5 Rules for Selling Technology to Business Audiences

February 5th, 2010

Sales management often talks about selling “business value”. There’s a good reason for this: in most cases it is not IT making the decision to buy software, but rather the business users (although IT may have veto power). For many Sales Engineers (especially technical ones) that means that if you are talking about technology, you may not be helping to win the deal because your message may go right past the business audience.

So how do you effectively sell technology to a business audience? First off you should strive to have a combination of both business and technical people from the prospect attending your presentations. This mix can help you to really sell the business value of technology, although many SE’s dread presenting to “mixed groups”. To make presentations to mixed business/technical audiences work well, you should follow these guidelines:

  1. Move back and forth between “day in the life” examples and down in the weeds technical explanations. It’s important not to water down your presentation for either part of the audience. Don’t be afraid to talk tech when challenged, but always make sure your examples are relevant to the business users so that they stay engaged.
  2. Go for the “head nods” from the geeks. This should remain your goal throughout the presentation: to get the technical people to nod their heads when a business user says “can your system do X?”. Even though there may be animosity between the IT and business groups in a company, it’s likely they trust their fellow employees more  than they trust your sales team. So getting them to see that your solution passes muster with IT during the demo is critical.
  3. Control the conversation – don’t go down a “rabbit hole” with the technical people. It’s likely that technical people will ask detailed questions (often with little regard for the other audience members). If you can answer quickly, do it, otherwise you should defer the question for follow-up. If you feel you will lose credibility by deferring, you can offer to answer the question during a break. But if you do, make sure to point out your discussion (and get a head nod) once you start again.
  4. Use examples relevant to the business users. This may seem obvious, but I know many SE’s who do demonstrations that have a very technical focus. Showing the XML generated from a web service or the SQL output from a process may fly with IT, but you will lose the business users quickly with this approach. It’s not that you can’t show technical results, but you need to bring it back around to the business users in a way they can appreciate (which is usually something visual). A great way to do this the classic “cooking demo” where, ala Julia Child, you show the process (including some tech details) and bring out the beautifully baked pie at the end. Taking this approach means that both the techies and the business users will be satisfied that they saw something of value. Of course it also means that SE’s really need to understand the business processes, not just the technology.
  5. Make the business users feel they can understand the complexity. Many business users feel that the technical folks are speaking another language, and they are often right. But if you can explain a complex technology in terms that make sense to a business user you can really win them over. Using analogies is one great way to accomplish this. Because many business users have given up on being able to communicate with IT, by providing a bridge you will show how your technology will benefit them directly.

    Demo Skills, Demo Tips, Selling

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