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July 17, 2008

Selling for High Value and Long Time Frames

There is a lot of information out there relating to how to succesfully sell work in the area of professional services. Some of the better books that I have read on the subject would be Jeffrey Gitomers Little Red Book of Selling, The Irresistible Offer by Mark Joyner, or The Trusted Advisor, an industry standard written by David H Maister, Charles H. Green and Robert M. Galford.

However, there is very little available in the area of long time frame - high value engagements. Areas such as selling $1 Billion worth of Outsourced services, $50 Million worth of Caterpillar HaulTrucks, a $200 Million ERP implementation or $8 Billion worth of Airplane sales.

We recently put this question to a panel of experts from around the world to try to get to the bottom of what the skills and techniques were that consulting firms would need to master if they were going to be able to play succesfully at the big end of the market.

Phil Ghan is a Director of Business Development at Epsilon Systems Solutions. A company from within the defense sector of the USA. As with all governmental work there is a lot of lobbying, and high level discussions and negotiations that take place within this area. However, he notes that if the C-Level executives on both the buyer and the seller side are not comfortable with one another, then it isn´t going to happen.

"Just like any other sale, its all about relationships. The stakes are just higher. My personal experience is that real relationships are not made in boardroom. This is especially true when dealing with foreign companies. If you do not get invited for dinner, walk away because they do not like you enough. If you do get invited, it is all about personal equity. Never refuse to do anything (obviously within the law). If they keep you up for a week, do it. We recently got a project in the ME because we put in the personal time with the client for a month. It was worth $250 mill."

This underlines a point made by many that we contacted in relation to this article. To underline his point relating to relationships Phil went on to add "Be flexible...if your client does not like the person you sent, replace immediately. The reasons do not matter and often times can seem frivolous. But it is most definitely not to them"

Although long sales cycles can be found within many industries, they seem particularly common in the IT sector. Tiffani Bovi, a Research Director at Gartner, offered this observation. "In the IT industry, long sales cycle by nature are complicated and (usually) have a high dollar value- they tend to touch multiple parts of an organization and impact business processes."

So while it is about relationships, it is not just about one relationship, but many. "To sell something that requires more than 6 months of pipeline management will require a 'team' of people to close the deal rather than 'one' individual. Managing the 'team' and pulling all the pieces together all the way from pre-sales to post-sales support - ensuring that the customer receives all that is needed to make the decision is the true skill to selling deals like these." Tiffani added.

"If a sales rep prefers to work alone and not involve subject matter experts when needed and appropriate, they will have a higher likelihood of failing. Whenever big deals are closed - take a look at all that touched it, rarely is it just one person. The skill is in orchestrating the entire deal start to finish – the people –– upper management and the customer."

But what of the skills necesary? Team leadership and being able to manage client engagement is all great stuf, but what else is there?

Hamish Taylor, a consultant at Consultant at Shinergise Partners Ltd, summarized the big ticket skills as follows:

"1. Understanding your customer - at the multi-million dollar level the stakes are so much higher that your level of understanding has to be very deep and very broad simultaneously.

2. Resilience and self-belief - from zero to hero as described above is a difficult journey, it needs to be undertaken by people who have a strong sense of purpose and tenacity to go the distance.

3. Willingness to seek help and support - there are no lone warriors at the multi-million dollar level, the capacity to work as part of a diverse and dispersed international team is essential.

4. "Smell the Money!" - I attribute this skill to a particular friend and colleague of mine who exhibited the skill for the 20 years that I have known him - this is the ability to differentiate winning projects from winning big projects. This is essential at the multi-million dollar level as the worst consolation prize is picking up the crumbs when the major deal has gone to somebody else. "

Alexander Macasaet, a marketing professional working as an account manager for DHL,agreed and added one skill that all conultants would be familiar with "A "closer" attitude (as in closing the sale) is critical of course but so is a strong team leadership background. Let's face it, the IT guy implementing the ERP has his own agenda completely different from the guy developing the billing process."
"It's the salesperson's job (or, in this case, I believe the appropriate term is Business Development Manager though, the job desription is still the same, bringing in the business) to put everyone on the same page and present a unified front for the customer and manage the program internally for the duration of the contract."

Lastly, Ron Irving, Regional VP at The TASCON Group, added what is probably the most fundamental piece of advice for managing a team, managing relationships, and for delivering value from the overal engagement.

"Have a plan. Long sales cycles often mean things can and will change during the process. Requirements often change. Key decision makers may change. Technologies change. If you do not have a plan to stay on top of the changes, you can go from the leading solution provider to an also ran. You need a plan that includes regular contact with the key decision makers and with your team. Set expectations. Communicate the contact dates with your buyers' team, so they know when to expect a review/update with you."

As usual the people we contacted for this article have been exceptionally candid and provide fantastic information for all consultants who aspire to achieve great things within the game. However, as a final word, they all agreed on one particular skill... Patience! These sales cycles take years, and often with very little to smile about in the meantime. Good luck!

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