Advanced Sales Tactics
This article dives into advanced sales concepts and group selling situations. Over the last few months I have
met with a couple former colleagues who are highly educated and well respected in their fields of expertise. Their companies are bringing completely new technologies (both have very different product applications) to the oil and gas business. Both have joined new startups and must wear multiple hats including direct sales. What was amazing; through our discussions is the similarities of the challenges they face as technical experts moving into a complex sales environment. As each spoke I became more excited as every issue they were facing my sales teams (sales professionals not engineers) have overcome many times before across multiple industries. It was revealing that the sales challenges were almost identical for two completely different technologies sold into different market verticals. I thought it would be valuable to share their sales experiences with everyone.
The majority of articles published on LinkedIn and similar sites cover only basic sales concepts, such as asking for the sale, how to dress, how to build a presentation, etc. I have not seen any articles about building advanced tactical sales skills. The concepts in this article have been successfully applied to Oil and Gas Equipment, Medical Software & Hardware Systems, Remote Medical Services, and Automated Drilling Fluids Monitoring Technologies.
My colleagues described hauntingly similar sales situations; I have distilled the information into categories around the root obstacle and provide solutions to each. These examples are a small sample from actual meetings I have participated in over the last 20 years.
Who needs to be sold – In a group meeting you can’t judge the actual decision maker based on title or position, you need to observe behavior to determine who is in charge of this segment of the sales process.
VP/CEO in the room – Participants show the VP how smart they are vs. understanding your new solution
Technical Rabbit Holes – You get so far away from the product solution and presentation with irrelevant tech questions that keep getting more and more irrelevant.
Impossible Questions/Scenarios about your Solution Application – No further description required.
Loss of job – Buying this technology will put an employee, job position or entire department out of a job due to obsolescence
Who needs to be sold?
Having participated in dozens of sales schools and after reading at least 50 sales books, a lot of time is spent before the sale determining who you are supposed to be selling to at the meeting. I am very supportive of good sales meeting preparation but you need to keep your eyes and senses open! Many of you may be familiar with terms like: Economic Buyer, Technical Buyer, User Buyer, Buying influencer, Decision Maker, End User Buyer, 3rd party present, 3rd party not present…. And on it goes. These are important factors but when you enter a dynamic sales encounter with 5 or more people staring you down, you have to focus and pay attention to the behaviors within your buying group.
Regardless of how many people you are presenting to, there are 2 key people you need to identify as soon as possible so that you can proceed with the close or next steps in the sales process.
- Who is the REAL decision maker (for this meeting) that will close the deal or move to the next step. This person may not be your “economic buyer” or even the most senior person in the room, including the CEO.
- You have to watch the dynamics of the meeting unfold. Watch for body language and deference. Whomever the group keeps looking at for a reaction based on the points discussed is your REAL decision maker. Now that you have this information keep tabs on how things are really going in the meeting. The common blunder is that everyone is onside, the mood in the room is great and you answer all the questions correctly, but if the REAL decision maker is not sold, you will not move to next steps and you may never find out why!
- The most negative person at the meeting AKA Mr. Grumpy. In most sales encounters there is always one person who is visibly not impressed and sometimes outright hostile. Mr. Grumpy can be identified with: arms crossed, even their entire body is twisted up into a knot, Mr. Grumpy is leaning as far away from you as possible even to the point where it looks like their chair is going to flip over backwards. Mr. Grumpy keeps shaking their head at everything that is said. Mr. Grumpy may not speak much but when they do, you can tell that they are not impressed. Mr. Grumpy may be trying to lead everyone away from your solution.
- Grumpy is the person you need to get on your side. If you can turn them into a fan of your solution, only then can you proceed to the next steps or close the deal. You will have to proceed with caution and utilize some of the methods further down in this article. They will throw just about everything they have at you.
- Once you have identified this person it is time to go to really go to work. You now have a clear path to winning this phase of the negotiation. With experience you will come to understand that Mr. Grumpy can be your best friend at a meeting and start to wish that you get a Mr. Grumpy at every meeting!
In a recent meeting the client brought 7 people, our team brought 4. As things started rolling it became clear that we had a Mr. Grumpy on the prospective client side. The guy was sitting far back from the conference table, his arms and legs were crossed and every time a point was discussed he would grunt and shake his head. Everyone else at the meeting was very positive, engaged and excited about the technology and the application. You could also see a dynamic developing – when points were discussed (very positive uptake) everyone on the client side would look at the CEO, clearly the decision maker. What also became evident was that after the CEO took in the positive feel from his team, he would glance at the grumpy guy and his smile would turn to a frown. It was absolutely crystal clear – the customer team loved it, the CEO wanted to love it, the CEO was the decision maker, but Mr. Grumpy was the one to make the decision to move onto the next steps. The Mr. Grumpy needed to become a raving fan. We needed to find out what the issues were from Mr. Grumpy. I ended up just asking him “Excuse me I can see that you are not at all impressed with our solution, I would really appreciate your perspective.” This worked perfectly. Mr. Grumpy, with a few more nudges, provided everything we needed to know to make the sale. He delivered incredibly valuable information about how he was looking at our solution, – what we needed to do to sell him and advance to the next steps. Even more valuable was his perspective that would help us with other meetings with other prospective clients. Once you have this information, just about everyone else in the meeting vanishes. Your job is to truly address the concerns and really listen to what Mr. Grumpy is saying.
VP/CEO in the room – You may have an unexpected guest either attend the meeting or show up in the middle . This person can be “the boss” or “the ultimate boss”. When this happens, the dynamic of the entire meeting shifts drastically. Regardless of your technology or how much value it can bring to your client, when the boss is in the meeting, everyone’s old brain kicks into survival mode. The meeting is no longer about how good your technology is or how it will add value. The meeting is all about showing off for the boss.
First you have to be aware that this is going to happen and therefore you must always be prepared or you WILL go down in flames. You need to understand that the next 2 topics in this article will be utilized against you with full force. You have a very interesting battle ahead, you need to engage very carefully. You now need to prove the value of your solution AND show support to the people that are about to start a full scale war against you. This is your prime chance to show that you are on their team, you will support them and ultimately your solution will make them look good in front of the boss, all while fending off the massive attack.
Technical Rabbit Holes – Have you ever started down a path of technical questions that lead you to a place so deep and far away from your solution that you have no idea (after a few hours sometimes) how you got there? Everyone at the meeting is becoming confused. Your tidy tight value proposition has vaporized, everyone is playing with their phones and wondering “When the meeting will end?” This is because when you are with technical people showing a new technology or solution everyone feels compelled to ask and answer technical questions technically. Let me give you a few real examples to help illustrate the concept.
I was in a meeting with a major oil company discussing a revolutionary technology that will provide drilling fluid analysis in real time. The PhD body count at the meeting was very high! The technology I was presenting reads drilling fluids based upon MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and a bunch of physics calculations, which is entirely different from traditional methods that use multiple mechanical devices to provide the same data. The question asked by the client was “so….. Exactly how far is the magnet from the drilling fluid?” Having technical people at the meeting I could see that one of the PhD’s was actually going to answer this question, probably to the exact micron. I knew right away that answering this question technically would serve no purpose at all. I quickly asked, “Excuse me, that is a very good question why would you like to know this?” The response was very revealing, “Well… We can get a LOT of metal in the drilling fluid, I want to know if high concentrations of metal in the fluid will destroy the MRI machine.” Let’s look at this… the question asked was, “How close is the magnet to the fluid?” where the information wanted was simply, “Will metal in the fluid destroy the system?” By asking for a more precise reason why he wanted this information, we were able to avoid the technical rabbit hole, deliver the information he needed to satisfy the question, and move on.
I was in a meeting with a major NOC (National Oil Company) that was looking at purchasing a very large number of million-dollar capital equipment upgrades for their rigs. This was a “technical” review meeting and things were going very well. Most questions were technical and application specific, size, weight, capability. I could feel the tension starting to grow on the customer side. I could feel that they were getting ready to ask the BIG question. There was a little pause, then everyone was glancing at the main decision maker. I knew he was ready to deliver the MAIN technical question our team was there to answer. He looked directly at me then bluntly asked, “How big are the resistors in your drive module?” That was it… what the heck! Something was wrong here – that is a very simple question not worth the hype or the tension in the room. So before one of our technical people could deliver the very simple answer, I asked, “So… just curious. Why exactly do you want to know this information?” The customer replied, “Well, we had one of these systems years ago and had a few catastrophic failures. We want to make sure that this one will work better.” At this point my mind was spinning, then I remembered the very early prototypes had some issues that had been fixed long ago (and it had nothing to do with the size of the resistors). Our team explained in detail the reason for the early failures, the difference with the new systems, and how they do not need to worry about this at all. That was it!
What you need to determine: does a technical question always need a technical answer? These are only a few examples of dozens that my teams have faced over the years. You need to look behind the face value of the technical question to figure out what they are trying to solve. You will also start to see patterns in questions – how big, how heavy, perhaps they are wondering if it will fit. It needs to be a conversation, not an interrogation.
Impossible Questions about your solution –This happens a lot in group situations with a technical aspect especially with the VP or CEO in the room. This is precipitated once you get Mr. Grumpy talking, have no fear. Especially concerning new technologies, it is a paradigm shift to move what everyone has been doing for decades to a new (better value added) way. People often try to reason through your new technology based on current best practices and technology. Many times you will be thrown some very strange, very rare scenarios (that may only be theoretically possible) in attempts to try to stump you (and make you look inferior). Regardless if you can solve the Kobayashi Maru, hold tight with the answer for now. This example should help illustrate the concept:
I worked with a company that was deploying remote medical technologies that were way ahead of the market. It gave the ability for a physician to remotely diagnose a patient half a world away. Not only could they see and speak with the patient in real time, this technology also allowed the doctor to listen to the heart and look in the ears, nose and throat as if they were in the same room. Not only that, it could do it across the world via sat com, a low bandwidth communications satellite, with the patient on a drilling rig bobbing in the South Pacific and the doctor sitting in Houston, Texas. Here is an example of the technology capabilities https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0bSHEXqjPM
Less exciting was that you could remote in an on-call specialist to do diagnostic treatments in real time with the primary care physician in a standard doctor’s office or hospital. During a demo at a large hospital Mr. Grumpy decided he would speak. “So tell me, let’s say I have a patient in my office from out of country with a rare condition and I beam in a specialist from New York, he realizes that this guy has something really rare and suggests we quickly beam in the ONLY specialist in the country that can diagnose this condition – he lives in Florida. He orders a bunch of tests that we do here at the hospital. Everything turns out great and we are able to save his life. How exactly are we supposed to bill for this?” Now I have to say that is quite the scenario. The reply is always just about the same. “Wow that is a very interesting scenario! To be honest, I am not exactly sure how we would go about putting the billing together as this is not my area of expertise. Perhaps walk me through how you would bill for something like that using your current methods of telephone, fax and email to reach the lifesaving diagnosis and treatment.” After a few seconds of silence (that feel like forever). “Look it’s a good question. I believe what is important about the question is that this technology opens up new possibilities of life saving treatment options that can benefit everyone. That scenario would be impossible without this technology deployed throughout your health network.” I hope you can apply this to meetings you have had in the past or future.
Loss of job/Job Function/Department – New technologies can make current methods obsolete. This may include: employees, suppliers, current inventories etc. The most interesting sales scenario is where the “technical buyer” is the one who is going to lose a job or job function if they approve your new technology. “It always comes down to the analytical chemist to review our technology! After they get a good look and understand what it does, they also quickly realize that if they support the technology they will no longer have a job”
For these scenarios, you are not starting with the analytical chemist (hopefully), but with someone who can see the value. It is always best to be honest with them about the peril of the reviewer. “I know that you would like a technical review done by your analytical chemist. They are the ones that currently do the heavy lifting to accomplish what our technology does so effortlessly. The complication is that when they review this technology, they will quickly realize that this technology will put their job and their entire department in peril. I have never seen a good review after speaking with one of these people.”
In some cases this is it. The job they had is obsolete. It is better if the job function can have a shift for the better. You will always face resistance to change but it is necessary that you bring it up early before you engage with someone who needs to decide between adopting your technology for the good of the company or saving a personal career.
When working in the infancy of Electronic Medical Record segment in the 90’s it was a LOT of work to manage paper. Sometimes 2 or 3 staff in a clinic would be dedicated to the management of paper records. Pulling, sorting, filing, faxing etc. In many cases after a demonstration of the Paperless Clinic EMR solution, the staff would quickly realize that this would likely be an end to employment. Fortunately this was rarely the case when an EMR system was installed. Clinics are very busy places, at the time a lot of effort by the staff was centered on the management of paper instead of the management of patents and treatment. The revolution of electronic records allowed the staff more time to provide better care and service patients, resulting in a better and more rewarding experience for everyone involved. Prescribing this shift not only gave the staff comfort but also created excitement about a better and more rewarding work environment in the long run.
Thanks for coming on this journey with me, I hope you’ve learned some new tools. If you have any more objections or are getting stuck on the same thing please put it in the comments or email me. Nothing is better than live coaching and training for sales encounters. I provide individual and group advanced sales training and coaching. Sales meeting forensics, sales presentation review and many other services to supercharge your sales growth. For more information please send me an email at Michael@perfectconsultinggroup.com. Please also like and share this article to people that will find value in it.
About the author:
Michael Szafron has held Management and Executive positions in the Oil and Gas, Medical, Information Technology and Retail fields. Michael has grown companies and operating divisions globally, having done business in multiple industries in more than 30 countries and counting. Szafron has just finished setting up the US-based Energy Division of an Israeli company that would like to bring their MRI and NMR products into the oilfield and refining sectors. Most recently joined Perfect Consulting Group™ as COO. Perfect Consulting Group™ is a market leading organization that provides More Than Advice™ to it’s clients. Accelerating and growing business with real deliverables.
ABOUT THE COMPANY:
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