Managed service provider sales requires an outcome-based selling focus.
Product, especially complex-product sales, may benefit from an outcome-based focus, but benefits and features still play an important role for the buyer.
Buyers of managed services, especially the decision-makers and influencers, are almost entirely concerned with their vision of success.
IT-savvy buyers are knowledgeable and conversant in all the techno-wizardry that the seller may be including in their services offering. They have likely either purchased previously or looked carefully at acquiring it themselves.
Hardware, architecture, application robustness, processor speeds and capacity are all just parts. They want to see what the end result will look like, and the ability of Sales to convey that vision is what will win or lose the sale.
George Humphrey authored a guide to selling managed services in a 2019 blog posting on the Technical Services Industry Association website. Humphrey identifies four key skills necessary for Sales to achieve success in the managed services arena. Those four skills are:
- C-Suite Credibility
- Broad and Deep Knowledge
- A Disciplined Deal Approach
Let’s take a closer look and see how those skills must be manifested by the sales rep in order to successfully close the deal.
Talking to the Decision-Makers – Comfortable Addressing the C-Suite
Almost any larger-scale managed services engagement will involve the C-suite. IT touches every nook and cranny of an organization, which makes it strategically important. While there most certainly will be influencers from all corners of the enterprise, the C-suite will be making the decisions.
Sales reps with experience selling in this environment know this audience is focused on values defined in terms of the ultimate outcome of the project and how your solution will drive that. The task of Sales is to obtain and help define a clear vision of what a successful project will entail.
Skillful reps in this arena must think in terms of consultative, insight-driven selling that contributes real value in developing that success vision.
Successful reps will be fulfilling the role of trusted advisor.
Sales Polish Is Important, but Broad/Deep Knowledge is a Necessity
Attaining that trusted advisor status requires credibility, real-world experience and relatability. Spouting benefits and features, telling clever stories and offering free lunches are not going to close the deal in the C-suite.
Knowledge is required, and that includes a total understanding of what the managed services value proposition offers and how it is delivered. The specifics of the solution must include knowledge and understanding of the technology involved―both what is in-place and what is offered as a replacement. The impact of those technologies, both the before and the after, are essential because that is where the old and new process differences are physically manifested.
Finally, a detailed knowledge of those existing processes and the prospect’s operation are necessary.
These are the specifics that will describe the before and after vision that your decision-makers will embrace.
Maintain Focus and Guide the Conversation – Deal Discipline
Throughout the selling process, during discovery and all the way through the proposal, there will be pressure to expand the conversation into areas that are most likely irrelevant to the project. This is more than traditional scope creep; it is the natural effect of overthrowing the status quo and opening the collective mind up to alternative futures.
At a point, the vision must be defined and locked into place. Until that is frozen, the solution cannot be addressed with any degree of specificity.
This will require moving beyond the C-suite to engage with influencers. The decision-makers know what they want, and the influencers will be focused on specific parts of the pains felt and solutions proposed.
Deviation away from the project destination vision will occur when influencers attempt to bring in every pain point and every issue they confront on a daily basis. Sales has the task of parsing out those pains points and issues that are relevant to the project and removing those that are not.
Building consensus between influencers and decision-makers is the goal for Sales.
A Sales Rep Must Assume the Leadership Role in Terms of Keeping the Process Moving
The successful sales rep will essentially assume the leadership role in crafting and disseminating the success vision adopted by the buyer.
Leaders must feel equally comfortable in talking with any specific functional unit within the enterprise including workers, managers, directors and VPs.
This cross-functional and vertical communication should be accomplished without seeking “who failed” but, instead, identifying specific failed processes. This approach removes the salesperson and the project, itself, as a threat to those most closely identified with existing pain points.
The toughest part is likely the bringing together of previously adversarial parties to work with each other and to ultimately trust each other. This is necessary and beneficial to all concerned.
Sales Step Up
Outcome-based selling works in the context of managed services because it is truly what managed services sells. Achieving success in the outcome-focused sale requires much more than mere product knowledge.
Managed services providers are blurring the line between seller and buyer. In order for salespeople to be successful, they have to operate on both sides of the blurry line. They must know when to wear the customer hat and when to wear the Sales hat.
That is a real partnership that enables the development of a success definition and an achievable defined outcome.