In an economy where unemployment lingers and layoffs continue, technology budgets are frozen and existing business decisions are extended, IT salespeople need their whole company working with them in unison to close business deals. Having held the position of VP of Operations (“Ops”) and the VP of Sales in two different technology INC 500 firms, I have had a unique advantage to see the larger picture on how business deals are proposed and accepted.
The decision process for a technology deal to be technically presented, approved, priced and scheduled by a VP of Ops or any other technical manager, results, at times, in management schizophrenia. On one hand, the VP of Ops wants to generate increased revenue, clear their bench of unused development staff, and be a team player. On the other hand, the VP of Ops seeks to deploy the technology with which his/her group is most experienced (and prefers), wants to generate bonus income, and, many times, feels that the sales department sells everything but their technical core competence. In technology sales, many times the Operations management team may be your biggest competitor.
So, how do you manage Operations when they become your internal competitor?
- Proposal Preparation: When a sales proposal is frozen in motion by waiting for an Ops Department to sign-off, wait no longer than 48 hours. If Ops cannot approve a technical proposal within 48 hours, then the review process (regardless of how big the firm is) is flawed. Approving proposals quickly is a key element in shortening the sales cycle and generating revenue quicker. Every day that the Ops Department delays a proposal from being delivered to a client is a day wasted towards collecting a potential accounts receivable. Quicker proposals usually mean shorter sales cycles and increased cash flow. Additionally, if your team is working on a Request For Proposal (RFP) for a major client, it should take no longer than one week.
- Proposal Rejection: If Ops rejects one of your proposals which is based on technology that your firm has current technical experience in, elevate the decision quickly to your management team. Many times, Ops managers make silo decisions based on their bonus objectives on maintaining a percent of usage (bench utilization/practice type usage) of their programming talent. For example, if your proposal is for Dot Net development and your Dot Net bench utilization is currently 85%, the Ops manager may reject your deal because they want to deploy Content Developers who are only 40% utilized. In this economy, we take all business. If the Ops manager has incorrectly forecasted development manpower usage, don’t let that effect your commissions and quota, or deter revenue for your firm. That’s their problem, not yours. Don’t let Ops make sales decisions.
- Talking Points: When presenting to a client with a technical manager present, make sure you have typed up Talking Points for the technical support staff (and all presenters in the room) to review BEFORE your meeting, so you can control the selling environment. Review your goals for the meeting such as who the key executives are and what the Ops person should and should not say. Additionally, make a list of the top twenty tough questions you may be asked in the meeting and prepare answers for everyone, so your responses are consistent. You’re the technology salesperson. It is your presentation and you must manage the selling environment. Never let an Ops person (regardless of their title) control your sales presentation.
- Managing Management: One way to deal with an Ops department who is not focused on the true goal of the firm (generating revenue) is to help manage management. The key in this economy is to change your Ops management team’s thinking from saying “No, we can’t do it,” to “How can we do it?” Having held the position myself, there is great pressure to “manage staffing and your bench.” Many times, the Ops compensation program is diametrically opposite to producing a cooperative environment to operate with sales in a symbiotic way.
So, how does a technology salesperson “change” an Ops manager when there are other unseen issues used to determine a proposal acceptance or rejection? The first step, regardless of whether you are a Fortune 1000 firm or a 10-person IT company, is to have your facts documented. No one wants you to sell vaporware, but if your firm has a skill set or practice that customers are buying and your firm is not pushing it, then this is a serious management revenue issue.
In a small technology company (under 100 people), Ops sales issues fall on the CEO and the VP of Sales. These people should be your catalyst in working with the Ops Department to get proposals approved. When a problem arises and you have a proposal rejected, your first action should be to sit down with your VP of Sales. The VP of Sales is paid on revenue. They should be strong enough to speak up in executive meetings and address the problem. If your VP of Sales does not come through and you feel you have a valid issue and your facts are accurate, then sit down directly with the VP of Ops yourself to address the subject. If that does not work, then you and your VP of Sales as a team should take a meeting with your CEO. If you are in a larger technology company (over 100 employees), then you need to work through your organizational chart of regional sales managers and regional Ops managers to get this corrected. If you have your facts straight, you should be able to find an in-house champion to help fix the mantra “We can’t do it”.
It is your company’s revenue and your commissions. If your customers want to buy red cars, and your firm has red cars in inventory, stop pushing blue cars just because it makes the manager happy.