Saturday, 13 April 2013

Our Sales are all at Sea: Lets Hit the Deck !

“Have you got the updated sales deck”, shouted Dave across the office, “the one with the latest client logos for Financial Services?! We will need it for the meeting tomorrow at 9am.”

For someone who has been in the technology industry for almost quarter of a century I have seen many things come and go and all too often good things go and many bad things stay. One of those things that has unfortunately stayed and which by now should have long since evolved out of the window is the traditional sales manager approach with their rather old-hat presentation pitches to clients framed perfectly against a back-drop of inane ‘sales slides’ that clients continue to endure to this day.

What makes me see things from a slightly unusual angle is that I have sat on both sides of the IT/Business relationship fence, having been both the seller and the business buyer. Having spent almost four years buying technology as a client I can tell anyone willing to listen that it is not a pretty place to be. As a technology buyer when faced with daily and monthly cold calls from sales people followed inevitably by (when I have run out of excuses) the ubiquitous sales pitch, face to face. 

“Do you have a projector?” requests Dave hopefully.
 It is the general view of some that to sell a value proposition is to repeatedly call a client by wearing down their barriers and eventually winning them over. In today’s sophisticated marketed-to-hell-and-back society, buyers are somewhat more sophisticated than they were back in 1855 (or 1985 for that matter) but that does not stop the tried and tested method of bothering a client until they sign that purchase order.

You know what I mean. It is weekend, month end, quarter end, year end, or the edge of my sanity. Sorry it has taken me three weeks to reply to your email as it has been quarter-end (if you are selling to a seller) becomes “sorry I have emailed you 13 times today” (if you are the buyer from a seller) as “it’s our month-end you see”, ah yes 13, unlucky for some! If its quarter-end be prepared to take the phone of the hook, turn on the answerphone and head for a holiday on the international space station.

Every old trick in the book is seemingly still thrown onto the field of sales play by the ageing sales diehards including the free-lunch (I can buy my own lunches really), free sporting incentives (I’m not ever going to be good at golf) and the ’drinks after work’ thing (being sold to in the pub through the pseudo friendship approach, that old chestnut). I was recently hypocritically at a complimentary sporting event for research purposes only you understand which, looking at the thousands of people choking on mass-cooked steak and Chianti in hospitality, demonstrates that corporate hospitality remains an (inter)national sales pastime for those in the club and is very much alive and well. I actually went to watch the sport and bought nothing.

It appears that the old adage, “If you throw money at them or comp them they will buy won’t they as they will like me for who I am and feel grateful?” Ehm no, not any more. Over the years these tactics have all been tried and believe me I have been tested, to the very edge of my patience. It is true to say that sometimes things are purchased simply because there is a sort of need but you like the person selling to you enough to buy. Therefore people buying from people is true, well kind of.

Going back to 1990 I remember the IT Director of a corporate giant revealing how he had selected SuperCalc 5 as the spreadsheet of choice for the global organisation because his son was using it at school. I rest my case.   I have news: the buyer has advanced their approach to buying and being sold to in these modern times and in part this is because purchasing decisions are made by a wider landscape of business and IT personnel than before and they don’t know, or want to know the rules of being sold to.

Why is it therefore that old sales-presentation techniques have not adapted and modernised in parallel? Whilst there will always be a few who fall for the outmoded techniques of drinks, sports and the “what’s in it for me personally” approach , as if it were part and parcel of some massive executive club, the majority have long since moved on and do buy in a different way. What ever happened to purchasing something because it simply is rather good and useful and beneficial and of actual value to me and my business? Ah perhaps rather naively that would be far too easy in this throw-away, try-it-now-and-bin-it-later global economy. Perhaps some believe that people rather enjoy being sold to as it justifies their superior  position and the responsibility this bestows.

The purpose of this article is not to bash the salesman, the buyer or indeed the act of ‘selling’ as everyone is trying to sell something, even if it is just their own personas. One only has to look at the nonsense promoted through personal profiles on social network to appreciate that – brand generation Y (why) anyone?!

In fact the desire to write this article was actually prompted by recently sitting through what I can only describe as the most tortuous opening presentation of yesteryear and one that sadly still haunts the vast majority of Microsoft partner sales openers today – the ubiquitous (death by) PowerPoint slide deck, partner sales presentation with accompanying rather hopeful, companion narrative, regarding uniqueness and differentiation – or the ‘sales deck’ in short.

“On the next slide on the screen, we have a sales team of 12 and 14 developers, making us the largest partner in…”, extolled the salesman.

You have seen them haven’t you, the people in sharp suits with the latest laptop or tablet and a dongle in hand hurrying to a meeting whilst requesting a projector.

Let’s dig deeper. Deep down in the psyche of some sales managers appears to be a dictat, some ancient rule set in a tablet of stone or carved into a biblical granite rock from time immemorial that before engaging ANY client in ANY useful way of ANY kind apart from ordering a coffee with sugar, even if there are only 30 minutes available in total, the client must first endure without ANY form of input, a PowerPoint slideshow demonstrating ANY, some or indeed all of the following:

·         The Partner Company Title (with a name that is frequently unpronounceable or Greek for something irrelevant)

·         The Partner Locations (often based on the irrelevant value of convenience)

·         The Partner Owners/ Directors (who you will never actually meet as they live in Nassau, Bahamas)

·         The Partner Background in bulleted form (with phrases like ‘key milestones and “high bandwidth value’)

·         The Partner History in bulleted form (we will come to that later)

·         The Partner Offerings to Market  - (Microsoft graphics such as the segmented pie included)

·         The Partner Differentiation in bulleted form (which usually provides absolutely no clear differentiation)

·         The Partner Case Studies (in a generally unreadable format - send them out later as PDF)

·         The Partner Website & Contact Details (the client will have the details already, that’s why the salesman is sitting in front of them right now)

·         And worst of all – Next Steps with the Partner…..(rather optimistic at this stage I’d say)


Every sales slide all too frequently contains any or most the following:

·         A peppering of Microsoft and other vendor logos

·         Any Silver or Gold competency partner logos

·         Phrases du jour (typically gobbledegook – ‘enterprise social’ anyone)

·         A consistent slide theme( irrespective of whether the slides have any visual impact whatsoever)

·         A constant peppering of the Partner logo (as if by repeating it everywhere subliminally the client will cave in and be mesmerised. They won’t, trust me.)

·         Traditional & unqualified sales speak phraseology (including classics such as “the Country’s leading…”

·         An Office 365 logo and a website domain name (now with the word ‘cloud’ in it, it used to be the word ‘soft’)


For those on the sales team who have secretly seen through the sales deck, its long windedness, lack of specific value, time wasting capabilities and its general inadequacies they will still be forced to present it which causes further issues. You will have seen the presenter, tab quickly through a number of slides muttering that they are irrelevant or no use today and move swiftly on. In this instance, therefore you are enduring a speed reading version of the slides but gaining absolutely zero value except being slightly entertained by an annoyed sales presenter. Even the act of tabbing quickly through the many irrelevant slides is already presenting an image of client disconnection, even if the presenter is to be congratulated by being their own person.

So let’s clarify tell what the sales deck may have just revealed to me about the partner company:

·         The partner company may lack originality – there is a ton of multimedia outlets and styles out there, much of which I can watch before the partner salesman even arrives to see me and only one of which the partner has chosen to use - slides. Where are the companion videos, animations, podcasts and engaging reference materials that are interesting to watch, listen to and read and could I view them on my new tablet or smart phone? If the partner isn’t using the latest technologies to promote their company, how on earth can they convince me they know how to work with the latest technologies and bring the greatest value to my own organisation?! I have decided that they can’t.


·         The partner appears to be the same as almost every other potential partner as I have seen the same logos, messages, templates, designs and images and presentation method time and time again on other people’s decks already. Shakespeare could have written the sales script, yes it’s that old. It is like reading an online dating profile where everyone is 29 and everyone loves reading and swimming. Next.


·         The partner is typically NOT the ‘UK’s or US leading..’ anything and if they say this without proving it accurately & convincingly I cannot believe anything else they say either. It’s like using the word ‘quality’ – is that ‘good quality’ or ‘bad quality’?! Therefore making statements like the #1 cloud partner means nothing more that they believe their own PR which worries me as a client from the very start and makes me not want to buy. If they can actually evidence it, prove it and demonstrate it then good and we can move on. Even if they are the world-leader in Office 365 sales, this still doesn’t tell me that they are any good for my organisation; it just tells me that they are good at selling online cloud seats. Being the oldest, longest, largest doesn’t actually tell me anything except that someone somewhere is being just a little bit egotistical. And as for ‘Partner of the…’, yes, it really doesn’t mean anything at all.


·         In parallel, industry jargon really does start to punch major holes in the good ship ‘partner’ and slides can be heavily sprinkled with these as if they are some kind of marketing magic, fairy dust.  Consider some of the most overworked and over used phrases that need a serious reality check. Phrases such as “mission statement” or “trusted partner” are used to perpetuate a myth that in some way the partner is actually the house of the holy, is separate from a larger heathen rabble which simply cannot be trusted, whilst is simultaneously sponsored by NASA. There are over half a million Microsoft partners and most can very much be trusted and almost all have a mission statement, it’s called making profit whilst delivering good service.


·         Organisational statistics in slides out of context tell me absolutely nothing about the partner organisation as we all know the phrase “there are lies, damned lies and statistics”. Telling me that the partner organisations has 100 SharePoint Consultants, work in 13 countries, have over 1300 clients and 5 corporate offices probably also tells me the Directors drive Aston Martins and that I am about to be fleeced. I may add that telling me they have three MVPs on the team doesn’t add to the value proposition either, though it might. A tricky, fickle business this.


·         The slide-presenting partner has at this stage demonstrated no clear differentiation to market because everyone and anyone can and does present a technical demonstration of software features and functions which I can be absolutely sure is what is coming next after these slides. Why? Because there is someone silently sitting patiently in the corner tapping away on their laptop not listening to a word their companion sales person is saying. What I want is a quick view that the partner is indeed the de facto strategic partner of choice as demonstrated by everything I am being shown. Instead I am now going to choose a partner purely on price as I have nothing else whatsoever to go on except ‘likeability’ and ‘cultural fit’. I have had four partner slide presentations today and they all looked the same to me.


·         As an aside ‘cultural fit’ is usually based on client budget which in turn means that you will ‘culturally fit’ if you don’t appear too big, too small, too smart, too cheap, too expensive or too frightening.  You are going to struggle preparing for that in a slide deck as the initial budget tends to be as random as a roulette wheel.


·         The partner is clearly not a thought-leader or perhaps leader in anything much at this stage simply because they have not provided our client with anything in the deck that reflects originality or uniqueness as demonstrated by the existence of the deck itself in the format it is presented in. Perhaps the thought-leadership will show itself at a later stage. Worse still the sales person feel able to waste time and that of the team by dragging us through these slides knowing that they really don’t bring any value at this juncture and if they REALLY believe that they do then you can be sure they are not the partner for us.


·         There has been a recent trend to re-style partner websites with lots of squares to make them feel very ‘current’, like the Windows 8 and cloud (I am not allowed to say ‘metro’) interface. Because so many websites have done this, what it actuals says is we lack originality and copied everyone else. Which also puts a word into my client-orientated head, that word is ‘avoid’. Any link between slides and any form of tile based graphics makes me wonder if we live in a world where there is any originality left.


·         Worth mentioning is that if the partner presents me with far too many client logos then I may start to believe that they do not value client confidentiality of non-disclosure agreements which makes me rather concerned? Similarly, sector specific client logos don’t necessarily tell me what I want to know because I may like to know how their methods transcend business verticals as much as can be accurately applied to any one in particular. In other words it appears they are trying to second guess me and make themselves appear relevant and I can see through it.


·         Having a ‘memorable’ company name or a domain name with the word ‘cloud’ in it or anything Greek, or indeed anything else intellectually pompous will not make us more likely to see the partner as cool, techno-relevant and buy from them, no. Neither is the Director’s history or background of any interest at all. The fact that they went to Harvard or Oxford and started the company aged 23 with their college friend really doesn’t make the slightest difference to the quality of the solution the partner is trying to sell me.


·         “Established in 1994” doesn’t necessarily sell me anything positive. Indeed it can also have negative connotations when a slide spells out partner history and longevity. Now you might think this can’t be true but a SharePoint practice established in 1994 means that the practice was doing something else probably until around 2003 which makes any relevancy only true since 2003. As it takes time to build case studies and history as well as a decent client base the practice has been around since 1994 but really been a full SharePoint practice since around 2005. In which case the first 11 years offered no value at all to the pitch. A practice of 2 to 5 years may actually be more fresh, more up to date, indeed far more relevant for my organisation. Therefore old is not necessarily good, it will depend if our partner is offering a wider range of services or something more niche and focused.


·         The inclusion of the SharePoint segmented Microsoft pie (graphic) or anything remotely similar tells me that they have nothing else and therefore no original business value proposition for me and they will be leaving my office earlier than they thought therefore we can move past the Next Steps slide right now. It certainly tells me that they have not put in any effort and developed more suitable materials or considered a business-aligned framework approach. If they seemingly won’t make the effort now, what happens later?


By now you should be getting my drift here and it’s all for good reason. Clients deserve great engagements from the very start. It is quite remarkable why some sales personnel feel that anything up to 30 minutes for a one-way, slide-deck introduction is acceptable to drag and trawl everyone through as if it was some perverse engagement right-of-passage. It isn’t, the only right-of-passage will be the passage marked Exit. All too often these sales slide decks are composites created by good natured marketing people who have never marketed their own way out of their marketing office, together with sales managers who have wound up in IT companies and who have failed to adapt a technique that was lasts seen selling mainframes in 1979.

I prevaricate unnecessarily. The purpose of the PowerPoint (it always is PowerPoint, isn’t it) sales-deck presentation is to achieve what exactly? Is it any of the following?

·         Introduce the potential partner as the knowledgeable, subject matter expert in the relevant field – in other words demonstrate they know what they are doing and can prove it

·         Introduce the partner as professional, established, preferable and distinguished in achievements and better than anyone else out there who may do the work instead

·         Explain who else thinks they are the partner of choice,  worthy in what they do and will stand up and say it independently and without meals, sporting visits or after work drinks

·         Align the partner company with what the client does to demonstrate that they understand what they do and how they work and how they can fit right in

·         Display relevant badges of distinction that demonstrate end to a degree prove, skills and talents and knowledge

·         Tell the client where the partner is, who they are and  how they typically engage

·         Make the client like them or want to like them as well as believe them as well as demonstrate that they have something of real value to offer at a price that ‘culturally fits’

·         Demonstrate history which literally means that they have time to practice their speciality subject,  know the answers and are likely to still be around next year when maintenance and support is required

·         Offer some real, tangible, palatable evidence to back every statement they make to reassure and address and provide confidence in what they say is true.


Ask yourself this question: How much of the above could actually have been achieved without having to say it through slides but instead through web evidence and other materials that can be consumed in advance of your meeting and without wasting valuable time or boring anyone? I am sure the answer is that most of it can, should and therefore be simply abbreviated and confirmed by email in advance of the session. In my own experience, a partner wouldn’t get through the door if I hadn’t learned enough in advance to invite them and establish an early value proposition. If they could address these points without a face-to-face, sales-deck-pitch approach then why didn’t they take the time instead to achieve those things and why instead did they present the sales deck to me?!

As an aside, it always makes me laugh when I receive emails and communication from sales people purporting to be experts in SEO (search engine optimisation). “We have looked at your website and can assist you in getting to number one in your sector and search engine phrase”. Really?! “Well I have looked up your company under the term SEO and can’t even locate you by page ten of the search results, so goodbye”.

Let me stress this for those that do not yet wish to understand, the sales deck at the beginning of a partner meeting more often than not undermines most things of value that you go on to present and it eats into everyone’s valuable time, all too frequently wasting the sales opportunity. From a Microsoft partner perspective what a sales deck does more often than not is undermine the value proposition that a partner is in fact trying to establish.

The sales deck all too often achieves the following:

·         It can undermine the potential partner position with negative connotations to the extent that potential clients are no longer sure they want to work with the partner

·         It demonstrates that the partner company appears to lack any real form of originality, creativity or inspiration due to its lack of soul

·         It can undermine the partner company credibility, not enhances it, due to wild, misleading, inaccurate or boastful statements or ones that are simply unnecessarily audacious

·         It can accidentally define the partner as part of the pack not leading the pack as it’s a version of the same deck that most others present in many cases

·         It can easily waste time as the deck takes time to go through when it could have been covered in a different format at a different time e.g. in advance

Okay so let’s say that we buy this argument and we are either going to cut down the opening sales deck pitch, radically change its format to something far more useful or else drop it like a hot potato (oh how I wish). Well what does the client really want instead?

In engaging with any client at all as part of pre-sales, one may wish to consider and address the following:

·         All clients have limited time, just like resumes and CVs so partner materials are selling the partner fast in a few headlines. Therefore think about the format of your partner resume (website, multimedia, other engaging collateral etc.)

·         Volume of clients doesn’t reassure the client, but original, independent referencability does

·         All clients can see through boastfulness, exaggeration, outlandish statements and statistics

·         Industry speak, jargon and techno-babble can make a partner irrelevant rather than relevant

·         Overt sector alignment can actually often be anything from a distraction to a complete turn off so be careful

·         Originality, creativity, thought-leadership and strategy are all attractive propositions

·         Technical must always be replaced or at the very least aligned with true business value proposition to succeed

As a final comment, the vast majority of IT sales presentations I have endured (yes endured) over 25 years have been dull, lifeless, too casual, sometimes overly-familiar but generally lacking in engaging delivery and story-telling. It amazes me still how relatively few people can actually present to an audience effectively, and present in a thoroughly engaging way. Professional presentation skills-training should be part and parcel of almost every practice with a sales or pre-sales division with no excuses. Monotonous, monotone voices are not attractive or acceptable in presentation scenarios.   Clients really do want to buy and they most likely do want to buy from you but from the moment that first sales slide projects up onto the wall, the foundations inevitably start to crumble.

Surely this cannot be true you may think, we present with our deck and we already win. Perhaps people already like you or view you as the inevitable choice, or that you are currently being recommended from a particular source or that there are only worse alternatives or that simply that you are the cheapest. Nothing stays the same for ever either, as off-shoring and the cloud have so ably proven in recent times. Business failure occurs when sales strategy is slow to adapt and evolve.

Potential clients are frequently desperate for a sales session to be valuable, insightful, thought-provoking, engaging and dynamic, but sadly largely they are simply not.  People frequently ask why the Salem™ framework sessions as pre-sales scenarios go down so very well with clients? The answer is because Certified Salem™ Professionals practice what we preach here. So here comes our own selling bit and without any form of sales deck! The Certified Salem™ Sales Expert has been deliberately designed to teach sales professionals exactly how to present SharePoint™ and the associated Microsoft stack in a dynamic, engaging way that has meaning, huge quantities of thought-provoking, thought-leadership and a logical, sequential approach to services using business language that anyone can grasp fast.

The Salem™ framework is fun, interesting, clear and insightful and it is as flexible, as dependable and as adaptable as any potential client could possibly wish for. You couldn’t ask for a better introduction to any Microsoft partner practice than that now could you?

Copyright Genius! by Morgan & Wolfe. All Rights Reserved 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment