How to Survive Selling to Complex Customers

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. (TheStreet) -- Decisions about buying and implementing technology can be the most challenging, and the larger the organization, the more complex the decision becomes. Information technology, finance and other departments have to be "sold" on the benefits, and once sold they have to decide whose budget pays the bill.

Anyone trying to introduce new technology into a system or business with complex organizational processes, multiple levels of decision-makers and strict budgets -- and the principle is universal, not limited to technology -- can find it challenging. Getting to "yes" in a sale requires a thorough understanding of the prospective customer organization. This often means reaching frontline users, the true customers of the product, and educating them on the features and benefits of your product. Once you have the end user on board, you must move up the decision tree to administrators, IT departments and curriculum designers or business content groups.


The sales process becomes a multiprong, multiphase effort to reach the key decision-makers with information relevant to their needs and perspectives. As someone providing new technology, you must think like the customers by addressing the rewards and risks they see as inherent in adopting innovations. There are many stakeholders who will be evaluating the decision upfront (and after the sale) to determine if the investment will generate the return they desire. If you promise improved effectiveness, efficiency, better performance and increased success, you had better deliver.

This week I spoke with Seth Weinberger of Innovations for Learning, a Chicago nonprofit bringing hand-held devices into classrooms to make teachers more efficient in providing students with materials, content and access to curricula. It isn't easy to implement technology into school systems. Just like major corporations, they are usually structured so technology acquisition is separate from other decision-making; for schools, that separation typically means technology and curriculum decisions are not integrated. Innovations for Learning must truly understand their customers, from the decision-makers and processes, to their mission, objectives and budget constraints.

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