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A Rarely Tapped FREE Sales Development And Training Resource

by David Brock on December 15th, 2009

I’ve been working with a team of outstanding Sales Enablement professionals for a large software company, we’re  working with them in launching a major new product.  One of the brilliant things they have done is to use the functional executives and other people in their own company to help the sales people better understand what drives similar people at their customers.

Let me back up and explain.  The target customers for my client’s sales teams are the IT executives and managers in their customers.  The sales enablement team wanted to show the sales people they needed to connect with the company in a different way.  Traditionally, the sales people had been very product focused—focusing on presenting the features, functions, feeds, and speeds to the customer.  The sales enablement team wanted the sales people to change the way they approached the customer, they wanted to train sales in asking questions to understand the customer needs, priorities, and challenges.  They wanted to get the sales teams to talk in the customers’ language and using their terms.

The breakthrough in their thinking was—“we have a big IT department, let’s get the executives and managers in our own IT department to talk about how they would like technology sales people to work with them.”  What resulted was a very rich and deep conversation driven by the IT team, they were open about how they evaluated vendors, they described sales efforts that were helpful to them and how they wanted to work with those sales people.  They talked about sales efforts that had failed.  Their message was simple, don’t talk to me about your product, take the time to learn what I am trying to achieve and the problems we are trying to address.  Talk to us in our terms and language, tell us how your solutions can help us solving our problems—without coaching them, they were telling the sales teams exactly what we were trying to get them to learn.  These IT executives and managers served as very powerful surrogates for the real customers.  They knew what drove them as IT professionals—and it was the same as what drove the IT executives in their customers.

The ultimate revelation and learning experience came when we asked the CIO about the company’s own new product.  We asked, “are you evaluating our product for implementation in your organization.”  There was a lo–oon–nng pause, followed by, “Well, we are and we are struggling to justify its implementation.”  WOW!!!!  Imagine that, a fundamental objection the sales people would face with their customers coming from within their own organization.  The conversation got more interesting.  The CIO doesn’t pay to use their own software—so the objection wasn’t about price.  We had a long conversation about the challenge the CIO saw and gained real insights about how other CIO’s might face the same challenges. 

In the space of a couple of hours, with the help of their own IT executives, the sales people learned more about how to work with their own IT customers and to be successful.  There is no way we could have designed a training program that would have had that impact in so short a time.

We’ve gone through similar exercises with many other clients, whether it’s engaging procurement and supply chain people, manufacturing, development, or other functions.  They all buy products similar to those we sell.  If we sell capital equipment, our manufacturing people are probably buying capital equipment–they can talk about what they go through, what they expect, and sales can translate it to their own customers.  If we sell services, probably some function in our own company is buying similar services, what can we learn from them? 

The stories are all the same, the sales people get a “real life” perspective from people in the same function with a similar perspective and concerns to their customers.  An added benefit, is the “customers” get a new understanding and appreciation of sales.

So what’s there to learn?  Our own company buys products similar to many that we sell (at least in the B2B world).  However, the sales people rarely talk to those people (often don’t even know them), but they can teach us so much about what drives them and their counterparts at customers.  Why don’t we try to find ways to talk and learn from each other?  It gives sales a tremendous advantage and all it takes is a good discussion.

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  1. Dave,

    I have used this approach to help salespeople practicing their skills on gaining access and holding productive conversations with high level executives with very good results.

    I would though argue it is not Free if you consider the time of the firms own busy executives to participate. But results proof that it is well worth their investment of time.

    • Thanks for the comment Christian. Likewise, we have found it to be a powerful tool with many of our customers. I’m surprised, however, the number of companies that don’t exploit this “built in” training aid.

      There is an important side benefit. Often, internally, there is a misunderstanding of what sales does and some of the challenges faced. Opening these conversations improves understanding all the way around.

  2. Nicole permalink

    One of my clients leverages their executive team to help with a training program that teaches their sales people how to engage with at the “C-Level” with their customers. It’s such an effective strategy and as you point out, it’s FREE!


    • Nicole, thanks for the comment. There is so much value to it, I’m always surprised that more organizations don’t leverage this opportunity. Keep following and commenting! Regards, Dave

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