In February, I wrote “CIOs Proclaim the Tech Sales Model is Broken.” Before sharing the piece, I asked a few colleagues at my employer at the time to review it. They suggested it would be a career-limiting move to socially share the article, given that I quote CIOs’ tough advice to marketers and salespeople. Yet I did publish the article in Datamation.
After joining my new employer, I attended their Sales Boot Camp, and shared the article with my sales-training leaders. To my surprise, they agreed completely with the article and suggested that I read a new book, “The Qualified Sales Leader” by John McMahon. McMahon has been CRO at 5 public software companies.
CIOs Want What McMahon is Preaching
After reading the book, I was surprised by how closely McMahon’s ideas conformed to what CIOs told me during the #CIOChat, which was the basis for the Datamation article. Given this, I want to share here McMahon’s key ideas in comparison to what CIOs had to say.
Account Executives Must Sell Beyond Features and Functions
McMahon says that selling features and functions leads to two things:
- Smaller deals
- Selling lower in the organization
To be fair, this is often the dividing line between Series A and B companies, which sell on product features, and Series C and D companies, which sell on value, solution, and differentiators.
Series C and D companies win their next rounds by appealing to a higher-level buyer. From the CIO’s perspective, too many salespeople are playing a numbers game. CIOs want account executives to move beyond talking product features and function. And when account executives speak to the CIO, he or she just wants clarity, honesty, and brevity.
“I tell sales folks that they get one slide about their company in the deck,” says CIO David Seidl. “I do not need to know your founders, how you got there, etc. We are talking about a solution. We can talk more if we are interested! And one more thing, it wastes a lot of my staff members time when you do the long version of your presentation. If we go further, part of my risk management process is making sure you’re a stable company [and] that you won’t disappear on me” (emphasis added).
Effective Sellers Do their Homework
McMahon says that effective sellers do their homework. This means effective sellers:
- Act as business partners
- Align to their customers job performance measures
- Most important: speak in business terms
Salespeople would be wise to avoid too much ‘techno-babble’, as those who favor techy speech over plain business language alienate their audience. CIOs have told me that, if a rep comes in speaking the language of technology, they will automatically push the rep down in the organization. CIOs typically have a businessperson in the room, and they have been retraining their teams to speak the language of business. Be warned! If you are ‘speaking technology’, do not be shocked when an opportunity or a relationship is lost.
To avoid this problem, McMahon says that account executives need to slow down to go fast. They need to understand the customer’s pain and environment. To earn their trust, CIOs say vendors need to listen, hear their pains, and point them in the right direction with digital assets.
“I like my vendors to have a person dedicated to us,” says CIO Paige Francis. “I like them to offer complementary annual/biannual tune-ups, assessing current setup/configuration/performance against best practice. If I am paying 5, 6, or 7 figures for your solution, you should want to keep me.”
A Pain Pill Versus a Nice to Have?
When I raised VC money, there were two common questions that VCs always asked:
- “Does this proposed company solve a real pain for a customer?” (EG, does the customer want the pain to go away in the same way that someone stranded in the desert wants water? Are you offering just a ‘nice-to-have’?)
- “Is this proposed company building a product or a feature within someone else’s product?”
McMahon says that pain points cluster around topics like regulation, competition, security, business productivity, cost control, and reputation. CIOs want these to be expressed as business problems. With this knowledge, McMahon says account executives need to know: Why is a pain point important?
Salespeople should also be able to connect pain points and problems to corporate initiatives. Part of doing this is understanding: How does the CIO customer do things today? And what are the expectations for desired business outcomes?
To be fair, defining and quantifying a mission-critical business pain cannot be done without deliberate effort. According to McMahon, it requires questioning, listening, confirming, and more listening.
Moving from POC to Proof of Value
McMahon says vendors should not jump the gun with Proofs of Concept, which he calls a waste of time. Sellers’ POCs should be focused on the customers’ problems. This means that they cannot be effective until the discovery process is complete.
Proofs of Value require a detailed understanding of the customers’ pain points. CIOs say the goal should be to demonstrate a realistic pathway to implementation and business value. CIOs want real POVs that truly prove functionality and usability for their internal audience. For this, sales needs to help quantify the business value and the negative consequences of not doing something.
Putting on the Customer’s Shoes?
McMahon suggests that effective salespeople have several qualities. These include intelligence, persistence, heart and desire; coachability and adaptability; integrity; character; and execution experience.
Empathy is vital. Effective salespeople make themselves trusted business partners that live selflessly in the customer’s shoes. This requires account executives that are also authentic and curious, which is not surprising, as CIOs say they want greater transparency and honesty.
A long-term vision is also important. CIOs want salespeople that focus on the longer-term relationships and not just completing their quarterly quota. It is important, they say, that salespeople express a simple understanding of what is important to me and my business. For this reason, McMahon says sales is about educating and not selling.
Great Sales Organizations are Supported by Great Marketing Organizations
McMahon says it is critical that marketing helps sales identify an ideal customer. This means fleshing out the customer pains and use cases, as well as the personas owning the use cases, and the companies and industries where they dwell.
Not surprisingly, CIOs say they want content tailored to how the solution will benefit their organization. They stress that the content should not be focused on why your solution is better than a competitor’s.
“I’d like not to feel like simply visiting your website is going to get me a half dozen lead calls and emails,” says CIO David Seidl “I would like to be able to read useful materials without providing my contact information. Simply wanting information is not a cause to spam me. I would like to see clear information. What the product does, differentiating features, some real examples, and a pricing model would be nice, even if it is a broad ballpark.”
“I try not to waste my time or my staff’s time,” Seidl explains. “Fielding those who visited your site with calls and emails or not letting them see what your product does and has as differentiators creates barriers and represents a time sink.” Turns out, CIOs want great transparency and honesty in their marketing materials as well as in their salespeople.
In reading McMahon’s book, I was surprised to learn that the attitudes of CIOs aligned so well with what members of the #CIOChat were telling me. CIOs clearly want what McMahon is peddling.
If I were a CRO or Marketing Leader, I would clearly want to align my selling process with McMahon’s and to sell value rather than product features. The former dwells on the what; the latter translates that what into why… and conveys the true meaning of a product by connecting it to a CIO’s actual challenges. The time is now to transform the sales leaders to be CXO relevant.