A Prospect’s Tale
A Hopefully Humorous Account of Woe and Triumph
(A Never Stop Learning! Article)
What’s in this article for you?
Part 1: The Long Trip to Nowhere
- A Lesson in Lead Churn
- False Pretenses
- A Harbor Tour Demo
- A Pointless Proposal
- A Murky Deep Dive
- Another Pointless Proposal
- A Painful POC
- A Proposal of Pure Panic
- Ghosting to No Decision
Part 2: Buying Beautifully
- A Knowledgeable Initial Contact
- Enablement Enlightenment
- Once Burned…
- Delightful Discovery
- A Great Demo!
- A Pleasant Purchase
- An Intelligent Implementation
- An Expansive Renewal
I was at a conference and ran into an old colleague who is now the CRO at a successful, mid-size B2B software company. After a brief dialog, he said, “I have a great story for you…!” We agreed to meet in the lobby bar of his hotel after the sessions closed for the day.
At the appointed time, I found him sitting at a small table in the lobby. He had a bemused expression on his face and motioned for me to sit down and join him. Waitstaff brought a small bowl of salted nuts and took our orders: He asked for a local IPA; I requested a precautionary gin-and-tonic to reduce the risk of scurvy and malaria.
The beverages arrived, we sampled them and pronounced them satisfactory. He scanned the area as if checking to make sure that that someone couldn’t overhear him, then turned back to me. He shook his head, as if recalling a painful experience, and began his tale…
“These are really two interconnected stories,” he said. “They are about two experiences I recently suffered and enjoyed, respectively, as a prospect. I know you are always eager to hear these yarns.” The lobby and bar area had gotten noisier and more crowded with conference attendees since we sat down, so he drew his chair closer to mine.
He said, “We are a real-life example of the 50% No Decision statistic. We went through two complete buying journeys, with the first one ending with us doing nothing. It was a long, expensive, painful process. And we learned a lot from it and from our second attempt, which was fruitful.”
I asked, “What were you buying, and why?”
“Well,” he replied, “We weren’t getting the value and expected use out of our existing CRM system. We wanted to increase utilization and improve our corresponding workflows, processes, and reporting.”
“Seems straightforward,” I remarked. He laughed and exclaimed, “It should have been…!”
Part 1: The Long Trip to Nowhere
He began, “This all started just after I joined the company as the new Head of Sales. I asked the team what they felt they needed to help them achieve their quarterly and annual sales numbers. They told me that their biggest challenges had to do with using the CRM system.
Front-line salespeople said it was an enormous time-sink: entering info was a waste, it was slow and cumbersome, and it didn’t provide anything useful back to them. They said it cut into their available selling time and actually made their sales processes more difficult: They dubbed it the SPS, The ‘Sales Prevention System’!
My sales managers added that the forecasts couldn’t be trusted, since the reps wouldn’t update the sales-stage conversion info. The managers commented that they were ‘flying blind’ and ‘living unhappily in the Land of Hope’.
Some organizations talk about ‘CRM hygiene’. Well, in our case, CRM hygiene was equivalent to brushing one’s teeth daily with a chocolate cream pie!”
I made a wry face, digesting this description, and told him he was not alone.
He continued, “We contacted the customer success representatives from the vendor about our situation, and we were told, ‘Your usage of our system is actually quite high. Looks like you are doing fine, compared to our other customers.’ This didn’t bode well, and we realized that a change was needed!
I formed a small task force to investigate other CRM options and charged them to put together a high-level plan. They identified a preliminary set of wants and needs and identified a number of vendors to explore. They commented, ‘There are tons of CRM systems out there…!”
After some additional research, they winnowed the list down to a handful of candidates. Each of us on the task force agreed to engage three vendors and I was dealt Anoesis Corp., Ennui Enterprises, and Perihelion Partners, Inc. to pursue.”
He paused to sip at his beer, tossed a few nuts into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully for a moment, then continued.
A Lesson in Lead Churn
“It only took me a moment to click the ‘Book a Demo’ button on Anoesis’ website. Nearly immediately, I received an email from an Anoesis SDR to book a 15-minute qualification call and scheduled a slot for the following morning.
At the appointed time, I joined the Zoom session and met a highly energetic young SDR who started by thanking me profusely and gushing, ‘I know your time is extremely valuable – thanks so much for taking this meeting!’ The SDR continued, saying, ‘I should be able to answer all of your questions… How can I help you?’
‘Well, I’d like to get a sense of what is possible with your CRM system. You see, we…’ but before I could complete my explanation, the SDR jumped in with, ‘Oh, I can definitely help you with that!’
The SDR continued, ‘I just need to ask a few questions, and then we’ll be able to set a time for a comprehensive demo of our system. Are you the person in charge of this project?’
I nodded my head in the affirmative.
‘Is budget allocated?’
Another positive nod from me, but not as deep.
‘Do you have a timeline?’
I responded, ‘No, we are still in the early stages of this project…’
‘Hmmm, that’s a problem!’ exclaimed the SDR, frowning slightly. ‘Do you have a defined set of needs?’
‘Only a high-level set, so far,’ I admitted. ‘We are hoping to see some demos to help clarify our criteria.’
The SDR frowned more deeply and said, apologetically, ‘Well, we don’t set demo meetings without an understanding that you are really interested in buying… Our salespeople’s time is too valuable! Please do feel free to come back to us when your project is farther along…’ and we terminated the call.
‘Fat chance!’ I thought, ‘There’s no way I’ll come back to you!’”
He took another sip, studied his glass for a moment, and then commented, “I remember you did an article on Lead Churn a while back – and I suddenly realized that I was a lead that churned…!”
A server brought more nuts (lightly salted peanuts and cashews, not vendor SDRs). My colleague sampled a few contemplatively, then continued.
“I’d learned my lesson!” he declared, as he shook his head ruefully.
“If I expected to see a demo, I needed to position the project more concretely, even if it wasn’t really true! Anoesis Corp. was now off the list, so I set my sights on Ennui Enterprises. I navigated to their website and, once again, clicked a ‘Book a Demo!’ button.
Again, I was rewarded with an email proposing a 15-minute introductory call, and once again a meeting was scheduled for the following morning. But this time I was prepared, with my decks cleared for action and my guns double-shot loaded for a full broadside…”
My colleague was prone to old sailing ship analogies, a modern romantic soul.
“I joined an Ennui Enterprises SDR on Zoom and, after a few pleasantries, the SDR sent a shot across my bow, ‘Is this an active project?’
I let loose a terrific volley from my portside upper deck, ‘Absolutely! High priority!’
Surprised at the passion of my response, the SDR quavered, but continued, ‘And is there a budget?’
Another booming reply from my port lower deck, ‘Ready to spend!’
More meekly, the SDR inquired, ‘When do you need a solution in place?’
‘Yesterday!’ I roared, turning the ship to threaten with the full starboard battery.
‘Um, do you have a defined set of needs?’
‘Full and clear!’ I thundered. The SDR struck their colors and set a meeting for a demo, then withdrew to repair their metaphoric sails, spars, and hull.”
I congratulated my colleague, but he noted that it was a pyrrhic victory. He explained, “We won that battle, but it was just one of many to follow…”
The Overview Demo – A Stunningly Awful Harbor Tour
“They booked an hour for their overview demo a day or two later. I joined the Zoom and was a bit surprised to see three members of the vendor team present: the SDR, an account executive, and a presales person who was introduced as, ‘The Technical Expert who knows absolutely everything!’ I detected a cringe on that person’s countenance when that claim was presented.
The salesperson did check with me that we had an hour, and I confirmed that plan.
‘We’ll start with a few slides,’ they announced, ‘and then we’ll get to the demo.’
‘Would you like to know a bit about our situation?’ I asked. ‘Oh, yes!’ replied the rep, “What are your pain points?’
‘Well, we have low utilization of our current CRM system and it’s not giving us the value we need…’
I was ready to elaborate further, and I wanted to provide more information, but the salesperson happily cut me off, ‘We can definitely help you with that! Let’s go through these slides and then you’ll see our powerful, world-class solution…!’”
My colleague cocked his head, smiled sardonically, and asked, “Didn’t you write an article about those useless buzzwords?” I indicated yes, and he commented, “Well, those few slides turned out to be twenty minutes of buzzword bingo!”
“Any winners?” I inquired, and he laughed, “No, everyone lost with that presentation!”
He took another sip of his beer, munched a few more nuts, and returned to his saga…
“So, we were already twenty minutes into the ‘demo’ meeting and I had yet to see any software. Frankly, I just wanted to see a few dashboards and some key reports that were lacking in our current system. I just wanted a taste of what was possible.”
I sensed a new metaphor was about to emerge. He continued…
“Their ‘overview’ demo was a disaster – well, a disaster from my perspective. I suspect they thought it went well – after all, it was clearly their standard practice, with equally standard outcomes.
The presales player claimed that ‘Interactivity is our objective in this demo; please stop me if you have any questions…,’ but there was rarely a chance for dialog. They had too much to show in the remaining time.”
He smiled and said, “I know you frequently use cooking and restaurant analogies, and I’m going to borrow one of yours here. It fits perfectly, like a fifty-dollar glove!
Well, it was as if I had entered a restaurant and, instead of offering me a menu or asking me about my desires, they dragged me into the kitchen, of all places, to show me how everything was set up. They went into exquisite, yet wholly unnecessary details on the preparation of their sauces, the aging of their meats, and the precision of their slicing, dicing, chopping, cutting, seasoning, smashing, mashing, blending, baking, roasting, resting…”
He paused, searching for more metaphoric material, then shrugged and returned to his story…
“After this virtual trip to the kitchen, they inquired, ‘Any questions so far?’
‘I’m good,’ I replied, and they figuratively escorted me back to my table to present the meal. Sadly, it was a meal I never ordered, nor would ever order! The balance of the demo was like a server bringing dish after dish and plate after plate to me and asking, repeatedly, ‘How does that look?’ and ‘Can you see yourself eating this?’
Oh! I also can’t tell you how many times they asked, ‘Does that make sense?’ What a frustrating expression! I made a note to make sure that our team didn’t inflict this phrase on our prospects…
Anyway, I was overwhelmed! If the demo was a real restaurant and the presales person was the server, they would have been soaked with sweat, ferrying dishes to and from the kitchen as fast as they could prepare and plate. It was literally dozens of software screens. Sadly, I was only interested in a taste – an appetizer or two, not the enormous smorgasbord that smothered the table.
Even worse, I never saw anything that captured my interest. It was all detailed workflows and myriads of options. I wanted forecast and pipeline reports, in particular, and insights into deal solidity; I wanted dessert, they delivered everything but!”
I’d experienced this once or twice before as well. I nodded my head, commiserating, recalling a wafer-thin mint story. Suddenly he sat straight up, cocked his head, and asked, “Didn’t you use to call these ‘Stunningly Awful Harbor Tours?’”
Smiling, I signified that this was the case. He laughed sharply, then grinned conspiratorially, as a number of bar and lobby patrons turned to look at him. “I’ll bet a number of these folks have taken their prospects on a few Harbor Tours today, as well!”
He added, “There was something else that was really distracting, as well. The Ennui team had consistently poor Zoom ‘hygiene’, to borrow a phrase. One of their backgrounds merged head and torso with clothes and hair, making it look like that rep was a disembodied spirit. Spoooooky!
The other two folks appeared to be looking everywhere else but at me! One person was clearly using the webcam from a second screen, showing the profile of their face. It was like trying to have a conversation with someone who wouldn’t look me in the eye! Very disturbing and off-putting, to be candid.
That experience refreshed my memory of the practices that your team taught us about connecting over Zoom and similar tools. It’s one thing for prospects to suffer from poor Zoom hygiene; it’s quite another for the vendor to present pitifully poor practices!”
I mused to myself, “Great alliteration – I’m jealous…!”
A Pointless Proposal
“We had about five minutes left in the meeting,” he said as he resumed his story.
“The salesperson asked, ‘What do you think…?’ I told them that I’d get back to them.
The salesperson then looked a bit anxious and said, ‘Can I send you a proposal?’
‘Um, sure,’ I responded, unconvincingly. ‘Can you please give me a ballpark estimate of costs to see if this is within our budgeting possibilities?’
‘Sorry, no,’ replied the salesperson, ‘We generate pricing based on a set of usage parameters.’
‘OK, what do you need to know?’ I inquired.
‘Let’s see… I need the number of users, by region, and whether you want some of the other modules and add-ons, as well as if you want to pay monthly, annually, or commit to a multi-year plan…’
‘It’s a little early for me to have answers to all of that – can’t you just give me a range?’ I may have snapped at the salesperson as I said this because I was getting annoyed…!
‘No, we can’t give you a price without that information…’
I sighed, audibly, and then offered, ‘How about you price based on 250 users, with 150 in North America, 70 in EMEA, and 30 in Asia Pacific; can you include the various modules and add-ons as possible extras, and give me the additional prices for each? We can use an annual subscription as the basis.’
The salesperson wrote all of this down and promised to send ‘a comprehensive proposal shortly’.
They had no idea that my numbers were very rough estimates based on our initial problem assessment. And I had no idea how their product options mapped to our needs, despite their overview presentation and demo. Sadly, I suspect they used those numbers to forecast this deal, as well – a great example of how inaccurate data goes into CRM systems!
It was time to conclude the meeting and I indicated I had another call to join.
The salesperson looked concerned and offered, ‘Would you like us to organize a deep dive demo for you and the team? I don’t think you gained a full understanding of our capabilities today. Can we schedule something for next week?’
Frankly, I really didn’t want to do this, but found it hard to turn them down, so I said, ‘OK, sure, I’ll send you some dates and times.’ This was a major mistake, I realized later on. If I had simply been honest and said ‘no, thank you’, I would have saved days of effort – for both parties!
By the way, we got a detailed and completely incomprehensible proposal a couple of days later. I still had no idea what we needed (if anything!) from this vendor. Amusingly, there was a note in the proposal that said, ‘If you commit by the end of this month, I can offer you a 10% discount!’
‘Wow!’ I thought. ‘Offering discounts before they are even requested! Not a strong approach…!’ I also visualized how this opportunity might appear on the Ennui rep’s forecast. It made me cringe to think that similar misinformation was likely our fate, as well!”
He shook his head bemusedly, and then said, sardonically, “If you thought their overview preso and demo were bad, wait ‘til you hear about their deep dive demo!”
We took a brief break to explore small-plate options, as the salted nuts had been disposed of completely. We signaled the waitstaff who brought us bar menus. After a moment’s perusal, we had agreed on a couple of items – the pictures on the menu looked deliciously appetizing!
I observed to my colleague how the menu was a great example of Vision Generation: The combination of brief descriptions and photos was both sufficient and compelling, enabling us to make our own choices. He noted, “I wish the folks at Ennui had understood this!”
A Deep Dive – in Murky Waters
“Well,” he continued, “we agreed to the deep dive demo and set a date. They insisted, however, that I make sure that ‘everyone who might be involved in the buying process joins the demo’. While that wasn’t possible, I did invite representatives from our team including sales staff, front-line managers, presales staff and managers, enablement, and IT. We had about a dozen from our side on that 2-hour call.”
He sighed, scratched his chin thoughtfully, and said, “In retrospect, that 2 hours with 12 people amounted to 2.5 complete working days that definitely could have been used for something – anything! – more productive.
Anyway, this demo began with somewhat detailed introductions of their team members, which included the salesperson and the same presales person from the previous demo, plus another presales ‘subject matter expert’. Interestingly, there was no request to learn about our team, however.”
My colleague looked up at me with a cynical smile, raised his eyebrows, and asked, with a sparkle in his eyes, “What’s missing here? What did they not do before their deep dive demo?”
I was about to respond, but he couldn’t hold back, exclaiming, “Discovery! Discovery discovery discovery! They never really did any discovery. They were still working from my few comments about not getting the value and use out of our existing CRM system!” He slapped the table and laughed, drawing attention from patrons at nearby tables. He glanced at them, smiled knowingly, then turned back to me.
“Well,” he said, “the results were predictable. They were as predictable as watching paint dry on a cloudless day – and just as engaging!
They inflicted a 15-minute product overview presentation on us, using yet another ‘hub and spoke’ diagram. I suppose this endeavored to address my questions about their modules and add-ons, but the presentation was as opaque as a thick coat of dark paint. I couldn’t see the purpose for many of the modules; their rep provided no context. And I certainly couldn’t visualize the value of those offerings, similarly. Even before their demo, they had painted themselves into a corner!
My team was getting impatient and a sales manager said, ‘Can we get to the demo?’
‘Right away!’ responded the Ennui salesperson. And with that, control of the screen went to the original Ennui presales person, who began the actual demo.
‘Here’s how you log in,’ they said, ‘and you can see that we include the ability to manage permissions and security with a range of options.’ Before they were able to continue, our IT representative asked, ‘How do you handle multi-factor authentication?’
The next eight minutes were hijacked by our IT guy and their SME, going into painful detail about security methods and processes. It was an alphabet soup of acronyms, access, authentication, authorization, and APIs; a broth of bad actors and broken access control. A gumbo of garbage; a thick chowder of confusion…”
He paused and asked me, “Are you getting hungry? I think I just made myself hungry…!” I concurred but encouraged him to continue for the moment. I was really curious to learn what happened next. He proceeded:
“I could see that many of our other team members had already checked out. In fact, a few had already sent me texts complaining that they had real work to do…
I stepped in and said, ‘Can we park this security discussion for later? We’d really like to see how your product will help us improve our efficiency and productivity.’
‘Certainly!’ replied the Ennui salesperson, enthusiastically. ‘Let’s dive in!’
The Ennui presales rep said, ‘We’ve got a lot to cover – please stop me if you have any questions.’ And then they did indeed dive in!
They dove deep into their software, very deep! It was as if they swam underwater for ten minutes, without taking a breath, then surfaced to ask, ‘Any questions so far?’
We had none, and their presales person submerged again, like a cormorant into the cloudy depths, before reappearing far from the original location. ‘Any questions so far?’ was their call.
Again, no. The dive klaxon sounded, the hatches were battened, and the craft again descended beneath the waves… The water surface was once more unmarked for several minutes until a mass of bubbles announced the return of the Nautilus to the surface. ‘Any questions so far?’
The lack of any questions appeared to satisfy the Ennui presales, who took a deep breath and headed for the bottom. We knew they’d be gone for a while by the angle of their flukes, as they descended into the depths. Ten minutes later, ‘Thar she blows!’ they breached the waves spouting, yes, you guessed it: ‘Any questions so far?’
Well, it pretty much went this way for the balance of the two hours. There were, to be fair, a few desultory questions towards the end of the demo, but most of our team were silent. In fact, several folks left the meeting well before it ended.”
A server brought our small plates. My colleague tucked into his food and I considered ordering another gin-and-tonic, as I understood that juniper berries are a superfood packed with antioxidants. To reduce the risk of oxidizing, I asked the server for another round. (A reducing atmosphere is my preference…) My associate also ordered another, different IPA and then returned to his story.
“At the close of the demo, the Ennui salesperson asked, ‘So, do you see the value of our offering?’
I informed him that somehow, we had missed that information. ‘Oh, well, would you like to run a POC?’ asked the salesperson.
Now, I should have stepped in, at this point, and communicated that their offering wasn’t a good fit, but frankly, it was still hard to tell. One of my more eager sales managers, who had been looking for opportunities to perform ‘above and beyond’, volunteered to engage in a POC with their team.
Again, I should have said no, but people learn best by doing, so I held my peace. We agreed to proceed with a POC.
I was also surprised when the Ennui salesperson concluded the meeting by promising to send me an updated proposal, based ‘on what we’d seen today’.
After the demo, I gathered the team for a disbelief…” He paused and then wondered, “Disbelief? Did I just say disbelief? Well, that’s perhaps a more accurate description than ‘debrief’!
‘What did you think?’ I polled the team: ‘It looked pretty complicated and confusing…’ was a common response. Others said, ‘They don’t understand our situation at all!’ Another person commented, ‘Seems like we’d be paying for a lot of features we’d never use.’
I said, ‘Then why did we agree to a POC? Should we call it off?’
My eager sales manager responded with, ‘No, I’m hoping we can learn some things from this POC that will help us define our needs better.’ I agreed to let the process proceed, against my better judgment.”
As he was about to polish off his small plate, his second IPA arrived. He examined the glass closely, inhaled the heavily hopped aroma, and sipped a sample. “This is really good! A much better decision – and much less costly – than letting that POC move forward!”
Another Pointless Proposal
“Oh!” he exclaimed, “I forgot to mention. I did receive that promised second proposal from Ennui. This one included more software, but the salesperson also included an additional 10% discount, making it a 20% reduction from the list price. I thought, ‘Wow, if I just continue to wait, eventually they’ll pay me to use their software!’
I was also curious to learn if their forecast for this opportunity had changed at all… There had been more activity, but I wouldn’t have called it positive progress!
I should add that this revised proposal included a ‘business case’. Sadly, that case was as unappetizing and unconsumable as an over-aged brie – and stank as badly! Most of the claims were marketing platitudes along the lines of ‘Better!’, ‘Faster!’, ‘Cheaper!’, ‘360-degree Customer View!’, ‘Less Filling!’ and so on. They did include an example success story, but it wasn’t relevant for us: It was from an Ennui customer that was twenty times larger than we are, and in a market vertical totally orthogonal to our industry!”
My colleague leaned back in his chair and examined his beer again, carefully. “This is really good – I wonder what hops they used…?” he mused. “We should have invested in the brewery that made this beer, rather than running that POC.”
A Painful POC
Suddenly, there was the sound of a loud crash that came from the kitchen entrance, along with the typical snarky applause to reward those who caused the ruckus. My colleague glanced towards the kitchen, smiled broadly, and continued…
“That gives me an idea – an analogy for the POC we endured!” he exclaimed proudly. I ducked, metaphorically, to avoid the incoming allegory, but couldn’t elude it.
“Imagine that you were interested in trying a restaurant that had intrigued you. They had advertised some very interesting dishes and you wanted to explore how they tasted. Most of us would simply head to the restaurant, select a few target items from the menu, wait for those dishes to be served, and then sample, right?”
I showed my agreement with his approach; it’s what I would have done as well.
“Well, now imagine that the restaurant didn’t actually prepare those dishes, but just gave you the description from their website menu. Now imagine that they invite you into their kitchen, show you around briefly, and then leave it up to you to figure out, largely on your own, how to prepare those recipes! Madness!
Well, that’s basically how that POC was run. They provided our team with access to their software, and then metaphorically showed us the location of the freezer, refrigerator, canned goods, spices, and so forth, and then said, ‘Have fun! Let us know if you have any questions. We’ll check in with you in about a week…’
To be fair (and to avoid appearing hard-boiled), I should mention that they did provide a few videos on ‘How to set up the system’ and ‘How to run a campaign’, but that was about it. Their claim was that it was ‘easy to use’ with ‘intuitive’ navigation. Of course, what vendor today doesn’t make that same pointless claim?
Perhaps a professional chef would have known how to recreate those recipes – or a skilled Ennui system administrator to set up and run the system – but our sales team members were neither. The Ennui kitchen stayed cold; no ovens were lit, no stoves heated, nothing cooked, nothing consumed. That POC stalled before a single loaf of bread was sliced, and our team ‘ate out’.
About that time, an Ennui rep contacted us, noting, ‘You don’t seem to be using our system… Do you want any help?’ We said, ‘Yes, please!’ and they sent someone to assist and did succeed in setting up the system to match our basic use cases.”
I noted that the many lobby bar patrons were now enjoying both lunch and dinner items and asked my friend if he wanted to consider dinner. I guessed that his tale could easily continue through the next meal. He glanced around, chewing on that suggestion, but then exclaimed excitedly:
“Oh, I should have mentioned: Ennui never defined any POC success criteria with us. I was shocked, but apparently, early in their history they had enjoyed good success with POCs leading to closed business, but that was back when their system was new and pretty straightforward. It’s like back then it was a really good breakfast place, focusing on just a few items, but now they offer an extensive range of breakfast, lunch, and dinner options across multiple cuisines.
A good measurement of success, in our kitchen example, would have been the ability to complete just a single typical meal for a small party of diners! Sadly, we never got past building and retrieving a few records in the Ennui system, the equivalent of locating and assembling a few ingredients from the fridge and shelves. Definitely not compelling enough to make a change!
Unhappily, while my sales manager had hoped to gain some insights into intriguing and novel capabilities to add to our list of needs and wants, we really took away very little from the experience.”
“Actually, that’s not really accurate!” he chuckled, “We definitely learned what not to do when executing POCs with our prospects!” I nodded, acknowledging his newly acquired learnings. He returned to his narrative:
“Well, the POC ultimately consumed nearly a month, linearly, of time. But what was particularly hurtful was the actual amount of time we spent on the project. I asked the sales manager to add it up…
A day later the true cost – our cost, that is, was revealed. It included over forty hours of time from my sales manager’s team, plus about a day spent by that manager, plus additional time from our enablement people, IT folks, legal, and others. What a waste!”
Sighing deeply, and shaking his head, my friend continued, “It was a great lesson, but a sad lesson.
What we realized, importantly, was that this kind of investment was similar to what we requested when we offered a ‘free POC’. Well, lesson learned, and we’ve changed our processes, accordingly!”
A Proposal of Pure Panic
My colleague had finished his small plate but, like Cassius, still had a bit of a lean and hungry look remaining as he sniffed the air.
“Wow – something smells really good! I wonder what that is…” He inhaled again, reflectively, and then continued.
“I have to describe the final proposal that the Ennui salesperson sent me. It was a wonder all on its own and, in comparison to the fragrant notes wafting from the kitchen, this proposal rankly stank!
I thought it was very clear when we terminated the POC that we weren’t going to pursue Ennui any further. Their salesperson obviously felt differently, because this latest (and final, thankfully) proposal included the same software that was detailed in the previous issue, but granted us more users, plus free implementation services, and – wait for it – yet another 10% discount!”
Another analytical sniff of the air took place…
“I wonder,” he mused, “how they got agreement from their professional services team to make that offer. It would be nearly impossible here – we value our service teams!
Oh, by the way, the next time you drop by my office, you’ll want to see that proposal. I had the summary page framed and hung on the wall…”
Ghosting to No Decision
I expressed my eagerness to see this famous proposal at the next opportunity. His face lit up, then darkened.
“I didn’t bother responding to that salesperson – what was the point? We had already said no…”
He paused, and then laughed like a Falstaff, “Or perhaps we never actually did say ‘no’…!
I didn’t respond to that proposal. And I also didn’t respond to the phone calls and the daily, then weekly emails from that Ennui salesperson asking, ‘Are you ready to move forward?’ I’ll bet our ‘opportunity’ stayed on their forecast for months – no, for quarters! In fact, it’s likely that we are still shown as ‘looking good’ for the current quarter.
I receive a cheerful, hopeful email from Ennui every week, now, like clockwork. What a sadly terrific example of a No Decision outcome! Well, it wasn’t a ‘No Decision’ for us; we’d made a decision, all right. It was a simple resolution not to do business with Ennui!”
Just then, the waitstaff brought plates to the table immediately adjacent to us and my colleague looked over to see what had been delivered. The couple at that table tasted their food and nodded their heads appreciatively. It was clear they liked what they were tasting.
My friend got up from our table, walked a few paces to the couple, and said, “I’m sorry to disturb you but that looks really good – would you recommend it?” Both diners shared very positive reviews of their choices. My companion signaled the server and declared, “I’m ordering a plate – would you like something as well?”
I laughed and noted that this was a wonderful example of reference selling, of “securing the order with the least expensive form of proof”. I was fine with my appetizer, however, for the moment.
He ordered, then turned back to me. “Yes, a reference story: That is exactly how our much more positive buying experience began…!”
Part 2: Buying Beautifully
A server arrived and placed the dish he had ordered in front of my colleague, turning it carefully to position everything as favorably as possible, and then described the plated items with a mouth-watering collection of adverbs and adjectives.
My friend laughed and said, “I remember you telling us, in our Great Demo! Workshop, that ‘we eat with our eyes first’. You are right: I just did that! This looks delicious.” He sampled the selections on his plate and, satisfied with his findings, sighed contentedly.
“This is really great, and so was our next product-tasting experience.
After the debacle with Ennui, I reached out to a head of sales friend at another, similar software house to find out what they were using for their CRM system. She told me they had selected Perihelion Partners about eighteen months ago and had been very happy.
I asked her, ‘It is doing what you wanted and expected? Would you buy it again?’ She answered ‘yes’ to both questions. I immediately engaged with Perihelion via the same ‘Book a Demo’ mechanism as with Anoesis and Ennui, but that’s where the similarity ended!”
A Knowledgeable Initial Contact
He continued his chronicle, “A person from Perihelion connected me right away and suggested we schedule a 30-minute call to ‘discuss my situation’. I agreed and booked time the following morning.
The call began and I noted, with surprise, that the representative from Perihelion didn’t appear to be an overly eager SDR right out of college, but rather seemed to be quite a bit more seasoned. She confirmed our time constraints and then said, ‘I understand you’d like a demo of our system. We could dive right in, or we could invest a few minutes to explore what you are looking for.’
‘I’d be happy to explain,’ I replied, and I reviewed the challenges we were experiencing with our current CRM and our desired improvements, at a high level. When I’d completed my explanation, she shared her screen, displaying a Great Demo! Situation Slide that rather closely matched my description.
‘Here’s an example of how we’ve helped other heads of sales and CROs in potentially similar situations,’ she said. ‘How does this compare with yours?’
We walked through the elements on that slide, with me describing where we aligned or contrasted. I was particularly impressed that she actually edited the slide, as we discussed it so that it accurately reflected our situation.
She said, ‘Thanks very much for that information,’ and did a terrific job summarizing what just she had heard. ‘You are not alone!’ she added.
‘Would you like to see a few examples of how some of your peers have been addressing these same problems?’ she asked, respectfully. I responded, ‘Yes, please…’
She then presented three dashboards/reports, carefully describing what I was seeing, and how her software could solve our problems, along with examples of specific, tangible gains that their other customers had enjoyed.
It was patently clear that she had learned how to present extremely effective Vision Generation Demos!” He laughed and asked, “Did Perihelion go through Great Demo! training?”
“One of our oldest customers!” I confirmed. “They have a terrific team.”
My colleague nodded his head, saying, “Yeah, she was a pro!” He continued his story:
“We were about fifteen minutes into that first call, at that point. She asked, ‘Are these the kinds of screens and capabilities you are looking for?’
I concurred, and she said, ‘If this is a sufficient demo for the moment, I’d be grateful if we could explore your situation more thoroughly. That way, we should be able to put together a demo that matches your specific desires.’
I agreed and we invested the next ten minutes enumerating my organization’s and team’s demographics. I found these questions useful and important to scoping our situation, yet comfortable and easy to answer. As we neared the end of the allotted thirty minutes, she inquired, ‘I still have a pile of questions to ask, to clearly understand your situation. Should we set a follow-up meeting to accomplish this?’
I agreed, and we booked a mutually acceptable time on our calendars.”
My friend had been toying with his food as he recounted his story. He looked up from his plate and noted, “I just realized that by applying the simple Vision Generation Demo process, Perihelion compressed two calls into a single meeting, providing me with what I wanted (a brief demo of what was possible) and enabling Perihelion to engage me in a real discovery conversation. Very impressive, very efficient, very productive!”
I held back from delivering, “Told you so…!” Instead, I simply encouraged him to continue.
“You used to talk about ‘Buyer Enablement’ and I didn’t think much of the concept – until I became the buyer! Now I understand… Thinking back on our buying ‘journey’, I realize now that Perihelion really did make it a smooth, frictionless, pleasant process. We never felt harried; we never felt pressured. They seemed to anticipate our needs.
I remember them suggesting that we begin our security and privacy reviews very early in the process, for example. Those reviews took much longer than we anticipated, so getting them underway early turned out to be very important. It enabled us to complete our purchase before we had to pay for a renewal of our old system, which saved us tens of thousands of dollars.”
“Wow!” I responded, “Really glad to hear this. It is one thing to talk about Buyer Enablement, it is clearly quite another to experience it firsthand and enjoy the real benefits. How much time do you think was saved?”
He looked up towards the ceiling and appeared to be grinding through some tough calculations. After a moment, he pronounced, “Several weeks, at least. It could have been three or four weeks overall. There were numerous other examples of buyer and champion enablement that took place, but I’m getting ahead of myself…”
“On our second call, a Perihelion salesperson joined the discussion – which is when I realized that the original contact on the previous call was a presales person! This is also something we’ve been considering as well…
In any case, we continued the discovery conversation we’d begun previously. I was particularly impressed when the salesperson accurately summarized the information collected by their colleague. They had generated a Great Demo! Situation Slide, based on the first call, and used that to support the summary and kick off the conversation. It was a wonderful example of using Situation Slides as the crisp currency of communication!
The salesperson then commented, ‘I understand that you have not gotten the value you expected from your current CRM. Can you unwind what happened and why?’
I was absolutely delighted to hear this question! Why? Because there was no way that we would want to repeat those previous errors!”
This last sentence was expressed quite passionately and, once again, a number of heads turned our way. My colleague turned and waved, somewhat sheepishly, as he realized the impact of his statements. He leaned towards me and said:
“We were a real-life software burn victim. We’d invested a ton of money and miles of time in a failed implementation that never delivered.” (Keeping track of units wasn’t his strongest suit!)
He continued, “I walked through the whole painful process, based on what I’d learned from the team. The Perihelion folks asked a number of questions that helped to complete the picture of the disaster. Most importantly, we were able to identify together where the key mistakes had taken place and how to avoid repeating them in the future.
Frankly, I didn’t realize how important this was until after the call. ‘Once burned, twice shy’ as they say…!”
“With that part of the dialog complete, I said I really needed ballpark pricing. The Perihelion salesperson didn’t even blink, and immediately provided me with a reasonable range to expect, ‘based on what they’d seen with other, similar customer situations’. That was sufficient for me for the present. The rep added, ‘I’ll be able to give you a complete price breakdown once we’ve completed discovery with you.’
Along those lines, they explored more of our demographic information and then, interestingly, they turned the conversation to discuss some of our cultural attributes. I suddenly realized why you call this out as so important in your Doing Discovery book. What they learned enabled us to align implementation and drive adoption much more successfully than originally expected. We actually changed our plans as a result of this conversation!
The discussion then moved to what you call ‘Transition Vision’ and we laid out the rough timeline and steps, all the way through our buying process, to implementation, ‘Go Live’, and rollout. But again, they had taken a page or two from your training and we identified several key Value Realization Events. These were then added to the Transition Vision timeline.
I have to add that the way they engaged made me feel like we were all on the same team. The way they listened, asked clarification questions, and summarized made me realize what real active listening is all about!
Well, we had completed the items on the Situation Slide, but only from my perspective as the Head of Sales. I then ‘delegated them down’ and gave them a list of folks on our side that they needed to talk to.”
He laughed, “It wasn’t a short list! It seemed that everybody in sales, presales, customer success, marketing, professional services, and enablement all had their own sets of needs and wants for the new CRM system.
The Perihelion pair said, ‘This is what we do! We need to make sure you license the capabilities you need to make the project a success and keep the implementation focused to enable you and your team to achieve your objectives. And we don’t want you to pay for functionality you won’t use.’
Wow! That was refreshing…! They were proactively avoiding Buying It Back. Very impressive!
They closed the call, with time to spare (what a delight!), promising to keep me posted as they met with our team.”
My colleague assessed his IPA, looked slightly dismayed at how it had diminished, then shrugged and continued:
“Every couple of days they sent me an email progress report that included who they had interviewed and the key information they had collected, organized by Job Title and summarized in Situation Slides. Their identification of important tangible value components helped me to build my internal business case along the way. They also included other notes describing the impact on other departments beyond sales, customer success, implementation, and marketing.
Very impressive and enormously helpful in my efforts to ‘sell internally’!
Well, it took over a week for them to complete their discovery work, but that time investment paid off handsomely. They provided a complete summary of their findings in their proposal, which was delivered a day after the last interview. The proposal included a value analysis, based on our specific numbers, that showed breakeven within six months after ‘Go Live’, followed by a wonderfully transparent full pricing breakdown. The Transition Vision timeline was included along with the Value Realization Events defined in my conversation, plus additional VREs from team members.
It was a solid, well-constructed proposal that I could present to the balance of the C-Suite and the Board.
I canvassed the team and was delighted to hear that all of our stakeholders said they felt ‘heard’ and were comfortable with the process and the plan. You know, you hear the term ‘Trusted Advisor’ frequently, but most of the time it’s just lip service. The Perihelion reps, however, had really earned the title! ”
He paused, and then admitted, “You know, I really didn’t internalize many of the things you taught us until I was the prospect!”
A Great Demo!
“But I’m ahead of myself,” he continued. “The next step was proof – or more accurately, a Technical Proof Demo. I was again deeply impressed with the Perihelion team. They had clearly taken Great Demo! practices not only to heart but into action!
We organized a full day for the demo, or more accurately demos, as each of our teams was only asked to invest an hour apiece. Individual slots were assigned for sales management with me, salespeople, presales, customer success, and marketing, and the enablement and CRM administrators had separate slots as well.
Each demo followed your Great Demo! methodology to a ‘T’. Introductions, review of Situation Slides, presentation of Illustrations, Do It pathways, and Peeling Back the layers were all accomplished smoothly. The Perihelion team parked questions elegantly and professionally. Heads were nodding in agreement during the Final Summaries: Yes, we had seen everything we needed to feel confident to move forward.
No friction! Those demos passed the ‘butter test’ with flying colors. And nobody from us or Perihelion even mentioned a POC.”
My friend noticed a server passing by with a plate of pasta and snorted, “Hah! What a huge difference from that spaghetti bowl demo disaster from Ennui!”
He finished his IPA and was clearly toying with the idea of another, but I glanced at my watch and commented on the time. We both had impending commitments within the hour.
He said, “I’ll cut to the chase.”
A Pleasant Purchase
“I got the team together the day after the demo to assess everyone’s thoughts: All were in favor of moving forward with Perihelion. I raised the PO and sent a congratulatory message to the Perihelion team – and, delightfully enough, I got a very nice message back that congratulated us on our decision!
Now, as you know, I’ve bought a lot of enterprise software in my time, but this was – without question – the most positive experience of all. Most of my buying ‘journeys’ felt like I was being shoved uphill over piles of craggy rocks: Nothing but extreme friction and pain!
This pathway was smooth as silk – and all downhill!
Additionally, just after I commit to a purchase, I typically suffer from a great deal of anxiety: Will it work as advertised? Will users adopt it? Will we gain the expected value from our investment?
Well, this time I didn’t feel that angst. The whole Transition Vision process – and the Value Realization Events in particular – took that weight off of my shoulders. It was the most comfortable buying process I have ever experienced!”
An Intelligent Implementation
“I was also highly impressed with Perihelion’s implementation and post-‘Go Live’ process. Their software setup and configuration procedures mapped precisely to the sets of Specific Capabilities defined in the Situation Slides they had generated during their discovery work with us. It was clear that
they passed those slides from presales and sales to their professional services folks – and then on to their customer success team. It felt like Perihelion knew more about us and our objectives than we did!
Similarly, and cleverly, to tell the truth, their training of our team was done with a minds-eye towards ensuring that our folks would be able to achieve our various Value Realization Events rapidly and confidently. Why do I say ‘cleverly’? Because it ensured that we would recognize value from the new system long before renewal time! Internally, we’ve dubbed this ‘Intelligent Implementation’.
We learned a lot from our experiences with Perihelion – and applied those learnings to our own sales processes. In fact, we’ve stopped calling it a ‘sales process’ in favor of ‘buyer enablement’. This is a major change in our mindset, practices, and actions – certainly nothing like the bad old days of ‘the sales methodology of the year…’ We realized that Perihelion was simply following the guidance in your Doing Discovery and Great Demo! programs – and now we are working to do the same!”
An Expansive Renewal
Both of us had to leave for our appointments, and we asked for the check. My friend insisted on paying for both of us. “You’re too kind!” I thanked him, and he responded, “Oh, you earned it…!”
As he handed the server his credit card, he added, “I need to close this second story with a note that will make your heart sing with joy. We just renewed our Perihelion license, with a major expansion of both users and functionality, and agreed to a 3-year term.
We’re also going to be a featured success story for Perihelion, and I’ll be quoted,” he added proudly. The server returned with his card. He completed the transaction while muttering, “How much tip should I leave?” I suggested 25% since we’d occupied that table for quite a while!
As we got up to leave, he exclaimed, laughing, “Oh! One more thing! We just acquired Ennui – we’ll be changing the name, by the way – so you should expect a call to help us with book clubs for Doing Discovery and Great Demo!, and to schedule training for those folks early next quarter. They certainly need it!”
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To learn the methods introduced above, consider enrolling in a Great Demo! Doing Discovery or Demonstration Skills Workshop. For more demo and discovery tips, best practices, tools, and techniques, explore our blog and articles on the Resources pages of our website at https://GreatDemo.com and join the Great Demo! & Doing Discovery LinkedIn Group to learn from others and share your experiences.