By Andrew Neitlich


By Andrew Neitlich

I’m working with a client today about strengthening his pipeline. He has a proprietary technology that will supposedly change the world, has some supposedly incredibly well-connected salespeople, and yet he hasn’t closed any business.

As we went through his pipeline, it became obvious why: His thinking, speech, and actions are not precise. Every opportunity he described was vague, hopeful, and long-winded, but not crisp or compelling. “This one might start soon, but we have no idea what the pilot will be or what will happen next. But we are really excited about it.”

To succeed in selling, you need to be precise. Every mention of a business opportunity should be focused on these questions:

1. How does the prospect define value?

2. How do we connect what we do to the prospect’s definition of value?

3. What do we have to do to move this opportunity forward, and by when?

  • Chris

    Your client sounds like he has no idea what (if any) needs his product will fulfill for his prospects. People and businesses buy to fulfill needs – -the more needs you fulfill, the better odds of closing the deal.

  • cholmon

    I think a lot of techies (maybe a majority?) have problems seeing beyond the cool-factor of a technology or innovation, to the point that it is not seen as valuable in a business context. All too often the focus is almost completely on the implementation of an idea, not the end-use of the implementation itself. Fundamentally, businesses (and their investors) just want to see a return on their investment, and if the developer(s) can’t present the product/service in a way that highlights its potential for ROI, only the developer(s) will care if it ever sees the light of day.

  • Cholmon,

    Agreed.. I did some IT consulting work back in the ’90s, and from what I hear the game hasn’t changed much since then (besides getting thinned out on players). Too many visionaries and not enough bean counters.

    A whole lot of people don’t understand that in the mind of a business decision maker, there are two lines – a red one and a black one – and that what they really want to know is how exactly this project is going to widen the gap between them (preferably with the red one on the bottom). The farther your consultant gets away from that in his/her proposal, the less you should take the proposal seriously.

    In my experience, the best ROI pitch is cost savings; it’s a tangible, practical goal that doesn’t rely heavily on future earnings projections. If you got the goods, it’s also the easiest pitch. After that, there’s revenue production, which depends on a sense of confidence and optimism from the decision maker (which isn’t always a given). Third comes all the intangible goals like preparing for the future, streamlining the office, etc.. that requires a meeting of the minds and a common vision (also not a given).

    Finally, there are buzzwords. When your vendor pitches you a “customized e-commerce solution for developed customer confidence”, just run. Don’t wait: just run.

  • drakke

    Robert Warren:

    What are you saying? Are the wrong solutions being pitched to the wrong problems or are the solutions being pitched incorrectly to the problems?

  • Drakke,

    Usually the latter, as Andrew is pointing out. Many tech folks (not all, but many) tend to look at technical solutions in terms of the specific, immediate problem being solved, while the decision maker mainly wants to know if the solution is going to cost more than the problem. You’d be surprised how often a consultant hears the magic words “that other $&*#@! consultant” in reference to the last firm that didn’t listen to their bottom-line business needs.

    A true example: a mid-sized regional firm invested in an IBM mini back in the late 80’s, running an OS/360-ish environment. They paid to have a sophisticated app developed for their company on this system, and for ten years it was their perfect solution. Well, a few years ago IBM started phasing out their mid- and low-end minis in favor of server solutions, and left these customers hanging.. now this firm had an obsolete system that was going to severely limit their future growth.

    There was an available solution: running the app on a mainframe emulation layer, on a new server. Fixes the problem, cost effective, the works. The consultant shows up and proposes the solution in terms of the cool features of this emu layer, the reliability of the servers, etc.. basically doing his best to justify the price tag (and his own fees) while showing off his knowledge.

    They never got near the real question: the old system wasn’t going to become useless still for a few years. Why go through the pain now? The firm didn’t sign off, mainly because the pitch didn’t come in terms of what would have sold it: that done properly, it would have saved them money. Unfortunately, only the consultant was in a real position to demonstrate the cost savings, and he was too busy talking about system features and migration paths. Another consulting firm nailed the contract later on the very same solution, by keeping the whole ROI discussion grounded in practical cost savings. It was very profitable.

    Feature talk is great and necessary and important, but money sells it. Save money or make money, but definitely talk money.

  • Jake Smith

    This may seem like somewhat of a newbie question, but I am drawing a blank on the “ROI” acronym. Can anyone please enlighten me?


  • ROI == Return on Investment.
    You need to know that one ;)

  • Dano

    It seems to be the same question i heard for several years: IT people have to learn to speak the same language of business people.

    Business people dont understand (and dont care) about technical specifications.

    They want (care, understand, need) numbers, graphics, roi, more selling, avoid legal battles (neutralising enemies), positive comments on the news… etcetera.

    As i read: “the client dont need a machine that makes holes on the wall, they need holes on the wall”. The concept is to fit their problem.

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