Selling IoT: A Paradigm Shift

IoT, from a sales perspective, represents the end of Coin Operated individual as the stereotypical rainmaker. In its place, Vision Oriented Sales will become the new standard-bearer.

Very much has been, and still is being, written on the transformative evolution happening throughout technology which we call IoT/Industry 4.0. The innovations which have enabled this, which are driving this, are well beyond me from a technical perspective. But that’s not my role to play. As we get farther and farther along, as IoT has gone from buzzword to commercial inevitability, we are faced with the practical consequences of that commercialization.

How do I actually sell IoT? Not as a high-level concept, not as a single piece within the larger puzzle, but as the whole? How would I even define IoT, create lines of demarcation, so I can understand what I am and am not selling?

The challenge here is not in technique but in paradigms – in the fundamental worldview of what is being sold. As a sales person, I don’t need to wonder if my approach or personality is suddenly incompatible with the zeitgeist. I do need to wonder if I am setting myself up for success or failure in years to come. In embedded compute, which is the foundational underpinning of IoT deployments when it comes to ground-level infrastructure, we work today for revenue which will be realized in 12-18 months.

Despite all the corporate initiatives, trade shows, and literature provided, at the end of the day I have to make the effort myself to go out and put these things into action. I have all the tools necessary at my disposal, but it is on me to know how to use them. Often, this becomes an effort in understanding what works and doesn’t work. I believe that the biggest change brought about by IoT, from a sales perspective, is how we define the ‘what.’

Selling IoT, or rather selling my place within IoT, is inherently driven by vision more than product or services. We have at our disposal tools and technologies which can enable a near infinite number of solutions which have not previously existed. Consequentially, every organization looking to transform their business digitally has their own vision. It is a world of similarly infinite perspectives, a natural result of the fact that in industrial scenarios everything is unavoidably unique. Look at a factory, a drill site, a warehouse – how much standardization exists in facilities which have operated for forty or fifty years? How expensive is it going to be to bring a profitable solution to these facilities, when every deployment is going to require its own unique resources to some extent?

Again, there is plenty of documentation on how to answer these questions. But for the sales person, approaching these scenarios is akin to walking into a bustling party where many people there have existing relationships… and now you must fit somehow into these relationships. You must complement, or at least not compete against, several other critical visions required to bring a solution to life. You must understand the role you play, the role other partners play, how you may be a threat to some and a benefit to others. You must go out of your way to seek out and understand the value propositions of people who may have traditionally had nothing to do with your product line or service offering. You must approach these with tact, you must understand and integrate into vying political interests, and do it all while still trying to hit your own quota.

Sales is, organizationally speaking, the group which takes the rubber from the factory and applies it full force to the road. For IoT, as envisioned by any company, to be successful you have to have the buy in from your salesforce at large. When working in established fields like oil and gas, mining, et al, this means training up and asking change of individuals whose livelihoods are as dependent on the stability of their customer’s heretofore unchanging business as it is on the relationships they’ve built over the years. I say unchanging business because in the era of digital transformations, the pace of change is magnitudes greater than what we are used to expecting.

There is no simple answer or path forward for the sales executive in this situation. The reality, however, is that while you may be a “trusted advisor” today, you can quickly find yourself pushed into the “vendor trap” in the coming years. Similarly, those who approach new business with a mentality of understanding vision will become the new “trusted advisors” – and this gives us all great opportunity. We can capture business now which may have been unassailable over the past decade. We can solidify partnerships and relationships which can endure for the next ten years. But it requires of us effort, thought, and imagination. Empathy, patience, and humility. A tempering of ambition and an abandonment of fear for the sake of playing the long game, because the long game is what our customers and partnerships are doing.

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