With nearly two decades of experience selling and managing customer relationships for enterprise data storage vendors, Kaminario’s Troy McFadden knows a thing or two about the world of IT sales. We sat down with him to learn about his process, the changing world of IT sales, and what’s made him so successful during his tenure in the industry.
Read on for his tips on how to stand out from the crowd and win business from larger competitors, as well as how to keep up with the new strategic selling trends in enterprise IT sales.
The Changing Landscape of IT Sales
Before transitioning into sales with Nimble Storage and Kaminario, Troy worked as a Customer Advocacy Executive for Sun Microsystems and a Global Success Manager for NetApp, where he oversaw major accounts such as AT&T and ExxonMobil. Over the course of almost 20 years in the industry, Troy’s witnessed many changes in client behaviors and priorities firsthand. Today’s enterprise IT customer has changed, and he stressed that enterprise sellers must adapt to reach them.
“What we’re seeing is a lot of specialists leave and a lot of generalists stay,” he said. “A lot of companies are trying to cut costs and sometimes they do that despite knowing it’s going to damage them in the long run. People are looking for generalists now, and generalists usually stay.”
While it may save money in the short term, it makes selling complex solutions into those businesses much more difficult. And with specialists gone and too few people left on the inside with the technical fluency needed to champion more complex offerings, salespeople often find it difficult to make their case effectively to decision-makers.
He also noted that increased competition and market volatility are adding to that difficulty. To sell successfully in this new landscape, Troy said sellers must be tenacious in their pursuit of business and open to adopting new approaches to stand out in a crowded and changing market.
“You see companies like Sears filing for bankruptcy,” he said. “You never thought Sears would go away, but it’s gone. Netscape, Sun—I worked for both. They’re gone. You’ll see that continual cycle, but the need is still going to be there, relationships are still going to be required, you just have to forge forward and make it happen.”
Fight FUD with Fact
Troy often finds himself in the midst of a never-ending David and Goliath struggle, trying to sell into the enterprise against competing vendors with more resources and greater market reach. His solution—and advice to other smaller vendors looking for a big coup—is to counter FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt planted by large IT vendors to prevent their clients from switching to competitors) with cold-hard facts.
“There’s a culture of FUD and a culture of fact,” he said. “When you compete against companies that are great at generating FUD, that’s a whole new layer you’ve got to cut through. Sometimes the bigger vendors will win. Customers buy in on FUD—it works.”
To combat FUD, Troy uses the simple tactic of diffusing an emotional response with a rational one, and it can be tremendously effective at assuaging the fears of a prospect who’s on the fence.
“Once you understand where the fear is coming from, you can come back with a counter attack that mitigates their uncertainty with fact and not just emotion.”
And yet, Troy stressed that the familiarity between buyer and seller can cloud a client’s judgement and make them hesitant to switch, even if your solution will clearly deliver superior results. That’s when enlisting the help of an internal advocate can be most impactful.
“If you’re competing against someone who has a great relationship with your prospect, it’s going to be tough unless you’ve got a champion to back you up,” he said.
If you don’t know anyone on the inside, Troy recommended delivering a more tailored service to draw a sharp contrast between your solution and the competition. For example, Troy’s seen far too many overconfident vendors just come in, drop off a memory stick with a test plan to satisfy a client request for a proof of concept, and walk away. Troy identified this as a pattern with his larger competitors and learned to anticipate it in the future, always making sure to deliver his test plan for a successful POC first: based on the customer’s real-world workloads with their input and not a test plan that just accentuates the things your product does best.
“We took their workload profiles, created scripts, and told them, ‘You’re going to want to run a small block size, a large block size, and a mixed workload. You’re going to want database workloads and virtual environment workloads. Everything. Nothing’s out of balance. We’ll take what you do today, synthesize it into these scripts, and then you own them—you can customize them.’ Then, when the competitor came in and tried to hand them the memory stick, they said, ‘No thank you, you can keep that.'”
This attention to detail and highly personalized service is a winning model for Troy, and it serves as the basis for a mantra he often recites to his sales team when they need a little extra motivation:
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” he tells them. “It takes a lot of listening, attention to detail, documenting that detail, and then going forward with a solid plan.”
Keep that in mind, he believes, and you can leave all the latest sales and management books on the shelf.
After completing several engagements with Emissaries, Troy knows how to best leverage advisors to gain inside insights. He recommends taking the time and care to ensure that your advisor understands your product and use-cases. “When we start our engagements with the Emissaries, it’s first understanding their role and what they did during their tenure at the target account we are looking to sell to. What did they like and what didn’t they like? Then we ask the question: if we were asking you to represent our product with your old company, would you understand what our company does?”
Taking the time to break down your product offering at a high level sets the trajectory of the engagement going forward. Troy has seen how effective this can be. “Often the Emissary will say, ‘I thought you were this but you’re so much more.’ It opens the scope to a whole other level when they fully grasp what we do.”
When your Emissary fully understands your value, they’re in a better position to inform your sales strategy and direct you to the best champion. “The best thing about Emissary,” Troy says, “is that we get to the right person quickly.”