A Little Bit Of IT Hustle Goes A Long Way These Days

Franchisee Columnist Todd Michaud has spent the last 16 years trying to fight IT issues, with the last six years focused on franchisee IT issues. He is currently responsible for IT at Focus Brands (Cinnabon, Carvel, Schlotzsky’s and Moe’s Southwestern Grill).

Some salespeople are just plain lazy. I’m not sure how they manage to keep earning a paycheck. With all of the “plates in the air,” I consider my time my most valuable resource. As a result, I get really annoyed by people who waste my time, especially salespeople. If a salesperson doesn’t put in the effort to learn about potential customers before engaging with them, he is going to be given a “Bozo” tag, and that is a very difficult tag to remove.

Thirty minutes of research about a person or a company can have such a big impact on the sales process that it baffles me why so few providers take the time to do it. It seems to me that “hustle” has become the exception rather than the rule in sales.

I had a chance to attend the Food Service Technology Conference and Showcase this week in Long Beach, CA. During my time at FS/TEC, I was struck by examples of both great sales hustle and the opposite. I’ll start with what didn’t work.

One of sessions was called "Speed Dating." This is the description from the E-mail I received to set up the session: "As a roundtable leader, you will bring one of your business challenges or opportunities to the table—literally—and engage in a dialogue with seven (7) pre-screened suppliers who may have ideas or resources that will help you move your business forward. It is not intended to be a sales call, but a high level consultation that facilitates understanding and problem solving.”

Each “session” was 10 minutes long, and the IT providers rotated among the tables. I decided to participate in this session largely because I was interested to see how it all worked. OK, so it didn’t hurt that the show also offered to offset some of my travel costs.

My overall impression of the event is that, while it was somewhat awkward (probably similar to real speed dating), I gained a lot of insight from the providers; they helped me understand the depth of their offerings. In most cases, I was not aware of some of the services and products on offer that could potentially address a current Focus Brands challenge. I am glad I had the chance to participate.

But what bothered me about the event is that some of the vendors had done no preparation for the session. It was finalized the week prior to the event, and a list of attendees was provided to all of the providers. As a result, I was somewhat surprised when I was asked, “So what does Focus Brands do?”

With a perfect opportunity to have a focused, one-on-one conversation with me about my challenges/issues, I would have thought the person sitting across the table from me would at least be aware of which brands we represent. But that was not the case. It’s too bad that this person wasted a good opportunity to have a valuable dialogue about our challenges (as I was able to have with some of the other providers in the session) because of a lack of knowledge about our business.Now let me describe what worked well. I was personally very impressed with the hustle I saw from two of the IT providers at the show, so much so that I think it is worth mentioning them: The folks at Envysion (Managed Video As A Service) and the team at Onosys (Online Ordering System) get it. These folks were a pleasure to talk with. They had done a great job of not only being prepared for our discussions but delivering the right balance between relationship building and sales pitch. They understood the space, asked the right questions and did a great job representing their companies.

Disclosure: I do not currently do business with either of these companies and cannot endorse their products or services. My first interaction with each was this week. What I can endorse is a sales team that gets it and was a pleasure to speak with. As a result, I plan on having further conversations with both companies.

So what does it all mean? I am going to continue my crusade to help IT service providers better engage with IT leaders. I believe this nudge will benefit the people on both sides of the fence. I’ve written about my suggestions to improve the cold call, in addition to offering advice on how IT organizations should establish healthy relationships with their providers.

Here are my suggestions for preparing for a first sales encounter:

  • It’s basic stuff, but take a look at the company’s Web site. Focus Brands is not a well-known company in the industry; we have only been around a few years. I am constantly telling people the brands we represent. Knowing the basics about the company should be “greens fees” to even participate in the conversation.
  • Look up the person on LinkedIn. Get an idea for the prospect’s experience. Have they worked in this company/industry for a long period of time? Do they have a lot of connections or just a few? Are other IT service providers in your space already “linked” to this person? What does that mean to you? Can you use this information to craft your message?
  • Probe your own LinkedIn network to determine any mutual acquaintances. Ping those people to see if they can give you any background information on the person or on the company you’re going to approach. Ask your network connections for help in establishing a dialogue (if one does not exist).

    Look for job postings on the company Web site or big job boards. An open position is a good indication of what activities or projects might be an area of company focus.

  • Visit their location! This step is a big one for retailers, especially restaurants. I had one salesperson say to me, “I was in a Schlotzsky’s Deli the other day and noticed that you have a pretty large menu, with a lot of choices. I have to imagine that it is very difficult to do . Let me tell you how our services can help.” That is a great example of hustle.
  • Understand where the company is in the sales cycle. If you determine that it does not have an active need for your products and services in the short term, make sure you focus on building a relationship not on pushing your wares. Too many people try to “create the demand” for their offerings versus making sure they are thought of when the demand comes.
  • Here is my biggest piece of advice: Prepare in advance which questions to ask that will drive out the value in your product and service. This preparation will allow you to “sell” while listening versus talking. It is why your background due diligence on the company is so important; it allows you to ask the appropriate questions that will get to the core of your value proposition.

The tools available to salespeople today provide so much more information about a person or a company than was available even five years ago. I think it is important that these tools are used to set up the salespeople for success, along with making the entire process easier for IT leaders. Like I said before, I think that both sides will benefit from creating a more efficient process.

I’m interested in your thoughts, from both a provider and an IT leader perspective. Please leave me a comment below or E-mail me at [email protected].