IT Sales Superstars To Solution Providers: Don't Sell Technology, Tell A Story

Solution provider TekLinks was able to drive recurring revenue from $300,000 per month to $3.6 million over the course of seven years. The sales success stemmed from company's go-to-market strategy of being able to tell relatable, tangible stories to customers, according to David Powell, a former top executive at TekLinks who is now general manager of LogicMonitor's service provider business.

"The reason that [TekLinks was] able to achieve that growth is story-telling," said Powell during a session at XChange 2018, hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company. "The problem with technology is that oftentimes you tell the customer, 'Here's everything that we can do.' If you've laid out these options and are now allowing the customer to decide what they want to do, that is a horrible, horrible idea. … You're allowing the customer to decide what they think they need."

When solution providers are in the sales trenches, they should talk to potential customers about a relevant and successful use case they've had with an existing customer.

"Tell them the business case you came up with. What did you overcome. What was the challenge and what was the outcome," said Powell. "The customer goes, 'I don't have that exact same challenge, but I have one similar. Let's talk about that.' So we equipped all of our sales teams with particular stories to go tell around all of our different products. We had a service and a story to go with it."

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Jason Rook, vice president of market development for cloud-based solution provider and Microsoft powerhouse 10th Magnitude, said the New York-based company recently decided that the No. 1 way to sell is through "the power of stories."

"So we as a leadership team said, 'What is our story going to be for the next 24 months?'" Rook said during the XChange session. The answer was to create what 10th Magnitude calls an “agility quadrant.”

"The agility quadrant is no more than a cheat sheet on what we should be telling our customers. This is about a 60-second story that anybody in our organization -- engineers, architects, salespeople, marketing people -- can quickly grab a customer and tell them the story," Rook said.

Every Monday evening at 10th Magnitude, the company conducts a group pitch meeting on the phone. "We will randomly select somebody on that call and they have to give the agility quadrant pitch to everybody else, and we'll all critique it. We've been doing this over and over again," said Rook. "What we're trying to do is have everybody have their own story and also be able to sit in a room and say, 'Hey I just met you, I'm going to tell my story, but I'm going to make it apply to you. I met this person who is in DevOps, so I'm going to make my story apply to them. This is an [artificial intelligence] person, so I'm going to tell them my story with an AI spin.’"

The sales experts said solution providers should focus on telling relatable customer success stories that the potential customer can see itself in. Solution providers should repurpose successful use cases to take to market with a story tailored-made for the potential customer.

Phil Wright, co-founder and CEO of Accent Consulting, a Lafayette, Ind.-based solution provider, said he plans to implement what he learned from Powell and Rook into his own business.

"It makes it more relatable to the customer if you can tell a story. It's a good tactic. So it's something we'll probably try with our sales team," said Wright, whose company specializes in managed and professional services, software development and cloud solutions.

Wright, who has over a decade of IT leadership experience, said much of sales is "done on emotion."

"When we talk about HIPAA compliance with our different customers, we go back and show them breaches that happened with other companies of their similar size, even the ones in the local geographical area," said Wright. "It makes it more relatable."