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Left & Right Pillars of Resistance in B2B Software Sales

The Four Software Sales Strategies


I love a community bake sale. Fresh bakery and hot coffee are wonderful treats on a weekend morning. But when it comes to sales strategy, I am a bit jealous of the people working the tables. They've got EVERY ADVANTAGE baked right in to their sales model!

Maybe it would be better to bake cookies than sell software, right? Take heart! You might be unintentionally applying the wrong sales strategy to the right customer.

At the bake sale:

  • Customers know just what they want and approach them directly (I like cinnamon rolls).
  • The off-the-shelf product (yummy baked goods) needs no modifications.
  • Competitors steer clear and often agree to produce only non-competitive offerings (no duplicate cupcakes).
  • The asking price is considered reasonable (no haggling over cookie prices).
  • Customers happily tell their friends about the great product without your asking (and sometimes even buy it for them).

That's never happened for me when selling software and I'll wager it doesn't resemble your experience either. Absolutely none of the "bake sale" conditions hold true.

In my experience with B2B software sales:

  • Customers don't know what they want, so they don't come looking for you.
  • Your product never quite fits, so clients ask to modify it.
  • Prospects think your prices are too high and they aggressively negotiate.
  • Customers invite competitors to bid against you.
  • Concessions are expected, while referrals are rarely given in return.

Even with all the variation and unknowns of the sales environment there are only four approaches to selling software. You can find hundreds of different sales methods and training courses, but in the end they all fall into one of these categories:

  1. Sell commodity products at the lowest price.

  2. Promote product features that the client finds advantageous.

  3. Devise operational solutions that solve a client's specific business problem.

  4. Advance strategic enablers that fundamentally change the way the client does business.

As a sales professional, it's your job to match the right method to the right customer. Your choice will depend on the complexity of what you sell, what resources you have at your disposal, and how the customer wants to buy.

Four Business Software Sales Strategies

CHART: Four Software Sales Strategies / Seller Authority Levels

It's not always clear when to use a particular approach. To help you identify which is right for you, I'll explain each one and illustrate example value propositions.

1. Sell Commodity Products (SUPPLIER)

This approach isn't any easier than the others. It might actually be the hardest one. Yes, you will strip down the sales organization until you're left just with order takers, but even commodities have supply chains, production schedules, distribution networks, points-of-sale, customer service, and product warranties to contend with.

Example Value Proposition:

Our visualization software reads 99% of the CAD files out there. It is the least expensive option and is available for immediate download. You can put it into production today.

Why not get started right away?

Optimizing all those interlocking processes down to the last penny takes a tremendous amount of dedication and effort. Wal-Mart didn't appear overnight, but many commodity players do disappear that way.

I mention the commodity approach as a warning: be careful your sales strategy does not cause you to discount your product to the point where you unwittingly compete with freeware (or Wal-Mart).

2. Promote Product Features (VENDOR)

This is often the easiest entry point of all the software sales strategies. It requires only a rudimentary understanding of the client's business. It's also a low-level entry point- you don't need to get to the CEO to sell.

In this approach, you tell as many prospects as you can about the great features of your product. You increase your odds of success by spreading a wider prospecting net.

Example Value Proposition:

Our visualization software lets you combine design data from several different CAD systems in one place, and you don't have to be an expert to use it.

Is that something you would be interested in?

3. Devise Operational Solutions (EXPERT)

This approach moves from talking to listening. Your goal is to question users about pain points and problems in their current environment and get them to explain what solution they need.

Even when customers understand that they have serious operational issues to resolve, they might still be unfamiliar with the technologies that address them. Once you've got enough evidence, you can present the features of your product as the solution to these issues.

Example Value Proposition:

You've explained that you don't have a way to hold design reviews with overseas  facilities without traveling.

With our visualization software, you could virtually collaborate with these groups and keep your work synchronized without any travel.

Wouldn't the time, effort, and money that your engineering organization saves be worth the cost of the software?

 4. Advance Strategic Enablers (PARTNER)

This approach lives in the rarefied air of software sales strategies where few dare to fly. It evolves from listening to advising. Your goal is to educate the client about problems they don't even know they have.

If you act as a partner that is committed to improving the client's business in innovative ways, then you become a trusted adviser -- at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the low-cost provider.

Example Value Proposition:

We've investigated your product development costs and found that you spend 15% of your budget building physical prototypes.

In our experience, you have an opportunity to integrate virtual design data into your manufacturing process and eliminate 50% of these prototypes.

If you implemented this solution, you would generate an annual return of 150% on your technology investment AND enable your strategy of reducing product development costs by 5% this year.

Would that be an investment that your shareholders could support?

For help, read Selling the Business Value of Software and Customer Trust in the Sales Process.

Which Approach is Right For You?

As you were reading, you might have had a feeling about which approach you attempt to execute as opposed to which approach you are currently structured to execute.

The wider the gap, the less effective your organization will be. Without diving too deep, there are two ways to sort it out:

  • Align the resources you have with the approach they are most able to execute at the lowest Cost of Sales
  • Develop new capabilities to execute a specific approach for specific customers, industries, and specialties to generate the highest revenue

You'll want to do both, but one will be more important to you. Optimize the work of your extended sales team to sell with the right approach to the right customer.

If you would like more help developing B2B software sales strategy that differentiates your offerings and locks-out competitors, consider our online sales training or sales consulting services.

Where have you run into difficulty using the wrong software sales strategy? What is stopping you from executing efficiently? What would happen if you put the right strategy to work every time?

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