One of the most common mistakes salespeople in the technology industry do is to try to sell the customer the technology. This may sound like a paradox, but the truth is that the only way to sell someone technology is to sell them what that technology enables.

In my last role at Microsoft, I would travel the world and meet with national governments and advise them on how they could leverage technology to improve their disaster preparedness and response. Based on my experience in the field of disaster response, my colleagues in the local Microsoft office could set up meeting with high ranking officials dealing with disaster response. 

I would then come in, tell a little about my history of dealing with disasters and then ask them what issues they were facing in their responses. If they were slow on giving me examples, then I would simply bring up examples from other countries and hearing about those, they usually quickly started telling me about their problems.

Using those problems as a basis, I would talk about solutions to those problems in generic terms, not mentioning product names, but say things such as “unified communication solutions” or “portals” and explain what I meant with those. Usually my Microsoft colleagues would comment after the meeting that they missed me mention product names “Microsoft Skype for Business” or “Microsoft SharePoint Server”. Next time I met them, they would however usually end up giving me a big hug, because my visit had helped them exceed their quotas by as much as 80%.

Why did I use this approach? The reason is simple. People don’t buy technology for technology sake. They buy it because it provides value to them. It helps them solve a problem. As techies we however love talking about the features of the products forgetting our customers are not techies and don’t care about all the technical bells and whistles.

Even in the non-profit world I saw this approach work wonders. Instead of talking to people about the need for connectivity in West Africa during the Ebola Outbreak, we talked about what the technology and connectivity would enable. We talked about the importance of enabling contact tracing, the ability to leverage mobile payments to pay workers, etc. and then explained how non of that could happen if we didn’t invest in technology solutions and connectivity.

So take off your techie hat. Think like the customer. Listen to their problems. Explain the value that technology can provide in solving their problems. Best thing is, when you follow this approach, you have already convinced them that there is value in what you sell, so the price negotiations become much easier.

Published February 25th 2016 at LinkedIn