I have to admit – I don’t have formal sales education. My childhood was mostly influenced by math and tech. Technology has a smell of precision and knowledge. At the same time, sales appears to be manipulative. I can try to blame Soviet Union regime, but it doesn’t matter now. I was wrong.
The understanding of how I was wrong came later in my life. I learned to sell my software projects, application and services. I still cannot say I’m good in sales. I must thank few people in my carrier that helped me a lot to understand the nature of sales. I’m still learning.
None of recommendations I put below came from formal books. Actually, I never had a chance to read formal sales books. Probably I should. List below comes from my experience and involvement in PLM projects in variety of roles – technical, implementation, advisory, strategy, competitive analysis and more. Following these rules helped me to achieve goals.
1- Make “enterprise executives” friends and friends across other divisions in a company you are selling to. Don’t be engineering/tech buddy only. The championship in engineering system department is important, but you need to get the whole picture of product problems and profit in a company.
2- Learn to say “No” to engineers and R&D managers. Very often, PLM has engineering roots in the organization. You can easy get spoiled by engineering ideas. With all respect to engineers, these ideas are not always on the top priority list for CIO and can be far from business goals.
3- Prepare to come at least 7 times to meet your prospect customer. Sometimes you will feel repeating yourself, but in PLM implementation, it is often part of learning and convincing themselves about their decision. Also, be ready to answer on the question “what is PLM and why is it needed if company already spent million dollars to implement ERP”. You need to have a good answer…
4- You need to become a source of knowledge about other PLM implementations, best practices, failures and successes etc. Make yourself a bit “techie” – it will help you to build your credit. Very often your prospect customer doesn’t know what to do and would love to learn from what you did for other companies.
5- Learn how to shutdown implementations if things are going wrong. This one is tough. Sh’t happens. You need to learn how to fire customer, even if you made a sale. Not everything depends on you. PLM touches different departments and often requires a company to change the way they do business. People are trying to manipulate and it resulted in politics influence, conflicts between management groups, implementation strategies, competitors, etc. If you see that you cannot make a visible success in 3-4 months, push the stop button and ask to “rethink what needs to be done”.
6- Learn few key typical PLM implementations failures – team disagreement about product development process and data ownership, CAD integration failure, PLM/ERP integration failure. In my view, these three are responsible for more than 50% of PLM implementation failures. You need to learn how to smell it and go to option #5 with request to rebuild the process.
7- Deliver one feature from engineers dream list. Take one that will help engineers to be proud of what PLM does. Something that not on the top priority list. You will become “engineering hero”.
8- You biggest win will come 3 years later from a customer you failed to sale to. Enterprise sales is a lengthy process. Companies need time to understand how they do work and how they need to manage a change. Management changes. Corporate conflicts get resolved. Remember #4 and be consistent in PLM vision you sale. Prospects will come back.
What is my conclusion? Enterprise sales is a special discipline. These days is probably one of the most interesting things in the overall process of technological disruption. Major disruption happened because of internet, cloud, mobile and other technologies. The wave seems to be going to enterprise continent. However, enterprise is first about people and second about technologies. Technologies make sense only after people can understand and use them. Just my thoughts and good luck!
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network-based platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.