Team Selling Leverages Partnerships

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In the high-tech marketplace, companies are relying more and more on extended partnerships to go to market. Traditionally, such partnerships have been based on bringing compatible technologies together to solve a known client problem. As mergers and acquisitions continue to drive change, technology-based alliances are now evolving into something more- -team selling.

Team selling creates a joint effort around selling prior to determining a joint solution. This new approach is being used both externally and internally to find hidden opportunities, create competitive advantage and win unsolicited proposals.

External Team Selling
The external team-selling scenario involves finding a partner to sell with, and then figuring out what to sell together, to a given customer. Companies that might have been seen as competitors are now coming together to create a unique, compelling business value for the customer. Potential partners might be another technology company, a consulting firm, a marketing organization, a financial institution- -whoever can bring something valuable to the table.

As a team, the partners proactively develop and sell a concept that is built around the customer's business issues, and figure out the technology later. The focus is on creating opportunities rather than merely finding existing ones (what everyone else is doing). For example, e-business is an important business driver for many clients, but not many really know what it is or what they need. What opportunities does that present? The process is an organic search for common ground and mutual benefit. The output- -the real key to today's technology marketplace- -is an unsolicited proposal that neither party might have come up with alone. The client might not even know it has an issue there.

A lot of the dot coms have figured this out. They don't have the luxury of building on long-standing relationships with clients. They have more insight and make unsolicited proposals because they have to. And that makes them formidable competitors.

Team selling enables organizations to sell on both sides of an opportunity- -both the defined side that everyone is going after and the hidden side, where the greatest competitive advantage lies waiting to be discovered. Initially, the parties may not really know what they're going to do for the customer because the opportunity doesn't exist yet. Instead of defining the solution first, they spend time creating the opportunity.

Then, in making the proposal, they look beyond the usual IT contacts to find the client visionary with decision- making power.

Put a New Spin on Annual Planning
Team selling's quest for hidden opportunities can have a dramatic impact on a company's annual planning efforts. The traditional approach looks at last year's business with a customer and then projects an increase of 10 or 20 percent (or whatever management wants). Instead of putting together a plan based on last year's business, look for the hidden opportunities. How different is the selling company than it was last year? If it acquired companies and expanded its offerings, it may be radically different.

Then apply that kind of thinking to the customer's situation, which may also have substantially changed.

Go back and analyze the customer's business issues and make them the basis of the annual planning effort. Tremendous opportunities become apparent that weren't even on the table previously. After going through this process, we've seen companies expand what they thought was a $2 million opportunity (based on their traditional annual planning) to a $30 million opportunity.

Internal Team Selling
The team selling process can also be used to meet internal challenges more effectively, such as reducing the vulnerability of sales teams when two clients announce a merger. Competitive vulnerability occurs due to the following:

Encroachment by unseen competitors. Combining the efforts of two internal sales teams to serve a merged client rarely happens quickly, especially in large companies. Sales teams typically focus on internal issues such as who should be lead on the account, how many people will be on the account team, who's in charge and so on. While they're working out "is it yours or is it mine," a new start-up or dot com can grab the business.

New client expectations. There's usually a vast difference between what the selling company expects after a merger (more business) and what the client expects (lower prices). The easiest way a CEO can show benefit from a merger is to reduce costs by putting the squeeze on major suppliers.

Narrow focus on the IT function. During the quiet period, when details and regulatory issues are being worked out, merging companies usually tell their IT directors not to spend any new money. To reach the visionary decision-maker, take proposals to a higher level.

In a vulnerable situation, a tactical organization makes more sales calls. Sales teams often have very little insight about their account's business or critical issues. They have no efficient process for combining their sales efforts, so it's easier to sit back and wait for the merger to shake out- -and hope no one makes a play for the business in the meantime.

A strategic organization, on the other hand, steps back and determines the optimal approach for the new environment. That's what the internal team selling process is all about. Through a structured process, the account teams calling on the two merging clients come together to evaluate the overlaps, compatibilities and disconnects of their newly combined sales efforts.

Ask the Right Questions
As with external partners, bringing the internal teams together leads to a collective insight about the client's business that they didn't have before. They reduce their vulnerability by doing an analysis of what the two merging companies have done in recent acquisitions and where the market is going. Several key questions should be answered:

• What will the merging companies have to keep doing? Their shareholders expect them to keep selling, which means suppliers will keep selling to them. Analyze the contracts already in place and the opportunities that are in the works.

• What business will be vulnerable because of the merger? For example, government may require selling off certain divisions. Or, the merged entity may try to leverage major price reductions, especially for commodity products.

• What new opportunities are being created by the merger? This is something almost nobody thinks of because of being too focused on how business was done in the past.

Internal partnerships are also useful when there are changes in the selling organization or when multiple people call on the same account. Four or five people from the same company may be calling on the same contact, selling different lines of business with different deals that are contrary to each other. They've never come together to share what they all know about the account. The team selling process provides a common language essential for creating an effective, comprehensive view of the customer.

Time is Ripe for Team Selling
Companies make huge investments in their technologies only to have them commoditized in the client's eyes in a very short time. Instead of adding a new feature to its technology, a company can use the team selling process to differentiate itself and buy time to have competitive advantage. While competitors may be able to replicate technology quickly, they can't very easily replicate a successful team selling effort that delivers extraordinary value to the customer.

Although team selling is highly effective, getting there is challenging. There aren't many effective processes or resources out there for turning one plus one into three. Putting a structured process in place usually doesn't occur naturally, but must be facilitated by an outside catalyst. Every time we have assisted in this process, we've found tremendous hidden opportunity that the sales teams didn't discover on their own.

Some of the best breakthrough ideas are being generated from sales teams' stepping back, analyzing the customer's issues, finding new ways to configure their approach to that customer and looking for opportunities to form selling teams, internally, externally or both. They're answering the crucial question: How can we gain insight into the value we can provide on the hidden side of opportunity?

High-tech salespeople often insist that all the low-hanging fruit is gone. When you're in the marketplace by yourself, that's probably true. But in the partnering arena, the low-hanging fruit is all over the place. You just have to look for the right tree.

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