Richard speaks to channel sales expert Fiona Challis about how MSPs
can go from zero to hero with their sales process.
Author, channel enablement and sales expert, founder of the Next Gen Sales Academy and winner of the award for Best Female Speaker, Fiona Challis is Richard’s go-to expert for all things sales. Fiona is here at the CRN conference in London to talk about ‘What makes a winning MSP sales team’ and lucky for us she’s found a little time in her hectic schedule to come and give us the inside scoop.
An Interview With Fiona Challis
Whenever you talk to other MSPs about anything sales related, there’s one name that comes up, without fail: Fiona Challis. She’s helped some of Europe’s top MSPs smash their sales targets and with her Next Gen Sales Academy, she’s helping countless others overcome their fear of selling, giving them the mindset, the confidence and the tools to get comfortable with making those customer connections.
Fiona Challis: Sales Guru?
Well, she’s cringing at the guru bit but she is obsessed with sales!
She’s been working in the industry since the age of 18, hiring out stands at the Ideal Home Exhibition and selling nail care kits and bronzing powder and travelling Europe “making a fortune selling and staying in nice hotels”, before settling down to a “proper job” with Yellow Pages.
It didn’t take her long to become one of their best new business sales reps and she was soon asked to train up their new employees. As her reputation for sales training spread, she was headhunted by McAfee where she worked as a sales manager tasked with turning around an underperforming sales team before becoming European Sales Director.
She loved her time with McAfee but decided that the corporate world didn’t mix too well with motherhood and school runs, and so she set up the Next Gen Sales Academy.
Focus on Serving, Not Selling
While Fiona always thrived on the challenging nature of sales, she loves how the industry has evolved and is keen to point out that it’s no longer about the ruthless sales person who’s more concerned with doing deals than serving customers.
“Today sales is actually more of a nurturing, relationship building exercise. It’s about keeping customers for life rather than just winning the deal.”
Fiona appreciates that sales is a difficult topic for a lot of MSP owners — many of them would go so far as to say that it’s the one aspect of their business they truly hate. But she believes that reframing how we view sales is the way to learn to love the process.
“It’s not really a hard-faced sales game in the channel anymore, especially in the MSP business. It’s actually more about being a business consultant.”
For existing MSPs sales has become more of a business conversation. That’s how I get a lot of them to turn around, by showing them that it’s not where it used to be. You don’t have to close really hard, you don’t have to overcome lots of objections. You just need to figure out the right customer for your business and talk to them about how technology can help them achieve their business goals.”
She believes that MSPs have a real advantage there because of their technical knowledge. She points out that resellers and VARs who are moving into the MSP space don’t have that luxury; “they have to learn to be a little bit more techie and have to talk more about business outcomes and how to lead with business insights.”
Fiona believes that the people who achieve real success in the MSP industry these days are the ones who serve rather than sell.
The Biggest Sales Challenge For MSPs
The biggest challenge facing the MSPs that Fiona speaks to is winning and retaining new business.
Many of them started growing their business through word of mouth recommendations, which was fine when the market was less saturated than it is today, but now, “with so many reseller VARs moving into the MSP space, it’s become really competitive and it’s no longer good enough just to rely on getting business from referrals.”
So now they have to develop a sales and marketing strategy to win and retain new business and many find it a struggle because they don’t feel comfortable going out to pitch for new business.
“They think, ‘I don’t want to be a salesperson’, and that’s the hardest thing to get them to overcome. But actually today they’re not a salesperson, they’re a business partner. Customers don’t want a sales pitch, they don’t want features and benefits and a hard sell.
All you have to do is learn how to be a really good trusted business partner and help your customers solve tomorrow’s problems today. And a lot of the time, when they realize what the role of sales is to MSPs today, they actually get really excited about selling.”
Tapping into your natural desire to help people really changes the sales conversation and makes it all a lot more fun.
Growing Your Confidence With NLP
One of the techniques that Fiona swears by to help MSPs grow their confidence when having these sales conversations is NLP, or neuro-linguistic programming.
She explains; “I integrate NLP into every part of my training. The easiest way to describe NLP is it’s a way of changing your fears. So for example, I used to be absolutely petrified of presenting. I would literally sweat, my hands would be sweaty, I’d be shaking — I was terrified.
And all of a sudden the thing that I feared the most — public speaking — is now something I do for a living and that is because of NLP. That’s why I’m so passionate about it. I know that when I use NLP techniques I can quickly put myself into a state where I’m confident; I’m on stage and I’m really enjoying it. It’s almost like it gives you the ability to flip a switch, turning on a state of total confidence.”
And that’s how Fiona uses the technique to help business owners, especially ones whose confidence has taken a knock, to make more sales. She helps them find ways to flick that confidence switch.
The Next Gen Sales Academy
With so many demands on her time, Fiona found that she wasn’t able to share her techniques and her sales training with as many MSPs, resellers and VARS as she’d like, which prompted her to launch the Next Gen Sales Academy.
“The channel is going through such a transformation at the moment. There’s just so much change with technology evolving the way it is, and with changes to buyer behaviour. They’re finding it really tough. Some people who used to be really good at selling products are barely hitting target. So I actually set the academy up because I needed to find a way to be able to quickly help as many people in the channel as I could.
There’s only one of me and I can’t get around every MSP so the online academy, with the mix of online training and live web classes, was the best way to do it.
We use it to retrain all existing people in the channel to give them a chance to get ready for modern day selling. And we want to use it for new starters too, on-boarding new people into MSP businesses and teaching reseller VARs who want to transition to the MSP model.”
The Next Gen Sales Academy system has nine core sales training modules for you to work through to equip yourself for modern day selling, teaching key techniques like storytelling for businesses. Fiona also brings experts in every month to run specific practical sessions (like Richard’s session on “How to move from break-fix and selling time for money to selling profitable managed service contracts”) and there are weekly live training events with advice on things you can implement immediately to start generating more sales for the week ahead.
“At the end of your first quarter on the Academy we have a face-to-face workshop and we certify people by giving them a full certificate of being Next Gen ready. It’s kind of like a transformation journey that we take them through.”
It’s an incredible programme and Fiona can hardly believe the success it’s had so far.
“It’s bigger than I even imagined it would be because we’ve now formed a lovely community of the top channel sales professionals that are out there, and everybody’s really supporting and helping each other. And it’s so weird because traditionally partners from different sales teams, would have been competing with each other but we have these events together and everybody supports each other and gives each other advice as to what’s working, what’s not working. It’s turned into a really great community.”
Fiona’s Top Tip for Getting Stuff Done
With so much going on, you have to wonder how Fiona manages to fit it all in.
For her, the secret is another NLP technique: breaking things into more manageable chunks.
Fiona knows that sometimes the sheer scale of what you want to achieve is enough to knock your confidence but by breaking things into smaller chunks you can overcome the fear and start working towards you goals.
With that in mind, Fiona is launching a 90-day sales challenge for Q4, which, for many of us, is often the busiest time of year. “This is where we literally hold people’s hands and give everyone in the channel a superb amount of support and help just to make sure that they’re able to get pipeline and sales results in every week so that they can make 2019 the best year yet — and to make sure they’re ready for 2020.
I want to help as many channel sales people as possible to smash their Q4 number and be ready for 2020!”
Find out more about Fiona’s 90-day sales challenge and everything else she has going on in the Next Gen Sales Academy here.
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