Many lessons can be learned from the past. Remember back in the olden days when salesmen had physical samples? Flash forward to today, it seems that we come across these salesman samples on shows like Pawn Stars or on my favorite, American Pickers, where they are now vintage artifacts of a time in selling that once was.
Why did manufacturers create those samples for salesmen to take around their sales territories? So that the prospective client could wrap their brain around what exactly it was that the salesman was pitching and that they would potentially buying, right?
I was fortunate to attend a Utah Sales Connect event recently. It was a great evening where we were able to learn from some great speakers, including, Simon Frewer, CEO, Challenger Inc. He mentioned that in today's complex sales environment, there are over TEN people involved in making the average business decision. That's up from over six just a couple years ago! In an attempt to make it easy for a prospective buyer to virtually try out your software product, free demo offerings are found left and right. It's an easy lead generation technique.
If the rep from the company believes in themselves, their company and has done what Ron Willingham says, “Selling success is more an issue of who you are than what you know.” If reps have a sound understanding about who they are, they know they can win over a prospect with a free live demo. However, a gap that tends to plague the success of sales reps over and over is that they do not have salesman sample like their predecessors had access to in times past.
They're stuck with taking a product that is designed for the end user. Don't get me wrong, the product should be fully developed and ready for the end user, of course. However, if the software product has features that only an end user can use in an end-to-end experience, how is a sales rep supposed to go about replicating this during the live demo? Reps are left to their own devices as they struggle to connect-the-dots for the client. How can reps professionally work through this with a client?
Give Reps What They Need
If your organization is fortunate to have a marketing department that puts out great content for clients to absorb, how well is that content received by your reps? Here's how you get a pulse. If you walk past the shared printer in your office and on it or scattered around it are sheets of paper that have an incorrect version of your logo, various types and sizes of fonts in almost but not quite colors you'd approve of, this is a clear indication that your reps feel like something is lacking.
Similarly, if your reps are struggling to really connect with clients during their live demos, could it be that they don't feel like the software they're using and showing was designed and made for them in this moment? In my experience, most are not. In fact, having the software designed for someone to be able to sell it to someone else is not even a blip on the development roadmap. Reps are then left up to their own devices to try and figure out how they are going to take an end user version and hack their way through a sales demo.
If you're still not sure what I mean, stop what you are doing and go talk to your sales reps. Ask them for a demo of your software as if you were a prospective client. Keep an open mind, their brain works different than yours. In fact, I once had a sales rep tell me, "I'm a sales rep...I'm a mile wide and an inch deep!" As you listen with an intent to understand how reps can sell more of your work (software development), take notes and turn it into candid feedback. Feel the pains and struggles that the rep has to deal with because the version of the software they have access to demo with was not made for them. It was made for the end user.
Then, go back and see what you can do bridge the gaps for when the if this then that's come up during the live sales demo. Chances are, it comes up all the time with a real clients that might spend real money on your software products. So why not give your reps the ability to click buttons that allow them to not only give the if this then that's scenarios as real examples, the if this then that's do the dot connecting for all parties to see what's next.
Reps need to practice. In an effort to become better, reps must put in what Geoff Colvin, author of Talent is Overrated, calls deliberate practice. How? Something I've done is that I will record my calls and webinars, or in other words, my live demos. What's great about this is that you're always your own worst critic, aren't you? As a professional sales person, I see this as what professional athletes do after a game - they watch film.
Several times I am able to identify where I could have asked an open ended question, listened to the other person and engaged with insightful content. Perhaps I could have been more personable in finding out about the prospect in the beginning or asked a trial closing question much sooner instead of at the end. After I do this, I can also identify how I need to pause and be silent. My tendency is to fill the void with Um's, Ah's, etc. What do you fill your voids with during calls? I also think to myself - do I really sound like that?!
I really don't know anyone that has a closed door policy. Since your door is always open, do your reps really feel like they can approach you? And even if they can, do you think they want to? Think about that in terms of not your leadership style, but how your team perceives your leadership style. I'd dare say that coaching is the new role play. Think about it, have you ever met a rep that absolutely loves role playing? I can't say that I have.
However, I've worked with many (myself included) that know it comes with the territory. Taking that a step further, coaching is going to be key in connecting with your reps on a level that only their trusted mentors typically can. Reps need and want to build their confidence. Coaching your reps through complex client interactions allows them to feel like they've still got skin in the game as they lead themselves (and their clients) to the desired outcome. You'll be in a position to champion their success!
Train Reps on a Sales Process
As you are planing our your iterations with features comping down the pipeline on the road map, be sure you are working with your sales and marketing teams to also develop a sales process. Software Developers can should take deliberate time to create functionality that bridges the gap between connecting-the-dots and required steps for the full 360 experience with live demos.
I'm a big believer that with as you consider how to maximize and implement effective training, spending time to define and follow a process will help your client experience that will lead to a predictable outcome. Your reps need this and your prospective clients deserve it.
Help Them Help You
All in all, while you're developing products that will solve problems for end users, it ultimately needs to sold at some point. A great consideration should be for you to envision scalability of sales. Sellers need to have a software product that works not only for the end user, can be demo'd, connects-the-dots for the client enough to make an educated buying decision about products that will help them run better businesses.