Archive for September, 2016

Who writes these sales pitches?


From my LinkedIn page –

Telesales must be an incredibly hard thing to do, but I can’t help but think that the poor guys selling financial services to Dubai based ‘clients’ are hobbled from the start.

Spend any amount of time in Dubai and after a while your phone number will find its way into the hands of a company trying to sell financial services to expats. I’m sure other nationalities have similar approaches made to them, but I am only ever called up by Brits who sound as if they are in their late teens and have just left school (snob alert here – their way of speaking simply doesn’t fill me with confidence that they can handle my life savings. Perhaps this reflects badly on me, but I am the customer after all).

Given that these kids probably haven’t had much experience and are starting at the bottom, I don’t understand why their managers provide them with what must be the worse sales pitches in history.

Here’s the classic that was in vogue for a while.

“All right Chris, we met at the event the other week but I lost yer contact details, hence calling yourself now. Unfortunately me computer crashed and I lost me notes so I’m calling ya now. Do you have a pension plan ‘cos either way I’m sure I can help you optimise it.”

Let’s deconstruct that opening pitch, the aim of which is to persuade me to place my trust in the caller with my financial future.

It starts off being too familiar. You’re not selling me a pound of tomatoes and we aren’t friends either. Then we move onto a blatant lie, as we’ve never met. Then the sales person reveals they are so incompetent that they lost critical information and don’t know when to differentiate between ‘you and yourself’ (snob alert again). Finally, they reveal that their computer systems are utterly inadequate.

It’s not very convincing, mate.

The one doing the rounds at the moment consists of the same person calling, usually three times a day, with the following opening gambit –

Sales lady – “Hello Chris, I’ve just been on LinkedIn and I’ve noticed you’re a British expat living in Dubai, is that correct?”

Me – “I don’t need any financial services, thank you. I appreciate you are just doing your job, but please don’t call me again”.

Click, bzzzzz.

Three hours later, the same process is repeated. With the same person calling. Do customers have short memories or do they change their minds that quickly?

This is a lot better than the lie and the admission of incompetence and it naturally encourages you to engage in the conversation.

Both of the previous examples are still pretty poor. There’s an element of deceit or a feeling of manipulation – not the best way to start off a business relationship, especially for something this important.

These pitches still persist though – does this mean they are successful enough to keep using or that people cling to them in desperation? Even if I genuinely needed what they are selling, I’d be put off from the beginning. The statistics showing the success rates behind these calls would be fascinating to see.

If I’m pitching something – and I am certainly not a telesales ice to eskimos sales genius – I tend to think a bit of honesty and context is important. There’s no point saying something that will instantly get you caught out, or pretending your product is the ‘best’ or flattering the customer, or lying outright from the very start. Someone at these companies thinks that is a good idea though. Why?

It’s not all doom and gloom – a recent pitch to me went down very well and I was almost drawn in, partly because I quite enjoy being sold to when it’s done well.

The caller spoke clearly in standard English and instantly made the point that he didn’t expect me to buy anything from him based on a phone call, he was simply setting up appointments for someone who was an expert in the field. There were no arbitrary time limits (don’t miss out!) or claims that we’d met before (I lost my notes!) or assertions that I’d be living in penury for the rest of my life if I didn’t listen to him (I know it all!).

He didn’t try to position himself as my saviour, acknowledged I probably already had arrangements made, admitted these calls can be annoying, etc.

It was just honest, reasonable and… I nearly made an appointment. A much better experience, but!

Please, telesales financial services sellers – much as I find the process interesting, please stop calling me.

The curse of the BDM


Originally posted on my LinkedIn page…

I’ve seen the curse at work in the past…



Dear all

I would like to welcome John Smith to the IT Corp team in his role as Business Development Manager for Widget Solutions.

As we all know, Widget Solutions are a key part of IT-Corp’s strategy. They form the cornerstone of our long term plan to move away from only selling Boxes upon which customers build the widgets that bring them tangible business value.

Whilst we at IT Corp have excelled at selling Boxes for many years, we see a major opportunity by branching into the widget business – we secure the entire solutions stack, become more relevant to our customers, have the opportunity to sell services and lock out our competition.

John has several years’ experience in the region selling Widgets, starting out with Widget Corp as a pre-sales engineer before moving into sales. Several of our larger customers use IT Corp Boxes to deploy Widget based solutions that John was directly involved in selling, so has actually indirectly been developing our business already. He brings a wealth of experience as well as customer contacts at far more senior levels with our key customers than our current sales team have.

Here’s how I see John’s next twelve months panning out.

First of all, I’m going to label John as being ‘overlay sales’, to give the impression that he is an extra burden on our field sales office, directly contributing to the higher sales targets we face and somehow holding us back from reaching them. That way, the reps at the coal face are bound to welcome him with open arms.

As we are all aware, Widget sales typically take nine to twelve months, involve several of our product lines and, to make things more difficult, the sales reps for these product lines aren’t incentivised to work together. Because of this situation, I haven’t based his commission for his first three quarters on pipeline growth and partner development, but on revenue. Equally, we will continue to goal our sales teams in a way that doesn’t actually fit with what we are trying to achieve with our Widget strategy. Naturally, after three months, I will be expressing disappointment with John for not having delivered any revenue.

I’ve asked the more co-operative account managers to hand John the accounts they don’t really have time to work on, so that they treat him as a junior sales rep expected to handle the entire sale for them, as opposed to the widget expert they can use to grow their own influence and revenues in the accounts where they currently do well.

Less co-operative account managers will be expected to fob John off for several weeks, cancelling meeting requests at the last minute, messing him around and generally keeping him out of ’their’ accounts They will see him, for some unknown reason, as a threat to their importance, rather than as a valued team member who can help them hit their number.

John will have no pre-sales technical help as he is supposed to know absolutely everything, from how to pitch Widgets to a CIO, down to installing and configuring obscure features for PoCs.

After six to nine months, despite the odds, John will have built up some pipeline and actually brought some deals to the point of closure. At this point, rather than expecting the account managers to deal with procurement and the other nuts and bolts of getting the PO placed, I will be questioning John as to why he isn’t doing this. In parallel, whilst he does focus on closing these smaller deals in time for the end of the quarter, I’ll be wondering why more strategic pipeline development isn’t taking place.

As none of our partners are currently particularly strong when it comes to Widget solutions and as Widget solutions are a key part of our strategy, our partner conference in a few months’ time will be the perfect opportunity for John to showcase his expertise and provide some critical guidance for the channel. For this reason his slot will be at the end of the day, just after a session on back-up software (which will overrun) and right before the free bar opens.

After three quarters of conflicting pressure, zero commission and lots of frustration, I’ll be expecting John to be wondering why on earth he joined us.

At the end of four quarters with us, I’ll express surprise when John hands in his resignation, but once he’s left, we’ll start to see some Widget orders close from the pipeline he’s built up, leaving us all to conclude that if deals close when he’s not there, there was probably not much point in having him in the first place. We will, however, hire a replacement BDM from within the team who will have a much easier time of things thanks to the results appearing from John’s apparently fruitless twelve months with us.

John is newly married to a wife he won’t see much in the near future due to work commitments and who, in nine months’ time, will give him the ultimatum that it’s either her or IT Corp. This will be the final straw that leads him to dust off that CV and move on to pastures new.

Please join me in welcoming John to the team.


Regional Sales Manager

Rings any bells?

Avoiding the ‘curse of the BDM’ is a tough one to avoid. The example above refers to all of the worst things that can happen, but sadly isn’t that much of an exaggeration based on what I’ve seen in the past.

In terms of fitting in quickly and hitting the ground running, the most successful BDMs I’ve seen were typically already part of the same sales organisation, often making their first moves from a pre-sales/systems engineer role into more of a sales role. This meant they were known and trusted by the existing sales reps, posed no apparent challenge to the Charlie Big Potatoes[1] of the team and were on top of their subject from the start.

Get the commission structure right or see everything fall apart. BDMs will usually be developing some kind of solution that involves multiple products across the organisation. Unless people are paid to collaborate, it all falls apart.

If you don’t have ‘double bubble’[2] commissions on a deal, you’ll likely get nowhere. I experienced the collapse of my business in a previous jobs when a compensation change was made. In the past, the account managers had been paid on my product (thin client devices) as well as the servers and storage that sat behind them, whilst I was goaled only on the devices themselves. We had all been doing well – typically the customers buying this solution were buying our datacenter hardware for the first time to power these devices. New customers, selling to new teams within existing customers, delivering a real solution, becoming more strategic, etc, etc. All the boxes were ticked and life was good. I look back on this period as being one of the most enjoyable of my working life so far.

Then the account managers stopped getting recognition for thin clients and were only be paid on the servers and storage. The average deal sized was half or three quarters what it was before and most of the guys just couldn’t afford to invest the time – the deals were still ticking all the strategic boxes, but for the individual reps at least, the returns weren’t worth the effort. This effectively turned me from being a BDM/product sales manager into an account manager myself as I had to drive the individual deals almost entirely on my own. This wasn’t logistically possible when being the only person covering the Middle East and Africa – the simple commission change was what ultimately killed the product line couple of years later, in my opinion. Years of real success and growth went out of the window.

Another personal experience at another vendor was being in the wrong division. Selling a desktop device that drove server and storage sales was fine, but those sales reps and their managers had little time or interest in what I was supposed to be doing. Being part of the division that made its money selling laptops and PCs meant it was impossible to do anything either. Expecting an account rep to suggest to their customers that they buy a $200 thin client instead of a $1,200 laptop was unrealistic form the outset. Sure, if the customers asked for a thin client, the reps were ready to oblige, but for obvious reasons this wasn’t a product they particularly cared about, regardless of its bigger implications for the company and customers as a whole.

I’ve also seen people struggle when joining a vendor from the customer side to be a BDM for a vertical – in telco or financial services for example. You may have someone who knows their industry inside out, but unless sales management pay a lot of attention at the beginning to get the BDM and the account reps together to work out who will do what, the new BDM is likely to flounder in their new world of IT sales. Perhaps heads will need to be bashed together or perhaps people will need to be mentored through proper account planning and role definition, but having a customer join the Dark Side of IT sales and expecting them to deliver miracles will typically be unrealistic.

If I were hiring I’d pick the characteristics of the people I’m lucky enough to be working with now (I don’t have to write that – but it is true). Excellent knowledge of that they are supposed to be BDMing in the first place, more than willing to travel to interesting places and strong minded enough to be able to push back or take ownership when needed, with management supporting the situation in terms of how people are incentivised financially. The Curse of the BDM does not stalk our corridors…

Any stories people would like to share? Success stories would obviously be heart-warming, but the horror stories are often more fun to hear!

[1] Charlie Big Potatoes – a hotshot salesman, or, more typically, someone who thinks he is a hotshot salesman.

[2] Double Bubble – when two people are paid commission on a deal. In this example, the account manager and the BDM supporting him. It’s a horrible phrase that annoys me for some reason, almost as much as ‘pension pot’. My irrational linguistic dislikes are a topic for a whole series of blog posts…

Drawing the lines – Pakistan and North Africa


Originally posted on my LinkedIn page…

A cursory glance at what’s happened in the past when lines have been drawn on the map of the region without much care shows us the implications can be huge. Getting MENA and MEA right can have big repercussions for any IT company operating in the region. With a regional HQ in Dubai, it’s straightforward to map out most of the territory the office will cover, but in my experience there are always questions over North Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia specifically) and Pakistan. Which territories should they fall under?

The Pakistan question is close to my heart. I was lucky enough to travel there many times during my time at Sun Microsystems, with good business results and enduring contacts. I enjoyed it. Sadly the security situation meant I had to stop visiting around 2008 (two hotels I stayed in were bombed shortly after I had been there) and then our being acquired meant Pakistan became a different piece in the the acquiring company’s regional jigsaw. Fortunately the re-org happened after I had managed to get a senior US manager out to Islamabad to visit a big customer. It was quite a trip and, aside from the work we did with the customer in question, it was good to have one of the US guys see the challenges we faced in the field in this part of the world…

Things are much better in Pakistan now, both in terms of security and the economy, with growth set to occur again for the IT industry, so perhaps it’s time to review how to capitalise on the opportunity if you feel the lines haven’t been drawn correctly.

IT companies typically either have Pakistan be part of the Dubai office’s remit, or have the team in Singapore take ownership. Before we discuss the merits, or lack thereof, of each approach, perhaps it’s best to consider the third – and worst – option.

When sitting in an office in Europe or the US, looking at a map of the globe, it’s not unreasonable that decision makers might decide to have Pakistan report to India.

With the best will in the world, however, this approach simply does not work.

Having Pakistan be part of the India sales territory, but then having Afghanistan’s revenues fold into the Dubai team’s results is also not the best. I have always welcomed the revenue from the people somehow managing to plug away in Kabul in the face of such immense challenges, but could probably make a lot more out of Afghanistan if I were incentivised to work with the large Pakistani based resellers who sell there.

If we take out the India option, what are the relative merits of the Singapore vs Dubai approach?

To nail my colours to the mast, unless there is a burning reason to do otherwise, I believe Pakistan should be managed out of Dubai and not out of Singapore. Many of Pakistan’s IT executives have various business and personal connections in Dubai and travel there regularly. Resellers will often have satellite offices or holding companies based in the UAE who may be able to place orders on local distributors in UAE dirhams (which are pegged to USD). Training will typically be done in the UAE. From a cultural point of view, vendors will typically have staff who are Pakistani themselves or who, having lived in the Gulf for a while, will have worked with plenty of Pakistani executives, which minimises the chance of cultural misunderstandings. I haven’t spent much time in Singapore or Asia-Pac but my guess is that whilst English is the business language in both regions, there is less of a linguistic challenge when dealing with Dubai.

Travel is also straightforward, with plenty of flights back and forth and visas both ways generally not presenting any major hurdles.

In my experience at least, this means that there has always been at least some focus on what is a smaller IT market than, say, the UAE or Saudi, but one which should not be ignored, especially with a population of 193 million and counting. When this has been the setup for firms I have worked for, things have worked relatively well.

When Pakistan has been managed out of Singapore, the complaint from the resellers and customers I have spoken to in the past (though not in my current role) is that there is little focus, something which can be particularly painful when the geographies change suddenly thanks to an acquisition or re-org. The cultural disconnect is far greater, travel is harder and there are fewer existing business connections to build on to encourage incremental growth. That’s not to say it can’t be made to work, but it may well not be worth the pain of trying.

To my mind, the Pakistan question is easy to answer. The North Africa question is a lot less clear cut and will need careful consideration based on each company’s situation.

The scenario we clearly want to avoid is a regional sales team making a grab for land that they then largely ignore due to other priorities, but which they benefit from thanks to the occasional deal that drops into their laps. Regardless of where the dividing line falls, this is something that can only be fixed with the right management attention.

What needs to be considered before the line is drawn?

Having North Africa ultimately be part of the French sales territory appears quite seductive. For historical reasons, many French business are deeply involved in North Africa, resellers and distributors are active across the territories, or are easily able to be when called upon. Whilst I have seen the levels of spoken English improve remarkably over the last decade, French is still a must when dealing with many customers and is essential for government projects. Many employees in the French HQ will have cultural connections to the Maghreb and are often keen to travel and work there.

That said, the anecdotal and personal experience I have is that when North Africa is managed out of France, it is in danger of being seen as something of a backwater – a lot of sales effort needed but for smaller returns than would be seen when deploying that manpower in France itself.

When the region reports to Dubai, it becomes an emerging market for a team that is used to dealing with emerging markets. Care is needed in your own sales teams and in the channel to avoid grey market or out of territory sales that undermine effort and investment, but there are plenty of Dubai based French speaking sales and pre-sales staff who can take the territory on. With their managers folding North Africa into plans to grow the overall business based on a solid Middle East North Africa sales plan, you should have a recipe for success.

Many North African resellers and integrators do business down into French-speaking and, increasingly, English-speaking Africa. Skilled partners that can make a difference into the territories for which many vendors are unlikely to have short or even long term plans for local presence. Tunisian companies have been particularly active in this respect whenever I’ve covered this turf and I’ve been grateful for it.

Travel does present a challenge, although direct flights from Dubai to Algeria and Tunisia have been available for a while now. That said, these things can work both ways. When working on a project in Tunisia many years ago, the customer was impressed with the commitment we showed – an English guy from Dubai making the trek over to torture the French language and run through our recommended solution showed them we really cared about their project. Our competitor’s Paris based sales rep flew in and out in a day and didn’t stay for dinner, which didn’t go down well. (We were selected in the end).

Later I found myself in a situation which worked very well for what I was trying to achieve at the time. The pre-sales engineer I worked with in Dubai was French but had lived in Morocco for many years. Whilst being technically very astute, he was also very sales focused. This meant I could rely on him to get a great deal done in Casablanca and Tunis whilst I spent more time in Beirut and Lagos. He seemed quite happy with this situation.

So, to nail my final set of colours to the mast, I believe that if you are looking to develop business in North Africa, particularly from a low base, the Dubai connection is a must. However, if it’s with France today and things are ticking along, there is reasonable run rate and and fulfilment is working well, there may be no compelling reason to change.

My past and my amusing travel anecdotes aren’t the sole basis on which to make major business decisions – these are just my opinions, based on the experience I have. I’m sure there are good examples of the opposite to my assertions above being true – and I would be keen to hear them.

In Defence of the Quarter


Originally posted on my LinkedIn page…

I always start QBRs with our main regional distributor with the phrase, ‘the quarter is dead, long live the quarter’. As one passes away, we continue straight into the next – the King is dead, long live the King. It can be exhausting, but we all have the choice to give up our commission based pay structures and go into the operations side of things, should we wish to…

No one I’ve met in sales particularly enjoys the quarterly rhythm, but we all thrive on it and, working for the most part in regional sales offices in this part of the world, we have no choice but to knuckle down and get on with it. We can’t change Wall Street or the London Stock Exchange and, if we’re lucky enough to have share options, we might benefit from a jump after a good quarter’s results come in and are made public, even whilst we bemoan yet another forecasting and end of Q scramble.

In defence of the quarter, I’ve never seen an alternative that ensures the right sales pressure and rhythm is applied. Despite having been through plenty of them, I’m always pleasantly reminded each quarter what people can achieve when that pressure really is on. Seeing what happens when that pressure relents is always a disappointment.

It all comes down to management of course, getting that balance between long and short term-ism, as well as personal responsibility from individual sales reps.

The worst end of quarters I’ve experienced were when working for a company whose financial year matched the calendar year. Christmas would be ruined and I would be messaging our distributor about placing final orders whilst the fireworks would be going off around the Burj Khalifa. After apologising to Mrs Saul for ruining the Christmas and New Year period, I was then off to a sales kick off miles away, returning jet-lagged and grumpy, jumping straight back into a plane to make the best out of the most productive time of the year for customers and partners.

This accounting choice made no sense for customers, partners or the company itself. Christmas was the worst, chasing down people who were on holiday, with the same pattern repeating itself for Easter, then the beginning of the summer holidays. All we did was exhaust ourselves and irritate everyone else unnecessarily. I don’t think the situation helped our sales in the slightest.

End of quarter classics for me, regardless of when the deadline loomed, have been distributors suddenly deciding partners whose deals had been forecasted for months have no credit and a customer in West Africa who’d committed to a large purchase literally disappearing off the face of the earth. My perennial favourite is procurement managers deciding a week before the end of quarter that they know more about IT than the vendor, partner and their datacentre team combined – after all, if that person’s brother-in-law can get a 1TB USB drive for $99 in their local electronics store, why are the disks in the $250,000 cluster being purchased so expensive?

A dark moment was a forecast in the last week of a quarter where a colleague reported that the decision maker at a certain customer had sadly died of a heart attack the day before. After a few moments of hesitation, the sales manager running the call sighed and came straight out with it – ‘did he sign off the PO before this happened’. He had.

We have the usual pressures where I am now, but the timing of the financial year and the current atmosphere we are working in all contribute to making the best out of a system that may not be the best, but which is better than all the alternatives. The sales equivalent to Winston Churchill’s comment on democracy.

What are your end of quarter horror stories or suggestions for making the situation work better for everyone?

Blogging again…


We recently had a company offsite meeting where we learnt all about using LinkedIn for ‘social selling’. It was a good course and it reminded me of how much I enjoyed spouting off on my blog. So I’ve decided to try and write some more work focused articles and publish them on LinkedIn. I’ll cross post them here as well.