SalesBoost and Gretta worked with AP Logic from idea to finished software project. Gretta and her team focused on business development. AP Logic focused on software development. Here's how do it.
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I was participating in a board meeting for a young software company and the CEO was asked by an investor how long their average sales cycle lasted. The CEO started to respond, corrected himself several times and finally shared that once he got in front of the right person he could get their eyes to light up in less than 20 minutes. Another of the board members humorously asked if he had enough operations staff to handle all the orders that he would generate. I always recall that situation as it is so representative of many enthusiastic folk I have worked with – they mistake interest in their offering as a commitment to buy.
When a customer does not buy, it is rarely due to a lack of belief in the product offering. The entrepreneur must realize that the prospective buyer does not share their same myopic focus on just that one offering. Most entrepreneurs develop their vision based upon their own knowledge and experience. They can see – perhaps clearer than others – the need for this specific offering that they are providing. They believe in the many benefits and the value that it will deliver to prospective customers. And they are often right. However, in far too many cases, the fire doesn’t light. Their target market stalls or refuses to buy. Yet the entrepreneur’s vision is still burning bright and secure in the viewpoint that the market can truly benefit from the offering. Unfortunately, entrepreneurial myopia limits the entrepreneur to only seeing why a prospect should buy, as opposed to why they don’t! This is the entrepreneur’s curse.
Our research over the last few years has shed significant light upon what happens in the buyer’s world after they – in the words of the story above – have had their eyes lit up by some new offering. Perhaps the most revealing observation is that the prospective buyer understands the new offering and believes in its’ value – and yet does not buy. Why is that?
First, there are many more people involved in any buying decision than in the past; there are many more steps as well. We have to look deeply into the dark corners of the process to see who – or what – is stopping something up. No roadblock is too small! Secondly, buyers are on information overload. There is no shortage of great ideas coming at them promising new ways that they can improve or succeed. It comes as a surprise to many entrepreneurs that they aren’t simply competing against competitive offerings, but are competing for mind share and resources against a vast spectrum of alternatives including the deadliest of all – the status quo. In total, we found nine overall areas that could slow down or stop a customer buying even when they truly understand the offering and the value it would bring their organization. Obviously there are specifics for each situation, but the overall themes are surprisingly consistent.
The successful entrepreneur must switch viewpoints and see revenue generation from the outside-in. They have to broaden their focus, put themselves in the shoes of their prospective customers and see the world as they do. They may even have to put aside their unfailing faith in their offering in order to understand the friction points and roadblocks in each customer’s buying journey.
Martyn Lewis, CEO and Founder
Martyn founded Market-Partners in 1995. In that time, he has worked with numerous selling teams across a broad-range of industries and has developed a reputation as a dynamic speaker and authority on sales and marketing processes. Since Inception in 1995 Market-Partners have been focused on one thing – helping companies gain traction and revenue growth in their target markets based upon an extraordinary understanding of how their customers buy. Market-Partners focuses on companies globally, from start-ups to industry giants.
Martyn acts as an adviser to a number of executives in the high technology industry and is active on several advisory boards and boards of directors. Martyn is the Committee Chair for the Sales Enablement Community of Practice Advisory Board for the American Society for Training and Development, ASTD.
A few years back, I was out of town visiting a national distributor to sort out an eCommerce project. Driving to their office, I was on the verge of a breakdown because we were caught in between two warring factions in the client’s company – the engineers versus the sales and business team. Then it hit me: the project was going to fail. As I walked in the front door, I managed to secure a 5-minute meeting with the CEO. “How important is this project to you?” I asked, to which he replied, “It’s probably going to be 50% of our sales in the future.” I proceeded to ask if he and some key team leaders could spend an entire day reviewing the website’s feature list in order to get everyone on the same page. Three weeks later, 20 of us spent an entire day in a conference room. The result? 75 features defined and a direct increase in the company’s online sales: from 37% to 65% of total – an 85% increase in under 2 years. My conclusion? There was a direct correlation between the CEO’s involvement and hitting his ambitious goals.
When people ask us “Why do you work with startups and entrepreneurs instead of larger, more-established companies?”, the answer is simple: the entrepreneur is more directly invested in the outcome. And they are not afraid to make hard decisions, quickly.
So why aren’t executives of larger companies invested? And how to entrepreneurs avoid making the same mistake? Working with both types, AP Logic has found three biggies:
Fear of wasting time.
Belief that the issues are handled by others.
Fear of alienating key team members.
Addressing each of these:
1. This one is not shocking. There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over! I’ve done it, you’ve done it. Every executive I have ever queried about a failed project wishes that they had known more about what was going on in the trenches. Fortunately, in this case, it only cost that CEO about 8 hours of his time. What it returned to him was far more valuable than hours: the fact that he took an entire day told his team how valuable the project was to him and how valuable they were to him! From then on, the team compromised and prioritized like never before. And the CEO’s outcomes were able to be articulated because he understood the problems and heard the team regurgitate the issues. That never could have happened via email or written requirements.
2. This one amazes me. Who is positioned to make decisions BETWEEN departments if not the CEO (or division leader) or possibly an ops manager/COO? Consider the following situations:
How do these three decide to take a risk on a new technology? They can’t because that’s not their job. The VP of sales isn’t equipped with the knowledge to make the network secure and won’t know what the right tradeoff is in terms of mobile accessibility for his/her team.
3. This is my pet peeve. Too many leaders are held hostage by their tech teams. “I don’t understand that stuff” doesn’t equal “therefore I cannot evaluate options and make decisions”. Leaders fear disenfranchising engineering staff or just flat-out losing them. I see it constantly. And I’ve done it. “If this vendor or employee gets angry, nobody else can do this!” Of course, the alternative is that the wrong individual or team is given permission to deep-six the project – usually with tunnel-vision or over-focus on one goal or area. Again, I’ve seen it dozens of times. None of us is irreplaceable – from the CEO on down. It’s amazing how the world keeps turning after people leave. You’ve already lost the negotiation if you’re deathly afraid of losing someone.
So what are the take-aways for startup CEOs and entrepeneurs? I’m talking to you.. The most successful tech projects we’ve been involved with all share one common factor: The final decision-maker was involved in the key decisions from start-to-finish.
1. Female Entrepreneurs Rising.
Last year, for the first time ever, we did more business with female entrepreneurs than with males. While we’re a very small sample size, we still think that we represent a larger trend in the economy. Our female clients often perceive nuances in how people learn and buy that help them build software which is more human and “relatable”.
2. Mid-Life Entrepreneurs Trending.
There are a surprising number of middle-aged and older people getting into entrepreneurship.
We’re talking about people who’ve never started companies before and are not serial entrepreneurs – but do have business experience and savvy. I think economic optimism and the idea that “you only live once” is driving this phenomenon. Also, the desire for working independence which has been propagated by millennials is making its’ way upstream. Add to this the fact that older people are willing to stand the test of time and follow-through and often have more connections and resources.
3. Adversity and “hard work” are going away. Not.
I don’t buy the notion that as the technology advances, we won’t have to face adversity.
In fact, I think that if we don’t have to work, technology will quickly slow down and stall. Adversity is necessary/good for us. The entrepreneurs I know who faced huge obstacles and dealt with chaos or unfairness earlier in their lives tend to push through “impossible” situations later in life. And I say this as someone who had some obstacles, but nothing like the people I’m referring to. We can’t and shouldn’t try to program risk and adversity out of everything we do no matter how sophisticated out technology becomes. I have to remind myself that if I haven’t scared myself recently, I’m probably not pushing hard enough.
4. More Re-training Workers for Tech.
This is finally happening and I’m excited to see it!
As an example, many organizations are training former service-industry workers to perform QA and software testing. These entry-level positions can earn far more than service jobs and pave the way for individuals to move up in tech companies. College degrees are not a barrier, here. We don’t look for them. I think we need to give people a serious chance – but in order to give people them that chance, we also need some safeguards – see the next item.
5. Increasing Working Restrictions.
Technology startups need flexibility in structuring working relationships.
I call this a negative trend. The regulatory environment needs to be as creative as the businesses we start. For example, we have team members who want to own some of the risk and rewards of their work. Others ask us to take 3 hours off on a Wednesday to do a project with their kids and make it up on Thursday – but that pushes them into overtime. Still, others want to be paid for a project outcome. There is some reason to believe that less than 8 hours per day is more productive in certain fields or on highly abstract work, which potentially trashes the notion of “full-time”. What if we focused on regulations that allow parties to construct agreements in simple language and receive justice quickly when they are aggrieved?
6. Smaller Geographies getting into the mix.
Smaller cities hosting new startups are developing their own unique value propositions.
In 1903, the Wright Brothers’ “startup” was founded in Dayton, OH and on the sands of Kitty Hawk, NC. Today, Silicon valley and a few of the larger cities call themselves the center of the startup universe. In a way, they’re right – its simple math: $50k in seed money can’t compete with $500k. Or can it? From Knoxville TN to San Luis Obispo, CA, small-town startups play to a lifestyle, a creative element and the rebel in us. Entrepreneurs in these places are often very pragmatic, feet-on-the-street types who are willing to test and try anything, drive any car and live anywhere. Nothing is beneath them. The Wright Brothers were small town Ohio boys who went to an even smaller strip of sand in North Carolina with a great big idea, tested every assumption, worked with their hands, recruited unlikely talent and ultimately crushed their well-heeled Washington, DC-based competition. My advice – if you’re in a smaller area, play to your strengths. You can’t beat the valley at its’ own game, but you can play a different game.
7. Coworking/shared office spaces will wane.
I call this the “introvert re-awakening”.
Shared working spaces are all the rage and nice for helping startups get going, providing good economics, collaboration, etc. However, consider that the very first thing many startup clients want us to do is to sign an NDA. Obviously, secrecy is important to them! Also, almost every introvert I talk to (and most engineers fit that category) wishes they had more privacy at work. Lacking that privacy, these team members tend to subconsciously “look busy” rather than focusing on thoughtful production. And finally, there is politics: I was in an office of a business partner recently where we couldn’t speak candidly about a technical problem because the problem’s creator happened to be another company which was right around the corner in the same room of a shared workspace. Open space is great and every office should have some, but privacy is also natural and its’ returning.