May 1, 2001

5 Min Read
The Benefits of Systems Sales

Systems Sales Methods

By Cary F. McGovern

"Systemssales" is also known as the "business-process sales" model. Ithas proven to be quite valuable to many sales organizations. This articlediscusses the benefits and the general approach of applying systems sales torecords-management services.

Although there are numerous variations to this time-testedmethod, the approach outlined here has been successfully utilized for sellingrecords-management services. How do systems or business-process sales differfrom 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 thebusiness 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 alreadypre-packaged and that fits as a generic solution to a problem. Selling recordsstorage is an example of product selling.

The Benefits of Systems Sales

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

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

Walking in the customer's shoes--Once you're "inside," yourcustomer will tell you what is wrong. The key to understanding his problem liesin asking the right questions and listening to the answers without proposingsolutions. 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 generallycalled the survey or needs assessment. In records management, then, the goal forthe sales call is selling the survey, not records management itself. When yousell the survey, the sale potential may double or triple, and the percentage ofclosed sales doubles.

The survey usually consists of three stages: the questionnaire, interview andwalk-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 acentral focus to the closure of any sale, it revolves around the"issues" found in the business system. Simply put, an issue issomething that should be considered. It is not necessarily a problem. It couldbe a pointer to a problem. It is always an attribute to the resolution of thecustomer's pain.

Issues are detected in each of the three phases of the survey process. Youmust be aware of them and record them as they are uncovered in each stage. Oneissue may point to another issue, a problem or the customer's pain. Issues arenot generally hidden. They are, for the most part, obvious to the observer. Oneof the anomalies of systems work is the old adage, "You can't see theforest for the trees." I personally recount many examples of this. For somereason, the person closest to the problem, or "pain," doesn'trecognize it. I suppose it boils down to familiarity. Most people are shockedwhen 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 areclose to the heart of the problem.

The Proposal

Your proposal should be assembled around the uncovered issues. It shouldinclude 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 sellservices.

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

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