I had a conversation with the IT Director of a large nonprofit that was incredibly illuminating. He was the veteran of dozens of ERP/Accounting systems and knew his stuff. He was also refreshingly open about failed implementations as he was about successful implementations. So his credibility with me was off the charts – anyone willing to discuss failures and not rewrite history is someone to whom you should listen carefully.
If you are a VAR and you haven’t read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, you should. In this book he put forth the 10,000 hour benchmark: that is, those that have devoted 10,000 hours to their craft are those who succeed. Among his examples Bill Gates and The Beatles: talented – to be sure, but hard-working – the significant difference maker. As a VAR, you more than likely have surpassed the 10,000 hour threshold.
Increasingly VARs are competing against publishers with direct sales models. The publishers have what I call thoroughbred salespeople: well-skilled, top-notch presenters with highly refined people skills. And, it’s not uncommon for VARs to find themselves competing against the publisher of their own solution – publishers that in the past had left product sales to the channel – one of the more unfortunate symptoms of a sluggish economy.
So back to my IT Director. He mentioned to me that in his most recent work with a large organization searching for a back office solution, the team received presentations from solutions providers who were VARs and also publishers with direct sales people. There was one VAR who knew the software, understood the technical aspects of the organization, had an excellent grasp of the market niche they were in, but beyond that had what he called impressive bench strength. What his team had noticed was that whoever the representative was from this VAR organization – whether the owner, the consultant or the salesperson – when questions were asked of them, they could answer intelligently. As he put it, when the same questions were asked of the other companies, they always had to put a call in to the home office.
The deal went to the VAR. The lesson in this is that if you don’t need to call the home office to answer the prospects questions you are at an advantage. Look to showcase that ability in your sales cycles. You may even want to depict that ability in terms of the 10,000 hours versus 10, 15, 20 years in the business. Be precise about what your longevity in the market and with the solutions means.
What this also demonstrated to me is how important it is to devise ways of imparting your knowledge to your staff. The first 10,000 hours was devoted to making you a stand out expert. Why not adjust the focus of future hours to making your staff even more proficient. Carve out time to debrief, educate and explain. Look for ways to make them more confident and expert.
We all crave the ability to access someone who can give us answers with regards to the products and services we buy. The quicker, the better. We all know what it feels like to spend fifteen minutes pressing phone buttons to be “routed correctly” only to have no resolution when we reach the routing destination. While waiting to be transferred to the next level it just gives us time to stew and become more frustrated.
For the prospect looking to buy, there will never be a more attentive attitude than the sales cycle. Bring that fact to their attention and ask who among the competitors is able to answer their questions as thoroughly and quickly as you. Their future experience will be less stressful if they select the team that has the smarts to respond without the need for “phoning a friend.”