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Software Sales and Serendipity

Just before Christmas I chanced to sit next to one of the UK’s best software sales professionals, Andrew McIntyre. He and some colleagues invested in a failing company Datum International which has now phoenixed into the fast growing UK company Ideagen, due to the sales success the company flourished, floated on the London stock exchange and now employs hundreds of people.

Andrew credits this growth to intelligent lead generation. He noted that startups often use the wrong type of marketing. He questioned the effectiveness of unsolicited mailshots, social media, and PR. Andrew smiled and said, “We’ve perfected a way to talk to the right people effectively and quickly,” utilizing a sales technique he’d learned from MIT lecturer, Jeff Hoffman.

Andrew elaborated, explaining that it didn’t matter what type of software you sold, the principle and process is always the same. Discover what problem a business faces, clarify how your software solves the problem then pitch the value to a decision maker with purchasing power.

To explain the psychology behind his killer technique, Andrew gave me a background on corporate structure and decision making.

At the top of a company is the C-suite; C-level executives are all in the senior management team e.g. CEO, CFO, COO, CTO etc.

Below them sit, what Andrew calls, the “C-mores”; these are middle-managers who often aren’t aware of the burning problems and lack the authority and influence to make an important decision or purchase. Regardless, they will try to maintain an illusion of importance by always asking to “See More”.

The third level in an organisation is composed of the users that will actually adopt the software in their day-to-day work.

Most marketing utilizes a scatter-gun approach, trying to reach users and middle managers first and then fighting up to the top of an organisation. This is often ineffective. Andrew advocates contacting the C-level directly. He believes that sales decisions will happen much faster and on a greater scale if they come down from the top of the organisational pyramid.

The key obstacle in this direct approach is reaching those top decision makers. Their time is precious, which is why they have personal assistants and gate-keepers. There are five things that C-level executives really care about:

  1. Shareholder value

  2. Projects they are responsible for

  3. Bank account balances

  4. Senior leadership team

  5. Family and friends

To get through the gatekeeper, you must be relevant in one of these areas. Relevance is the key. Relevance drives C-level executives. If you can identify a problem that an organisation has, and explain how you will solve it, then you’re not a spammy sales person, you are relevant. Even if you have no track record, you can be relevant, and that is enough to build a relationship with the head of an organisation.

After he’d given me the background information, Andrew started to dig into the real framework, explaining step-by-step how the process works.

“Firstly, you have to identify your target customer. You need to know that your software will provide value to them by solving a problem. This requires research” Andrew explained that nearly all companies want to tell the world how great they are and are constantly producing content-- content which often comes directly from the CEO, e.g. quarterly reports, video interviews, and conference speeches. Reviewing this information can allow you to find tangible examples of how your product is relevant for their company. You can then reference this company-produced content to support your value-added claims. Other useful sources of information include news articles about the company, league tables, and industry reports-- all of which can highlight problems that a company has and allow you to frame your product as the solution.

So the first step is to identify a target company and can show them how you are relevant.

Link what you do to a problem they are facing, not everyone needs the software you sell.

This is done by taking a piece of information unique to the target company and referencing it to show how you can solve their problem. This example or case study of your relevance should be sent directly to the C level executive. The format should be very simple and brief e.g.

“Dear C level executive,

I was interested to read about X that recently happened to your company. In this situation Y normally happens. We have solution Z that is highly relevant. Who would you suggest I contact to discuss our product?”

It is vital to keep this short and simple. No links, no PDF attachment. You demonstrate your relevance, by highlighting a problem, your solution and then creating an action step to get things done. C level executives LOVE to get stuff done, they want to tick things of their list, they get a buzz when they clear an email. You’ve crafted a little reward for them by making it super easy for them to introduce you to the relevant person in their organisation.

If you’ve done a good job showing your relevance it is highly likely that you will get a response introducing you to someone else within the organisation. E.G. “Speak to Robert about this.”

As soon as a response email is received you should call the C level executive. This may require you getting around a gate keeper, they can usually be bypassed easily by explaining that you’ve just received an email from the executive and you need to call to just to ask one question.

This question is key. Once through to the executive you should use a simple script like this: “Hi Executive thanks, so much for responding to my email. I just need to ask one question. Why Robert?”. This clarifies that they are introducing you to the correct person and crucially keeps up momentum. Remember C levels LOVE people who get things done. If you are incredibly lucky, then and there on the phone the C level will ask. “What is it that you do?” This is ideal, it’s your chance to pitch directly to the most important decision maker!

This technique is designed to avoid spam marketing and get sales meetings with decision makers. It’s important to stay professional and give yourself credibility. This can be done by saying who you are already working with, but it is best achieved by not sending spam emails!

It is foolish to pretend to know people, or to guess their email addresses or names. If you’re struggling to get the contact details of a C level executive then phone the sales team in their company. Salespeople know how difficult it can be to get things done and are most likely to be sympathetic and give you the information that you need. Try simply saying. “I am trying to get an email to the CEO can you help?”.

To make these emails work they take time and research. You should aim to do one or two really good ones each week. Don’t worry about negotiating through emails, if you have a good value proposition the aim is simply to get the meeting, when they know you can solve their problem they will be up and running!

It is vital to remember that once you have got a meeting it is your one chance to sell your product. Andrew explained that they do 3-4 weeks worth of work preparing for meetings and often run up 15 page documents of company analysis.

Who would have thought that by sitting down for lunch on a bench at Euston station next to a stranger could have brought such relevant and useful education?!


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