After having worked for IT vendors for about 20 years and now sitting on the other side of the table as a corporate client, I have gained some insights that could help the vendors be more effective in the competitive selling situations.
Dedicated pursuit team
Having a dedicated team working with the customer on a POC is very important; especially the POC involves many use cases. If the team can be onsite, it will be even better. Very often, the vendors are trying to decipher what each use case means and make it harder than necessary. The customers are usually happy to work with the vendors to resolve any issues. Usually when the vendor team is composed of shared resources, the drastic drop of the level of urgency and coordination can easily be felt by the customer compared to the vendors with a dedicated team. The documentation also tends to be more of run-of-the-mill quality rather specifically tailored to the customer environment.
Don’t sell me products, but solve my problems
The vendors are armed with their portfolio of products and searching for opportunities in their customer accounts to fit their products in. They are trained to map a problem statement with a product or products and tend to give us the name of the product as the solution to our problems. As a customer, we want to know how you can solve our problems and not just the product names. If the vendors can’t put their solutions in the context of the customer’s environment, then do your homework first otherwise you will be just wasting your time and resources.
Executive sound bites trump gory technical details
Many technical pre-sales architects or engineers are passionate about their products and will dive into the technical details right away. There are times for that type of discussion but most of the time, the discussion is at a much higher level. You want to make sure your audience has an appropriate take away message. A successful pre-sales person will draft a succinct message that the audience can socialize with their peers or senior leaderships why your product is better than the competitors.
Keep your competitors close; do the analysis for the client
At each competitive situation, whether it is a POC or RFP, the objective for the customer is to select the best solution among all the proposals. Many vendors are just bombarding the customers with their white papers and brochures and leaving them to sieve through reams and reams of materials and hoping that they will have time to read all the materials. Imagine multiplying this effort by the number of vendors. Then the customer needs to do the comparison from all the data collected. It is quite a laborious task. If a vendor could do the competitive analysis for the customer, they would usually come out ahead. Nevertheless, remember not to overdo this either; otherwise the vendor will come across as too biased and may offend some of the advocates of other vendors in the customer’s organization.
Many sales teams know only their own products and are not up to date with the advancements of their competitors or how their products stack up with others in the market. After attending so many product presentations, all the points may start to blur together for the customer. Only the ones with the message of how their solutions are better than the rest will truly stand out and leave an impression with the customer.
Selling a product vs selling a framework
When a vendor uses the term “framework”, it just signals to me that they don’t have everything figured out or at best have a half-baked product to sell. It is usually an attempt for large vendors to sell multiple products together and impose some kind of business context on the top of them. The customer usually needs to put in quite a significant effort in order to “implement” such a framework and at the same time usually buys more products than they actually need. It is where the niche players usually do much better than the large IT vendors. The latter should not use frameworks as a tool to meet their product sales quotas and put every product in their portfolio in the framework but rather make the offerings small and consumable projects. Use partner solutions to fill the gaps in the framework and be willing to sell only those in your first sale if necessary.
Sales people can make or break the account
I have heard from a few corporate customers that they eliminated a certain vendor because of their past bad experience with the sales person. In one situation, the sales person promised to let the customer use the loaner system for free to bridge them over the transition period. However, the customer was sent a big bill afterwards. That customer was infuriated and will not consider any other products from that vendor ever since. In another situation, the vendor was not invited in the selection process at all but right before the final decision was made, the sales person was able to squeeze themselves in and finally won the project because of his relationship with the client. Justified or not, the salesperson is the face of the vendor to the customers.
However, now many big vendors have so many layers of salespeople, they outnumber the clients in most of the meetings. Out of this army of representatives, usually only one person talks in the meeting and the rest will be doing email or looking at their phones. It sends a message of disrespect to the customer and the price of the product being unnecessarily high because there are so many overheads getting a cut of the revenue.
Big company’s arrogance
Some big vendors think their brand should carry some weight and they will have worldwide experts to show the customers how things should be done. If necessary, they could assemble a team of “super heroes” flying in from different parts of the world to save the day, especially in competitive POC situations. In reality, some of them may not even have the experience or knowledge to advise the customer. They are sent because of their availability because it can be hard to get resources from a large company with many layers of approval required. Even worse, those resources are gone after one or two weeks and the problem may not be completely solved. Then those vendors will try to modify the problem statement so that they could appear as finishing the job. The customers may not appreciate the vendors playing games with them.
In summary, put yourself in your customer’s shoes and help them solve their problems. If a vendor is too focused in only getting the customers to sign the purchase order, it will usually back fire. Only with the sincere interest to help the customer with their business will help you navigate the sales process and come out as a winner.