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Sales Tips: When to Make “Ugly Calls”

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

As a salesperson one of my best customers was a large insurance company in downtown Boston. Their CIO was an astute businessman who wasn’t very current with technology. He depended upon his staff to handle technical details. The company had two IBM mainframes whose performance was bottlenecked because processor memory (Bill still referred to it as “core”) was maxed out. This meant that programs had to be paged out of memory to disk drives that were orders of magnitude, slower devices and significantly increased user response times.

At the time, upgrading a processor was a seven-figure decision.

buyer meeting

I met with Bill and discussed the potential of using a device that could address the performance issues immediately and allow the company to defer processor upgrades for at least a year. I asked if he would consider it. He said he would and wanted to know the estimated cost. I shared with him that it would be $250K per processor. He quickly realized the short-term performance benefits would more than offset the cost. The ability to defer purchasing new mainframes that were trending to be cheaper with future announcements made the decision a financial slam-dunk. He then asked me to schedule a call with to Tom, his technical guru, who was by far the smartest person in the organization.

The business case had been made and now it was time for a technical evaluation of my offering.

I brought my top Systems Engineer for the meeting with Tom that lasted about two hours. He wanted to know specs of the auxiliary storage, how it would be supported by IBM’s Operating System (it emulated an IBM disk drive), approximately how much response times would be improved, etc. While I was fairly competent technically, there were blocks of time when they could have been speaking a foreign language. I did my best to understand the gist of the conversation.

At the end of the meeting Tom told us he wanted to run some things past members of his staff but he was comfortable that it was a device that would certainly allow them to address the performance issues and therefore would make IT’s life easier because they could deliver end users the better response times they wanted.

Within a week I had an order for one unit and a commitment that if it performed as advertised they wanted a second unit (which they installed).

ugly sales callsWhen selling technology or any complicated offering it is often necessary to have what I refer to as “ugly” calls.

By that I mean that they are highly product-focused. User-level staff that will be impacted will want to know things about offerings that even salespeople can’t be expected to know. I sometimes refer to ugly calls as “mind-melds” between technical staff of the prospect/customer and vendor.

I believe a seller’s quality of life (and win rate) will be significantly better if executive calls are made to establish potential value so that ugly calls can be deferred until a later time.

It amounts to executing top-down vs. bottom-up buying cycles.

Oddly enough, both buyers and sellers stand to benefit because there will be no need to take the technical staff’s time if a business case can’t be built.

Buyers and sellers are both beneficiaries when agreeing to defer ugly calls.