Prospecting: Separating The Believers From The Non-Believers

This scene from Mad Men sums up an important point for me about prospect relationship building.

There are Believers and there are Non-Believers. The difference is easier to spot than we make it.

As Don Draper says when explaining an ad campaign, “You either have it in your heart or you don’t.”

Let’s apply this to new business relationships. As we know, prospecting for the complex sale can be sophisticated, time-consuming and take many “touches” before an actual invitation occurs to be face-to-face with someone. Getting through that door isn’t often a one-time effort unless you’re in the right place at the right time.

But now you finally get that first meeting – it may come from your initiative or them finding you. They invite you in to learn more.

Here’s where you separate The Believers from the Non-Believers.

By the end of your first meeting, after you’ve discovered enough about the challenge before you do an even deeper dive and they’ve learned a solid amount about you, you should have a good sense of whether the person wants to have a relationship with you. They believe in you or they don’t. If they don’t want to move forward, so be it, but at least you know. If they do want to move forward, are we talking the details of a relationship in our second meeting or are we shooting the breeze?

This isn’t decided by logical factors. This isn’t a tally sheet of points on an RFP (Oh really? You’re going to tell me I just missed out because I scored a 94 and my competitor scored a 97? Riiiiight.).

For all the laundry lists of virtue that agencies throw out there (experience, creativity, number of employees/locations, awards), these have value – but none of them are exclusively own-able.

Relationships are emotional decisions. They go with you because they like you. And if they like you, they believe in you. And if they believe in you long enough, they refer you.

That last one is important. If they’re not referring, they like you but don’t like you enough.

Let’s take a look at the typical pattern: You meet. You greet. Both parties get to know each other. If it makes sense to do so, you present / quote.

Then what happens?

Sometimes it’s a “We’ll get back to you.” “We’re still thinking about it.” “So and so is on vacation.” “We’ve got a fire to put out in the next few weeks but we’ll get to this.”

We’ve all encountered a response like this in some fashion or another. It’s not that we’re necessarily bad presenters or that it’s all on us. It just might be that they’re not equipped to make change. The key word is “make.” Some companies don’t want to make change. They just love the IDEA of change. Because that’s safe and even romantic to think about. There’s no risk with an idea or merely talking about what could be. So they talk and talk and talk and want to meet with you over and over and over again. You keep getting lured in (“Oh wow! They’re bringing us back in for the fifth time! They must be really close to making a decision!”).

And that can’t happen. Because you go from being potentially paid consultant/agency to free therapist.

People who want therapy are not serious prospects. They are Non-Believers. If they are stuck and you have presented what could be a smart, strategic way out of being stuck, they should not be comfortable with where they presently are. You are taking them to a place outside of that Comfort Zone, yes. But even in their slight discomfort, The Believer knows that this is a vital and important thing for the company, not something to be feared.

It should take no more than one meeting for a person to not only believe change is necessary but that it has to happen now. It should take no more than two meetings for that person to believe that you are the right person to enact that change.

Beyond this, you need to ask yourself if you’re dealing with a serious prospect or a tire kicker.

I’m not proud to admit it, but on more than one occasion, I’ve had a prospect I’d met and spoken with several times before keep me on the phone for an hour talking about their problems. That was stupid. There comes a point where you must say, “You know, I’d love to continue this chat but I typically bill people beyond the ___ minute. Is that something you’re comfortable with?”

You have it in your heart or you don’t.

Think about your favorite brands – what do they have in common about their customers? They’re more than customers. They’re giant fans. They’ll defend that brand to no end. They’ll come back again and again. They’ll tell others how wonderful that brand is.

They Believe in that brand. There is no middle ground. No Semi-Believers.

This doesn’t stop when they become clients.
Are we wrong to want to strive for Believers in our agency in a collection of clientele? I don’t think so. Imagine your agency with 100% Believers. Every one of them loves you. Trusts you. Refers you business and/or might very well be open to doing more business in the right circumstance. Can’t say enough good things.

What’s that? Some clients don’t do that? Which ones? Why? How can that be improved upon from here?

Of course this doesn’t mean they’re going to blindly agree to everything you say and do. Of course they’ll question or suggest changes. That’s normal. There’s a difference between sharing opinion and dictating, “This is what I want the ad to specifically say.” The former is still belief. The latter is not.

Believers want to be led, guided and educated. They are inspired to act now. They don’t want to just talk about it over and over and over. They don’t pretend to know everything or better than their own customer. And they see you as the expert that you are rather than being dragged kicking and screaming into new ideas or new technologies.

Look, some people just aren’t ready to go forward when the time comes. I can respect that, but you also have to have respect for yourself. The first and incredibly important step of liking someone isn’t something you have to think about over a period of several meetings and months. You just know it the first time. And you know what the concrete next steps are as a result.

You either have it in your heart or you don’t.

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