Lance Elickerby Lance Elicker

Whether you are a sales rep, sales manager or the owner of a “solutions” company, you have heard the industry statistics around how printing is declining. The industry experts are saying you should diversify to continue to run a profitable organization as well as acquire and, more importantly, keep customers. These options are vast: Managed IT, MPS, ECM, capture, conversion services, website/SEO/internet services — I could go on and on. The philosophy makes sense. You’ve got a bunch of customers that are paying you money already, you’ve got great relationships with them, so of course they would buy this other stuff, right? Ehh … kinda?

I am going to touch on three steps, that I think are major misses being made when attempting to sell solutions to either new or existing customers.

  • Pain
  • Budget
  • Decision

When I look on deals that I have lost, or sales reps have lost, it is because of one or more of these variables.

Let’s look at pain. Pain is a term we use a lot. Without pain, someone isn’t going to buy something (fear uncertainty and doubt) — right? Sure, we need to find pain. That brings me to my first pain point: the pain has to be the customer’s and not something we have conjured up in our heads. As salespeople we jump to prescribe or present way to early.  We have all heard this:  “Prospect X is dealing with a lot of paper, they have trouble finding documents, and they have file cabinets everywhere. OF COURSE they need a document management solution.”

Often, we stop at the what; the surface-level portion of pain, instead of drilling down into the how and why of pain. Take the example mentioned earlier: the customer’s documents are a mess, he can’t find things, and file cabinets everywhere. To us as document management consultants, of course there is all kinds of pain wrapped up in that scenario. Assuming is a terrible thing, so asking, “do you have any issue with the way your documents are being managed? How long has this been an issue for you? Have you considered the value of having documents and data more accessible to you?” will let you know how serious they are about the pain. If the company has had these issues for years and look at them as the cost of doing business, or haven’t considered the value of electronic document storage, do we as salespeople want to take the time to prove to them they need it? Again, the key here is using our customer’s words when we refer to pain. If the customer hasn’t said it, it doesn’t exist.

The next topic is budget, and I know a lot of you are asking, how is my customer going to have a budget for something they don’t even know they need yet? If you have done a good job on the pain portion, we have uncovered some pain that others haven’t and created some value with the customer in the ability to fix an ESTABLISHED problem. If we stop at “do you have a budget for this” you won’t be winning a lot of deals. There will be few and far between deals that will be won because you were at the right place at the right time. To be good, you must create the right time and place for yourself. What we are really doing is building a budget with the customer. Understanding the cost of acquisition compared to the ROI is always an important metric, but also understanding that cost of waiting and not doing anything becomes equally as important. This is how I build a budget with the customer, establishing agreed upon costs for different processes to help build my budget case. This is test close in my opinion — if we can’t agree to a budget, why are we still talking?

Lastly, let’s look at decision. I feel like this one gets most commonly overlooked. We’ve established pain with someone hopefully in a decision-making position, or a key influencer. We even have an idea of a budget that exists for the project, or have coauthored one. Now we need to be set on what the decision-making process is. There is typically more than one person making a decision, and if you haven’t been talking to that person or group of people that are making the decision, how do we know the pain and budget we established are real. Is there a board involved in the project, does finance need to look over it before approval? These scenarios are all going to hinder the ability to win a solution sale. Understanding not just who is involved but how the process works is so important. I recently had a great opportunity where everything went great until the deal go in front of the CFO, who had a specific formula for ROI that I wasn’t aware of. The deal we proposed didn’t meet the ROI requirements and the deal never got done.

Now, these three factors don’t have to be in a particular order. Absence of any one of these factors, however, reduces your potential for winning dramatically. Remember, these are all things that need to be done prior to taking the time to put a demo/proof of concept. Seeing is believing, I get it, but by attempting to do your selling at demo time or after, you will end up spending a lot of time and resources on deal that were never really opportunities. Remember, a solution must resolve a problem. Demos don’t solve problems, they validate the pain findings visually and provide a user experience. 

Lance Elicker is national customer success manager for Ephesoft, a best in class advanced document classification and data extraction solution and document level analytics platform.

is a professional services manager for Van Ausdall & Farrar. Contact him at