Prospecting for complex technology sales is challenging. It requires skills and methodologies different than those used in traditional consumer and business-to-business marketing. To understand how to generate leads for complex sales, one must understand the characteristics of a complex sale and identify the challenges posed for technology companies.
Know your target. Providers must develop a thorough understanding of the prospect, the prospect’s organization and the challenges it faces in its industry. This due diligence includes understanding how the company evolved, what business units it has, how its lines of business interact and what solutions it has implemented in the areas in which you are looking to help.
If your product or service is not already vertically focused, you also must understand how technology affects the target’s industry. Only after you have a proper background on the target company and its industry can you offer a solution.
Know the competition. Providers need to know who the competitors are in a given account, internally and externally. In complex sales, you compete not just against other companies, but also against other ways in which the prospect can invest resources.
When marketing innovative or complex technologies, you compete for dollars against several alternatives. First there are your traditional competitors. You should know which ones your prospect is evaluating. Second, there are consultants and integrators that may compete to provide a custom solution. Third, the company’s IT staff may wish to develop a solution internally.
You also compete against projects in other parts of the company that have nothing to do with your solution. Your prospect will invest money where it thinks it will derive the best return. And you compete against whatever current solution you are replacing.
Often a target will have many internal fiefdoms, some of which will be threatened by your solutions. Before you start selling your solution, learn the competitive landscape at your target.
Know the players. Providers must sell to multiple groups within an organization, including the operational or end user, the financial, the technical or IT, and the executive level. As the salesperson or marketer, you must understand the motives and influences of each group. When developing your sales leads, you must understand the big picture within a company, and that means speaking with multiple contacts within your prospect’s company.
Though one group may lead the evaluation, you must understand the roles each group will play prior to investing your time in selling to the account. A new technology group within IT may be the technical evaluator, but an end-user business unit may be driving the process. An initial understanding of these forces will help focus your attention on selling to the complete account.
Know when you have a true lead. This may be the most important part of developing leads for complex sales. A “lead” is a company that has a budgeted initiative for solutions like yours. It has a team in place to evaluate solutions, a rough time frame and a compelling business reason why it wants to implement a solution. All this information should be verified in the prospecting stage with multiple contacts.
Someone in a target company who expresses interest in your solutions but lacks the other characteristics above is not a lead. That prospect may become a lead, and a certain amount of time should be spent cultivating that opportunity, but it is not a lead.
A technology company’s sales force should spend its time with companies that are looking to buy, not with those merely interested in building up their information library. The importance of proper qualification of prospects before sales or marketing executives spending their time should not be underestimated.
Know your process. Providers need a formal methodology of developing and tracking opportunities in their major accounts. Marketing resources must be applied to those accounts with the highest likelihood of buying 1) a solution and, 2) your solution. Your senior sales executive’s time should be valued as much as your capital resources are, and you must consider, as an organization, how best to spend time.
Prospecting for the complex sale is not something you can do once a year. It is not a single action, but a process. This process should be in place to develop intelligence on your key accounts, allocate sales resources to your best opportunities and manage the long-term sales lead pipeline.
The more efficient the process, the better the return on your sales and prospecting investment. An efficient prospecting process also helps provide a predictive model of future sales based on the number of companies in your sales pipeline.