promise-driven-salesUSA Today recently published a far-ranging interview with Silicon Valley legend Bill Campbell in which he had an excellent take on what makes great sales people and a great sales process. Bill’s quote:

You’re going to get me at fistfight with everybody in the Valley talking about this. I am a big bully about that [classic] sales process where you’re the CEO and I want you to buy something, so I take you to the strip club or go for drinks or buy your wife a gold chain.

People think these guys, they’re killers, they’re machines, they know how to do this stuff. They make sales this mysterious process. The jet pilot swoops in, bombs everybody up and down, and then everyone else is ready to go and clean up. I don’t believe it.

I want to come in there with a quantitative process and say, “Let me tell you what our stuff does and let me tell you based on our work what this can do for you in terms of your productivity.” Every company I work with today, I tell them to hire investment banking or consultant types to be salespeople.

The fact is, if someone did all her homework, she could go in there and sit down with somebody and explain how our product was better than the others. I want somebody inside who is sitting at their computer doing all that analysis, and then they put that on a piece of paper or a computer screen and ship it to a guy that’s out on the field: Here’s what you’ve got, and here’s what we can do for you.

Campbell’s comments boil down to leading with a data-driven approach to technology sales, and his advice is pure gold. Potential customers today typically have more product choices, better information and lower switching costs than ever before; performance data and salespeople who can clearly communicate the data win the day.

For any product where a robust set of performance data exists and where there is good data on the customer’s existing business, it makes complete sense to structure a data-driven sales pitch based on how the customer’s business can be improved by that product. And it makes perfect sense to hire highly analytical and well-spoken people who can share the message that data holds with prospective customers.

The challenge, however, is that most new technology products don’t launch with a robust set of performance data. Thus, the salesperson must lead with a “promise-driven” sales process. In a “promise-driven” sales process, the salesperson paints a picture of a future vision of a product’s impact on the customer’s business. The salesperson will typically draw on “data” but only in the sense that the data shows general market or customer behavior trends rather than specific product performance data.

In the case of one product I sold, the NFC version of Google Wallet, the promise was that Google Wallet would “close the loop” and help turn consumer digital behavior into real world transactions. The data we drew on showed increasing use of mobile devices, online browsing influencing offline purchase behavior, more robust in-store technology and other trends that would tie online behavior to offline purchases.

Since the product was pre-launch, we didn’t have data to show that the product we were building would capitalize on these trends and cause customer behavior favorable for the merchants we were selling to. My team was able to sell a couple dozen customers on the promise of Google Wallet based on Google’s reputation for delivering innovative products, the strong vision we were able to paint of our capabilities & market trends, and high quality demos & product previews.

What we quickly found is that a “promise-driven” sales process must be followed in very short order by product performance data. There is a limited window in which customers will trust you based on your previous performance or the amazing sales picture that you paint.

The “promise cycle” is becoming shorter and shorter. Vendors are releasing new products & software updates more often, people are sharing their product experiences reviews with peers and the public more freely, and software products are becoming far easier to integrate and deploy. And, most importantly, technology product claims are becoming ever more verifiable and quantifiable. The first bill to your customer either meets your quoted price or it doesn’t. The promised cost savings, customer acquisition pop or customer lifetime value boost either materializes or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, the customer can very easily turn your product off and switch to a competitor.

In the event that your product is pre-launch like Google Wallet was, a key tool to product success is to structure your initial sales and customer relationships to include data-gathering partnerships that benefit both parties.  Both parties establish performance metrics that should be tracked and agree to monitor and analyze the data on a regular basis. The customer usually agrees that the provider can use the data in marketing materials, a case study or on a reference basis to support future sales. In return, the customer may get a preferential rate structure, co-marketing benefits, the ability to provide input on product roadmap, first access to new features, etc.

The bottom line is that even in a “promise-driven” sales approach for new products, the long term viability of the product depends on performance data. Sell on market data & trends and product demos initially, but structure initial customer relationships to gather product performance data. Customers of new technology products will demand performance data in very short order.

[This post was originally published on Mike’s blog.]

[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando.]