How to Land the Deal A Quick Course in the Basics of Selling to Business.
By Brian Caulfield

(Business 2.0) – Corporate purchasing got stuck in the deep freeze during the past three years of recession. Now the defrost cycle is finally kicking in. Businesses are again investing in new technology, new factory equipment, and new skills. You want to be ready to grab a piece of this action. And at a time when everyone--regardless of job title--is expected to sell, you ought to at least know the rudiments. Here's a quickie on how the pros do it. -- BRIAN CAULFIELD

BE PREPARED

The old Boy Scout motto goes double for salesfolk. So learn the ins and outs of your product, get to know your customer's business, and figure out who you need to impress.

>> Master What You're Selling There are three things you need to know: features, competitors, and pricing. Learning your product's most unique attributes can give you an advantage over your competitors. Can your customer really do without your software's voice-recognition feature? Probably not--once you tell her about it. Knowing your competitors, meanwhile, allows you to create points of comparison in your favor without having to bad-mouth anyone. Finally, always be prepared to defend your product's price. If you offer a discount, you'll have to make more sales to meet your quota. Worse, it weakens your ability to hold firm with other customers. So if you shave a little off the price, ask for something in return--a bigger order, say, or a new sales lead.

>> Get Inside the Industry Target a sector that's a good fit for your product and learn everything you can. Go to conferences, read trade mags, visit insiders' blogs. After you land your first sale, you'll be set up to knock down other accounts like so many dominoes. NetSuite, which offers hosted business apps, has signed up scores of weight-loss centers. How? Sales VP James Ramsey says that once NetSuite tackled its first few franchises, it built on its momentum with a classic pitch: We know the problems you face, we've worked with customers just like you, and here's what we've done for them.

>> Look for Trouble Whether your target is downsizing, enduring a management shake-up, or struggling to keep up with orders, chaos is your friend. In these situations, companies are looking for new ways to tackle problems, and your product can be positioned as a way to ease their pain. Genesys, a vendor of conferencing gear and services, goes after companies that have recently merged. One financial services firm it targeted consisted of 40 once-independent entities scattered across the United States and Europe. Making the sale was tough because the enterprise had no central purchasing department, but Genesys embraced the challenge, selling to one unit at a time; now the company ranks as one of Genesys's biggest customers.

>> Know Who Your Friends Are It's essential to make sure the companies you list as references are happy, because they'll be doing much of your selling for you. But remember, it's no secret that many firms are willing to offer free products or services in exchange for references--so don't expect cynical buyers to call only the ones you list. Check in regularly with all your customers to make sure they're still satisfied. Chances are. they'll talk to their peers about how they like your product.

FIND OUT WHO'S WHO

Obviously the most important people are the ones who make the final decision. But there are some other key players who can make or break you before you get to the top.

>> The End User Whether he's a call center supervisor or a guy on the factory floor, this person can tell you exactly what your product has to do. What features will hook him?

>> The Deal Killer She can tell you what your product cannot be: too costly or too complex. This person might be an accountant or a procurement officer. What are her hot buttons?

>> The Expert Or genius, or guru, or technical evaluator--whatever you call this person at a given company, when the expert talks, others listen. Find and educate her.

>> The Agitator Your best friend, he's looking to change how things are done and sees your product as a way to do it. He can make your case for you when you're not around.

GET IN THE DOOR

Once you've identified the decision-maker, you must get in to see him. Here are a few tips for getting on his calendar.

>> Be Direct Call and ask for an appointment. Be prepared to say what you can do for him and how long you'll need.

>> Use Phone Fu Call the CEO's office acting confused. Tell the CEO's assistant who you're looking for and have your call transferred. Your call will show up on your target's caller ID as coming from the boss. Chances are, he'll grab it.

>> Call In an Air Strike Have one of your top-level executives get a piece of your target's time, and come along for the ride. This is Cisco's modus operandi. First, CEO John Chambers will dazzle peers with his vision of a networked economy. Then Cisco's sales force moves in to close the deal.

>> Throw a Party Sponsor an event, big or small, and invite potential customers as special guests. Software giant Siebel Systems is the master of the big event, sponsoring the annual Siebel Open tennis tournament. But even small companies can use this trick: Deltek, which sells software to government contractors, recently invited a few hundred prospects to meet former Redskins QB Joe Theismann in Washington.

>> Mix It Up Going nowhere? Switch accounts with a colleague in a similar situation and start calling new people inside the other company. You and your colleague will each have a shot at finding someone who can get you somewhere, and your old contacts won't be offended.

>> Drop In Powerful people often work odd hours. Stop by their offices on the weekend or late at night. You'll catch them off guard, and the usual gatekeepers won't be around to block your access.

>> Get a Referral From the Boss If the CEO of a potential client is speaking at a trade show or conference, grab him after his talk. Compliment him (sincerely), then pitch an idea (not a sale). If he's interested, he'll refer you to a colleague. That referral is not only a valuable lead but a powerful endorsement of your product.

MAKE YOUR PITCH

You've found a company with a need for your product, you've found the person at the company who can do something about it, and you've got a chunk of his time. Now all that's left is to give the killer pitch: one that defines an urgent problem facing the customer and explains what you can do to solve it.

>> Ask the Right Questions Maura Schreier-Fleming, a consultant who made her mark as one of Chevron's top industrial-lubricant salespeople, likes to start with what she calls a "pinball" question, an open-ended query that kicks off a conversation about the customer's business. Note: This isn't a question about his kids or his vacation. It's about business. And do your research--there is such a thing as a stupid question.

>> Focus on What's Gone Bad This creates your target of opportunity. When Schreier-Fleming visited a potential client--say, a trucking company--she'd home in on problems: Are your trucks' differentials overheating? Focus on problems that your product can solve.

>> Explore the Consequences Once you've identified a problem, zero in on its repercussions. If Schreier-Fleming found that the trucks' differentials were indeed running hot, she'd ask how often they were breaking down and what the breakdowns cost the company. This line of questioning may make your client uncomfortable, but that's OK.

>> Make Them Desire Action Now you can talk about what your product can do for the company--and for the buyer. Make him think: What if it could cut 15 percent from his department's operating expenses? Schreier-Fleming might ask her trucking client what fewer breakdowns would mean for the company and whether finding a way to fix the problem might be a feather in the decision-maker's cap. Make the value of what you're offering plain before you talk about price.

>> Close the Deal Now it's time to ask for the business. First, says sales consultant and author Brian Tracy, make sure the buyer is clear on what you can offer. Does he understand what he'll have to spend? What he can expect your product to do? How quickly you can do it for him? Good. Now ask for the sale. And don't be shy--half of all sales calls fail because the salesperson never actually asks the prospect to buy.