I love APEX for really a lot of reasons, which are pretty easy to explain to other developers and make a great subject for loooong conversation and debates.
But when it comes to explaining to managers why I believe that APEX can enrich their toolbox with a framework that will make them save really a lot of money (I can prove it!), I feel that I am not answering very well their inner questions and I don’t challenge their mind in the way a manager expect to be challenged. Which is a pity, as it translates for a missed opportunity for both parties.
As a remedy to my frustration I called my good friend Flemming Blitcher and asked for advice. Beside being a seasoned salesman and sales trainer, Flemming has a background as engineer, which means that he can explain his subject in a very structured and rational way, easy to collocate in your brain and remember.
Flemming and I met for a coffee where I explained my concerns and at the end of the conversation he agreed to help me with explaining APEX to managers at a condition: before the next meeting I should have completed at least 2 levels of his online sales course (microflow.dk – N.B.: at the moment the course is only in Danish), so I could grasp at least the basics of business communication. His online tool is fantastic especially for non-sales people like me, and right now I am completing the third level, which authorize me to talk with him again 😉
Below is a summary (in form of Q&A) of our meeting, where he helped me in refining the way I explain the benefits of APEX to my potential customers.
Franco – What are the typical mistakes that people like me (developers, tech people) make when talking to business minded people?
Flemming – As I am myself originally trained as an engineer, I don’t think I offend anybody, when I make the statement, that tech minded people usually very quickly get into the thick of the tech stuff very early in the sales process. Probably because they often don’t understand that this is in fact a sales process. And, basically any sales process is about transferring an agenda from the sales persons head into the head of the other person, the customer.
However, complex sales processes (e.g. selling the idea of using the APEX Toolbox to managers) requires a lot more than just stating the beautiful advantages of the product (APEX). You need sell the idea in a way, so that it explicitly translates into value for the customer. Don’t let the customer do this translation by them self. The chance is that the customer will not get it.
But how can you create value (with APEX) if you don’t know what the customer sees as value? – This is exactly why you need to ask some questions before ever going into talking about your product. You need to know which pains your customer have before you can solve the pain with your product.
Franco – When I explain what APEX is, after few seconds I get lost in technical details that are totally irrelevant for the manager I am talking with. How can I find the right balance between my solid technical arguments in favor of APEX and the type of communication the managers use in their daily duties?
Flemming – I love this question Franco! The answer is: ask some more questions! Get to know your (potential) customers daily day life. Usually everybody (also customers) love to act the expert. And when we get a qualified question about our own (work) life, nobody is a better expert than ourselves. It makes us relaxed to be talking about something we know that well. So now the other person opens up, talking about his or hers own (work) life, and will very soon also be telling you about the troubles. And the troubles is where you should pay close attention, because here is where you will find the motivation for listening to you as a ‘sales person’.
Franco – I see your points, and I do believe that the conversational process you explain can benefit both parties, where I will be able to talk to the manager in the way she/he can understand, and the managers will not waste time with me and will get only informations they are interested on.
However, often I feel that I do not have a lot of talktime with a potential customer, and hence do not yet have the confidence or credibility with this lead, that I can start asking him or her a lot of questions. Do you know this problem, or is it me who is doing something wrong?
Flemming – No no, Franco, I totally understand where you are coming from. And I also think it is a common problem that all sales people (or any person promoting a product or an idea) face.
We need to be super focused on only telling the potential customers something that make them more interested, so we can tell them something more, and ask him a lot of questions as well. We will have to have something unique to tell them, that makes them interested, without knowing much about them. The customer probably already have an existing solution, good or bad, to the same problem that we want to help her/him with. Or maybe he does not even know that she/he has a pain that we should help him to fix. Therefore we need to have this super unique feature or value for the customer, otherwise he/she is simply not interested enough, for us to be able to continue the dialogue with him. Therefore we need to know where we potentially can create unique or extraordinary value for him, with our product/solution. In sales language there’s a term for this called Unique Selling Proposition (USP).
So Franco, if you allow, I will turn your question back to you: “What is unique about your product/solution offering to your customers?”
Franco – Here is my list of out-of the-box features:
- Fast visual prototyping for real AGILE development of data-centric WEB business applications for Desktop and Mobile
- Adjust/reorder/sorting/filtering of the columns in reports
- Search function (global and for each column)
- Variable pagination
- Responsive layout
- Charts on the fly
- Export to PDF/HTML/CSV
- AD/LDAP login process (or database based)
- REST interface
- Notification mailer
- API for DevOps integration
And commercially, there are also great benefits:
- Free and low cost (cloud) licenses available (test, start small and then grow when your business grows)
- Cloud and on-premise deployment, your choice
- Stable and fully supported by Oracle.
But I cannot just quote this full list when I meet a potential customer in an elevator! Can I?
Flemming – Definitely not! When you just mentioned this casual meeting with a potential customer in an elevator, I presume you are relating this to the Elevator Pitch, which is a good point. ‘Cause the Elevator Pitch needs to be a boil down of the above lists. But it is a little more complicated than it sounds.
That is because the above lists contains some features and benefits, but are missing value! Let me explain. – It is so easy for the seller to know all about his or hers own product. The difficulty arises, when it has to be translated into value for the customer.
So in other words, your elevator pitch has to portray the value the customer could gain from buying your product/solution.
Therefore, please again allow me to finish my answer with a question back: How do these features and benefits translate into value for the customer?
Franco – In case I don’t have time to talk more than 30 seconds with the person that asks to me “What is APEX”?, I have a few sentences that could stimulate the conversation further:
- APEX is the fastest way to develop data-based applications for business
- You can’t get faster than APEX in building business applications using the traditional development tools
- APEX is a new way to real Rapid Application Development for the Business – Secure and AGILE by default
- APEX enables the fastest Rapid Application Development lifecycle, following your timeline and according your needs
At another level, I could mention the values embedded in the previous sentences, and try to move to a higher abstraction level:
- With APEX IT can react to business requests in a fraction of the time that you currently need
- APEX – Faster application development for faster businesses
- APEX lets the IT adapt to the business needs at the speed of your ideas
- With APEX you use more time winning challenges than looking for solutions
At this point I might have the other party interested in the product and asking more questions (which, as you say, I will very carefully listen to!).
I hope that my conversation with Flemming can help any developer/tech specialist in understanding the challenges of explaining a tech product to managers and business people.
I do believe that APEX can help many more customers than the ones currently using it, but “we” specialists have to be able to sustain the conversation with decision makers at the right communication level.