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The art of selling technology

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa)

Everyone needs a little art in their lives – especially technologists.

It’s easy to be seduced by the science of modern technology – its stunning sophistication, range of functionalities, and the way it promises to transform our lives – and yet forget about the people who actually buy and use it.

To sell technology solutions and services effectively you need more than algorithms and AI: you also need to understand people in all their unpredictable, emotional and irrational glory. You need to understand their hopes, their interests, what keeps them awake at night. Above all, you need to understand them as individuals.

In his otherwise excellent guide to technologies for technology marketers, Alex Hoppenbrouwers argues that selling IT is more of a science than an art. I couldn’t disagree more. If you plan to build long-term relationships with customers, if you wish to deliver long-term value by solving strategic problems, if you hope to influence the long and complex technology purchasing process, then science can only take you so far. Understanding people and influencing their buying decisions is indeed an art, and it’s one we call account-based marketing (ABM).

The art of account-based marketing

Account-based marketing is a highly-targeted marketing discipline that treats each potential customer as a ‘market of one’. It shifts the focus from the inefficient broadcast model that relies on hammering out the same bland messages about product specifications, and instead focuses on developing real relationships with people in a position to buy your products.

At first glance, it seems strange that such a people-based marketing approach should have taken root in the technology industry. Think about it a little more deeply, though, and it’s obvious why ABM is particularly well-suited for the tech sector, with its high-value contracts, long and complex buying cycles, and large number of people involved in the decision-making process.

To see how impersonal (and ineffective) traditional marketing can be in the tech industry, consider how senior IT people suffer a daily deluge of vendor marketing, from opinion pieces and blogs to whitepapers, press releases and research, all of it focused on the product or service’s universal marketing messages.

Compare that with an ABM approach, which always begins with a comprehensive and wide-ranging analysis of named individuals in target, high-value organisations. This research provides a thorough understanding of their businesses’ aspirations and pain points; the insight is then used to craft unique messages that serve as the starting point for meaningful conversations about how your product solves their problems.

Selling product versus building relationships

While the technologies that Alex mentions are useful tools for finding these individuals and sharing tailored content with them, they are of strictly subsidiary importance compared to the art of building relationships. What’s most exciting about ABM is the way it enables technology vendors and service providers to adapt their offerings by listening to the real needs of the businesses they sell to, instead of pushing a particular product or set of generic messages. That means that vendor-customer relationships are much more likely to turn into long-term strategic partnerships.

If this all sounds a little theoretical and self-serving, then consider how Oracle is using ABM to transform the way it communicates to its customers and prospects. Oracle has a large and incredibly complex product portfolio, with its software covering every conceivable industry and business application. This complexity means that Oracle has always valued its face-to-face relationships, and by adopting ABM techniques it is carrying this principle into its online marketing campaigns. While display and search marketing remain important channels, Oracle is having tremendous success by developing closely-targeted, highly-researched and often emotional communications that identify customers’ particular needs and pain points.

And they’re not alone. We have helped Google take the same approach, teaching its marketing teams the art of gathering insight into key accounts, then testing and iterating them in the wild.

Get sales and marketing working together 

So far, we have looked at the human element of marketing purely from the perspective of the vendor-customer relationship. Vendors need to instil and encourage human-centric relationships within their own organisations to ensure that teams are working together effectively towards the same goal.

Nowhere is this more important than in the relationship between sales and marketing. Increasingly, these two departments, so often mentioned in the same breath, have grown apart; they have different goals and priorities, different metrics for success – they even seem to speak a different language.

While sales is focused on revenue through building relationships with their accounts and developing opportunities, marketing concentrates on generating awareness and creating leads. Thanks to the proliferation of media and marketing channels, marketers often end up adopting a “spray and pay” approach, which is the antithesis of ABM’s nurturing of relationships through carefully crafted content.

To succeed with ABM, vendors and service providers must understand what Google, Oracle and other large technology firms have learned through long-experience: that sales and marketing must work together as a team to bring creative, tailored content to the right people in the target organisation. Marketers must be courageous in pushing the benefits of ABM to their partners in sales, and show them how to craft and deliver powerful, emotional messages.

The marriage of art and science

Account-based marketing is, above all, a people-led process; it requires close cooperation and collaboration between traditionally independent teams. Breaking down the barriers between sales and marketing is an art in itself, and one that is crucial is your business is to sell bespoke “visions of the future” for markets-of-one.

Obviously, technologies such as collaboration and communication software will play a part in bringing these two departments closer together, but only a fundamental cultural and behavioural shift will enable them to collaborate effectively to deliver valuable long-term benefits – both for the company and its customers.

Technology has an important role to play in the modern marketing mix. We don’t in any way disparage tools such as programmatic advertising, demand-side platforms and all the other paraphernalia of modern digital advertising. If an organisation wants to evolve from vendor to long-term strategic partner, however, they must master the art of building real relationships with their future customers.

Alisha Lyndon, CEO, MomentumABM
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa

Alisha Lyndon
Alisha is Founding CEO of MomentumABM, the company that designs, develops and executes ABM programmes for some of the world’s biggest brands including Oracle, Google and Amazon.