Chapter 19: Hard Data, Soft Data, Inferred Data, And Fantasy Data

As you help your prospect Confirm The Business Case, you may become frustrated to learn that she has been operating her division without much data on the problem at hand. In fact, you may learn that she has been working with no data or even wrong data.

Is that a problem?

Not necessarily. Some of the best time you can spend with a prospect is time discovering together what is real and what is not. Because you are a part of this discovery phase (and presumably your competitor is not, as he is just responding to an RFP), you can use this time to show your expertise, integrity, and desire for an optimum solution. Instead of handing over a 30-page proposal or clicking through a 2-hour slide deck, you are showing that you can be a long-term partner who will be an asset on not just this project, but on others in the future.

Who knows…you may just uncover the need for a much larger solution than originally planned.

Some of the facts needed to confirm your prospect’s original business case will be easy to understand. There are probably plenty of straightforward metrics to show that the old servers are slower, that new copy machines use a less expensive toner, or a new automated payroll system will reduce headcount requirements. Your prospect has probably already used this data as part of her own business case creation and ROI calculation. Ultimately, at some stage someone in senior management will ask something like, “Why should we spend money on this?” That is a not-too-subtle code for, “This may solve your problem, but what does it do for me?” The hard costs mentioned above may not be compelling enough for each person involved in the decision process for your project.

There are five types of data that you will need to address, and we will use a retail store for our example:

  • Hard data – often found in the finance department. For example, a store could perform an inventory and find that over the past six fiscal years they have experienced 5% shrinkage (a retailing industry term meaning, in our example, that the clothing store lost 5 out of every 100 sweaters they sold due to shoplifting or employee theft).
  • Soft data – often anecdotal, word of mouth, or from general statistics. For example, loss prevention specialists have historically told retailers that they will experience a shrinkage rate of 3%. This comes from years of studies over many companies, and can be used to help establish a standard of expectation.
  • Inferred data – often confused with soft data, it is instead a more focussed version of it. For example, the 3% shrinkage rate has been pulled from years of studying all kinds of retail stores. But this generalization may not apply for a consumer electronics store or a shoe store.
  • No data – not necessarily a bad thing, as discussed above. For example, our store may know nothing about their shrinkage rate because they have never performed an accurate inventory before. We can start at the ground level to help build the business case (and qualify the prospect).
  • Fantasy data – the worst kind of all! It is surprising how many prospects I have worked with who “believe what they want to believe” and disregard the hard, soft, or inferred data that doesn’t line up with the project they are working on. For example, the store may believe they have no problem with shrinkage, no matter how unlikely that may be.

Your prospect may believe that all of her data is hard data. It will take a bit of time and finesse to soft-pedal a quick lesson in the types of data that she really has versus what she thinks she has. Once your prospect understands this, you can begin the process of turning the other types of data into hard data. Yes, this will create extra work for you, but the relationship benefits that the extra effort creates will help you continue to qualify the opportunity, build additional trust, and keep your less involved competitors at bay.

Chapter 4: How Does Your Client Measure Success?

If you were to ask your prospect, “How will you know if this project is successful?” I’m betting that they wouldn’t know how to answer you. A study on IT system implementations showed that 37% of them failed. That means only 67% of IT projects succeeded, which in any school would be rated a “D.” Why did they fail? The study cites that the requirements for the project were unclear, resources were lacking, schedules were unrealistic, planning data was insufficient, and risks were not identified.

Does this sound like any of your past projects?

Whether you are in the IT industry or the TP industry, there are lessons to be learned here. The most important lesson is that it was, at best, only after the project was completed that thought was given to how success would be measured. As customers are (thankfully) getting smarter, more and more are learning to define the scorecard in advance to measure the success of the project.

The greatest opportunity with your prospect is to help them develop the scorecard that will be used to determine what success looks like.

What kind of measurements will your clients be using? Return-On-Investment (ROI) is a common business measurement yardstick. It is certainly one that is dear to the CFO‘s, CEO’s, and Board of Director’s hearts. If you can show your prospect that your product or service can reduce costs, increase revenue or margins, increase productivity, increase quality, or increase customer satisfaction, then you have a good chance of moving your proposal up through the organization. If you can help your contact at that company matter to the C-Suite, and help him or her enable the company to survive tough times and even grow, then that contact will start to treat you like a trusted advisor who is out to help the organization.

After you have proven yourself to be an expert and have identified the key people you need to meet and work with (Becoming An Expert In Order To Qualify Successfully, Chapter 3), you are ready to start writing the score card that will be used by your client (and hopefully forced upon your competitor). The sum of that scorecard needs to be firmly anchored in the Client Centric Sales model of win-win; it is imperative that you work together to create and supply the optimum solution to the company’s most important problems.

Win-Win is easier said than done. The most difficult part of this is that the contacts you have at your prospect’s organization will most likely not have a full understanding on how the project affects the business drivers of their company. They may have secured budget money, and may even have a specification written. The project may have been funded to solve “Problem X” which is funded for “Y dollars” for a period of “Z months,” but has a business case been developed that would enable your contact to justify the project? Are you in a position to help your prospect show the C-Suite how the proposed project is a win for them?

You probably have a good understanding of your prospect’s industry, and an even better understanding of the challenges your prospect’s company faces. You will need to identify how your product or service can address at least one of those challenges, and you will need to help your client develop the scorecard that will be used to both establish the success of the project and can be used to make sure that your competitors are being measured to the same standard.

Problems?

Many, and half of them are caused by ourselves.  We don’t listen, we make assumptions, we think of solutions that we have already sold instead of working to understand every aspect of our prospect’s business, and we assume that we are talking to the right people within that organization. But it is not all our own fault. It doesn’t help that our prospects don’t really know what they need, can’t find a way of accurately describing the problem, keep key information to themselves, won’t let us near the right people, are unrealistic about expectations, and are more concerned with company politics than end-results.

This is why you need to help write the scorecard for your project. Granted, it is not easy, and it takes a lot of time. The good news is that each step you take will help you to continually educate and qualify your prospect. In coming chapters, we will examine a simple methodology that you can use to create a concise, measurable, and justifiable scorecard that you and your prospect create together that will help put you in the driver’s seat.

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