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February 27, 2018

Sales Leadership: How to Grow 5,401% in 3 Years

Disruptive new products have become as commonplace as new breakfast cereals, but they should never be sold as such.

To illustrate my point, imagine the year is 1 million B.C., and your tribe has two disruptive new offerings: (1) a ready-to-eat cereal; and (2) fire.  For the cereal, a conventional sales strategy is fine. Put a lot of “feet on the street” with samples and order forms. After all, the product is … food. The benefits speak for themselves, and prospects won’t need much training or coaching to use it effectively.

By contrast, the benefits and applications of fire (cooked food, warmth, etc.) are less obvious to people who eat raw meat and wear animal skins for warmth. But the risks of fire – e.g., severe burns – are obvious.  How do you sell to a market that may be reluctant to change its ways for a technology without super-compelling benefits?

The Fire Starter Strategy for Sales Leaders

For Allego, the answer was a “fire starter” strategy – an approach that delivered 5,401 percent sales growth in three years.  The strategy was simple: build a product for everyone, but then focus on selling it only to the innovators and risk-takers in one vertical market.  In other words, sales leaders and their teams should find people willing to take a chance on the product.  Befriend them, educate them and let them try the product. Then, let them work with the product until they become raving fans.

In any market, these risk-takers represent less than three percent of the population, but they will be your fire starters. If you get them passionate about what you’re doing, they will introduce you to the next group of buyers — early adopters — who will then provide more references, and so on.   Until your product or service reaches the “tornado stage,” where everyone knows about it and wants to buy it: keep seeking out the fire starters.

Many companies try to do too much, too early. They try to expand their reach to multiple verticals or sell the product for use cases for which it wasn’t intended. That’s a mistake many of us have made, which is why sales leaders should always focus on turning core customers into fanatics – fans determined to spread the word.

Identifying Ideal Clients

How do you identify fire starters and other ideal clients?

Develop your Ideal Client Profile in great detail. Then go to your network and identify who these people actually are. That’s who you start with.  The people in your network are more likely to trust you and try your product. Once you recruit a few strong influencers – dynamic and vocal personalities who enjoy conferences and sitting on panels – they’ll amplify your message and talk about their successes. This will prompt more ideal clients to come out of the woodwork and say, “Hey, I want to talk with you too.”  Soon, you should have a very clear picture of what your ICP looks like.

Hold Customers’ Hands during the Change

In the beginning, your primary mission is helping the fire starters succeed.  Be sure to hand-hold these customers during the first 30 to 90 days after they adopt the product. Whenever you implement a new technology at a customer site, you’re disrupting an existing process or processes. This requires customers to develop new “muscle memory,” and that doesn’t happen automatically.

Early adopters are taking a risk. To one degree or another, they must reinvent the way they do business to accommodate your new tech, so it’s important to provide white glove service that guides them through this period.  White glove service also offers opportunities to deliver value-adds that can cement customer loyalty and fuel further evangelism. For example, although a customer may buy your product for just one application, your experience with other customers in that vertical will enable you to suggest other uses. “Have you considered trying X or Y with the product?”

Salespeople tend to focus on selling one customer, and then moving on to the next one. You can’t do that when you’re disrupting a market. You can’t do that if you want to drive growth. You have to turn your initial customer base into delirious devotees.

Always remember: you’re selling fire, not breakfast cereal.


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