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Corn Field Marketing #3: Solution Selling

This article is the third from a series of excellent presentations from Heartland Technology Solutions in Iowa, which were presented at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference.

Heartland CEO Arlin Sorenson gave an excellent presentation on their Solution Selling process which he claims made the difference in growing his business. When you consider he started from his corn farm in Iowa, with 25,000 people in a 30 mile radius, and is now an $18M business with 80 employees in 8 locations, it's worth hearing how he grew his business!

First, a couple key assumptions:

  • Your sales process doesn't have to be the same as Heartland's, so long as it matches your products, your customers, and is consistent! Follow the process every single time!

  • The sales process is really designed by Marketing. There are tools / materials developed by Marketing that are key to the process. Marketing designs the process, Sales executes the process.

  • Consistent processes become necessary once a company grows to a certain size. Prior to that, referrals or independent sales/marketing/engineering effort may be enough. But sooner or later, you need a process to coordinate these efforts.

Heartland's Sales Process

  1. Marketing. The Marketing activities which I described in my previous articles are all designed to drive leads to Sales. The goal is NOT to automatically sell a product. Instead the goal is to gain an appointment with the prospect to begin the next step in the process.

    Key takeaway: Their systems are set up so that every lead moving to the next step is tracked to a specific marketing activity. Was it a seminar? The third direct mail piece? It's important to know.

  2. Assessment. Heartland takes each prospect through a formal assessment process which both uncovers customer pain points and value (in the customer's words) but gives Heartland the chance to create customer value from within the sales process. They accomplish this by creating a three year technology plan based upon the assessment.

    Over time, Heartland has begun to charge prospects for the assessment and technology plan. This emphasizes the value in the deliverable and prevents customers shopping Heartland's plan to competitors. The cost of the assessment is rebated back if the prospect purchases services from HTS.

    The Microsoft Partner Portal has several sample assessment tools partners can use or modify.

  3. Proposal: This step generates a formal quote for services based upon the three year technology plan developed in the Assessment phase. The goal here is an accurate quote delivered quickly, in order to reinforce Heartland as a Business Partner, with the distributor relationships required to get the whole job done.

    This is a complicated deliverable given the large number of distributors and partners Heartland works with. They use tools like QuoteWerks and Infopath to pull from distributor price lists and integrate directly into Heartland's CRM and ERP systems. I was amazed at the level of integration they have in place today compared to what we do at SaskTel.

  4. Implementation: Of course, you have to actually do the work. Most companies stop here but there's still more to be done before the sales process is complete

  5. Tell the Story: This is one of the most powerful steps in the process, because real evidence of a job well done feeds the Marketing effort at the top of the process.

    Heartland ensures that every solution over $2500 gets a 'Customer Win Wire' -- a one page case study / press release which describes the customer pain, the solution and the business value. It also promotes the partners which were used to solve the customer problem. They are written by Sales using a consistent template developed by Marketing.

    Arlin mentioned that Sales hates writing the Win Wires but "compensation drives behaviour."

Next up: Peer Groups, and some final thoughts on what SaskTel can do with these examples.