Here I want to share with you some information and my observations on how ERP Sales works in our business. As developers or consultants we are not often involved in sales processes and not often understand how company earns money. However I believe that is an essential knowledge for every single employee as only trough understanding of company targets we can properly define priorities.
This is continuation of my previous article – Accounting Basics for Developers.
Nature of Sales
Sales in general is very chaotic thing that may be affected by so many different aspects: personal preferences (like/dislike more), knowledge (know how to use), personal relationship (trust someone or convinced by someone), marketing, company budget, personal mood, contract agreements, local laws (requirements on data protection), industry standards, demo experience, usability, functionalities and so on and so forth.
You see here that beside the measurable and controllable things like functionalities, we have plenty of other thing that we not always can control or change.
So sales is more social oriented or soft skill, comparing to algorithms that we use on daily basis. Salesperson should use all known ways of Persuasion, Convincing, Influence and even Manipulation of prospects to become a customers. To help themselves, salespersons uses some tricks (or I can say bugs) in human mind. Like for example if you help someone, this person will fill that he owes you help as well that we can use.
To find the ways of Influencing you can read a short article about 6 Principles of Persuasion. If you want to know more, I recommend you to read a great book of Robert Cialdini – Influence: Science and Practice.
Even there are good and bad tricks, I believe a good salesperson can find a personal way to the prospect without lying or manipulations. Personally I saw the most successful ERP Sales persons to build a consistent trust between them and the prospect trough care, good, honest advises and deep expertise in their business.
Structure in the Chaos
As I tried to explain above, sales is a very unorganized task, as you don’t have a clear and straight path on how to close your customer. You can build a relationship with the prospect for the long time, but everything can be turned upside down withing a day just by new law or resigned person.
But as a company, we have to be somehow organized and predictable. With this goal many good companies and sales-geniuses invented different Sales Methodologies. Here you can find some of the most popular methodologies.
I want to highlight that these all really the methodologies and not rules or algorithms. Methodologies assume some approach to do something with some defined rules, methods, activities, deliverables, but it all is flexible and changeable. So in general we should follow the approach that helps us, but as soon as there is unusual, we can take own actions we feel right based on the situations we have.
Usually a company takes one methodology and uses it but sometimes there might be a combined way. In any case it is up to the sales team how to approach and account.
The most common methodology I saw in ERP business is a Solution Selling. The basic concept here is that you should sell a solution rather than a product. Applying it to ERP industry, we don’t sale software as it, we need to find a reasons why a customer search for the software and see a complete solution for the problems they have. Of course a solution includes much more things than just a product and problem resolution, we need to care also about: hardware and infrastructure, integration into the business processes, testing and acceptance, documentation, user training, post life support and many overs.
So solution is really a complex and wide package that will be delivered to the customer together with the product. The product than is just a part of it. The customer should be focused on the main benefits from problems resolution versus the product itself.
Converting Methodology to the Process
Methodology is really good and helpful, but a sales team and a prospect should know where we are and where we are going. So to help with this sales methodology usually defines a sales process with stages. The most common (and we believe appropriate) process for ERP business is the following:
- Qualification – estimation of our chances to close a deal and decide if we want to invest time.
- Discovery – getting an idea about the customer processes and needs
- Solution Development – preparing and demonstrating proof of concept for the future solution.
- Proposal – estimating licenses, hardware and services required, preparing contract.
- Negotiation – commercial discussion with client, discounts, services included.
- Close – signing contract and confirm the deal.
- Go Live – performing successful implementation and start to use a new ERP.
- Referrals – continuously work with client to get new projects or use them as case studies.
I will go though these stages later, but on the high level we can really organize it as a process with steps, time and required attendees.
|Product Demo 1
|Product Demo 2
Specific Use Cases
|CEO/CFO, Department Managers
|Proposal Submission & Discussion
|Proposal Sign off and Contracts
|Project Kick-Off Meeting
So you can see here how sales people try to organize the sales process. I would personally say that this process never goes as expected, as people are busy and meetings may need to be rescheduled. But in general it really helps, especially to build an consistent approach and credibility with the prospect.
Now lets speak about sales steps one by one.
Qualification is one of the most important steps where we decide if we really want to approach this prospect or walk away. Due to complexity of solution development, if we choose someone and than loose we will use significant about of time for our employees.
To make this decision right different sales methodologies have different qualification methodologies as well. Here you can read more about some of them. However in our business the most popular qualification method is BANT, which is abbreviation for:
- Budget – we always need to know if the prospect can afford to buy software that we offer.
- Good example from our real world – it makes no sense to convince someone to buy Ferrari if they have not money for that, so you basically loose the deal even before you start.
- A story from my experience: we had a nice small prospect in a new market where we wanted to hunt for any possible opportunities to get references. We approached the prospect with analyses, proof of concept and demos. The prospect was happy and demo was well received. Than we quoted the minimal price for Acumatica Financials, but the prospect immediately response that it is twice of his budget. So we had to walk away and search for other opportunities, but the time we spend on it cannot be taken back. So that are company looses and our experience!
- Authority – we need to know who will be a decision maker at the prospect side.
- The main idea here is to solve problems of the person who have a power to make a decision. And usually they have some different interests in a company. The best example – managers always want to have better visibility and control (that is way they ask us to do a time tracking on bugs), but developers want to have better tools, faster computers, proper architecture, more time and so on. If you solve issues of developers, but not time tracking for managers, you will loose. But if you solve time tracking for managers and no tools for developers, you have good chance to win.
- Usually decision maker is someone from senior management (CEO, CFO, CIO), however, sometimes it may be a whole board or separate evaluation group.
- We also need to count potential influencers who may affect decision making – accountants, admins, evaluators.
- Need – the prospect should have a real problem we can solve.
- If your computer is broken and you can’t work, than this is a real problem. You will do everything to solve it as fast as possible. However if your computer just slow in compilation there is a lower chance you go to show and buy new and powerful one.
- Sales say: “no need – no deal”. Someone may just has any salary to make a decision process long and fuzzy, but can identify their motivations by clear needs, reasons and time-frames.
- Time-frame – if there is a real need, a prospect will have a real deadline to solve it.
- If your have a vacation soon, but you don’t have a hotel booked, you have a clear deadline that you not allowed to miss. The same is with ERP software – if there is a costly process that needs to be optimized decision maker will bring a deadline to solve it. If the prospect don’t have a deadline, than they might be fine with current situation.
- In general time-frame as a control point for the previous questions. You can evaluate how real is their need, authority or budget by asking about a time frame. With real need, you will feel the reason for the deadline. Real decision maker will give you clear time frame. And real budget will have a time-period, as expensive purchases needs to be planned in cash flow of every company.
Some salesmen also add one more letter to BANT -> BANTU. U is about Unique value. To win a deal in a very competitive market you need to have an unique value that your competitors do not have, something you can add and win with no fight because there is nothing to put against. For Acumatica we have quite some advantages that you can choose depend on your prospect business or need: mobile application, choose of deployments, industry specific solutions, unlimited users, customer self-service portal, customization platform, cloud solution, great usability and ease of use, pricing model and so on.
Other qualification methods might be more detailed or tries to ask the same question more polite way, but in general they are about the same reasons.
Quite often it is easier to walk away versus spending significant amount of time on low chance or difficult prospect.
Result of this step is a decision on customer mater.
As soon as salesperson made a decision to invest time in that opportunity we should involve consultants/technical team to explore more details. Our main task at this point is gathering the all possible information.
How can we gather information? We can have interviews, calls, questionnaire, following the process on site, research the internet, apply past experience from the same industry, request the prospect data and reports.
But we should keep focus on 3 things:
- Top 3 challenges (sales call it “Pain Points”) this prospect has. This is related to Need from qualification, but we need to understand the problem deeply.
- Prospect competitive advantage – the prospect has a business that has own competitors. If you support they to fight against their competitors in any way, you will definitely have a higher chance to win. And the prospect certainly will appreciate your advises and trust you.
- Customer Specific Data – reports, flows, forms, names. Everything you can find from them will be better for you.
As a result of this step we know details of the customer process.
As a part of this step the whole team (sales, consultants, engineers) should consolidate findings, ideas and develop a solution for the prospect. Solution here is not a final approach but more like a kind of Proof of Concept (PoC) for the prospect.
Our main target is to build a bridge between prospect and us. Prospect needs to feel we can help them, we know their business and challenges, we committed, we are knowledgeable, product has required features, solution will help them and so on. In combination we should build and earn prospect’s trust to us and our solution. If we have more trust than our competitors, we will win.
If a prospect trust you, you can bring in any software you want. In the end prospect choose more implementer than a software.
This step is the process as well, so it may require significant amount of time, demo sessions, calls and meeting to complete it.
You don’t need to proof everything, focus on key things is usually more than enough. If you have trust for the main items, you can just confirm the rest verbally.
As a result of this step we should have trust of the prospect that solution fit their needs and our team can deliver it.
As soon as a proof of concept is done, we should assembly the team again and try to estimate the effort will be required to develop and implement the solution. Effort will include many things: time and travel for services, licenses, hardware and so on.
In the ERP sales, principal usually helps a lot with effort estimations as they usually have a lot of projects in similar size and industry that can help to make proper estimation. Also principals usually have an estimation matrix.
Another thing that usually added to the proposal is the list of inclusions, exclusions and limitations for the implementation. This list helps to set proper expectations and protect both parties from misunderstanding.
As a result of this step the prospect should receive a completed proposal document.
After proposal is received by client, negotiation phase is started. In general negotiation is a game where both parties are trying to get better conditions.
As a developer I was surprised how flexible negotiation can be – you can negotiate almost everything: from features included, thought services, to the price. However there are few interesting rules I have learned:
- It is better to include something free of charge addition than cut the prices. More money will give company better long terms cash flow.
- You can negotiate price per hour but don’t cut hours required. It will bring a lot of problems if you miss deadline.
- Some prospective customers may bring you a lot of intangible value, like references, up-sells, reputation, it worth to invest.
- Even the small discount makes customer happy.
Deal is a commercial agreement between re-seller and the client. Comparing to shop where you have more or less fixed prices, ERP can be sold very-very differently depends on the interest of both parties.
As a result of this step we will have a confirmed contract.
The most exiting step in the whole process. Signing of the contract will link your company and the prospect for next many months, so that is a great moment! You even can have a signing ceremony as a part of marketing activities!
As a result of this step we will have a signed contract.
Implementation / Go Live
An important point is that deal is not finished when you sign a contract. As now the implementation team needs deliver the promises of the sales team
Sales person should be as a part of steering committee (a group of executives who have interests in the project completion) to make sure that promised points are fully delivered. It also helps to prevent over-promises during sales cycle.
Implementation process will be a separate discussion in a separate article.
As a result of this step we will have a customer who uses our software for a production.
Referrals / Up-sells
At the beginning of the sales process the prospect and the prospect’s team members might be very skeptical to you and your team. However when they see you in action and see that your deliver the promises, they won’t wait long for the new requests and projects. Before the start everyone is trying to protect themselves and kind of minimize the risk, but as soon as they see that there is no risk to deal with you, the client will bring a lot of new opportunities. There is always a place for a little more optimization or process changes if they know it will be successful.
Life-time clients should be the goal of the sales team. Clients that trust you will not only bring more projects, but will follow you with any system you choose for them.
It is always a good idea to do set of interviews with a client and convert your success into the marketing campaign. Happy client will always support you.
In general that is the whole sales process, but process is usually never works well without proper control and tools for that. So IT industry has invented a lot of applications with similar functionality to help sales-guys to be on the top of what is going and also managers to ensure control and the best forecasting. This class of system is called CRM or Customer Relationship Management systems.
Acumatica has a CRM module embedded in ERP that is actually very helpful as sales documents flow seamless between Sales and Distribution/Finance teams. Also Support module can help to track after sales cases better and improve quality in general.
You can see on this image how Acumatica CRM follows the same process that I have described here. Same steps, same targets, comprehensive workflow. BTW, Opportunity stages are fully configurable and can be used for different sales methodologies.
In the end I want to state again that sales is really chaotic and really based on personal relationship between people. But even here we can use some technics to helps us to be organized. An organization and proper flow are always a good addition to our credibility.
Have a great win!