In 2019 my co-founder Justin and I pitched 40 prospects, of which we lost every single sale. Fast forward to today where in the last 12 months we've pitched 13 clients and closed all 13 deals. What changed?
My first job out of college I worked for Enterprise Rent-A-Car and the job was heavily sales focused. You sold two main products, bigger / better vehicles and insurance packages. The most common answer to both was no, with HELL NO being a close second.
We were guided through a basic four step sales process:
- Fact Finding
- The Pitch
I worked at Denver International Airport where you had roughly the time it took you to walk from the counter to the parking lot to accomplish all four.
At Cause of a Kind, we build custom software and typically people come to us looking for a quote. They don't come with their parents in their head telling them "whatever you do DON'T TAKE THE INSURANCE." We also have hours, days, weeks to craft the pitch.
So in 2019 we would go to a meeting, hear about the software the client wanted, then we would take that away and build a deck of all the pieces required and how much it would cost. We pitched everything as a one time, fixed scope, no matter how big the engagement.
Our decks were chock full of details like types of email service providers, databases, servers, and rough cost estimates to the client. They talked about languages and frameworks and showcased how all of this would come together to build what they asked for.
We poured hours into those decks and could not figure out why it was failing over and over and over. The most common objection was price. Most clients visions were far larger than their wallets it seemed. But was that really what was going on?
In retrospect, we were falling back on a technique called throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks. We were attempting to show a complete solution for every Tom, Dick, and Harry that got on a zoom call and see who would bite.
At enterprise, I tried this a lot. If you simply ask a large volume of customers if they want the insurance, someone is bound to say yes, right? At some point, the law of averages will come into play and someone has to say yes.
Except at enterprise you weren't rewarded simply for sales volume. Your performance always accounted for the number of rentals you handled as the denominator. And this changes the game immensely. As an agency, every pitch sucks up time, you're most valuable resource, so it's best to not try to rely on volume.
Now, back to fact finding. This is the part of the sales process where you learn what is important to your customer. We were learning about their idea, but this told us little to nothing about how to sell the customer that WE were the people to build their idea.
As a sales engineer for an agency, you are not typically selling a canned product offering. You don't have a sheet of features the product supports and a script of how those features can bring value to different types of customers. You need to be thinking on your feet.
It's easy to fall back on a software architecture and a list of technologies as a pitch. But this is the equivalent of describing the features of a product to attempt to sell a product. Clients don't care about the type of server or database you use to solve their problem.
So what are we selling then? We are selling our ability to solve problems! During your fact finding you should be listening to all of your clients pain points. Your pitch should demonstrate that you were a. listening and b. have the team that can solve their core issues.
This is not HOW to solve the problem. You typically have about 15 to 20 minutes to convince the client you will be able to solve this problem. Implementation details like how to host, the language or framework or database you use will lose their attention.
Clients already assume you know HOW to build an application. The question is can you guide them to solve THIS problem. One of the hardest things as an engineer suddenly thrust into sales is to stop selling like an engineer. Stop focusing on implementation details.
So the first step is to stop trying to sell the end solution. For large software this means you are selling an agile method for solving problems. Once you get there, the next step is to stop pitching everyone that wants a call...
You'll notice in 2019 we pitched 2x as many clients as we did in the last 12 months. Once we started to sell problem solving as a process, we were able to stop wasting time on leads that were not closable. We realized that fact finding wasn't forcing a client to build.
Sometimes after hearing a problem the solution has nothing to do with software at all, and that's OK! It's OK to tell a lead that more software isn't the answer. It's OK to NOT pitch every lead.
In summary, don't mistake fact finding as a phase where you must leave with all the answers. Don't pitch a software implementation, pitch a journey. What we sell is a journey. A journey that gets your problems solved with as little code as possible.