February 21, 2018

Always Be Learning

“I never lose—I either win or learn.”  That’s one of my favorite mantras and something I remind myself of when things feel like they are about to crash and burn. There is a lesson in everything. When I don’t get the outcome I wanted either personally or professionally, I don’t dwell on not “winning” but take a step back, think through the situation and focus on what I could have done better. I make note of the lesson and carry it with me.

For example, when I started out on my career path in financial sales (gulp, many, many years ago), sales reps would typically engage my colleagues and me when a customer requested some type of financing option. These conversations typically took place near the end of the sale cycle after pricing had been formalized and the deal was close to or completely committed. Inevitably the customer would wait until the last minute to inform the rep of their lack of budget. Typically the customer required  a zero percent payment plan because incurring interest costs was not likely to be approved. The end result was an additional discount offered (bad!) or no deal reached (even worse!).

I’ve been involved in many of these scenarios and although it sometimes works out in the end, there is another approach I’ve learned over time. This approach focuses on incorporating financial selling throughout the sales cycle. I promise you don’t need to be a wizard at Excel or in reading financial statements either (although it doesn’t hurt!). I’ll break this approach down into five key inflection points within the sales cycle.

Qualification is the first area of focus and just like you qualify a customer lead, you can also qualify a customer from a financial standpoint. I frequently provide sales reps with insight into how a customer has historically acquired technology. In many cases customers, even the top Fortune 100 companies, have either used or contemplated payment plans for their technology acquisitions.  With this in mind, I often urge the rep to have a payment plan option built into their proposal.

After the deal is qualified, we discuss pricing. If we know ahead of time a customer has used payment plans to acquire technology I’ll provide pricing and guidance on how much the sales rep needs to account for the cost of the payment plan and work with them to build this cost into the overall discounting strategy of the proposal. When the payment plan cost is incorporated into the deal structure early, sales reps typically have higher margins and a more profitable deal.

Next, we shift our focus to positioning the transaction. Remember, nearly every transaction has a financial and business buyer and it’s important that you position your deal in a framework that is going to resonate with each audience. We might focus on how best to align payments to your customer’s needs and map payments to out-year budgets, to the deployment schedule, or to CapEx vs. OpEx constraints. Using the scenario of a customer having limited budget, we’ll have conversations to determine the current and future years’ budgets and align an extended payment option accordingly.

Once we’ve narrowed in on how the sales rep wants to position the deal, we work on presenting the solution. I’ve had a lot of sales reps tell me they are hesitant to bring up anything financial, no matter how superficial, because it’s not an area in which they feel conversant. I get it—I don’t like bringing up topics I am not comfortable speaking about either. It’s for this exact reason we build and present the financial solution alongside with the sales rep.  Similar to how your technical selling resource (sales engineer) speaks to the technical aspects of the solution, we are here to present the financial aspects of the solution (financial sales engineer). This presentation can take on a few forms depending on the customer’s needs and typically focuses on total cost of ownership comparisons, business case benefits, and an overview of the payment plan agreement.

Last we work with the sales rep to close the transaction (the win!) which is usually in the form of contracting the payment plan agreement or completing the business case analysis that provided the financial justification for your customer to move forward with a purchase. Customers can and often do throw curve balls at sales reps especially at the eleventh hour. But if we’ve followed the steps I’ve outlined above, we’re in a much better position to deal with those curve balls as they come.

Winning is great, but it’s not going to happen every time. If you learn from every defeat, like incorporating financial selling throughout your sales cycle, you’re in a great position to get better results on the opportunities in your future.