What’s the difference between a cloud consultant and a sales person?

The surge towards Cloud Computing has created some really exciting services – CRM and Service Desk, Accounting packages, electronic contracts, virtual contact centres and collaborative documents are just some of the services I use.

Business leaders are starting to get really excited about Cloud Computing as well. A search on Google Trends for Cloud Computing shows the dramatic increase in interest over the past couple of years.

Great products, and customer interest sounds exciting – but as Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM once observed “Nothing happens until someone sells something.”

At some point someone in your business has to influence the decision of someone at your client. Typically you might think this means sales people – pin-stripe suits, company cars, and expense accounts, but it’s not always the case – if you asked professional Accountants or Solicitors if they were sales people they would probably be offended – and yet they generate new clients and new revenues.

Similarly, in the Cloud world much of the responsibility for building solutions for clients, closing the deal and generating the revenues comes down to you – the consultants working on the project. The client has a need for a solution, and by scoping out your delivery of that project, and any associated products that support the core solution, you are in effect selling.

I discussed these cloud selling questions with John Douch of Silent Edge – a leading Sales performance consultancy who offer the industry’s only objective approach to evaluation and development and has installed Sales Academies for companies including BT, Barclays, and ADT.

Most Cloud Consultants have a technical background and wouldn’t classify themselves as sales people. What tips have you got to help them close business?

“Questioning is key. Identifying and uncovering pains will help any consultant from a technical background match their company offerings to the prospect’s needs. It will also give them all the information they need to create strong Sales Value Propositions.” says John.

I absolutely agree. I believe this is where Consultants are already way ahead of most sales people. To be a great consultant you need to ask a lot of questions. ”How does this work? Why does that happen? Who should deal with this?” These questions help you to understand your client’s requirements so you can offer them an appropriate solution. They also demonstrate to your client that you understand their business and want to help – this is at the core of successful sales (and will feature in a follow-up post where I will look at Cloud sales questions).

Traditional sales people can struggle with selling Cloud solutions. Why do you think this is?

John says that “traditional sales uses a transactional selling approach, which relies on a product or service that is in demand and is well understood by the target audience.” A sales person can turn up, demonstrate their product’s features and hopefully beat off the competition. Cloud is a lot more conceptual. ”The key word here is ‘solutions’. Selling a solution requires a strategic approach.” The key to that is questioning well, understanding the client’s business, and giving them ideas about running it in a way they hadn’t thought of before.

What are top tips for ensuring that Sales Training actually works?

Anyone that has worked in Sales will have had some form of training, and much of it very forgettable. “For sales training to work you need to drive long-term change in people’s behaviour. The learning needs to be relevant to the individual and sustained by managers.” says John. It is this sustaining by managers that is key. A manager needs to be in the training, to understand it, and to build its concepts into the weekly and monthly reviews. ”Sheep-dip training once or twice a year will have no impact on behaviour or revenues. Managers need to see each of their team in action, understand what best practice looks like and coach them individually in areas where they need support.”

Can anyone make a great sales person?

There is plenty of discussion around whether great sales people are born or made. John feels it’s the latter, “Selling skills and best practice can be learnt. In our experience, if you expose a sales person to best practice and give them a strong manager who knows how to lead and coach, they will be successful.” I agree. Many sales people end up in the role by accident, and over the years they learn their trade and get more successful. I don’t believe there is any reason why a technical consultant or sales engineer couldn’t be even more effective at closing revenue than a career sales person.

Have you had difficulties in positioning cloud solutions to your clients? Do think there is a conflict of interests if technical consultants are also involved in selling?

Charlie Cowan inspires and enables partners at NewVoiceMedia, a Salesforce Appexchange partner routing inbound calls based on CRM data. Unusually for someone in the IT industry, Charlie holds a degree in Rural Land Management from The Royal Agricultural College. He lives and works in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, with his wife and three children.