The Pareto Principle, often referred to as the 80/20 rule, suggests that roughly 80% of outcomes are the result of 20% of inputs or causes. Today, I'd like to introduce a fresh perspective on this principle and apply it to the world of enterprise sales. My take is that within an enterprise sales scenario, 80% of the overall outcomes realized during the deployment phase can be directly attributed to the quality and effectiveness of the initial 20% of interactions between the vendor and the customer. This concept challenges the traditional view that the goal of a sales process is merely the sale itself. A committed contract marks the inception of a transformative journey for the customer and provides the vendor with incredible insight to build upon for further successful deployments.
This shared journey revolves around aligning corporate and personal objectives, which should be established during the early stages of software evaluation. While the sales process is critical and significant, it tends to occupy less than 20% of the entire customer-vendor relationship in terms of time and effort. The remaining 80% unfolds during the implementation phase and subsequent support, where the true impact of the solution becomes evident. With the entire picture in mind, let’s dive into the 20%.
Below are four fundamental principles aimed at ensuring not only a successful sale but also a seamless deployment, laying the groundwork for a mutually rewarding relationship and realization of the important established business goals.
- Have the End in Mind:
In the initial phases of sales conversations, I embrace the concept of time management expert, Stephen Covey: "Begin with the end in mind." When engaging with potential clients, I like to pose a question: "Imagine a discussion taking place between us six months to a year from now. What does success look like for you and your organization, and how will you measure it?"
For many of our most successful clients, these goals are already documented, underscoring their proactive commitment to strategic planning and alignment of objectives. By having this discussion from the onset, we lay the foundation along a shared path that transcends just purchasing a product. This comprehensive approach to goal setting not only increases the odds of a successful engagement but also establishes candor and trust right from the start.
- Ensure Alignment of Stakeholder Priorities:
Organizations are multifaceted entities composed of distinct business units, each characterized by its unique set of objectives and priorities. Recognizing and appreciating these individual nuances at the outset of an enterprise sales cycle stands as a cornerstone of the project's overall success. These conversations serve as a pivotal phase for gathering information, as the sales team understands and aligns aspirations and objectives. Through these dialogues, it becomes evident that the finance department's goals may revolve around cost containment and operational efficiency, while the sales and marketing teams may place a premium on revenue generation and market expansion. In contrast, the IT department may require specific technical needs and success metrics centered on application integration and data security.
With a comprehensive grasp of these diverse objectives, adjustments can be made to the project's scope and timeline. Considerations can be given to trade-offs in feature deployment, ensuring that the software solution aligns with the most critical business imperatives. The sales team and the implementation team can work together with the customer to plan how to put the solution into action. This plan considers different goals and makes sure each department's needs and potential concerns are addressed. It helps all parties get early wins and builds momentum, which creates excitement as the project continues.
Finally, agreed-upon KPIs can encompass not only the traditional benchmarks of success, such as return on investment (ROI) and efficiency gains but also the attainment of specific objectives set by different business units (user adoption, milestone management, top-line revenue, speed to revenue, etc.).
- Early Involvement from Professional Services Team:
As the initial product demonstration unfolds, the customer begins to envision how the software's features can augment their processes and provide valued business outcomes. The conversation evolves, no longer focused solely on the capabilities of the product, but on understanding how the software integrates into the customer's unique operational ecosystem (people, process, technologies, and data requirements). When we’re talking about software deployment, we’re talking about change management within an organization – this involves mapping out how the software tool aligns with and enhances the customer's specific context and workflows. This juncture is where our professional services team steps into the picture, leveraging their extensive experience derived from working with diverse and unique clients. Implementation consultants draw upon collective insights from past projects to get a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the customer. In doing so, we not only proactively mitigate potential pitfalls, but also unlock the full potential of the software.
In this collaborative exercise, both the customer and the vendor have much to gain. The customer realizes the advantages from our expertise and the lessons learned from previous customers, and simultaneously, we, as the vendor, gather invaluable insights that empower us to continually refine and enhance our solutions, which is the best kind of snowball effect. This kind of partnership encourages a dynamic environment where innovation and success become shared visions.
- Smooth Sales to Services Handoff:
A seamless transition between the sales and services phases is a hallmark of a well-executed enterprise sales engagement. Everything we’ve all learned to that point must not only be captured but leveraged to move forward. This transition can be effectively facilitated through a solid Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, complemented by meeting recording solutions such as Chorus or Gong. These technologies not only automate data capture but also streamline the handoff process, ensuring that critical information and insights are effortlessly transferred between teams.
But what kind of information? To build a foundation for a productive project kickoff, some of the essential data to be captured include:
- Company Overview and Firmographics: This entails information such as company revenue, size, industry, geographical location (including the time zones of critical stakeholders), and the presence of pivotal internal technologies, such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, and adjacent applications.
- Project Timeline and Associated Goals: Gaining clarity regarding the project timeline and the overarching goals tied to it is paramount. This involves identifying any compelling events, directives, mergers or acquisitions, software expiration dates, revenue targets, and other pivotal milestones that are directly related or adjacent to the implementation. Comprehending the long-term objectives of the company and discerning how the software implementation aligns with and contributes to those objectives is at the heart of the software evaluation and purchase.
- Sandbox Success Criteria and Configuration Notes: In cases where a sandbox trial or pilot project has been conducted, documenting the key success criteria and configuration details that led to the awarding of the contract is invaluable. This can provide a partial blueprint for the implementation phase.
By incorporating these best practices, sales teams are not only equipped to secure a successful sale but also to establish the groundwork for long-lasting and fruitful customer/vendor relationships. The capture and transfer of data and insights in the early phases ensure a sense of mutual accountability, better decision-making, and extreme ownership.
The Pareto Principle's application to enterprise sales underscores the impact of the initial interactions and transition to professional services greatly impacts the overall success of a deployment. While the sales process is key, it represents a fraction of the broader customer-vendor relationship – the seeds must be nurtured. The true value unfolds during implementation and ongoing support. Uncovering the realization of long-term goals, involving professional services early, and providing all important and relevant information post-sale will ensure a successful deployment and delighted customers.