“You need to have a 3-month action plan or else plan on going back to living off of tuna fish cans and Ramen again Jared.”
I was on edge….almost like the panic-attack-get-me-out-of-here-and-back-to-college-I’m-never-growing-up EDGE.
“You got it, Mark!” As I muttered to my mentor at UAC.
You know that feeling, the lasered-in, fined-tuned market research analysis method to incorporate a best practice game plan and executing with precision. It’s WORK. A lot of work. Few greats know how to win business that flourish long-term relationships, and most others who are “middle-of-the-pack” fail and are back on the unemployment line.
Let’s make things easy. Well….easier. Here’s a blueprint which has been proven to get you there. I’ve used this time and time again. Here’s my proof:
I want to help you. I feel the pains of what it’s like being a sales rep in this ever changing “Connection Economy” where customer attention is constantly getting bombarded with pitches, ads, & soliciting. That’s why I have empathy for you and would like to share a more streamlined approach to winning business without worrying about getting fired. Now that you have proof, let’s get started.
From this standpoint, I can go from ‘cradle-to-grave’ on how to target prospects or obtaining a meeting with the decision maker or decision-making unit, but I believe you mean how do I sell to these prospects/customers from a technical standpoint. Here is my strategy:
I.) Perform a detailed SWOT Analysis of the company you represent. What are their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, & threats. Also, what is their “secret sauce,” who are their competitors, what makes them better/different, etc.
Let’s Get Nitty Gritty for the Attack!
How many of you right now are fighting to get new customers in a down market and have an ever so demanding management team that wants to see the money? Pretty much everyone! With a sluggish crude market and companies desperately to turn a profit at the year’s end, your superiors are pushing their sales team for even more results in a knee-jerk reaction manner (not all but some).
That’s why I’ve decided to give you readers something to use as my way results-driven thinking when putting together an action plan. This isn’t the first, original, or incredibly different approach from anyone else’s protocol. BUT, it’s oil & gas related, which is RARE to find strategies on, while at the same time being simple to understand with easy implementation into your own sales campaigns.
- Market Segmentation: the historical work has been with asset owners, drillers primarily, but we know that both asset owners/operators and facility owners of petrochem, oilfield service, refiners, etc. will influence decisions and sometimes even contract directly. This is a loaded category that requires an even deeper breakdown to produce effective results. Not only because of the segments of the markets mentioned above, but each company’s business model as well as company acts as individual silos for what’s important towards their goals. And also how fast they will be willing to move forward down the sales cycle. Our best bets for short-term work remain in the new startup arena & companies in rural areas starting to harness automation technology with a healthy budget (limited fat of debt).
- Current relationship: this impacts the ability to close deals quickly. So obviously we have existing strong relationships with some, existing weaker relationships with others, budding relationships with some, and finally those that we know are there but haven’t been successful contacting yet. This will be broken down into customer tiers of where to focus attention of capturing market share. Example: 60% of time/Asset Operator, 30% of time/GC, 10% of time/Specialty Chemical. We must keep this tracked with an ERP/CRM with the proper value prop in place to penetrate a lasered-focus sales campaign from our sales team.
- Project Type: lump sum vs. subscription base (also called Time & Material). This implies margin potential. Do we always make more on lump sum compared to month-to-month? If so, then we should always try to influence the customers to accept such. What would be the lifetime value of this to measure? And the incentives to keep customers to keep buying from us.
- Financial viability: there are those we won’t do business with because we have concern about getting paid. So I guess these are one of the following: Excellent, Good, and Poor, and we’d not prioritize the poor customers into a category of where they would like to grow them from division-to-division. Poor customers can become great customers and great customers can become poor customers based on their business models. Remember, if a company has a heavy Debt:Equity ratio, there IT division is less likely to move forward with the sale or the other is that the risk of not getting paid is higher. I can go over in detail if need be.
- Customer Needs: there are those that need exactly what we offer – we should be able to sell them as long as our story plus value prop has resonance which aligns with their needs. There are those that want more than we currently offer so we only make up a chunk of their solution – we need to understand our limitations and work to sell what we offer today but keep in mind those that need what we anticipate adding (i.e.: new software packages, updates, personal customization, etc.). Maybe even partnering with another SaaS for special customizations in limited time-space that makes sense until we see a measurable heavy volume of sales from a customer to test whether it makes sense if we should create a similar software ourselves.
- Geography: for now we don’t have many limitations, which may or may not coincide with the customers’ geographical needs. As in what the customer needs fit, we will want to capture the customer’s larger needs for our future expansion decisions. We do have the ability to use software such as webinars & Skype, but we must make sure that if we were to close deals, that the customer is qualified that by the time we do make the flight to shake hands for the deal, we aren’t wasting our time & money. Because this industry is still about personal interactions that are a large piece of winning business due to the complexity of the sale, it requires a deep level of trust to move forward.
- Access to key decision makers: as you know this is sometimes not easy. Remember to stick to the effective & efficient best practice techniques. When we can however get a meeting, then we must remember to ask, “Who else is involved in the sales process?” If the prospect has another peer, the goal is to setup a 2nd meeting ALWAYS with the focus of listening for most of the 1st meeting so that you can customize a scope of work based on their business model needs. Therefore, since the focus is accelerating revenue quickly, we should prioritize prospects where we can get to the key folks without huge barriers of entry to navigate through. The bigger the company the more channels; the smaller, the easier it is to find the primary decision maker(s). Competitors are also placed here because the decision-making unit may have a tenured vendor(s) they are satisfied with, that’s why the decision-maker(s) are hard to reach because their interest is not piqued due to their satisfaction with their current provider.
*It is imperative to find out if there are any pains with the competitor’s product that the prospect is using. We can be utilized as a resource and still provide value which over time has been lead to sales success. This has happened in my career time & time again.
- Project Volume: while we’ll take any good project, we will want to focus our attention on those that will have work for us reliably into the future with the most ROI. Seeing what’s important to their business model in which we can align our services to satisfy needs.
- Future Potential: this would consider project size and profitability, volume of projects, infusion of capital from investors, etc. The point is that to build the company beyond its historical levels we will need to add the larger clients to the family…those like super-majors, majors, small independents, etc. If we don’t include this as a consideration as we prioritize the sales and corporate focus, then we won’t make any progress with these guys. This goes back to focus on allocation of time-based on customer tiers and tracking it into an ERP/CRM system. That way we can have honest transparency of which company is spending what and where.
*This is also where innovation will take over. Based on market trends and insights from sales people based on customer feedback, we can then see what other problems customers may be having & developing a new update/customization that would benefit their needs.
Doing the Plan
II.) Then I would use this SWOT Analysis as my Blueprint to place together a 30-60-90 Day Action Plan. Once I have that in place I would research everything about the target companies I can find: investor relations, news reports, SEC filings, social media, etc. so I understand what their pain points are, their culture, business model, and so forth. Fast forward a bit, once I am able to establish a meeting with a decision maker or decision-making unit, the first thing I’d do is to LISTEN. I need to make sure that all my researched homework is congruent with what their company goals are from the products/services I’m aligning. Once I’ve seen their operations, direction, goals, asked the right questions on what their needs are, who else is involved in the decision-making process, their upcoming/past work, ask for a sample scope of work (SOW), and how we can do business together as soon as possible; I can take those answers from those questions and put together a game plan.
III.) The key here is to create as much value as you can upfront without asking for anything in return…for now. Prospects/customers can smell a transactional sales rep, so make sure you focus on creating value and building the relationship. Now, with that sample scope of work or past project they have worked on, this is how I’d lay out the foundation to do business with these decision makers:
A.) Get with a project manager/engineer to review the scope of work
B.) Pre-plan a solution of their project with what they’re having pain points in a proposed solution that caters solving those particular paint points through previous projects that the company you represent have accomplished with anecdotal evidence supporting the desired prospect/customer outcome.
C.) Set-up another meeting with the decision maker or decision-making unit, bring a technical adviser for any questions that may be too detailed/complex to answer, storytelling how you would overcome the prospect’s/customer’s pain points that creates value, answer questions, and then ask what we need to do to go from here to do business with one another (other sales techniques will be thrown in here to push the sales cycle forward, just want to show the big picture here).
The best kind of connection is a referral through your network like this:
Shale Plays at a Closer Look
I’ve focused on many different sectors within oil & gas industry ranging from upstream, midstream, & downstream companies. There are many different factors that play a role in not just the company itself, but Geography. I could write an essay on this, but for the purposes of this question, here’s my take:
Each region in the U.S. requires a different strategic approach with how to sell, especially which sector of oil & gas selling into as well.
The Marcellus shale (Northeast) has a huge boom in pipeline construction & integrity work with massive amounts of gas being transported with workover rigs in production close in proximity to city populations. This creates an increased amount of due diligence not only on the contracting company because of the asset operator, but because of strict regulation (see CFR 49 parts 192 & 195 for more). Environmental agencies in the Northeast are very prevalent with large political leverage, even protesting on job sites. Not to mention, Union companies usually out leverage the private companies in this area which obtain the big hard dollar projects. A great amount of bigger projects goes to the Union contractors than Non-Union contractors. This means in order to do work here, the sales cycle would be longer due to a permitting standpoint, as well as increased cost due to environmental markups. However, the amount of work is substantial and shows signs of large increase to do more future work. I also want to point out that the personalities of the decision makers within the companies of the Marcellus area will require a tailored approach to how to sell to them due to what their personal & business drivers are in this region.
The Bakken is like the ‘Wild-Wild-West,’ vast amount of work from upstream. The key point about this area is that the weather & living spaces are concerns while your company equipment will need to be high-horsepower with extreme durability due to weather and the depth of the Bakken (Three Forks too). If you have top notch, resilient, “winterized” equipment/chemicals, this area would be a great target due to it’s unsaturated with competition at the moment. Getting further up the chain, Alberta is investing heavily in infrastructure at this time and has been performing HUGE midstream projects. Canada requires strict regulations on projects but I’ve found the decision makers to be not only extremely pleasant to converse with, but are very open to challenging their status quo and to go with new vendors if there can be a good benefit for your products/services quickly (seen less than 6 months in some cases).
The Eagle Ford, Cline, Barnett, Haynes, Permian, TX-OK-LA: This area is my expertise. All sectors play a synergistic role here. Both the heavily oily plays such as the Eagle Ford & Permian will be picking back up full swing within the next year. Main areas of focus: Houston’s terminal/refinery downstream markets, South TX downstream markets, midstream, and infrastructure.
Selling to Engineers & Technical Decision Makers
The most successful way to sell to engineers, field, & C-level decision makers are relatively the same philosophically just tailor your pitch to create resonance that challenges the prospect’s own status quo, business, & personal drivers.
I make sure to show as much honest transparency as possible with a tailored solution by using anecdotal evidence with as much backhand research planning to be an SME (subject matter expert) in that particular area. Remember, it’s about what the customer DESIRES. Every pitch should be understanding the prospect/customer’s desired ROI and tailoring yourself to build the trust to perform the work. If you’re visiting a field project manager, dress like a field operations supervisor, or if you’re seeing a COO make sure you’re dressing like a COO of that company. You want to build familiarity with that decision-maker, because people buy from people that they are familiar with because it establishes trust and credibility in the decision maker’s eyes.
Understanding anecdotal storytelling and emotional quotient (EQ) will help create resonance to get decision makers & decision-making units to take action to do business with your company. Finally, be persistent by following up. Just because someone doesn’t reach back out to you doesn’t mean the sale is lost. It takes about 8 touches before a decision maker or unit becomes a qualified sales lead (Online Marketing Institute, 2015). When reaching out constantly create value. If you’re coming by a yard, bring barbecue or cookies. If you’re emailing a follow-up to someone in a corporate setting send them a Groupon gift card, a paid subscription industry outlook PDF file, easy-to-use project management template sheet, etc. Making sure every ounce of information is tracked in the CRM is mandatory to be successful. You can only remember so much on paper or in your head, but in order to be successful, you must be optimizing your sales pipeline. This means keeping track of all the activities in a CRM will lead to more sales and time efficiency. The info on what you need in the CRM to optimize your sales ranges from the specific customers, decision makers, prospects, leads, follow-ups, cycle in the sales funnel to close, opportunities for leads, budget, contact info, marketing, lead bio, and more.
I hope that helps! Leave a comment below and remember to always be educating yourself. The business environment is changing much more rapidly at a much more accelerated rate. You must keep up with the latest industry trends, A/B test, and consistently provide value.