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I’ve always struggled to get to grips with the way dxw should best organise and manage its sales. Of course, the sales function is vital for any company to successfully win business. But I’m very conscious of the fact that the sales approaches pursued by many companies do not necessarily lead to good outcomes or behaviour.

We want to do things differently. We need a professional sales and business development function, but cut from different cloth.

We need someone who has some commercial nous but takes most of their job satisfaction from being helpful and useful to others, and making a difference to people’s lives. We need someone who appreciates the potential of digital in government, understands what we do, and can  communicate that compellingly to others. We need someone who’ll relish the challenge involved in finding organisations in the wider public sector who’ll benefit most from partnering with companies like dxw. And whose projects would help the business to grow in ways that will help us to achieve our mission.

We believe that the public sector needs suppliers who, like us, are motivated by the desire to make things better. We want to use technology and agile principles to help government become something recognisably, radically better. We think that now’s the time, and we’re looking for the right person to help us get there.

What do you think? Is it you?

How did we get here?

We’ve all seen it. The phone call you can’t get out of. The well-trained, outwardly friendly salesperson overcoming your objections, maintaining the pretence of usefulness, but with no authenticity. Sales teams on commissions selling poorly conceived projects that delivery teams struggle to deliver. Awful proposals constructed to wind their way through awful procurement processes. Good value on the surface, but with ruinously expensive change control unobtrusively tucked in. Happy sales people out front with miserable developers in the back room. Vast, expensive IT contracts which do little for front-line staff or members of the public.

I don’t want any of those things to be true of the way dxw works. Recently, we’ve tried to construct roles which focus on relationship management, winning business from existing clients, and approaching new ones with the same mindset: being useful early and often. Gaining trust by being awesome.

However, that approach hasn’t worked terribly well. Delivery managers are in a much better position to have those relationships with clients, so they end up having those conversations whether the process says they should or not.  The relationship manager, not being much involved in delivering client projects, ends up with precious few relationships to manage.

So, at the moment, we’re in much the same situation as we’ve always found ourselves: with a steady stream of incoming work, the nature of which is largely dictated by who happened to refer us to whom. Almost all of our work is generated by recommendations and word of mouth, which I’ve always been very reassured by. But it’s hard to manage, and leads to somewhat of a catch-22: we’re good at X, so we win more work doing X. And we don’t often get opportunities to do Y or Z, even though we’d do a great job.

We need to get better at this. But we’re not interested in commissions, targets, cold-calling, stalls at lame conferences or squeezing every last drop of cash out of every deal. We want to approach things differently.

If you do too, we’d love to talk to you.

4 comments

  1. Comment by Steve Parks posted

    Hi Harry,

    Good points, well made. We’ve been struggling with the same dilemma. We don’t have one single person out of 170 who could be described as a ‘sales person’ and we’d like to keep it that way.

    However, as we’ve been doing more public sector work we’ve been finding that the procurement process is set up to buy the *sale*, rather than the *service*, and therefore if you don’t have a team to do lots of pitching, big proposals, work through long PQQs, and so on it becomes a pain. We’ve been rejecting more and more public sector RFPs on that basis – we don’t think they will select the right service provider, just the best salesmanship. They don’t want to know about the risks, have questions raised, or be guided to better solutions. They just want to be told it’ll all be magically alright and for a really cheap price. Someone else can deal with all the budget overruns and change orders later.

    But no company like yours or ours wants to develop a sales team like that, because we know it leads to bad projects. So we’re also looking for ways to engage in a sales-ish way, but still staying service focused.

    I’d love to hear any ideas you develop or progress you make, and will be happy to share anything we do.

    Thanks for raising the discussion,
    Steve

    Steve Parks, Director, Wunder UK
    @steveparks

  2. Comment by Steve Parks posted

    Hi Harry,

    Good points, well made. We’ve been struggling with the same dilemma. We don’t have one single person out of 170 who could be described as a ‘sales person’ and we’d like to keep it that way.

    However, as we’ve been doing more public sector work we’ve been finding that the procurement process is set up to buy the *sale*, rather than the *service*, and therefore if you don’t have a team to do lots of pitching, big proposals, work through long PQQs, and so on it becomes a pain. We’ve been rejecting more and more public sector RFPs on that basis – we don’t think they will select the right service provider, just the best salesmanship. They don’t want to know about the risks, have questions raised, or be guided to better solutions. They just want to be told it’ll all be magically alright and for a really cheap price. Someone else can deal with all the budget overruns and change orders later.

    But no company like yours or ours wants to develop a sales team like that, because we know it leads to bad projects. So we’re also looking for ways to engage in a sales-ish way, but still staying service focused.

    I’d love to hear any ideas you develop or progress you make, and will be happy to share anything we do.

    Thanks for raising the discussion,
    Steve

    Steve Parks, Director, Wunder UK
    @steveparks

  3. Comment by Jason posted

    It’s a really tricky one, isn’t it. As public sector organisations, we desperately want to get the best product (built as a series of minimum viable products, of course). Sometimes that means cheapest, because the people you deal with don’t know enough about the thing they’re buying to know why that would be wrong. But sometimes it’s about better value than that. So how do you know when you’re dealing with someone that wants better value out of their sprints, and how do you tackle that at the sales pitch? What are the right questions you as an agency can ask us as potential clients to gauge that appetite and knowledge, and open up the conversation so you know what it is we want? Perhaps it’s about training us to be better pitch receivers – and help us exploit your experience of navigating procurement (which will always be far greater than ours, since you likely respond 10x more often than we procure) to allow a truly useful conversation to happen in that meeting.

    Um, so that’s not, like, much to ask of a sales service manager, is it?

  4. Comment by Jason posted

    It’s a really tricky one, isn’t it. As public sector organisations, we desperately want to get the best product (built as a series of minimum viable products, of course). Sometimes that means cheapest, because the people you deal with don’t know enough about the thing they’re buying to know why that would be wrong. But sometimes it’s about better value than that. So how do you know when you’re dealing with someone that wants better value out of their sprints, and how do you tackle that at the sales pitch? What are the right questions you as an agency can ask us as potential clients to gauge that appetite and knowledge, and open up the conversation so you know what it is we want? Perhaps it’s about training us to be better pitch receivers – and help us exploit your experience of navigating procurement (which will always be far greater than ours, since you likely respond 10x more often than we procure) to allow a truly useful conversation to happen in that meeting.

    Um, so that’s not, like, much to ask of a sales service manager, is it?

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