SI Review: July/August 2014

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Power Seller: Break It Down

Tools to help sales staff be effective teachers and providers

By Robin Johnson

Salespeople are a different breed to be sure, but in the staffing industry this is definitely the rule and not the exception. Selling a service or a complete solution, and one that deals with people, is complex and requires not only someone who can sell, but also someone who can educate.

I work in enterprise solutions, which, as it sounds, is selling a complete solution or pieces of a solution to help clients manage their workforce. Cycle times can vary, but let’s just say, it can be a very long and drawn-out process. Much of that time is spent educating the client.

Clients looking for a managed services program can be at different phases in the program development life cycle. We see clients that are completely new to a centralized program and others that are on their third-generation one or that already have a self-managed program. Each one requires a different level of education during the sales process.

For some, it’s where to start. For others, it’s defining the next step to take. And for still others, it’s helping them take their program in another direction or to the next level for maximum effectiveness.

Sales teams need to equip themselves with tools that allow them to educate the client appropriately, while continuing to push toward the close. Here are some suggestions for sales teams at any level, but specifically those in managed services or solutions sales.

Make it easy. There’s nothing worse than making something complex, more complex. So identify the client’s motivations and needs early and focus on a few of the critical things that will help it achieve its goals. Layering on discussions of additional services, specific processes (tactical issues) and even technology in some cases, can only serve to make the sales process longer and more complicated.

Like teachers, salespeople need to be able to break down concepts into smaller concepts and introduce them at the right time. This includes talking to the right people (and at the right time). Most solutions sales involve multiple processes, departments, even geographies. Being able to speak in plain terms, bring issues to light and connect with the right people is crucial. It’s also important to separate strategic discussions from tactical ones. I’ve seen many times where conversations – even early conversations – can get down into the tactical “weeds” before the overall goals have been established.

Know your limits. One thing that becomes obvious during an implementation is when you’ve oversold and over- promised. Flawed implementations are often due to not having open and honest conversations early, or simply not having enough conversations about the right things. However, when you do have those conversations, it’s important to talk about parameters and expectations early and often. The project that starts out with “don’t worry about it,” or “yes, we can do that, I’ll just add it in,” from a salesperson who has no authority or knowledge of operations is a recipe for disaster. When you add technology to the mix, that impact can be compounded.

Learn to say no. Some of the best salespeople are the ones who know early and accurately when to walk away from a deal. In the early days, particularly in areas like managed staffing or recruitment process outsourcing (RPO), early experiences were not good for some companies. It was bad for the clients and bad for the staffing industry. Many clients never again trusted an outsourced provider, or worse, took a hard line position without having all the facts or considering how their business (or the world) has changed since they had the bad experience. It’s good for the industry as a whole when unreasonable client demands are questioned, giving providers an opportunity to educate the client.

These are all recommendations learned from many years of making mistakes. We all have accounts we’ve lost or would like to do over, but that’s also part of sales. The sales team needs to be courageous enough to make some mistakes and learn from them. The key for sales leaders is to help them focus in the right areas and make fewer mistakes (or at least minimize them). Which leads us back to one word: Educating.

Robin Johnson is senior vice president of enterprise solutions at Yoh.

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