Avoid the Perils of Overpromising

Avoid the Perils of Overpromising

Promises always come with the peril of non-performance. It’s a bad plan in life as well as business to promise more than you can deliver. If you expect people to believe your promises tomorrow, it helps a great deal if you kept them yesterday. This probably sounds like old news to most of you since we’ve all been lectured from birth by our parents, teachers and preachers about the necessity and difficulty of always trying to live up to your commitments.

But this is how life works. I certainly support the basic concept and agree that it makes all the sense in the world, but the difference today is that technological advances have radically changed the nature of the conversation.  The problem now isn’t so much about arrogance or baseless bragging as it is about how and when to deal realistically and effectively with the truth. Because the truth today is a lot stranger in some ways than the fiction of yesterday.  

Given the powerful technologies we now have at our disposal and the actual and concrete results that new businesses can deliver, there’s a somewhat novel sales problem that I’m seeing. Too many startups are so excited about the powerful possibilities and the real wonders their solutions can work that, in their eagerness and enthusiasm, they’re losing sight of who they’re selling to, and what kinds of solutions those buyers are looking for.

In the old days, we used to say that the main difference between a car salesman and a computer salesman was that the car guy knew he was lying to you whereas the computer guy was just deluded. Today, telling your prospects and customers too much about what your products and services can do is more likely to confuse them than to convince them.

Instead of offering simple initial implementations and step-by-step measured solutions –basically addressing and resolving the lowest and most obvious hanging fruit first– what I’m seeing and hearing too often in these kinds of conversations are broad claims and bold statements.  “Our software can do anything – just tell us what you need.” Even if that were true, which in some cases is almost certainly the case, it absolutely doesn’t matter to the buyers.  And, worse yet, it’s totally off-putting because it shifts the onus of specifying the problems that need to be solved on to the buyers.  Here’s the issue: they may know what end results they need (cost economies, productivity enhancements, etc.), but they likely have no real idea of what your products can do or how your solutions would be introduced and incorporated into their specific operations. So, their natural reaction is to take two steps backwards rather than buying your pitch.

That’s why it makes so much sense to start by sandbagging a little bit instead of bragging. Under promise and then over deliver. Let me give you a real life and slightly sneaky example that you’ll be seeing practically every night on TV – if you ever watch TV. I say “sneaky” because this is a situation dictated mainly by marketing considerations, but it might also be to get around certain regulatory requirements about diet claims. If you watch the latest ads for several of the wonder drugs (no names please)– after they make all the over-the-top basic benefit claims and after they list the 4 million side effects – you’ll hear a little announcer aside that goes like this: “and you might just lose a little weight too.” No promises. No guarantees. But, as good Samaritans, we thought you just might want to know. Right. That’s under promising to a “T.”

And, in your own business and sales approach, you need to be thinking the same way when you present your new products and services. Tone it down – don’t go for the gold from the get-go. Prove your product a little bit at a time.  “New” is a nasty word to millions of procurement officers, buyers and other decision makers. “Novel” and “innovative” are right up there as well. Change is always hard to implement, but when it represents new costs, retraining and upskilling commitments, the risks of errors and mistakes, etc., it’s an even harder sale. And it’s no easier when the impact and the benefits aren’t immediately demonstrable.

In the real world, no one is looking for a miracle. They want risk-free, middle-of-the-road, mundane improvements that might save their companies some money, but will certainly save their jobs. They want immediate solutions, not ultimate salvation. This is in part because they’re not sure that they’ll even be around for the big, long-awaited payoff. So you need to plan, sell, and act accordingly.

Even if you can eventually move the moon, start with something that you can get done by next Monday.

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