Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Relax a little

Nothing scares a prospect away faster than desperation. The more pressure you put on yourself to get that first client, the more pressure your prospects may feel as well.
Here’s a story from the early days of my company, a provider of online registration software: We had only a handful of customers and were still hurting for revenue when we were contacted by a district organization of Rotary International in Silicon Valley. (Inbound plus: Uncovering new markets) The Rotary district wanted to switch to a new online registration provider for their annual conference.

At first, we did everything we could, just as normal, to win the business. This included online demos and responding quickly to a myriad of questions. Even though the prospect was three time zones away, we made ourselves available late into the evenings. We didn’t build up ourselves to sound bigger than we were, but we put our experiences with our meager pool of customers in the best light. However, it seemed apparent to us as the sales cycle progressed that we had little chance of landing the account. For one thing, our software was still relatively new, and there were a few features the Rotary officials needed that our software did not yet include.

This was nothing new; we often made key enhancements to the software based on what prospects wanted, often at little or no additional charge. However, we sensed that the decision makers with the club were only mildly interested in working with us. Because we needed revenue—any revenue—we could have tried to win the Rotary’s business by saying, “Just tell us what we have to do to persuade you to choose us. We’ll make all the upgrades you need. We’ll discount our price some more. We’ll wash your car every Saturday for the next three months. Anything you want. Please, please, please.”

Who knows? We might have landed them as a customer that way, or our begging may have turned them off. Instead, we relaxed, assuming we had little chance of getting the sale. We said we could make the enhancements the Rotary wanted, but at full price. They had another request that was a little outside our realm, but we agreed to meet that request, too, at full price. Then, rather than calling them constantly to ask them if they had made a decision, we focused our attention on what we thought were more promising prospects. Two days later, the Rotary agreed to the full proposal. At the time, they were our highest-paying customer. And once the Rotary District became a customer, we went back into mega customer service mode, trying to give them a lot more than they had paid for. Years later, they remain a customer.

Particularly in the early going, it will be natural to put a lot of pressure on yourself to turn each prospect into a customer. You will be nearly desperate for their business. Sometimes, however, you have to relax a little, and to allow the prospect to relax a little, too.

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