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Hacking Selling

by David Brock on December 11th, 2014

Every day I get emails and messages from sales people trying to “Hack Selling.” They ask me, “Is there an easy way to catch the attention of a customer and get a meeting?” “Is there a killer tool I can use that makes selling faster and easier?” “Is there a shortcut that accelerates the selling process?” “Is there a killer presentation technique, a way of asking questions, a closing technique?” All of these are focused on, “How do I get the order faster and with less work?”

When I speak or meet with groups of sales people, I can see they get frustrated when I talk about the importance of having a disciplined process, researching, preparing, creating value. While they are mostly too polite to say anything, I know they’re thinking, “We’re too busy to do all that, what’s the short cut?”

Ultimately, all of it is a quest to find the technique, approach, manipulation, or tool to get the customer to immediately say, “Do you have a pen, I need to issue a PO!”

It’s really interesting, because all the questions focus on ways to present products in a more compelling manner, ways to talk about how wonderful we are, that get the customer to buy. The questions seldom focus on the customer and what’s happening with them, what’s keeping them up at night—or should be keeping them up at night (I know that’s an unfashionable question, but I still like it.).

So, perhaps out of frustration, I’ve decided to start addressing “Hacking Selling,” what are the things we can do that provide huge shortcuts to the process? What can we do to accelerate getting the PO?

Somehow sales people don’t tend to like my favorite approach, but it’s always been successful and accelerates the buying process. Most of the time, it results in an order to me—not a competitor—because usually, I’m the only person that does this.

Drum roll, please….

My favorite hack is, “I can help you make more money—or save money…..”
Now, many of you are thinking, “Dave, you aren’t going to go over all that business justification stuff again. It’s just too difficult to build a business case. How’s that a shortcut?”

Yes, it may be difficult to build a rigorous business case, but most of the time you don’t need one. Here’s an example:

The other day, I was talking to a sales person about a deal he had. He had the customer pretty convinced about his solution, but their budget wasn’t nearly enough to cover the investment. His deal had been stalled for a very long time.

The solution was something retailers used in the stores. He came up with dozens of reasons a retailer should be craving the solution. Most of what he talked about were the features, functions, feeds, speeds, and capabilities of the solution.

After listening, I asked, “Do stores lose revenue because they don’t have this solutions?” He replied, “Absolutely, and started going on about how the systems connected to the POS devices, and started going on and on and on….”

I interrupted him, “I don’t really care about that. Is it reasonable that a store might lose 100 Euro a day in sales (I happen to be in Europe, you can do the currency translation if you want)?” He replied, “Oh, it’s easily much more. It could be thousands……” (Each store typically did thousands a day.)

I replied, “Well lets just start with 100 Euro. Do you think you could get a number of the store managers to agree to that?” He emphatically replied, “Absolutely, that’s a piece of cake! But 100 Euro isn’t a lot of justification, the all in price of this solution is 500K Euro!” (Some of you can see where I’m headed.)

I said, “Well that’s OK, let’s just think of 100 Euro a day. How many stores do they have? How many days are the stores open for business?”

He replied, “They have 600 stores, and they are open about 300 days a year.”
So math wizard that I am, I said, “So that means they are losing at least 60K Euro a day, or 18M Euro a year. So tell me why they can’t find the 500K to get that revenue?”

I went on, “Even if we’ve dramatically overestimated—let’s say it’s only 10 Euro per store per day, that’s still 1.8M Euro, payback is around 3 months. Why can’t they find the money to do that?”
It’s really quite simple. We can’t hack selling with methods, tools, techniques, killer presentations, or any kind of sales wizardry.

We hack selling by hacking the customer’s business. We hack selling by presenting how they can make money, save money, reduce loses, improve customer loyalty, and so forth. Sometimes it isn’t as easy as this case. But usually, it’s not that hard. Often, we don’t have to do a rigorous analysis, it can only be a couple of assumptions about the business that the customer can easily agree to.

Years ago, I had a case justified by saving 2 seconds on processing a transaction, I helped build a multi billion software business out of helping engineers save 0.2 seconds in each design transaction (those of you familiar with CAD/CAM/CAE/etc will know), not long ago, I closed a multi-million dollar deal when I told the EVP of sales, “Every week you delay on this decision, you are losing $1.5 M.”

So my favorite sales hack isn’t a sales hack at all. It’s a very simple customer hack, “Here’s how much money I can help you make, here’s how much money I can help you save, here’s how I can help you acquire/retain customers.” You don’t need to cover everything, you just need to find enough that they would be foolish not to buy immediately.

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  1. Doug Schmidt permalink

    Dave, thank you of the reminder of getting back to the basics of selling and not make a mystery of sales. Keep up the great work!

  2. Hey Dave,

    Here’s a hack I could use… How can I quickly get salespeople and their managers to take the advice you set out in this post? Or, for that matter, getting them to believe that selling is running a business, not managing a sports team.

    • Great to hear from you Dave. You’ve hit an issue that’s been bothering me for some time. I’m about to write about it, probably will title it Sales Hacks. People will be upset, because I’ll be reverting to the older form of the word “hack.” (As in some one who is completely unqualified or not competent) 😉

      Thanks for the comment, always great to hear from you.

  3. Dave,

    Salespeople just need to know four things about business justification:
    add, subtract, multiply and divide! It’s all common sense.

  4. Brian MacIver (@Palayo) permalink

    I have said it before, so I will say it again:
    “You can take the Man out of IBM,
    But, you cannot take IBM out of the Man!”

    I remember competing against IBM 30 years ago
    and the Corporate Buyer saying to me:

    “Brian, you have ‘presented’ your costs but your
    IBM competitor has ‘JUSTIFIED’ their costs!”

    A lesson learned, never forgotten,
    and taught again and again!

    • It’s hard to shake that training–fortunately. While we didn’t have the greatest products and were very high priced, I learned to focus on the business.

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