Who Cares!?

Who Cares!?

My first sales training included role playing with this phrase as a focus.  Effectiveness in getting customers to recognize that your solution is something they need to care about, is still a primary challenge for sales people and sales leaders in the tech industry.

Our companies invent or innovate with new technologies, products, and services and we believe that these exciting innovations hold significant revenue potential.  Executive management teams are confident that customers will want this new technology and buy it.  They conclude that with a handful of good sales people this new technology will be adopted by many customers and be a big success.

When sales goes out they find out that in the real world, buyers often doesn’t act in alignment with these beliefs.  When introduced to a new technology, buyers often act like they “don’t care.”  The challenge becomes finding the triggers or identifying the needs of the customer so they care enough about what you are offering, to buy it.

In my early sales training, we were instructed that when we meet with customers to imagine that they had the words “Who Cares!?” written on their forehead.  This was meant to be a constant reminder when meeting with prospects, to stay focused on providing the buyer with a solution that they care about. The successful sales person would be the one who could explain their product or offering to that buyer, in terms that connect with their needs.  This sales skill engages the buyer and motivates them to act (buy).  In other words, “who cares!?” was a representation of the “solution selling” process.

It is still the case today that providing a solution to the needs of a customer is a key selling skill. However, today’s buyers don’t feel compelled to meet with sellers.  A buyer who does want to meet with a sales person, may not want to do so face to face.  He is unlikely to tell you what he thinks except when he is ready to buy, thereby limiting the effective use of this sales skill.  In addition, each purchase often involves multiple decision makers within the customer each of them having different “Who Cares!? perspectives written on their “virtual” foreheads. How can sales people be effective selling new innovations given this limited access to buyer’s inputs?

More importantly, how can sales leaders ensure that their sales teams are effective in selling technology to today’s buyer?  It easy to conclude that “solution selling” doesn’t work anymore.  What then, is the preferred alternative sales methodology?

The answer lies in adapting sales processes to the buying processes of your customers. It requires parallel but mutually supportive customer engagement practices being employed with them. CRM systems and other tools need to be utilized to get better visibility on what customers care about, what they act upon, and for identifying when they will buy.  Sales practices supported by data from websites and other customer interactions coupled with practices that allow sales people to act decisively when a customer reveals what they care about, must be implemented.

Astute and knowledgeable salespeople working with informed buyers are finding ways to drive revenue growth.  The best have also learned that they serve as the “voice of the customer” to drive adaptations by their own company so it can more effectively (and efficiently) provide more customers with what they care about.

The role of the sales leader is to facilitate the integration of company innovation and knowledge of customer needs into decisive revenue generating action by sales teams. The evolution of their role, requires that he/she take primary responsibility for aligning company resources around discovering and providing the real solution which customers buy.

“Who Cares!?”   It must be everyone in the company who wants revenue growth and successful engagement with today’s buyer!  Sales leaders need to serve as Chief Revenue Leaders (CRL) within their company, to drive internal as well as external practices that accelerate adoption and use of technology solutions by customers.

In addition to identifying and utilizing better sales methodologies and practices, an expanded view and acknowledgment of the key role of sales leaders in shaping as well as implementing customer engagement strategies, must be a business adaptation that tech companies make.  Sales leaders must be proactive in assuming this role.

About Marty Levy

Marty is a veteran Silicon Valley sales executive. With more than 20 years of experience in sales and sales leadership roles in the semiconductor, PC, software, and enterprise cloud application arenas, Marty is recognized for his thought leadership in sales strategy development and sales performance management in the technology industry. His expertise is with hybrid sales teams and channel development. As a Vice President of Sales he has led teams through an IPO, implemented a successful divisional turn-around, and established global major account relationships. He has managed global sales teams in two public companies and created and managed go-to-market strategies leading to adoption of a variety of leading edge technologies. Marty has deep knowledge of the OEM and enterprise B2B sales process for vertical markets and applications. Marty's passion for the sales profession is demonstrated in his work as Chairman of the Sales Leadership Council within ExecWorld, where he also serves as a Board member.
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2 Responses to Who Cares!?

  1. Nancy Chou says:

    Marty,

    I’d like to take this conversation deeper/further. e.g., Do you see different businesses impacted differently? Take a traditional OEM business like semiconductors, where the “buying process” is typically separated into different phases and influenced by different people. At a high level, an engineer needs to design a product and select the right chip for the job. He often relies on specing a part he’s already familiar with, and/or he might try a new chip if it’s highly recommended by a chip vendor’s mfg rep. An engineer doesn’t typically Google “a multimedia chip that will do X, Y and Z”. No matter, after he tests a few chips and decides on one to use it in his product design, a PO Req. will be issued to the Purchasing Dpt, and the buyer in the Purchasing Dpt takes over. He will then get bids and may request quotes for comparable parts. Characteritically, chips are low unit price-high volume purchases. Design engineers are responsible for selecting the right chip for the job, but the purchasing agent is responsible for sourcing the part and negotiating the best price.

    So, do you see evidence that sales in traditional businesses, such as semiconductors, are being impacted by the era of the informed buyers?

    Cheers – Nancy

    • Marty Levy says:

      Each business has a differing necessity to adapt their sales and marketing practices in the era of the “informed buyer.” All are changing but differ to the degree and speed of the change to be implemented.

      It was not so long ago that Purchasing was the key decision maker of a buying decision in the semiconductor industry. Today, engineers and their managers are the key decision makers. Thus, the industry had to adapt to this change in buying behavior. Manufacturers reps needed to become more technical to effectively engage with buyers who are engineers. They did. Selling to engineers required that the manufacturer also change their engagement strategies, one example being the extensive use of FAEs as agents in the technical sales engagement. Marketing adapted to provide tools for manufacturers reps, manufacturers sales teams, FAEs, and of course, customer engineers to facilitate and enable the sale (i.e. design in) of your device. The whole definition of when a “sale” is made changed because the buyer changed. Add the element of outsourced manufacturing to the equation, and even the definition of “the customer” changed. Is the customer the entity that designs in the product or the one who purchases the item?

      These adaptations to a changed buyer took time to occur in this traditional industry. If today, one is in a SaaS software and service business, similar changes are underway but they are happening at much more dramatic speeds. Where software was once purchased by the IT department, the new paradigm reflects that business managers can now buy SaaS solutions that solve their needs without the direct involvement of IT or the IT purchasing department. The whole SaaS business model, is designed around and meant to capitalize on this changed buying behavior. A low cost, low risk, pay-as-you-use software solution must be offered differently than selling software to an IT buyer. Sales cycles have shortened and even self service purchases of software are being made. The demands on marketing to be more directly involved in the “sale” to this buyer is higher than in traditional software, the skills of sales people to close the sales are different too – the degree and speed of the adaptation to the informed buyer in the SaaS example, is much more profound.

      Where do buyers of semiconductors and SaaS software spend their time? They are on-line googling and conversing with trusted relationships they have in their social and professional networks. They are reviewing data sheets and reading on-line forums provided by content providers, on-line. In both industries, they are less likely to invite a sales person in to meet with them to explain products or solutions. Whether the industry is traditional or leading edge, making today’s buyer more knowledgeable through all channels is critical for vendors.

      When the buyer is knowledgeable, they will choose to work with sales people to validate the information they found and to make sure they can use what the vendor is offering. The sales person must be prepared to act when that choice is made. Whether they are ever invited to meet with the buyer to “sell” or not is predicated upon the amount of TRUST the vendor, its representatives, and buyers informed colleagues have conveyed in advance about your capability to provide them with a solution to their requirements. “Who Cares!? is still the question that vendors and their sales teams need to address for buyers. This is done differently today, because the buying process has changed.

      Semiconductor manufacturers must further adapt as almost all industry segments need to.

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