I recently had the pleasure of hosting a webinar featuring my fellow Inc.com blogger, Tom Searcy. He's an expert on big sales opportunities (aka "whales") and his presentation was insanely on target and useful.

The best part of Tom's presentation, IMHO, was his observation that the sales approach that typically gets you into a large account eventually becomes counterproductive as you continue to develop the opportunity.

Most B2B products and services are sold as on the basis of hope. Salespeople identify needs and show how innovation can satisfy those needs. It's this hopeful message that recruits a decision-maker to sponsor your idea to the rest of the company.

However, the further you get from that decision-maker or sponsor, the more you'll encounter people whose motivation emotion is fear rather than hope.  In their eyes, innovation means extra work and may even represent a threat to their own job!

For example, a COO might hope a new inventory control system will reduce costs but the Chief Manufacturing Officer might fear that the system will simply create a retraining burden that could bring the line down.

Similarly, a CSO might hope that buying iPads with mobile CRM for the sales team will increase revenue, while the CIO might fear that moving CRM to a mobile device could create a support nightmare.

When confronted with this kind of resistance, most salespeople amp up the "hope" in an attempt to inspire the reluctant stakeholders to see the situation in the same light as the sponsor. ("Think of the opportunities!")

However, rather than bringing people on board, this strategy causes people to dig in their heels.  This is more than just a law of human nature, it's a law of physics: "Every action creates an equal but opposite reaction."

In corporations, this "reaction" to takes the form of "working committee" to study the idea and make a recommendation. For those of you who aren't politically savvy, a "working committee" is where good ideas go to die.

Tom's insight is that, rather than continuing to sell "hope" (and thereby creating more resistance), the salesperson must pivot to selling the alleviation of fear. Rather than "think of the opportunities!" the messages required at this stage are things like:

·      How easy it is to get started

·      Why there will be minimal disruption

·      How it will eliminate drudgery

·      Why delaying will end up costing more

·      How it will support the status-quo

By pivoting from hope to fear when the wider audience gets involved, the salesperson helps ensure that his or her idea continues to moves forward towards consensus and eventual purchase.

This is a hugely important concept because the failure to pivot means that you end up with sales engagements that get tabled after you've worked on them for months. By pivoting, you ensure that all that effort doesn't go to waste. 

Thanks, Tom!