Saturday, January 31, 2009

First Or Last ?

You are involved in a four-vendor bakeoff. You have the opportunity to choose whether you present first, last or in the middle - what do you choose?

In the absence of any other data, I always say "go first". Why? Here is my logic. For even more details visit the MTS Website.

Now let me walk you through my reasoning. Firstly I look at the experiences and habits of other very successful sales organizations. The example that comes to mind is Siebel Systems in the late 1990’s – no matter what the situation was, Siebel always found a way to go last. There were often suspicious circumstances surrounding their request due to passing away of some distant relative, travel plans or vacations. However, better than 80% of the time the Siebel sales force went last to show their stuff. This pattern was echoed by Oracle and Sybase in their hey-days. My friends in the consulting and media/advertising business also tell me that they always prefer to go last.

Secondly is the matter of education versus selling. I have often found that the first vendor is often placed in the position of having to educate some of the people in the room about everything, ranging from the general marketplace to specific product functionality. Although that may appear as consultative selling, it detracts from your overall message as it can make your solution hard to use or understand. On the other hand, you can make the point that you get to set the stage and drop competitive landmines for the following three vendors without having to defuse any yourself. Should you have an extremely strong product and are confident of your superiority then going first is the place to be. It allows you to cover off the checklist and agenda items requested by the client, and then add in a few extra credit items of your own. When going first, work with your inside coach to make sure that some general literature is made available to everyone before to mitigate the educational impact discussed previously.

The third point is differentiation. Going last as vendor 4 of 4 means that you need to shake things up and present a little differently. I like the image of Mental Velcro. Can you tune your session to such a degree that it just sticks in the customer’s mind? Proceeding with the standard corporate overview, followed by this is what we know, this is how we’ll fix it, here is the product/solution/services , here are the financials and this is why we are different and unique is NOT going to make you different and unique. So going last will allow you to make points that the other three vendors cannot immediately rebut, plus your pitch, if sufficiently different yet still laser-focused on solving their business problem, will remain in their brains as the selection committee sits down to rank the four performers.

Finally, unless there are exceptional circumstances around timing, customer attendance or your own team’s availability, I have yet to come up with a defensible position as to why you should go in the middle. Good selling!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fixing The Garage Doors

Last week one of the large springs on my garage door broke – resulting in much wailing and grinding of metal as the one remaining spring took up the load to lopsidedly raise and lower the door. I know from previous experience that (a) I have to replace both springs and (b) it is a much easier job to do with help. Replacing the door springs single-handedly is about a 90 minute job, replacing them with my son’s assistance would be a 15 minute job. Swallowing my male pride I asked for help and everything went smoothly – plus now my son knows how to replace a garage door spring (or how much to reasonably pay someone else to do it for him).

The moral here – mentoring can help both sides of the relationship, AND, sometime admitting you really need help of any kind can make you stronger, wiser and save you time in the long run. Think about that the time you are gamely struggling through a RFP, a new demo or a troublesome installation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tough Talk For Hard Times

Thomas Hoffman's cover story in the Jan 19th edition of Computerworld is subtitled "Nine Ways To Get More Out Of Software Vendors in 2009".

Now, I'm all for customers driving a fair and reasonable bargain and always asking for a little more. Indeed, in these hard times I am all for the customer and the software supplier to renogiate a contract if both sides get something out of it. Yet this article takes us back twenty years to when a vendor was exactly that - a vendor. No thoughts of partnership, trusted advisor or strategic supplier - just a miserable old vendor. It is a very one-sided view of the relationship with nothing in there for the vendor, except, eventually, some revenue. I thought we had gotten past that by now.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Nortel and Better Days

Nortel filing for bankruptcy really brings closure to the dot-com era for me. Back in 1999 I worked for Clarify – a growing CRM company. Nortel acquired them for what effectively amounted to $5bn (and two years later sold the remnants to Amdocs for $200m). With the screaming stock price in 2000 I have no complaints and many of the material things I have today were bought with NT stock.

Somehow over the years I lost track of 12 shares sitting in a brokerage account. That became 1 share and a few dimes after Nortel made a reverse stock split. I decided to frame the stock certificate and it has pride of place in my downstairs bathroom. I keep it there as a reminder of the good old dot-com days, and to humble me because it is a $1,000 mistake. What was once worth $1,000 become several dollars, then fifty cents, and is now worthless. Except it really isn't because it teaches me to enjoy what I have, and to appreciate the not-so-material things in my life even more.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The New MTS Blog

Welcome to the new home for the Mastering Technical Sales blog. Over the next few weeks we'll be transitioning across to Blogspot from Yahoo. The original blog can be found here.