I had a very happy phone call today–the kind that pleases me more than all others.
One of my clients called to report that on the previous night, the school board of his customer (a 50,000 student school district) had unanimously approved a five-year, $6.3 million contract for educational software that my client’s company sells.
This sale is the third or fourth biggest single sale the company has ever made and by far the biggest sale that the salesperson whom I coach (we’ll call him John) has ever made. And he will tell you “it was a whale hunt!”
Schools have no money, right? Schools are hard to sell to, right? Schools are bureaucracies, right? Right on all counts; nevertheless, schools do buy all sorts of things, all of the time.
So here’s how we made this deal happen.
- Planning. John learned everything we could about the district and all the people who would be involved in decision-making–principals, curriculum coordinators, IT people, central office people and others. They were not looking for software and had no immediate plan to buy an educational software package. However, a few individual schools had purchased pieces of it and were showing good results. John decided that we should write a formal business plan–a case for support–and his company commissioned me to write it. We had it beautifully prepared and formatted. That was in April 2012.
- Persistence. John personally delivered the business plan to each of the stakeholders, seeking their support. He began to locate a group of people who were very interested in the plan. They did not take a recommendation to the school board prior to the end of the last school year, preferring to wait until school reconvened in the fall. John continued to meet with people as he could during the summer.
- Patience. Fall came and went, and still no agenda item for the board to consider this software purchase. However, right after the new year, it suddenly came up on the board agenda for a presentation. John coached the school leaders who would be presenting the business plan to the board. And after a lengthy discussion it was approved unanimously.
How much planning do you do? How much persistence and patience can you demonstrate in a tough selling arena? There is definitely an art to knowing when to quit, but there is equally an art to knowing when to persist. This deal took nine months from the initial presentation of a business plan–closer to twelve months totally. But it is a deal more than 10 x John’s average deal, it’s three times his 2013 quota (already sold in January!), and it’s a flagship deal for his company.
A complex deal is just that. It has lots of people involved, many points of view, and multiple connections. John could not have sold this deal one:one. He involved his team and the customer’s team in building a case for support that all at once became inevitable. And that is whale hunting!