Ever meet an enterprise software salesperson you could trust? While such paragons of virtue exist, they seem the exception rather than the rule. Here are 7 common lies used by
some way too many enterprise solution providers during the sales process.
Also see: Sales-driven IT failures
The lies are drawn from Confessions of an Ex-Enterprise Salesperson (free download), by Doug Mitchell, who founded RentalMetrics, a management consulting firm for the construction equipment rental sector, after working for years in the enterprise solutions business. Doug told me he wrote the book to "break through the hype" surrounding enterprise software sales.
Lie 1. My solution is the one that best meets your needs
When I said, "My solution is the one that best meets your needs," what I meant was that I'm going to do my darnedest to shoe horn my product into your world so that you'll buy my stuff versus the competitors.
You [shouldn't] buy products because they have this or that. [B]uy them because of what they'll do for you and the ecosystem you operate within.
Key questions to ask the sales person: What 3 companies are your fiercest competitors and what would they say they do better than you? The last time you lost a deal to your competition, what were the main reasons given?
Lie 2. My solution does not require much of your company's IT resources
When I said, "My solution does not require much of your company's IT resources," what I meant was that with a 95% degree of certainty, your IT department will be the biggest roadblock to success that we'll encounter in this project.
Key questions to ask the sales person: When (not if) you run into smoke screens, road blocks, and obstacles thrown up my IT department, are you prepared to deal with them and how? If we cut through all of the crap, how much time does it really take to deploy this solution, excluding training?
Lie 3. My solution is supported well
When I said that, “My solution is supported well and my company hangs its hat on the best service in the industry,” what I meant was that when you call, a human will pick up the phone and get on your problem right away, delaying someone else’s due date for customized solution delivery.
The bottom line with custom software in the enterprise is that it breaks. How many times have you rebooted today?
Key questions to ask the sales person: Do you have an automated system or a human system when I call your support line? What bug tracking or trouble ticket solution to you use? What your average time from call in to resolution? What is your process for escalation?
Lie 4. My solution will save you time and money
When I said, “My solution will save you time and money,” what I meant was that your company will probably achieve enough Return On Investment to pay for the solution…but you’ll end up using 10% of what the solution can do and end up frustrated after the honeymoon period.
Most enterprise solutions have evolved because complex businesses have insisted that new features be built as a condition of sale.
Key questions to ask the sales person: What percentage of features in this system do your clients typically use? If I want to reduce the training required by half to save money, will you let me?
Lie 5. That will take 2…maybe 3 weeks to develop
When I said, “That will take 2 maybe 3 weeks to develop”, what I meant was I really don’t know how long your customization will take so I’m throwing out a number that will get you to bite…not balk.”
If the delivery dates of complex customizations seems unrealistic…even to you, they probably are.
Key questions to ask the sales person: What is your process for documenting change requests? If your development efforts fall behind schedule, what’s my compensation?
Lie 6. Here are my prices
When I said, “Here are my prices”, what I meant was “My price is totally flexible and within reason I’ll probably say yes to lowering them because we need your upfront money and recurring revenue more than I need my pride.”
Pricing enterprise solutions is far more art than science. Often it’s more about discovering the target’s pain tolerance.
Key questions to ask the sales person: How much does the solution cost? What’s the typical payback or return on investment you’ve measured when companies like mine have deployed your solution and can you provide me case studies?
Lie 7. Here are my contract terms and conditions
When I said, “Here are my contract terms and conditions”, what I meant was “This is pretty much a boiler plate agreement that no one reads so if you challenge some terms…you’ll probably get what you want.”
[M]ost enterprise solution firms don’t even know what the terms in their own contract mean. If something appears strange to you or is unclear, challenge it. Don’t be afraid.
Key questions to ask the sales person: Is this agreement flexible and negotiable? What’s the one contract term that clients challenge the most?”
THE PROJECT FAILURES ANALYSIS
If you're contemplating an enterprise solution, read Doug's book to help protect your own hide from evil, miscreant, and wayward sales people. I really enjoy how his sardonic humor matches the subject matter. For example:
Is lying requisite? No. Sales people are not lying, they are simply framing the truth in a way that closes the deal and provides a big payday [for the sales person].
On enterprise solution (ES) pricing:
The ES is often quite expensive to buy upfront. This upfront price loading is where the ES software company recovers the immense cost of sales associated with the ES including commissions, bonus payments to company officers, investor dividends, and really nice cars for the President.
On the subject of enterprise sales people:
Better enterprise solution selling organizations send two people on the tactical assault mission: One suit. One techie. The suit acts as translator when the techie...lays out something intelligent for your consumption. That back and forth tech translation orgy is meant to disarm the prospective buyer or baffle him sufficiently into writing a check for the panacea product that will make his boss happy with him...or close out the never ending 6-Sigma project from hell.
My take: Doug's book will help you recognize and avoid common tactics frequently perpetrated by sales people on unsuspecting enterprise buyers.