Monday, 27 August 2012

How To Market A New Product

Recently I received the second generation Apple TV as a birthday present.  Like many of you I have had some very forgettable experiences with new technology.  In fact one of these experiences led to me switching last summer from an old PC to a new iMac, but that’s another story.

As a result of these tech experiences I am very skeptical when it comes to the installation and start-up of new technology.  I have had Geek Squad to my home office on more than one occasion and a large number of calls from my local cable provider to fix problems with my service.  So you can image my surprise, a very pleasant surprise indeed, when I was actually using Apple TV within ten minutes of opening the box. I literally plugged it into my TV, the setup menu popped up and then lo and behold, there were my videos on my iMac waiting for me to view on the big TV.  I am an engineer by training and though I don’t really have a clue at what Apple does inside their software/hardware to make this start-up effortless and seamless, I do know that it will have come about as a result of a large investment in engineering.

Now to be fair, this isn’t the first time that I have experienced a seamless start-up with Apple products.  We had an early Macbook several years ago and it was the first piece of technology that wirelessly connected to our wireless HP printer without a visit from Geek Squad.  Our original iPods were a joy to use over the original MP3 players that we had.  As a consumer I find this attention to the user experience to be very refreshing and a terrific way to build brand loyalty.  Yes, our household is pretty much a showcase of everything that Apple makes but we have done that because their sales message about ease of operation etc., holds true.  We bought the messaging because they delivered on what they promised.

The lesson here for me, or rather reinforcement of a key sales lesson, is that the selling process goes way beyond just closing a deal and collecting a purchase order.  My sales experience has been primarily involved in complex sales processes.  These processes generally involve designing a solution to a customer’s problem.  Once the customer has agreed to buy that solution the sales process hasn’t finished.  Why?  You need to demonstrate that the value you promised has actually been delivered.  In my specific case with Apple, the value that they promised was clearly delivered as am I happy customer and will happily tell anyone who asks how great my Apple experience has been.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

How Not To Sell A New Service

I had a really funny experience yesterday that I need to share with you because it highlighted many of the problems that companies have trying to sell new services. I was eating breakfast and reading the Globe and Mail newspaper, a Canadian national paper, a typical workday start for me.

After reading the first few pages I came across an ad in the first section from my bank promoting a new small business service to help get your business online. The package included a $100 certificate for Google Adwords and something called a Small Business Marketing Toolkit. The ad finished by telling you ask your account manager at your branch for more details. I was very interested in this as recently I have been wading through a number of options and trying to figure out how to promote my business online.

As it turned out I had to be at my bank later that day to sign some documents so after we finished the tedious process of signing (why do banks need so, so many copies of everything!) I asked asked my account manager about this promotion. She knew nothing about it which I thought was fair enough because she works in personal banking not small business. So, we went downstairs to find the small business account manager. Turns out she didn’t know anything about it either.

I was having a hard time not laughing by this time. While I sat across from them they then got the national branch service centre on the telephone to ask about this promotion. The first person they contacted didn’t know anything about it and they were transferred to another person. This person knew about it and said the packages were sent to the branch ten days ago.

Terrific I thought, now maybe I’ll get my Google Adwords $100 certificate. Unfortunately not, because no one at my branch had seen these. The two account managers then went to talk to the branch manager who was aware of the program and said that they were going to mail out packages to pre-qualified customers and would have hard copy soon for interested clients. I heard him tell the account managers that the program hadn’t been rolled out yet.

At this point I had to poke my head in their door and say how funny I thought this was. The program had been rolled out as it was advertised that day in two national Canadian newspapers. Further I laughed when I told them that this would make a great story about how not to sell because here you have a program that you spent a lot of money advertising and then wouldn’t you know it, an actual potential client walks in the door interested in the program, and the front line staff at the bank aren’t aware of the program.

The lesson here is that no matter what type of selling you are engaged in you must be absolutely certain that the product that you are selling is real and can be delivered, otherwise you will appear to your clients like you are trying to pull a fast one on them. When you do have your product or service ready to go to market, please, please, please ensure that all of your employees who have client contact are aware of what you are promoting otherwise you’ll live through my experience yesterday.

Dave Speed


In my last post I wrote about a company that I recently worked with.  When I began working with them in early Fall 2011 we discussed a proposal that they had submitted to a client back in July 2011. This proposal was for a project that the company had experience in delivering and while not a proprietary solution the company felt they were ahead of their competition in being able to deliver this service. The value of the proposal was over $15 Million CAD.

When questioned about follow up activities since submission I was told that they had sent an email and had not been able to get a response from them. This surprised me because it is only common sense that a client is unlikely to buy a solution based on a proposal and an email. I suggested that we should travel to visit the client and follow up in person but the company did not want to spend the money as this client was not in North America. Again, I was very surprised because if an investment of approximately $15k for travel to follow up with the client wasn’t deemed to be a good investment how did the company expect to win this piece of business? In fact, if they weren’t willing to invest in the travel to follow up why did they bother to spend the time preparing a $15 Million proposal.

As I dug into this situation I reviewed the details of the proposal and learned that the company had decided to price the proposal at a gross margin approximately 2.8 times their normal margin. This was done in the belief that they were the only company able to successfully deliver this solution. While other companies around the world had the capability to deliver this solution my client was the only one who had successfully delivered such a solution. This is a good competitive advantage for sure.

The first lesson from this situation is about follow up. If it is worth spending the time to prepare a proposal then you must be convinced that it is business worth winning and must be prepared to do whatever it takes to follow up with the client.

The second lesson is that competition is not just about your competitors who work in the same field. Competition can be your potential client not proceeding with the project.

Competition comes in many forms so always be thinking of how you will find competition, its not always obvious, and how you will deal with it.

Dave Speed

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Sales Processes

I’ve been thinking a lot about business development lately, the process of selling and how many people misunderstand the whole concept of sales. In May 2011 I started up my consulting business and have been working with small, technology-oriented companies who want to increase their sales.
Recently I worked with a company who had a great deal of potential applying unique technology into a growing market. One thing has been true throughout my career; you learn the most from situations that are not good and I learned plenty of lessons working with this company.
During my initial discussions with the company they said all the right things about sales. Statements like “Growth has been slow so we need to focus on our sales pipeline” and “our investors are expecting commercial success soon” filled out conversations. I began working with them thinking that they wanted to change and grow.
Soon after I began working with them it became clear that their vision of sales and mine couldn’t have been further apart. A long time vice-president, an accountant by training, was engaged in “defining the sales process” in addition to their other duties surrounding investor relations. This VP was of the view that the sales process needed definition and documentation worthy of a government procurement contract. Flowcharts abounded, while many, many words were written to define how every step of the process was managed.
You might think from my comments that a sales process isn’t important and you would be wrong if you thought this.  A sales process is important. However this organization was missing the point. The most important part of a sales process is customers and generating new business. You can have a beautiful process but if your sales funnel is unrealistic or non-existent then it doesn’t matter.
What lessons did I learn from this engagement?  Lesson one, always be skeptical. Words are cheap and until you see the actions affirming the words then nothing has changed. Lesson two, you really don’t know anything about the culture of a company until you work there, engage with the staff and see how they respond to everyday business situations.

Dave Speed

Friday, 27 January 2012

Strategic Selling

We all have to learn our professions and hopefully we all continue learning  throughout our careers.  During the process of planning out what I was going to blog about I thought back to how I learned the process of sales and business development.
I can say without hesitation that the best piece of learning that I have ever had is “Strategic Selling” by Miller Heiman. This type of training may not be applicable to all types of selling but it has been very worthwhile in my career.
What is Strategic Selling and why is it strategic? Strategy is defined as the science and art of military command exercised to meet the enemy in combat under advantageous conditions. The word originated in ancient Greece with a clear military context but it is applicable in business today three millennia later.
Like a general in a military campaign, a sales leader or organization never has enough time, sales people and other resources to be able to engage with every possible customer. It is therefore much more important to be very focused in your business development activities. You need to be able to weed out prospects who will never buy anything, prospects who for whatever reason will not be receptive to your solution.
The key concept that I took from the Strategic Selling training is understanding that the process is about putting you in the right place, with the right people at the right time. Once you have done this, the process becomes tactical rather than strategic.
I firmly believe that creating the right strategy for you and your organization is the most important thing that you can do to lay the groundwork for future success. Future posts will continue to explore the process of strategic selling, how to do it properly and how it can apply to your particular sales situation.

Dave Speed

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Welcome to Nothing Happens Until Somebody Sells Something

Hi, my name is Dave Speed and I have been involved in business development and the process of selling for over 25 years. I am a mechanical engineer by training and, with one exception, over my career have been involved with companies who have developed and sold some type of technology, including mechanical process equipment, specialty chemical water treatment programs and design-build infrastructure services.

When I graduated from engineering school in the early 1980s becoming involved in sales was not part of my career plan. My goal was to become involved in cool engineering design work and write technical papers. However, I quickly realized that the most interesting part of the company I was working with was not doing the actual engineering work but going out and getting the projects for the company to work on. I quickly decided this is where I wanted to work, so I quit my engineering job and embarked on what has turned out to be an unconventional but successful career in making things happen, building long-term relationships and solving customer problems.

Since embarking on my sales career in the mid 1980s I have recruited and led sales teams; sold personal services; developed an alumni outreach and fundraising program for a major university; and, worked for a manufacturer’s representative firm selling mechanical process equipment.  I have sold ongoing technical service programs at large industrial accounts such as paper mills and petrochemical plants, and municipal accounts such as large water and wastewater treatment facilities. Finally, I created a business unit at a utility company, from the vision stage to a successful operating unit with over $50 million in revenue and over a dozen team members reporting directly to me.
Over my career I have seen just about every sales situation possible and learned the right way and the wrong way of generating profitable new business. I’ve started this blog to share some of my insights about the sales process. Future posts will walk you through the sales process using my personal experiences and stories. Regardless of your experience and knowledge of sales I hope that you will find this blog thought provoking and interesting.

Nothing Happens Until Somebody Sells Something!

Dave Speed