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Why You Should Stop Selling Telepresence!

January 15, 2010 | Howard Lichtman
Here is an interesting article on selling telepresence from Jim Hays, CEO of The Aspire Group which provides sales force development for the Cisco Ecosystem of partners. The wisdom contained within could apply to any telepresence solutions. Thanks to Telepresence Sales Ronin Seth Borus for bringing it to my attention - HSL 

Why You Should Stop Selling Telepresence!
By Jim Hays, CEO - The Aspire Group

Jim_Hays_Aspire.jpgTelepresence has become a very hot market with a deluge of tough competitors looking to de-throne Cisco from its top market share position. According to ABI Research, the telepresence market is expected to exceed $2.5 billion USD by 2013. These days, almost everybody is out there pushing telepresence.

Precisely because of the fact that everybody is out there pushing telepresence is why you should stop.

Have we lost our marbles? Why in the world would we encourage you to stop selling telepresence?

Please allow us to explain the reasoning behind this seemingly absurd statement.

Your sales efforts can be divided in to two camps, Demand Generation and Demand Reaction. They are both relevant, and they both deserve an appropriate percentage of your two most precious selling resources, time and talent.

Demand Generation is where your prospect has no real understanding of your offerings or why they might need them. On the other hand, Demand Reaction occurs when the prospect believes that they already know what they need. Their intent is to just to acquire it from somebody.

In either a Demand Generation or a Demand Reaction opportunity, you will need to be perceived as being relevant and differentiated in order to make the sale. Success in Demand Generation opportunities is primarily about being relevant. Success in Demand Reaction opportunities is primarily about being differentiated. In the overwhelming majority of cases, leading with your products or services simply isnt going to help you be perceived as either relevant or differentiated.

One of the big challenges in your Demand Generation efforts is getting to the executives who actually have the mojo needed to create a budget when it doesnt already exist. However, there is an even bigger challenge for those of us who live our daily lives in the thrilling, ever-changing world of technology. That challenge is to stop talking about our really cool tech toys, and instead help those executives see for themselves that they could achieve their goals, solve their problems, or meet their needs if the organization had some kind of new or improved capabilities.

Why focus on someone who can actually create a budget? Because most organizations will not budget for something that they do not know they need. For many organizations, telepresence still falls in that category. Why focus on their capabilities instead of leading with your telepresence offerings? Because non-IT executives are typically not interested in what your product is. However, they might be interested in what they could do differently or better if they had some of the capabilities that Cisco TelePresence can enable.

An unfortunate side-effect of leading with your product or service is that it will make most non-IT executives shut down and quickly delegate you right back down to know, the ones with no budget for what you are trying to push.

What will help you be perceived as relevant to non-IT executives is your ability to bring them new ideas or concepts (not your products or services, because IT or Procurement are the departments who look at those things) that would enable them achieve their desired business outcomes.

We can hear the objections already. Yes, but Cisco TelePresence is different! When we just show them the demo, they get it instantly. They have to experience it first.

Here is the problem with the demo-done-too-early approach...yes, even for Cisco TelePresence.

That demo early approach did indeed work pretty darn well with the Early Adopters who have been doing most of the buying over the past few years. (Please reference Geoffrey Moores work on the Technology Adoption Life Cycle depicted below.)

The problem now is that most of the Early Adopters have already bought. The market for telepresence is "crossing the chasm". We now find ourselves selling to a different type of buyer, one that Moore classified as the Early Majority or The Pragmatists.

We are seeing a growing trend around the world where a telepresence demo is done with top management (sometimes even with the CEO), but then the sales cycle quickly stalls out, or worse yet, comes to a screeching halt. Why? Because Pragmatists don't respond nearly as well to the "spray and pray" style of selling that is more likely to be tolerated by the Early Adopter buyers.

The problem with this approach is that we are hoping that the customer "sees the light" and is able to make the connection between our telepresence offerings and their desired business outcomes.

Pragmatist buyers need to have a compelling business case laid out for them before they will buy. They have trouble translating technology in to business value. Their business case must be proven much more rigorously with all of the risk/reward aspects spelled out in greater detail. This requires a comprehensive business case, not just the typical, overly simplistic "it will cut down on your travel costs" kind of ROI study.

Now, let's talk about Demand Reaction opportunities. This is where the non-IT executives have already determined what they think they need to achieve their goals, solve their problems, or meet their needs. Now they have instructed IT to research, procure, and implement it.

The good news here? There is a budget!

The bad news? The business justification has already been made and IT (or worse yet, someone in the Procurement or Purchasing departments) will tend to make their recommendation based on a product feature and price matrix.

This is really bad if you are Cisco salesperson, and even worse if you are one of Cisco's many TelePresence partners. So where will your differentiation come from now that it has come down to product and price?

Just in case you haven't noticed yet, having it all come down to product and price is exactly where Cisco's competitors love to operate. Almost all of them will tout more features, lower bandwidth requirements, and a cheaper price!

So after we have "done the demo", the IT types will go out and shop every other product in the market, and put the features and prices in a spreadsheet. Their goal is to prove to management that they can save the company money (because that is what "good IT people" do) by recommending a cheaper, full 1080p alternative to Cisco's "overpriced" TelePresence systems that need all of that expensive bandwidth. (We don't make this stuff up, folks! Surf through the tech blogs and read what they have to say.)

Here is our recommendation. Whether you work for Cisco or one of its TelePresence partners, the biggest differentiation you have in today's marketplace is not what you sell, but how you sell it. Stop selling telepresence and start helping your customers see how they can achieve the business objectives that they have established for their organization. Facilitate their ability to see for themselves how improvements in their collaboration culture, processes, and technologies can enable them to achieve those objectives.

So what does it look like in the real world when we are taking this more enlightened approach to selling?

You notice during your preliminary research on a prospect's business that the CEO has recently proclaimed to the financial analyst community that they are going to reduce new product development lifecycles by thirty percent. You decide that this is your big chance to "stop selling telepresence". Instead, you decide to engage in an exchange of ideas with the executive outside of IT who has been tasked with delivering that particular outcome for the company. Turns out that she was actually pretty interested in hearing your ideas on how they might be able to achieve that goal.

Instead of selling telepresence, you guided her through a discussion where she could see for herself how changes in culture, process, and technology could actually enable them to communicate and collaborate faster and more effectively with their internal employees, suppliers, vendors, partners, and customers.

By the end of the meeting, she was explaining to you how those improvements in communication and collaboration would enable them to get compelling new products to market faster and ultimately achieve their overall growth and profitability targets. As a result of the trust that you built with her through your careful listening and thought-provoking questions, she was willing to share some additional business objectives with you that were not being made public yet.

After the meeting, you realized that you not only generated an opportunity to have them buy Cisco TelePresence, you were able to set the competitive bar higher than the traditional point-product vendors would ever be able to cross.

Your executive contact began to see that having the organization achieve its business outcomes would require much more than buying some point products. You helped her illustrate to the rest of the executive management team that they needed a more holistic approach if they were ever going to successfully integrate their business and IT strategies in order to achieve their new time-to-market goals. Your approach to "selling" not only made you more relevant to the business; your competitive differentiation went through the roof as well.

As you can already see for yourself, doing it right is less about selling and more about enabling your customers to buy the products and services they need to succeed in their markets. If you do this well, your customers will quickly see for themselves why they need almost your entire portfolio of product and services offerings, not just Cisco TelePresence.

What could be more fun (and profitable) than that?

[via Aspire Group]


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