I have spent most of my career selling and managing sales teams in the Information Systems Industry. I’ve held many positions including Vice President of Sales in multiple companies over the years but the most enjoyable job I ever had was serving as a Corporate Account Manager in a large computer company. My account was one of the seven Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOC’s) which were formedblog_sales after the divestiture of ATT back in 1984. I spent the next 6 years putting together a team of 20 sales representatives and Strategic Account Managers that were focused one two things:
1) Learning the business of the RBOC
2) Positioning our company as a business partner
I had the resources to work the “day-to-day” sales issues (“bring in the business”) and to invest in joint educational activities and relationship building at high levels of the RBOC. I took advantage of an executive mapping program that linked key high level executives in my company with executives at the RBOC. These “strategic” activities provided what I called “avenues of influence” for every major program that involved our solutions.
We were getting ready to close our fiscal year during my RBOC days and we coming up a little short on our numbers. We had 45 days to close over $2M of business to make our goals. I organized a conference call with my first level sales manager with the idea of focusing in on 2-3 major opportunities that we could close in the next month and a half. One major opportunity stood out after the review. It was a program that was being sold into the Operational Support Systems space. The software was written by a third party organization but the hardware platform of $2.5M exclusively belonged to us. The solution offered an enhanced, more effective way of handling trouble tickets after network outages. All of the evaluation of the solution had taken place but it was “stuck in procurement” with no purchase order in sight. This was not an uncommon status based on an organization that had a heritage of the ATT bureaucracy.
The problem with our sales approach to this program is that the sales rep in charge thought he was selling a trouble ticket solution. What was he really selling? Well, better trouble ticket handling produced better customer service. Better customer service produced happier, more satisfied customers. Happier, more satisfied customers meant more content state public service commissions. Each state that the RBOC operated in had a public service commission. These organizations controlled and approved the rate structure of each RBOC. (Each RBOC was considered a regulated monopoly in regard to offering telephone service.)
So what were we really selling? We were selling a more content public service commission that controlled the rate structure of the RBOC. Once we understood what we were really selling, it was easy to locate the executive within the RBOC that was in charge of the RBOC’s relationships with the various public service commissions. My “avenues of influence” capability really paid off. As it turns out, we had a relationship with the right RBOC executive. He was able to cut through the “red tape” in the procurement office and we received our $2.5M order with 15 days to spare before the end of our fiscal year.
The lessons learned:
1) Build executive networks between your company and your customer by stressing a business partnership beyond just a customer/supplier relationship
2) Understand what you are really selling (“the business enablement”) to be able to get to the right person to drive your business
It worked for me and it can work for you.
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