Monday, November 29, 2010

So you want to sell me stuff?

I recently had a sales team ask me for a reference and after thinking about it, I agreed, but they had to include the entire reference. After reading it they could decide if they wanted to use it or not. It was a fair critique and I highlighted many of the benefits or working with their company. I also pointed out what I didn’t like.  I don’t think they used it.

I work with a lot of vendors. In an average week I will get 25 calls to my desk phone. I would guess 90% or more, I let go to voice mail. People who I work with a lot and that I want to talk to, have my cell number. For a small few, I’d recognize their phone number and pick it up. Of course the ones I work with a lot also know to email me since I’m in meetings most of the day.

I’ve got all my emails organized. People and vendors, I work with a lot have their own folder, other vendors have a generic bucket. In theory I would search my generic vendor folder when I need to purchase something that I don’t need that often, or that I didn’t need then, but do now. In practice though, I could delete that folder with no impact, except a reduction in my inbox. The question you, as my account team should be wondering is, “Am I in the generic bucket, and if so how do I get out of it?”

A few questions to ask yourself.

When was the last time you found something wrong on my bill?
I have vendors, in fact most of the telecom vendors I work with, who have never gotten a bill correct. I guess they should get points for being consistent, I mean even a stopped clock is right twice a day, always being wrong seems to defy the law of averages. So I have someone whose job it is to review the bills and to then open disputes for the errors. I would have expected once in the last few years for my account team to have glanced at my bill and called to say “Hey, we noticed an incorrect number on your bill and opened a dispute on your behalf”. How cool would that be?

When I say the bill is wrong, I mean very wrong. We may have a contracted rate of $2500 per month, and some months it‘s $7800, the next month it may be almost right. I don’t expect them to review my bill in detail every month. The bills, if I were to get paper ones, would come in a box and get wheeled to me on a two wheeler. If it suddenly doubles or more though in cost, let me know.  How hard would it be to flag an account if the bill varies by more than 50% from previous months? Offer to review it with me, anything to let me know you are not asleep at the wheel.

When was the last roadmap discussion?
Did you just release the best product of the year? Did I know it was coming? Heck did I just buy 3000 from your competitor because I had no idea you guys were working on one?

Could I tell you what all of your products are?
I’ve had vendors that I never would have called for something because I had no idea that they did it. For example, did you know AT&T is more than phones? Did you know Dell does professional services and can help you move a data center? Many vendors, especially the larger ones, do more than what you think. If you don’t know they probably won’t get your business right? Likewise if your customer doesn’t know you do something, you probably won’t get a call either.

Is it a single account team, or one per product? Do I even know who my account team is? I recently made some change on my team and we ended up meeting with all of our telecom vendors again. One rep showed up and introduced himself as our account rep. “I’ve been your account rep for two years. This is a nice building. It took me a while to find it since I’d never been here before”. Anyone see an issue with this? No one had ever met the guy, but he was our rep for two years?

Is the mode of communication correct? I’m pretty much an email guy. I hate talking on the phone. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s easier for me to type than talk. Who knows? I recently built out our data center and none of the contractors were email people. If I didn’t call them or meet them in person I never would have gotten anything done. I had to adapt my communication mode to match theirs.

New technologies such as IM, Twitter, and Facebook are also available. In some cases they are a better way to communicate. I regularly read a blog post that a local recruiter has. She updates it weekly-ish, and has, of course, job openings, but also comments on the economy, hot skills, interviewing tips etc. Though we have never met in person, I read her blog religiously and when I have an opening, or know a good employee I always refer to her.

Did you get my name right? Calling me Mitch when my name is Rich is bad enough when it is a cold call. If I’ve been working with you for 2 months, it’s inexcusable. Heck if Chilis can get it right when I’m spending 15 bucks on a meal, an account executive should get it right when I’m spending a few thousand or more.

When my last order shipped, did you follow up? Why any sales person would pass up a chance to talk to a customer I would never know, but most times when I order something, I never get a follow up.  Something simple like an email asking if I got the order and was it correct, will go a long ways to getting the next order, and moving from the generic vendor bucket to a trusted partner bucket.

When something went wrong, did you call to see if it got resolved? Did you even know I had an issue? Hey issues are a part of life. I’m OK with things going wrong. When things happen though, it is a time to shine if you are in sales. Call me up and check to see if it got fixed, how it got fixed and how it can be avoided in the future. The worst case is if you don’t even know I’m having an issue.

I’ve actually had my phones turned off and the sales team from the telcom provider, never even knew, until we dropped the contract with them. Where I work our sales team gets notified any time a customer opens a ticket. This is 2009, integrating sales and support systems isn’t anything new.

Can you tell me when my contract is up, or if my products are under maintenance?
What a great opportunity to come back in and talk to me? “Hey I noticed your maintenance is up. Can we get together to go over what you need for maintenance, and what new features are included in upcoming releases?” Talk about a great excuse to upsell.

Have I ever sent your boss an email telling you what a great job you did? Would I even know who that was?
I actually make a point to do this for a few account teams that I truly think are good. In the past year I sent two. One was a linkedin recommendation and a cc to her CEO, the other was an email directly to the team’s manager. One of my account teams actually puts in their signatures “My manager is XXXX, please contact him with feedback on how I am doing”.

Are we connected?
Sites like or plaxo are a great way to stay in touch. Use them.
Being connected though is more than sending me an invite on facebook or linkedin. Try to know something about me. For example, though this may be blasphemy to some, I hate golf. If you come in every time asking me to go play golf when the last four times I said “I hate golf”, I could get the impression you aren’t listening to me.

My hairdresser manages to keep track of things I like and don’t like and never misses a chance to ask if I’ve been skiing, or boating, depending on the season. Granted I see her every six weeks or so, but I’m also not spending half a million on a haircut either. If she can remember a good sales team can too.

Have I ever called for something not directly related to you?
If so that’s a good sign that I trust and want to work with you. If I call you and you brush me off, that’s not a way to help yourself. If you can’t help me, refer me to someone else and then follow up to see if I got what I needed.

I was once talking to one of our vendors that we buy monitors from and happened to ask if they also sold TV’s. It turned out they don’t, but she called me back later that day and told me Best Buy was having a sale on 50” LCD televisions. Did she need to? Of course not, but that is what a good partner does.

Do I know what value you bring over your competitors? For that matter, do you even know?
Many vendors come in and assume because they are the biggest in the space, I should just go with them? Huh? Seriously does anyone ever do that? If you can’t explain why your product, solutions and company is better than your competition, don’t bother signing in. You’ll just waste my time and yours.

If you left your company and went to a competitor, or different technology, would I call you?  Would I even know you left?
I’m starting to think sales is as much about relationship as technology. Since I stay in touch with the really good sales people I’ve met, I often times call them at their new company to see if they can help me again.

Did you ever recommend I use one of my competitors? Do you even know who my competitors are?
I once had a recruiter call me trying to get me to work with them. He went on to explain how they worked closely with my direct competitor and that he could get me all sorts of people experienced in their product and then went on to explain how great my competitor’s products were.

After about 30 seconds I interrupted. “Do you even know what my company does?” His reply was priceless “Well, no. I was going to research it but didn’t want to waste my time so I figured I’d call you instead”.  Interesting, he’s OK wasting my time, just not his.

If I need to hear bad news, I should hear it from my sales team.
I have two stories, the first one was horrible. I actually received a letter from a vendor terminating my contract. It came from their legal department and gave me 45 days to move my data center. Needless to say I was annoyed and called my sales rep. His comment “Oh yeah I was supposed to call you last week and let you know that was coming.”. No kidding.

Another sales rep called me to let me know that the maintenance price was going to go up significantly. He worked with us to review our options, including upgrading our older gear, switching to 8 X 5 support instead of 24 X 7 and even suggested other lower cost competitors. We ended up staying with them and going to the lower tier service to keep the costs in line with our budget. His ability to work with us definitely put him in the “trusted advisor” role.
Do you know how my business is doing?
If you call me with a great solution to quickly bring new sites on line, the day after we announce we are closing 30% of our offices, I’m probably not going to be interested and I could think you are an idiot. Not that I expect you to know every detail of my company but you should have a basic feel of how we are doing. Probably if you are listening to me, you already know.

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