Monday, July 14, 2008

Reality Check: Sales reps matter more than product

I haven't posted for so long, butI felt like I had to give Mr. Analyst of the Year a break and actually write something.

Over the last year I have become increasingly aware of something and wanted to share it with a larger audience. When I have conversations with companies about a pending software purchase (usually CRM or eService), they tell me the core business problems they are trying to solve, then give me the list of vendors they are considering. And almost every time, I hear a little jingle from Sesame Street in my head:

One of these things is not like the other
One of these things just doesn't belong
Can you guess which thing is not like the other
By the time I finish this song?

Why? Because the obvious vendor(s) who are specialists in their problem are not on the list, and they are selecting from a group of vendors who all do something else. So I ask, "Um, why isn't Vendor X on the list?" And here is the universal reply. "Oh, we started with them, but their sales rep was an asshole."

I don't think developers and marketers at high tech companies have any idea how many deals they are losing based on the personality of the sales rep. What is really shocking is how many times the obvious 'best fit' vendor is dismissed from a deal because:
  • The sales rep was arrogant (I've heard this a dozen times about 1 vendor in particular)
  • The sales rep was late to multiple meetings and conference calls and the company felt the vendor didn't want the business
  • The sales rep didn't know bumpkis about the product functionality and tried to BS their way through--always a big turnoff

Maybe I'm a troublemaker (OK, I admit it, I am) but sometimes I contact the vendor who lost a particular deal and asked them about it. So far, not a single time has the 'win/loss' report had anything about the sales rep or the sales process. Usually it is a useless excuse like, "they weren't ready to make a decision," when that obviously wasn't the case. Or, "we couldn't meet their price," when I knew the discussions never even got that far.

This is all very frustrating for me, because I want to see companies buy the right product to fix the right problem, and when there is a mis-match from day 1, it isn't good for any of us. The customer ultimately doesn't receive the ROI they expect. The vendor never has a referenceable customer. And I have far fewer success stories to write about than I should.

There is so much pressure in my industry (service and support) on after call satisfaction surveys, I wonder why companies aren't doing a better job of understanding the impression their sales staff is making on customers? Why doesn't the VP of sales follow up with prospects after the initial sales visit and ask how it went? Why doesn't someone other than sales create the win/loss reports so at least companies know how much business they are losing because of sales rep hubris?

So all you Software Insiders who read this blog, ask yourself, "when was the last time I did a 'ride along' on a sales call?" Regardless of what your role is (engineering, support, marketing, etc.), maybe you should start making your presence known in more customer facing sales situations. From what I'm hearing, you may be shocked at what you see.

Thanks for reading!

John Ragsdale

Ragsdale's Eye On Service

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

John, this is so true. We actually stopped talking to Vendor X even though we know the product is better. The problem, the guy is an arrogant SOB and we just can't have a real conversation with him. We're waiting till the replace the sales rep

Zhang-Yu W. said...

John, we have this problem with our Oracle rep in China. They think they own the database market and treat us so poorly. On the other hand, our Microsoft and IBM reps are much nicer to us and we tend to go with their products b/c of the relationship.

John Ragsdale said...

Just curious, would either of you consider complaining to the company about the rep (or want me to do it for you)? Do you think it would do any good, or do you think sales management condones the behavior?

Zhang-Yu W. said...

John,

I would complain but with this guy it was not worth the time. Sometimes it helps to have a third party we can go to or another contact at the company, but without that relationship or an ombudsman, it seem hard to acomplish.

Kristin Zhivago said...

John, you are right on the money. I have called "lost" customers who gave those generic, "I resigned to spend more time with my family" answers. I do this for clients. The lost customers open up to me and tell me the REAL reason. The rep ALWAYS plays a large role, which is why I am focusing so much on sales rep training these days. It may not even be the rep's behavior - it might be an offhand comment the rep made about how the company *really* feels about customers, or how "clueless management is." Great article. A client sent it to me and I've sent it around to all my other clients.

J D said...

When I was evaluating ERP solutions for our business it became clear that we needed a cost effective Tier 2 product that was strong in MFG. One company in particular was extremely unhelpful in my discovery process about their product. They were so unwilling to give any comments on pricing that they rudely ended conversation and refused to do business with us. I prudently waited a week or two, called the regional manager and requested another Rep. Sure enough, their product was a very good fit. The first sales rep had only been with the company for a few months and was trying so hard to follow a script in order to make a sale. That's not wise for a very complicated product that may be several hundred thousand dollars.

Long story short, they only got a chance to get our business because I gave them a second chance. This company DID learn of this rep's behavior and eventually removed him from the sales force. I know most people in my position would not have even given them a second chance.

MR.HIEU said...

brazilian blowout

compactorsomments on pricing that they rudely ended conversation and refused to do business with us. I prudently waited a week or two, called the regional manager and requested another Rep. Sure enough, their product was a very good fit. The first sales rep had only been with the company for a few months and was trying so hard to follow a script in order to make a sale. That's not wise for a very complicated product that may be several hundred thousand dollars.