Selling into the Sharing Enterprise

I enjoy the opportunity of instructing in a well-respected sales training program at IBM. My role is to coach newly hired account managers as they explore and understand how to discuss the business value of technology with senior-level clients. The good news for IBM sellers is that the company has near immediate access to senior executives. The challenge for less experienced sellers is that these customer executives are so busy that they usually don't have time to 'hear it twice' so first impressions are vital.

One challenge of technical sales training is keeping the curriculum up to date in a period of increasing technology change and the evolving uses of these technologies. For example, since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, these mobile devices are used least for making phone calls and more as cameras, web browsers, video playback and texting. They are also pretty good for driving directions, baby-sitting :( and shadowing social media.

Last week I asked a senior scientist at IBM about the marketplace's adoption of Watson and its application in the Telecommunications Industry as a customer service assistant (product name was Watson Engagement Advisor). He replied, 'It's not used that way anymore. That's the Jeopardy version of Watson requiring an expensive investment by the customer in hardware and software. Now we supply the APIs to Watson in the Cloud. This makes Watson available on a transaction basis (pay for discrete usage) and requires a limited up-front investment by the customer. It also changes the model of selling to customers."

I asked how does this change the sales model. He suggested that a different kind of technology sales force is required: one that is less 'heavyweight' relying on large purchase orders available at regular intervals (quarterly, annually or multi-year). "Now clients are enabled to buy what they need when they need it and not required to pay for technology when they are not using it. We're moving from multimillion dollar purchase orders to $200 per transaction revenue streams. There's more profit in this new model in the long run and the transition to a new method of selling is required."

He continued 'that selling such "by the drink" or by the transaction will require that the sales rep. begin with a better understanding of the customer's industry, the customer's own value proposition and the objectives of a particular customer project. We're moving rapidly from selling hardware and software products which customers have had to adapt to; now, we're selling solutions that require adaption of our hardware and software capabilities. It's the notion of mass customization beginning to be realized.'

We surmised that the sales force of Cloud, Cognitive, Analytics, Mobile, Social and their competitive variants should first be a consultant to the customer and that these individuals would be well-served with a reputation across the Internet as being up to date on evolving technologies, the business application of these technologies and a credible point of view of competitive offerings. This is asking a lot, perhaps, and clearly the days of "This is what I sell, how much would you like" narrow in depth. After all, A cognitive machine will do that. //cp

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