Closing an enterprise sale in a niche market follows the same sales funnel as any other deal, but a bit more fine tuned. It represents the culmination of ‘art’ and process, where the enterprise sales process is modified to better reflect the unique and specific needs of the client.
Mastering The Enterprise Sales Cycle
Enterprise sales cycles are typically 7+ months and 6+ figure deals. It takes a concerted effort between the sales rep and the prospect to move the deal forward through multiple stakeholders and multiple stages. The emphasis on process becomes more important as the odds of closing the deal diminish.
The niche aspect comes into play because this type of sale also skews in the way of knowledge. Knowledge not in the sense of ‘What is it going to take to close this deal’ but rather:
“Do I know my prospects’ industry and business well enough to improve their business with my product?”
If you’re able to confidently say “YES,” (and have a superior product), then the odds of closing the deal are stacked in your favor.
SMB Sales vs Enterprise Sales Process
Deep knowledge and understanding of your prospects’ industry is the key difference between SMB sales, where you’re ‘churning and burning’ 10 demos a day, 5 days a week.
There’s already a movement towards personalization and relevance at scale, even at the small and medium size deals. In the niche enterprise space, this is an absolute must.
If the salesperson does not have an intimate knowledge and process to accompany the buyer along her journey, they are leaning towards failure.
Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to work for a few startups and win a few enterprise deals. I’ve seen the 1+ year, Fortune 50 sales cycles at my previous startup, to the current 7-8 month sales cycles in my current role.
To that point, I’ve been able to replicate my past experience into a new niche: logistics and shipping – and more specifically, sea port terminals and terminal operations.
Here are a few stats from my most recently won deal:
- Sales Cycle: 6 months
- Number of Touches: 45 touches
- Contract Size: 5 years, high six figures
- Length of Negotiation: 1 Month
- Number of Decision Makers: 7 Decision Makers
- Momentum Point: When we decided together to avoid the negotiation game and shake hands on the deal after our third on-site visit.
- Deal Breaker: Sticker shock. We’re not the cheapest solution on the market and generally you don’t want to be the economy choice. We prefaced our proposal stating that it was in fact, that, and worked with our champion to ensure a suitable price point prior to final presentation with rest of the decision makers.
This leads us to what I feel is the most important part of any niche, enterprise sale. It happens before anything is even done. To me, it is knowing the full context of the deal – internal and external.
Note: This is also assuming that you have all A players on your team, with high emotional intelligence, who know how to execute.
Sales is a two way street – you need a seller AND a buyer to play ball.
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If you don’t have the top product, then your overall win rate will generally be worse compared to the market leader.
Rule #1: Know Your Industry & Niche
Subscribe to your industry’s top publications and newsletters and devote 15-20 minutes to the ‘big picture’ of what’s happening across the industry as well as in the world of your prospects. Ask established players within the niche which are the most popular and read all of those.
Every morning, I skim and selectively read through the following industry specific publications:
- Port Technology International
- The Loadstar
- World Cargo News
- Drewry Maritime’s ‘Container Insight Weekly’
Rule #2: Know Your Customer Journey
As I mentioned, the sales funnels are generally going to be the same. The enterprise sales cycle and funnel remain the same, but perhaps a face-to-face meeting is required where on a small to medium sized deal, a web-conference may do.
Seek out fellow sales peers in your industry who can provide more context. Even better, explicitly ask one of your prospect’s influencers or decision makers as early as possible.
In the maritime world, there’s only a handful of conferences that serve the entire industry. When it comes to the niche we cater to in seaport terminal operations, there’s only two major conferences that directly apply in the Terminal Operating world.
Rule #3: Know Your Champion
At the outset of any enterprise deal, is the champion. This is the individual selling your solution when you’re not there because the benefits of your product aligns with his or her role within the job that your product will be completing.
They often present themselves earlier on in the sales conversation and provide guidance throughout the life of the sales cycle. The internal buyer knowledge that she or he possesses and shares with you coupled with the proper processes that govern your own sales process creates ripe scenarios for success.
Enterprise Sales Strategies To Try
Here are a few good ones I’d recommend:
Whatever style and methodology fits towards getting the prospect to confess their pain points, use it during your sales process. Know how deals get done on their side of the table.
Build a deal map with your Champion and get confirmation and buy in from them at the outset. The more knowledge we have around the different stakeholders and departments, the better our odds are around addressing their needs and winning their buy-in.
Niches also lend themselves well for variation in sales process. In the niche we exist in, incumbent providers will typically require NDA’s before any buying conversation whatsoever is had. As a modern organization that is proud and confident in our product, that’s not how we operate. We are bending the norm within our niche.
Rule #4: Establish Familiarity & Thought Leadership
Often, niche industries are served by just a handful of providers.
The smaller the pool of players within the niche, the greater the importance on relationships.
The greater the sales pro can be at building those relationships, the exponentially greater they can be compared to their sales peers within the niche.
Attend as many conferences as you can. Shell out cash to attend conferences where you know your target prospects will be.
Leverage business development to secure speaking engagements whenever possible and build relationships with organizers.
They can make valuable intros and point you in the right direction. Take notes on business cards at conferences and follow up consistently – even with non-ICP parties.
One of the upsides of the maritime niche market is that you’ll end up seeing the same familiar faces speaking at conferences all around the world. We’ve been able to successfully present even at a very young stage and have established relationships with organizers as well.
- Enterprise sales is largely governed by established processes and best practices that are permeated throughout the sales world through content, events, and our peers. It is not rocket science.
- It is 90% process and 10% “art” – with the latter percentage remaining the leading indicator of success. Despite being dominated by process, it is still extremely difficult to qualitatively grade that process outside of revenue and thus must be continually validated on the job.
- Enterprise sales is an iterative process and must be fine tuned over time. Depending on where that company exists – its life cycle stage as a company, product, market, region, timing, must be accounted for.
- In closing the enterprise sale in a niche market, that fine tuning and evolution must happen quickly, and often on the fly, to match the internal and external factors that govern the entire deal.
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