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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Finding what you are seeking, the round-about way
Today, in a search for graphics for my intended blog -- an outline of how a salesperson is getting it right with me -- I discovered BNet Insight -- Sales Machine. This blog is going on my personal hyperlink list; I won't permalink it yet because it is not specifically relevant to construction marketing -- but you may find useful gems in the pages here.

I had actually been looking for a graphic relating to the sales qualification cycle. Surely, if you have any experience with sales, you know the concept of A, B and C prospects. A prospects are supposedly ready to buy now -- they, the trainers say, should get top priority. B prospects are, well, good 'maybe' candidates. C prospects are, if you believe the training stuff, a waste of time. You might like them personally, but they lack the funds, the resources, or the relevance to what you are selling.

So, I expressed a rather blunt and straightforward observation to someone who approached me at the Future of Online Advertising Conference in New York last week. "I know what you are offering, and it sounds like a good idea for many publishers, but you should consider me a "C" prospect," I told the representative, who wanted me to see if I could use his company's "Pay Per Call" technology to provide a new service to our print advertisers.

(In this model, the service provider provides a set of individual phone numbers -- advertisers, seeing the ad, don't call the client directly -- they call the special number on the ad. Both the publisher and advertiser can track results real-time, and the publisher can set up a 'pay per call' system, much like the Internet's 'Pay per click' model.)

I told the representative that I am aware of the company's system, and how our local daily newspaper publisher is testing it out on a new product. Then I said "I really don't think this will work for us, both because of our low budgets, and the way we sell our advertising."

Fair enough, I gave the guy the courteous brush off.

He didn't give up, though, following up a week after the conference, again inviting a conversation, by email.

I told him, "no" again, elaborating in greater detail in an email our sales model and why his product simply wouldn't work for me -- noting in my email that I had checked the company's website, and since there are no prices displayed for his company's service, and much sales energy is being expended, it is probably too expensive for me anyways. I emphasised in my email that phoning me would be very rude and would kill the deal.

So the rep pursued things again, providing a little more information, and inviting another response. I elaborated my perspectives (he got lots of information this way).

Finally, the sales rep did something creative -- he told me his prices, bottom line, including the possibility of special deals; with actual numbers (especially in terms of set up costs) which were far lower than I had thought.

I responded straightforwardly, "You have turned a C prospect into a B prospect".

Will we buy the service, yet? That is still very much an open question. The resource this company offers represents a different sales/pricing model, and I am still having trouble grasping how we can use it in any practical way in our current business. One potential application where the proposed system might work represents an entirely new market segment for us -- it could be lucrative, and is logically vertically aligned with our current markets -- but on the other hand it is way out of our current frame of reference and expertise. I straightforwardly by email told the representative the possible application, but said it would have to wait -- I am going on vacation, after all, and (more importantly) if we are to consider an idea fundamentally shifting our market priorities, where does it fit into are disciplined business planning process?

Nevertheless, I admire the sales rep's tenacity. He saw more in our potential as a client that I did -- and he recognized that he needed to 'break his rules' and provide much more information than he would normally provide, in an early stage, in email communications, than a sales representative would conventionally offer a prospective client.

I also handled things correctly. I straightforwardly described our interests, explained my very real knowledge of the selling company's offer (indicating that I have generally good insights into my own industry's trends), and didn't waste the sales rep's time.

Maybe we should all try to understand and learn these practices, both as sellers and prospective purchasers.

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