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From Salesperson to Trusted Adviser: 3 Tips for Mastering Consultative IT Sales

Adapt sales techniques to thrive in today's changed landscape.

February 23, 2021

7 Min Read
The words Helpful Tips inside a box next to a cartoon megaphone.

By George Hope


George Hope

According to Charles Darwin, it’s not the strongest who survive, but those who are able to adapt and adjust best to a changing environment.

In 2020, we saw this theory tested in the business world, as every company was challenged to consider what technologies, people and skills would help drive progress during such unpredictable times. This is also true for salespeople. Knowing how to sell isn’t nearly enough in today’s world; it’s time to adapt.

In today’s complex, rapidly evolving, noncommoditized IT landscape, customers need guidance from a trusted and objective expert with intimate knowledge of their business; a true, integrated partner who knows the business almost as if they worked within the customer organization.

Adapting for Today’s World

Consultative sales, while always important, is even more vital today as corporate and institutional clients have been forced – quite suddenly – to hasten their once-orderly digital transformations to accommodate work-from-home, emerging market responses and a new set of priorities dictated by the global pandemic.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, companies were grappling with how to survive in highly competitive and consolidated markets, as well as optimize customer experience in the new age of customer service, all while advancing along their digital transformation journeys. Today, these challenges are further compounded by the pandemic economy, and the urgent need to transform existing operations or speed up digital transformation initiatives.

It’s no secret that those who can evolve the most nimbly will survive, but they need the right business partner to do so.

I see today’s CIOs bringing increasingly unique challenges to their vendors and channel partners, from siloed or disaggregated IT departments, difficult time and cost considerations, and smaller IT teams, to difficult choices about moving data and apps to the cloud. Customers are in urgent need of partners who are fully immersed in their business and can facilitate their long-term IT strategy, while remaining agile enough to advise on immediate needs.

As organizations continue to tackle the realities of a rapidly digitalizing world, consultative sales will continue to play a critical role. Here are three tips for mastering a consultative sales strategy heading into 2021.

Talk Money

As capital budgets tighten and competitive solutions are considered, customers are evaluating their investments with an outcome-based approach. Partners should be able to provide figures that point to cost savings and significant economic impact years down the line, demonstrate how solutions will optimize existing investments and point to exactly how it can drive tangible business results.

One recommendation is to work flexibly with the customer’s existing infrastructure, and embrace the shift to new business models. Vendors have a broad set of financial services offerings that channel partners can in turn offer to their customers to ensure they can obtain the solution needed. For example, to drive down costs and more quickly close a deal, customers can leverage a buy-back program and put credit toward a new implementation. When partner salespeople are working side by side with customers and offering creative and flexible financial options, it’s a win-win for everyone.

Pay-per-use IT is another fantastic option, which allows customers to switch capital expenses (capex) for operating expenses (opex), and scale capacity to meet demand. The flexibility that this model provides means customers more easily obtain the IT services they need when they need them, without concerns of vendor lock-in and spiraling costs.

Polish Your Crystal Ball

Predicting the future is easier said than done. But customers need partners who can help them invest smartly for the long haul, not just …

… in putting out today’s fires. It begins with actively listening and staying fully engaged into industry needs and trends.

Channel partners need to shift beyond a features and benefits strategy, and instead demonstrate to the customer the impact of IT throughout the company – the business outcome. Recently, I watched one of our channel partners close a deal after working extremely closely with the CIO of a local county. He had a very specific vision to unite disparate IT departments across the county. What started as just an idea came to life through our channel partner. He was able to illustrate how specific deployments could deliver significant cost savings in a short amount of time, as well as provide the CIO with transparency into usage and capacity across his domain, and ultimately how his organization could deliver value operationally.

When it comes to long-term strategies, many CIOs are challenged to break down siloes of information within their company to advance the larger vision and market direction. This is yet another area where channel partners can elevate to business partners, and help anticipate these needs on a workload level.

An important piece of feedback our channel partners often hear from customers is the value of vertical and industry expertise, such as long-term and hands-on knowledge derived from working with health care organizations, financial services institutions or the public sector. Their systems and technologies are incredibly complex, especially in regard to security and compliance considerations. Customers say, “You can’t fake it,” and channel partners who leverage their vertical and industry knowledge to provide council will see the greatest success.

Learn and Collaborate

Today, vendors offer a broad range of enablement opportunities, learning paths, workshops and more to help partners differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded market.

As the COVID-19 pandemic pushed remote work upon a majority of companies, partners faced an abrupt halt to their traditional “status quo” sales strategy. Now armed with a bevy of digital tools in their sales toolboxes, partners have the resources to continue learning and achieving sales certifications remotely, engage with customers in new and different ways and save time that they previously would have spent travelling.

Most of these offerings are good quality, and high value. What really moves the needle, though, is how a vendor and a channel partner work together. Vendors who invest in enhancing the skills of their employees and partners through the same learning and collaboration opportunities, treating the two communities as one team, can really differentiate themselves. In today’s ever-changing, fragmented business reality, customers need consistency, reliability and simplicity. If a vendor and its partners work as part of the same organization, speaking the same language, and driving success in the same way, customers will more likely see the benefits of partnering with them.

Channel Partners Virtual is back, March 2-4! Check out the session, “An Honest Conversation About How Partners and Vendors Need to Work Together to Win.” Let our top-notch content help you boost your business in 2021. Register now!

Putting It Into Action

2020 was an unprecedented year, requiring the channel to get creative, move out of its comfort zone and embrace agility. I personally watched channel partners evolve their sales strategies to bridge the gap. But the common denominator for success was a consultative approach to sales. Leveraging some of the tips I’ve shared above, I encourage channel partners to add these skills and practices to their sales arsenal so they can adapt, stand out, and thrive in 2021.

George Hope is head of worldwide partner sales for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, where he serves as the global head of partner sales and business development for HPE. He has the responsibility for driving the growth of HPE’s $20 billion partner business as the company accelerates its edge-to-cloud platform-as-a-service strategy. Prior to HPE, George held channel roles at SimpliVity and EMC. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. You may follow him on LinkedIn or @GeorgeHope216 or @HPE on Twitter.

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