Five Strategies to Successfully Integrate a Solutions Specialist into Your Sales Team7 Sep, 2004 By: Darrell Amy imageSource
Five Strategies to Successfully Integrate a Solutions Specialist into Your Sales Team
Introducing software sales and a Document Solutions Specialist into an
established sales force presents numerous challenges.
of all, tenured salespeople accustomed to selling hardware simply may resist the
concept of introducing software into the business model because it could
potentially complicate or extend a sales cycle. Secondly, hardware sales
representatives with no experience selling software may set unrealistic
expectations with clients, which could result in frustration, poor customer
service and unnecessary expenses. Third, convincing your current sales team to
accept and work with this new and mysterious member of the staff, the solutions
specialist, can be a lengthy process.
to the fact that selling software is a new concept to many organizations, the
solutions specialist takes a lead role in helping salespeople find, develop and
close solutions sales. But how does a dealer successfully integrate this
position into his or her organization?
Crane, president of Copy Products, Inc. in Springfield, Missouri, has been
tackling this challenge head on for several years.
Products’ history is similar to many independent copier dealers. In the late
1960s, the company was established as a printing company. As plain paper copiers
evolved, the business began to provide copiers to their clients and, as time
progressed, Copy Products began to offer digital and multi-function products.
The most recent step in the company’s evolution has been providing software
realized that the solutions business was going to be the next natural step in
our company’s growth about two years ago," Crane said. "We knew it was natural
because our customers started asking what they could do with the documents they
were scanning on our MFPs."
clients start asking about document solutions, the first step most dealers take
is to investigate which solutions fit the bill for their customers. Once a
dealer begins researching the document software marketplace, it usually isn’t
long before they come to the realization that their salespeople do not have the
necessary skill set to close a solutions sale. At that point, it makes sense to
hire a solutions specialist.
hiring a solutions specialist, Crane looked for a candidate with experience in
both the computer business and the copier business. He was fortunate to find a
candidate that had worked for a networking company and had also worked for a
national copier distributor. Currently, Copy Products has one Document
Management Specialist working with 15 salespeople across six offices. Crane
expects that he will hire a second specialist in the near future to handle the
a specialist in place, the challenge of integrating the position into the sales
team begins. The first hurdle is to get the sales team to embrace document
solutions. With existing hardware offerings more sophisticated than ever, adding
software solutions can seem overwhelming to the sales team. This can lead the
sales team to only pay lip-service to the specialist.
are several strategies that can help a sales team embrace the solutions business
and generate teamwork with a specialist to create lucrative results.
Leadership by the Management Team
For the specialist to successfully integrate into the sales team, the
dealership’s management must be committed to leading their people into the
solutions business. This starts with the dealer principle and continues through
the levels of management.
of the things we say at Copy Products is that you have to embrace change or you
will get left behind," Crane said. "This is just a necessary change that we are
embracing. With margins decreasing on hardware every day, this is a way that you
can add value and add margin—and it has been very lucrative in that aspect."
hurdle is convincing sales representatives that document solutions is a valid
revenue stream. This can be a problem with tenured reps that have been very
successful selling hardware.
remarked, "It has been a difficult transition for our tenured salespeople. But
to their credit, they are now among the leaders in our company for software
Longer sales cycles in document solutions are another obstacle that the
management team needs to be prepared to face. It would be unrealistic for a
dealership to develop a consistent solutions revenue stream overnight. It takes
time and patience to develop a pipeline of potential business. It also takes
patience to close the first few software sales.
solutions sales cycle is typically longer than the hardware sale. In Crane’s
experience some of the early solutions opportunities took a while to close.
have found that a typical sales cycle for solutions is five to nine months
instead of 90 days on hardware," he said. "This requires patience in our
fast-paced world, but we believe this will be important to our business in the
Dealers should strongly consider investing in training for their management
teams in both the areas of leadership and management. Leadership training should
focus on guiding the sales team through change while keeping them focused on
bottom line results. It should also focus on fostering a team selling
Copier manufacturers, industry trade organizations and outside consultants may
provide some of this training. One of Copy Product’s vendors, Toshiba, provides
the "Tom Peter’s Liberation Management" as a part of their management training
program for their dealers. This program equips management teams to successfully
lead in changing times.
Management training should focus on the operational side of the solutions
business. The profit model for document solutions is different than the hardware
business in some ways. Similar to the leadership training, Toshiba is also
providing a program called, "Developing Your Solutions Business" to help their
dealers understand the marketing, operational and financial aspects of entering
the solutions marketplace. Dealers should take advantage of these management
Consistent Training for Salespeople
Most people are typically afraid of what they don’t know. Salespeople are often
apprehensive of document solutions because they don’t understand them. This
unease keeps them from talking about solutions to their prospective clients. The
key to overcoming this fear is consistent training.
goal of this training should be to equip the salespeople with an understanding
of the benefits a solution can provide to their clients. Instead of focusing on
the technical aspects of the solution, the sales training should focus on what
the solution can do and how it can create a positive return on investment. This
allows the sales team to embrace the concepts and begin to introduce them to
their clients. The specialist can take care of the technical details.
Dealers can leverage the resources of their vendors to educate their salespeople
on the benefits of new technology. Sales teams need to adjust their culture to
become a learning organization. Time invested in training will provide a high
return on investment.
have to continually train the sales team to keep the solutions in the forefront
of their mind," said Crane, who has sales representatives from the company’s
vendors come to the office to do training at least once a month.
Early Involvement in Solutions Sales
As the sales representatives uncover opportunities, they should involve the
specialist as early as possible in the sales process. Getting the specialist
involved early helps protect the dealership from salespeople making unrealistic
promises to the client about the functionality of the software.
goal is to get the specialist involved as early as possible in the solutions
sale," Crane said. "This ensures that the solution will meet the needs of the
customer. Having a specialist involved is useful because they should know
exactly what the software can and cannot do."
Products has also had to learn this lesson the hard way.
have done some installations that were absolute nightmares," recalled Crane. "We
have learned to never over promise and under deliver. The biggest challenge is
to understand exactly what your product can or cannot do and matching the
products to the customer’s needs. That is the solutions specialist’s
Salespeople require the proper tools to be able to explain and present the
benefits of document solutions to their clients. Hands-on demonstrations of the
solutions can help customers feel more comfortable with how easy the software is
to operate and what the benefits are.
this, dealers should implement document solutions in their sales departments.
Simple applications like scanning and indexing sales and lease documents can
help them understand how the technology could be used. So when potential clients
come to the dealership, they can see a live presentation showcasing how the
dealer is using the technology in their own dealership.
Salespeople can also leverage laptop computers to show the solutions to their
clients. Presentations and limited demonstrations can be performed by
salespeople to help get clients interested in the solution. Then the Document
Management Specialist can come in and take the sale to the next level. The
specialist can perform a customized presentation of the software on a laptop or
in the dealership’s demonstration room.
dealer has not already invested in laptops for their salespeople, this should
become a top priority as they enter the solutions business. If a dealer has
invested in laptops, they should consider a plan to refresh their salespeoples’
computers with current models. Doing a demonstration on a sluggish old computer
diminishes a dealership’s credibility as a high-tech operation—especially when
salespeople are meeting with IT professionals. Old laptops can be used other
places in the business or donated to schools as a tax write off.
Compensation has always driven our industry. A good compensation plan can drive
teamwork while a bad comp plan will render the solutions strategy dead on
his book, “Strategic Pay”, Edward Lawler says, "The challenge is to align an
organization’s pay system with that organization’s strategic direction." He
continues, "Many organizations have pay systems that are driven more by history
and what other organizations do than by a strategic analysis of organizational
needs." Careful thought should be given to the process of compensating
salespeople and solutions specialists.
strategy is to split the compensation in a solution sale. Copy Products
compensates sales representatives when they find a lead that turns into a
solutions sale. In this case, the commission is split with 70 percent going to
the Document Management Specialist and 30 percent to the sales representative.
Likewise, if the Document Management Specialist generates new equipment revenue,
70 percent goes to the hardware rep and 30 percent to the specialist.
Commenting on the pay plan, Crane emphasized: "You don’t want it to be a
parasitic relationship. It’s symbiotic. We are both providing help to each
other. Salespeople are always skeptical of new pay plans. This plan has allowed
them to work together. When they see that paycheck come in because of something
that somebody else did for them, it is a huge incentive."
Dealers can also consider adding other components to their pay plans to drive
the solutions business. Revenue bonuses can be offered to salespeople for
hitting solutions revenue. Solutions sales can be used to control current annual
bonuses. The number of solutions leads turned over could also be in the
compensation plan. Merit pay could be extended to salespeople for completing
important question to ask is: "What is our dealership trying to accomplish?" New
business requires new ideas. And new revenue streams invite an examination of
how the pay plan provides incentives for salespeople to move into the solutions
Successfully integrating a solutions specialist into the sales team is a
critical part of moving into the solutions business. Getting the specialist
hired is just the first step. Dealers should be very involved in making sure the
specialist is tightly integrated into their selling efforts. While doing this is
not easy, it is very important.
what advice he would give to a dealer wanting to integrate solutions into their
business, Crane said emphatically, "Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! If you don’t get into
this business now, you will get left behind."