Selling Technology to the CTO
Selling digital solutions means going beyond the technology.
The buyer is often familiar with the specifications of the solution before the selling conversation begins. Therefore, the most effective sales professionals are prepared to discuss the product or service as a holistic, connected solution that ties into the buyer’s long-term growth strategy.
The challenge is that this long-term strategy has changed dramatically in recent months. One such change is the increased priority customers are assigning to everything-as-a-service (XaaS) solutions to achieve the speed, flexibility, and cost structure demanded by the COVID, and post-COVID environment. These multi-tenant solutions enable important centralised control across a distributed workforce. In the current environment, it is easy to see why 71% of companies report that XaaS now represents more than half of their organisation’s Enterprise IT according to Deloitte.
This trend is part of a broader initiative to significantly accelerate digital transformation. This acceleration is clear from PwC research showing that cloud investments increased by 37% to $29 billion within Q1 of 2020 alone. Business leaders are clearly placing a decisive bet that the future will demand a tech framework that is streamlined, scalable, and secure.
In this setting, sales professionals must develop a broad view of the customer’s business so they can articulate the ways in which the solution will work with the existing processes, tools, and network. This level of knowledge can even equip the sales professional with insights that are strong enough to compel the stakeholders to adopt not only a new solution but even new ways of working.
Being able to do this means understanding the customer’s broad goals which, in turn, enables crucial discussions about rising challenges like boosting supply chain resiliency, increased automation in operations, and managing productivity remotely. A single misstep in any of these areas will threaten the sale because XaaS solutions represent an operational expense and therefore have implications for the customer’s run rate. Just as the expense continues, so too must the value.
Here we look at the three key skills sales professionals must develop to address the broader, more sophisticated set of needs among decision-makers seeking technology solutions.
Unify Diverse Needs into a Single Positioning Strategy
Most technology solutions today impact a significant portion of the customer’s business. This characteristic of technology sales creates a setting in which the stakeholder radius widens because many people in different roles will depend on the product or service. This is not to say that all of these individuals will be present in the buying process and in the conversations occurring throughout the pursuit. However, the decision-makers who are present will be representing these diverse needs. This presents three unique challenges for the sales professional.
The sum of these three challenges is a setting in which the nuances of a digital solution are more important to more people in the buying organisation than ever before. This scenario has emerged because the longstanding shift to a digital world accelerated as all businesses responded to the global pandemic. In a short period of time technology and its specific capabilities became important to nearly everyone. This defining characteristic of work today is clear in data from the Pew Research Center. Researchers asked 915 developers, policy leaders, and innovators about changes expected in the coming years as a result of the pandemic. The researchers learnt that “their broad and nearly universal view is that people’s relationship with technology will deepen as larger segments of the population come to rely more on digital connections for work.” Therefore, it is no longer adequate for the sales professional to address the esoteric needs of the few. They must grasp the needs of the many
Understand and Address the Customer's Long-term Needs
Scalability is critically important to customers. They need to know that the solution will be able to adapt and grow as their technology stack changes in the future. Articulating the ways in which the solution can deliver this long-term value is challenging because even the customer might not fully understand what lies ahead. Moreover, these potentially critical future needs rarely seem pressing in the near-term. As a result, sales conversations sometimes disproportionately focus on concerns regarding immediate needs rather than downstream events. Consider that “the average IT department spends 56% of its technology budget on maintaining business operations and only 18% on building new business capabilities,” according to research from Deloitte.
This research underscores the sales professional’s responsibility to broaden the conversation and fully explore long-term needs. Doing so is not only necessary to provide ongoing value as a solution provider, but also an important step in to rising to the status of a trusted adviser. When this happens, the sales professional does more than transact. They become a guiding voice throughout the buying journey and in the customer’s strategic plans. This role gives the sales professional considerable power and agency when seeking to influence the stakeholders.
A trusted adviser possesses the crucial capability of elevating the technology to a solution that is greater than the sum of its parts. This distinction from a transactional sales professional has major implications because so many technology solutions face considerable competition from other strong providers. Often, the winning feature is the person, or people, behind the technology.
Additionally, a trusted adviser is important as the buyer considers implementation, ongoing support, and integration with legacy platforms. All of these factors are made less daunting by a sales professional who is able to use strong listening skills and a detailed understanding of the customer’s business to help connect disparate pieces. The need for a trusted adviser in the context of the high stakes setting of a technology purchase is fast becoming a requirement because the expectation is that the sales professional is available across all touch points at all times. The modern sales professional represents more than a product — they represent a partnership.
Maintain Focus on Customer-context When Framing Value
Technology solutions often represent years or even decades of work. Developers, coders, and engineers devote thousands of hours to designing and evolving complex systems. Therefore, there is often a strong, and understandable urge to demonstrate the breadth of that work when speaking to potential customers. Doing so results in conversations that quickly devolve into a list of features that are impressive but irrelevant to the specificity of the customer’s unique circumstances. These kinds of conversations risk presenting a viable and appropriate solution as a mismatch because the wrong capabilities are being illustrated.
Pinpointing nuanced solution features also invites the customer to think of the product or service as a tool designed to address a single challenge. This approach is counterproductive because customers today are attuned to the value of solutions that have enterprise-wide possibilities. In fact, research from McKinsey shows that 50% more value was “generated by companies that took a comprehensive approach to their transformation, as opposed to those that focused solely on technology improvements.” Sales professionals need to contextualise the value of the solution so that customers can visualise this comprehensive value.
Finding this context means developing a detailed questioning strategy. It is not enough to understand the customer’s present needs and challenges. Positioning digital solutions also requires an understanding of future needs, which are unknown until the sales professional and customer surface them together in a dialogue. Customers also need to be clear on the potential risks that lie ahead, as well as potential efficiencies that can be gained. Often, the initial need is a glimpse through the keyhole, and the sales professional must help the customer open the door. Doing so reveals unrealised competitive advantages gained through an increased speed to market. Digital solutions can be transformative in nature; therefore, the sales professional is not only advocating business benefits, but they are also advocating a business model.
Selling Technology is More Than Selling to the CTO
The business-wide implications presented by most technology solutions today means that sales professionals have a greater challenge in compelling buyers to fold a new solution into an existing, and often byzantine, technology stack. Meeting this challenge means acknowledging and addressing the expanding stakeholder group that has developed as technology solutions connect to more parts of a business. Sales professionals must also surface the customer’s long-term plans to address downstream needs. Finally, it is critical to limit the dialogue to only the most relevant features despite the urge to underscore sophisticated solution components.