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Wait ‘till you hear the screams July 26, 2010

Posted by Bernard Lunn in Enterprise Sales.

When I managed an enterprise software sales team, there was one guy who was consistently the best performer.  He was also, by all other visible metrics, the worst salesman. His presentations were rambling and verging on incoherent. His writing style would have given my English teacher apoplexy. He was consistently abrupt almost rude to all concerned. He came in late, left early and had long, expensive lunches.

I was really interested to find out what he did well. I do not believe in luck being a contributor on any consistent basis. So he must have been doing something really, really well because he was doing everything that was visible very badly.

I discovered that what he was doing very well was qualifying his prospects with great care and discipline. We all know that is what we should do, but very, very few sales people do it at all well. We think that sales is all about hard work, persistence, determination and all those other good Protestant work ethics. So we drive relentlessly on, calling that prospect for the umpteenth time.

This guy waited until he could see that the customer’s need was very real and urgent. He waited ‘till he could hear the screams. He then looked for something to indicate that we had an edge in the deal, some unfair advantage.

His laziness was a bit of an act. In reality he was a tireless networker. That is what all those long, expensive lunches were about. However he worked to create a sense of equality and respect with his customers. Sales people are usually too used to getting on their knees to that all-powerful buyer with the big budget. So the buyer does not respect the salesman and will ignore five of his calls in the certain knowledge that he will get another one.

Yes, it is a bit of a power game. This power game is easy to play if you work for the dominant player in the game. The power game is hardest to play when times are tough and you are behind in your revenue targets.

We were in that position when a small Hedge Fund came on the horizon. This was 1991 and Hedge Funds were not on our target list at that time, few people even knew what they were. The customer certainly seemed smaller than we were used to selling to. So the salesman told the prospect that we were not interested in their business. This put the prospect in a position of selling to us. “Sure we are small now, but we are growing fast and we need this system urgently and we have plenty of money for IT”. The screams were loud and clear and we closed the deal in record time and they became a good customer (and the Hedge Fund became one of the stars in this industry).

One way of checking for urgency is how much effort the prospect puts into the relationship. You need to see some equality of effort. If you call five times before the prospect returns your call that is not equality. If you send reams of information and give multiple presentations but the prospect won’t fill in a detailed requirements questionnaire, then that is not equality of effort. With every call you want the prospect to DO something. If this does not happen then the screams are not loud enough and you should move onto your next opportunity.

You have to cast a very wide net in order to qualify your prospects properly. Otherwise you will catch a couple of tiny fish in your net and mistake them for tuna! If you cast your net wide enough you will find deals where the customer’s need is urgent and your company has some specific edge in the deal.

The way to make sure you have a live one is to wait for the screams. Get your prospect doing some work before you get too excited.

image courtesy Flickr and Aldoaldoz



1. Cross The Chasm through the Bowling Alley to: rapidly entering niche markets. | Emergent Business Networks - October 15, 2013

[…] of conversations, lots of active listening, lots of “see ya later” when you don’t hear the screams of pain that indicate these guys really, really need you. This has to be more like a guy who has had a heart attack needing a surgeon than somebody with a […]

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