Among managed services sales challenges, perhaps the biggest is found in the complexity of the selling process, itself.
The better you are at delivering success, the better you are expected to be.
We’ve discussed how managed services providers (MSPs) handle product complexity and also the complexity of pricing associated with the solutions managed service providers offer. However, even more daunting than either pricing or product is the complexity of the sales transaction, itself.
Common Challenges Managed Services Face in Complex Sales
Let’s look at nine common sales complexity challenges that managed services providers face.
The Buying Committee
Chances are you will be dealing with a committee of buyers who represent assorted stakeholders and functional segments within the buyer’s organization.
The buying committee will be made up of skeptics, believers, supporters, detractors, friends and enemies. There will also be unseen political undercurrents that affect the behavior of each committee member.
The challenge is to address the needs and concerns of each member well enough that if they don’t at least support your solution, they also don’t actively oppose it.
Multiple Issues and Multiple Solutions
Managed services offerings have one great advantage: there is no inventory or availability issue. This is also the greatest liability in that services are largely sold on promises and faith.
It is very easy to accept challenge after challenge that a prospect presents, then suddenly realize you are way beyond your area of competence. The better you are at delivering success, the better you are expected to be.
That can be problematic for salespeople who are not fully aware of the limits of what is and what is not possible. Ask any service delivery person. He or she will be able to tell you a story about this or that salesperson who overpromised something that was simply not deliverable or only deliverable at great cost.
Wide and Deep Sales Expertise Required
Credibility is derived from success. Sales reps for managed services need to have knowledge resources that make up for their lack of personal knowledge and experience.
Managed services sales reps must project a confident air without projecting arrogance or condescension. Very few buying committees are going to be taken in by polish and outward appearance that is only backed up by lunch jokes and free tickets to the ballet or a ballgame.
The early phases of discovery will no doubt offer many opportunities to demonstrate sales’ knowledge and ignorance with equal aplomb. The discovery phase should be a time of curiosity, relentless investigation and listening, not a time to opine about practices or solutions.
The bane of almost any project is continual shifting of project goals and objectives. “This” and “that” are added to the scope until a doable project becomes undoable.
Goals must be specified, identified, quantified and locked in upon the completion of discovery.
Unified Success Vision
Part of defining scope is establishing what constitutes success in the context of completing the project. Any services offering must clearly identify what the post-implementation world will look like. That vision must be agreed upon and shared by all stakeholders.
Selling is all about delivering the right message to the right audience. With complex services sold to complex customers, that means complex messaging is required.
Any messaging must be properly aligned with the audience to whom it is directed. For example, finance folks don’t care about technical issues, and end-users don’t care about ROI. Sending the wrong message to the wrong audience can be wasteful if not dangerous to the success of the sales effort.
The sale of managed services means almost every customer is going to be unique. The solutions you offer will be unique, as well. As with any sales transaction, the customer will likely want evidence of past success.
Providing credible references can be not only problematic for managed services providers, due to confidentiality requirements, but also because of the simple fact that every customer is unique.
As desirable as referenceable customers are, you may not have the luxury of being able to offer large numbers of references that match your prospect.
As wonderful as your service likely is, there will be buyers who are, frankly, afraid of taking the plunge with your solution.
Successful sales of services should always be accompanied by features linked to mitigating risk to the buyer. Without this, buyers will delay, put off and drag their feet even when presented with the rosiest of ROI pictures.
These are big decisions for most buyers, and it is not unreasonable to expect some fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) to cloud the buyer’s judgement.
If your solution is going to deliver positive change, it likely means someone was not getting the job done under the existing system. Never mind the justifications for the poor performance or the fact that it’s a bad process and not a bad person—it doesn’t matter. Someone will take it personally.
It should not be surprising to find that person squarely in the middle of the buying process. If they decide you are their enemy, that person will never be helpful to your selling effort.
Anticipate, Plan for and Accommodate Managed Services Sales Challenges
These nine challenges for managed services sales are common and should be expected. Not only should they be expected, they should be anticipated and accommodated in the planning process that drives the sales effort. If these managed services sales challenges are ignored or improperly addressed, the selling strategy will surely fail.
The good news is, there are many tactics and tools, such as CPQ, available to address each of these managed services challenges.