Tuesday, March 27, 2018

No Cinderellas in Sales

This weekend the men’s NCAA basketball championships semi-finals will feature an improbably entry, much to the delight of millions of fans: a Cinderella story. For the first time in history, a team initially seeded at 11, Loyola University of Chicago, has made it to the Final Four.

What I enjoy most about March Madness are the upsets. Seeing “underdogs” with passion and drive upset the established seeding and throw everyone’s brackets out of whack. The concepts of teaming, practice, focus and achieving a singular goal (closing the deal) are all relatable to sales people.

But there are no Cinderellas in sales.

Despite how badly a sales team may want the business, how passionate they are about bringing their service or product to the client to solve a problem, big deals are won by the top seeds.
I have been the “bottom seed” a few times and if desire was the winning element, I’d get the deal every time. Here are three lessons I learned from being at the bottom:

  • Clients buy risk reduction. Unlike other disciplines, the technology services industry is not a place where businesses say, “Hey, let’s take a chance on these new guys” when the deal involves heavy lifting. No one wants to get fired for making a bad choice.
  • Get famous somewhere else. If you don’t have the credentials for this deal, figure out how to get them. Either focus on a vertical (retail) and make your name there, or focus on the sweet spot of your business (data analytics) and build market awareness of your expertise. Those become your springboard to other verticals, other services and bigger deals.
  • Focus on service. In the end it’s references that can swing a decision in your favor. Even if you have had a few hiccups on delivery, good customer service (integrity and communication) will save the reference. In fact, having a reference acknowledge to a potential client that there were problems (and there are always problems) but you made everything right is a powerful reputation to have. You’ll become known as the top seed.

That said, I am cheering for Loyola, the Cinderella, even though I have Kansas to win. Maybe it’s my Jesuit education; maybe it’s the charm of Sr. Jean, their 98-year-old chaplain. I really think it’s wanting to be further inspired by a group of young men who have worked so hard to accomplish something they were never expected to do.

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