As schools break up for the summer holidays you’d think it would be a quiet time for the sales team. What’s the point in calling or emailing if the people you want to speak to won’t be at their desk for two or three weeks? However, I’ve found that holidays are actually a good time to sell, whatever sector you work in.
If the person you’re calling isn’t away, they’re likely to be less busy than usual and also more relaxed, particularly if they’ve recently returned from their own holiday, so they’ll have more time to speak to you. Granted, a few will have taken on extra work for colleagues who are on holiday so won’t have time for a chat, but a quick question will enable you to assess the situation and respond accordingly.
Most people, when time allows, are only too pleased to have an opportunity to talk about their work and the challenges they face. The role of a good sales person is to listen, ask the right questions and learn – not go in straight away with a hard sell. Selling is all about knowledge and if you have the opportunity to find out more about a prospect, you need to grasp it with both hands.
We’ve been in this business 25 years and I estimate collectively our team have attended over 10,000 client meetings in this time. In the vast majority of these cases, what the client thought they wanted, or what the salesperson originally felt might be the optimal solution before the meeting, was not what the client actually needed or bought.
The summer holidays window is also a good time to get out and about for meetings, as roads and trains are less crowded. So I encourage my team to make the most of it, and of course it’s something I do myself. Sales is a key part of my role – and I like to think I’m quite good at it. That’s probably because I’m always happy to discuss technology and how businesses can use it, as well as the new stuff that’s coming along.
You need to understand your customer’s pain points before you offer him or her a solution. One of the events we find most useful is the bi-annual IT Directors’ Forum, where suppliers and IT directors are marooned on a boat for three days with a mix of formal meetings and informal chats over meals and into the evenings. It’s the best way to find out about the issues that really matter to the businesses we’re hoping to sell to, as well as speak more generally about economic issues such as the impact (or otherwise) of Brexit.
Another important aspect of successful selling is to study customers’ habits. You need to put your preconceptions aside and think differently in order to be successful. It starts with having an open, enquiring mind, particularly for the high value, high risk, business to business environment we serve. Until you fully understand the issue or problem the customer is looking to solve, plus the context, dependencies and their risk appetite, you are never going to be able offer constructive advice or an appropriate answer.
One thing we’re very keen on at Fordway is what I call “eating your own dog food”. It’s an expression that always raises groans in the office but it’s been used in the software community for some time. It describes a company that uses its own products, showing its confidence in them and testing them in real-world usage. Apparently it goes back to 1970s TV advertisements, with some pet food company executives saying on screen that they fed their products to their own dogs and another even eating a can of his company’s dog food at shareholder meetings. It’s the diametric opposite of the expression “cobbler’s children go barefoot”.
So the serviceswe recommend to our customers are those that we already use within Fordway and we fully understand, warts and all. Our corporate IT service is a client of our managed cloud service, which uses exactly the same platform, processes and support and offers the same SLA that we offer our customers. We use a wide range of technologies to deliver cloud services, and use and endorse ITIL service management processes which align IT with the needs of the business.
Information security is now critical, it actually always has been, and so in addition to ISO27001 which we’ve held and maintained for years, we recently obtained certification to the government’s Cyber Essentials Plus standard. This provides further assurance to our customers that we maintain the highest standards of security, and we now recommend it to our customers to help them reduce the risk of cyber-attack.
So my tip is to use the summer holidays as an opportunity to get to know your customers and prospects better, which will bear dividends throughout the rest of the year. And if you can demonstrate the quality of your company’s products or services as part of your daily business life, so much the better.