STEP 1: Create the Need
Salesman Ben Feldman summarizes beautifully the critical clinching aspect of selling a system. He points out that "you make the sale when the prospect understands that it will cost more to do nothing about the problem than to do something about it". With this in mind, both the system builders and the system advocates must assemble the case utilizing either the most effective form of cost benefit analysis available, or by precisely identifying the strategic business reasons for the development effort. Once these system building justifications have been clearly defined, it becomes very important to answer the following questions:
Until these questions have been satisfactorily answered, a high risk of proposal rejection still remains present. Sometimes the logic behind the development request may make an incredible amount of sense on paper, but when the executives eventually talk to the day-to-day business people who will have to live with the results, they may encounter a high level of doubt and uneasiness. Many times, this alone is enough to stop the proposal dead in its tracks. After all, if the business clients don't want the system changes, why spend the money?
Instead of letting this happen, the business clients should be given the opportunity to participate as part of the group which is actively selling the development effort. Champions and system builders have a tendency to want to go straight to the top first, then convince the masses later. This may work in some situations, but selling the business clients first, and then going to the executives with full organizational support has a much greater impact.
In order to make this happen, a team effort should be employed throughout the proposal creation process. This group should have a adequate organizational representation, and its work should be grounded in a carefully crafted understanding of the current system needs and the projected system development benefits. This unified vision of what needs to be accomplished directs the decision maker's focus more on the tangible financial rewards, and the intangible productivity benefits, and away from the diminished resistance to change concerns. All of this sets the stage for the proposal presentation.
STEP 2: Present the Idea
Both before, and during, the system proposal presentations, keep the following sales effectiveness ideas in mind:
STEP 3: Solidify with the Benefits
Before preparing the financials, take a long, serious look at all of the projected costs and the resulting benefits. At this point, a high level work hours estimate and the resulting projected budget should be available. Another helpful sales tool which complements these materials is a financial analysis of what it will cost not to address the specific business problems. If an organization is experiencing real pain, which in turn translates into real costs, the sales process can begin to take on a sense of genuine urgency. All of these should serve to reinforce and justify the cost of the project.
One key consideration is to make sure that the analysis is done from the executive's point of view. All of the financial aspects should be presented in a business format suitable to facilitating the decision process. Visual graphics, supported by high level financial statements, assist the decision makers in reaching clear-cut conclusions (either positive or negative) during the presentation. In most cases it is best to start with the bottom line price, then work back to how it was determined. This answers the decision maker's most important question right up front, and he or she is then in a better position to help make the project a reality as the group works through the related costs.
Next, tie the proposals directly to the beneficial effects on the organization. These tend to be the intangible benefits, and they carry much less weight as a form of project justification. Clearing up real pain is much more easily accepted than providing the organization with a "nice to have" system. None the less, these benefits should be highlighted during the presentation as additional support for the proposal.
One thing systems builders (and sponsors and advocates) fail to recognize is when to quit selling! If the decision is reached early in the process to go ahead with the system, stop selling and start planning! The same points can still be reviewed, but do it in the spirit of confirmation and planning. It is still possible to actually unsell the idea! Once the system has been approved, it is time to move into the sales wrap-up.
STEP 4: Wrap-up the sale
Finally, reach a mutual conclusion, finalize the agreed upon actions, and define a timetable for the next steps. All of this information should be recorded in the form of a project charter. This document should represent the project mission agreement in terms of:
Many organizations go so far as to refer to this document as a project contract. If produced by a consulting or contracting firm, this document literally would represent a legally binding agreement. The point here is that if the company, through its executives, is willing to finance and support a either systems building or an acquisition effort - the high level understanding between the business sponsors and the system builders should be recorded. This not only puts clear accountability into the process, but it also makes the outcome of the effort measurable and specific.
The Honeymoon Begins!
Many system builders think that once the approval has been given to proceed with the project, no more consideration needs to be given to "selling the system". The project has already been sold, right? Let's get on with it and create something which will sell itself at the end. Unfortunately, this can prove to be a career limiting assumption. System building is a continuous negotiation and sales process. Simply ignoring this reality will not make it go away. A professional caliber system builder must always looking for opportunities to "resell" the teams efforts. Why?