Hoover’s Connects With IT for Better B-to-B Sales
If you're selling and marketing to information technology professionals, you need to be able to talk the talk. If you can't prove you're conversant at their level, you'll have no credibility—and no shot at closing the sale.
"You need to be able to answer questions about how your product or solution will meet their business needs," says Stephen Bergmann, senior product marketing manager of Hoover's.
How can you get IT street cred and build a rapport with the technology professionals who will ultimately help approve and implement your solution? Bergmann offers some thoughts on how Hoover's has connected with IT pros to market its Application Programming Interface (API) products.
Get an engineer on board.
Bergmann notes that, when selling to IT, having a sales manager and a sales engineer making the sales call helps build the relationship.
"The sales engineer gets the technology side in the room, and helps the salesperson concentrate on the business side," he says. "The engineer can help resolve technical implementation issues and help the salesperson understand [the prospect's needs]."
Keep in mind that IT answers to multiple masters.
The technology audience is challenging because it tends to be highly intelligent and a bit jaded, Bergmann says. And he notes that a big part of the challenge is that IT professionals answer to multiple masters.
"It can be a huge opportunity, as well as a huge challenge," he says. "When you're IT, you have to take orders from sales, marketing, legal, the product team—it's all across the board and they all have different needs and programs."
IT teams are often faced with a part of their constituency coming to them with a solution that they've decided is the best answer to their particular problem—before they've talked it over with IT to see if it works with other internal systems. This doesn't always get a vendor off on the right foot with IT.
"You need to be aware that IT is one of the decision makers," says Bergmann. "And they're trying to juggle a lot of balls at the same time on a tight budget. A salesperson could be perceived as the enemy because another part of the organization brought him into the discussion."
Be aware that IT will implement your solution.
"Even if you're selling primarily to sales and marketing, if IT is going to have to implement something, they're going to have something to say about it," says Bergmann. You need to remember that IT is always in the room.
Of course, thanks to tools like iPads and iPhones being brought into organizations, and marketers turning to SaaS vendors like Salesforce, the influence of IT is eroding a bit. This means IT is forced to be more reactive than in the past.
"They're on their heels a bit, so you don't want to push them back," Bergmann says. "You need to bring them into the fold—you'll get a lot faster sales that way."
Get IT in the loop early.
About 18 months ago, Hoover's launched its API product to help businesses supply Hoover's business information to their internal technology platforms. Bergmann notes that when a company is identified as a good candidate for API, his first instinct is to get the developers on the phone to see what other issues his company's products could solve. Of course, when a solution applies to different parts of the organization, you do have the selling point of being able to solve multiple problems with a single bullet—but there will be more scrutiny.
"One thing we find is that while Hoover's is traditionally brought to the table by marketing or sales, they're ultimately dependent on IT to implement," he says. "We want to make sure all the parties involved are happy with a solution—the last thing I want to do is sell a product to a company that doesn't have the bandwidth to implement, and then they don't renew next year."
Bergmann notes that he'd much rather lose a sale if the product isn't right for the customer. But he admits that it can be a challenge to convince a salesperson to walk away from a sale.
"They need to understand that the sale isn't renewable," he says. "But salespeople can be short-term thinkers—they have quotas that they have to hit on a regular basis or they're in trouble. We need to show them the longer sales cycle and that this [sale] won't help them down the road."
In one instance, a salesperson misinterpreted what a customer wanted and didn't realize the customer needed a data point that the product didn't yet offer. The salesperson didn't want to lose the sale, and came to Bergmann's team for help. It turned out the data point was available, but hadn't yet been rolled out. "We were able to do it in a few weeks, and make the sale [relevant] to a broader number of people in the organization," he says.