Chapter 21: How To Take Data And Turn It Into Impact

You’ve followed Chapter 19 and 20, assembled a massive pile of facts and figures, and now have to find a way for it to make sense and show how it impacts your prospect.  You have probably found that the data can be grouped together in some obvious categories.  There are two bigger categories that all of the data will fit in:  Problem Data and Impact Data.  We covered Problem Data in Chapter 18, but what is Impact Data?

This is where you want to spend your time, as Impact Data is where the C-Level prospects spend their money.

All companies have problems, and some just sit there, year after year, annoying people who ask, “Why doesn’t the VP of Operations know about this and fix it?”  It is likely that the VP of Operations knows about the problem.  It is also likely that the problem has been evaluated, and one of two things have happened:  the impact of the problem is less than the money or time it would cost to fix the problem or the impact of the problem has not been supported by enough data to prove that fixing it is financially viable.

Understanding the impact of a problem is crucial for proving the business case for any solution you hope to provide.  There are five questions that form the basis of understanding the impact a problem can have on an organization:

  • How do you measure the problem?
  • What is the current situation?
  • What results would you like?
  • What is the value of those results?
  • What is the value of those results over time?

This is relatively straight forward when dealing with hard data.  For example, let’s say that you are trying to sell a university an electronic dormitory room key lock system.  Your conversation might sound something like this:

  • Prospect:  Your electronic dorm room key lock system would increase the security of our 400 dorm rooms.
  • You:  What is the biggest problem that our system would solve? (measurement)
  • Prospect:  We have too many old keys floating around.  We only know where about 80% of them are.
  • You:  That’s about 200 keys that you are missing. (current situation)  What would be an acceptable percentage of unaccounted keys?  (desired results)
  • Prospect:  We need it to be zero, because it costs us $65 to rekey a lock.
  • You:  Let’s see, 400 dorm rooms times $65 dollars a lock…that’s $26,000.  (value impact)
  • Prospect:  And students are constantly losing keys, getting duplicates, moving in and out of dorms…we just aren’t as safe as we could be.
  • You:  If this is a continuing problem, then over four years at two semesters per year, you could have a total of over $200,000 in rekeying costs.  (value impact over time)

Other types of products and services can be more difficult to prove impact, as they often rely on soft or inferred data.  For example, let’s say that you are trying to sell a mass notification system to a university that would alert students to dangerous situations on campus.  Your conversation might sound something like this:

  • Prospect:  Your software would help keep our students safe from gun violence on campus.
  • You:  Other than the possibility of fatalities, what is the biggest problem that gun violence would create for the university?  (measurement)
  • Prospect:  Our students and staff would feel very unsafe, and the bad press we would receive would severely harm the university’s reputation.
  • You:  How do your students and staff feel now, and what is your university’s reputation for security?  (current situation)
  • Prospect:  We’ve never had a major incident, so our students and staff feel safe, and we have a reputation as a place where parents can send their kids and know that they are safe.  This is especially important for our foreign students and their parents.  (prospects implies desired results)
  • You:  What would happen if you had an incident that made the evening news?  (value impact)
  • Prospect:  Other universities have seen their enrollments decline by 10%…almost 25% for foreign students.  (inferred data)
  • You:  Let’s be conservative…if we take your 20,000 students, reduce enrollment by just 5%, and multiply it by your $15,000 tuition…that’s about $15,000,000 in lost tuition alone, not counting the fact that foreign students pay more and stop attending at a higher rate.  (value impact)  How long would it take to regain your reputation, and ultimately your students?  (value impact over time)
  • Prospect:  Others have recovered in three years, some never fully recovered from their foreign student losses.
  • You:  If that is the case, your university could face well over $30,000,000 in tuition losses.  (value impact over time)

This is of course simplistic and scripted, but hopefully you can see how there needs to be a process to help both you and your prospect understand the impact of the problem, especially the financial impact, so that you can create a better business case.

Chapter 17: How To Ask Your Prospect Questions That Help Prioritize

In Chapter 16 we looked at the first part of the process called Confirm The Business Case.  As you would expect, an important part of this phase is creating an understanding of all the issues facing your prospect.  The next part of this phase is to help your prospect prioritize these issues.

If you plan your day the way most experts say you should, you probably write down everything you need to do, prioritize the list, and then work on the most important things first.  We all agree that this is an intelligent and efficient way of doing things.  So why is it that when working with a prospect and asking the questions that reveal the true depth of the problems, desired results, and issues we will be dealing with that we become so haphazard and random in our methodology?

We start well enough.  “What keeps you up at night?” is an unoriginal, but often good place to start.  We may even have the discipline to ask a few more questions, but then our inner-salesperson takes charge and we start to talk about our wonderful solution.  All of a sudden, our dialog has become a monolog, and there is a good chance we will be going down the wrong road with our prospect.

Why wouldn’t we want to discuss the first things that come up first?  Wouldn’t those be the most important things on the prospect’s mind?

Maybe.  But that’s an assumption.  And it could keep you away from other critically important opportunities that you may be able to help with.  And your prospect’s stated #1 issue may be only a minor issue for his company.  We need to fight our human nature of immediate problem solving and instead keep asking and asking until we have exhausted ourselves and all of the problems, desired results, and issues are down on paper.

How do we know when we have asked enough questions?

Perfecting your listening skills is critical for your success.  Let’s take the sale of a new e-mail system as an example.  Your first few questions will probably draw out the obvious answers.  “The existing system uses old servers which are becoming unreliable, we have a hard time pushing large attachments through the system, it won’t do web-based e-mail, and it is hard to keep anti-virus software up to date” could be a response.  While you may have the perfect solution to solve these few problems, it is likely that others do as well. Stopping here means that you are the same as all the other salespeople, which means pricing will matter more than you would like.

If you ask more questions and drill down with “what else?” (Chapter 7), you can learn about the impact these issues have.  If you were to ask, “Why are large attachments a problem?” you might get a response that ultimately leads to problems with the existing network, not just the e-mail system.  If that was the case, imagine the time and angst involved in explaining how your new software didn’t solve the large attachment problem.

After patiently asking questions, you will probably see patterns emerge and will be able to start grouping answers together.  When you believe that you have narrowed down your large set of questions into the key issues, you can qualify those issues by asking your prospect to prioritize them.  There is a good chance that they will say that all of the issues are important, and they probably are.  But it is essential that you prioritize them, as it helps establish the value of each issue, a crucial part of understanding the ROI of your eventual solution.

“We’ll probably need to replace our servers regardless of what we do, so that’s the highest priority,” your prospect may say.  “Attachments are the second priority, and I’ll have my network people take a look at some of the bandwidth problems and see if they can diagnose that.  We are going to expand into healthcare records next year, and by then we’ll need better antivirus software in place, so that’s number three.  Our traveling executives have been complaining about access to their e-mail when they don’t have their own computers with them, so that’s number four.”

It is a good idea to summarize and ask, “If we could solve these stated problems and give you the results you said you were expecting, would our e-mail system do everything you want it to do?”  Give your prospect time to think about this.  Endure the silence.  “Well, the president just got a new iPad, but he’s the only guy using one.”

Wait just a minute.  Did your highly tuned listening skills just hear that?  Did your experienced ‘corporate politics’ brain just process that?

This is the part where the smart salesperson says, “Tell me more about the president and his new iPad…”

Keep this up until you have all the issues on the table and re-prioritize them as often as needed.  The president’s new iPad may not be important to our prospect, but it could be very important to him, and helpful in justifying increased funding for the project.

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