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enterprise software sales

A recent piece in Business Week claims that the bad old days of salesmen bamboozling big customers into overpriced, overcustomized enterprise software are gone. The rise of easy-to-try cloud software and savvier customers means the profile for the ideal sales rep has shifted, has one source says, from “aggressive and persistent to technical and smart.”

Such changes will eliminate “hundreds of thousands of cushy field sales jobs,” the story predicts.  Those who survive will have to be far more technically savvy, knowledgeable about the stuff they sell and able to prove that it works.

Business Week claims enterprise software salespeople are spending less time on golf and trade shows, “more nights at home scouring LinkedIn or writing detailed consultant-style reports on how a product can cut costs or boost revenue.” (My italics.)

Sounds like content marketing, doesn’t it? It got me thinking about how we can leverage the collateral we’re already developing to engage customers to help salespeople sell.

Proving Business Value

A lot of the sales training I’ve seen starts with gauzy high-level benefits (“Digital Transformation for the Age of the Customer”). Then come dense descriptions of vaguely named “solutions”  (“Webify Customer Delight 2.0”). The real detail comes in descriptions of the money-making goodies: Complex pricing tiers, bundling options and license terms (“Use of the Framjus 2.0 framework across four or more CPUs requires enterprise licensing of the Nooknik 6.3 database or higher.”)

No wonder, as one corporate customer told Business Week, too many salesmen “were savvier about the terms of their contract than in helping us get value from the software.” To reach today’s (and tomorrow’s) customers why not train salespeople first in specific, provable business benefits, and then give them simpler, easier to sell products and clearer licensing terms.

Technical Chops

In the old days, says one software sales manager, “You could set up a lunch (with a client) and say `Meet my software engineer and enjoy the demo.’” Such salespeople, he said, are being “washed out of the business” in favor of those who can both charm customers and discuss their software in depth.

Assuming you can’t turn your top coders into extroverted sales people, that means making your sales people more tech savvy. Doing so requires understanding what deep-dive technical questions customers are most likely to ask, then translating the complex answers into terms a salesperson can understand and explain clearly. Again, a lot of this ground should be covered in the “explainer” or “technical architecture” white papers you’re already doing. Your more business-oriented white papers, on the other hand, can help your tech experts understand the bottom-line challenges facing customers and how you can help.

“Land and Expand”

This can otherwise we defined as “toot your own horn.” A salesperson “lands” a relatively small contract with one department of a large customer, then makes  sure that customer’s peers, or other departments within the company hear about how well it worked. This sharing requires close cooperation between your field sales staff and content marketing group, so the writers learn about these small wins and turn them into case studies. It might also mean integrating your content management system with your customer relationship management platform so the right wins are automatically shared with the right prospects. It also requires case studies that get properly specific about the benefits.

Were software sales ever as bad Business Week claims? Is it changing as much as they predict? And can content marketing help make with the shift?

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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