A Bet They Can Tolerate (Issue 550)

In which we are reminded to consider the disruption that accompanies change when clients buy our products or services.

So….  A funny and wrenching moment in the December 10 Republican Presidential Debate. About a third of the way through,   Governor Romney summarized his view of the Massachusetts health care plan model and President Obama’s plan. After a brief historical perspective from Speaker Gingrich, Governor Perry said:

PERRY:  I’m listening to you, Mitt, and you’re saying all the right things, but  I read your first book and it said in there that your mandate in Massachusetts should be the model for the country. I know it came out of the reprint of the book but, you know, I’m just saying you’re for individual mandates, my friend.

ROMNEY (frustrated): You know what? You’ve raised that before Rick. And,uh,  you’re still wrong.

PERRY: It was true then (laughs)  and it’s true now.

ROMNEY: Rick (laughs, extends his hand), I’ll tell you what.  $10,000 bucks?  A  $10,000 dollar bet?  [Bet refers to whether Perry’s account of Romney’s book is correct.]

PERRY: (Pause)  I’m not in the betting business.

“I’m not in the betting business.” This is the situation in which we find ourselves when we’re advocating a particular solution or product to a client or prospect….and they’re not getting it – they’re not going with us. So we find ourselves saying, “Look, I’ll tell you what, why don’t you run a pilot or  try it for 90 days, and you’ll see that you’ll get the result that I’m telling you you’ll get.”

And the client/prospect responds, “No.”

And, in the three seconds of silence that follows the client’s response, we think, “What? Are you joking? Are you that risk averse that you would say no to a free trial to get better results?”

And the client’s response, also internally, in those three seconds is, “What? Are you joking? Do you have any idea about what even a pilot might do in this company? I’m not in the betting business.”

Two thoughts (without comment about Governor Romney’s debate tactics):

First, as sales people interested in making  sales, we tend to minimize upheaval, diversion of resources, distractions, rumors, mixed messages, and disruption that accompany a free pilot or free trial of anything significant.

We see “try it, it’s easy, you’ll love it.”  The client sees, “This could be great, but I can’t tolerate the disruption. If it takes more than 10 minutes, I’m not interested.”

Second, when we’re pitching a solution or a pilot, it’s useful to remember Mack Hannan’s three client questions about value: How much value will the client realize?  How sure is that value? How soon does the client earn the value?

Almost every client we work with is in the betting business to some extent. Hannan’s three questions frame the business bet.   The question is, “What’s their risk tolerance?” and “How much disruption can they tolerate to make change?”

Offering a pilot or free trial to a client is one way to draw out a prospect’s or client’s risk tolerance.

That said, better to have figured out the client’s comfort with risk and return before formally proposing a pilot. Whether the product is Remote Deposit Capture, contact management software, or a marketing program, we can guide the conversation something like:

  • If you were to implement something like this, what people or processes would have to change inside the company?
  • What would be your concerns?
  • Which of those concerns would you find tolerable?  Which not?
  • So, let’s think together to see whether we could reduce those risks.
  • Now, let’s look at the up-side. What do you see as the most important gains from piloting or implementing an approach like this?
  • OK let’s think about ways to amplify those up-sides.

This conversation will help the client and us frame a pilot or a trial or an implementation so that they are in the betting business but it’s a bet they can tolerate.

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