Thursday, December 15, 2016

Beware of False Prophets

Sometimes the salesperson gets sold.

It happens slowly, beginning with a “great meeting” with a senior executive at the client. This executive shows genuine excitement with the opportunity you present. He is the “industry guru” for this function: the “pharma data” guru,” the “logistics” guru or the “government compliance” guru. If he gets behind this deal, it will become an “industry utility,” a potential joint venture, a billion dollar business. He tells you he can “get it done.”

You rush back to your leadership and breathlessly tell them about this deal that will change the industry! “Mr. Big at XYZ Co. says he can push it through the company! He can’t wait to get started!”

In your excitement, you don’t do your due diligence around Commitment and fail to dig into the key questions to qualify the deal:

  • Does he have the authority to say “yes” for this level of financial commitment? (Come on! He’s a senior executive! He just needs to bring the CFO up to speed about what it means for the company.)
  • Has he addressed all internal approvals? (Don’t worry! Mr. Big said he has the authority to push this through.)
  • Does he own operations and/or the P&L? (Are you kidding? This is a cost saving opportunity the COO will jump at!)
  • Has he followed the company’s typical buying process, including procurement? (No problem! He can handle procurement! No need for a competitive bid! He’s buddies with the CEO.)

Beware of the False Prophet.

The False Prophet is the seemingly “plugged-in” executive at the company who, usually with good intentions, personally gets involved with the deal and seems to have a power to make lower-level executives (who speak of him with reverence) jump because of his authority. The False Prophet will have you spending money on “pilots” and get you to set expectations within your own company of a huge deal coming “in the next 30 days.” And those 30 days never seem to end as delays and new stakeholders and new questions arise.

By the time you realize that your deal is a pipe dream, you’ll have spent your whole business development budget, have no agreement on pricing or scope, and have your management asking you, “Tell me again how you thought you would get this deal done?”

Here’s a quick piece of guidance: New executives can’t make old companies take big risks in new ways.

What that means is this: established companies have a process on how they buy goods and services. Your job, as a salesperson, is to know that process and who controls it. If you don’t know how your client buys you won’t know how to sell. And if a new client executive gets excited about your market-making idea and says he can get it done on his own authority without following the process, it’s time to do your homework on him. In fact, you may be able to add value by educating him about his own company’s policies and procedures, and you will make a trusted ally. More importantly, you will avoid allowing a False Prophet to lead you astray of your sales plan.