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The Benefits of Systems Sales

Cary F. McGovern Comments
Posted in Articles, Archive

Systems Sales Methods

By Cary F. McGovern

"Systems sales" is also known as the "business-process sales" model. It has proven to be quite valuable to many sales organizations. This article discusses the benefits and the general approach of applying systems sales to records-management services.

Although there are numerous variations to this time-tested method, the approach outlined here has been successfully utilized for selling records-management services. How do systems or business-process sales differ from product or event sales? There is quite a difference indeed.

Systems sales presumes you don't know the solution to the customer's problem. In fact, you may not even know the question. It is about understanding the business system that delivers the results of records management to the customer. Selling records management is an example of systems sales.

In selling products or events, we are typically selling something already pre-packaged and that fits as a generic solution to a problem. Selling records storage is an example of product selling.

The Benefits of Systems Sales

In principle, the benefits of systems sales revolve around two very important issues. The first is the enrollment of your customer as an ally in the sales process. The second issue is the opportunity to investigate the problem through the eyes of your customer's employees. Let's take a look at how this derives benefit for you in selling records-management services.

The customer as an ally--Once your customer has opened his door to have you investigate his problem, he has taken ownership of it. He has a stake in resolving the problem. He has exposed his "pain" to you. Finding the pain is the key to selling anything. In records management, finding the pain is relatively easy. It is important the pain be his pain, and not your perception of what the pain is.

Walking in the customer's shoes--Once you're "inside," your customer will tell you what is wrong. The key to understanding his problem lies in asking the right questions and listening to the answers without proposing solutions. The questions best asked are who? what? when? where? how? and why?, the most important being "why?"

Selling the Survey or Needs Assessment

The principal means of gathering information from the customer is generally called the survey or needs assessment. In records management, then, the goal for the sales call is selling the survey, not records management itself. When you sell the survey, the sale potential may double or triple, and the percentage of closed sales doubles.

The survey usually consists of three stages: the questionnaire, interview and walk-about. Each of these stages plays a very important role in the process.

  • Questionnaire--The role of the questionnaire is to acquire information before the interview. If the questionnaire is simple and easy to answer, the results could expose the customer's greatest "pain."
  • Interview--The interview allows the opportunity to ask our six questions (who, what, when, where, how and why). Finding the right person to interview is very important. It may not be the person who invited you in. It may be the person closest to the records-management system, as this is the person who feels the "pain" the most.
  • Walk-about--The most important part of the survey is by far the walk-about. It is during this stage you find the "dirty laundry." During the walk-about, the most important question to ask is "why?" I have found in my 25 years of consulting that simply asking "why?" exposes most problems.

Identifying Issues

I have written about "issues" in numerous articles. If there is a central focus to the closure of any sale, it revolves around the "issues" found in the business system. Simply put, an issue is something that should be considered. It is not necessarily a problem. It could be a pointer to a problem. It is always an attribute to the resolution of the customer's pain.

Issues are detected in each of the three phases of the survey process. You must be aware of them and record them as they are uncovered in each stage. One issue may point to another issue, a problem or the customer's pain. Issues are not generally hidden. They are, for the most part, obvious to the observer. One of the anomalies of systems work is the old adage, "You can't see the forest for the trees." I personally recount many examples of this. For some reason, the person closest to the problem, or "pain," doesn't recognize it. I suppose it boils down to familiarity. Most people are shocked when you ask them, "Why do you do that?" The most common answer is, "I've always done it that way." When you hear this answer, you are close to the heart of the problem.

The Proposal

Your proposal should be assembled around the uncovered issues. It should include five sections: a thank-you letter, issue statements or findings, recommendations or solutions, the contract and a price list.

  • Thank-You Letter--A concise one-page letter thanking the customer for the opportunity to review his business process.
  • Issue Statements or Findings--Clear and succinct statements that identify the issue. Simply state the issue that should be considered.
  • Recommendations or Solutions--The recommendations should resolve the issues and always point to a sales opportunity.
  • Contract--The only contract to use is the standard industry contract promulgated by PRISM International (, the records-management trade association. It includes standard wording that protects you from liability.
  • Price List--Remember, pricing should be specialized for each customer. There are many factors that will allow you to charge a higher rate to one customer over another.

Next month's column will focus on how to create issue statements that sell services.

Regular columnist Cary F. McGovern is a certified records manager and the principal of File Managers Inc., a records-management consulting firm specializing in implementation assistance and training for new, commercial records-center start-ups, as well as marketing support for existing records centers. For more information call 877.FILEMAN;

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