Give Us Solutions and Benefits – Selling to the CPO, part 2

Continuing our look into the CPO’s head, aimed at solution providers and others selling into these fine individuals! Part 1 was here.

If you can get through that initial barrier of making contact and getting me vaguely interested, then recognise that I don’t have a lot of personal discretionary budget. I was a CPO at NatWest responsible for over £1.5 billion annual spend, more at today’s money, and beyond my direct staff costs, I had a budget of about £200,000 a year to cover recruitment costs, training, consulting support, data, conferences...  I will need to develop a new business case to buy any significant software, for instance, probably even if it is on an annual licence basis or software-as-a-service basis.

Not only are we busy, and relatively poor, we have short attention spans!  We’re not (in most cases) technologists or particularly interested in the details of your technology itself, if that’s what you’re selling.  We do want solutions to our problems though, or to our stakeholder’s problems, or perhaps even better, our boss’s problems.

Now most sales training will tell you that you need to get to understand our problems and issues before you can sell to us. That’s great in theory, we don’t disagree. But if we give you 45 minutes, that’s what we mean, and if you spend 40 minutes of that listening sympathetically while we pour out our hearts and problems to you, then you have precisely 5 minutes to tell us what you and your product can do. OK, we might give you another shot if we really liked the way you nodded sympathetically, but we might not, or that second bite might be in 3 months’ time. If you’re lucky.

So why not do as much of that “establishing the need” as you can before you see me? Indeed, it is rarely sensible for your first sales meeting to be with the CPO. Start with someone at middle level in procurement – probably easier to get their interest or time, and they might even let you buy them a coffee or a glass of something after work.

Use that primarily to understand how your offering might fit with the organisation, what their needs are, what the key issues troubling them might be.  Then you can compress that part of the meeting with the CPO, show that you already have a pretty good understanding of the organisation and its drivers, and make sure you have time to talk about your solution.

Then, please present the product or service to us in terms of the benefits to us and how it will actually make our lives easier, better or more successful. We don’t need to know all the technicalities at this stage. Sell the solution and the benefits, not the features. I know that is really obvious, and again it is sales training school day one stuff, but you’d be surprised...  And if you can’t get those benefits across to me in 15 minutes or so, then there’s a problem. Either you’re not explaining it right, or the benefits aren’t really there.

We’re nice people really... good luck!

First Voice

  1. Pierre Laprée:

    “Either you’re not explaining it right, or the benefits aren’t really there.” You should add “Or the CPO is interested but is trying to undermine your value proposition to prepare his negotiation” 🙂

    Joke aside, having been on both sides of the table (and now being on the wrong side of the shotgun), these 2 articles very aptly describe the challenges from both parties (lack of discretionary budget / inability to convey benefits…) and the every day life of a CPO and sales rep. Thanks for showing the other side of the mirror Peter!

    Ultimately I think that a little bit of empathy would help a lot and make the whole thing less painful/more constructive for both sides. This doesn’t have to be a fight.

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