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Hey folks, Phil Zito here and welcome back. In this post, I am going to be talking about if you hit a wall, how you can use targeted selling to get in the door of your customer. Basically, how you can bypass your potential blockers, influencers, etc, and get directly targeted in on the person who's going to make the decision related to the building automation purchase.

Okay, we've all been here. If you've been selling for any amount of time, you're working with a customer, you're not progressing the sale at all, and after a little digging, you find out who you thought was a qualified buyer is actually maybe an influencer. Maybe they're a technical evaluator, maybe they're a blocker, etc, and you really need to figure out how do to get in the door, direct to the person who's going to make the monetary decision in regard to whatever you're selling.

If you've been following the posts for the past couple weeks, we've gone through retrofit, service, install, and we've covered how to sell in each one of those scenarios. Now we are looking at how to get to whoever is going to make the decision. So first off, we have to figure out who is going to make the decision, and this used to be very simple. Someone had a budget assigned to them, they made a decision, but nowadays, it's become much more complex.

In the construction side of things, it still is fairly easy. If you're under a mechanical, that mechanical is going to make the decision unless the owner actually has influence. In which case, the owner can override, potentially the general and the mechanical. So, it can get a little murky. Where it gets specifically murky is when we're doing owner-direct work.

I remember working on the Phillips 66 headquarters, and in the Phillips 66 headquarters building, there were several decision makers. One of the most interesting things was I was flown down as the “technical expert for building automation and integration.” Their IT group actually was making a no-bid decision on who could bid and who couldn't. So, they weren't making a buy decision, they were making a no-bid decision, and it was based on a cybersecurity analysis of the building automation system.

So, what we found out was, these people wanted to do, essentially, an analysis of the protocols, an analysis of the building automation system, they wanted to understand our cybersecurity process, and based on that, they were going to qualify or non-qualify people to bid opportunities.

So, in this case, how would have targeted selling affected us? Well, if we hadn't known that this was coming down the pipe, then we wouldn't have been prepared to have cybersecurity experts from my company come to speak and answer those questions. But because we had a targeted selling approach, where we knew, this is the financial buyer, these are the technical influencers, these are who are going to block us, these are who are going to influence, these are who can potentially shut down our bid before it even happens, we were able to provide account coverage of these different buyer and influencer archetypes.

I'm using very specific terms. For any of you who have been through targeted account selling training, you've heard of influencer, you've heard of blocker, economic buyer, technical buyer, budget holder, etc., all of those things. So, I'm using these terms just to kind of get us on the same page.

Now, how do you use this in something that maybe isn't a $10-$12 million control job, something that's more around the range of a $250,000-$500,000 control job, which is what most of us are targeting, right? Most of us are targeting that quarter to half a million-dollar controls job. And if we get a big whale, like a multimillion, great, that's awesome, but it's not realistic for most of us.

So, if we're targeting a $250,000 retrofit, and let's say it's a school district retrofit, how do we go and use targeted selling to coverage that or to cover that? Well, first off, if it's a retrofit, then we need to understand a couple of things. Retrofits are typically driven by engineers, so there's an engineer who's designing the retrofit, in the case of the school district, or by the controls company, in the case of maybe a commercial office building where it's owner direct. So, we have to understand first, who is designing the scope boundaries in which we have to operate?

Next, we have to understand the procurement model. So, if it's owner direct procurement, they may be able to make a direct decision without going out to bid. If it's K-12, it may have to go through a bid process, but we can also potentially influence that bid process by getting ourselves flat spec’d. In some scenarios of government work, you can go and based on existing systems, provider preference, etc, they can potentially flat spec you. In that case, that would mean we'd have a different influence.

Now, I'm not specifying who we're influencing yet at this point and who we're targeting yet, I just want to paint this picture. So, we have two potential buckets: a commercial office building bucket, where it's owner direct, and not a whole lot of procurement model restraints around there. Then we have maybe K-12, higher education, local government, with some procurement model constraints around how we go about doing business. That being said, we can still use targeted selling in both models.

Let's talk about the more restrictive procurement model first, and then let's look at a less restrictive model. Let's also look at how we would use targeted selling in that.

So, in the more constricted procurement model, we'd be involved in capital planning, we would understand retrofits are coming down the road, we maybe have a service relationship, etc, and we would understand the procurement model and how we can work within that procurement model. So, we'd have a couple targeted people who we would be going after.

  • First is procurement. We would target the procurement group and we would understand who we need to work with in there potentially, to take advantage, legally, of the procurement rules to potentially flat spec us, or to potentially make us the preferred vendor.
  • Additionally, we would look at the engineer who's most likely doing this retrofit design. We would identify how to influence that person to become basis of design? Can we write their design for them? Can we influence that in any way? How can we do that?
  • Then we would look at the financial decision maker within the K-12 district. This may be the superintendent, this may be the school council, this may be the actual facility director, depending on how funds are allocated within this district or within the school.

So, we have three potential targets to cover: a procurement target, an engineer target, and an owner/monetary economic buyer to cover. So, you can see targeted selling, if we just did our traditional sales approach of just going to the facility director or just going to the superintendent and trying to influence there, then we would not be covering the basis of design. We would not be covering the procurement, so we would be greatly reducing our ability to close a sale.

Now, if you're like me, you're probably thinking, “Okay, so now you’re taking one person and you're asking me to cover three people.” This is where team selling comes into play. If you have a team, this makes it much easier. You have someone who's specific to engineers, and they cover engineering firms. You have someone who's specific to owners, and they cover owners, and then you have someone who's specifically experienced in procurement.

This is why, if you go back several posts, I really hammered the point of when you're trying to build a book of business, initially focus on a vertical market. Specifically target that vertical market, and pursue that vertical market, whether it be K-12, hospitals, hospitality, etc. Once you target that market, then you start to learn how things work in that market.

So, you may have 1-3 salespeople involved in a pursuit. Now, a credit split will most likely have to take place. I know that's not really exciting for salespeople, they don't like the idea of a credit split, but a credit split of $100 is better than 100% of $0. As you team sell, your likelihood to close more complex sales, and to cover the buyers, is increasing.

This especially becomes important when you get into the 7-8 figure control sales. If you want to sell a $1 million controls project, and you're not considering team selling and doing a targeted account map, then you're making a very poor choice, in my opinion.

If you don’t already have a CRM (Customer Resource Management Software Suite), or a way to manage accounts and account data, you really should get one. We obviously don't sell that, so I have no skin in that game, but we personally use HubSpot, and it works really well.

So, as far as mapping out an account goes, what I would specifically focus in on is your technical influencers, your economic decision makers, your technical decision makers, and your blockers. So, maybe in a commercial office building where you don't necessarily have as restrictive of procurement laws, an example of this would be Boiler Bob. Maybe he's been there for 40 years, he likes his pneumatic system, he absolutely does not want to retrofit it. So, he is going to be a technical blocker.

So, you need to be cognizant that he will be going to the economic decision maker and blocking your purchase decision, because his argument will be something like, “Well, our pneumatics were great already, it's gonna cost a lot of money to retrofit, what's the benefit. we're gonna have to learn a new system, I can do all of this on my own, we've never had complaints in the past, etc, etc.”

These are all going to be the kinds of things that a blocker is going to throw in your face, especially if they're on the technical side. Economic blockers are a little different. They're going to be saying, “What's the ROI? If we invest this cash, $100 into this control system, we could actually invest $100 into landscaping, and it would do even better, it would maximize curb appeal, etc.”

So, you have economic blockers and technical blockers, and you need to be aware of both. You need to be able to counter them. You can understand their concerns, and you can educate. So, you can actually look and ask yourself, “What is it that this 40-year Boiler Bob is really concerned about?” Well, maybe he doesn't feel technically competent with computer-based control systems, and he feels confident with a pneumatic system. So, as soon as you take this pneumatic system away, you're in effect taking away his competency and his value to the organization.

So, you need to be able to either mitigate that by having a conversation and showing a path of which, you can develop that person, or you need to just straight up in some cases, point that out to the economic buyer and say, “Look, you have a person who's been here forever, and they're great. They've done a great job, but your control systems, the things you want, like the enhanced IQ, the tenant experience, the ability to flex on demand with energy concerns, those don't come in a manual system. You need an actual computerized system to do that, and this person is going to keep you from achieving those coordinates.”

Which brings us to understanding the technical buyer and the economic buyer. If you've read some of our past posts, you know that I've discussed in detail about understanding key initiatives of the buyer and decision maker. So, if they have an IAQ or an energy or a sustainability goal that they're trying to reach, understanding those goals is going to enable you to analyze your blockers and counter those arguments based on goal adherence and goal performance. It's also going to enable you to communicate and position your solution in a way that the decision maker is going to resonate with.

So far, we've talked about blockers, and we've talked about decision makers. The most important, in my opinion, that we need to cover is influencers. Blockers are hit or miss. Sometimes they're really well respected and sometimes they're not. The influencers are definitely respected quite often.

So, these are technical and economic influencers. These are people who are looked at as the technical expert within the organization. This is the person that an economic buyer, who maybe doesn't feel comfortable with the technical concepts, is going to look to. In the case of a school district, you may see a superintendent, or someone similar, turning to the energy manager or turning to the facilities director for an influence-based decision. They're going to look at that person, and they're going to say, “This person is the energy expert.” Our goal is to meet this energy goal. So, I'm definitely going to look at what this person has to say. If they say that we are going to meet our carbon reduction goal, our kilowatt reduction goal, or our renewable goal, whatever it is, then that person is going to give the thumbs up, and that economic buyer is going to feel more comfortable in making a buying decision.

When you make an account map, you want to map out:

  1. Who holds the budget?
  2. Who makes the economic decision? Who makes the technical decision? Who is a blocker? (Who is potentially going to block the technical or economic decision)
  3. Who is our technical influencer? Who is our economic influencer?

Now, there’s a third kind of blocker, the cultural blocker. Let me quick talk about a scenario with a major social media company that I was involved with. This large social media company wanted to do a smart campus. They had people who were coming into the decision and throwing in ideas like, “What if we monitored the grease on all of our fry traps in our cafeteria, and then we logged how often the grease is replaced? And based on that logging, we could save a little bit of money by replacing less grease.”

They were actually influencing the selection of technical vendors based on unrealistic technical requirements. If you know anything, which I didn't at the time, about grease and fries and stuff like that, you are not saving a lot of energy or money by replacing grease at a lower frequency or at a higher frequency. It just isn't making a big difference. But if you know anything about control systems, monitoring grease and how often it's changed, is not a very easy thing to do. First off, the environment in which a fry cooker is existing is kind of a very volatile environment. It's like trying to monitor acid tanks, right, you have to tend to replace the sensors quite often.

So, allowing that cultural influence to potentially persuade an economic, or a technical buyer from making a decision, is a threat that you need to counter especially as you get into large organizations. Now, I know that seems like a ridiculous example, but it happens all the time. You're in a K-12 environment, and the teachers literally don't like the way that the thermostats look. Because they don't like the way that the thermostats look, they complain to the principal, who complains to the superintendent, and next thing, you know, you have people complaining about the aesthetics of something that has almost zero impact on the performance and the achievement of an energy goal, or an IAQ goal, etc.

So, you need to be cognizant that there are people from a cultural perspective, who can block your ability to make a sale. If you don't realize this, and this is something quite frankly I didn't realize until I was much further along in my career, that there are people who have irrational expectations that in no way influence the technical solution, and that will complain. You need to be prepared to deal with this.

I'll give you one last example, and everyone seems to laugh at this. We were looking at a university and were going to put in a major control system retrofit. One of the major complaints of the control system was that it could never achieve setpoint. We put in our new control system, and we were going for a service contract.

This older lady who was sitting in this office area was like, “Oh my gosh, I can't believe you spent all this money on this new air conditioning.” Ironically, it wasn’t a new air conditioner, it was just new control sensors. She would always call and complain that it was always cold in there. So, we're like, “Alright, it's always cold,” and she’d respond, “They can't service things. I'm always cold, and they never respond.” I was complaining to the facility director and he’s wondering how he’s going to make a case to the Dean that they shouldn’t be spending money on us, because she’s always cold and complaining. So, we dug into it.

Well, it turns out, you know, she's just an older lady who was very thin and was always cold…..😧

So, I'm kind of proud of this, I thought it was pretty smart in the moment, to tell her that it was a pneumatic thermostat. It wasn't a pneumatic thermostat; it was a control thermostat. I told her, “You see that button on the pneumatic thermostat, you've got to go and push that button to pump the air to turn on the heat.” I said, “This is just how these systems work. There's just no other way to make them work.” And the act of her simply getting up, walking over to the thermostat and pushing the occupancy override, which didn't work because it was unoccupied, but just pushing it to “pump the system up”, got her blood moving, and she warmed up. She was like, “Oh my gosh, I actually have control of the system. I actually feel warm now. The system's working, you solved it. You've solved the problem for me!” From then on out, she sung our praises and was like, “That's the company you always have to have out. You have to have them out. They're the ones who made it work, and it hasn't worked for the 10 years I've been working here.”

So, silly story, silly example, but an example nonetheless, of how someone who has almost no interaction with the systems in which we are basically selling, was able to be satisfied, and then stopped complaining, started praising and made it super easy for the facility manager to then give us a service contract. These kinds of things happen all the time, and that's why I hammer at you, you have to understand. This is something to educate your service teams, if you're on sales, is educate them and understanding that just because someone who's unrelated to the facilities group is complaining, does not mean that that complaint can't impact their ability to have a sale or have some work.

I hope this has given you some tips and tricks around why you should use targeted selling. I hope you have some ideas around targeted selling now. As always, feel free to share your ideas in the comment section.

We are officially done with the sales theme, and we are going to be pivoting to a technical theme next. So, for the next several posts, we're going to be diving into technical topics. I’ll be providing more whiteboard drawings and examples.

Thanks a ton, and take care.

Phil Zito

Written by Phil Zito

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