How to Sell Invisible IoT Solutions That Deliver Verifiable Customer Outcomes – Part 1

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Mike Kunkle

Demand is a Good Thing (When You Have Supply)

Technological capabilities have been accelerating at the pace of Moore’s Law since Gordon Moore first shared his insight in 1965. It’s well known that the advances made possible by increases in processing power at lower costs, accelerate other technological and societal changes.

Advances in some of these other areas, such as data science, robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and digital transformation provide potential to fuel improvements in operational performance (efficiency and effectiveness), employee satisfaction, and customer experience. This is a powerful, symbIoTic circle of influence, for organizations that can capitalize on it as a catalyst for growth.

While Moore’s Law may hold relatively steady, we have crossed a tipping point, where the pace of change that it empowers is increasing, as more and more companies are rushing to capitalize on the growth potential in the IoT market. From autonomous cars to smart homes and cities to digital twins; it’s a connected world, and getting more connected by the day.

So, there is growing demand for IoT solutions. Demand is a good thing, especially when you’ve got supply. This should make selling IoT solutions easy, right?

Guess again.

The Invisible IoT

Forgive the liberty I’m taking based on the title of Harry Beckwith’s book, “Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing,” but selling full-scale IoT solutions is very much like “selling the invisible.”

It’s somewhat like selling SaaS solutions or professional services, but even more like selling bespoke consulting services or customized performance improvement solutions, where there is no pre-configured product or service with a pre-determined set of features, advantages, and benefits.

At the end of the IoT solution design stage, if all goes well, there will be a prototype solution to test, and hopefully scale into production later. But at the outset, in most cases, the solution is not yet designed or configured. (Hence, “invisible.”) Sales pros aren’t carrying around or emailing product data sheets with features, advantages, benefits, speeds, and feeds.

In the case of IoT, sales pros are selling a process to uncover and solve problems or capitalize on opportunities, through design thinking, prototyping, testing and eventually scaling solutions that don’t exist, before they are co-created (by vendors, their clients, and ecosystem partners).

True Consultative Selling: A Pandora’s Box of Positive Potential

The phrase “Pandora’s Box” is normally applied to a negative force that wreaks havoc when unleashed, but it’s the best metaphor for what I’m seeing.  If you fully apply the concept of consultative selling to an environment like the emerging IoT market, you will unleash a force rarely seen in modern selling history. The timing is a perfect storm, like other moments in business history:

  • The manufacturing explosion after the invention of the automobile and the assembly line.
  • The accounting professional services boom, after the debacles at Enron and WorldCom and the introduction of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) which expanded reporting requirements for all U.S. public company boards, management, and public accounting firms.
  • The rush of IT/programming consulting as Y2K approached (although that had an expiration date, after the world didn’t grind to a halt on January 1, 2000, so the rise of the mobile app economy is another that is on-going).

For the sales profession, I’ve been waiting for a compelling event that might push us out of the era of transactional selling into true, full-blown consultative selling. After all, it’s been almost 50 years since Mack Hanan first published his book on Consultative Selling (a landmark work at the time and still an advanced book on the subject).

Truth be told, for the sales profession as a whole, it will likely take a proliferation of AI and machine learning that eventually vastly reduces or eliminates the need for humans in a transactional sale. Then, the only sales people needed will be those who truly add value to the customer through a consultative approach, during a complex sale of high-priced solutions where it’s important to get the decision right, to solve vexing problems and achieve desired outcomes.

For those working in the world of IoT solutions, that time has come.

Consultative selling skills are required for IoT sales, but it’s not just a consultative sale. To thrive in this environment, it requires the ability to:

  • Uncover the current state impacts and desired future state outcomes, and orchestrate design sessions that will produce solutions to deliver the outcomes.
  • Demonstrate business acumen to uncover and communicate those impacts and the desired outcomes.
  • Build trust with multiple stakeholders with varying interests, agendas, and desired outcomes.
  • Sell an intangible service process of building a solution, rather than sell a clearly-defined tangible product.
  • Deliver insights and thought leadership to create opportunity and shape buyers’ thinking.
  • Harness and engage resources. It’s a team sale that requires coordinating internal resources, but also involves engaging ecosystem partner experts and experts on the client’s team.

This requires a level of consultative selling mindsets and skills that most sales professionals today simply don’t possess. It’s a mix of consulting skills, insight selling, outcome selling, problem-solving, and design thinking.

Based on my experience over the past 2 decades or so, watching companies try to implement insight selling, Challenger-like methodologies, trusted advisor programs, and other advanced sales methodologies, I’ve seen one thing surface as true, repeatedly. If you don’t have a firm foundation of consultative selling skills on which to build, advanced sales methodologies are incredibly difficult to implement and derive value from.

Next Stop: A Baseline of Consultative Selling Skills

In Part 2 of this post, we’ll provide guidance on:

  • What skills are foundational to true consultative selling.
  • How to lay a strong foundation of these consultative selling skills.
  • How to drive the behavior changes you need to see in your sales force, before layering advanced skills.
  • How to do so in a way that will deliver verifiable customer outcomes.

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