an internal business analyst or whether you work for a solution provider or managed service provider (MSP), it is likely that an element of your role involves “selling”.   Just about every role involves building relationships, understanding stakeholder/customer needs, and so forth. If we are not selling products or services we are probably selling ideas.   Imagine the project sponsor that has to ‘sell’ the idea of their project to the board.  Or the business analyst that ‘sells’ the benefits of an idea or option to their business stakeholders.  Or even the consultant within an external managed service provider that convinces their client to change tact and invest in a solution that is a better fit than the one the client had in mind.  All of these are variants of selling and sales.  But I suspect many of us haven’t thought of it this way before!

 

What this means for business and business analysis: Customer and Benefit

If we accept the idea that there is an element of sales in all of our roles, then taking established tools and techniques from the world of sales becomes an interesting idea.  There are many excellent sales resources out there which are well worth reading, but in this article I will briefly focus on two specific and important aspects: The customer and the benefits.

 

Firstly, it is well worth asking ourselves who are the consumers and customers of the service or product that we offer.  This might be internal or external customers, and we might find that we interact with different types of customer and consumer.  In many cases the economic customer (the person paying) might be different from the end consumer!  Let’s imagine that we are working as a business analyst—although we might not be ‘selling’ in the traditional sense, we still provide an extremely valuable service to our business stakeholders by helping them to understand their problems, specifying their needs and helping them to find solutions.  We may also create artefacts that are useful to other consumers including the project sponsor, developers, testers and so on.   Understanding who are customers and consumers are and what value they are looking to co-create or attain is crucial.  A project sponsor may want a very different thing when compared with a tester or developer, and understanding this is important.

 

Secondly, it is extremely useful to think more about the services that we provide or the deliverables that we produce.  Those of us that work in analytical, consultancy or technical roles may have a tendency to describe what we do rather than why we do it (and the benefit that it brings).  A technique that can help here is the humble ‘features and benefits’ table.  So often, we think in terms of features; but our customers and clients often focus on benefits.

 

For example, if you were buying a laptop, which of these statements would resonate most with you?

 

Statement A: 1TB 2.5” Solid State Hard Drive with hardware 256 bit AES encryption

Statement B: Super-fast hard-drive technology meaning your laptop boots in 9 seconds.  Automatically secures your data, meaning if your laptop is stolen the data cannot be accessed by the thief.  Large 1TB capacity more than adequate for office and home use.

 

I suspect even the tech-savvy amongst us can appreciate that statement B is more benefit focussed, and likely to resonate with a wider range of customers.  So it is worth consciously spending time thinking and communicating not just about the features (Solid State Drive) but also the benefits (Quick boot-up time etc.).

 

With this in mind it can be useful to create a features and benefits table.  For each ‘feature’ (or deliverable/product), list the benefits that a customer will receive.  An example (listing some common project activities and artefacts that we might encounter) is shown below:

 

Feature [or product] Benefit
Pre-project problem analysis Knowing what problem we’re solving Understanding the root-causes of any problem (or the nature of any opportunity) so that we can quickly initiate a project, and “hit the ground running”. Ensuring there is consensus, and helping to de-risk future work.
Business Case Document Informed Decision Making: Enabling you to see the costs, benefits, risks and impacts so you can make an informed decision.
Creating a requirement specification. Aligning solution with your needs: Working with you to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the problem, enabling you to have confidence that the solution we’ll deploy will meet your precise needs.

 

By talking not just about the features or deliverables, but also the benefits, we may be able to ‘sell’ more effectively and create even better relationships.  We help our customers and consumers to see the value even more clearly, and this will keep them coming back to us again and again.

 

 

Do you have any suggestions or thoughts related to sales or selling (or any related topics)? I’d love to hear from you – please add a comment below!

 

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This post was brought to you by IBM for MSPs and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s PivotPoint. Dedicated to providing valuable insight from industry thought leaders, PivotPoint offers expertise to help you develop, differentiate and scale your business

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