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Start-Ups: How to Structure the Core of Your Sales Conversations

Raj-setty-aug2012Today’s post is by Rajesh Setty, president of WittyParrot, blogger, and award-winning teacher at the Founder Institute.

When it comes to winning business if you’re a start-up, you rarely want or need to engage in “feel good” sales conversations. You want conversations that move the needle in a positive direction. It is important to be aware of this, because many of your sales conversations may happen because the other party is curious about what you are doing rather than seeking to fulfill a need by utilizing what you have to offer.

Before you determine how to structure the core of a sales conversation, it’s important to understand how the prospect’s key concerns change as you progress on the deal. Here is how the change happens in a typical start-up deal:

1. Why

This is the prospect’s first concern. Because many start-up entrepreneurs create a product for perceived needs, there is general skepticism on the relevance and real value of your offering. There have been lots of cases in which start-ups build products that are actually solutions waiting for problems.

2. Why You

If you get past the first hurdle, you will get into the “why you” phase. The big test for you will be to prove why you are the right company to deliver that offering. Since 9 out of 10 start-ups go south, your prospect wants to ensure that you are not one of the nine. This is typically the concern that is related to risk mitigation.

3. How Much

Next comes the pricing question. You shouldn’t be surprised if the biggest companies ask you to make your offering available for free because they are well known. There are informative books written about pricing models and how to structure early-stage deals. It is important that you get to the bottom of this or risk losing your shirt. If the deal is not right, you may end up experiencing “death by winning.”

4. How

This step refers to the logistics involved after the deal is closed. You need to convince the prospect that you have thought this through completely. If you give the impression that you are making up a model as you go along, you’ll give the prospect the jitters. Remember that the buyer’s reputation is at stake, as the buying company is investing in a not-fully-proven offering.

5. Who

This is not so much a conversation as it is a recognition that you will be sending a clear message to the prospect as you put together a deal team and an implementation team. If the key people are not involved in both stages, the message to the prospect will be that the deal is not as important as you state it to be.

The ZIZO Model

The ZIZO model of structuring the core of sales conversations for start-ups has two components:

1. Zooming In (ZI) on the bull’s eye

2. Zooming Out (ZO) to support your case

The bull’s eye is your prospect’s key concern at present. “Present” is the keyword. Your core conversation has to Zoom In (ZI) on that key concern at present. If it does not, there will be a frequency mismatch.

Example: Your prospect is wondering why he or she might even need this solution. You, however, talk about how you will implement your solution at all the prospect company’s locations. The frequency mismatch is clear. In such cases, you will not only make zero progress but will also lose a champion for future deals.

The second part of the model is Zooming Out (ZO) on topics that support your case. If an odd question arises out of context, you should answer that question with grace, but it is your responsibility to steer the conversation back to the bull’s eye. If you don’t, you will end up expending a lot of energy without productivity.

It is common in a meeting to go from zooming in to zooming out many times. As long as you are in control of the conversation, there is a good chance that you can move the needle. When you lose control of the conversation, there is a good chance that it will end up being a feel-good conversation at best.

Last but not least: while building your highly responsive sales teams, ensure that all team members are familiar with the ZIZO model. That will make them not only responsive but also effective in their sales.


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