I was listening to the news recently, and two political analysts were “unpacking” comments made by a political figure. I thought, when did “unpack” suddenly come to mean something other than taking things out of a suitcase? Turns out it’s good that I’m not an etymologist, because the answer is: more than 100 years ago. According to Merriam-Webster, one of the official definitions of “unpack” is: to analyze the nature of (something) by examining in detail.
I was reminded of this alternate definition in re-reading Denise Garcia’s great blog post on Sales to Service, when she suggests the importance of serving and understanding your customer.
In working closely with hundreds of successful sales professionals over the years, I’ve seen it proven that a clear understanding of what’s really important to you customer is critical to success on both sides of a vendor / customer relationship. This may be intuitive when it comes to the use and application of technology. In my experience, unpacking all of the information your customer provides (or alludes to) is just as important in making your solutions more consumable for the buyer. And making your products consumable for the buyer is essential in reaching your sales goals.
Let’s look at a few areas where carefully unpacking information about your customer’s finance and procurement preferences (and challenges) can drive success.
One of the most common objections we hear from prospective buyers is “we don’t have budget available,” and this should always beg for additional discovery. We need to understand what this means in your customer’s words. Do they have a capital budget (”CapEx”) shortfall? Or are OpEx dollars restricted? We then need to determine how each particular customer classifies purchases as OpEx or CapEx – there are no hard fast rules. (For a good read on this with more detail, see Greg Turtletaub’s post here)
In response to solution proposals that include multiple years of support, or capacity for future growth, customers (particularly financial decision makers) sometimes say “we don’t pre-pay for future needs.” This can often be mitigated by offering the ability to pay for the solution as they plan to consume/deploy, and by eliminating the need for the customer to issue a multi-year purchase order. We can also be sure to present the offer in a way that clearly communicates the economic advantage of the incentive offer being presented vs. ongoing “transactional” procurement.
When selling for a customer’s projected future needs, it’s essential to get your customer’s agreement regarding the true cost of doing nothing, or “business as usual.” A well-vetted needs assessment, with cleanly documented information sources, can avoid debate over what business as usual looks like, and drive support for a multi-year commitment. A comprehensive cost / benefit analysis or business value assessment can demonstrate the potential business impact and resulting value that your solution can deliver.
Too many times we’ve seen purchases delayed unexpectedly, when the customer says “we don’t have time or resources to get this done this quarter.” To avoid this common pitfall, it’s necessary to understand what the path to a purchase order looks like for each customer. What forms of cost justification are required for approval of the purchase? Have your supporters ever sponsored a purchase of this size in the past? How many, and what level signatures will be required, and will the required signatories be available to meet the desired timeline?
Finally, no conversation about making technology consumable is complete without giving thought to purchasing flexibility. Do you know whether the customer wants to own technology and infrastructure? Or are they transitioning to an outsourced or cloud model? Do you know how and when they prefer to pay for the solution? We conducted a series of interviews with enterprise CFOs regarding their roles in technology procurement and vendor selection, and flexibility in how they buy was cited as a common priority.
By making an effort to explore or “unpack” the information available from your customer, you can proactively mitigate many of the financial objections that can derail your selling efforts. By doing this early enough in the sales cycle to address any challenges, you can greatly improve the predictability of your results and your overall performance.