What We’ve Learned Supporting Telecom Sales Teams
“Sell telecom,” they said. “Work from home,” they said. “It will be easy,” they said. The new year is upon us, and this year looks to be anything but easy for telecom sales. It was a rollercoaster of a year last year for enterprise sales: It’s not how we start in January but how we finish in December that counts. This article explores how enterprise telecom sales reps can organize their next 90 days to make an impact and deliver on quota.
In the 1990s, I started my sales career selling telecom for one of the largest privately held telecommunications companies in North America. Today, telecom is an important client segment for Janek. We’ve been fortunate to work with a diverse range of telecom clients, from Fortune 100 to venture-backed startups. With this background in mind, I want to share some insights I’ve gained about the industry.
Enterprises are open to digital transformation like everyone else but decisions are made cautiously. This means, they want innovation but must be able to manage cost. In other words, the digital transformation must be efficient, effective, and increase revenues without adding headcount. Every enterprise began the year with ambitious goals. The changing macroeconomic conditions have created a more competitive climate and extended sales cycles. For telecom sales reps, this can be an obstacle or an opportunity.
Enterprise telecom deals do not close overnight. The biggest challenge is managing multiple stakeholders. For enterprise sales reps, this can feel like herding cats. There are the “decision-makers,” often the CEO or CFO. Then there are the “approvers,” including the CIO or CTO. Next, we have the “recommenders.” This is the person(s) who will benefit the most from the solution. Finally, we have the “advice-givers.” These are subject matter experts in a position of confidence within the enterprise.
The last year of sales activity for enterprise sales reps should have been balanced. Balance means consistent action toward long-term, mid-term, and short-term goals. Often this activity becomes unbalanced when sales reps accelerate deal flow at the end of a quarter. The typical strategy is to offer a price concession, which accelerates deal flow but also cannibalizes demand. Every quarter, the cycle repeats.
To avoid this scenario, managing your timeline and your pipeline daily is essential. Pipeline management requires discipline and the ability to maintain a long-term strategy in the face of uncertainty. Because in enterprise sales, 50 percent or more of our compensation comes at the end of the year. Maintaining balance is key to quota attainment.
“Nick, you don’t understand. The low-hanging fruit I already closed. I must pull a rabbit out of the hat to hit my numbers.”
Magic is not a strategy in enterprise sales. Therefore, we need to hyper-focus on the end user. Ask yourself, “What is preventing the enterprise client from moving forward?” The three most common causes are herding cats, indecision, and FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt).
Indecision and FUD are highly correlated with herding cats. When people trust the value you create, fear and doubt cannot coexist. When trust is absent, no one wants to put their neck on the line to move the deal forward. Hence you feel like you are always herding cats. To create the momentum, we need to build trust.
What It Means to be a Trusted Advisor
The trusted advisor is a term thrown around way too loosely these days. Everyone calls themselves one, but how do you know if you are truly considered a trusted advisor by your prospects and clients? If you are a trusted advisor, your prospects and clients will text you. This might not be a science-based, empirical data point, but from experience, when I’m receiving a text from prospects or clients, we are engaged in open communication. I never have the “I was just checking in” status update.
The Janek methodology is based on developing a trusted advisor relationship. To summarize, it comes down to the prospect recognizing that you care personally. Here’s a thought experiment: As a consumer, think about the companies you are least satisfied with. They likely share a few common attributes, such as poor customer service, high fees, and price hikes. When this happens to your enterprise prospects, you want to receive a text asking for help.
Telecom sales executives are responsible for connecting the dots within the enterprise. This means, at times, they must be project managers, quarterbacks, or orchestra conductors. Enterprise accounts have resources, but they need help allocating those resources to their advantage. Therefore, if you have built trust and deals are stalled, the next tactic is to highlight risk.
When a trusted advisor sells telecom to enterprises, they point out where the technology is going and how the industry is being disrupted. They provide examples of how it is happening now and the risk of doing nothing. When highlighting risk, the key is to point out what is known, and what isn’t. Trusted advisors utilize stories, case studies, research, patents, and intellectual property to prove their cases. They avoid feature selling and sell transformation for the entire organization.
Why Telecom Deals Stall
“Nick, this is great, but what if they don’t have the budget?”
From my experience, when an organization attempts to implement something truly transformative, it is never conditional on a budget. Non-transformative commodity products always have a budget. Pigeonholing yourself into a non-transformative category is a mistake that lengthens the sales cycle or stalls deals until next year.
Another common reason that telecom deals stall with enterprise clients is that the incumbent is a small company or startup. In this situation, the enterprise views the technology as transformative, but the question is, can we count on a startup to be around for the long term? No enterprise-level organization wants to be the first client; that screams too risky.
If you’re a startup, that casual and cool culture can be a mistake. Approaching enterprise clients through traditional channels can be an uphill battle for sales reps. Most enterprises have innovation departments or venture arms looking at early-stage companies. Boeing has Phantom Works, and Lockheed Martin has Skunk Works. These innovation departments are the visionaries and a good front door for sales reps to knock on.
When a smaller company is selling to a much larger enterprise, you must match its company culture. They expect the quality of the presentations, PowerPoints, and how the salespeople communicate to match their culture. It may sound crazy, and startups like to say that stuff doesn’t matter, but I’ve seen casual and cool lose more deals than it wins. Enterprises are always balancing the risk and innovation.
The other side of this coin is when a large enterprise telco sales rep sells to a small or medium size company. The SMB market is one of the fastest-growing segments. Most telcos see the SMB market as a growth vertical, which makes it very competitive.
I read an interesting press release where T-Mobile partnered with Canva and Facebook to provide bundled marketing solutions to their new business customers. T-Mobile recognized that their consumer clients owned businesses, and those businesses likely used Canva and Facebook. They bundled this service to create huge value for SMBs. To be effective, they had to train their sales reps to sell multiple services, deepening the relationship.
How do enterprises find, select, and deploy telecom solutions in the current economic environment? Very judicially. Across all industries, enterprises are looking for transformative strategies and partners to guide their journey. CEOs at Fortune 500 enterprises, universities, healthcare systems, and government organizations are worried about how telecommunications can disrupt and transform their business.
When sales reps are communicating with these decision-makers, they must demonstrate that they personally care about the organization while establishing how they will drive value. A transformative telco solution is something enterprises can’t get from anyone else. Get this right, and sales accelerate. Miss the mark, and it’s cold feet and stalled deals.
The enterprise sales rep is a trusted advisor. This role involves ailing the enterprise’s objectives, uncovering what’s holding them back, positioning their solution as the only option and providing a clear path to ROI and impact. When you combine trust and transformation with a clear path to impact, the response is often, “How soon can we get started?”
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