Managing the Technical Sales Cycle

Every great Sales organization has a well defined sales cycle. It’s the defined steps that a sales opportunity goes through from discovery to close. It’s how an Account Executive  (and Sales Management) can track progress on opportunities.

While the verbiage may be different, these steps typically include:

target
  1. Prospecting
  2. Qualification
  3. Identify the need, budget and decision makers
  4. Present the solution
  5. Objection handling
  6. Close

The Technical Sales Cycle

But are you aware there is a technical sales cycle that happens inside the larger sales cycle? This is where the Sales Engineer focuses their attention. The steps of the Technical Sales Cycle typically include:

  1. Identify the technical and business requirements
  2. Determine if your product meets the requirements
  3. Demonstration of your product
  4. Objection handling
  5. Get the technical win

Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.

Identify the Requirements

A prospect from Company A filled out a web form requesting a product demonstration and filled in some information. The Account Executive called them and spoke to the contact, so you’re set, right? Nope.

It’s always a great idea to have a short technical qualification call with a potential client to understand exactly what they are looking for and learn more about their company. It’s an opportunity to get a larger audience than just the initial contact, maybe business users and IT along with the primary contact. This gives you an opportunity to qualify with a technical point of view. You can ask detailed questions, probe into areas that are not well defined and you can begin mapping the requirements to your product(s) features. It is also a great opportunity to determine who your competition is and set landmines for them. You can learn a lot about a company by speaking to more than just the initial contact.

Determine if you meet the requirements

The technical requirements are usually pretty straight forward. Do you meet the IT requirements of the client? Do you support their infrastructure? Database, operating system, application server, browsers, etc. Do they want an on-premise or SaaS product? Or do they want to host in the cloud in Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS or another provider? Are there unique security requirements you need to take into consideration? In certain industries, or in the government applications, security becomes paramount. You’ll encounter hardened environments or other obstacles your product may need to overcome.

The business requirements are what product functionality you need to deliver to meet the clients needs. Based on your qualifying questions, you have to decide if your product meets all the requirements, or if there are gaps. If there are gaps, can you customize the product to meet them? Do you need to bring in a 3rd party partners to combine with your products to deliver a complete solution? Has a competitor set landmines for your product you need to deflect or work around?

Deliver a Demonstration

There are many types of demonstrations you may be asked to deliver. The worst, and least effective, is the “Show up – throw up” demonstration. If you don’t do steps 1 and 2 well, you’re just showing up, doing a random demo and throwing functionality out there and hoping the prospect shows interest. You really do  not have a good understanding of the account or their business. Prep time is zero. 

Then there is a basic introductory demonstration. These are what most first call demos should be. You know what the prospects business needs are. You have a standard demonstration you normally deliver. During the demonstration you can highlight areas the prospect is interested in and you can leave out areas that might not be of interest. You can adjust your demo narrative to fit their business and requirements, making it feel like a tailored demo. The prospect may be seeing demo’s from multiple vendors. Prep time is minimal. 

Occasionally, a client will give you a list of specific things they want to see in a demo. In these cases you can often take your basic demo and customize it for the requirements. Maybe it’s using documents the client provided, or emulating one of their business processes in the course of the demo. The key is making at the end of the demo they are clear how your product can provide the specific functions they are interested in. Often these are done when the list of vendors is narrowed down to a few. Prep time is medium and the demo may be longer than normal. 

Lastly, there is use-case demo. The client has multiple, specific business use cases they need you to run through. Often these are designed so the prospect can see exactly how they’d use your products in their day to day operations. These can be very involved, with large audiences from across the business and take a day or more to complete. Normally these are done when there is a short list of vendors and you are in direct competition with someone. Prep time is heavy. 

Objection Handling

During your demonstration, or in follow-up communications, you’ll be hit with questions. These may be about perceived product gaps, questions on how the product works, or they could be ‘landmines’ set by your competition. 

It’s important to address any objections that come up. During the demonstration, try to do so without disrupting the flow of the demo. If you have one or more individuals who are particularly disruptive, either table questions for the end or address them in a follow-up. If someone is overly inquisitive, constantly asking, “Can the product do x or y or z”, I have one tactic I like to use. Simply spin the question back to them: “How do you do that today?”. More often than you think, the answer is they don’t do it today. Then you can talk to how  your product becomes additive to the process.  

The Technical Win

The technical win is when the prospect has decided your product meets their business requirements better than any other product. You and your company have successfully presented yourselves as subject matter experts and given them confidence they’ll be successful. Ideally they view you as a partner in their success. 

Conclusion

Never forget, the prospect team driving the product selection process needs to be successful. They are spending a significant amount of money on a solution. At the end of the day, they have to answer to their management and justify their selection. 

Once you have achieved the technical win, if he hasn’t begun the process in parallel, the Account Executive will be responsible for providing closing the deal. He’ll normally work with procurement on licensing, pricing, contracts, etc. to get the deal closed. 

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