Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Breaking the news that you’re new

Now that you’ve begun to warm to the idea (I hope) that having no customers will not prevent you from lining up a few, you have to prepare yourself to share that fact with your prospects. I suggest two honest ways of addressing your newness. One is rather low-key and the other is head-on.

The pre-emptive strike
What if you told the prospect up front that you had no customers? Would the world suddenly come to an end? Would the prospect abruptly end the conversation and summon a couple of 300-pound security goons to remove you from his office? Would you be so embarrassed by your admission that you would suddenly shrink to the size of a bug and scurry away? Nine out of ten times or more, no physical harm would come to you. You would survive. If a prospect were to end the discussion immediately, that would just give you more time to find a more suitable prospect.

It's likely your prospect, unless it’s his first day on the job, will have encountered new companies before. You will not be forging new ground in that regard. Certainly, some companies will think twice about doing business with you because you have no customers. In fact, there will always be plenty of people who don’t want to be your first customer, and for a multitude of reasons.
Your newness may be low on the list. It may not be on the list at all. There is no need to imagine obstacles to the sale when plenty of real ones already exist. You also don’t need to carry the fact of your newness around like a deep family secret, particularly if you do not know how the prospect will react.

This does not mean that you must stride into your prospect’s office with your jaw set tight and, even before shaking his hand, say, “I’m the only guy who works for the company. I have no customers. You would be my first. What do you think about that, Mister?” No need for True Confessions. However, if you regard your newness and eagerness as advantages (they really can be), then consider making those qualities part of your marketing strategy. If you think your newness will be an issue, get in front of it before it gets in front of you and blocks the prospect from seeing your many qualities.

Position yourself on your web site, literature and other marketing vehicles as a new, different kind of company. When you make an introductory call, you might start with, “I’m Reginald Rookie with Fresh Off The Farm Technologies. We formed out company to distribute an exciting new cure for eyebrow baldness…” Then you’re on your way without causing the world to end. As the prospect listens to you from that point forward, words liked “innovative” and “fresh ideas” will float around the back of his mind because you put them there.

When you say, “We are a new company,” you are not admitting to something. You’re simply stating a fact. Even better, you are stating an advantage. You are using it as a selling point. In the case of your company, newness is synonymous with innovation and flexibility. You are a company with a fresh approach to a particular product or service. Or maybe your product or service didn’t even exist until you thought of it. You are starting a company because you identified a need that no one else is meeting quite the way you can. You are so passionate about the wonderful world of widgets and solving age-old widget problems that no other company but your own could contain your ideas and energy. That is a heckuva marketing differentiator.

Let’s say you detect a bit of concern by the prospect regarding your newness. Acknowledge her anxiety and then suggest ways to alleviate it. For example, you can take small steps in the first stages of your relationship that give her chances to opt out before her budget or image take a big hit. You’ll never let your relationship get to that point, but you can provide the prospect a little peace of mind:

You: Two weeks from today, I will present detailed plans showing how we will double your magna-diode output. The plans represent ten percent of the first year cost of our program.

Your prospect: What if I don’t like the plan.

You: I’m confident you’ll love the plan, but we would welcome your revisions. If it happens that we can’t please you, however, you won’t owe us anything beyond the first ten percent of the program.

Your prospect: Let’s say I approve the plan. What happens next?

You: You’ll get to sign off on every stage of the process. You can tell us to take a hike at any time before we make a full commitment to each other.

Your prospect: You are an incredible company. I think I love you.

Next time, we'll talk about the Don't-ask-don't-tell approach.

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