In which we are reminded to assess, from time to time, our investments in slow-developing accounts.
Conversation at the end of a recent meeting with a prospect:
Prospect person 1: “Thank you, this has been a good discussion. We’ve picked your brains, and this has been great stuff, but there hasn’t been much for you here. I feel like this has been very one-sided.”
Us: “Well, you’re welcome. It’s important for us to understand your direction and to share ideas where we can.”
Prospect person 2 (smiling at his colleague): “Yes, I understand. I was a consultant once, and I know how it works. They’ll get it out the back end, not to worry.”
And, yes, I hope we will “get it out the back end” with this company. We’re a good fit for them and for the challenges they’re addressing and, over a period of a THREE YEARS, we’ve met with people at this company every few months to offer perspective, new ideas, and counsel as they worked their way through strategy and structure issues they needed to settle… Oh, and tried to do on their own what we do (only it didn’t work as well as they’d hoped).
During that time, we’ve established a reputation for interest, expertise, capacity, capability, and consistency which (we intend) will mean the prospect will either sole-source business to us OR we will have an inside track when they choose a partner to help them communicate the new strategy, engage their team members, train their team members, and execute.
The challenge is… how much to invest – how to determine whether a particular company is a tire-kicker or a “hobby account,” or whether they’re likely to buy (and buy from us) so that we can ‘get it out the back end’ by selling an engagement.
If we look at “how much to invest” as a negotiation: One critical principle of negotiating is, “the more the other person invests in the process, the less likely they are to walk away.”
Applied here: As time goes on, the more a prospect invests to ‘take us into the tent’ – to share increasingly confidential information about plans, for example, or to introduce us to more senior people, the more likely it is that they’re interested in doing business.
On (probably) a quarterly or semi-annual basis we then stop to ask – “Are they investing more? Do we have a line of sight to a sale or engagement?” – and adjust our levels of effort accordingly, realizing that we have to attend to other prospects and clients to achieve our sales goals this year.
Listen to the audio version here: http://www.audioacrobat.com/play/WbcQlxVk