Opinion

Going commando on the sales pitch

Doug Tucker has been socking it to the IT industry. Tucker is managing director at Sales Commando which isn’t a new clothes line for salespeople but a purveyor of sales training packages. A former royal marine, sales guru Tucker’s motto is: Have fun. Make Money.

Anyway, Tucker was quotedin MicroScope recently making the observation that salespeople in the technology sector “typically simply list technical facts to potential clients and believe that’s an effective sales method. Believe me, it isn’t”.

Nothing he says is startling or surprising except, perhaps, for that last sentence. Because if Tucker’s right that salespeople are just listing technical facts to customers, the inconvenient truth is that, for the most part, that’s good enough to get their goods bought by those customers. After all, if it wasn’t, a lot of technology companies wouldn’t be selling their products so successfully.

One thing Tucker doesn’t take account of is the IT industry’s ‘fifth column’ of people within customer operations who have been seduced into believing they are part of the inner circle with specialist knowledge of technology and the ability to speak its secret language. These people are only too happy to listen to technical facts and the “string of senseless jargonistic descriptions” (Tucker’s words) so often employed by technology salespeople.

He talks of “the magpie effect” where salespeople seduce customers with “whatever is shiniest and newest” which, in tandem with those senseless jargonistic descriptions, usually “garners frustration and disillusionment amongst customers”. But that’s not strictly true.

The technology people within the customer organisation are actually probably quite happy with the situation because it makes their role more important. They’re the people who “understand” what the IT companies are talking about, they “get” it, they’re the interpreters for the business, the ones who everyone else relies on because they can’t be bothered finding out anything for themselves.

“Consumers are becoming rabbits in headlights, trapped with the dazzle that is technology specification,” Tucker argues. It’s a neat analogy but not entirely accurate. For starters, how come it’s always rabbits caught in the headlights? They’re not even nocturnal. They’re crepuscular, which means they are most active in the twilight hours of sunrise and sunset. Shouldn’t it be something that really is a nocturnal animal? A fox, for example, or a badger or hedgehog? In Africa, it might even be a hippo.

The other point is that those headlights are not just being beamed by technology salespeople, they’re also being magnified by the inhouse technology people. Tucker says, quite rightly, that it is “the responsibility of technology salespeople to understand what a consumer wants, remove the dazzle and attend to that critical need, which surprisingly may not be the leading edge of technology”. The thing is, though, that until technology salespeople talk directly to business people rather than other technology people, there won’t be any pressure on them to “remove the dazzle”. Besides, how can they sell technology which isn’t leading edge when every vendor out there brags that its technology is exactly that?

 When you cut out all the marketing and jargon, the best thing anyone who uses technology can say about it is that “it just works”, but you can bet there are very few people out there brave enough to try selling it like that. If they did, they really would be going commando.

This was first published in July 2014

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