–By Ken Bisnoff
I’m going to let you in on a secret that the best technology salespeople already know: “Not selling” is your best chance of making a sale.
If that idea makes you uncomfortable, you’re not alone. As telecom sales pros, we have been conditioned to push, push, push our services—and at a discount more often than not. But in today’s marketplace this approach has diminishing returns. Clients become less interested in talking to you, you win fewer deals and the ones you do close are primarily low-margin, bandwidth upgrades.
There’s a better way. Next time you engage a prospective client, I challenge you not to present any solutions in your first meeting. None. Sure, you can spend some time – albeit briefly – talking about your company to establish credibility, but don’t make any recommendations.
Instead, ask questions that will help you to understand your prospect’s current and future environment. Find out what’s working and what’s not, and what your client is willing to explore. You should be listening, not speaking. Learning, not teaching.
If this sounds a lot like sales discovery, that’s because it is. But many telecom sales partners don’t have the patience to do it right – relying on shortcut questions like how much bandwidth or how many lines the customer needs.
Sales discovery done right is the art of querying and listening. It’s planned, but not scripted. Asking prospects a few leading questions enables you to learn about their business, uncover vulnerabilities, pain points and areas of need. Depending on their responses, the dialogue could move in any number of directions, with you posing follow-up questions that ultimately will validate the solutions in your proposal.
Take the example of a recent meeting I had with a customer. It began in a familiar fashion; the IT manager talked through a whiteboard diagram showing the company’s network topology – connections between its headquarters, disaster recovery site, retail stores and the cloud. Instead of asking him how much more bandwidth he thinks they need, I asked him what applications ran on their network. For the next half hour he listed 20 applications and prioritized them. Through this exercise, I learned what matters to this company. And, I was able to pivot the conversation to their plans for continuity, data center and cloud.
Armed with this information, I can go back to the client with a recommendation for much more than network services. Just as importantly, this customer now thinks about TelePacific differently. No longer are we a commodity network company; we are a solutions provider that understands what they want to achieve as a business.
Effective discovery is a foundational step in the sales process that can lead to incremental benefits by:
- Moving away from a price-only discussion
- Adding value to your role as a trusted sales agent
- Differentiating you from competitors
- Enabling you to offer solutions that better meet customer needs
- Increasing your chances of winning deals
- Expanding your average revenue per user (ARPU)
- Improving customer stickiness through deeper, multiservice solutions
So where do you begin?
- Start by thinking about the product sets you’re selling. Here, it’s the 3Cs – Connectivity, Cloud and Continuity.
- Then, develop questions that will justify the solutions in those product sets. At my company, for example, the cloud discovery process begins with general questions like, “What does cloud mean to you?” and drills down into more specific questions about cloud applications such as email and backup.
- If you need help developing these questions, consult your Channel Manager or the Cloud Services team at Intelisys.
- Finally, as you go into a customer meeting, be prepared with your top five questions and be able to pivot to additional questions based on your prospect’s answers.
What if you don’t always understand the answers?
- Truthfully, this might happen, but don’t panic. Because you are not presenting a solution in the first meeting, you can consult afterward with a sales engineer at Intelisys or, a provider like TelePacific, and follow up with additional questions over email.
- You also can plan for assistance in advance for certain situations. If you are meeting with someone at a very large business or who is highly technical, consider taking a sales engineer into the meeting with you.
- For a meeting with someone at a smaller firm or someone who holds a traditional business role, you should be able to handle the dialogue on your own. If you’re not comfortable in this position, attend channel-focused training to improve your comfort level with the process.
With telecom and IT convergence accelerating, sales discovery is your gateway to future success. It will help you deliver more complex services like cloud or continuity, serve more upmarket clients and stand out in a crowded marketplace. We know it works. After committing to our 3Cs’ discovery process, TelePacific’s large deal ($5,000+ MRC) wins are up 160 percent year over year.
Even if you’ve sold a majority of your existing accounts using a transactional hook based on a lower price, it’s not too late. You can build on those relationships with effective discovery that will identify opportunities to offer additional services and reduce the risk of churn by delivering greater value. In so doing, you will become a problem-solver and not just a salesperson chasing a price.
Ken Bisnoff is senior vice president of strategic opportunities for TelePacific Communications, a Los Angeles-based provider of comprehensive connectivity, cloud and continuity to companies ranging from small businesses to enterprises with hundreds of locations. Bisnoff has senior management responsibility for retail sales through direct and agent channels.