There’s been much talk recently (and I’ve been guilty of some of it myself) about the need to provoke your prospects with new ideas, or to uncover their previously unarticulated needs. Well, this is all well and good, but it can serve to conceal an important truth: your most valuable prospects are often the organisations that have tried and failed to address an already visible business issue…
In principle, raising issues and developing themes in an effort to engage with prospects that are only just starting to recognise they may have an problem is a good idea - it gives you a chance to influence their agenda. But don’t ignore the organisations that recognised they had an issue a while ago and have already tried to address it - without (so far) successfully solving the problem.
Redefining Your Competition
Sometimes, they will have turned to one of your competitors. But more likely, they will have tried to implement an “internal fix”. Maybe their IT department has claimed that they could quickly write a piece of suitable code. Or they may have tried to solve the problem through a reorganisation, by bringing in someone from outside, or by implementing a set of new initiatives and processes.
In this sense, your “competition” is frequently not the companies that you would recognise as traditional competitors, but the full range of other options open to your prospect for addressing the issue. But first the people responsible for deciding to implement the initial fix have to come to terms with the fact that their solution is failing. If they are still in denial, unless you can gain access to an executive with the power and intent to change things, you’re going to be facing an uphill struggle. So let’s also add “inertia” to your list of potential competitors.
At Least You Know the Problem is Real
One of the great advantages of targeted organisations who have ”tried and failed” to solve a problem that your organisation happens to be really, really good at solving is that you at least know that the problem is likely to be real, and not something that is interesting enough for the prospect to want to talk about but not important enough for them to dedicate resources to solving.
Why Hasn’t the Existing Solution Worked?
Once you’ve got your prospect to acknowledge that all may not be well, you’ll want to understand how they went about trying to solve the problem in the first place, how they decided on the initial “solution”, how that decision was made and who was involved. Are there people involved in that decision who are still in denial, or who have a vested interest in continuing down the current path? It’s critical that you are able to get to the bottom of the politics.
Other Factors May be at Play
Even if your prospect has tried to apply a technological fix to the problem the reason the initiative has failed may not have much to do with their initial choice of technology. In many cases other factors are at play. In fact, your prospect may be structurally incapable of making any solution work because of weaknesses in management or their ability to execute. You need to understand this - if you don’t, you might end up replacing the initial fix only to find that your own implementation fails in turn amidst a flurry of expensive and unproductive recrimination.
What Would Happen if the Issues Were Not Addressed?
You need to play a game of consequences with the prospect. What would happen if nothing were to change? How would the business be affected? How would they and their other colleagues be affected? You need to satisfy yourself that the problem remains real and that their desire to solve remains strong. If stumbling along as they are isn’t sufficiently painful, they are unlikely to decide to change course.
Despite the Above, These Opportunities Are Still Often Well Worth Pursuing
I’m flagging these potential negatives because it’s important that you get them on the table early on in any “tried and failed” opportunity. But once you’ve got to the bottom of the real underlying issues, and if you can learn from and respond to the constraints that have stopped your prospect being successful, you now have a highly qualified opportunity where you can be pretty certain that the organisation.
You haven’t got to go through the “conceptual sell”. You know that you have a prospect that has recognised an important issue and is determined to solve it. You have (hopefully) started to understand the politics and have identified the constraints that have been holding them back. And you have carefully qualified the situation as one for which you have a really, really good solution.
Focus on Eliminating Risk
Your primary focus in these “tried and failed” situations is the systematic elimination of risk to the prospect. This is - typically - not a time to obsess about the technical advantages of your solution. It’s time to reassure the prospect that you have the experience, people, processes and resources to make a success of their implementation.
Strong customer references are likely to be a mandatory - even better if your references have been through a similar “tried and failed” experience. But that alone may not be enough. Your challenge is to create confidence. Confidence that - no matter what their past experience - your prospect can trust you to help them get it right this time.