Been there, sold that

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Despite an increased focus on sales effectiveness training and advanced tools for sales enablement, many salespeople are still doing a poor job when they sell to one of their most important audiences—the CMO.

Interviews with CMOs and other senior marketing leaders reveal that salespeople who are able to get through the door and sit down face-to-face with them are in many cases unprepared and do not do a good job during the call.

The biggest mistakes salespeople make are not doing their homework, not understanding the business or the needs of the prospect, not listening during the interview and presenting a canned pitch, according to senior marketing executives. “Probably half have done their research, but the other half come in and do a straight product pitch,” said Eduardo Conrado, senior VP-CMO, enterprise mobility solutions and networks at Motorola Inc.

Conrado's experience is consistent with that of other senior executives. Recent research from IDC found that 24% of senior technology buyers believe salespeople are not prepared during meetings, while 30% said they are only somewhat prepared. The report, “IDC's 2010 Customer Experience Survey,” was based on interviews with 213 senior technology buyers conducted online in the first quarter.

“When it comes time to make the buying decision, buyers are looking for sales folk that provide the most value, the deepest level of discussion, understand the buyer's needs and understand the general environment of the vertical,” said Michael Gerard, VP-sales advisory practice at IDC.

Whether they're buying technology or other products, senior marketers say they will sit down and meet with salespeople if they have something of value to offer.

But just getting in the door is half the battle.

“I try to minimize [meeting with salespeople],” Conrado said. “Cold calls are tough. I don't know how people can crack into a business through a cold call or through an e-mail.” He said he will meet with salespeople if they come from a referral he trusts, such as another CMO or someone in his professional network, and if he has an interest in the product or service—typically interactive technology.

Conrado said two of the biggest mistakes salespeople make when meeting with him are not understanding his needs and not having relevant information readily available to show him on their laptops during the call. “There is a lot of information at the public level—past talks I've done and past articles I've written—that they can tie in to their product or service,” he said. “If they can talk about case studies and how they have helped companies with similar challenges, that kind of approach gets my brain going about how they can help me.”

Other marketers agree that many salespeople do not do their homework before meeting with them, and they don't do a good job of listening.

“When I do meet with a vendor, they are often very ill-prepared,” said Martyn Etherington, VP-marketing and sales operations at Tektronix Inc., which manufactures test and measurement equipment for engineers.

“I don't want to hear a canned value proposition. I want to know that you have listened to my problem and asked me questions, and then you can form an idea of how you as a company can help me with the problem I have. I don't want to hear, "We have done work for a big company like HP, Dell or IBM.' That's nice, and they are all very respectable companies, but they have nothing to do with my business.”

Another big mistake salespeople make is trying to get past the marketing organization in order to meet with the CEO, Etherington said. “Often the CEO is the approver, not the buyer. If you usurp the buying organization, then you have made enemies of the actual buyers,” he said.

Etherington listed the traits that he feels make a good salesperson. “All are very consultative, very conversational and make you feel that you are part of the conversation,” he said. “Good salespeople empower you—bad salespeople try to convince you.”

Mark Wilson, VP-corporate marketing at Sybase Inc., a database management software company, agreed that many salespeople are unprepared when he meets with them.

“My pet peeve is, if you don't know me, don't ask me what keeps me up at night,” he said. “That shows you are completely unprepared. Not many people ask that, but at some level they will. They will come in with a set of assumptions about my business needs, and then they want to validate it. I don't want to spend my time educating others about my pain points or what I want to get achieved.”

Wilson said he will meet with salespeople who come through a referral, typically for products and services such as marketing tools, video production, public relations and other agency services, as well as marketing software.

“Some are very good, and some are not so good,” he said. “The challenge I see is that often they have no clue as to what our company does. They are learning in the meeting, which I find completely annoying.”

Wilson added: “The most effective salespeople understand what our company does. They come in with an idea of how they can solve our problem. They are good at listening, and they continue to evolve how they can solve our problem in the meeting. They have a number of case studies, and they pick them intelligently for companies that face the same problems that map to ours.”

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