Selling: Living with a Long Sales Cycle
For Ned Lamont, the first sale was plain luck, and the next sale plain hell. Lamont is CEO of Campus TeleVideo, in Greenwich, Conn. When he first started peddling his cable-television systems to universities, the academics snubbed him. When direct mail and trade shows failed to convert leads, Lamont focused on the objections of current and would-be customers and fine-tuned his sales pitch. Customers, he says, "have written our whole strategic plan, not us." A decade later Lamont has made sales to 64 universities, to the tune of $10 million in 1995 sales, using these strategies:
Walk customers through every stage of a long-term project. Campus TeleVideo, which lays cable, installs satellite dishes, and arranges for educational programming, conducts walk-through tours for a range of campus decision makers -- from the residential director to the director of telecommunications, and from the student-body president to the university president. The tours, which weave through the buildings where the work takes place, are held before the sale, during installation, and at the project's completion, giving everyone a chance to voice concerns along the way. One college worried that the cables would ruin the school's dignified appearance, so Campus TeleVideo built an invisible network, running the wires underground and through the walls. It's now a standard feature.
Invite prospects to meet customers. Lamont used that tactic to help increase his business from 2 to 3 contracts a year five years ago to 11 last year. During a recent installation at Kent State, for example, Campus TeleVideo asked representatives from five Ohio-area schools to drop in; they did, with lots of questions. Not long after, Lamont was invited to bid on three Ohio college contracts and won the only one awarded.
Host informal focus groups. Once a year Campus TeleVideo invites customers and prospects to an all-day focus group at which the company introduces new products, and the group swaps ideas about educational programming. Last year 10 customers and five prospects attended.
Stay on the road. Campus TeleVideo's sales cycle still averages 12 months, or three times that of other fast-growing companies. (See "Selling by the Numbers," [Article link].) So Lamont is constantly pounding the pavement. He personally visits some 100 universities a year. The CEO has called on one university every year for the past seven. "You have to be patient," he says.