By Wayne Monk, ASG Technologies
Due to the pandemic, organizations have been slashing budgets and reprioritizing the focuses of their business and technology strategies. These drastic changes have directly impacted the channel, especially when it comes to sales strategies. Companies using even the most tried-and-true tactics are struggling to see results – but that may be the problem. The customers – and their needs – have evolved, and so must the vendors’ and channel partners’ approach to sales.
Before the pandemic upended the business landscape, sales strategies could largely be grouped into two buckets: building need and serving need. But are those strategies still valuable and applicable today, and if so, do they look any different? Let’s get technical and determine the best way for vendors, channel partners, and their salespeople to continue delivering value to customers and their companies during the pandemic.
Building Need Vs. Serving Need – What's The Difference?
Most sales professionals are familiar with several different methodologies, from MEDDIC to BANT, though most require salespeople to understand up-front if they are building or serving need. Vendors can’t move forward in the sales process if the need has not been defined and, even more important, if there have not been resources and budget allocated to addressing that need. If the Board, C-suite, or keepers of the purse strings have not been convinced of a need, vendors will not only be fighting an uphill battle and most likely wasting their time, but the prospect or customer can become irritated with their approach. Organizations want their business and its pain points to be understood. Jumping the gun and assuming there is a deal on the table (or a check ready to be written) – which most salespeople have done at one point – shows a lack of understanding.
To distinguish if they are building or serving need, vendors and channel partners should start by asking, “Does this company have a clear pain point or business problem? If one exists, are there resources and budget allocated to it?” If the answer is no, they are building need. The organization must still be convinced that there is a problem to be solved – and that it will be worth their investment. In this case, it’s critical that salespeople to find an executive or someone in the organization with the passion and ability to build a compelling business case with a strong ROI and get that case in front of a leader who can allocate resources to it. The business case must effectively communicate the challenge, the business outcomes that can be realized by addressing the problem and the ROI, such as increased revenue, reduction of cost, or reduced risk. A sale can’t effectively occur until there is an agreed-upon use case with supporting requirements – i.e., the set of capabilities, processes, or functionalities necessary to address the problem. This is a great time to ensure your unique capabilities become mandatory requirements to block out any competition. With this business case and strategy, the internal advocate will be equipped to argue for the allocation of budget in front of their executive team.
Once an organization has agreed to fix an existing problem, and a project or initiative has been funded, vendors and channel partners can begin serving need. At this time, the question for vendors and channel partners becomes, “How do I serve this need and demonstrate that I can address it based on the requirements?” The objective has shifted: vendors and channel partners must convince the customer that they are better qualified than their competitors to solve the problem – that they have the unique prescription for the pain point that delivers the best business outcomes with customer proof points. To do so, they must focus on understanding who the internal stakeholders are, what the decision process is, what the decision criteria are, and who are the influencers, decision makers, etc. Only then does the selling process begin.
Enter The Advisory Partners
So, there are vendors, channel partners, and all their salespeople, but what role do advisory partners play in this process? A significant one, in fact, especially when it comes to enterprise software. When executives at prospect and customer companies believe they have a business problem, they often look for an outside opinion first. They want to receive advice, not be sold – yet. These companies often turn to advisory service partners, such as Capgemini, Accenture, Deloitte, or other boutique firms that have solved similar problems before. These partners assess and map the customer’s current environment, make recommendations for improvement areas aligned to a maturity model, and indicate the desired future state to accomplish their business objectives.
In fact, building the need is most often done with an advisory partner. These partners have the power to define the need, set the requirements for capabilities and features, and even recommend which vendor solutions to consider. Yes – advisory partners frequently create a shortlist of vendors that they know can solve the defined problem and deliver the desired business outcomes. Knowing advisory partners play this role, vendors must get on their radar, explaining their value and differentiators to ensure they are on the shortlist. Advisory partners are critical to vendors’ success.
Many vendors’ salespersons underestimate the value of partnering with advisory firms – they think they are wasting their time because there do not see a qualified opportunity to pursue. That’s the problem with the field engagement model, and the misconception about building need in general: delayed gratification. Vendors can get ahead by appreciating the time and energy of building relationships with advisory partners. If a vendor is working with a new customer and that company has a defined need, requirements, budget, and use case, it probably means they have engaged an advisory partner to define and build need. In this case, vendors should connect with that advisory partner and ask for insights they may not otherwise get from the customer.
Building And Serving Need In A Pandemic
Sales opportunities (or lack thereof) are evolving as people get their pandemic legs. Though one thing is very clear: if a project hasn’t been funded, or is not serving a need directly, then building that need will be much more closely scrutinized.
Needs at most organizations have shifted. Pain points from January may not be considered priorities by April, June, or even August. Priorities have shifted into three main categories: dealing with a rapid shift to supporting virtual employees and customers, accelerating digital transformation and automation, and securing new users in a remote workforce. As these pain points changed, so did companies’ needs. Unfortunately, however, revenue has been impacted by the pandemic and budgets are tighter than ever. If salespeople are building need, they need a bulletproof business case that is aligned with cost reduction, risk reduction, or even possible revenue growth.
In some cases, vendors and channel partners were looking for new spend where need was already established and budgeted – but even those projects were suspended or stopped. In this case, company leaders retrospectively decided that A) the business case wasn’t as strong as originally thought, B) there isn’t enough ROI, or C) new pain points shifted priorities and resources needed to be reallocated. Today, companies are only spending on must-haves, which has really increased the importance of a strong business case building need. KPMG’s Enterprise Reboot report ranks the top 10 challenges in realizing value from emerging technologies – and before the pandemic, developing a business use case was #6, but now, it’s #1. As vendors work on building need, they should know the scrutiny they are up against and make their work even sharper.
In today’s business landscape, building and serving need must be approached through a pandemic lens – making it even more important for salespeople to understand the tactical differences. Building need is harder than ever unless vendors and channel partners directly address a digital transformation, security for a remote workforce, or automating manual processes. Serving those needs is incredibly important to the survival of most companies, but vendors must be able to communicate why they are the ones to do it. By training and equipping salespeople to navigate these nuances, vendors and channel partners can still find success, even during a pandemic. Being hyperaware of customers’ needs is always important, but in a world that needs empathy and support, it could be what sets companies apart.
Wayne Monk is Senior Vice President, Global Alliances and Channel Sales at ASG Technologies and is responsible for establishing strategic partnerships, indirect channels, and other key routes to market. Wayne has 30 years of enterprise solution sales, marketing, and channel management experience with high growth technology companies. Wayne has held many sales and channel management positions with Seamless Technologies (acquired by Avnet), HP Software, Mercury Interactive, CA, MainControl (acquired by MRO and then IBM), and NCR Corporation.