Some people think that automation solution selling is no different than products or services selling. Nothing can be farther from the truth; solution selling can be tricky for the most successful product sales gurus if they lacked the flexibility to change their mindset and their view of clients’ expectations.
The 7 Habits for Successful Automation Solution Selling
I can’t remember for how many years I’ve been involved in automation solutions selling, too many I guess though it was my role officially for only four years or something. Yet, even when I had purely technical job titles, automation solutions selling has always been part of my work. And I Love It!
Lately my position requires me to play a double role, sometimes I am selling the automation solution, and in other times, I am buying them too. This double-sided experience gave me enriching ideas on the best practices, or habits, for successful automation solutions selling.
So here I am, sharing those habits with you.
1) Know Your Product
I mean REALLY Know it, and I can’t stress on that enough. In our field we mostly meet with highly specialized clients’ engineers, and nothing can shake a client faith in you worse than his feeling that he knows your products and solutions better than you.
I know that it’s not always easy to find time for learning, especially in such times where sales targets are high and markets are not as friendly as the old days. But hey, no one said automation solution selling is an easy gig.
My best advice for you is to learn as you go, study catalogs, read manuals, ask your technical support, and discuss your proposals with your solution architect (if you are not the solution architect too, as how I was) to understand why he used THIS instead of THAT.
2) Always Have a PreOffer Discussion
Never proceed with an offer based on a fax received RFQ or a tender document; nothing can be more misleading than this. One thing I learned about people, the quality of their writing depends so much on their emotional state at the time of writing.
So why should you put all your trust in a document written by a highly frustrated, under-paid, over-worked maintenance engineer?
The answer is: You don’t.
So you go, sit, and you listen, listen and then listen again, ask as many questions as you can, pay attention to your client’s actual needs. As after this day, you are a Sales Consultant, and people will expect to hear from you more than you hear from them.
3) Focus ONLY on Your Customer’s PAIN
So you think your products are the best, right? You visit your clients with that shiny glossy brochure in your hand and keep talking my product this, my product that?
Three words for you: STOP… TALKING… PRODUCTS!
Nobody wants to hear that anymore, so unless you can show case your clients how your company can answer THEIR PAINS with an integrated approach with your products and services, you are no good to them.
We all look good on paper, there we answer only those questions we choose to be asked. What matters is how we look on the day we deliver, that day we have to answer the questions we choose to run from before.
Try to know about your client’s bad experiences in the past, why is he unhappy with his previous suppliers? Can your solution answer his worries about long-term operating costs? Can your solution answer his low maintenance needs for his remote sites?
Only by answering these questions and similar ones, you will know what MESSAGE your client needs to hear, and what you need to actually propose.
4) Make a Descriptive, Educative Technical Offer
No technical offer looks uglier than an offer made up of a scope of work, a BOQ, then a bunch of catalogs and datasheets. That’s maybe OK when you are selling spare parts, not in automation solution selling.
As a specialized supplier, you are always on top of the latest technologies and trends, your customers are not necessarily the same. So spend some time on your offer. Make it very descriptive and EDUCATIVE to your audience, make it easy to read for the average, not so technical person, instead of shocking him with terminologies and stuff he knows nothing about.
People are Enemies of what they Don’t Understand.
Put some effort in the technical proposal, make it personal to your customer and let him sense it, if they really learn something new from your offer, believe me they are more likely to buy from you than your competitor.
5) Build Your Offer like a Pyramid, from Top to Bottom
You never know who will see your technical offer, and more worse, will have an input in the buying decision. So your offer must be ready for all kinds of eyes.
If you ask me, I’d build my offer in the structure shown below.
Usually I try to keep the exclusions to the last page, it’s where people start to get irritated, so I need them to LOVE my offer first, so they would FORGIVE my exclusions later.
Also, in an appendix section, include products datasheets for reference, highlight the part numbers chosen, DO NOT include complete catalogs.
6) Never Just SEND Your Offer, Always PRESENT it
Always deliver your offer by hand if possible, and then ask your client to give you few minutes from his time so you would present and illustrate your offer.
You have included in your offer a specific answer to each and every client’s PAIN, now you want to make sure your client knows this. It’s a great opportunity for you to make sure that he understands completely your offer, and to get instant feedback if something needs changing before the wheel of the apple-to-apple comparison starts spinning.
7) Never Negotiate Quality, or Safety
Every sales opportunity comes to a time when it’s all about the money, the procurement officer will play all his tricks on you to bring down your price, and trust me he has a bag full of tricks and he is good in all of them.
You will try to squeeze your price here and there, even will propose to remove some components and reduce some system functionality or redundancy. But NEVER, absolutely NEVER compromise on quality, as in our scope, product quality is directly related to personal and equipment safety. Here you must be rigid no matter what the client asks from you.
If that means you lose this project to another supplier who would compromise on quality, that’s fine, high-light that to your customer and stick to your side of the line, you might have lost a sale, but you kept your company’s reputation and your credibility. Sooner or later this customer will realize that less is more when he gets a taste of the low quality providers.
Learn your stuff, and educate the customer, ask him questions to know his PAIN, spend time carefully crafting your offer thinking about all the possible audience then personally present your offer, and never compromise quality even if you lose the sale.
So here they are, the 7 habits for successful solution selling. Share your thoughts on them in the comments and add more habits if you have.