Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Take all prospects seriously

In the early days of my online registration software company, I called the executive director of an education organization in North Carolina. The moment I introduced myself, she said that I should arrange a demo with her assistant. I had no great expectations for the call, because, from what I could tell, the organization was not very large nor did it have a large budget. (Before making any call, my research most often consisted of visiting a prospect’s web site to see what types of events required registrations.)

The North Carolina organization seemed as though it could benefit from online registration, but I didn’t get the feeling they held a lot of events. Therefore, I wasn't expecting a huge sale that would fund my children’s college educations. However, I was encouraged that the decision maker told me to set up the demo with her assistant. It would be up to the assistant to decide if our software was worthy, but the boss given me a tiny boost of credibility by passing me along to her assistant.

The assistant--I'll call her Betty--quickly agreed to an online demonstration. About five minutes into it, however, things seemed to sour quickly. Betty began asking questions that had nothing to do with what I was showing her. Her biggest concern seemed to come out of nowhere. “How does your software identify if a person registering is legitimate?” I gave her a list of ways it could help with her problem. But no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get Betty past her concern. She was certain that people would try to register for her workshops—which were free—when they shouldn’t be allowed to. It cost a lot of money to host the workshops, she said, and she wanted to make sure entry was limited to those who were members of the organization. Understood, I said, but I wondered to myself how many persons would actually want to sneak into a workshop on new federal regulations regarding the teaching of math to 8th graders.

I quickly came to believe that Betty didn’t want our online registration software nearly as much I wanted her to have it. To me, her concern was so small compared to all the benefits I thought online registration could give her. After repeated attempts to address her worry, I finally said, “Perhaps our software simply isn’t right for you. Maybe we can talk at some other point when you’re more interested.” It was my way of saying I didn’t want to waste any more time.

I was way off the mark. “Oh, we’re very interested,” Betty assured me. “We’ve been talking about this for a long time. It’s just that one thing about rogue registrations that always trips us up when we try to get online registration.” I then realized that if we could solve Betty’s problem, we had a good shot at the business. After further exploration, I discovered the potential for the deal was a lot bigger than I had projected. In fact, Betty and her organization soon became a high-paying, low-maintenance customer.

I had made the mistake of assuming that Betty offered very little potential as customer, and approached her likewise. Even if she had turned out to be a small customer, or no customer at all, I later realized that she deserved my full attention. All prospects do.

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