[Note: This guest post is authored by a certifiable “big brain” and friend of Rare Bird, Chip Neidigh. Chip is a graduate of the US Naval Academy, a former Marine Corps Officer, and a business owner specializing in helping leaders of organizations of all sizes become the best possible versions of themselves.] 

I run a management consultancy named Kairos.  Historically I have struggled to succinctly and powerfully answer the question, “So what do you do?”  I’ve been on a journey over the past nine years to clearly articulate our advantages and competitive distinctions.

Although I’ve never attended a speed dating event (I married my high school sweetheart), I envision it looks like this:  participants nervously trying to be their best, working to ascertain if there’s any potential for a relationship, and honing the perfect thing to say to start each conversation.  My business development activities have felt a lot like that. 

Over the past few months I’ve re-energized how I think about (and communicate about) the work we do.  I’ve learned three things lately that I’m starting to incorporate into my sales and marketing processes:

Say what you believe, before you say what you do.

Simon Sinek said, “The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”  I think there is some important wisdom in this statement. 

I’m finding it is much easier to discern if “we’re a match” when I communicate what I believe very early in the relationship:

Most organizations have leaders who are good enough tacticians and technicians.  At Kairos, we believe that the world desperately needs leaders with greater courage, selflessness, and a passion for relational and organizational health.

Those who aren’t aligned with our beliefs naturally start looking sideways for the next date.  Those who are aligned lean in and want to learn more.  Our belief creates a context for deeper understanding when I then describe what we do

We build leaders, from the inside-out, in times of crisis, change, and conflict.

Hook the struggling moment.

Late last year I hired Eric and Clair White from Motile, an Indy-based consultancy which helps businesses grow in their markets.  As part of their Jobs to be Done methodology, Eric and Clair conducted interviews with 15 of our Kairos clients, investigating why they bought our services.   The results were eye- and mind-opening for me.

I had always assumed that our clients decided to buy because my description of what we do and how we do it was compelling.  What I learned is that I rarely understood the psychology and emotional journey of our clients as they purchase our services.  It turns out that each one reached a tipping point, or a “struggling moment,” when he or she wasn’t going to tolerate the status quo any more.

So now, instead of hooking the generalized pain associated with building stronger leaders, navigating disruptive change, and resolving relational conflict, I can try to find prospective clients experiencing more specific and emotionally energized (tipping point) moments:

“I have recently been surprised to realize that the leaders who report to me aren’t collaborating well, putting our results and my personal credibility at risk.”

“As my responsibilities have grown, I have become unsure how to tackle the bigger, more sophisticated problems I now face.”

“I’m accountable for a high-stakes, can’t-fail organizational change, and I need an insurance policy.”

“There is an issue on my team that everyone knows is a problem, but nobody wants to talk about.”

Being more specific about the struggles our clients face generates at least two beneficial outcomes:  1) If someone self-identifies as experiencing one or more of these struggling moments, then it leads to a rich and meaningful conversation about their situation.  2) If they’re not experiencing such a struggle, at least they can envision what kind of problems we help clients solve, so they can keep us filed in a helpful category in their mental Rolodex. It’s the dating equivalent of listening and tuning into what a person is saying, which is where connecting begins.

Build a staircase to help prospects become customers.

I’ve had a handful of selling experiences lately that ended in a soft no from the prospect.  After multiple meetings, the enthusiasm and energy waned, and I realized that the sale had died.  I’m convinced, in retrospect, that I could have arrived at a hard no or a yes more quickly, with some tweaks to our process.

In each of these misfires, I didn’t provide clear steps a prospect could take to “move closer” to Kairos.  Without exception, I prefer huge deals (which add higher value to the client and are more financially efficient for us), but sometimes a prospective customer needs to qualify us with a smaller deal before even considering engaging us to solve bigger, riskier problems. After all, the goal isn’t necessarily to get married right out of the gate, but to get that second date.

I now believe it’s important to give prospective customers distinct and value-adding steps they can take to continue getting closer to us, in order to generate momentum, trust, and results (while minimizing risk, anxiety, and uncertainty). 

For example, imagine I’m talking to a prospect, and the statement “I’m accountable for this mission-critical change, and it can’t afford to fail.” resonates with her.  Then I can create a staircase like this:

  1. May I send you a whitepaper on navigating disruptive change and an organizational change readiness assessment you can use to better understand your own situation? 
  2. If you think that you want some outside help, here are some lower-cost, high-value options that will allow us to work together to address your struggle and start building trust with each other:
    1. If you want deeper help thinking through how you’re leading this change, we can provide three months of executive change coaching. 
    2. If you’re concerned that key stakeholders are not aligned on the direction of the change, we can facilitate a two-hour strategic alignment checkup with senior leaders.
    3. If you have a clear direction but are experiencing (or anticipate experiencing) resistance to the change, we can facilitate a two-hour stakeholder analysis and planning session.
  3. If you want a more thorough analysis of your assets and gaps on the change initiative, we can conduct a multi-week on-site assessment.

The sequential steps are ordered in increasing intensity and commitment.  Step 1 requires only a bit of her time.  Step 2’s options require time, money, and perhaps risking some personal credibility (in bringing in an outsider).  Step 3 requires more time, more money, and more personal risk.  All of these options are easier than biting off a $100,000+ project.  But any one of them is likely to increase her willingness to consider that level of financial commitment, which (in our imagined example) is what is really needed to ensure the success of her high-stakes change initiative.

I surmise that leveraging these three approaches can drive better clarity, trust, and momentum in almost any “dating” process.  I welcome your insights and comments, as we help each other explore how to build healthy and effective approaches to finding and working with the right customers.