Stop doing product demos

This week, I responded to an outbound sales email from a software company focusing on customer success. The last line of the rep’s email was:

I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you for a few minutes. When would be a good time to call?

I replied:

let’s chat. I can do Wed 2:30-4pm or Thurs b/t 3-5pm Pacific

He then replied with a one-hour meeting invite, to which I replied that I could only do 30 minutes, and when we logged into the call, he was ready with his Account Executive to plow through a 60-minute product demo in 30 minutes – they even said as much – “Yeah… Usually we like to take an hour to demo our product but we’ll do our best in 30 minutes today.”

snoopy-is-joe-cool-peanuts-254005_1024_768Dude. Chill the f&ck out. You don’t even know me, my company, my problem, or why I’m interested in talking with you. And most of all, your email to me asked for a “few minutes,” and instead you’re expecting me to take an hour to watch you impress yourself with how great you demo your product?

Sheesh…. They’re lucky I did their job for them.

I took over the call – “Here’s why I’m interested in talking with you…” then I gave them the background of where we are as a company and why I replied. Even then, he kept trying to plow through the demo, like he had some kind of checklist he was required to complete in every call. I had to stop him several times just to ask questions. It’s a good thing the product looks interesting to me or he’d be dead and never know it.

So what should you do instead?

Be cool. See how long you can take a sales call without talking about your product. Even better, see how many conversations you can have with a prospective customer without showing your product.

Why do this?

As an entrepreneur, you product is your baby. You’ve identified a gap in the market, and you’ve put in the time, sweat, and toil to craft your solution.

But here’s the thing – No one cares about your product, they care only about their problem.

Until you’ve shown that you truly comprehend the prospect’s problem, you can’t earn the trust and attention of the customer to show your product. Show your product before you’ve earned that trust, and your customer will be polite, nod her head, and wonder when you will get to “the good stuff” or the part of you product that solves their specific problem.

Every customer and every situation is different. Even if on the surface the customer’s problem appears to be the one that your product solves, there is an entire base of information around that problem – how the problem developed, the people involved, past attempts to solve the problem, how decisions are made within the company, and how the problem affects this particular customer within the organization, just to name a few.

And until you have a clear view of the problem from n angles, you can’t position your product effectively or know which parts of your product are most useful for the customer.

Your solution probably has 10, 20, 50 features and functionalities, yet the customer probably only cares about 1-2 of them – the ones that most directly address their problem.

You need to qualify your prospective customer based on several criteria, because if the prospect isn’t qualified, then there’s no point in whipping out a 60 minute demo. It’s a waste of your time and theirs.

With my work at Blend, we usually require we have at least two meetings with prospective customers before we show even a short demo.

In the first meeting, our goal is to verify a critical aspects of the situation and meeting:

1. Are we talking to the right person/people? Is this person/people the one responsible for solving a particular problem we can support? Are they decision-makers, influencers, users, or simply observers to the problem? If they aren’t decision-makers or responsible for the problem, can they get us access to the right buyers at their company?

2. Validate, for both the prospect and for us, that the problem exists – that the customer knows that the problem exists and that the customer views the problem as an explicit need. The problem must be big enough to spend time and money resources to scope out solutions, and big enough to go through the changeover pain to solve the problem.

Status quo is frequently the biggest competitor, even in cases where the need is explicit. A customer has been “living with” a problem often for years (or decades!). Their patchwork solution using general technology tools like Excel or understand or other internally developed applications might be good enough for the next quarter or through the year until the next budget cycle.

3. Require that the customer to prove interest in our solution – getting them to ask questions about our solution and how it works. Asking questions about integration and implementation with current systems. Asking questions about people and resources that would be required on their end to implement our solution. Once we see that customer are thinking past just – “show me a demo so I can get out of this meeting” – then we know we have a genuine prospect sitting in front of us.

4. Learn about the history of the problem. Is this a new problem, or one that’s been around a while? What’s been tried in the past? Have past solutions include outside partners or were they home-grown solutions? Why has this problem become more urgent recently to the point that the company is ready to take action by way of people, time, and financial resources?

Summary: Figure out your qualifying criteria for your product – a good list to start with it:

  • Identify an explicit customer need, ideally enumerating it – “this is costing us $500k per month…” or “with the right technology, we think we can increase revenue by 25% per quarter…”
  • Identify the buyer type with whom you are talking
  • Articulate how this specific buyer would benefit from your solution
  • Learn the history of the problem

If you can answer these four questions, then you’ll know whether or not to bother with showing your product.

Don’t take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed

tommyboy

I was talking with the sales rep from a telephony company yesterday. She said:

“We have 100% guaranteed up time. For every 10 minutes we’re down, we refund you 1% of you monthly bill.”

Then her line went dead…

I had someone this week ask me, that as a startup, would it help find prospects get off the fence by offering a guarantee?

No. It won’t. You’re a startup. If your product doesn’t work, you’re going out of business and the guarantee won’t matter anyway.

Moreover, there are the switching costs your customers incurs. It might take days or weeks or months or more to completely implement your software or product depending on the complexity. The president of a very large mortgage lender told me that it took five (5!!!) years to fully implement a loan origination software system. Five years. Five F&*CKING YEARS! He can’t go to his Board and say – “Yeah, but don’t worry if it doesn’t work out, we get our money back…”

The telephony company with their 100% up-time guarantee and 1% refund policy… They charge ~$100/month for their service. If a call goes dead when I’m in the early stages of a $100k sales opportunity, I don’t care about the $1.00 refund for their six minutes of downtime. I care about the $100k deal and $10k commission I lost before the deal ever got started.

Retail companies like to say things like – “If you find the same item at a lower price within 30 days, we’ll refund you the difference.” Yeah, sounds good. But am I going to drive 15 miles back to Best Buy in the hopes that they’ll give me the $20 price difference between the camcorder I bought there and Fry’s new advertisement? Unlikely. (Not to mention all of the stipulations.) Don’t pretend you care about your customers with a guarantee. It’s a lie. You know and they know it, and they know that you know that they know it…

Instead of guarantees, make implementation planning part of your sales process. Give your prospective customer a reason to trust you. Show them early in the sales process what you’d do the first minute the contract is signed. Then the first hour. What would be accomplished by the end of the day and in the first week – setting up logins, working with the customers IT team, delivering onsite training, measuring the impact of your software against the very same metrics you’ve been selling on.

If you tell your customer they’ll be 28% more efficient with your product, show how you track this metric starting on week one, and what you’ll do by the end of week two if they’re not starting to see those gains.

If you tell your customer they’ll reduce costs by 75% over 12 months, show them how they are on track to reach those cost savings at the end of first month, and what you’ll do to remediate if they’re not on track.

Tell that that you will sit side-by-side with their users every day for the first week to make sure everything is working perfectly.

Skip the guarantee and show you’re customer how much you will love them.

 

Sales Tip of the Day: Never travel for just one meeting

As we walked up to the building, I turned to the account manager and said – “Wow. There are a lot of people coming out of the building right now. Must be a break from a conference or meeting or something.”

We worked through the crowd streaming out to the front door.

“Where are you going?” the security guard asked.

“In the building,” we replied.

“No you’re not. Fire drill.”

hud building

It was early January in Washington DC, no more than 25 degrees outside. I had flown cross-country the day before from Sacramento for a meeting with the Chief Risk Officer of Ginnie Mae – the only reason I had flown across the country. One meeting for one hour that the account manager had been working on for a couple of months. Now, we were standing outside of the HUD/FHA building at 10:15 with the entire building, thousands of people, pouring onto the sidewalks.

Hmmmm… Not exactly the best idea to fly cross-country for a single meeting with no back up plans. Lesson learned. Never fly across the country. You’d think that one lesson was enough…

Last month, after spending two weeks preparing for a meeting and flying to Dallas, I got this email: “Sorry to cancel at the last minute.  Can we reschedule for the first week of March?”

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Lesson learned. Again. Never travel for just one meeting.

Caveat: Unless you’re really, really sure that the meeting is going to happen no matter what. And even then, heed caution and have back-up plans..

A couple of strategies for this:

  • Keep an Evernote file with a list of contacts in each major metro where I travel – New York, Washington DC, Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago.
  • Use LinkedIn to search your contacts by metro area and save the lists. This is an easy way to power through a list of contacts and send them notes about your travel.
  • Visit past customers, even if they are from former jobs and companies where you’ve worked, especially if they were happy customers. You never know who they know, and you never know when you’ll need their help for a reference.
  • Visit previous colleagues you haven’t seen in a while.
  • Meet journalists and bloggers from your industry. They’re always looking for good contacts, ideas, and scoop.
  • Meet with your competitors or your competitor’s talent. Always be recruiting, even if your not. The right person could really move your business. And you never know who they know is looking for a new job.
  • It’s okay to be non-committal to a specific time. Your primary focus is your customer or prospect. I usually say something like – “My main focus is a customer meeting on Tuesday morning. Not sure how long it’ll run, but if it ends early how about we meet up for lunch or afternoon coffee?”

Startup Selling Lessons Learned: Confirm the “Why” of a sales presentation

The Situation:
Big meeting with a C-level executive at the top, top, top of the org chart. We’d been working with several operations managers to implement our software over the past nine months, and this meeting was set up to discuss how we might expand our work other business units.

preparationLesson Learned:
Confirm the meeting intentions and agenda. Always. No matter what the situation, no matter who the executive, no matter how much you think you know about the meeting from the most credible people around you.

We should have worked through the executive assistant ahead of the meeting – confirming the meeting and the agenda. I’m sure that the she would relayed a concise message and proposed agenda to the executive had we asked, and this could have saved us the awkward moments at the start of the meeting.

For the weeks leading up to the meeting, we relied on our own experience on how meetings like this should go and spent all of those hours interviewing operations executives. Yet we never took the time to simply connect with the executive or his assistant to confirm the meeting agenda and expected outcomes. Major fail…

What did we do right?

1. We spent several hours interviewing operations executives and managers throughout the company to learn and develop a clear value proposition at the meeting. We even spoke with an employee that recently left the company to learn what we could from an insider/outsiders perspective.

2. We were super prepared for the presentation, enabling us to quickly dive sideways in the presentation when the executive took us off of planned track. We had planned ahead to discuss all of software applications that were used by the company, not just the application that was the intended focus of the meeting. This proved to pay huge dividends for us.

Here’s how it went down…

When the executive we were meeting arrived to the conference room and sat down, and we began our introductions, he stopped us, looked around, looked at his phone and asked in the most honest way – “Who are you, and why are we here?” It wasn’t asked in a challenging way as happens with some executives that want you to get right to the point. He honestly did not know why he was in this meeting other than the fact that his assistant told him he was supposed to be here right now.

Even though, as we understood it, he was the person that had asked for the meeting several weeks ago. In fact, we were scheduled to meet the week prior and he pushed it back a week.

We had spent most of the past week developing our presentation – thinking through the economy of slides – what to show that matters most to him, interviewing professionals across the company about they thought he would want to see and what he cared most about. Our design teams worked extra hours to provide us with beautiful screen shot mock-ups to impress him. My colleague leading the project spent Super Bowl Sunday in the office by himself on final presentation preparations.

And now, all of that now completely obliterated.

Disaster-Recovery-PlanThe recovery,,,

First, I laughed a little (to myself).

Then I started over, as if he had been teleported to this room from another planet, and I had to explain my reason for existence – who our company was and why our our understanding for the purpose of the meeting. Together, we discussed our “Situation Slide” (which I highly recommend preparing – thank you to Peter Cohan at SecondDerivative for this powerful tip…)

When I did that, the executive seemed uncomfortable with what I was saying, so I asked – “Could I ask what’s frustrating you?”

He explained that he didn’t necessarily agree with a few of the assumptions I was making about the company’s intentions and objectives.

So I asked him to explain which parts exactly. Voila! Conversation started. Even though the conversation and presentation immediately drove off the rails from what we intended, the “Situation Slide” created the opportunity for conversation and discussion.

From there he shared his views about the particular situation we planned to address, and most importantly, he told us what he most cared about, and it turns out his major focus was not for the business area that we had prepared to discuss.

Eventually, we got into the presentation – skipping around from our plan, showing what was most relevant from his perspective, and even moving off-script to walk through a completely different software application than what we prepared to show. The meeting was scheduled to run an hour, and we went 20 minutes past that. We ended the conversation with the executive suggesting that we should be in consideration for a significant open RFP for one of the business divisions.

You might ask – “Hmmm…. Good save, but why didn’t you confirm the agenda and outcome with this executive ahead of the meeting? Why didn’t you do a pre-call?”

Valid questions. My reasons, though not good ones, and why this is a lesson…:

Firstly, the meeting was originally set up for us through another C-executive at the client, and we were told directly by the first executive how important this meeting was for this executive.

Secondly, this executive is at the top of the org chart – you literally can’t go any higher than this person. I allowed us to feel intimidated by this, and instead discussed the presentation all around the executive assuming this would prepare us accordingly.

Lesson learned…

My two cents: “10 things LinkedIn won’t tell you”

A friend forwarded an article to me last night – “10 things LinkedIn won’t tell you” – and having spent considerable time over the past year both using LinkedIn and leading workshops on how to use LinkedIn, I have a few thoughts… (Hint: I disagree with most of the article…)

diasgree1. LinkedIn is a “jobs site” – Disagree. While it is a jobs site for many people, it isn’t for all of us. Anyone that blindly searches and applies to a job posting on LinkedIn is missing the whole point of LinkedIn, which is to develop connections so that you never have to send a resume blindly to a job posting.

LinkedIn has three main business lines – LinkedIn Talent Solutions (recruiting & jobs), LinkedIn Sales Solutions (tools to help people like me…), and LinkedIn Marketing Solutions (advertisements). Talent Solutions were ~50% of their Q4-2014 revenue. That means there’s a heck of a lot people on LinkedIn for more than jobs.

2. People don’t hang out on LinkedIn: Well, sort of… I’m on LinkedIn all the time every day, but I’m not “hanging out” because I’m working. I’m researching people and learning their backgrounds, connecting with people I’ve recently met, and sending emails to connections/InMails to people I want to me. I occasionally read posts and articles. Maybe this doesn’t qualify as “hanging out,” but I’m sure spending hours and hours on LinkedIn every day.

3. Thanks for the free content – Disagree. When I publish, it’s to show some expertise or share my observations to my immediate network. I don’t care if 1000 or 10,000 people read it. If even 50 or 100 read it and I get a couple of “thumbs up” and comments, I’m plenty good. The content I post is more for solidifying who I am and what I do – it’s not to reach a million people. It’s also validation for people that come across my profile who don’t know me. If their first interaction with me is my LinkedIn profile, postings add soul and personality to the factual information about my work history, projects, and background.

4. Endorsements are only for ego – Agree. I wish LinkedIn would improve this. My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that that the tags help your profile search results. i.e. If I have 100 endorsements for “enterprise sales,” that tells LinkedIn to bump me up a little in their search results. Here’s a post that did some number crunching on this. I find it annoying when I go to a profile and LinkedIn bumps the profile information below the fold because it’s compelling me to endorse someone. Maybe it should be more like recommendations – where you have to put in some effort to request or make an endorsement.

5. The site confusing – Agree. In fact, I wrote a post about this last Spring.

6. Privacy – blah blah blah

7. Needy members will creep you out – Disagree. If someone is contacting me from my network because they need something, um, yeah… that’s the whole point… That’s why I connected with them in the first place. Now… I don’t like to be sold to from my network and I don’t like unsolicited sales pitches – “Hi Scott – Do you have 10 minutes to talk about your lead development strategy because we can help….”, but if people need help with introductions or questions, I’m happy to try.

I occasionally get invite requests from people I’ve never met, and even then in most cases, they are people who at least are either in my industry, the sales profession, software or doing startups. And even in those cases, I usually reply back and say – “Thanks for the connection request. I don’t think we’ve met. Want to do a quick call to introduce ourselves? If the person is serious, they’ll take the time. If they don’t respond, I know I can ignore their connection request.”

8. Fake profiles - Disagree. First I’ve heard this is a problem.

baby-cell-phone9. Younger users – Disagree. Facebook had this problem too. Every site will go through this because of generational preferences and stigmas. There are plenty of smart people at LinkedIn. They’ll figure this out. Facebook is figuring it out with their mobile strategy. Remember that WhatsApp acquisition last year?  Check out Facebook’s Q4 results – it’s all about mobile.

I think the bigger problem is that universities haven’t caught up on the importance of LinkedIn, and now LinkedIn specifically helps this with their “Higher Education” section. I do see this issue when I give workshops and talks at universities and colleges. Too many students think of themselves as “just a student” and instead they should be leveraging that status to be curious and grow their connections. Check out Zachary Lukasiewicz’s LinkedIn profile. The guy did incredible things as an undergrad, using LinkedIn as a tool in his arsenal. Here are a couple of his stories on Quora. More undergrads need to learn to do what he’s done.

10. Share price – LinkedIn has a $33bln market cap. Jeez…. Give it a break. Yes, they have to figure out how to keep growing, and this is a pretty but yes, this is pretty common as a fast-growing company matures as a publicly-traded company. Check out Amazon’s stock price growth rate from 2000-2007. I’d say their doing pretty well right now… If the revenues are there, the stock growth will be there.

Startup Selling Lessons Learned: The Projector

The Situation: Big meeting with a C-level executive at the top of the org chart. We’d been working with several operations managers to implement our software, and this meeting was set up to discuss how we might integrate other business units into our software.

adapter

Lesson Learned:

  1. We should have previewed the room. No excuses here. We were onsite the day prior, and it would have been very easy to find the time to check out the room to see the physical set up and what presentation options we’d have – flat screen vs projector, etc.
  2. For situations when we won’t be onsite, call ahead to the executive assistant (or the meeting organizer) about the room details – explaining exactly what we’d like to do (i.e. demo software, show PowerPoint, etc.) and ask about room details – extension cords, adapters, room set up, etc.
  3. In the “call ahead,” it’s important to explain that you want to be prepared, and that you’re calling out of respect for the executive’s time. The assistant will absolutely appreciate that, and might even put in a good word for you – “Hey these guys are really great – they called me to make sure the meeting logistics were all set…”

The Details:

We thought we were 100% prepared for the big presentation. We brought a projector with us and double-checked that all of the adapters, cords, and required electronic gizmos where included in the projection kit.

When we arrived to the cavernous conference room, we were even more excited to see a gigantic flat screen TV on the wall, so instead of using the projector, we were excited to plug into the flat screen and use it like a giant monitor.

Except…

Well, the adaptor for our projector didn’t match the connection cord for the flat screen, rendering the flat screen completely useless. We asked the executive assistant to call IT, and when he arrived, he confirmed by suspicions that they didn’t support Macs or have any Mac-related equipment.

So back to using the projector. Oh well, we said – “Well – that’s why we brought our own projector!”

Except…

Despite the expansive size of the conference room, there were very, very, very few power outlets! There was one next to the flat screen, and another just about a small counter top that was probably placed there to serve as a plugin for a food warmer. Seriously? Not a single power outlet in the floor. This was a brand new building that just opened three weeks ago, yet the conference room had no power outlets. Worse, the IT guy didn’t have any extension cords, and because the projector cord reached all of four feet, we couldn’t even use our own projector.

Fortunately, I was able to call a colleague who had borrowed my Mac adapter earlier in the day (I should have retrieved it from him earlier when I had the chance, but didn’t because I knew that we had checked our projector kit, and checked it twice, I figured I didn’t need it.) My colleague sped over from another building nearby and dropped off my adapter with two minutes to spare. Whew! Now we were ready, and pretty darn lucky.

Lesson learned…

And If you’re wondering how we did in the meeting, more on that in another post forthcoming… It gets even better, meaning that we learned more lessons. :-p

 

Using LinkedIn for Sales: My UI suggestions to LinkedIn

Last night, I tweeted:

Screenshot 2014-03-12 07.47.35

And received this response:

Screenshot 2014-03-12 07.47.44

I consider myself a LinkedIn power user. I’m a Premium subscriber and keep LinkedIn open in my browser as part of my work flow  – identifying customer development and sales prospects, researching people on a call invite I’ve never met, and connecting with new and old contacts to continually build my network. Spending this much time in any application reveals warts, and LinkedIn is a pretty hairy toad.

So okay, LinkedIn. Here are a few – not all – of the problems I have with your UI:

1. Why do you shut off third party API access? I mean, I know why you do it. And it’s stupid. I received this email from RelateIQ, my CRM, yesterday:

As a result of changes LinkedIn made to its API policies, however, we can no longer authenticate directly with your LinkedIn account. Going forward, this means LinkedIn contact profiles will be one click away from the platform through URLs. No action is needed from you—we just wanted to give you a heads up about the change.

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.16.52

I just googled “linkedin api shut down.”

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.18.17

Silly. Just silly. You know that job change notification service you shut down? That’s how I got my current position at Blend Labs. I received one of these notices for our CEO when he updated his profile on starting the company. I thought – “Oh hey – I’ve haven’t talked to Nima in a while. I should ping him.” And I did. Three months later I was consulting for the company and now I’m the VP of Sales and Marketing. Pretty cool. Because of one simple, silly little email notification that you shut off. Thanks for that.

2. Why can I click the direct user page URL from a profile, especially if I’m connected to that person? I used the search box to find a contact and then clicked on the search result. See below. From this view, the URL is gobbly-gook. All I wanted to do is grab my contact’s personal LinkedIn URL to include in an email. Now I have click the “Contact Info” tab to find the contact’s personal URL. Ridiculous.

Screenshot 2014-03-12 07.40.47

Screenshot 2014-03-12 07.50.33

3. Why can’t “Reminders” be added to my top navigation bar? I started using the “Reminder” feature in the “Relationship” tab. The only place I’m reminding is buried at the bottom of my daily email feed from LinkedIn which I don’t get to everyday or simply forget to check:

Screenshot 2014-03-12 07.53.21

4. If I am a successful InMailer, why can’t I get props for that? My InMail ratings are 5-star. I’ve sent out more than 50 InMails, and received responses for about 50%, with 100% of those responses giving me a 5-star rating. No joke. 100%. For the rest, a response wasn’t received and the InMails were returned to me.

If I’m that good on InMailing, why not give me credit? Think of it like NFL challenge flags. When coaches challenge two calls successfully, they get another challenge. If the goal of LinkedIn is to build networks, why not reward excellent networkers like me with more InMails.

Getting three (3) InMails per month is kind of crappy, with the next step to 10 Inmails or pay $10 per InMail. In most cases, I think $10 for a successful InMail is a really good deal all things considered. It just feels like you’re nickeling and diming me, or just pushing me up to the next subscription level.

5. Why is your Inbox pull-down UI so bad? 

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.04.32

When I hover over my mailbox icon, a pull-down menu shows my messages. The UI is so sensitive that clicking over the person’s name sends me to the person’s profile. To read the message, I have to remember to click on the gray space to the right of the message listing, which also happens to be to the right of the “Delete” button. The UI doesn’t discern for me what action I will be taking based on where I place my pointer. This is just bad usability.

6. Why can’t I tag, sort, or archive LinkedIn emails categorically?

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.07.56

I’m doing some heavy outreach this week, setting up meetings at conference next week. As I’m pinging and emailing with people, my LinkedIn email inbox fills quickly and I can’t sort, tag, or otherwise categorize my emails. Instead I have to use  “Search Inbox” to find emails. I’d like to tag emails and correspondence into buckets – i.e. by conference, by client type, by outreach method and source, etc. I can’t do that.

7. Why do you have two search boxes within the Inbox page? Do you know how many times I’m trying to search for a person by name in this top navigation bar only to get search results from my Inbox? So. Freaking. Frustrating.

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.24.08

8. Why can’t I search more naturally? For example, I searched “duke university fuqua 2002″ and the results were not ordered or relevant except for the very first result who was a classmate and a first-level connection. I have 10+ first-level connections from my MBA cohort in my Contacts. Why is only one shown and the rest of the search results garbage?

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.25.42

9. Why does the page reset after viewing a profile on “People You May Know?” If I take a few minutes to scroll through your suggestions and then click on a profile, when I go back to the “People You May Know” page, I have to start all over at the top of the page. I may have been scrolling down for several minutes before clicking on an individual profile. Blech.

Screenshot 2014-03-12 08.29.44

So there are nine ideas for you. That’s all I’ve got time to do. Time to get to work. And spend a couple of hours in LinkedIn.

Buyer Remorse and Enterprise Sales

Let’s look at two emotions that many customers, in both B2C or B2B sales, experience after a purchase – whether it’s new sport coat or a $1,000,000 enterprise software purchase.

Buyer Remorse

Consumers experiencing Buyer Remorse might ask themselves three types of questions types after a purchase:

  1. Emotional – How do I feel? Happy, relieved, angry, frustrated?
  2. Wisdom – Did I make the right purchasing decision? Is this the right product or service for me? Should I have made the purchase at all?
  3. Concern – Was I “sold”? Am I getting ripped off?

The 7 x 1 Framework for Customer Success helps the salesperson address, or altogether prevent, Buyer’s Remorse. By providing immediate reinforcement to the customer that their purchase immediately sets off a stream of events and activities, they can see their decision turn into into action. It’s positive reinforcement.

buyer remorse2I had someone ask me - “If your customer is experiencing Buyer’s Remorse, and you’re following 7 x 1, doesn’t that just remind them of their decision?”

My answer: If my new customer is feeling even a hint of Buyer’s Remorse, I want to know about it as soon as possible so I can address any outstanding needs.

  • Maybe the customer isn’t altogether happy with the price or terms. Perhaps the contract negotiation felt too much like a negotiation…
  • Maybe the customer is worried about successful integration and training…
  • Maybe the customer has some doubt about achieving the stated 10x ROI, and they’ve put their backside on the line with their team, manager, IT department, and customers…

Customers must complete all of the steps of the sales process regardless of when they sign a contract and give you money. It’s unavoidable. This includes identifying and articulating their needs, evaluating all available options, resolving their concerns, and then implementing your solution. Now… Sometimes the customer will sign a contract and give you their money before the process is complete. They might be motivated for an acute reason. They might have an overzealous executive that unilaterally made a purchasing decision based on early discussions and references from their executive friends. Regardless, as a seller, you still need to complete the sales process with your customer. Using the 7 x 1 Framework, you can immediately begin to track my new customer’s behavior.

  • Are they responding to emails and calls the first day?
  • Did they accept a meeting invite to onboard their team leaders?
  • Do they commit to an onsite visit in two weeks?
  • Are they making introductions to team leaders with whom interaction is needed to assess KPIs?

If the customer isn’t reciprocating the communication and enthusiasm for their new purchase, I know I have a problem that needs to be fixed ASAP. I had a case just like this recently. We signed up a new client where contract process went very quickly and smoothly in the Fall. Then the holidays rolled around, and the communication between our teams slowed. By the end of January, it completely stopped. When I finally spoke to the CEO, I asked him – “What’s up?” Well… turned out that his management team and he had some reservations about the exit clauses and safeguards built into the contract, causing some cold feet during the implementation process.

In this case, it took nearly two months after we signed the contract to identify these concerns – much longer than I would have liked, and much sooner than I might have discovered without taking an active role in the implementation plan and monitoring progress on benchmarks we dually agreed to during the contract process. Using 7 x 1 and monitoring the implementation process enabled me to see that we were behind schedule and the customer’s behavior wasn’t consistent with our stated implementation plan.

Post-choice rationalization & Choice supportive bias

“Humans are not a rational animal, but a rationalizing one.” - Leon Festinger

Customers lie to us and themselves. They lie, lie, lie all of the time. They say things like:

  • “While I’m not getting the 10x ROI I expected, we’re definitely seeing the benefits of switching the service.”
  • “We had to switch vendors anyway. Our old vendor’s technology just couldn’t keep up with our needs.”
  • “The new system is a little slower than expected, but my team really likes their UI.”

lie2Choice supportive bias is great for customer retention if you already have the business. Sort of. But ask yourself:

  • What are your customer rationalizing about your product?
  • Are they living with marginal customer service?
  • Do they accept that you can’t keep up with their needs?

But if you really, really care about the customer achieving what they aspire to achieve, you need to fight this complacency even if you have the business. Because there are people like me out there competing against you. And when I take your business, I’m not giving it back.

This behavior depresses me the most because, if you’re the new vendor, the customer won’t tell you about their disappointment. They’ll pay their bills, and keep you as a vendor – sometimes for years before they make a switch. And all the while, you’ve been living under the false pretense that you’re kicking ass and your customer is happy. When a competitors enters the picture in a year or two or three, you have no chance of keeping the business. Just by bringing in another vendor to review, you’ve lost the relationship (or you never really had it in the first place…)

I experienced this as a seller when I sold textbooks to universities. Publishing companies updated textbook editions every three years, so every year, you knew exactly when academic departments and professors would need to make a new purchasing decision. They would either need to move to the new edition of their current textbook, or this would be the time they would entertain a switch. Competing against an entrenched textbook, especially for big classes like General Chemistry or Principles of Economics was an absolute bear.

Three years ago, the department made a purchasing decision based on technology and increasing student learning (and course evaluation scores! :-) Three year later, I’d hear from professors – “Well, the such-and-such text isn’t great, but I’ve already built out my class notes and I haven’t had any students tell me that they absolutely hate it, so I think I’m just going to rollover to the next edition.” Ahhhhh!!!!

Nooooo!!! Wait. Our General Chemistry book is better because of this and this and that! And we have a website with our book! And we have live tutoring. And we include the lab manual as part of the package!

Working through 7 x 1 with your customer early in the relationship and throughout the relationship enables you to track with your customer’s KPIs and identifies opportunities where you can grow as your customer’s needs grow and change.

The 7 x 1 Framework for Customer Success

paranoid“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
― Joseph Heller, Catch-22

I’m a paranoid. I did a talk Monday night in San Francisco. When I got home, my wife asked me – “How was it?” I answered – “Why? What did you hear? Did someone say something bad on Twitter?”

I try to channel this paranoia into thinking like a buyer:

  • How do my customer feel during the sales process?
  • Are they happy after their decision to purchase a product from me?
  • What can I do to overwhelm the customer with love and attention?

This is why I developed the 7 x 1 Framework for Customer Success. It’s easy to execute with your customer to structure a clear, transparent plan that identifies unexpected outcomes during implementation, or negative feelings that your new customer may have about their purchase. That’s also why I include Implementation Planning as part of The Sales Model Canvas.

7 x 1 means that for each “first” time period following the conclusion of a sale, you have a specific action that you are taking for the client or with the client. For example, say you’ve been working on an enterprise software sale for nine months, and finally you get the call we all look for from your project sponsor – “Okay, we’re good here. I got the final budget approval and our SVP of Operations is signing the contract today. Let’s get started.”

Woohoo! With 7 x 1, your objective is to execute specific actions for:

  1. The first minute.
  2. The first hour.
  3. The first day.
  4. The first week.
  5. The first month.
  6. The first quarter.
  7. The first year.

Let’s look at how to use 7 x 1 in this example:

The first minute

  • Call the SVP’s admin to introduce yourself (if you don’t know him already)
  • Verify the contract is signed and how to get a copy to you.

The first hour

  • Notify your Customer Success team.
  • Contact the customer’s IT and implementation team by phone and email to set up a conference call to verify the key deliverables and work schedule over the next week.
  • This might be setting up data file transfers, opening up firewalls, and contacting Amazon web services to requisition more servers.

rabbit clockThe first day

  • Set up login accounts for individual users of your software
  • Send an email summary to your project sponsor and key executives of the actions taken today.
  • Book travel to the client site to accomplish critical deliverables with their IT and engineering team
  • Verify key performance indicators (KPIs) that your client and you established during the sales process and begin tracking.
  • Send written thank you notes to all of the key contributors on the sale

The first week

  • Send daily email summaries of actions taken
  • Do a first pass of the KPIs. The data might be sparse – that’s okay. The goal is to identify anything anomalous or interesting. Are there any quick wins by the individual users? Maybe a more technical user jumped in and is already using successfully for their daily workflow.
  • Review software usage by individual users to see which users are logging in and which aren’t.
  • Identify training timelines for user teams.
  • Review customer service tickets and logs, if any.

time machineThe first month

  • Review weekly updates and KPIs
  • Identify any users that missed training or are using the software less than expected.
  • Write up case studies of individual user wins.
  • Schedule next onsite meeting for end of the quarter to review if the KPIs are tracking, and whether the KPIs established are the right ones based on 2-3 months of actual implementation.
  • Identify three areas of strength and three weaknesses in the software implementation process. Develop work plan to address weaknesses.

The first quarter

  • Review customer service logs for feature requests and prioritize.
  • Provide insights to the customer about their usage – what’s working? What have they learned and accomplished that would not have been?
  • Ask for permission to use customer as a reference for future sales opportunities.
  • Identify partnership opportunities such as coauthoring a white paper or submitting a presentation at an industry conference.
  • Explore opportunities to expand the relationship through other divisions or business units.
  • Discuss business objectives for the rest of this year, and look ahead to prospective business cases in next fiscal/calendar year. Identify opportunities to grow the relationship in alignment with these client objectives.

stonehengeThe first year

  • Begin implementation with at least one additional business unit.
  • Review contractual terms and budget allocation to assure continuation of contract.
  • Review KPIs established before and after implementing your software.
  • Have KPIs been met or exceeded? Are there any ignored KPIs collecting dust?

That’s it. The 7 x 1 Framework for Customer Success. Give it a try.

Two examples of how meeting planning paid off

I’m traveling this week visiting a very major client and initiating the sales process with future clients (a.k.a. “prospects”). The act of simple meeting preparation helped me enormously. Twice.

Situation #1: Meeting on Wednesday with a potentially large client after several phone calls with an executive and his team.

What I did: In looking at the meeting invite and email correspondence, I noticed I didn’t have an address handy, so I went to the company website to map out their location. I noticed they happened to have three offices in the DC area, but I had been to their main office and was pretty sure that’s where we would be meeting. Then something in my head said – “You know what? You should confirm this anyway with Mr. Executive’s Assistant…”

So I shot her a quick email to confirm the meeting date and time, and pasted the address from the company website into the message:

Screenshot 2014-02-25 20.21.09

Her reply:

Screenshot 2014-02-25 20.21.26

Well… that would have sucked if I went to the wrong address with our company CEO…

Situation #2: A day and a half of meetings with a very big client.

What happened: The business manager we’re working with is super happy so far, and is helping with introductions to other executives across the company. He sent a list ahead of time of the four people we’d have meetings with during the visit. I took a few minutes to find their LinkedIn profiles and search them on their company website.

For one of the executives, I found a blog post he coauthored two years ago with another executive that was not on our meeting list. Once we got settled in a conference room, we reviewed the meetings and agenda for the next two days with our champion. I asked him about the person that I saw as a coauthor. “Hmmm…. you know, we should probably try to see her too.” Then three times during the day, our champion mentioned her name.

Coincidence? Maybe. Though probably not. A few minutes of research led to introduction to another executive in the company.