Sales Advice to VARs

Read­ing Time: 4 min­utes

There’s an old busi­ness adage that says, “All things being equal, peo­ple want to do busi­ness with their friends. And all things being NOT so equal, peo­ple STILL want to do busi­ness with their friends”. It is esti­mat­ed that more than 50% of sales are made and busi­ness rela­tion­ships are kept because of friend­ship. — Jef­frey Gitormer

One of the great joys and pains of my day job is meet­ing with all man­ner of sales peo­ple. Some are from man­u­fac­tur­ers, some are from Val­ue Added Resellers (VARs), and some are from con­sul­tan­cies or oth­er inter­est groups. Their titles may change (Sales Con­sul­tant, Thought Leader, Tech­ni­cal Mar­ket­ing Engi­neer, Lead Archi­tect, etc.) but the demands on my time do not.

By way of back­ground, I’d like to say that I don’t have a prob­lem with sales. In fact, I spent 10 years of my career in the VAR space act­ing in both pre and post sales roles. Sales are a fun­da­men­tal part of any good busi­ness, and I find that the best sales reps–no mat­ter the title–are great peo­ple to have con­ver­sa­tions with; they spend time with so many busi­ness­es that they often have great insight into trends and solu­tions that I may not have thought of.

How­ev­er, since I get–on average–about 20 unso­licit­ed phone calls and 10–20 pieces of mail per day, I am fair­ly guard­ed with my time. Add to that the fact that I have numer­ous meet­ings per day, and am busy even dur­ing the most non-event­ful weeks, very few sales peo­ple actu­al­ly get a call back or an in-per­son meet­ing. I think I’m like most peo­ple and just don’t like my time wast­ed.

So, to all of you out there who are in a pre-sales type of role and either are look­ing to meet with some­one like me, or have a meet­ing sched­uled, let me toss out a few help­ful hints.

  • Know your audi­ence. This prob­a­bly seems self-evi­dent, but you’d be sur­prised how many peo­ple call me and don’t know my title, or if I am “a deci­sion mak­er” or even the prop­er pro­nun­ci­a­tion of my name. If you fail this test, the first deci­sion I’ll make is to effec­tive­ly black-list you from ever doing busi­ness with my com­pa­ny.

  • Have a point. Leav­ing ram­bling mes­sages that seem to waiv­er between ask­ing me if I need some­thing and won­der­ing if I might tell you what you should be sell­ing me does­n’t exact­ly inspire con­fi­dence.

  • Don’t give me a cor­po­rate biog­ra­phy. You might believe that a 10-minute biog­ra­phy on how great your com­pa­ny is, how suc­cess­ful you are, and how many oth­er large com­pa­nies you’ve helped some­how helps you get in the door with me, but you’d be wrong. I do busi­ness with peo­ple who can help me solve prob­lems, and I real­ly don’t care much about your pedi­gree at the ear­ly stages of our con­ver­sa­tion. It may come up lat­er, but in the begin­ning you should focus on telling me what prob­lems you might be able to help me solve.

  • Under­stand my envi­ron­ment. I know this can be hard when you’re com­ing in blind, but it’s always good to ask rather than start in on a sales pitch. I can’t count the num­ber of times some­one has launched into a pitch about brand‑x stor­age with­out real­iz­ing that we’ve just made a mul­ti­ple six-fig­ure invest­ment in a com­pet­ing brand. If sales is a num­bers game, you want to qual­i­fy me before wast­ing a lot of both of our time with some­thing I’m not going to buy.

  • Don’t just ask questions–have a con­ver­sa­tion. Don’t ask ques­tions like a robot, or like you learned in a sales sem­i­nar, but do ask ques­tions that will help you gain insight into where you might have a prod­uct or ser­vice that can help me solve a prob­lem. Have a dis­cus­sion with me so that you can under­stand my needs, my envi­ron­ment, and my ini­tia­tives. And for god’s sake, do not close out the con­ver­sa­tion with any vari­ety of the hack­neyed “If it came in blue, would you be ready to buy”, “Are you a deci­sion mak­er”, “Do you have bud­get”, or “What’s your time-frame for a deci­sion.” Just talk to me and those things will come out dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion.

  • Don’t be clever. I asked a sales-rep from a large soft­ware com­pa­ny what his new prod­uct would do for me, and why I should upgrade. His answer was some ver­sion of “It lets you lever­age out-of-the-box, par­a­digm-shift­ing, team-focused syn­er­gies into busi­ness-enabling, next-gen­er­a­tion…” etc. Don’t be that guy. You might think you’re clever, but I only have so much time to lis­ten and if you can’t tell me how your prod­uct or ser­vice helps me in just a few clear, con­cise sen­tences then I’m going to assume it can’t. Just say­ing.

  • Become my friend. All of the sig­nif­i­cant deals I have done in the last sev­er­al years, even in cas­es where I have sev­er­al choic­es in who to deal with (Microsoft Enter­prise Agree­ment, Cis­co Smart­Net and accou­trements, Large-scale Flex­Pod deploy­ment, etc.) have all been done with peo­ple who I have a friend­ship with. Deals are made between me and a per­son, not between my com­pa­ny and your com­pa­ny. In fact, my Cis­co busi­ness in par­tic­u­lar has moved three times in order to stay with the same sales-person–a per­son I trust and who has become a de-fac­to con­sul­tant to my com­pa­ny. Take a true inter­est in me and my busi­ness, and I’ll like­ly take an inter­est in yours as well.

I could prob­a­bly add more here, but the bot­tom line is that if you have some­thing that can make my life bet­ter, I’ll prob­a­bly want to talk to you and we might even put togeth­er a deal. If not, you and I both have an inter­est in gain­ing that under­stand­ing ear­ly in the con­ver­sa­tion. You should­n’t want to fill some meet­ing quo­ta with some­one who has no desire to do busi­ness with you, any more than I want to waste my time lis­ten­ing to your sales pitch. If you can help me, and can artic­u­late as much in a direct, intel­li­gent man­ner, then I’m going to want to talk to you and I’m much more like­ly to buy than if you waste my time.