Recently I had an interesting conversation with Kevin Purcell, Americas Director, Storage Business Unit, at Hewlett Packard about selling and the state of the economy.
Historically when the economy is struggling, companies start cutting budgets and spending less. Also, spending approval moves higher up the food chain; suddenly your director-level contact no longer has the authority to sign off on new purchases. This obviously makes it tough for sellers and marketers to succeed.
Conversely, boom times are typically accompanied by deep pockets, big spending, and less scrutiny of purchasing decisions.
Personally, I think those characteristics of boom times are never coming back. It’s not that I think the economy won’t get stronger. I just think we’ve passed a point in business where you can get away with making a sale without a strong business case to prove the financial need to invest in your solution.
Kevin, who spoke with me in advance of his upcoming presentation at the Sales 2.0 Conference in Boston, had a similar view. During a thriving economy, sales “could get away without an ROI-based business case,” but those days are over; even if the economy gets much stronger, sales teams will still need a way to prove their ROI to the customer.
As Kevin told me, he used to sell to the Telecommunications Industry for one of the “Big 5″ (back when there were 5) Consulting firms, which followed a Solutions Selling process. In that environment, a strong business case was considered crucial to winning deals. Value remains a top priority for him to this day. As a sales leader, he’s made it a point to train his team to understand business problems/issues and financials.
Here are some other intriguing takeaways from our conversation.
- He agrees that most deals are lost to “no decision” because sales lacked a business case.
- HP has a tool that was developed internally by a support team. The tool does an assessment at an installed base account by examining maintenance, TCO, savings, and cost of doing nothing. Each assessment results in a three-page discussion document to use with a customer.
- His focus is to help existing installed base customers realize how to drive costs out of their business(s) by acquiring newer IT Solutions and Technology. These savings can come from maintenance of the existing equipment and/or the increased performance of the new technology.
- The easier that you make a tool for the sales team to use, the better.
HP has thousands of salespeople in the Americas Region alone. Over the past six months, they’ve placed a heavier focus on installed-base accounts and they’re continuing to see rising success in Global, SLED, SMB and Commercial markets. Kevin said he’s directed his team to engage with HP’s financing arm as soon as possible and work with the customer to determine whether the business case should be built around purchasing or leasing. I think this early intervention to drive toward economic value for the customer is a key factor contributing to success.
As he pointed out, the economy is still recovering, and every deal is still challenged. There’s a vital need to have executive sponsorship internally to focus on up-selling existing customers, and to fully engage channel partners. His advice was to focus on the customer’s priorities and match proposed offerings to the customer’s business needs (operating cost reductions, revenue growth through differentiation, etc.).
All in all, it was a great discussion with an impressive sales leader. Kevin has held numerous executive roles at HP over the last seven years and clearly has a lot of wisdom to share. I’m looking forward to hearing his presentation, “Sales Leadership Tales from the Field,” on July 15 in Boston.
Do you agree that selling will require a case for ROI from now on — no matter what state the economy is in? Share your thoughts in the comments section.