When I worked for Digital Equipment Corporation through the 1980s, one of the challenges that we shared with much of the high tech industry was in teaching sales reps how to distinguish between the features of a product or solution and the benefits that product or solution would provide to customers. Digital traditionally sold to technical customers rather than to management, and technical customers were interested in technical specifications, what we called “speeds and feeds.” But as we tried to get the attention of a customer’s non-technical managers, our sales reps found that they were unable to communicate in “business-speak” rather than “tech-speak.” We used to joke that the way most of our sales reps approached business managers was to put our technical product brochures in a leather binder rather than a paper binder. Here’s one way that I tried to solve that problem…
I had found an article in MIT’s Sloan Management Review written by Michael Hammer and Glenn Mangurian titled “The Changing Value of Communications Technology.” I envisioned how their “Impact-Value Matrix” (see diagram below) could be used by our reps to talk with customers about their business and how Digital’s technology solutions could enable new and improved ways for our current and potential customers to conduct their businesses.
Working with the late Michael Hammer, then a professor at MIT, and Glenn Mangurian of the Index Group, we created a sales training program that was very different from Digital’s longstanding approach to sales training that focused on specific products and their configurations.
We asked the sales reps to come to the training with all the background information they had about one of their toughest prospects – a company that was already doing business with our major competitors and that wasn’t interested in our technology. After presenting the impact-value framework and providing examples of how our solutions could be matched to the various benefits outlined in the matrix, we asked the reps to prepare a presentation for that customer based on the matrix, so that when they left the training they were immediately able to go back to that customer with a new approach that focused on the benefits of Digital solutions, rather than the technical features of those solutions. The results were excellent, with many reps reporting that they were finally able to get their foot in the customer’s door and start a dialogue with the customer that would produce sales in the short term.
Do your sales reps focus on the features of your company’s products and services or on the benefits the customer will reap from implementing your solutions. If the focus has traditionally been on features, the use of the impact-value matrix, or another framework of your choosing, can spark new ideas and new sales.