Tech contracts: How to read between the lines

When revamping technology selling strategies consider taking a 180 ˚ turn on tried and true approaches to get better results.

“Completely re-think what you’ve been doing and consider the direct opposite,”said Oleg Feldgajer, investment executive for the ScotiaMcLeod division of the Bank of Nova Scotia.

For instance, Feldgajer said, earlier in his career he and his partners would have lost a multi-million dollar contract to provide data search software to a Canadian federal prison had he and his colleagues refused to abandon their original marketing approach.

The product would have helped prison authorities comply with a regulation requiring them to record prisoner phone conversation to detect possible criminal activities. The existing system consisted of a single person listening to a total 300 recorded calls a day.

Feldgajer’s product would automate this process by using a programmable word search feature that sent out an alert when it detected a suspicious conversation. Unfortunately decision makers turned down his proposal because the product was too expensive.

On leaving the scene, Feldgajer noticed a long line of prisoners waiting for their chance to make a call on one of the facility’s three payphones.

Rather than give up, Feldgajer’s company partnered with Bell Atlantic. They came back, proposed to install 300 phones in the prison for free and offered give the facility a 20 per cent cut on collections from each unit if the prison bought the software.

The new strategy closed the deal and opened up avenues for subsequent purchases by other prisons. “We sold them on the 300 phones not the recorder,” he said.

Here are a few more approaches that came out of the “kitchen table” discussions:

Check pre-conceived notions at the door
“You might think you have the best idea in the world, but is it the right one for your customer?” said Steve Johnston, president of The Second City Communications.

The award winning comedy show production outfit, several years ago pursued a different road. Today, Second City still dishes out comic productions but it also uses humour to provide communication and team-building classes for enterprise businesses.

Johnston said companies should refrain from coming in too strong with their product’s merits but rather take the time to get clients talking to gain vital feedback to which they could tailor their pitch.

Get a feel for the client
Now that you’ve got them talking, listen and learn. Selling is not just about transaction but is about “establishing a relationship,” according to one of the particpants.

Determining a client’s “goals and dreams” is key to ensuring customer that you are keen in helping them achieve these, said Catherine McQuaid, principal of Big Game Hunting, a Toronto-based business development firm.

Intelligence gathering of this sort can also be done by extensively researching the client’s business, industry and competition.

Get at the hot buttons
A client has three basic needs “the stated need, the business need and the personal need,” according to Darrel Berry, partner at the Chelsea Consulting Group, an IT and management consultancy firm in Toronto.

Stated needs could be the requirements articulated in a request for proposal (RFP) documents, but other “unstated” business needs could arise through deeper investigation.

The “real agenda” behind the need to deploy a new product might be found in the “underlying personal need of a top decision maker,” said Berry.

There could be a genuine intention to boost the bottom line and improve working conditions but there might also be a need for recognition. “Find that hot button and push it. If you do, you’ll find that in some instances, your solutions might take longer or cost more but the client will like it.”

Upset the apple cart
Request for proposals (RFPs) might give you an idea of what businesses want but don’t take it as a commandment written in stone says Don Chapman, a Thornhill, Ont-based business consultant. “There’s always room for change, and you can be the agent of that change.”

He said past experience has shown him that RFPs generally serve to boost the profile of the incumbent provider. “The document is saying ‘this is what we have, it’s good, but can you top it?’”

“I take a different tack. I ask the client how about doing things differently. That strategy immediately differentiates my company and earns us a seat at the table,” Chapman said.

Pick the right person to talk to
 All your preparation won’t be worth a thing if you pitch it to the wrong person.

“Determine who the decision maker and the purse string holder is or at least who has their ears,” when you’re looking to close a deal, advised another business development expert.

Talk to your customer’s customer
There are times when your client doesn’t really know what his or her business needs.

For cases, such as these, it might help to solicit information from your client’s clients. “Your client’s customers are often in the best position to say where the company is excelling and where it needs help,” said Zale Tabakman of the Access Group.

Seek out a partner
You can’t always make it on your own. Be prepared to seek out a collaborator who can offer you help in areas where you might be lacking, advised Feldgajer of ScotiaMcLeod.

He said a partner can help a company differentiate itself from other project candidates by offering a “unique product or solution”.

In the case of the voice recording solution for prisons, Bell provided the strategic advantage of being able to offer free phones, Feldgajer said.

There is no one guaranteed strategy, according to the participants but they all agreed that in a changing environment where “buyers have become as knowledgeable as the seller” turning old ideas on their heads is often necessary.

For instance, Feldgajer said, the single greatest improvement to the lead pencil was to add an eraser on the other end. A device that reversed what the pencil did in the first place.

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