Developing Sales Savvy


You're a software professional, not a salesperson, right? But if you've ever tried to sell your ideas, proposals, or recommendations, you've used some sales savvy. The question isn't whether you are a salesperson, but rather how good a salesperson you are. In this article, Naomi Karten offers guidance and advice for selling your point of view.

Sometimes you just get lucky. That was my experience when I had to persuade our director, Ron, to cancel a key project for which he was the sponsor. I was part of a team of IT and business unit personnel overseeing the project. The benefits to both the business and IT were huge. But as we delved into implementation issues, we realized that the changes would cause colossal confusion for the company's customers—far outweighing the benefits.

Someone had to persuade Ron to terminate the project, and the team decided that I was that someone. I met with Ron and launched into my case citing Point A, then Point B, and so on. As I was midway through Point D, he abruptly stopped me. "Pull the plug," he commanded.

I'm not always this successful, but I've learned that in selling ideas, just as in selling products, how you sell can be as critical to your success as what you sell. As a starting point, think of those you're selling to as buyers. These are the people you're trying to convince to buy into your viewpoint. The following are some other selling techniques.

Emphasize how the buyers will benefit: Take the time to understand their priorities, fears, and concerns. If you're unsure of how they stand to benefit from your proposals, you have homework to do. Knowing that Ron feared anything that might tarnish his reputation, I stressed that the chaos our customers would experience if we proceeded with the project would reach the media. He'd be the fall guy.

When describing benefits, speak the buyer's language. My favorite example concerns Jeff, an IT vice president whose solution to a thorny business problem was to purchase expensive hardware, which required the senior business team's approval. Instead of presenting his case in technical detail, he drew three boxes on a whiteboard and labeled them X, Y, and Z. He told the business team, "Here are three boxes. You don't have to know what they are or how they work. What's important is what they'll do for you." He then recited the business benefits the equipment would facilitate. He left the meeting with the go-ahead to initiate the purchase.

Accommodate the buyer's communication preference: How does the buyer like to give and receive information? If he prefers colorful charts, create them in the person's favorite colors. If the buyer likes chitchat, engage in a bit of banter. Don't heap details on a buyer who prefers succinct summaries. If you're unfamiliar with the buyer's preferences, seek input from colleagues.

In one IT division, two department managers envied the success the third manager, Sheila, had in selling ideas to their director, Bob. Instead of dismissing Bob's frequent written reports as a nuisance as the other managers did, she saw them as key to her sales strategy. Accordingly, she not only submitted her ideas to him in writing, she also adopted his format. He quickly accepted many of her ideas. The other two managers persisted in presenting their wish lists in spoken form—and rarely gained Bob's backing.Help the buyer sell: Sometimes the obstacle isn't the buyer, but the buyer's superiors, who need to be persuaded of the merits of your case. That means your buyer may need to make a sale before you can make one yourself. In that case, the key to your success is to find out what you can do to help the person prepare a persuasive case to upper management.

Be a patient persuader: Some buyers simply need time. Five minutes is not a time frame in which they will change their minds or accept new options. Some people are threatened by anything new or different; hitting such people over the head with the benefits yields nothing but people with sore heads. The bigger the impact on these buyers—as they perceive it—the longer the sales cycle. The key is patient persistence and persistent patience.

Build trust before you start to sell: Buyers generally don't purchase from people they don't trust. And their trust in you won't suddenly emerge when you have a point of view to sell. Therefore, the more effort you put into building solid relationships with those you may eventually want to sell to, the better your odds of a successful sale.

In building trust, remember the power of listening. People who feel you've truly listened to them tend to be more predisposed to listening to you as well.

Learn from rejection: If your attempted sale fails, try to find out why so you can adjust future proposals accordingly. When Lloyd asked his manager why she rejected his proposal for a new testing tool, he learned that an ominous change in corporate policy had turned purchasing into a painful process requiring countless justifications and sign-offs. The result: Managers resisted all non-critical purchases. Thus informed, Lloyd became more selective about what he requested.

Accept that you won't always make the sale: When I was an IT manager, I had the amusing experience of trying to persuade my director to initiate an employee recognition program. I presented my idea at a staff meeting. He dismissed the idea. I waited a couple of weeks and sent him my ideas in memo form. No luck. A month later, I submitted a formal proposal. A few days later, back came the proposal with a pre-printed sticky note on it that said: "Absolutely, positively, NO!" I got the picture.

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