Firstly, thanks for taking the time to read this message, I really appreciate it.
I'm looking for some sales advice, and hope the great and the good on this board might just be able to help me find some better insight.
I work for a small UK start-up business, in the software industry. Up until recently, we have operated purely as a consultancy, but in parallel to our consultancy work, we have been developing an enterprise software product. Development on that was completed last December, and since then we've been trying for about six months to get a sale, so far no luck.
Everyone who has seen the product has been quite complementary, and there's been some passing interest in it from the investment/business angel community. But so far, whenever a potential customer starts to contemplate having to spend some cash, the interest suddenly dries up. This is often before we've even got to the point of discussing price, so I don't think that's what's putting them off.
We've tried targetting our sales towards the businesses that seem to have the biggest need for our product, rather than just promoting it to as many companies as possible, but doing that sort of research takes significant amounts of time, and so far hasn't yielded any better results. With companies that we have no prior connection with, we're still having great difficulty getting to talk to anyone at all.
We've had a bit more luck in getting to speak to people through networking, but even there, although we know in some cases that the companies do have problems our product could help solve, and our contacts agree that this is the case, as soon as the prospect arises of having to spend some money, they start to back off.
Obviously, the current state of the economy doesn't help things, but it would be useful to get a better idea of why the customers aren't biting. However, getting any constructive feedback on this is proving difficult. If it is because of perceived shortcomings in the product, or how we're marketing it, obviously we'd like to know about it, but how can we find out?
Because we're new to product sales, we also don't have a clear idea of what sort of 'hit rate' we would be normally be expected to achieve, although obviously it currently seems on the low side to us. Would it be better to be less discriminate in our sales targets, since researching them properly hasn't delivered the sales we were looking for?
Any insight from people with more experience than us would be much appreciated. - by uksalesnoob
I'll try to help if you'll give me a bit more background. Typically how does your sales 'conversation' start off.
What 'exactly' are you saying or doing to open up your sales process.
If you don't have a set way of doing this...then generally what sort of approach are you using?
What kind of benefit could I expect if I bought your software.
Would it save or make me more money?
Would it assist my productivity?
What would it do for me?
If you're willing to post that info...I'll give it a shot for you.
Oh ....I'm UK based and have worked with startups selling brand new software before. - by helisell
Thanks very much for taking the time to reply, it's much appreciated.
So, our sales pitch : so far it has largely depended on who the target is. Our software isn't aimed at a particular vertical (at least at the moment), and in theory could sell to a wide range of businesses, maybe being most useful to mid-size businesses, particularly those that are part of a group, or maybe have been recently merged or acquired. We've brainstormed and done research on the various industry sectors that might benefit most, and have tried to target leading businesses in those sectors, particularly those for whom we have discovered as a part of the research had a genuine need for what we're selling. In some cases, a tip-off has come from networking rather than independent research.
In most cases, we've tried to tailor a proposition particular to the circumstances that the potential customer finds themselves in. So if we've discovered, for example, that they're about to start a project that would benefit from using our software, we've tried to find out who was in charge of the project, explained who we are, and what we do, and how our software might be able to help with the upcoming project. The research to build a decent business case based on what we can glean of the individual circumstances of each prospect takes time, though, and so far, hasn't really produced the results we hoped for, so we're wondering whether this really is the best approach.
Although in some cases, our contact at the prospect has agreed that our product might really help them, in general we've found a general reluctance to commit to spending in our area, although on reflection maybe that's just the inability of the people we've been able to contact to commit to spending. We've often been left with the impression that although the sort of thing we do with is definitely on the prospect's "to do" list, for some reason, it isn't top priority at the moment, and therefore isn't currently getting spending allocated to it, possibly because of the economic situation. Several of the upcoming projects we discovered through our research seem likely to turn out never to go ahead, so obviously it is difficult to sell to those customers in those circumstances.
As to the precise business benefits of our software, we believe there are quite a few. Cost saving is definitely a key component, although it's probably more about saving ongoing future costs, rather than making immediate cost savings, which might be part of the difficulty selling in this market.
There are also definitely productivity benefits, although they depend on exactly how you choose to deploy it, and also some regulatory benefits too. Sorry if that's a bit vague, I can go into more detail privately if that helps.
We've attempted to highlight all of these to potential customers, again tailored to their individual circumstances, but so far, no joy.
Any advice about how to improve on our sales record so far would be gratefully accepted! We're not sure whether the "research and target" approach is the best, and we should persevere and it will work eventually, or whether a more general approach, targetting greater numbers of prospects would work better. - by uksalesnoob
First off...please forgive the brevity of some of my comments/ideas/sweeping statements...I am only trying to say a lot with the least number of words...so you may not need to take some things literally.
It 'sounds' like you are digging around and getting a fair lot of information about customer projects before you contact them?
This is fatal if you are new to sales.
What happens is that you get armed with information and end up 'pitching', 'presenting' your solutions without going through some of the vital preliminaries....(we call it qualification)
As an analogy...it's like you walk into the doctors surgery as a patient, and the doctor starts to tell you about this wonderful new treatment that is going to cure your gout......except....you haven't got gout....you've got arthritis.
When you visit the doctor in real life of course...he never takes what you tell him for granted (he doesn't believe you) so he begins a process of qualification (he asks you lots of questions)
When he's done that, he will make a diagnosis, give you a prognosis and then issue his prescription. If he tried to give you a prescription without asking you lots of questions about your problem...you'd think he was insane...and you wouldn't be taking whatever medication he prescribed.
You don't say how you are contacting these prospects but I'll assume you are either face to face or on the phone.
Therefore you need to create a process a bit like the doctor's.
Except your list of questions needs to be on a printed sheet...with space for you to record the answers (we call it a cue sheet...of 'q' sheet (for qualification))
Wr would need to figure out what the questions are first obviously...but once we've asked the questions and recorded the answers...we would need to review the info (diagnosis) and say something like 'ok Mr Prospect...based on what you've said, I think we can show you a way to...reduce your costs/ make more profit/save more tome/blah blah....is that something you'd be interested in Mr Prospect.
You can see that even after all this....we still haven't started to pitch the product.
The key to all this is...knowing what questions to ask...before you start 'selling anything'.
Step one for you is to think about all the benefits your product could give them...and frame your questions around the problems that those benefits could solve.
As you can see, this is a big subject but hopefully there is enough here to get you started on the right track.
If you go to the website on my profile (not connected with sales that one) then google for my name, then you should be able to contact me..if you are not able to pm me.
Hope some of that helps - by helisell
Hello again Helisell,
Thanks again for your considered and helpful response.
I guess I agree that there has been an element of 'diagnosing before listening to the patient' in what we've done so far, which we can certainly attempt to rectify. It will be easy enough to produce a list of questions (or q sheet, you mentioned) that leads people in the direction of what we would like to eventually sell to them.
One thing I'm not clear on is in what manner you recommend we communicate these questions to the prospect. Are they a set of questions we should ask in person, as though we'd just thought of them on the spot, or, for example, should we hand the thing over as a document for the prospect to complete?
Are these sort of questions only useful once you've attracted the prospect's attention, or would you use them to gain the prospect's attention in the first place?
On some of our approaches, we've tried to act a bit more like you describe, but unfortunately those projects are the ones where it transpired that the prospect had decided not to proceed at all, which it made it difficult to judge the success of the sales technique.
It may be easier if we continue the discussion off forum, where I can be more candid about the product and what we do. I will attempt to contact you via the methods you describe.
Thanks very much for you help! - by uksalesnoob
Just to clarify one of those points.
At some stage in the interaction (how we get to that stage is obviously very important too and needs some discussion but for now...) the conversation should go something like...
Ok Mr P......I think I may have something that is going to........ (whatever it is going to) but....at this stage probably the best thing we could do is...let me fire a couple of quick questions at you and then take it from there ....how does that sound.
If I was doing this face to face I actually want the customer to see me ask the question.....see me consider his/her response....and then see me record that point on my sheet.
The doctor doesn't need to ask permission to do that, because the 'need' is implicit in the situation of course.
I did write a much longer reply until I realised that much of it would need the context to be explained or it wouldnt make sense.
I'll pm you. - by helisell
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