The Sapient Salesman: A Mexican Memoir

Jan Sysmans —  October 24, 2011 — Leave a comment

Editor’s Note: The Sapient Salesman began as a series of internally-focused sales coaching pieces written by SugarCRM team member Erin Fetsko. While initially focused on “selling Sugar,” Erin’s advice and wisdom have proven useful to Sugar partners, and well, anyone in the business of sales. Thus, we are happy to add her insight to the Sugar corporate blog. You can read all of Erin’s musings at The Sapient Salesman.

I arrived in Mexico to do a training last week and checked into the hotel just before sundown. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem, but it appeared that all but two of the light bulbs in my room were burnt out, and neither of the functioning fixtures resided in the bathroom. Having severely underestimated the English fluency of Mexico City, instead of trying to invent a gesticulation for light bulb, I attempted to resolve this myself. Luckily for me no one nailed down the desk lamp, and, much to my delight, the outlet in the bathroom produced power. I deemed this solution “good enough” for three days and went to dinner. Following some sarcastic remark on my part, the new guy, of all people, admitted he thought his lights were broken too, but he called the front desk who clued him into this secret magic slot in which you place your key to release the power to the lights. This particularly amused me because I sized up this mysterious 80s car pullout ashtray looking slot thing for a solid two minutes, and dismissed it after I determined it wasn’t going to budge and was most certainly not a button!

This “damn I’m a stubborn idiot” moment made me wonder how many customer have a similar experience when trialing software. You see, my lamp relocation initiative did illuminate the important spaces in my room, and while a little unconventional, it got the job done. But if I wasn’t one of those people that snarkily remarks about random things all the time, I would have left this trip with an unjustified negative opinion on my accommodations. Considering the different approaches in play: asking for help vs. figuring it out yourself, where both parties would answer “yes” when asked if they can see in their room, how do you decipher the truly successful from the apathetic achievers?

In my experience people will deliver the polite response the first two times you inquire. Unveiling the truth requires you look past this empathy driven auto-reply and dig into the three levels of “really?”. No one wants to burden you with their baggage, but if you poke hard enough that phrase at the tip of their tongue will slip out. It might go something like:

How’s your room? “Fine”

So, everything okay? “Yup”

What do you think of the hotel? “Well I think they should seriously consider investing in light bulbs!!”

… and voila, an adaptation of the three levels of “why?” proves useful once again.

So this week, try to identify flailing customers before they drown. Use pointed questions to help better understand how they use the application today; not only will you then improve your appreciation for their needs and how Sugar may address them, but you’ll poise yourself to politely snatch away the shovel before they dig themselves an inescapable ditch.

Jan Sysmans

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Jan Sysmans brings 20 years of marketing and product management experience, including particular focus in the software-as-a-service segment, to his role as Senior Director of Product Marketing at SugarCRM. In this position, Mr. Sysmans is responsible for all global product marketing programs for SugarCRM. Mr. Sysmans speaks on behalf of SugarCRM about the value, benefits and future of commercial open source solutions at customer and industry events around the world. Prior to assuming his current role at SugarCRM, Mr. Sysmans was the Enterprise Marketing TME (Technical Marketing Engineer) at Cisco WebEx and Director of Marketing at WebEx Communications. Earlier in his career, Mr. Sysmans held product management positions at PlaceWare, Ensim, Narus, XO Communications and Concentric Network Communications. He also served as the chairperson of the Marketing Communications committee on the SaaS Executive Council of the Software Information and Industry Association (SIIA) from 2006-2007. Jan Sysmans holds a Bachelor of Science in commercial and diplomatic relations from the HUBrussels Business School (Belgium), and a Master of Business Administration in intercultural management from ICHEC Brussels Management School (Belgium). He speaks English, Dutch, French, German and Spanish

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