The 90’s were a great time to sell technology. The decade started with the widespread adoption of home computers, which in turn fueled the demand for user-friendly information in the business world. Client-server technology, datawarehousing, and open systems sales took off. The paradigm shift continued as companies migrated core business applications off obsolete mainframes. Next, the Internet created another gold rush in California, this time in Silicon Valley. Finally, the decade ended with massive amounts of money and manpower spent to ensure Y2K went smoothly.
While the deals were always competitive, there was more business to go around so everyone got a piece of the action. Compared to those heady days, everyone in the high-tech community agrees that selling today is not only more difficult but harder than in any other time in their careers.
My career in computers started as a teenager in the late 70’s. At that time, a high-quality personal computer system cost about $10,000 ($25,000 in today’s dollars), and the Control Program/Microcomputer or CPM operating system was just as well known as the operating system from a small company called Microsoft.
As a software programmer, I became knowledgeable about the fundamentals of how computers work. I learned the importance of the structure of language and how to build a “model.” Models are the descriptions and representations of how a system works. Understand a model, and you can recreate a system. Models enable repeatable, predictable experiences. When I transitioned my career into sales, I quickly realized that I could build models to explain customer behavior in the sales process.
Since then, I have spent twenty years in high technology sales. I have worked with hundreds of salespeople and participated in thousands of sales calls while serving in positions ranging from salesperson to vice president. Over the years, I continually refined these models and compiled them in my new book titled, “Heavy Hitter Selling– How High Technology Salespeople Use Language and Intuition to Persuade Customers to Buy.” In Heavy Hitter Selling, I characterize attributes of successful salespeople (known as Heavy Hitters) and customers involved in the decision-making process.
There are many different ways to classify people during the sales cycle including title, personality, and orientation (technical, business or financial). Another interesting characterization of the various people who are involved in the product selection process is displayed in the following graph that represents four different characteristics that a person can be measured against.
Fig. 1 Characteristics of Evaluators
The left axis is a person’s insistence that things be done his way. This is called being a “bully.” A bully will get his way at any and all costs. Being a bully is not necessarily a negative term, nor does it mean that the person is physically intimidating. It is simply the description of people who will tenaciously fight for their cause. Also, people are more likely to be a bully when they have an elevated status within the evaluation team. The status could be the result of their domain expertise (technical or business knowledge) or their title and the authority it commands.
At the other end of the spectrum, are people who are accommodating. They are apathetic to whatever solution is purchased. The degree to which people are a bully or accommodating depends on the effect the purchase decision has on their span of control, position in the company, or ability to perform their job. On the horizontal axis, is the concept of “juice” and the “dud.” Simply put, juice is charisma. But even this definition is too simple. Some people are natural-born leaders. They have an aura that can motivate and instill confidence. That’s juice. Juice is fairly hard to describe, but you know it when you see it.
Having juice does not mean that these people act like John Wayne, nor are they necessarily the highest-ranking people involved in an evaluation. Instead, they are the ones who always seem to be on the winning side. Only one member of the customer’s evaluation has the juice. Single-handedly, he or she imparts his or her own will on the selection process by single-handedly selecting the vendor, and pushing the purchase through the procurement process. He or she can either finalize the purchase terms or instructs the procurement team on the terms that are considered acceptable.
“While there may be several bullies there will only be one that has juice. It is the bully who occupies the highest position farthest to the right that is the ultimate decision-maker.”
“Duds” are named after the ineffective firework they represent. Sometimes the fuse of a firework will burn down, but nothing will happen. Some fireworks may be very big but produce disappointing results. Duds have a lot of big talk but little action. “Accommodating duds” are people who do not take an active role in the sales process. Even worse are “dud bullies” who try to pretend the have juice, but don’t. For the salesperson, the realization of this may not come until too late.
For all of the people involved in the sales selection process, Heavy Hitters calculate their amount of Juice and their propensity to be a Bully. In the following example, John, Jim, Karl, and Rich are plotted according to the Hitter’s assessment.
Fig. 2 Plotting Individual Assessments
In the chart above, John is a dud bully, Jim is an accommodating dud, and Rich has the juice. Heavy Hitters naturally gravitate to people with juice. However, a person with juice may be apathetic to the purchase of your product, such as Karl in the preceding diagram. For example, a CIO who has juice probably doesn’t care what toner cartridges are purchased for the laser printers. He or she will be accommodating and support the decision of the people who make that decision. Someone else has the juice for the procurement of toner cartridges. Many people have juice (charisma and authority), but only one person has the “juice” to single-handedly select the vendor.
Let’s assume the same company was making a decision about an ERP system. You can assume the evaluation team’s decision will match the CIO’s preference. His or her will may have been imposed on the evaluation process through brute force or by finesse. Either way, his preference was “bullied” into the decision. The most powerful position in all of sales is when your coach (internal advocate within the customer’s company) has the “juice.” If your coach has the juice, you win! The next best scenario is when your coach can influence the person with Juice.
Some people believe that the economy has changed the way high-technology is purchased. People will argue that some purchases are truly made by committee without a bully with the juice. While a committee does put more fingerprints of accountability on the product selection, behind every committee (and its creation) is a bully who has the juice.
There are three important rules regarding the bully who has the juice. First, if you cannot accurately determine who the bully with juice is in your deal and none exists, be prepared for no decision to be made. It takes a bully with the juice to make every purchase happen. This is a reality in today’s economy. Second, when there is a bully with the juice in your deal and this person is not helping you, always assume they are helping someone else. Therefore, the deal is lost. Finally, if a Bully with the Juice does exists but you aren’t able to identify the person, be prepared to lose as you are in a position of extreme risk.
“If you cannot accurately determine who the bully with juice is in your deal and none exists, be prepared for no decision to be made.”
I want to share with you a memorable, personal story about a bully who definitely had the juice.
The local account team had been working with a prestigious financial brokerage firm in New York for five months. During that time, the potential customer had completed a thorough technical product evaluation in its information technology lab. The sales team had invested a lot of presales engineering resources in this account. By doing so, engineer in charge of the technical evaluation had developed into a strong coach. He even approached the sales team to discuss the possibility of joining our company.
Our coach had warned us that the vice president of information services was a micromanager. He personally had to approve all new technology that was brought into “his” organization. Therefore, in order to receive his blessing, a company presentation was scheduled. The sales team can laugh about it now, but the presentation was much more of an interrogation than a business meeting.
From a personal standpoint, the vice president was combative and condescending. For example, as part of the presentation about the company, the sales team explained the patents that we have applied for and been awarded. To this point, he replied, “How do I know that these patents aren’t just red herrings [false or nonexistent] to throw off your competition!” The entire meeting felt like we were appearing on 60 Minutes, being asked by Mike Wallace “Is it true you beat your wife?” Even though you answer “No” to the question, you are assumed to be guilty.
Given this set of circumstances, we had limited options to build rapport. First, we maintained our composure and did our best not to take the attack personally. Second, we agreed (profusely at times) with the vp’s point of view when it was applicable. And finally, in the most professional, nonpersonal way we could muster, we countered on certain issues by offering other potential solutions. You do not want to directly contradict a bully who has juice.
As we left the meeting, I told the local salesperson that based on the beating we received I thought it was a long shot the company would move forward with us. However, we had a secret weapon. Our coach would later tell us that our performance was deemed “acceptable” by the vice president. More importantly, our coach continued to lobby on our behalf. Several weeks later, we received our first purchase order from our new customer. It was through the coach’s persistent promotion of our solution that the Bully with the juice approved our deal.
Heavy Hitters understand that they must deal with duds and bullies while they are in hot pursuit of the person who has the juice. This story illustrates another important truism about hi-tech sales– Heavy Hitters know they need a constant, accurate source of information revealing the internal machinations of the customer’s selection process. The term “coach” is the popular name of a person who is the source of this inside information. Without a coach firmly entrenched on your side, you have no hope of winning the deal.
Heavy Hitters also have their own juice– their ability to create rapport. In order to win the deal, they know how to communicate their message and influence others in the process, building a more intense level of rapport and deeper relationship with their customers. The best way to illustrate this is to recount a recent sales situation with another bully who had the juice.
Paul was the manager in charge of information systems security in a well-known financial services company. He would accurately be described personally as a cantankerous skeptic. His main responsibility was to ensure the customer’s data was safe and secure. The position held a lot of responsibility and commanded equal authority. A breach in the customer’s data could have significant financial implications. In addition to the legal liability, the unfavorable press would impact the company greatly.
Paul was a tough-minded authoritarian. He didn’t meet vendors; rather he verbally abused them in front of his staff! These staged events were designed to showcase his considerable knowledge and the extent of his authority. Paul didn’t trust anybody. He spoke negatively about other divisions of his company and how he would manage them differently.
Developing Paul into a coach was critical. He was the bully who had all the juice. If the Heavy Hitter didn’t win him over, he wouldn’t win the deal. He knew it was pointless to argue with Paul, as there was nothing to be gained by doing so. He would not be swayed by any vendor’s logic or reason. Paul marched to his own drumbeat.
Paul would choose the solution he believed was in his own best interest. So what did Paul want? He wanted to be a hero. He wanted to prove he was a smart businessman. He was seeking the recognition he felt he was entitled to. The Heavy Hitter’s mission was to ensure that the selection of his product helped Paul achieve his needs.
Paul was considering replacing the company’s existing security vendor because of continual product stability problems and the quality of its support. The product was originally purchased before Paul was hired and the company had spent a significant amount of money purchasing and implementing it. Knowing this, the Heavy Hitter worked with his management to package a very compelling proposal that included a full product trade-in credit and free implementation services. This excited Paul! He would take great pride in boasting to his managers how he not only fixed the problem but essentially got their money back too.
The Heavy Hitter continually sold to Paul’s ego. At every opportunity, he elicited Paul’s feedback, not so much for its own merits, but rather so Paul could hear himself talk about the Heavy Hitter’s solution. He arranged for Paul to meet with others from the Hitter’s company– his technical support manager, the product management team, and various members of the executive staff. By doing this, the Hitter’s colleagues were subjected to Paul’s pontificating, and the Heavy Hitter was freed for other tasks. The Heavy Hitter even arranged for Paul to be invited to join his company’s customer advisory committee.
Paul would ultimately become a fantastic coach and an incredible champion. He was sold on the Hitter’s company as well as the product. Finally, someone was treating him with the respect he deserved. Later, he even met with the president about the possibility of joining the Hitter’s company. Paul wasn’t such a tough guy after all.
There’s an interesting way to determine who the bully with the juice is. Group dynamics are very complex and often revealing. A group’s behavioral pecking order is communicated by where people sit during meetings. Whether at a round table or in a classroom setting, the person with the most juice and greatest ability to bully will usually take the dominant seating position. This dominating behavior is also evidenced in meeting interactions. To explain this, we need to introduce the concept of the “participation pie.” The participation pie illustrates the amount of time each person interacts in a meeting or presentation.
Fig. 3 Participation Pie Charts
Usually, the person who interacts the most will be the bully who has the most juice. Bullies with juice are in charge and they want everyone to know it. And although dud bullies will be very active participants, the more they participate, the more it becomes obvious that they do not have the stature or expertise they think they do. We have all been in meetings where people like this are contradicted or even publicly chastised by members of their own team. Dud bullies don’t take Mark Twain’s advice when he said, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and be suspected of being a fool rather than open it and confirm suspicions.”
Another key aspect of the participation pie is how the number of attendees affects the level of participation. In meetings with up to four members, the amount of time each person spends interacting and asking questions is relatively equal. As the group grows to eight people, the interactions become clustered around several people. In larger groups, up to twelve people, the majority of interactions are usually among a few individuals. These people are most likely to be bullies.
CONCLUSION The model of the bully, dud, and juice help explain that members of the customer’s evaluation team do not share an equal vote or the same level of interest in the decision being made. Some members are apathetic while others are more insistent they get their way. However, one individual has the juice to single-handedly make the decision, and it is this individual that we strive to build rapport with.
In sales, we are frequently placed in uncomfortable situations where rapport is nonexistent. Unfortunately, salespeople will naturally gravitate to members of the evaluation team that like them. It’s human nature to want to avoid rejection and stay in your comfort zone. Finally, salespeople are constantly placed in an environment where they must differentiate themselves and their product from other attention-getting solutions.
Under these circumstances, the salesperson’s job is to create a receptive environment and create a relationship with detractors as well as supporters. Ultimately, there is one person who makes the final decision and truly matters. In today’s economic malaise, it is the bully with the juice who reigns supreme.