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April 22, 2020
By Paul Hunter, Global Channel Chief, HPE
Consultative selling has always been the hallmark of the sales profession in the IT industry and the sales organization. The data explosion that is changing every enterprise has heightened the need for highly knowledgeable partners that decision-makers can trust.
The speed of change needed, combined with the existing complex IT environment and the potential for many new data-driven insights, makes a challenging situation for the IT leaders and the business leaders with whom they collaborate.
It’s time for all of us in the channel world to engage in some self-examination. To ask ourselves, “Are we giving customers the support they need?”
If you’re unsure about the answer, it may be time to revisit the role of your sales team, the people who comprise it, how it is structured and what they can do to transform customer relationships — and ensure recurring sales.
Based on my experience working with channel partners of all sizes and capabilities, let me offer a few suggestions for ensuring your team is well-prepared for IT sales in this new decade:
Broaden your influence. In today’s hybrid IT environment, the users of data —and those who decide how and by whom it will be managed — often extend well beyond the CIO, CTO or CFO. From global behemoths to burgeoning small and midsized businesses, a wide range of influencers have a say in technology purchases and deployments. Thus, it’s wise to take the time to better understand the nuances of a customer’s business and the role IT plays in its success (or failure) and to build new relationships. It’s also important to inform decision-makers as they research their decisions independently of your people. Influencers can include industry analysts, community forums, local government, trade associations and your own website.
Get schooled. New IT solutions, services and capabilities are sprouting everywhere, amplifying the need for dedicated sales training programs to decipher the new technologies and explain their relevance for harried customers eager for solutions. For instance, the growing availability of subscription, pay-per-use and consumption-driven offerings is giving customers intriguing options that can reduce capital costs, redeploy IT staff and accelerate time to market.
With consumption, customers can use IT and infrastructure more efficiently. But this is a relatively new business model for many so they’ll have plenty of questions to ask and misconceptions to overcome.
Consequently, there is also a teaming approach to working with your vendors and you have another question to ask yourself: Are your vendors offering the requisite training and materials to enable you to enlighten your customers, and close the right deals for them? If not, urge them to do better – or perhaps you should seek other vendors who offer a more complete package of pertinent insights.
Listen hard. You already know this, but in these transformative times, this reminder bears sharing: Too often in sales, we enter the conversation with a view on what the customer wants rather than really listening. The word I am hearing a lot is “simplicity.” Simplify what you are doing and how you are doing it. In a world where great skills are in short supply and high demand, help make our processes and systems simpler. Listening is a skill that takes practice. Many of you will have seen the basketball video where you are asked to count the passes, only to miss the interception that happens. Active listening takes the same concentration to keep the mind clear of our own thoughts, to hear what our customers are trying to tell us. But with the right investment in education, modern salespeople have a chance to earn the trust of their clients through their expertise.
Several channel partners I work with have undergone this sort of self-assessment, leading to changes — often subtle, sometimes dramatic — in how they conduct business. One fast-growing partner has pivoted, altering its business model to enable pursuit of a broader range of sales opportunities. This has required them to focus less on being “salespeople” and more on becoming “great listeners” with the knowledge to advise prospects on how technology can efficiently drive business outcomes.
And part of their own evolution has involved hiring data-savvy experts with a wider range of expertise beyond the vertical markets they serve. They found that, in some instances, changing the profile of their sales team was a better option than trying to change how existing salespeople sell. To help facilitate this transition, vendors will need to invest in partner sales and technical enablement programs, together with the tools to help salespeople advise their clients, create opportunities based on data insights already gleaned and build collaboration within an ecosystem.
This era is one of the most transformative times in the (relatively) short history of IT. The channel is playing, and will continue to play, a critical role as organizations tackle the realities of our digitized world. And channel partners who do so with determination, agility, expertise, the right listening skills and a customer-centric mindset are sure to thrive amid changing times.
Paul Hunter is global channel chief for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the global edge-to-cloud platform-as-a-service company that helps organizations accelerate outcomes by unlocking value from their data, everywhere. The channel accounts for about 70% of HPE’s annual sales. Follow Hunter on Twitter @pmhunter1969 or @HPE.
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