I wrote this as a guest blog post for Reachify, a business intelligence platform for the buyers and sellers of software. Much of it also is relevant for vendors selling physical goods, not just technology products. It's published on Reachify's blog now. I typically write about customer experience, and this post is a behind-the-scenes look at how product ends up in front of consumers.
During the past 10 years, I’ve worked for four retail companies where I’ve had the opportunity to make a number of technology buying decisions and influence countless others. As a result of this experience, I’ve identified a gap that needs to be bridged between software buyers and sellers. This is especially the case today given the opaque software selection process. Combined with the limited time brand executives have in a day, it’s clear vendors need to do everything they can to meet a software buyer halfway.
Keeping all of this in mind, below is my “wish list” for what vendors can do to improve the software buyer/seller relationship (and win more contracts!).
Lead with a warm intro
The first outreach to prospects is critical so it’s important for vendors to turn cold intros into warm ones. My preferred way for accomplishing this is to ask happy clients for introductions or at least to approve having their names mentioned as references. As a potential software buyer, hearing from an industry peer who’s having a great experience with a vendor is sure to catch my attention.
Here are a couple of more specific tips to warm up your intro:
1. Ask current satisfied customers to connect you with your prospects whom they know.
You can do this using your LinkedIn network to see whether you and a prospect have any of your happy customers in common. When vendors reach out cold even though we know people in common, I wonder if they did basic research or if they don’t have customers who will advocate for them. When it does happen, it serves as a reference check early in the sales funnel rather than later and sets a friendly tone for the partnership discussions.
2. Find out whether a brand partner/customer is willing to mention you publicly.
For example, if I’ve had a good experience with a software vendor, I mention them in speaking engagements and networking opportunities and, in general, do what I can to boost their reputation.
How often you ask a customer for specific or general intros depends on the individual relationship and the success they’re seeing with your software.
Prospective software buyers and outreach etiquette
In my experience, a vendor’s email and phone call etiquette can make or break the deal. Remember that software buyers are flooded with messages on an ever-increasing number of channels and tailoring your messages accordingly is a practice in empathy.
Here are a few tips to make sure your message is heard and well received:
Email outreach etiquette
1. Research and customize.
Vendors should never use the same pitch for everyone, in fact, little bit of work goes a long way. For example, a vendor will stand out when they inform a software buyer about solutions for their specific business, with a specific approach. Do the appropriate amount of research about a company the specific prospective software buyer to personalize your communications. The generic one-liners of “You’re in retail, so you must be thinking about personalization” is not as effective as, “I did a little digging around on your site and it seems like you’re personalizing thispart of the site experience, but not that part. We have a solution for you, can I show it to you?” Likewise, use relevant, recent information that’s publicly available in a press search. For example, if the CEO just announced she wants to change X part of the business, vendors can intelligentlyuse this as an in.
2. Keep it short.
Prospects are busy, so keep e-mails concise, clear, and applicable.
3. Don’t be presumptuous.
You can’t be “sure” someone wants to learn about what you’re selling. It’s highly unlikely they’re going to be available to speak on “Wednesday at 3:00 p.m.” or whatever specific time you propose with limited notice.
Phone call and meeting etiquette
1. Let the software buyer lead the discussion approach.
As a best practice, ask the sales target upfront, “Do you want to tell me about your business needs or would you prefer that I give you an introduction to my company?” and see which way the target wants to go. Sometimes a prospect is happy to take a call where the vendor leads the discussion. This allows a prospect to intellectually engage, stay curious, and listen to the sales pitch. Other times, a prospect may want to share his or her goals and priorities for the company and see how a vendor can help support them. Be prepared to give the general overview in a personal manner, as well as answer specific questions.
2. Prep for the conversation.
If you want to personalize your pitch, be sure to ask the software buyer in advance, “Is there anything that you can tell me about your business goals or your priorities this year that will help me tailor what I share with you?” At the very least, a prospect will respect the question. Of course, if the prospect takes time in advance to give you insight, put it to good use during the discussion.
Whether by e-mail or during an actual discussion, address your competition tactfully. Do the research to find out what software the prospect is currently using or considering with respect to your solution. As a vendor, mentioning you’re aware that a prospect currently is working with X, Y, or Z is great. Most of the time, casually saying you don’t know when contracts are up for renewal, but that you would like to be considered when the time comes because of reasons A/B/C also is welcome; however, don’t attack or dismiss competitors’ solutions – instead be proactive and positive and let your own assets shine.
With these tips in mind, I’m confident you can express a better understanding of your prospect’s time, interests and challenges. But you can’t control everything, and increasingly, software buyers are conducting vendor research online before taking a call or responding to an e-mail. This trend presents an ideal opportunity for software vendors to improve the digital experience for a potential software buyer – a topic I will explore further in my next guest blog post.