Like most start-up entrepreneurs, when I began my first company in 1999 I had no formal sales experience. But I did have the wherewithal to visit potential customers and to learn about the pain points that I thought our solution could solve. This is a very important thing to do when you first start a company. On my blog, Both Sides of the Table, it's what I call the evangelical phase of a business, during which you’re out trying to persuade customers that a product you’ve designed is going to meet their needs better than other solutions on the market.

Invariably, your first efforts at a product won’t quite hit the mark--and that's okay. It’s okay, because in an era where you can much more rapidly prototype and build products, it is far more beneficial to launch your first version, get initial customer traction, and then talk to your customer base to understand how well it meets their needs. In other words, it's when you figure out if your product solves the need of a customer segment well enough that many people are willing to pay money for it.

In my journey to better understand the sales process, my management team and I developed a sales methodology. It was a common language we used with each other that became important as we added new sales people and new geographic territories. It helped ensure that we all thought about our sales campaigns in a uniform way and that we had a common language that would help us decide where to spend our limited resources. After all, the golden rule in sales is "qualify, qualify, qualify," specifically because you always have limited resources that you must weigh against the highest potential opportunities in terms of probability and deal size.

We called our methodology PUCCKA, which stands for Pain, Unique selling proposition, Compelling event,  Champion, Key players, and Aligned purchasing process. Here's a brief description of each principle of the methodology. In future posts, I'll delve into each area in great detail.

Pain: The business problem your prospect is experiencing. This answers the question, "Why buy anything?"

Unique selling proposition: The problem your product is uniquely positioned to solve. If a customer has pain and you get them to articulate it, the next step is to show that you can solve that problem. If you make headway. don’t be so naïve as to think your prospects--however friendly they are to you--won’t search for alternate solutions. They now know they have a problem! And it’s their job to make sure they talk with multiple vendors to find out who offers the best solution. This part of the methodology answers the question, "Why buy me?"

Compelling event: The thing that forces your prospect to realize they need to kick off a project immediately. The most compelling events are often driven by market conditions (for instance, regulation that forces your prospect to implement a system, or a workplace incident that causes them to implement systems to follow procedures more carefully). When external factors drive adoption of your solution, you have instant product/market fit. But since you can’t count on such factors, you usually have to create your own compelling event. How? The one way I know of doing so is by conducting a business case/return-on-investment (ROI) study that shows that a customer is losing business or money. THis answers the question, “Why buy now?,” which is the hardest question to answer. Often customers will think your product is useful, but just don’t have the time, budget, or inclination to adopt your solution without a compelling event.

Champion: The person who drives through the approval to give your company the go ahead (and secure the budget). Orders don’t fill out themselves. You need somebody who will take a risk on you and guide you through he process. A champion is somebody with both "influence" and "authority." This is in contrast to people with no influence and no authority, or NINAs.

Key players: The other people involved in the sales process, including enemies, technical experts, and sponsors. The most telling sign of an inexperienced sales person is that they meet one nice person in an organization and spend all of their time with that one individual. The problem with this approach? If a customer has a real problem, then often your competitors talking with them as well and if you’re not meeting and neutralizing the people who support your competitors you’re in for some nasty surprises.

Aligned purchasing process: When your customer is ready to buy when you’re ready to sell. It’s your job to figure out when this timing is right. You might have a prospect who likes your unique solution to a pain they're experiencing. But they might have more urgent pains to solve at the moment. Or perhaps your customer is in a budget freeze or the key resource who was allocated to lead your project has just resigned. The sales team’s job is to figure out whether the prospect not only has a need, but also a budget, resources, and an approval process to work with you. If they don’t, then you're better off putting them into a “marketing funnel” and having non-sales employees stay in touch with them through white papers, seminars, etc. Then, your salespeople will have more time to focus on near-term deals and quarterly targets.

In my next post, I’ll delve into "pain" in greater detail.