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Selling looking for signs that a prospect is not an oppertunity

December 3, 2008

Not all lead prospects are created equal. Some have subtle contraindications. Others are booby-trapped. Still others may be genuine opportunities that, at the time they become qualified leads, are for one reason or another inopportune. Your success as a consultative seller is predicated as much on the opportunities you walk away from as the ones you pursue.

Yellow flags like the thirteen that follow can give you fair warning. But only your judgment can make the right decision to go or no-go.

  1. An opportunity is on the borderline of your core capability or outside the norms of your killer app.

  2. An opportunity involves a customer operation that features a major process whose functionality is unfamiliar to you.

  3. An opportunity demands a disproportionate commitment of your time and attendant costs.

  4. An opportunity requires the cooperation of several third-party suppliers who are outside your control or oversight.

  5. An opportunity has the potential for a series of progressive revisions over the course of its life cycle.

  6. An opportunity was scoped and virtually finalized by others before your participation.

  7. An opportunity is unlikely to improve your norms even if its outcome is realized, or it may actually downgrade your norms.

  8. An opportunity has been postponed once before by the current customer manager.

  9. An opportunity does not have a natural migration chain for follow-on proposals.

  10. An opportunity cannot be finalized within the likely term of office of the current customer manager.

  11. An opportunity carries such significant political meaning for the customer that an unsuccessful outcome could catastrophically shut down your future opportunities.

  12. The opportunity carries the threat of your technology becoming obsolescent or replicated competitively before the project can be finalized, imperiling your perceived value and diminishing your claim to gainsharing.

  13. The opportunity cost of not being able to manage a higher-value or lower-risk alternative project is high.

Compensating factors may make any of these risks manageable. The customer may be an influential reference. Migration opportunities may be significant. Your core resources may be more fully utilized and your inventory of experience may be enhanced by new successes. There may be the chance to lock out a competitor.

Comparisons and risks and rewards like these are inherent in the PIP proposal process. Most of the time when you make a wrong decision, it will be because your disregarded a risk’s yellow flag in spite of your better judgment. The major risks to sweat are those that are dependent on time. Not only is time a cost. It is the one cost that cannot be reclaimed.

In common with all processes, quality control can be applied to the PIP process by setting Six Sigma standards for near-perfect results in four aspects of profit improvement proposing:

  1. Realizing a one-to-one ratio of closed PIPs to proposed PIPs.

  2. Eliminating time-consuming and costly variances in the process by which PIPs are prepared and presented.

  3. Reducing the number and frequency of defects in PIP diagnosis, prescription, and cost-benefit analysis.

  4. Meeting customer expectations at the 100 percent level that each PIP’s actual benefits will equal its proposed benefits in both their dollar values and time values.

The PIP process is a replica of the Six Sigma process. In both, a lead is targeted by comparing an operation’s current results with norms for better or best practices. The problem or opportunity is diagnosed. An improvement is prescribed and implemented. Its results are measured. They become the baseline for the next improvement in the continuous quest to get to Six Sigma for suppliers’ PIPping and their customers’ operations.

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