Sunday, April 01, 2007

Week 11: Start of Internship at Netchemia: Sales

My new Internship is at Netchemia. A 6 year old start up with 20 employees and 4 person partnership at the top. Netchemia provides school districts with web based software which allows them to streamline office processes by making them paperless. These process' include recruitment and learning plans for students.

I've been placed in the Sales department, where I will learn about Sales, Marketing, a small amount of Technical Development and making proposals for potential clients (in the UK called a 'bid' or 'tender' in America called an RFP: Request For Proposal).
Having only been at Netchemia for week I feel this will be a really useful placement for me, and also like the Kauffman course so far has missed out on a very important subject: Sales. You don't have a business; you don't have a customer without first selling.

The course has covered pitching for investment. I feel this is different. In a pitch I already have the listeners permission to sell to them. In a sales office getting this is just one of many steps involved: getting the permission to speak to the right person. This is a difficult challenge and a very worthwhile skill any entrepreneur should learn.

No matter who you are selling to the first few steps of the process are the same:
  1. Target the right company.
  2. Contact the company.
  3. By default be put through to the company's gatekeeper.
  4. Get permission from the gatekeeper to speak with the target customer: the prospect.
Step 4. to me, is what defines one of the key differences between an average and a great salesman (there are many more key differences but this is the first important one). The gatekeeper is often a receptionist or special assistant to the prospect. One of the jobs of the gatekeeper is to shield the prospect from 'unsolicited calls'. So as a sales person, one of the gatekeepers jobs is to not let you past. The gatekeeper is an interesting position, they have all the power to block you, but not necessarily the understanding to know if you will benefit their boss or not. Trying to sell to the gatekeeper is often a waste of time: what influence do they have in the decision making process to buy? Probably none and yet you must convince them that their boss would appreciate speaking to you.

Heres a few basic tips I have learnt.

  1. Don't have a set script: it makes you sound like another seller in a call centre (center).
  2. Don't waste to much time trying to explain to the gatekeeper why you are calling: the longer you're on the phone with them the less chance you have to speak with the prospect. Often you get to a point in the conversation where the penny drops the can almost hear the gatekeepers thought process: "oh hang on this is a sales person I don't want them to waste any time of my boss".
  3. Just say in a confident polite way "X Please" where X is just the first name of the prospect (as if you know then on a personal level).

Then your through to the prospect! The first call you make to a prospect is never a sales call, all you want is 5 minutes of their time to see how they are currently dealing with issue 'x' and whether they would benefit from your system. Try to see if your product and their needs are a fit. Then arrange an appointment to call: a next contact: where you take a step closer to the sale.

Hopefully as the weeks go by I'll be able to close a sale!

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