• Ed Halsey

Sales is not what you think it is...

"So we hired our first salesperson and we're expecting things to really pick up pace"

A beautifully naive expression I've heard countless times before. It's a sign that most non-sales people don't understand how sales works, least of all in technology sales.

People think that salespeople are these magical creatures who you can hire, throw at a revenue problem and then sit back and watch the new deals roll in. But they're such a small part of the equation, particularly when you're just starting out.

  • What is your sales strategy?

  • Who are you target customers - by name?

  • What sales collateral do you have? Decks, demos, testimonials, case studies?

  • What are the parameters of your pricing model?

  • How are you going to fill your pipeline every month?

  • What does success look like?

  • What delivery resource do you have?

  • How good is your website, brand, infrastructure?

  • How well connected are you across the market?

Sure, mature businesses will have a lot of this figured out and it took them years to get to that point.

I recently engaged with a vendor who pulled no punches on what they were looking for with a salesperson, but clearly understood the foundations of selling;

"We need someone who understands they're probably not going to sell anything for the first year - and that needs to not terrify them - because it doesn't terrify us as a business. That's just not how the insurance sector buys technology. We need them to strategise and execute. Execution of a strategy that we both agree on is what a successful first year looks like"

And I am inclined to agree - we're not selling flowers on a market stall. Technology is a complex sale with big budgets, multiple agendas and numerous stakeholders. Often it's a challenger sale, in which you have to work hard to educate the customer that they even have the issue that you're technology solves. That can easily take 12-18 months or more.

If you can't afford to bankroll a salesperson to execute a strategy for at least 6 months without results - you're not at the point you need a salesperson yet.

But no salesperson will be honest about that, because they know they won't get the job. And no hiring manager (except the one above) would generally say that out loud, because they made promises to their senior stakeholders to get budget for that hire, and those people expect immediate results.

Maybe it's time for some radical candour in sales, starting at the top?

It reminds me of a colleague I used to work with who was a keen fisherman. He wanted to catch the biggest fish and his approach was not dissimilar to enterprise sales. He recognised that just going down to the lake every night, casting his rod out and hoping to get a bite would too often see him returning home having caught nothing. Instead, he meticulously visited the same spot, every night, on the way home from work and, without ever fishing, and cast food into the lake. Over time, it trained the fish in the lake to know that at 6pm every night, there would be food in that part of the lake. Then once or twice a month, he'd actually take his rod and catch the biggest fish in the lake, all of whom were sat patiently waiting for him.

This of this like content-marketing, showing your "fish" that coming to you rather than the rest of the lake brings rewards, thus they flock to you when they're hungry. I often talk about sales being like fishing, probably inspired by this story, in that when selling technology into an industry like insurance, traditional methods of cold calling and hoping you hit gold don't work.

Let's get this clear and down in writing in no uncertain terms;

The chances of you getting through to the Head of IT at AXA and discovering via your incredible telephone manner that they have a £2m budget for digitally transforming the exact issue that you can solve in the next 6 months, is essentially zero.

Does that mean you shouldn't call them, introduce yourself and plant an initial seed about what you do? Absolutely not. Many a great deal has grown from a long-planted seed. But be realistic about how long that seed will take to germinate.

Salespeople and strategy come in many different forms, but technology sales into insurance is not about cold calling. It's not about email campaigns. It's not about immediate results.

It's about going to the lake every night and prepping your fish and letting them know where the food is for when they get hungry.

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