Teaching the ABCs of Business
Guide: Jump Starting Technical Sales
                 By John D. Collins

Businesses making business to business (B2B) technical sales often have problems with having enough capable and motivated sales people to profitably grow the business.  For this article, B2B technical sales are sales made to customers involving technical products or services, usually sold, planned, delivered, or serviced by positions requiring a special technical knowledge, training, or expertise.  Such technical sales positions could include: engineers, mechanics, chemists, technicians, tradesmen, licensed professionals, or any job requiring technical training.

The owner is usually the best spokesperson or salesman for the organization.  Often he or she has technical training or experience.  When a salesman needs to be added due to business growth, viable candidates need to be identified.  Candidates for sales positions can come from inside or outside the business.  Avoid candidates who do not have sufficient technical expertise to discuss technical problems intelligently with your customer’s decision makers or candidates who cannot apply technical expertise to solve customer problems.   If your sales positions prove their expertise and provide value, sales will follow.

Candidates should also be motivated to serve others, be organized, have good communication skills, and are willing to learn.  Sales experience is a plus.  To avoid confusion, expectations for your sales positions must be documented and shared in a written position description. Candidates from outside the organization can be found by networking, studying your competitors, advertising the position, screening online databases, such as monster.com, contracting with agencies, etc.  A good written position description will clarify expectations and qualifications for the position.
Candidates from within the organization

Candidates forming this group fall into two categories, one, current sales people who have the technical skills but don’t use them to the fullest (to create value) and 2) technicians who interact positively with customers but who are reluctant to make sales.  The challenge with candidates from your current employees is to take their technical skills and knowledge (strengths or things that they already like to do) and turn them into sales tools that can create or demonstrate value to your prospects and customers.   Once you show this second group how they can use their technical strengths to make sales, resistance to becoming a sales professional will go away.  In effect you will be giving them new ways to use their strengths, not trying to teach them a completely new body of sales skills and knowledge.   Some of these technicians may require a gentle nudge into the sales arena.  Additional sales training and sales tools may be required to make both groups feel truly comfortable in their sales roles and productive effective sales associates.
Completing the transition from technician to sales professional

To provide a philosophy and format for this training, we will use the concept of value selling.  Value selling is providing the customer with perceived (from the customer’s point of view) value in all that you do or provide.   Customers select your products, services, and organization because of the value they deliver (benefits for the price).  Everyone and everything in your business should contribute to this value and support the price you must charge to deliver the value.  Your quality and range of products and services contribute to this value.  Your suppliers contribute to this value.  Your business office, customer service staff, and return policies contribute to this value.  Your technical staff and knowledge contributes to this value.  All must contribute to creating value for your customers, even your technical sales staff.

Once your sales trainees have been selected from the above groups, you must train them about how they can deliver value.   Remember if your sales staff demonstrates value, they become the “solutions” to your customer’s technical problems and sales will follow.  Identify ways that they can create and demonstrate value when in front of your customers.  The following are suggestions that can be used for teaching value selling to those new to making technical sales, as well as, to sales positions, who may require “jump starting” (retraining or redirection):
Create Value by Being A “Technical Problem Solver”
When approaching a customer or prospect, you should first listen to their self-identified technical problems or related issues (needs).  After a brief discussion (let them talk and you respond on their level), you should offer (insist) on conducting a quick but thorough, visual survey of their operation to identify or confirm any observable technical related issues or problems.   If this is an initial visit with a prospect you may ask, “What is your toughest technical problem or problems?”  Note: Being able to solve tough problems would mean instant credibility.
* Create Value by Identifying and Educating Clients About Their Problems

Your sales people must explain, to the prospect or customer, the significance of any technical related problem or opportunity uncovered.  Identify any “urgent” condition that exists due to actual technical related problems identified. Explain the problem(s) so that the customer is informed.  Use informational materials, pictures, or samples as needed. 
Also use this opportunity to “educate” them about problems identified (list examples, etc).  You are at the client’s facility to prevent bad things from happening or to document those that do.  At times, you must be insistent to bring the client or prospect to the point that they can truly understand and appreciate the need.
* Create Value by Presenting and Educating Clients About Technical Solutions

You are the PROBLEM SOLVER!  Present solutions to problems identified above or to any other opportunity identified. Don’t be shy about expressing the true importance or even the urgency of the solving the needs identified.   Point out the benefits of doing business with you the problem solver.  These may include: capable technical related services, timely project completion, quality support, great technical assistance backup provided by our company, etc.  Describe how our technical related products and your services best fit their needs.  Use written materials to illustrate your points.  If the customer’s budget doesn’t permit all options or products at this time, prioritize the items that are most important.  Return later to sell them the rest.
* Create Value by Quantifying the Financial Impact of Problems or Solutions Identified

Quantify the realistic losses that the customer may be incurring due to the identified problems or benefits. Loss prevention and identifiable cost savings are key.  Losses are caused by production shut downs, rework, nonconforming products being produced, etc.  Use loss-estimating tools to quantify these.  Quantify benefits or savings of the various technical solutions you are offering, such as labor savings, energy savings, etc.  Also if you can, offer customers payment terms that best fit their needs and financing options.  If their budget doesn’t permit the purchase of a full refurbishment, prioritize and sell them the components and services that are most important.  Follow up with them at a set date in the future to add remaining or additional components.  Also explain the benefits of annual inspections and preventative maintenance if appropriate.
* Create Value by Promoting the Company’s Image

Whether the customer buys today or not, thank them for their time and attention.  Stress again that the resources of our Company, our vendors, our skilled technicians, our office staff and technical support staff, and especially you the “Technical Problem Solver” are readily available to assist them in solving their technical needs.  Our customer service stands out.   “Our Sales People find new customers and our Customer Services and Technical Support Staff keep them”.  If the sales associate is known as the “problem solver”, customers will call them with their technical related needs.  Sales will follow.  Remember to also ask our customers, “Are there any other technical services that you have difficulty in obtaining?”  Also remember to ask for referrals, “Is there anyone you know, who needs our technical products or services?”
Final Thoughts:

If you are short external applicants for vacant technical sales positions, consider hiring or developing them from within.   Requiring your technical sales staff to deliver value will allow them to convert technical strengths into sales strengths.  They will be more at ease when making sales calls.  Technicians, who have perhaps been reluctant to making sales in the past, now will be willing to accept the challenge.   With practice, many will become very successful at it.   The sales staff you develop from within will be more loyal and familiar with how you do business.   This will create a win-win situation for the business and participating employees.

Develop and use training material, based on value selling, with all positions making technical sales for the company.

Your new sales staff must remember to ask for sales.  Once they have them they should remember to shut up.  Sales have been lost when a salesman keeps on talking and then possibly introduces negatives into the sales equation.

Another way of demonstrating value is by conducting surveys or audits for your customers.  You may charge for your surveys or audits to cover the time it took to conduct them.  This also helps to quantify the cost or value these represent.  You may also choose to “write off” or discount the survey fee from future sales to the customer.

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