Yes, We Sell Everything

By Jason Compton

It is not unheard of for senior sales executives, particularly among independent software integrators, to inform their sales team that if a prospect asks if they sell Application X the answer is always yes, regardless of whether they do or not. Presumably these managers operate under the assumption that one piece of software is very much like another or that the right talent and certifications can be put in place well in advance of actually having to deliver or demonstrate competence with the program in question.

At best, this is a dangerous game. At worst, it is a reputation-ruining disaster waiting to happen. On the one hand it might be true that maintaining reseller fees and training quotas with every software vendor in a given field is impractical and that such relationships can be established relatively quickly as the need arises. On the other hand, the odds of a successful implementation and satisfied customer are significantly lower if your client is being used as a guinea pig for a technology your firm is learning for the first time.

“There have been a fair number of incidents over the past several years where software companies have misrepresented their capabilities,” says Dave Stein, author of How Winners Sell (Bard Press, May 2002). “I think a lot of customers and companies got burned trying to install and implement software that in some cases hadn’t even been written until the software company got the order.”

A different approach would be to talk to prospects about end results, rather than product names. Find out what they want to accomplish and why they feel they have identified the right tool for the job. “I would try to sell them something because that’s my job, but I might try to sell them a service to decide which software to look at,” says Stein.

Prospects may have misdiagnosed their own problem or may open up new avenues for your company to provide valuable technology services. Avoid the temptation to sell something you do not have by focusing on something you do have, such as the expertise and resources to help customers make an informed buying decision.

On the whole, the best recommendation is to simply say no instead of deceiving customers about your product line. It is far wiser – and easier – to sell a product you understand and are comfortable selling, than one you sell out of fear that customers’ tunnel vision may lead them to a competitor. Deceive at your own peril and the price of your company’s reputation as a reliable partner. “Software people require an even higher level of integrity, a higher level of credibility, because they’re constantly being scrutinized, tested and questioned by the people who buy from them – for good reason,” says Stein.