Secrets to sales success

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This article appeared in the April 2010 issue of CRN magazine.

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Secrets to sales success
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Computer Merchants is IBM's highest-selling business partner in Australia and New Zealand when it comes to the vendor's system X range. It moves hundreds of bigger products such as System I, the midrange computer system used by banks.

The reseller's first quarter revenue was up 72 percent on last year and 27 percent ahead of its targets. "To me that's how we want to grow our business, so that's normal," says sales director Mark Loparow.

Although the business model is quite different to Thomas Duryea, Computer Merchants still depends on its sales people achieving trusted adviser status with customers.

"We have a unique way of training people," Loparow says. "It's very intense and in-depth and quite long. They're account reps, the financial controller, the cleaner, the CIO, the CTO, the CEO of their territories. They need to know everything and they need to be across it all. And they become part of the family of their customers."

The typical sales rep takes about two years to become a fully fledged member of the sales team.

Computer Merchants makes trust an explicit aim by telling customers that they only need to pay if they are happy with the product. No money is asked for up front.

Sales reps only earn their commissions if their customers have paid, which makes the process self-regulating. "Our business is based on repeat business. The sales reps don't get paid unless the customer is happy with their result," Loparow says. "Typically if a customer has traded with us once they will trade with us again."

Happy customers mean happy sales people. The average length of employment for a Computer Merchants sales rep is eight years.

The reseller has 18 sales reps who are on the phones every day with customers and distributors. They discuss trends at weekly sales meetings based on the quotes they are making with their customers and match them to conversations with distributors. Loparow says he also talks to the distributors at least once a week.

"Coupled with 18 other people doing exactly the same thing you do get a very good feel for what's happening in the marketplace.

"We make it our life to know."

The information is distilled into a bundling strategy. The reseller works with its distribution channel to make specials geared to items in demand.

Loparow says vendor promotions are useful to get end-of-financial-year deals over the line, but the reseller is very careful about how it puts together its bundles.

"We've found it important to spec this equipment without any gotcha's.

"Instead of promoting an IBM Blade Server without any disk or memory our preference is to quote a complete working configuration for the customer to use," Loparow says.

Loparow says some competitors will sell products that their customers may never use or are incomplete systems. He says a customer called him for an X series server and when they were talking prices the customer told him he could get the same product for much less.

"They shared with me the ballpark price and it was a vast, vast difference. But when we looked into it they were getting a skeleton of the product rather than something that is 100 percent working. You need to read the fine print all the time. If you're expecting to get a server, you need a server that works," says Loparow.

"A competitively priced item is very, very important, but equally important is a configuration that does work. Because what's the point in buying something that's inexpensively priced but doesn't really do the job because it doesn't have key features in it?"

Make the client work for you
This the wrong way to go about a sale: pin down the IT manager, get him to carve up his budget like a pizza and then ask him for a piece, says Terry Smyth, an expert salesman in Genesys call centre software at Dimension Data.

The key to a sale is understanding what the business is trying to do and building a business case which is supported by the technology, rather than selling the features of the technology itself, he says.

"If you can understand what the business challenges and needs are, it makes it a whole different approach. So it's the business coming back to ask [management] for the funds rather than you as an external party. It has a whole different mood around it and degree of urgency," Smyth says.

But how do you reach that point of familiarity with a customer and their business?

"I try and work with people on the same level. Say working with a vendor, it's not like we are subservient to them or they to us, we work with them as peers. And the same with customers as well - three parties trying to achieve the same thing," Smyth says.

Other integrators don't always work in the same way, he says. When the vendor or provider is placed on a pedestal it makes it hard to get the sales strategies right.

"There's always a question mark around whether they fully trust the other party. Ideally you have a really open relationship between the three parties, and even the customer knows what the role is that they play. And when you can get that working, everyone wins."

In the telco and finance market in which Smyth operates, it's difficult to retain the position of trusted adviser when competitors are constantly looking for an opening. Smyth says one tactic is for the sales person to stay involved in the delivery of a project. While this is time that would otherwise be spent developing leads for other sales, it is crucial to maintaining relationships with key customers.

"As boring as it sounds, the process is very much overlapping," Smyth says, because enterprise customers engage the integrator in several projects.

"If you have incumbency it's important to be across that and not just looking for the new things, [but] working on the operational side as well."

The extra groundwork brings its own rewards such as a positive set of messages if the project is going well. Similarly if there is a problem with delivery and the sales person is not across it he or she can really come unstuck, says Smyth.

"If you have a competitor that's in there talking about that problem they can use it as a tactical way to get into the business. But if you are across it and you can talk about what you're doing to address it then you can turn it into a positive," says Smyth.

"Most customers realise that you're always going to have problems. The difference between a good supplier and a bad supplier is how they deal with problems."

Happy customers generally don't want to spend the effort looking for alternative quotes. But if they are unsatisifed they will look elsewhere.

"If you address the problem and work with the customer and do all that stuff where there's no sale involved, and it's painful at the time, you can really improve your position and relationship with the customer," says Smyth.

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