Selling to Big Companies: A book review by Bob Morris

Selling to Big Companies
Jill Konrath
Kaplan Publishing (2005)

Actually, her advice applies to almost every sales situation

Frankly, I began to read this book with some skepticism because I had already read dozens (hundreds?) of books about sales – including Anthony Parinello’s Selling to VITO and Getting to VITO – and doubted that there would be much (if anything) left for Jill Konrath to discuss. I soon realized that I was wrong. True, Konrath offers few head-snapping revelations but her extensive personal experience (especially with rejection and failure) is rigorously examined, her advice is eminently practical, and the material is rock-solid, enhanced by the direct and conversational rapport she immediately establishes and then sustains with her reader. So many books about sales resemble a series of formal presentations at a conference or lectures by a business school professor. Not so with Konrath who understands that competition (with one’s self as well as with others) is “the name of the game” in the business world, and, success there can be achieved only in the “trenches” of thorough preparation and styrategic (but prudent) persistence.

Appropriately, in Part One, she first explains what is required of those who attempt to sell to “big(ger)” companies. There are many challenges to avoid or overcome, several the result of misconceptions which Konrath summarily repudiates. This is a uniquely valuable section of the book because it makes crystal clear what experienced salespersons must “un-learn” about what they have assumed to be true thus far, and by doing so, Konrath makes it crystal clear to others what simply doesn’t work…and why. Those in the latter group will probably find it easier to apply her advice which is at all times practical…and immediately actionable.

In Part Two, Konrath explains how to “build a foundation” for what eventually should become a cohesive, comprehensive, and cost-effective system for effective preparation, cultivation, and solicitation. What she is talking about really is a high-stakes “game” played against formidable opponents according to rules which can sometimes change suddenly. Some of the most important material in this Part focuses on the imperative need for a strong value proposition. There’s good news and there’s bad news. First the bad news: Most value propositions are weak. Now the good news: Most value propositions are weak. Her explanation of how to formulate and then leverage a strong value proposition, all by itself, is well worth ten (or 100) times the cost of the book.

With all necessary preparations thoroughly explained and illustrated (i.e. what’s true and what isn’t, what works and what doesn’t), Konrath shifts her attention to “launching the campaign” in Part Three. Once again, there is a step-by-step process involved: Identify key decision-makers, Stop waiting for them to call back, Create enticing voice mail messages, Leverage e-mail strategies to get in, etc.

What about barriers and how to overcome them? Konrath explains “how to become irresistible to decision-makers” by overcoming obstacles and eliminating objections in Part Four. In Chapter 18, for example, she explains how not to treat a gate keeper who can then become an ally, a “gate opener.”

How to accelerate the sales process? This question raises immensely complicated issues because decision-makers have too much to do, not enough time, and are under great pressure to add value to their company by eliminating waste, lowering operating costs, increasing productivity, solving various problems, filling various needs, etc. Although decision-makers are indeed hurried and harried, they will strongly resent being “pushed” by overly aggressive salespeople. What to do to “advance the sale”…and what not to do? Konrath addresses those and other important issues in Part Five.

I especially appreciate Konrath’s use of various reader-friendly devices, such as a “Key Points” section with which she concludes each of the 22 chapters. These devices will facilitate, indeed accelerate a periodic review of her core concepts as well as her admonitions and commendations. (Often, her advice as to what not to do is more valuable than is her advice as to what to do.) I also appreciate the nine “tools” which she provides in Appendix A. It would be a fool’s errand to read any one book — including this none — and then immediately (and mindlessly) adopt and apply all of its author’s ideas. Think in terms of having a tool box into which you place those tools which you have carefully selected from a variety of different sources. I certainly recommend Konrath’s “tools” (including the nine in Appendix A) but also Neil Rackham’s concerning SPIN Selling questions and what Jacques Werth has learned about perfecting closing skills and then using them to pre-qualify prospects. The point is, learn all you can about all of the salesmanship “tools” which are now available but use only those that are most appropriate to your needs, and, only those that work best together in combination.<

Earlier, I did not damn with faint praise when suggesting that there are few (if any) head-snapping revelations in this book, nor does does Konrath claim that she offers any. Some readers (probably experienced salespeople) may be surprised to learn that some of their cherished ideas about selling are either wrong or no longer sound. What gives Konrath credibility and what makes her material so valuable is the fact that, as she frankly admits, she once had all manner of misconceptions about selling and, because of them, probably made every wrong decision and every mistake possible. She acknowledges the difficulty of re-thinking what to do and how to do it. She has also learned a great deal from those enrolled in her sales training programs. (The best teachers always learn at least as much as their students whereas the worst teachers never seem to learn anything, nor do their students.) In this book, Konrath shares what she thinks is most important and urges her reader to remember what is most important. She concludes with this advice:

“Finally, realize that you are the biggest differentiator of all. Become an expert. Know your customer’s business, processes, and marketplace trends as well as they do. Deepen your knowledge of your product line, capabilities, and total solution capacity. Constantly be thinking about how you can help your customers improve their operations and reach their goals. Competitors can create copycat products and services overnight, but no one can replicate you and your brain. Your ability to provide a continuous stream of fresh ideas, insights, and information to corporate buyers will make you irresistible, invaluable, and ultimately, indispensable.”

For many readers, the same will be true of Jill Konrath after they read her book.

 

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