The Art of Selling Software Change
You may have likely heard it many times in your career, “Oh, I would love to have XYZ Software, but I can’t get the “board” on “onboard” to spend the money on software. They won’t change”. So, how do you successfully push the idea for obtaining new database software in your organization? In this article, I provide several key ways to address that question.
I believe the comedic movie, Tommy Boy, depicts in a lighthearted way a parallel to the challenges of selling new technology internally into an organization these days. I always get a chuckle out of this one. I hope you do too.
Now in terms of software projects, there are some instances (maybe more than we will admit) when the board and executive team may come from a different perspective than the staff. For many organizations, they are not intimately involved in the “Whirlwind” of a staff’s day to day activities. And, for small nonprofits, perhaps the board needs some education on the reasons why technology may be warranted in order to help push forward the mission.
For those reasons, the “Art of Selling” may need to come into play. And, if that is the case for you, you may require certain tactics and skills to make an effective “pitch” to push forward new innovation in your organization.
Why Selling is Important,Tommy Boy!
First, I believe in the idea that We are all in sales. In other words, probably more so than ever, I believe that every employee should view themselves in the role of selling a product. And, that often times, they are “the product” too. In other words, every time you talk to a member, donor, or customer, you should be providing service, promoting your cause, and pushing forward the unique benefits & value of participating with your organization. And, whether you are working in a nonprofit organization or a for profit, it doesn’t matter.
But, even working internally it’s important to be comfortable in this idea as well. I realize that for some “Sales” is a dirty word. I know, it is even often confused by a few reading now with one of the oldest professions in the world (you figure out that one). But, when sales is done right, it’s a very honorable profession. And, in order to fight the good fight and embark on a mission to overcome the “Status Quo” of yesteryear, change likely will come with resistance. And, knowing some good practices of selling will only advance your cause forward with software projects and other initiatives.
Granted, I must confess. I do not purport to be a sales expert. However, in my humble opinion, the best sales professionals take an altruistic view towards helping their client succeed in removing obstacles and solving problems. A successful sales professional “doesn’t tell” rather they listen, they offer insight not lies, they solve problems and provide a viable plan via their product and/or services. They care and sincerely desire to help their clients.
And, that’s how you need to be! When embarking on a journey to foster change in your organization, I do believe you need to invoke some of the expertise of the truly great sales people (like Ben Feldman or Zig Ziglar) in order to be successful. Below, I provide several ideas which you may consider to help you close your internal IT deal.
Teach, Tailor, and Take Control of the Software Database Project
A while back, I read a best selling book titled, The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. In the book, the author makes the claim that some of the most successful sales professionals are “Challengers”. According to the author, a “Challenger” is defined by the ability to do three things: teach, tailor, and take control.
In some instances, it may be imperative to confront the conventional way of thinking in order to push technology decisions forward. Yes, in order to achieve success in selling software change internally and test the prevailing way of thinking, you have to command reliable information. To be effective, you have to learn how to “teach” to your audience in an appropriate manner. And, it’s imperative to provide factual illustrations in which the proposed alternative will address your organization’s problems.
However, if you push, you need to be prepared to teach and tailor an outline which has impactful metrics to support your situation. You need to be prepared to answer some of these type of questions:
How the software will cut costs
Improve donor or membership levels
Increase participation at your big conference
Increase non-dues revenue
Enhance donor retention
Improve member services
Without factual information, your mission will be futile and you may run the risk of killing the sale. You will need to take the time to “assess” before you “teach”.
Being a challenger isn’t the only thing you may need to consider in this pursuit. You need to inject several other ingredients to ensure success in sparking the revolution of change at your organization.
Build Consensus For New Database Software:
In addition to taking on the role of challenger, it is very important to build consensus. As you already know, when asking your board to spend money, consensus is more important than ever to get your ideas across. It’s no surprise that an internal project usually gets pushed through by a person who can effectively tailor the message to a wide range of stakeholders in order to build that consensus.
Don’t make the mistake of setting unrealistic expectations for the new software. It’s not all about your department but rather stress the impact of how this impacts the entire nonprofit enterprise. In reality, your IT requirement is likely a need which impacts everyone. Build consensus among everyone to highlight the failure points. And, use the agreed consensus often in the process to sell your software idea forward. It’s important to find a path to mutual understanding that launches an IT software project in the best way and avoids regrets, revisions, and stalling.
Justify with Accentuating the Bleeding of Your Database:
Do a thorough analysis internally in each department to determine the costs of doing it the old way. And, then use those insights to show a comparison to the costs afterwards. For example, the mere process of having Data Silos (Excel, Access, Website, Accounting, Event Registration Systems, Social Media Systems, Email Marketing etc.) can easily justify the initial expense for most systems today. Data Integrity (redundant data), Improved Marketing (better segmentation), Increased Support (systems which are disparate cause more support work), & training is easier (if in separate systems more likelihood of more errors and bad data) with an integrated solution.
Expectations are Reality in Database Situations:
If your organization is still living in the 90’s with just a website, you are not relevant. Your members and donors have come accustom to the online world of doing business. By not having your website connected with your nonprofit database management system, your going to kill your productivity capabilities. But, please be sure to frame your request for the new technology in realistic terms. People, partners, processes, and products play a role in success. Products are important but don’t frame the product to your executive leadership as the only challenge. Be realistic.
Database Programs Are Imperative to Advance the Mission:
The more you know, the more engaged you members and donors will be. For example, without an integrated community, your leaving the possibilities of increased participation in the public domain. In other words, make the case that most systems today will offer ways your organization needs to be competitive. Enterprise systems should enhance the cause for increased engagement and participation. And, having a new system will allow your organization to “retain” the mind share of your donors/members if you offer a solution. A new system may be what you need to advance your mission.
Live Inside the Box of Software Projects:
As Phil Dunphy, actor on ABC’s sitcom Modern Family, stated so eloquently,“Everyone is competing to be outside the box now. Yep, it’s crowded outside now”. “It’s time to take over the inside again”. Seriously, executives looking to push new technology ideas to the board need to get “inside the box” and figure out what your departments need. This solution will impact staff, executives, board, and customers (members/donors).As a result, it is critical to decipher the points of pain for everyone in the organization. Then, think outside the box to come up with a solution.
In many organizations, your team may need to investigate seeking good counsel to assist in this effort. It may be prudent to enlist the help of an outside firm to discuss how to best frame your project requirements and assess the impact before moving forward with an internal enterprise software project. In fact, that may just be, the first sale you make to your team!
Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.