You moving forward or paralyzed with fear?

Are you moving forward, “Sempre avanti”; or paralyzed with fear?

I am reading the book The Winter Army: The World War 2 Odyssey of the 10th Mountain Division. The division unit’s motto was “Sempre avanti”, or “Always forward”. It served to be quite useful when they were under heavy fire, scared out of their wits.

They had a choice: stay still and certainly not achieve their objectives and die, or to build strength from each other and advance up the hill.

“Sempre avanti” may be very appropriate during these uncertain times for us warriors in the enterprise technology and technology services market segment.

Mark Birch, the founder of the Enterprise Sales Forum, is brilliant in demonstrating Sempre avanti with his release of the below newsletter on “How to sell to developers”. Why brilliant? He:

  1. Keeps moving forward
  2. Is adapting with a temporary digital substitute for their typical in-person meet-ups
  3. Provides content that is truly of value to his audience

I found his behavior and content to be inspiring. You may too.

Enterprise Sales Forum Newsletter March 17, 2020View in your browser“Filter everything you’re doing, saying and pitching through the customer point of view, and you’ll improve just about every metric you care about today.”
Matt Heinz

*****Corporate decks in the B2B enterprise software world can be legendary.  By legendary, I mean not in a good way, like the one at Siebel. It was not the longest deck, but there were a few slides in particular that triggered audiences.

I was a sales engineer at the time on the team selling to Wall Street banks. I was still onboarding, so I would tag along with account executives on calls. It was the policy to present the corporate pitch, and at this one meeting, we got to the slide touting our 400 screens, 1700 views, and 4000 tables.

The senior bank MD stopped the account executive mid-sentence and said,” Why the f*ck do I care about 400 screens? I want one screen, or no trader is going to use it!”

It was then that I learned the importance of know your audience, or KYA.

As sales professionals, how often are we guilty of doing a throw up and pitch session? We have a prepared deck and demo ready to present and we fight with prospects over the content under the assumption that we know more than they do. We certainly know about the product but are definitely handicapped when it comes to understanding their situation.

We also make false assumptions about our audience in meetings. We rely on caricatures of the people we meet. We often do not appreciate the subtle differences in roles and work environments that vary widely across organizations, companies, industries, and regions.

Take software developers for example. They have different disciplines and skills. Some focus on back-end while others do front-end. Some are integration specialists, others work on infrastructure. Some prefer weekends at hackathons, others enjoy different hobbies.
 The first rule you need to understand about selling to developers is you do not sell to developers.
This is the reality of how developers “buy” today.  Developers have little patience for qualifying questions, sales decks and demos. Their first goal of the buyer’s journey is to see how quickly they can get rid of the salesperson and get to people that know stuff.

The enlightened organizations that focus on developers as their key audience learned this a long time ago. The founders of these companies were developers at one point, so they modeled their developer outreach in the same way they prefer to engage with companies about new products. They focused on openness and giving.

The open source movement is a marvel in technology innovation and value creation. Most of the world’s websites operate on Linux, which is open source software, and a majority of companies are now actively using open source in their commercial products. In turn it has spawned a massive industry and changed the way companies and developers use software. Open for developers means free access to software, at least initially before buying anything.

In turn, the open source movement accelerated other behavior, the willingness of developers to help each other out. This existing in the days of bulletin boards and ICQ where developers would ask questions, help others, and share code. Today that is manifest in sites like GitHub and Stack Overflow. Developers expect the same level of help and sharing from the companies whose products they use.

This leaves salespeople is a difficult position though. You probably cannot answer tech questions. You could probably provide access to a sandbox environment or software download, but the added hassle of talking to a salesperson probably does not help build rapport and trust with developers.

If you work at an enlightened company that understands developers, they already figured out how to address openness and giving. They readily give free access, sandboxes, and documentation for developers. Some go the extra step of creating API and SDK galleries to showcase the integration and flexibility of their technology.

When developers have questions, there is a team of developer advocates to ask. Really good developer advocate teams “sell” the product without ever selling. All they do is show developers how to use the product from the customer perspective. Developer advocates can be seen giving talks at conferences, attending hackathons, blogging and tweeting, and generally being helpful to anyone that needs help.

Why have salespeople then at all? It’s because eventually developers will want to buy your product. Once the developers see the value of solution, they will then reach out to people inside their company to initiate a purchase. This is where the skills of a salesperson come into play, because now the developers will need to create a business case and convince stingy layers of management to allocate budget for your product. 

What you do early on in the buyer’s journey will greatly influence whether you get to the “let’s buy stage”. If you followed along this far, you realize that pushing your sales process, your deck, and your canned demo is not going to fly. You also realize answering technical questions is not going to work. Developers see right through the fact you don’t know what you are taking about.

Let me walk you through a different sales process then, one where you will adjust your role from Connector to Explorer to Director as you get deeper into the opportunity.When you first contact developers, you want to be the Connector. You connect developers directly with sources of information and people such as subject matter experts (SME’s) that can answer product questions. This requires being a good listener and understanding objections as they come up. Be involved in conversations and help or share content when pertinent. Be wary of sharing marketing related content, developers are seeking to learn, not read marketecture. You want to keep a light level of engagement but be valuable when you do engage so you build up trust as developers move to testing & using the product.As the evaluation progresses, you want to become an Explorer. In anticipation for a buying opportunity, you are researching the company to learn about key initiatives, how budget is allocated, who are the influencers and power centers. You are also building relationships within management and leadership because eventually they will be involved. At the point that the conversation moves from exploration to buying interest, you want to become the Director. While you may not be equipped to talk about technology, you are the expert when it comes to managing and closing a deal. Because you already did your research and made connections, this is not the first time decision makers are hearing about your product and the value it provides. The difference is now you have developers helping internally to usher a deal through.From Connector to Explorer to Director, this is the sales motion that I have seen succeed when developers are your end users. However, I would make the case that this should be the way most software is sold, especially anything SaaS or Cloud related. Buyers are looking for more flexibility and transparency in the buying process. For developers though, this is the only way to sell to them successfully.

Be safe, stay healthy, rock on! Mark Birch
Enterprise Sales Forum

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