Keine Überraschung beim Abschluss: “Closing Plan”

Ich habe zuletzt über ein paar unangenehme Erfahrungen bei dem ein oder anderen Abschluss geschrieben. Eins der dort genannten Hilfsmittel im Vertrieb ist der sgt. “Closing Plan”. Es klingt einfach, ist wirkungsvoll, wird aber oft nicht verwendet. Vielleicht kann ich hiermit dazu ermutigen, es wenigstens ein paar mal zu versuchen.

Ich fange auch hier mit einer Erfahrung an. Wir hatten einen Vertriebskollegen, der in seiner vorherigen Firma sehr erfolgreich war. Und hatten dementsprechend auch großes Vertrauen in seine zahlreichen Kontakte bei möglichen Kunden, aber vor allem auch seinen Fertigkeiten, einen Deal zu gestalten und abzuschließen. Tatsächlich hatten wir einen Deal im hohen 6-stelligen Bereich vor der Flinte, der aber zunächst nicht gewonnen werden konnte.

Was war da passiert? Der Kollege hat mit vielen Fachabteilungen gesprochen, um einen Gesamtbedarf bei dem Kunden zu ermitteln. Es ist ihm jedoch entgangen, dass darüber hinaus auch der Einkauf, die Rechtsabteilung, etc. auch eingebunden werden muss. Hinzu kommt meist auch bei höheren Summen ein mehrstufiger Freigabeprozess zu befolgen ist. In seiner alten Firma gab es dafür ein Team, dass nahezu automatisch sichergestellt hat, dass dies und mehr alles synchron läuft. Bei uns war das leider nicht so – kleinere Firma, oftmals noch in einem Startup Modus. Am Ende haben wir den Deal nicht verloren, es kam aber zu einer erheblichen Verzögerung, was wiederum Auswirkungen auf alle anderen Dimensionen der Firmen-Strategie hat.

Wir haben daher das Konzept des Closing Plans eingeführt, insbesondere für größere Deals. Ein Closing Plan bedeutet, dass man mit seinem Ansprechpartner auf Kundenseite plant, was bis zur Einführung des Produkts und ggf. auch danach alles passieren muss. Denn es muss ja genau dieses gemeinsame Ziel geben: wir wollen im Januar loslegen, um Ziel xyz zu erreichen (wenn es dies nicht gibt, kommt es außer zum regelmäßigen gemeinsamen Kaffeetrinken i.d.R. zu nichts weiter).

Solch eine Rückwärtsplanung kann beiden Seiten helfen, zum richtigen Zeitpunkt die notwendigen Dinge zu tun. Das kann z.B. die Vertragsprüfung sein, zuvor das Onboarding als Lieferant, Benennung von fachlichen Ansprechpartnern, Abstimmung des Kaufpreises mit dem Einkauf, usw. Ich habe auch noch nicht erlebt, dass sich ein Kunde dagegen gewehrt hat, einen gemeinsamen Closing Plan zu erstellen. Je nach Kunde kann das anders laufen und eine offene, gemeinsame Absprache hilft jedem, das Ziel auch zu erreichen bzw. festzustellen, ob es irgendwo klemmt. Ein positives Ergebnis ist zudem, dass ein CRM-basiertes Reporting viel verlässlicher wird, wenn hinter den einzelnen CRM-Stufen nicht nur Wunschdenken und Hoffnung stehen, sondern ein solider Plan.

Vorbereitung auf den Abschluss. Oder: einige, gemeine Einkäufertricks

Bei einem meiner größeren Produkt-Deals habe ich eine Verhandlungssituation erlebt, die mir nachhaltig in Erinnerung geblieben ist. Es war einmal …

… der Termin war kurz vor Weihnachten, es war nasskalt draußen, dementsprechend waren wir „sturmfest“ gekleidet. Man hat uns dann erstmal in einem sehr warmen Flur warten lassen. 10 Minuten, 20 Minuten, eine halbe Stunde. Dann kam irgendwann der Verhandlungsleiter des Kunden und meinte: „mein Chef kann nicht kommen und ich habe nur 15 Minuten Zeit“. Unsere zeitigen Anfragen bezüglich einer Prüfung der vertraglichen Konditionen hat man unter Verweis auf *den* Termin abgewiesen. Nur, um uns dann zu sagen: ihre AGB müssen auf 2 DINA4 Seiten passen, ansonsten schauen sich das unsere Juristen nicht an. Selbstverständlich war es da auch nicht erlaubt, einfach die Schriftgröße zu ändern, wie ein erster spontaner Gedanke nahegelegt hat. Eigentlich waren auch Preis und Nachlass schon vorverhandelt, aber da kam dann der finale Kniff der Einkäufer: man hat versucht, uns eine Karotte vor die Nase zu halten und gleich Konzern-Rabatte auszuhandeln, auch wenn nur ein Teil der Firma tatsächlich den ersten Schritt gehen wollte.

Unser Vertriebsverantwortlicher wollte eigentlich schon nach den ersten beiden Finten die Heimreise antreten und ich gestehe mir im Nachhinein ein, dass das vermutlich der bessere Weg gewesen wäre. Denn der Kauf sollte seitens der Fachabteilung noch im Kalenderjahr stattfinden, sodass hier ein gewisser Gegendruck aufgebaut hätte werden können.

Ich selbst empfinde die o.g. Tricks als unfair, da man dem Lieferanten nicht auf Augenhöhe begegnet. Das ist vllt auch einer der Gründe, warum ich selbst auf Vertriebsprofis gesetzt und versucht habe, diese aus dem Hintergrund zu coachen bzw. Verhandlungstaktiken zu entwickeln.

Und das führt zu den Erkenntnissen, die ich gewonnen habe:

  1. Der Eigentümer / Geschäftsführer sollte nicht (sofort) mit in die Verhandlung gehen, da sonst jede Eskalationsmöglichkeit fehlt.
  2. Weiterhin bietet es sich an, mit dem Kunden zusammen einen „Closing Plan“ zu erstellen, in dem gemeinsam alle relevanten Meilensteine bis zum Go-Live festgelegt werden. Dazu gehören dann auch die kaufmännischen und juristischen Verhandlungen, sowie eine realistische Zeitplanung.
  3. Wenn das alles nicht gegeben ist, kann ein klares NEIN unter dem Strich auch richtig sein. Man sollte nicht um jeden Preis verkaufen (wenn man es sich leisten kann – das ist hin und wieder auch leichter gesagt, als getan). Oft fängt die richtige Verhandlung erst nach einem Nein an.

Damit ist es natürlich nicht getan. Aus einem aktuellen Coaching habe ich einige weitere Themen gesammelt, die ich in den nächsten Wochen und Monate runter schreiben werde. Gutes Gelingen und nie Aufgeben!

Selling through Partners. 100%.

I have written about Partnerships in Business (the Win:Win:Win triangle) before. I support some management teams of product companies and like to share the idea of selling products through partners only.

A key assumption here is that a product company is not offering consulting services (for many reasons, for example, a) because focus is getting blurred, b) because it could destroy certain partner markets, c) etc.

Here’s my view:

  1. WHY NOT selling through partners? One of the first counter-arguments against selling through partners is: we are quicker if we go direct. We safe money because we don’t need to pay their sales team. We can better support the customer in the after-sales phase. Etc.
  2. WHY selling through partners? Direct sales might sound attractive, however, it a) takes time to establish market recognition, b) takes money to pay your own sales force, c) might destroy the partner’s opportunity to offer services for your product. Last but not least: if you make your sales team all partner managers and each partner manager can support 2-3 partners, you can easily see the huge leverage effect.
  3. Quick thoughts how to get started:
    1. Define possible quick wins and focus on them. It could be even an idea to hand over some leads and prospects to partners in order to remove initial “resistance” before the wheel is turning.
    2. Go as a team and bring in your market and technical expertise (“direct touch” sales) but never be a competitor to your partner. Instead your partner knows that they can start without risk since they can rely on your support.
    3. Clear rules of customer engagement: how prospects are registered, what that means, and how registrations are extended / ended. By the end of the day this is teamplay and your partner managers should be very close to your partner’s sales team.

You walk better if you never walk alone!

100% Schutz gegen Covid-19 Viren

Im Juli habe ich über die Idee geschrieben, Covid-19 Viren mit geeigneter Technologie zu töten. In der Zwischenzeit hat sich einiges getan.

Als erster elektronischer Atemschutz, der Viren 100%ig abtötet, soll der “Securer” ab Herbst 2022 verfügbar sein. In einer aktuellen Pressemeldung wird der aktuelle Stand dargestellt:

“Derzeit sucht die SecureAir GmbH Technologiepartner, die in Lizenz produzieren und/oder das Produkt vertreiben möchten oder die komplette Technologie vollumfänglich als Weltmarktführer erwerben möchten.”

Ich habe gestern den aktuellen Stand des Produkts in den Händen gehalten. Hier hat sich sehr viel getan, es fühlt sich sehr wertig an, sieht gut aus und alle Gutachten zeigen, dass es funktioniert.

Der “Securer” tötet Covid-19 Viren (und noch viel mehr).

Es bleibt spannend.

We are the best. Why (not)?

At the end of 2021 I was asked to conduct a market analysis of german companies in a certain IT domain. During that project I have screened 200+ Websites and corporate data of potential target companies. And one key finding was that many companies fail in telling their visitors what they really do for them.

Let’s drill that down.

These days, a companies Website is usually not only the first touchpoint of a prospect, it’s also the place where people try to find out as much as they can before they really get in touch (note: I write this from B2B perspective). Accordingly, I would expect that the content focuses on the need of the prospect. Need means: how do we deliver value for you? What’s your benefit? What’s a positive outcome for you if you use our stuff or work with us? etc. The focus should be on the WHY.

Instead of taking a customers view, many companies focus on their super technology, their great service, or themselves and why they are so great. This is an ego thing only. Even if all of that is true, why should a potential customer care? They don’t know you. Accordingly, they wouldn’t dive deeper if you don’t explain them the WHY.

While I understand the inner need to speak about great things in and about your company (I felt into that trap many times, too), I like to encourage you to turn the storytelling upside down: First the WHY- this is so much more important than technology, etc. Then the HOW (the rationale), then the WHAT (the proof).

My 2021 in Review – on Success, Failure, and the big C.

Last year was a special year for me. In summer 2021, I have started this Blog around topics that inspire myself and fill my days: business, fitness, and fun stuff. Since that time I had 15.000 visitors on my Blog and a lot of personal exchange around “my” topics. Thanks to everyone for this joyful experience.

A few thoughts on each focus topic:

  • I consider myself being successful reinventing myself as an advisor for several companies. I was looking for environments where respect, loyalty, and passion are not only words, but core values for growing a business. I really enjoy each of my assignments and I’m particularly happy having executed an M&A market analysis (I have learned a lot around that and will share some thoughts soon) at the end of the year. It’s great to use my own experience for such projects, it’s really big to share insights, and being part of something bigger.
  • The fitness side of my life was more disappointing. Year on year I set some personal goals, but I failed on all of them in 2021 due to an injury. My key lesson of life here was and is: if you cannot reach your goals anymore, adjust them, make alternative plans, and execute on that. That’s how I found new ways (for example working with fitness ropes and digging into Yoga again) to keep a healthy body (as foundation of a healthy mind).
  • The fun stuff side of life was also very rewarding. For example, I made a lot of new contacts just by driving that nice ’66 Mustang cabriolet. You meet all flavors of society at car meetings and that’s another experience that I really like. Everyone shares the same passion for one thing and color of skin, religion, politics, gender, etc. are not important at all.

The biggest on impact on our life is for sure the global pandemic. It has changed every aspect of living on every scale. While I enjoyed business travel so much, that came to a complete hold. I like to go to public music events, that came to a complete hold. I like to meet friends personally, that was at least much more difficult. And I have talked a lot about that also before/during/after my business sessions – mostly on Video these days. I know that the pandemic can bring individuals down and make them depressive. We don’t hear and read a lot about that. Even more importantly, I’m grateful for everything that I can give and that I receive on my mission of life.

Have a great and peaceful 2022.

The Mandalorian, the 13th Warrior, or: learning SAPanese

I smiled when these thoughts came to my mind again. I have evaluated Disney+ for the kids (could also be that I need to see The Mandalorian) and stumbled over a movie that I really liked when it was released. The movie was broadcasted in 1999 and one of the coolest moments was when the protagonist, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, all of a sudden spoke the language of the northmen. That didn’t come over night but was the result of listening to this strange language and adopting it piece by piece.

When I joined SAP a few years later in 2003, I felt a little bit like that. I couldn’t understand what the guys were talking about. All of those 3 or 4 letter acronyms, all those different concepts, this very special architecture. Just one example: an RFC was not a “Request For Comments”, but a “Remote Function Call”. It took a while digging into this new world but finally, I could join most of the discussions with confidence.

As a security academic that I was by that time, I can say that it’s possible to learn SAP. As an entrepreneur and founder of a company offering SAP Security solutions, however, I found it easier bringing people with SAP background on board. It’s quicker teaching them key security concepts than teaching a security professional all of the alien SAP concepts. Who (dis)agrees?

Bad Products, Good Products

In my new role as advisor I speak a lot with people in charge for the companies’ portfolio. As former managing director responsible for go-to-market (among other things) I went through such discussions many times. What’s a good product? What’s a bad product?

A product is not necessarily good …

  • … just because your CEO and management says so
  • … just because your engineers tell you it’s the best in class
  • … just because your marketing tells great stories about your stuff
  • … just because <add further internal only opinions here>

It’s always the customer and the market that makes the decision whether a product is good or bad. Thus I attend many customer demo sessions these days to understand what they like (and what not). This really helps you to tell a compelling story to the market. Assuming that your product is good, you need to have the right words for the market:

  • Stakeholders with budget often don’t speak a technical language. Thus, you need to translate technical terms to customer value: how does your product help the customer? Are they getting more productive? Or does it help them to avoid bad business outcome? etc.
  • Whenever you get new features from engineering ask yourself the value question again. How can this specific feature help a customer?
  • Write down customer value for your target groups, refine this while you go, and apply this messaging consistently. Over and over again – it’s not done if you use it only once.

You get this started by speaking with your customers and prospects exactly about this: what does value mean? How can your product help? What do they expect? Open minded customers appreciate such conversations and you should not be shy to not do this. A key challenge can be that your crew is not willing to do this because they might perceive this approach as too offensive. So start this discussion internally and never let go again.

Partnerships in Business – the Win:Win:Win triangle

“Hey, we need partners” is something I have heard throughout my entire career. I haven’t heard a sound answer on why partners would be needed. Consequently, people started to get as many partners as possible – not surprisingly with little to no effect. Have you experienced the same? If so, this is an article for you for sharing thoughts and some insights.

So, why do we want to partner`? My say would be: to provide more value to the customer (win #1), to provide benefits for the partner (win #2), and of course provide a benefit for own company (win #3). Value and benefit and “the win” depends on the type of a partnership. Understanding the envisaged type of a partnership helps you to manage expectations for all stakeholders and also to define goals for what you want to achieve (I’d say: no goals, no success).

Selling software products (that’s what I did in the past 1.5 decades) is typically suited for the following types of partners:

  1. Sales Partnership: in such a partnership, the partner is ideally listed as vendor for the customer which is already a win for all since it reduces time and complexity in the procurement cycle. It’s key that the partner’s sales team gets targets for the product, that the vendor support the partner’s sales team, and that you team up for non-standard sales situations (like a company license).
  2. Hosting Partnership: the partner can sell the solution, but also install and run it for a customer. Since many organisations go away from manual technical work, this is a service adding even more benefit. For the partner it’s an additional offering in his portfolio making him a better choice for customers.
  3. Managed Service Provider (MSS): such partners can do all of the above but also use the product (on behalf of the customer) and feedback the results to the customers organisation. This is particularly valuable in expert domains where experts are not easy to find and hire.

For sure, there are more types of partnerships like technical partners that offer complementary components. But that is a different story told on another day.

I have seen things going wrong in establishing a partner model. 1) it’s about quality, not quantity. As mentioned in the beginning, many partners don’t help you if the partnership is not alive. 2) Consequently, a partnership will silently die if nobody cares. You need partner managers, a mutually agreed go-to-market approach, and regular working together situations (maybe every day!). 3) I have seen partners asking for exclusivity – you don’t want that because it adds too many restrictions on everyone. The customer decides which route to follow, not a partner agreement. Non-competition and non-solicitation clauses can be accepted. 4) In cases where one partner is small and the other is big, discussions are often not at eyes level. I’d say that size doesn’t matter but being fair and polite. If this is not the case: next one, please.

Ultimately, a first, joint win is the driver for success. So setup a team with exactly this goal, win your first deal together and take it from there. Nothing is a better motivation than success.

In a followup article I will write about a “partners only” model which is particularly suited for product companies.

My (new) Life as an Advisor

After selling my company, I had a certain non-competition period that ended this summer. I have used that time to recreate, to have fun, doing some “home”work, but also planning the future. Something I always wanted to do was to share what I have learned as founder and entrepreneur. I believe it’s very beneficial for young(er) leaders to hear what worked and more importantly what failed and consider that for the own decision making. Right now I’m an advisor for 3 companies and it’s a very rewarding mission for me.

The greatest reward is that discussions and brainstorming is without any politics or hidden agendas. The advisor is there to:

  • Point to new technology trends that could be added to products
  • Provide feedback on roadmaps, development processes, and customer requirements
  • Utilize the own network of people to support the company in their growth plans
  • Give insights on markets and new opportunities
  • Sharpen the go-to-market messages and plans
  • Help to improve pricing schemes
  • … and whatever comes up to support the company.

The discussions I have experienced so far are a great team experience and I’m grateful having made this step. A closing thought on the target group – who should have a board of advisors? I’d say: the egoless and empathic leaders only. Well, usually there’s no leader without a certain ego. Otherwise they wouldn’t probably be leaders. I believe, however, that leaders are only good leaders if they are empathic to their team, their customers, and their peers. <sarcasm>All others know everything better and don’t need any help.</sarcasm>