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Two weeks ago at TSIA's Technology Services World (TSW) Best Practices conference in Santa Clara, the discussion and analysis of the business-for-business (B4B) model―and the industry changes described in the recently published business book by industry pundits J.B. Wood, Thomas Lah, and Todd Hewlin, titled B4B: How Technology and Big Data Are Reinventing the Customer-Supplier Relationship―were in full bloom. 

Not surprisingly, the managed services (MS) business was commanding a lot of attention. Technology companies will leverage managed services as they begin their migration to an outcomes-based business model.

In Part One of this two-part blog miniseries, I discussed the 10 principles of the managed services sales process. This article continues the discussion by looking at the characteristics a sales professional must possess in order to execute the process successfully.

Managed services providers have a lot at stake. With longer sales cycles, higher cost of sales, and high-risk/reward of the opportunities, providers must not take the “same old sales” approach. Providers can realize significant ROI from deploying the proper sales model and building a sales team equipped with the right skill set.

The Characteristics of the Successful Managed Services Sales Person

Figure 1, the Solution Complexity Continuum, illustrates how 12 sales engagement criteria change along the continuum of complexity of the solution being sold. The left side of the continuum describes the environment where low-complexity solutions are sold―unit products with little or no competitive differentiation. The right side describes the environment of high-complexity solutions that may be hardware, software, services or, often, combinations of them.

Managed services certainly resides to the right side of the continuum. The engagement environment described on the complex side of the continuum provides excellent insight to the type of sales person required to sell successfully there.


The Solution Complexity Continuum was presented to a group of managed services executives at TSW Service Transformations in October 2013, where the B4B model was first introduced. The goal was to identify skills, competencies, knowledge or behaviors required to sell managed services. The team identified 50 items from which five important themes emerge:

Business Acumen: The ability to learn and synthesize key information about the customer’s business will help the sales person in many ways: articulating business results, exploring business pain beyond the technology environment, having meaningful discussions with a variety of decision makers, building and communicating business cases and more.

Business Value Articulation: CIOs are balancing the need of optimizing or migrating their technology environment with the intense pressure for their technology to drive the business. This often puts the CIO in the critical path of strategy achievement since technology is a business enabler. Expensive technology and CFO scrutiny are often at odds. The MS sales person must be able to develop the business case that explains and quantifies the value of the solution for each opportunity.

Working with Multiple Decision Makers: MS sales involves multiple decision makers and influencers including those whose areas of responsibility are impacted by the solution, the people funding the investment, the individuals responsible for managing the relationship and more.

Management skills: management skills are involved even though the sales person may not have direct line of management over others. The managed services sale has a long sales cycle (often 6 – 18 months) that usually involves various resources from the provider: technical specialists/solution architects, operations managers, executives and more. Not to mention the various customer stakeholders. The sales person should be effective and marshalling the resources when and where they’re needed.

Traditional Sales Skills Take On a Greater Importance: questioning, listening and negotiation skills are valuable in any selling role, but MS sales success depends heavily on using these skills with advanced proficiency.

This outcome is completely consistent with Pretium’s experience. It is a really expensive mistake to treat all sales roles the same, or essentially the same. While most people understand this point, few people understand what to do about it. Using models like the Solution Complexity Continuum will help you build competency models that provide valuable direction. Successfully identifying sales people who possess the skill potential is another matter. To do this well, there has been demonstrated success in using competency assessments and predictive analytics. More on that in future blog articles.


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Bill Hall

About Author Bill Hall

Bill Hall is co-founder and partner at Pretium Partners, a TSIA Consulting Alliance Partner. He is responsible for business development, designing client solutions, and managing client relationships. For the past 20 years, he focused on developing sales talent management solutions that improve client sales productivity. He is one of two lead instructors and has taught thousands of sales professionals in companies of all sizes around the world.

After graduating from the University of Virginia with a BS in mechanical engineering, Hall began a 30-year career in sales and marketing. His expertise was developed in technology solutions sales, worldwide services marketing, and services management.

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