How to Survive Selling to Complex Customers


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. (TheStreet) -- Decisions about buying and implementing technology can be the most challenging, and the larger the organization, the more complex the decision becomes. Information technology, finance and other departments have to be "sold" on the benefits, and once sold they have to decide whose budget pays the bill.

Anyone trying to introduce new technology into a system or business with complex organizational processes, multiple levels of decision-makers and strict budgets -- and the principle is universal, not limited to technology -- can find it challenging. Getting to "yes" in a sale requires a thorough understanding of the prospective customer organization. This often means reaching frontline users, the true customers of the product, and educating them on the features and benefits of your product. Once you have the end user on board, you must move up the decision tree to administrators, IT departments and curriculum designers or business content groups.


The sales process becomes a multiprong, multiphase effort to reach the key decision-makers with information relevant to their needs and perspectives. As someone providing new technology, you must think like the customers by addressing the rewards and risks they see as inherent in adopting innovations. There are many stakeholders who will be evaluating the decision upfront (and after the sale) to determine if the investment will generate the return they desire. If you promise improved effectiveness, efficiency, better performance and increased success, you had better deliver.

This week I spoke with Seth Weinberger of Innovations for Learning, a Chicago nonprofit bringing hand-held devices into classrooms to make teachers more efficient in providing students with materials, content and access to curricula. It isn't easy to implement technology into school systems. Just like major corporations, they are usually structured so technology acquisition is separate from other decision-making; for schools, that separation typically means technology and curriculum decisions are not integrated. Innovations for Learning must truly understand their customers, from the decision-makers and processes, to their mission, objectives and budget constraints.

Five ways to make your sales efforts more effective:

1. Understand the customer. Understand their needs, objectives, decision-making processes and funding levels.

2. Identify the benefits to the customer at each decision point. IT departments need to be able to integrate technology into their current systems, control costs of acquisition and ongoing support costs. Users of your product or technology want to know how it will "get the job done."

3. Understand the organization's issues and constraints. If a customer has limited funds, trying to sell them high-end, high-dollar solutions won't work. Demonstrate to the organization cost-effective and budget-friendly solutions. Remember that the sale of your product, service and technology is about what the customer wants to buy, not what you want to sell.

4. Build relationships. Sales success is about making a connection to the customer and seeing through the customer's eyes. A quick sale is always nice, but taking the time and making the effort to support the client's decision-making process may translate to more sales in the long run. Most organizations are looking for a lifetime customer, not a one-hit, one-time customer. The secondary benefit of relationship selling is that the customer will often refer you to friends, colleagues and other organizations. Referrals count for a lot.

5. Don't rush the steps. It would be nice to be able to jump over certain stages or steps in getting a deal. You may want to speed up the client's decision-making process. But going faster doesn't necessarily mean you will get to the sale any sooner. In fact, high-pressure sales and ignoring the customer processes may just leave you with a lost opportunity. Patience is often the best sales tool an organization can have.

The easiest way to speed up the purchase decision is to understand your customer and their process for deciding. When you understand the customer, you will know how to close the sale.

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