As an expert in technology software sales for over 5 years, I’ve learnt a lot from my interactions with potential clients. Although sales will be quite similar across all industries, when it comes to selling enterprise software solutions there are some specific nuances unique to the market. My particular area of expertise is in the sale of ERP software (inventory and accounting software) specifically for wholesale and distribution businesses. This type of enterprise system is designed to manage your entire operation – from sales, purchasing, invoicing and customer service, to inventory management, warehouse management, eCommerce, tradeshows, retail and more. The opportunities ERP software provides a business makes the purchase and sales process extremely important – you want to make sure you find a solution that can meet your specific needs, help your business grow for years to come, and ultimately you want to build a partnership with the software vendor to be able to continue to work together after the initial sale. As with any capital investment, purchasing software requires a large dedication of time, human resources and money to find the right solution, and requires that your business…
- Evaluate internal processes to determine existing requirements and gaps in functionality
- Evaluate available solutions in the market appropriate for your business
- Determine a budget and set aside the necessary funds for the project
- Find a solution and begin the implementation process – including migrating data from existing systems into the new one
- Train staff on using the new solution and update existing processes as required
Ultimately, your experience during the sales process will influence all other aspects of the search and implementation – which means you want to feel comfortable with not only the software solution but also the people behind the software with whom you deal with right from the beginning. Below I’ve shared some thoughts on what I’ve learnt as a salesperson and how they can help your business prepare for the software search and find the right solution.
What I've Learnt As a Salesperson
(1) There is a still a lot of stigma around salespeople
This one should come as no surprise, and I can’t deny being guilty of the same. Even though I spend most of my time interacting with potential customers in a sales role, I am still hesitant when speaking with salespeople in other industries, however, it’s time to break the stigma. First and foremost, there are definitely still untrustworthy and bad salespeople whose only purpose is to meet quotas and get a commission. However, there are also good salespeople, specifically in the software industry, who are dedicated to helping your business find the right solution and are invested in your company growth and success. To help break the stigma around interacting with salespeople, and to help you distinguish between the good and the bad, I’ve identified some common issues below.
With so many privacy breaches it can seem counterintuitive to share information with a stranger, however, information is the key to finding the right solution when it comes to searching for software. Keep in mind that when you speak with a software vendor, they will know next to nothing about your business, operations, challenges and goals – aside from what they can find online. The more information you can provide throughout the sales process, the better each vendor will be able to evaluate whether or not their solution is the right fit. A good salesperson is someone who takes the time to try and understand your specific business needs and processes so that they can make a proper recommendation. Be wary of salespeople only interested in talking about their product and bashing the competition as it can indicate that they are more interested in making the sale than truly becoming a business partner. Ideally, the right software vendor will become a trusted business partner that you can continue to work with well into the future. Gathering information on specific processes, company size, the number of warehouse locations, geographic customer base, etc. can help both parties determine whether the solution is the right fit, and allow the vendor to provide a realistic idea of costs.
You’re a wholesale distribution company in the business of buying and selling inventory and have a process for selling to customers. Perhaps you like to assign each customer with an internal account rep, perhaps you have a B2B website that allows customers to purchase product, check open orders, review sales history etc., perhaps you have sales reps in the field who work with your customers face-to-face – whatever the situation, you have a sales process that you’ve developed over time after carefully examining the market and understanding how customers wish to purchase your product. This exact same mindset applies to the software vendors you speak with as they will have also developed a specific sales process that works for them. At Blue Link, we have fine-tuned our sales process over the past 10 years to come up with a specific set of steps that help potential customers find the best system for their needs, in the most efficient way possible – whether or not they choose Blue Link’s software. Therefore, it is important that you’re open to following the vendor's suggested sales process to ensure success. Just because the process was different with another software vendor, does not mean that it will be the best approach.
Dedicate the Time
If you’re not willing to dedicate the time and resources to the software search and following the vendors’ process, it will be very difficult for you to make a truly accurate and informed decision on what system will be the best fit. Implementing ERP software does not happen overnight. If you’re interested in a solution that you can get up and running within a week, then you need to focus on introductory software, which may not have all the functionality you need to grow and manage all business processes. If you're interested in an all-in-one solution to help grow your business, you need to dedicate the time to find such a solution. If you can’t dedicate 10 minutes on the phone to speak with vendors, how are you ever going to find and implement a new solution?
(2) Brand doesn’t matter
Aside from the top consumer and business brands around the world, brand names and recognition are quite subjective. You may not have heard of every possible software vendor in the market, but that does not mean that they don’t have a superior product and it doesn’t mean that they won’t be a good fit for your business. Consider the flip side - it is likely that the vendor you’re working with has never heard of your brand or company name either, but does that mean that you don’t operate a reputable business? Instead of only focusing on the big brand name vendors in the market, take the time to do your research on available products for your industry. Frequently, smaller software vendors will have more functionality for specific industry niches – versus larger organizations that cater to a variety of industries with more general functionality. One of the best ways to get a feel for how well a system works is to talk to that vendor's existing customers. Ask for references, and where possible try and actually visit an existing customer to see the system in action.
(3) Research is important
For today's buyers, self-education is the norm. Consumers (and salespeople) do not want to spend their time talking about a system’s features when this type of information is readily available online in the form of videos, customer testimonials, website content, blog posts and more. Finding a solution that is going to be a good fit for your business involves doing some research on your own. Spend the time perusing through vendor websites, watch their YouTube videos and read the testimonials and case studies they have put together. Then, when you do speak with someone on the phone or in person, spend the time discussing information that can’t be easily found online. You wouldn’t decide to buy a new office space without first doing research on the neighbourhood, surrounding businesses, demographics etc. ERP software is another such capital investment that requires research. Keep in mind that the information gathering step is a two-way street – just like you want to learn about whether or not the vendor has functionality that can meet your needs, the vendor also wants to learn about your business processes to ensure there is a fit. After you speak with potential vendors, spend the time reviewing the information they have shared to better understand their offering.