“Y’all a bunch of coal miners in a gold mine!”
The words stung when they first rolled off of Hank’s tongue. I felt like it was an insult to our sales team, but rather than show my irritation, I asked Hank to clarify what he meant.
Hank was a new board member brought on to help our software company revitalize its lost growth luster. He smiled his approval at my curiosity, and explained. “Every day your sales team comes the work, it’s like they walk through a long dark tunnel to spend the day hacking away at the wall to generate a few hundred dollars’ worth of coal. On their way through the tunnel, they keep tripping over these large yellow rocks, so they kick them out of the way. What they don’t realize is those rocks are made of gold.” His Texas accent only made the analogy more powerful for me.
Hank was explaining that selling to IT was like coal mining. He continued by pointing out our own IT department had a budget equal to 1% of the company’s planned spending, while our sales department had 26% of the overall budget. His point was well made. We were working like dogs to scratch a living out of selling to IT. And they never had a kind word for us in return.
I spent the next nine months leading our sales team to be more agile in selling to the real stakeholders in their accounts. It didn’t happen overnight, but the results were mind blowing. Our largest deal size before Hank spoke up were in the $1M -$3M range. Within a few months we were booking $15m – $20M deals.
Although selling to General Managers and CEOs seems like a no brainer, we had to overcome years of ingrained habits to succeed. Here’s a short list of the challenges we faced in this particular situation:
- Our messaging was tailored to I.T., not CEO’s.
- I.T. did not have the mojo to sponsor us to the business side, nor did they want to.
- Most of the business leaders who would benefit from our solution had no idea who we were.
- Our sales people lacked the confidence to take on a new stakeholder conversation.
Sound familiar? Almost every technology company I’ve helped since then faced the same set of challenges.
Here’s how we overcame these challenges and became gold miners.
- We profiled the problems faced by the executives in our major target verticals. This means capturing their business issues, underlying problems, potential impact of changing in dollars, and the connection to our solution. We drilled this into our sales team, even requiring them to become certified in this type of dialog.
- We created new messaging that focused on the business issues, problems and impact that we could deliver to these new stakeholders with stories to illustrate real life examples.
- We went through an exercise to calculate how much value we contribute to the world on an annual basis. Without an exception, every sales rep came to the same conclusion. We delivered billions in cost savings and revenue acceleration, yet we were only billing about $200M at the time. We implemented this exercise to build the confidence within our sales people to carry their message to more powerful stakeholders.
- We challenged our sales people to take this message to three senior leaders in their accounts. We tracked and measured the initiative. Almost every sales person uncovered an opportunity that over shadowed previous projects. This alone fueled their appetite to prospect even more opportunities outside of IT, and created a workforce of gold miners.
In addition to the deal size growing tremendously, we had several other benefits emerge as well. Our discounting practice dropped by over 30%. Our breadth of products per transaction jumped dramatically, and our services bookings jumped from $2M the year prior to over $98M in less than nine months. This initiative revitalized our growth to the 30% range and took us to the billion dollar revenue mark in a few short years.
Although changing a culture to target business leaders outside of IT seems like a sales challenge, it’s really a leadership challenge. I’ve worked with many technology companies on this challenge, and the one common denominator for success with this level of agility is leadership.
Do your sales managers need to become sales leaders?
Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.