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Why Enterprise Software Sales is like Chess (with elements of Poker) November 4, 2013

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Enterprise Sales, SAAS.
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Many cerebral developers have an image of sales as a game for smooth talking silver tongued devils who are not over-endowed with grey matter.

Coding is very hard intellectual work. So is enterprise selling. Enterprise sales is like a game of chess with opening moves, middle game and end-game:

Opening moves in chess are fairly well-defined. You cannot win through brilliant opening moves, but you can lose quite quickly through some dumb moves. The same is true in enterprise sales. People over estimate the value of an introduction. It is not much more than Pawn to Queen four. You need to get through the door to sell, but its what you do when you are through the door that matters. Its not just the credibility of your introduction (first move) but also how you position your value proposition on first email, call and meeting that will determine how well you do when you get to the negotiation phase.

Middle game is when the sales support guys make all the difference. The process of proving product fit to the specific enterprise requirements is long and complex with a track running from demos to gap analysis to proof of concept. Then the process of aligning stakeholders towards a specific proposal can take place. You cannot plan more than two moves ahead, the best players mix analysis with intuition (“sight of the board”) as well as some time-proven maxims (such as “control the center of the board”).

End game is when the closers score. Some sales guys are no good in the opening moves (they expect the company to set them up with lots of qualified leads) and they are hands-off during the complex hard work of the middle game. This may annoy the hard-working folks in marketing and sales support, but they can get away with it because they are great closers. Watch out for these guys at your Gorilla competitors. A naive start up can align people around a perfect demo, gap analysis and proof of concept only to find the deal snatched away by salesman sammy at Bigco who trashed you with a well timed comment to the decision-maker over golf or cocktails.

The reason that winning at enterprise sales is so much fun is that it is cerebral but it is not only cerebral. You need good EQ as well as good IQ. Or, to put it another way it is a mix of chess and poker and as Bond says in Casino Royale “in poker you don’t just play the cards, you play the person sitting across from you”.

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