Jill Konrath Discusses How to Sell RFID to Big Companies

The bestselling author and sales trainer explains her strategy for cracking big accounts—and previews the workshop she'll conduct at RFID Journal LIVE! 2010.
Published: March 25, 2014

Jill Konrath, bestselling author of Selling to Big Companies, participated in a 30-minute teleseminar on Mar. 26, hosted by RFID Journal. During the session, Konrath answered questions from RFID Journal editor Mark Roberti and an audience from around the world.

Here is a recap of the 30-minute session. Konrath’s answers are paraphrased.

Roberti: Please take a moment to tell us about yourself, your sales background and how you became an elite sales trainer.

Konrath: I worked at Xerox for many years, then moved into selling technology, and I was often frustrated that the marketing department would not always give us salespeople the information we needed to be successful. Too often, we got a lot of information about the new features in the product, but nothing about how they would benefit our customers.

I started my own sales training business in 1986. Then, in 2000, I wound up losing my two largest clients when they were ordered to cut back all non-core expenses. I needed to get to customers myself, and I much prefer to work with bigger companies. But suddenly, no one answered the phone, all calls rolled to voicemail and no one called me back.

At first, I thought I’d lost my mojo. Then I realized it was a problem everyone was struggling with. As a result, I spent nearly one year trying to figure out how to crack into these big accounts. That’s what led to my first book, Selling to Big Companies.

Roberti: People are busy, so I want to cut right to the chase. The economy is tough. Companies are cutting back on new technology investments. There’s nothing any salesperson can do to change that. So, isn’t it true that there is really very little salespeople can do to increase sales?

Konrath: People are busy, but there is a lot you can do. There are companies that have issues they would like to resolve, and if you have a compelling message and are talking about their business problem, rather than your technology, then you can get in the door and make the sale, even in this tough economy. But it’s not about the technology. The technology doesn’t matter to these people.

Roberti: You advocate narrowing your target audience rather than expanding it, but many RFID companies feel they have solutions almost any business could benefit from. Why shouldn’t they try to get leads among the wider world, rather than, say, focusing on those who read RFID Web sites or attend RFID events?

Konrath: You might have technology that can benefit everyone, but most companies are comfortable with the status quo, and they don’t want to change. When someone goes to an RFID event, it means they have an interest in the technology. They have a problem they think RFID can solve. They are thinking of changing from the status quo, so that person represents a very warm lead.

If you spend a lot of time and resources chasing people who have not expressed an interest in RFID, you have a very long sales cycle, and you might never convert most of those leads. There’s a real seduction in having lots of prospects. But the reality is, you will be more successful when you narrow your focus to prospects who have a high need for your offering and who are exploring if it makes good business sense for them to change. If they’re not, it can take forever to convince them that RFID is a better alternative, not risky, that it produces great results and more.

What we’re really talking about here is maximizing a salesperson’s productivity, so that they get more business in less time.

Roberti: You suggest focusing on customers who have a compelling need. How do you find people with a compelling need for RFID?

Konrath: Again, folks at an RFID event might have a compelling need to switch from the status quo. That’s not guaranteed, but at least they have an interest. Another way is to look for events that might signal a need. If a company misses its quarterly numbers, that might signal it needs help in one area or another. If a business is acquired, that might create a compelling need. If you target a few companies, you can read about them, understand their business and know when they have a compelling need and what that need is. Then, you can address it. In addition, I strongly suggest thinking in terms of problems. Which firms are struggling with issues that can be addressed by RFID? They should be good opportunities—and, they’ll be better opportunities if they’ve already decided to explore this option.

Roberti: You mentioned earlier that it’s not about the technology. I have spoken to some RFID companies that want to avoid using the term RFID, or exhibiting at an RFID event, because they feel it’s not about RFID. How do you speak to someone at an RFID show without talking about the technology?

Konrath: Well, they are at the event because they think RFID might solve their business problem. But instead of explaining what your technology does, or why it is better than someone else’s, you should be asking them questions: What is their particular problem? What are the business processes? What are they trying to accomplish? The conversation should be about their business, not your technology. Even if they ask you about the technology, ask them more questions: Why is this capability important to you? What are you hoping to achieve if you have this? What’s driving the decision to include this “must have” in your solution? Remember, it’s all about business, so keep that the focus of your conversation.

Roberti: I hear people all the time say they want to talk to folks in the C-suite, but your book seems to suggest that’s not the best approach. Instead, you say it’s better to focus on getting your foot in the door. Why not go right to the top?

Konrath: Because you have no credibility with the C-level people. They don’t know you, and they might not know or understand your technology. If you meet a warehouse manager at an RFID event and he has a problem he is looking to solve, you can create opportunities for yourself by helping him solve it. That will build your credibility within that firm, and then you can get recommendations from the warehouse manager to speak to others within the company.

Roberti: Geoffrey Moore wrote two seminal works on the adoption technology, Crossing the Chasm and Inside the Tornado. In those books, Moore says the vast majority of companies won’t deploy a new technology no matter the ROI, that only those with a compelling need will adopt. Is that your experience?

Konrath: I have a great deal of respect for Geoffrey Moore, and I think his model is correct. Most businesses are pragmatic, and they are not looking to invest in the latest technology. That’s why I believe you have to narrow your focus and target companies with a compelling need to adopt a new technology.

Roberti: In your new book, Snap Selling, you discuss three decisions tech buyers make. Can you describe those, and explain why they are important?

Konrath: I try to focus on the customer and what they are doing. They essentially make three decisions. The first is to give you access. Do they take your call or not? Will they meet with you, or are you a waste of time? The second decision is to switch from the status quo to a new way of doing things. They realize they cannot continue down their current path and still achieve their business objectives. And the third is which resources or companies they use when they switch.

Your job as a seller changes with each decision. If you provide information about why your product is better than your competitors when the potential customer is still trying to decide if he should abandon the status quo, you will not be successful. It’s the wrong information at the wrong time. If they haven’t decided to make a change, your whole focus needs to be on working with them to determine the business case—not selling them your incredible capabilities.

Roberti: In the workshop you will conduct at RFID Journal LIVE! 2010, which is available for exhibitors for just $100, you will explain how to craft a killer value proposition. We don’t have time to get too in-depth here, but can you give us a little insight into what your workshop at LIVE! will cover?

Konrath: Sure. The workshop will focus heavily on how to get access to busy decision makers. I will present step-by-step guidelines regarding what to say, and how to say it, when calling corporate decision-makers. I will also cover tactics, such as how to leave voicemails and send e-mails that actually inspire buyers to pick up the phone; how to build a multi-touch, totally personalized, highly effective account entry campaign; and how to eliminate objections and overcome obstacles preventing sellers from getting appointments with corporate buyers.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, RFID Connect or the Editor’s Note archive.