Sell What's On the Truck

A long time ago in a land far away, I was a Sales Rep for a company that was transitioning from offering traditional break/fix computer services to offering 24×7 monitoring and support (aka managed services) for a flat monthly fee.

A truck and the word 'sell'

Although our managed services practice was in a pre-launch phase, I made it my personal mission to build this business.

Within 6 months, I had sold 25% of our existing customers and 100% of our new customers a managed service plan.

One November morning I received a call from our biggest managed services customer. I was excited to hear from him since I was trying to close a big deal with him before the end of the year.

Here’s how our conversation went:

  • Me: “It’s great to hear from you! How are you?”
  • Him: “Not too good Steve.”
  • Me: “Oh? What’s wrong?”
  • Him: “Well Steve, our data center burned to the ground last night.
  • Me (assuming it was his new datacenter that we weren’t monitoring yet): “That’s horrible! Did anyone get hurt? Is there anything I can do to help? Do you need me to place an order for new equipment or provide any documentation for insurance?”
  • Him: “This was our primary location. Our fire alarms never went off – which is one problem. The 2nd problem is that you were supposedly monitoring our data center 24×7. So why is it 12 hours after it burned to the ground and we still haven’t heard from you?
  • Me (not aloud): Oh crap.

Needless to say, we lost our biggest customer that day. We tried to save his business but he was finished with us. We refunded all 6 months of his managed service fees.

What Went Wrong

Let’s start with we were monitoring his datacenter but hadn’t realized it had burned to the ground!

What led to this was my mistake. I violated a key principle that’s crucial for successful selling today: “Sell what’s on the truck”.

My company had a long, successful track record delivering break/fix services. We had the processes, people and tools to deliver this service flawlessly.

Our managed services were brand new. So new, that I sold them before we were ready. I put our support engineers in a tough position where they had to implement the solution while still building it.

Because my deals represented significant revenue, I was able to coerce our technical team into launching prematurely.

I anticipated we’d scramble a bit to work out the finer details along the way. But I never thought a building would burn down and we wouldn’t notice!

It turned out that we had been monitoring our customer up until about a week before the fire. Then someone made a configuration change and neglected to restart their monitoring service. Because we had not fine tuned our processes yet, nobody noticed this.

Problems like this happen all the time with new products and services. As Sales Managers, it’s our responsibility to direct our reps to sell the services we can deliver today.

All sales reps want to sell the next release. It’s got all the good stuff: cutting edge technology, features that crush competitors, and it works flawlessly (according to our marketing literature and sales playbooks).

But when we let our reps sell pre-release versions into production environments we’re asking for trouble.

  • The product is likely to have bugs that disrupt your service and possibly your customer’s business.
  • Your reps may inadvertently convince some prospects to buy nothing until the new product is released.
  • Your customer service team, sales reps and development team will all be pulled into fighting fires (see what I did there?)

In the best case, your customer gets a mediocre experience. In the worst case, you waste a lot of people’s time, lose the customer or delay winning the opportunity.

Sell What’s On the Truck Instead

Chances are that your company has a product right now that works perfectly. It’s in stock, functional, and fully supportable. As Sales Managers, we have to focus our Rep’s efforts on selling this.

Leave the alpha and beta versions for your Product Teams to work on until they are ready for general release.

You’ll thank me for this advice someday.

About the Author

I’m Steve Ainslie.

Think of me as your Inside Sales Special Forces Dude. I tackle tough sales problems and pave the way for new growth by helping my clients build exceptional sales teams.

After 18 years of leading sales teams for my employers, I launched Inside Sales Dude as a boutique consulting firm.

My clients are Startups, Technology Companies & Small Businesses.

Do you want to improve sales? My blog offers real-world, practical advice for managing sales teams (for free!)