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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Time wasting (not)

I really like Mel Lester's posting: Don't waste the client's time! Mel addresses one of the biggest problems of conventional sales practice: The yukky, thoughtless, bothering of 'decision makers' for products, services and ideas that are utterly irrelevant or useless -- and for which no amount of 'time' is going to change the picture.

In part, of course, this is the 80/20 rule in practice -- your best clients will take little time, and you won't find it too stressful, because they know what you want, trust you, and are able to support the decision to move forward without much delay. Then there are all the rest. And here the paradox of diminishing return becomes relevant.

Here is a good example, from a current business project.

A couple of months ago, I received a call inviting me to propose a quotation for a new renovation magazine for Ottawa. The reference point: The chair of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association Renovators Council. The council needed to follow through with a public invitation to bid, but I sensed the job would be wired in my favour.

So I made one call, and the person I called made another, and that person made another, and soon, we had our team formed -- competent people within their areas of expertise, believing the idea would work, and committed to excellence. Needless to say, we won the bid.

Then the sales team set out to work, and as we hoped (but could not be sure in advance), they found significant interest from key, relevant businesses they knew and understood would be interested. Soon, the sales had reached the point that we knew we have a viable publication.

But, with primary contacts exhausted, and 'easy sales' gone, now the slog begins. Calling on people who are mildly or not interested, who need to 'think about' a small purchase, who waffle, change their minds, and are uncertain.

"Dropping by" handing out fliers, sending repeat (third time around) emails, and so on, all producing limited results for a great amount of effort.

Should the sales team have stopped when they had reached the end of the easy stuff. Well, not really, in this case. Our business model calls for a reasonable sales commission for every sale, but the partnership group shares in any profit once break-even is achieved, and in the print world, profits can be truly great past break-even. So, even though the late-stage sales work is stressful, slogging, and painful, the return on time spent is high enough for the late, tough, stuff.

Would I base my sales model on this hard-rock approach (or do the work myself?) No, but I can see why the sales team directly involved in the project is willing to go the extra mile, and put in the extra effort, for these last, small, hard sales. They make a whole lot more money on them.

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