It always pays to start big, then think small

[Image courtesy of Anna Vignet at Flickr Creative Commons]

I was chatting not so long ago with a salesperson who was frustrated.

He was trying to engage senior decision makers by talking in a language they understood. But the marketing folks back at base weren’t supplying him with materials that pressed the right buttons.

“It’s not the how I need – it’s the why. That’s what will get them sitting up and listening,” he said with a sigh.

His company produces an enterprise software solution that deploys clever algorithms to analyse and optimise…

Hmm. Let me start that again.

His company helps their clients cut costs, eliminate wastage, prosper in a tight market with global economic uncertainty, and streak ahead of the competition. 

Now that’s a better story, but it’s still not the why.

Every company wants to do all of those things. And every B2B solution provider claims they do those things, so the story ends up being more compelling, but still quite generic.

So we need to take it one level higher.

What issues are his clients facing? What’s the cost of not taking action? Why should they turn to his company for a solution? What are their competitors doing? Where is the marketing going? What are the latest trends? Are they going to be left behind if they don’t act? Where are the hidden threats?

Or put another way, why should they care?

Simple is as simple does

There’s always a temptation when you talk to – or write for – clients to dive into the detail. After all, that’s what will differentiate you from the competition, right?

You’ve got such a great story to tell, and you’ve spent the last six months living, eating and breathing the detail of your product or service. Why would you not want to put it all out there? 

The answer is simple: people don’t do detail. You don’t, I don’t, nobody does. We start at the top and work down – but only if we’re interested and engaged, and need detail to justify our choice. 

For the second time in six months, a simple message has triumphed over the complex detail. Donald Trump has swept to power, sending shockwaves across the US and the world, just as Brexit did back in June.

‘Make America great again’ was the why, as simple and effective as ‘Vote Leave, Take Control’ was in the summer.

The how may be somewhat more complicated after January in the US, and March in the UK (if Article 50 is triggered), but the why made people sit up and care.

And go out and vote.

Swipe right

But let’s leave the heady world of politics behind for the moment, and return to our salesperson.

Clearly the clever algorithms and whizz-bang analytics aren’t setting his target audience on fire. Cutting costs, increasing efficiency and all those good things would get him a bit more facetime with prospects, but he needed to pull back and find a better way in.

“Pretend you’re speed-dating the prospect,” I said. “The buzzer is going to sound very soon, and you need to get them to want to see you at the end of the night. Tell me how you’d hook them.”

Ever one to take up a challenge, the salesperson was happy to play along. And one by one, the killer arguments just kept on coming. 

Clients in this sector are short on working capital, so they have no manoeuvring room if there are new competitive threats or an economic downturn. They’re having to cut back their R&D, so they have no new products coming down the line. They don’t know in detail which clients or sectors are the most profitable, so their efforts aren’t targeted. They’re in a precarious financial position, and often go for short-term gain that might cause long-term pain.

“I can fix all of these things,” he said with a big smile. “But isn’t that the buzzer?”

I almost asked him for his number. But instead, I gave him the list I’d been writing down while he was in full flow.

He’s now given it to his marketing department, who are finally on board with the idea that it sometimes pays to start big, then think small. They’re drafting top-level thought pieces that show clients they ‘get’ them and their world.

Now they know the why, they can leave the how for later, when the relationship is a little further down the line. 

This could be the start of something big. Next time I see the salesperson, I’ll ask him if his clients are swiping right

Somehow I think they just might be.