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8 tips for creating a successful sales methodology for IT services

Mark Banfield, senior vice president, International, Autotask, shares some advice about how to create a successful sales methodology

On its face, closing a sale is straightforward. You must put the right product or service in front of the person who can make a decision at a time that person is ready to buy. But we all recognize how difficult the sales process can be, especially for more complex services that MSPs and ITSPs provide.

According to statistics from TeleNet and Ovation Sales Group, the number of attempts needed to engage a prospect doubled from 3.68 in 2007 to 8 attempts just six years later. So in order to succeed in sales, you need a plan to help identify the opportunity, its potential, the decision-makers, competitors, potential challenges and how to overcome them.

The following eight tips can help companies focus on the opportunities they're more likely to win while reducing the sales cycle and creating long-term value for clients.

1.            Understand the opportunity: Not all prospects are created equal, so a one-size-fits-all sales strategy won't help develop the proper relationships. You must develop a deep understanding of each opportunity, its potential size, what's driving the purchase and other factors. There are plenty of free and paid resources available to help your search.

2.            Develop an opportunity assessment checklist: Using the data you gathered while understanding the opportunity, the checklist is broken into four broad categories:
*             Is there an opportunity?
*             Can we compete?
*             Can we win?
*             Is it worth winning?
An honest assessment of the opportunity using these categories can help you differentiate prospects into the ones you can win, those where it is worth the effort and those you should pass on.

3.            Map the organization's politics: Identifying the key decision-makers and the overall reporting structure will help you concentrate efforts on the people involved in influencing or making decisions. It also can help you uncover potential detractors and red flags that could derail a buying decision in your favor. Of course, you need to have a strategy for appealing to decision-makers and overcoming the objections of detractors.

4.            Develop a key relationship strategy: Once you've mapped the org chart and politics of the target organization, determine the buying role for each. Which of these buying roles fit the prospect?
*             User
*             Evaluator
*             Decision-maker
*             Approver
Above all, keep in mind at all times who your sponsor is, that champion of your service and your people. The opportunities and pain points for each buying role will differ, and you must have solid answers to questions each will pose.

5.            Create key decision criteria: Outlining the customer's perceived decision criteria allows you to build a strategy. Aligning your sales effort to the customer's key decision criteria helps you determine what unique business value will best resonate with the customer. This is often referred to as "moving the goal posts," refocusing the discussion to the positives of working with your company.

6.            Determine a competitive strategy: Every sales opportunity presents its own challenges and opportunities. Picking the right competitive strategy will help you concentrate resources where they are likely to yield the greatest benefits while reducing sales cycles. The five strategies are:
*             Frontal, used when the prospect believes you are the industry leader, usually in terms of price and reputation. The thrust of this approach is to heighten those perceptions in the eyes of the prospect.
*             Flanking, when your company may not be the segment leader, you need to turn the discussion to your unique business value.
*             Fragment, focusing on those opportunities or prospect pain points where you deliver unique value.
*             Defend, protecting your sales position by expanding your relationships within the prospect organization to bolster your standing.
*             Develop, when it becomes apparent you can't win this opportunity but wish to establish a presence for future sales opportunities.

7.            Explore partnerships: Taking on a qualified partner often will increase your chances for sales success. But partnerships should be strategic, and partners should be aligned. The best fit will be determined by:
*             What partner solutions enhance your ability to compete
*             Their objectives in this market
*             The effectiveness of their sales team
*             Their implementation services
*             Their service offerings post-sale

8.            Focus on action plan: The action plan identifies specific tactics that you need to win and the resources needed for each. The parts include the sales goal, objectives, necessary strategy, action steps, resources required and testing the parts of the plan.

Assessment tools are available to help you work through these eight tips to maximize your chances for success, including the development of the opportunity assessment checklist.

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