I wanted to name this article a many different things. “How to sell deep tech solution to enterprises”, “How to sell to Fortune 500 firms” or even “What being in the AR/VR industry taught me over 3 year” but none of them felt authentic.
I am pretty sure if I deeply analyse my experiences and draw some patterns out of them, I can definitely write the above mentioned articles as well. But this is not the one.
Although the piece is written like a listicle for easier reading, don’t simply skim through the headlines. Each learning mentioned has a lot of context behind it without which they would simply seem generic.
I know these are not all the things you need to know for doing enterprise sales and these are not THE things either. This article is what it is, a collection of personal learnings. Hope they resonate with you as well.
Going out of your comfort zone, even when it comes to learning
Even if my day is occupied with everything sales with a pinch of marketing, starting with a firm based out of a basement with less than 30 people to being in a lovely office where we can accommodate 150, I have had the opportunity to learn from some of the best leaders, engineers, modellers, managers, designers, developers one could come across.
Nobody among us is perfect, but every one of us is learning everyday. And learning everyday is not a habit you can choose to adopt or let go while being in a high growth, deep tech, enterprise focused startup. Learning everyday is more of a trait, a requirement, one needs to survive and thrive in a novel yet competitive ecosystem like ours.
And by learning I don’t refer to you checking your industry related media sites every day. I can’t remember the last time I intentionally went on an AR/VR site. Learning here refers to the skills you probably aren’t the master of but could benefit from over the longer run. From my initial days of following up with people for sales to getting accustomed with traditional tools, structure as we scale. Some of the skills that help me most today in my job are the one’s I loathed or probably wasn’t comfortable with initially. So there is my first learning — You have to keep on learning and some of your best learnings will come from doing things that are out of your comfort zone.
You are only as good as your team
Nothing is more comforting than you pitching a never done before solution to your client, coming back to your team and hearing “Hey, the scope is complex for sure but a bit of R&D and we can pull this off.” (Honestly, “We have released your PO” is the best thing to hear but this comes a close second.)
So many times I would look at a scope and think “Damn! We cannot do this.” But every time, I would see the team redefining what’s doable and what’s not. A capable team is your biggest asset. In early stage investment rounds, Angels and VCs often don’t put their money on the product but the founder or the team. Similarly, the buying decision of your clients is often driven by the team they feel that can deliver rather than simply the product/solution you are pitching to them. And that’s the second lesson, you are only as good as your team.
Patience is truly a virtue
From turning up in a remote location just a day after your first call to helping your clients with information or tech support where you commercially benefit nothing, enterprise selling requires you to go beyond the extra mile. Sometimes doing this does cost us money as well, but we think of these activities as investments. Investments that luckily, in decent amount of cases, have paid off as well.
And that brings us to my third learning, waiting for your efforts to pay off. Honestly, in enterprise sales, a lot of things influencing the purchase decision are out of your hands. Sometimes, the only thing that you control is the speed with which you do the job on your part in terms of proposals, presentations and so on.
However, in enterprise sales, things move slow. As a result, patience is a virtue you ought to develop. Patience for the market to take off, patience for the right hardware to come into the market, patience for the management to revert on that proposal. The earlier you learn to be patient, the better.
It’s 10x harder than you think but humility will help you survive
Talking of virtues, a virtue that I believe has been of a greater value than any other one is humility. Think of the last rejection you had. Did that hurt? Now think of having to face a rejection everyday or every other day. That, I realised, is a part of the job. The only thing that helps you with that is humility and a good support system.
In our sales hiring decisions, that is probably the thing we look for the most. How many rejection did you face? Were you able to convert a lead despite a rejection? All those things matter. And that’s probably one of the most important lessons to have, make patience your friend but make humility the friend you can call at 2 at night.
A quick learning that is a follows up to the previous learning. No matter how hard you expect things to be, it’s always going to be 10x harder than that in reality. This is true more or less for any hard endeavour you take up in life. Have read about how hard being an entrepreneur can be? Try it. It’s always going to be 10x harder. Trying to learn a new coding language or acquiring a new skill? Things are always going to be harder than you expect them to be. Setting your expectations from the beginning helps you go a long way.
Your product is half of what you are selling
Now for the biggest mistake I have seen others make. When you are selling to enterprises, your product is just literally half of what you are selling. Selling to enterprises comes with a lots of bells and whistles beyond the product. You are selling an entire journey to a client. From a prompt finance & legal team willing to deliver on the paperwork quickly to the actual execution team that knows how to professionally interact with the client to a structure that can support the client for years after your product has been deployed. These are some of the things that are part of what you have to deliver besides the product. I have seen a lot of enterprise oriented startups fail in our domain and the others. The ability to deliver on rest of the things besides just the product has more often than not has been the cause of their shutdowns.
And that’s my third last learning, ensure you have structure in place to support your enterprise client from the initial touchpoint to the deployment. A sleeker and structured system in place will enable you to do your job (sales) better.
Talk to others in sales
Over the years, I have tried to improve what I do. Learning about different CRMs or reading about outbound strategies have been useful. But the most surprising source of learning for me has been talking to other people in sales, especially the one’s who are in completely different fields. From someone heading sales of a Fortune 500 carmaker to someone managing sales of a tech product at a 10 people startup, talking to sales people from different fields has been a great source of learning.
Some might tell you about the tools to streamline your process, some might tell you how traditionally people close deals. There are threads that are common to all types of sales, finding them can benefit you a lot.
And my last learning?
Never forget to appreciate the role that luck plays in helping you close a deal. Researches suggest people who acknowledge the role of luck in their success succeed further. The same holds true for sales I believe.
And that brings a close to this piece. Looking forward to many more years of learning. Keep learning, keep selling. After all, to sell is human.