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3 Ways Selling Needs to Change in the Subscription Economy:

Tien Tzuo chats with Anant Adya of Infosys

Tien Tzuo
CEO, Zuora

Welcome! This week I’m talking with Anant Adya, the Senior Vice President and Business Head for Cloud, Infrastructure & Security Services at Infosys about how to sell in the Subscription Economy.  

Tien: Welcome, Anant. I’m interested in your thoughts on service-oriented selling. We get a lot of questions around this topic, particularly from companies who are new to subscriptions and digital services. To begin, I’m going to put you on the spot. Give me three examples of how your sales approach needs to change in the Subscription Economy. 

Anant: You mean as opposed to selling in a more traditional, product-based approach?

Tien: Correct.

Anant: Okay. The first thing I’d say is that you need to sell to a question, not sell to an answer. By that I mean you need to be question-oriented, not answer-oriented. Start with your customer’s problem statement, then work from there. 

So for example, the head of HR at one of the biggest retailers in the US recently approached us with a problem. She’s not interested in technology, but she’s interested in making sure that over 350,000 employees stay inspired and enabled. And they’re having problems accessing things really important data like vacation days, retirement savings, compensation details. 

So we did a lot of analysis and due diligence, and eventually brought in ServiceNow to handle all of it. Single employee portal. Single sign-on. But the important thing to remember in this example is that Infosys was a big part of the answer to that question, but it wasn’t the whole answer. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. You need to avoid that mentality. 

Tien: That’s also a big theme in the sales chapter of my book. You need to orient yourself around outcomes, not products. What’s next?

Anant: Second, you need to ask yourself a simple question: What’s core to this business, and what’s not? Because the latter part is where your opportunity lies. When you really think about it, how much of a given business is unique innovation, and how much is operations in service of that innovation?

The core these days for enterprises in the digital space is pretty straightforward: to increase revenue, retain existing clients, and enhance the customer experience. And Infosys can accelerate that Digital Transformation journey.

Particularly if you’re selling some kind of digital service or SaaS product, recognize that you’re taking care of a non-essential function. And that’s fine! The old approach of promising your customer a “one-stop-shop” for all their problems just isn’t credible anymore. 

Tien: If you’re selling a true subscriptions service, that means you’re handling all the upkeep and maintenance and the background stuff, which helps your customers focus on what they do best. They’re paying good money for engineers, and they shouldn’t be wasting those resources on keeping the lights on. Great services take away the burdens of ownership. What’s the third shift in sales strategy?

Anant: Okay, here’s my third point: Selling efficiency is great, but selling opportunity is even better. In conversations with your customer, never forget that the flip side of all this optimization is agility. Now that you’ve taken care of some non-essential functions for me and I’m lighter and nimbler, how can you really help me go after new revenue opportunities? How can you help me react to big swings in the market? 

A discussion that’s all about head-count, cost-savings, person-hours, etc, is fine, but it’s also very finite and product-oriented. When you’re selling a service, you’re selling a partnership, a relationship over time. So you need to think in terms of strategy, not just tactics. 

Tien: Totally. I also like to frame this in terms of defining customer value. It’s about miles driven, not vehicles sold. As ownership declines and usership becomes ascendant, these are the new priorities you need to orient your sales motion around. So to recap:  Sell to a question, figure out what’s essential, and opportunity over efficiency. That’s great. Anant, you spend your days talking to big companies about addressing big problems. How have those conversations changed over the last year?

Anant: Well, this has been the year of the CIO, right? Suddenly hundreds of thousands of employees are working from home, and we’re all suddenly appreciating the work of our IT departments again. What a monumental effort. Everyone had the same problem statement last year: How do I keep executing with a remote workforce? If you’re a solutions provider, how are you helping me solve this problem?

Tien Tzuo: And as we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, what have the conversations been about recently?

Anant: Well, going back to my third point, I think that management teams see this year as a huge opportunity. They have a smaller footprint now, they’re more distributed, they’re more flexible. So how do they capitalize when face-to-face business starts up again? Companies like Zoom and Slack won last year, but who’s going to win this year? 

Tien Tzuo: Exactly. How do we sell differently, now that we have all these new learned behaviors? At Zuora we just held a tremendous remote conference. We staged it three times over a single week for audiences in Europe, Asia and North America. The numbers were great, and it was a huge success. But are we supposed to forget that this whole thing happened, once business travel starts up again? No way. 

Anant: Last year every CEO and CFO in the world had a huge wake-up call with regards to remote working, of course, but also remote selling. Now that we know that we can do it, what will this year be like? You still need to do your homework, of course. You need to read the press releases and the quarterly statements,  you need to be familiar with the business goals. But do you still need to hop on a plane? We’ll see. 

Tien: The best organizations have learned how to sell remotely, and there’s really no going back after this. We’ve unlocked so much more value within our organization over the last year. But I can tell you what you don’t want to do. You don’t want to start that zoom call with a generic product demo. You’re not bringing any value to the table with that approach.

Anant: Agreed. Again, you need to sell to the question. Sales operations are starting to behave like management consultants. There are probably consulting firms that would charge big money for the kind of research required to land these big enterprise deals. 

Tien: And I think that a lot of companies are discovering in the wake of companies like Infosys that you can discover entire new categories of growth just by eliminating pain points. By providing great services that enable companies to focus on their core business.

Anant: The consumerization of enterprise is here to stay. 

Tien: Agreed. Thanks, Anant! 

Anant: Thanks, Tien! 


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