October 13, 2009

Finding your champion

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Why don't customers buy your product?

Smarty Jones at Glen Echo Park

A little bit lost in Maryland this summer, my…



What happens when prospects don’t say Yes and won’t say No?

A Maybe is a hole in time. Complex products live with decision cycles that can last longer than a dying star. Entire companies have disappeared into Maybe shaped black holes. Listen carefully and you can hear them screaming “Just one more meeting, and I think we’re theeerrrreeeee…” as they fall across the event horizon.

It’s not always a problem. In a must-win, absolutely-no-choice, do-whatever-it-takes-to-keep-the-lines-open, a Maybe is the bread of life. If you’re operating bespoke — a new kind running shoe specially made for Paula, say — then you’re mission bound to keep the door cracked open.

Sometimes a Maybe isn’t even on the cards; it’s a Yes or a No, period. Simple products, the kind that leap to a decision in a single meeting, shouldn’t be a problem. Assuming you have good products and give good meeting, you’ll walk away with a Yes often enough.

I always prefer a Yes, but what if the choice is between a No and a Maybe?

What’s wrong with chasing rabbits?

Problem is, a Maybe sounds so possible — (just one more meeting). The more well funded you are the more likely you’re able to chase all these rabbits. The less well funded you are the more likely you’ll feel you have to. But as the saying goes, chase two rabbits and they both escape. Don’t confuse busy-ness with progress and don’t be seduced into endless streams of meeting-email-meeting-email-meeting, with your entire sales pipeline sitting at 75% probability.

Here’s the way I see it:

  • Major sales take time and multiple meetings
  • There aren’t enough resources to go the distance with every Maybe
  • Use first meetings to find champions and ask for what you need

Let me explain.

Major sales are complex. New products are an untried cocktail of opportunities, costs and risks that force buyers to sit on fences for as long as it takes. Assuming your product shows promise and you make a decent fist of telling your story, it’s likely you’ll have no shortage of possible customers who are balanced on their fence whilst they “continue” talking to you.

Too many continuations and not enough progress saps the time, energy and finances of any team. The trick to maximising the effectiveness of all three resources is to focus on the “probable” customers and let the “possible” customers wait until they, or you, are warmer.

Find your champion

In other words, only dig wells where you’re sure there’s oil. Sadly, you can’t KNOW where to set up camp, but you can look for the single feature that marks out high potential territory; the presence of an identified champion inside the customer organisation. Not a point man or sponsor who simply arranges meetings for you, a champion is someone who sees the potential of your product, who pushes for progress and fights the good fight inside their own company.

Ask for what you need

How do you find these people? If you’re getting that Maybe feeling at the end of a sales meeting, do what you can to push for a Yes or No. The quickest way is to tell the truth and ask for what you need, “As you can see, we’re a new company and this is our first product. We’re fully committed but we know we’re not right for everybody at this stage. We’re looking for visionaries who can see the potential of what we’re doing and who want to work with us.”

Or, “So, we’re a small company that’s looking to expand by working with some new customers. We’ve had a good discussion today and I get the feeling you’re interested. What are the next steps that will progress our working together and who should we work with?”

Or … something else.

The idea here is to drive for a “Yes, we want to make progress, it will work like this…” or a straight “No thank you” as quickly as possible.

The more open you are about what you need, the more likely you’ll spend your time with probable, rather than just possible, customers.

Is this crazy? Maybe you should do everything possible to keep all prospects warm? Never giving an opportunity to say No? What do you think?

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What would you change?

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