Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sales 101: The 5 sales archetypes

There's a lot they don't teach you in school. As an engineer, most of the things I rely on day to day they never even so much as mentioned when I was in college, things like bug tracking, revision control, heck even writing error messages.

If you're an engineer, and in sales, it's even worse. I have spent the better half of my career in pre and post-sales as a "solutions architect" before moving on to product management. One thing that I have found to be useful is how to identify the person you are talking to on the other end of the phone.

I am not talking about figuring out if you are talking to a developer, a manager, an architect or a CEO. I mean what kind of person is this - what problems do they have, what kind of ego do they have, but most importantly, are they actually going to spend money. Like it or not, these considerations make a major contrbution to chances of your success.

So here's the 5 kinds of people you are most likely to meet, how to identify them, and what they mean to the bottom-line.

1. The beard-tugger

Summary: The beard-tugger thinks he is smarter than everyone else, and is committed to proving it. Thus he will spend the entire sales-pitch showing you just how smart he is.

Tell tale signs you have a beard-tugger: For every feature you talk about in your product, the beard-tugger will analyze it in 5 different ways and 10 different contexts. If he sees the slightest hole in your theory or implementation, he's bound to ask a question about it.

Pros: If you like to get into the guts of the product with someone, this is a great person to do it with. Remember though that if you are trying to sell this person, you need to let them "win" - e.g. never show them up to be lesser than the audience, or you risk losing them as a champion of your product.

Cons: There is no faster way to sink a pitch than to rat-hole on some minor detail of your product. The beard-tuggers middle name is rat-hole, so be careful.

2. The tire-kicker

Summary: The tire-kicker is out for a good time. They will take a sales call from anyone, and don't really have an agenda. They just want to see what you have. Often, this person thinks of themselves as "knowledgable about the market" so they will talk to you just to get a feel for your product to reinforce that feeling.

Tell tale signs you have a tire-kicker: if your product can be used in 10 different ways, he wants to know about every one of them. If you ask them about the specific problem they are looking to solve (and you should) the answer will be vague or none at all.

Pros: none really. This person may ultimately be a champion for you when they come around to solving a problem, so don't shun them. But you should get on with your life as soon as you can. Pitch your wares succinctly and move on.

Cons: big time suck. If you are not careful this person could come back time and time again, without a real problem to solve. That could be a big time sink for no real opportunity for business, in other words, a real waste of your time.

3. The science-experiment

Summary: Similar to the tire-kicker, but a little more involved, the science-experimenter is likely to have a problem in mind and wants to solve it, but there's generally no business behind it. This person is likely to be "exploring" technologies, but has picked yours as a likely candidate for a solution.

Tell tale signs you have a science-experiment: this person is allocating resources to a project to test out your product - e.g. run a POC (Proof of Concept). But if you press them, you will find there are no hard and fast requirements, so everything is either made up or guesswork. This person is likely to be enthusiastic both about their use case, and your product. They are probably even more enthusiastic about the opportunity for the mutual relationship to grow.

Pros: If you are successful, this could blossom into a sale, and the science-experimenter will probably tell you that at least 5 times in the span of 20 minutes.

Cons: A science-experiment goes nowhere 9 times out of 10. Stay away because there are no real requirements, and even if you succeed (which is unlikely, given the lack of a real requirement or business driver) there is unlikely to be a pot of gold at the end of this relationship, despite the claims of the science-experimenter to the contrary.

4. The delusional

Summary: This person is trying to use your product either for an outlandish use case, in an extreme way, or worse, in every possible way (e.g. they think you have the silver-bullet to every problem known to man).

Tell tale signs you have a person with delusions of grandeur on the line is that they will be obsessed with how successful their product will be. That is to say, they have either no product, or a very small product at the moment, and this person is most likely obsessed with the massive growth they are just about to incur.

Pros: None. This is one of the most dangerous people to engage with. Get out fast.

Cons: Very likely to be enthusiastic with your product and want to POC it. This is the most dangerous of people, because they will be pandering to your ego, which means you will be very easily swayed by them because they believe in you, and they love your product. They will spend a very long time in a POC with your product, because the requirements will likely be unrealistic bordering on ridiculous. If you bend to their whims, you will likely be adding features/fixing bugs that have no bearing on real business.

5. Your customer

Summary: This is the person you want to sell to. They have a business case, and likely some pain. When you discover what that pain is, you should have a product that solves that pain, for less money then they are currently spending.

Tell tale signs you are talking to your ideal customer: at the end of your initial call with this person, they should have asked you how much your product costs, and they should be wary that your product can actually solve their problem (afterall, nothing else has to date), but be slightly optimistic that maybe you can solve their problem, and be willing to try. They should have a use case that is within the bounds of what your product can solve, and they should be interested in what the next steps are after the call.

Pros: Sell them quickly - this is where you should be spending your time.

Cons: None - your only challenge is to identify this person. If you don't, you're losing money.

Now, go out there and make some money! :)


Mikhail Krivoshein said...

Hi Taylor,

The missing point about "at the end of your initial call with this person, they should have asked you how much your product costs" is that the person may not have permission to ask such questions due to some corporate policy. And when you try to do it by a book you find out that your Supply Management department is busy with something else and you should wait till Q1 2009 to send a Request for Quote to the vendor. Some indicative prices the way GigaSpaces does would help. Even Oracle provides some indicative prices for the product stack they got.


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