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A Sales Pipe Dream

June 30, 2011

I was having a beer with a Salesman that I used to work with who has since moved on to a different position, but is still in our industry. At one point in the conversation he said to me that “pretty soon there won’t be a need for you guys” (meaning Systems Engineers). He went on to say that it will be the customer and not the Dealer or in his case the Branch that will employ us. I said “really?”

This salesman is a good guy, and a good salesman, but he is old school. He, like many sales people who started out selling single function copy machines, longs for the day when all he had to know were “speeds & feeds”. When being able to duplex or punch 3 hole paper was “a solution”, and meant you got the sale. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) those days are gone. The commoditazation of “the copier” has arrived. If all we say is my MFD can print & scan & fax & copy, and I am a nice guy who works for a good company (just like the next salesman is going to say) then all we have left to compete on is price. IF ALL COPIERS ARE THE SAME, then which is the cheapest is all that your customer has to base his/her decision on. When you get to the point where the only thing that you are competing on is price, even if you win, you lose!

So what is a Sales person or Sales organization to do? Team Selling to the rescue! Let’s be honest MFDs and Smart MFDs are too complex for the average sales person to really understand how they can be integrated into a customers network infrastructure. But when we team up these talented Sales people who are great at what they do, with a Pre-sales System Engineer who can wow the customer and handle the entire “technical sales cycle” we will win more than our share of business, and we won’t have to be the cheapest.

I was on site yesterday at a college here in New England, that the President of our company had graduated from many years ago. They have been a Xerox house since I can remember. We have done many pitches to their Purchaser over the years who would politely receive us, and politely listen to all of the great reasons why the college would be better served by going with us, but he was never willing to even put in a demo unit. Until recently when they got a new CIO. We had a meeting where they told us their desire to move away from their expensive cartridge based systems and print to their MFDs. Unfortunately they had not been able to do it with their current vendor, Xerox. They told us that Xerox had not been able to get their MFDs to print from the colleges back end system. And for the most part they set them up as single function copy machines. So they gave us a chance to put in a Canon MFD. Once the Canon arrived and was set up I made an appointment to come in and work with the different members of their staff to help them resolve their outstanding issues. The first was the woman who handles setting up the printers on the College’s educational software system. She said to me “I need 66 lines!” I said no problem, I know exactly what you are talking about, I made the adjustment to the Canon, talked to her about how to set up the queue (on a system I had never worked with before) and in 10 minutes we were getting perfectly formatted pages from their back end system. What’s next I asked? How about scanning? I worked with the staff to set up Scan to Folder, Scan to Email, and Fax Forwarding (to a shared network Folder). We had it all up and running without any significant difficulties. Granted none of this was brain surgery. But the CIO said to me that “You have done more in an hour than Xerox has been able to do since they had this account.”

This was just yesterday, so we haven’t won the account yet, but you can see how a good pre-sales SE working with your Sales professionals can put your company in the best position to win the business. If I was working for Xerox, the CIO might have been saying the same thing about them LOL.

To my point about my salesman friend saying that Dealers & Branches won’t need SEs soon, because the customers will know how to do all this. I hope that his Branch & all of my competition thinks this way, because it will make it a lot easier to steal their customers. This college had a solid IT Department, but their expertize wasn’t in MFDs, and it shouldn’t have to be! That’s our job! They tell us what they want integrate their MFD to, and we show them how to do it.

Everyone complains about shrinking margins, but the way to get better margins is to bring more value to the table. A good Pre-Sales SE does just that, and helps your sales team differentiate themselves on something other than a cheap price. I often tell a prospect that “we won’t be the cheapest solution that you look at!” We will be competitive,  and we will definitely give you the best value. But if you are looking for “THE CHEAPEST” than that won’t be us. I find that most people respond positively to this kind of honesty. So if you don’t have a Pre-Sales SE, get one! And if you have one then utilize him/her early on in the sales cycle. Once you have developed the trust that is necessary to really work as a team you will see your closing percentage and your profit margin rise.

That’s My $0.02
Vince McHugh
vince.mchugh@yahoo.com

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2 comments

  1. Good work Vince. Crazy that a customer can have a standalone copier in this day and age. I dont know anyone without the copier being connected to print or scan anymore.

    The key also is to skill the sales reps to take on some SE work, they need to know more than speeds and feeds themselves to survive today. They cant take a SE to every call so must start to understand workflow, output management etc etc. No need to be a technical expert but must be able to link solution to problem and validate we can build an ROI case.

    Too many monkeys arounds that just sell speeds and feeds. They are killing the indusrty.


    • Benny,

      You are right we need the Sales person to know enough about the Solutions we offer to see potential opportunities and get the conversation started. If they have confidence in their systems support team (that they won’t mess up their sale) they are much more likely to engage in team selling.



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