In this article, Stephen discusses his thoughts on spreadsheets being used within the sales cycle for value-based discussions.
The very nature of the sale is, in the first instance, a meeting of minds, a shared ideology, where two parties come together and decide that what one provides is what the other wants. How this shared ideology is achieved is something that I personally don’t believe there is a formula for, it’s an art. True, there are many consultants, thought leaders, techniques, methodologies, systems, processes, as well as psychology that exist on this subject. Mixed and formed into your own model of engagement as a salesperson or indeed as a person. After all, we are continuously selling our ideas, opinions, philosophies and even ourselves.
This combination is unique to all of us and is something that continuously develops and refines itself based on experience. By its very nature it is an artform and one that is under threat. As hard economic times loom, and wallets and budgets tighten, there is an increasing requirement to justify spending money, more rigour on what business are spending and how an investment will benefit the company. Being able to articulate this value and justify why an investment in you or your company is a sound decision is a requirement for everyone, it is part of our artistic craft as a salesperson.
This articulation starts as a story, backed by experience that then turns into something that the customer feels empathy with and understands how this could apply to their own situation or business. Then comes the conversation about how your products or services can help benefit your customer and the hardnosed quantification of that. This process has rigour and depth required but should also be kept simple and easy to understand, and therefore an easy onward sell for the sponsor of a solution into a business. This process needs to be a seamless part of the sales conversation, not a deep dive into the bowels of mathematical formulae, statistical variance, and the minutiae of a penny here or a dollar there. Once agreed upon, the record of this should be presented in a neat, concise, easy to read and most importantly, easy to understand document or presentation. It should not have reams and reams of colourful, non-digestible rows of numbers that must be deconstructed to be understood; this is not art, its frustration with a topping of complexity.
All this needs to compliment the end goal for both parties – salesperson: get the order, customer: best value investment for the business. All this must be done with the least amount of effort. Be collaborative, constructive, and positive; scrawling through a complex spreadsheet makes this impossible and is destroying that process by which the salesperson is the partner to the customer in deciding how to spend money. It’s all too easy when designing spreadsheets to lose track of what calculation links to what and which field has an impact on another field – its complexity that is just not needed.
Spend the time with your customer uncovering what is driving their decision to invest in strategic business initiatives, it’s a better investment by far!
I know I am biased, but there are many other benefits to dropping the spreadsheet, although I just wanted to concentrate on how it negatively impacts the face-to-face sale. When building business cases (and I have done this for over 20 years) I keep it very simple, even in our own software I try to keep away from the more complex benefit KPI’s as I know these will be more difficult for the internal sponsor to articulate and explain. However, I do acknowledge complexity is sometimes difficult to avoid and where this is the case, we always try to simplify and take things back to its most basic elements. This stuff does not need to be difficult, and these skills should be in every customer facing persons kit bag, if not the detail, certainly a solid understanding of the fundamentals.