Selling Services on the Cloud: Elements of Success

Although sales of  intangibles — services, Cloud-based software — carry healthy margins, sales close rates are typically well-below the ideal.  Examining the reasons why this occurs is key to solving this issue. A panel of veteran salesmen shed light on the challenge at TechAmerica San Diego Marketing & Sales’ July Roundtable.

The event was especially productive due to the variety of attendee profiles, all of whom brought unique perspectives to the discussion. I spoke with a software technologist who’s starting up a new venture, an account manager for a Cloud-based data management solutions provider, and a project manager at an IP-based telephony systems provider.

As soon as moderator Craig Arnoff, co-chair of the roundtable asked panelists how selling intangibles differs from selling products, it was clear that successful sales people share universal traits, regardless of what’s in their bag of tricks. Trust, training, drive, optimism, better customer service. Some are born, some are made.

Ken Reilich made an interesting point: some salespeople come to rely upon products as crutches, vs. their selling skills. Products become the sole reason for success, or the whipping boy for failure (“pricey, lousy, old…” ) Take the product away, and replace it with intangibles, and success is slightly more determined by superior selling skills.

David Alemian reminded us that a successful salesperson can sell anything: he began his career selling swimming pools in New England, in the winter (quick, what’s the pain point there?!); and now promotes a novel, Cloud-based management tool sold to healthcare IT leaders. He also touched on Neuro-Linguistic Programming as a key element in human interaction.

Bruce Cole sells Internet marketing and SEO tools and services at a local and community level. He emphasized testimonials and proven success stories, which I also advocate is the most valuable sales tool, whether selling in one zip code or in several continents. I think that’s why Yelp and Angie’s List have earned such a following.

At this point, I wondered how each panelist would extend these formulas for success into a channel-driven, multi-tier sales organization… wherein face-to-face visits with end decision makers are rare or impossible.  A successful global channel leader possesses all of the above traits and skills, then marries them with excellent organizational skills, time management, and a healthy respect for the value of channel partners. Topic for another panel!

Craig brought up the core element of success: a fruitful, face-to-face experience with customers begins with a  make-or-break, 15-second pitch. For successful salespeople, it’s like breathing. But for less outgoing, more self-conscious people it’s a mystery.  Craig also shared a couple of items from his Sales Alliance toolkit: how pre-screening and benchmarking can increase a good match between sales candidate and employer.

Reminds me of a lesson I learned long ago on career development: teamwork lets others benefit from your talents, as you do what you do best; while you draw the same from them. Don’t waste time trying to perfect your less-than-ideal skills.

More about the moderator and panelists here.

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