The concept of building a sales and marketing machine first came to me in 1983 in my first startup. I found myself faced with a 9 month sales cycle, selling CAD systems to Architects. The whole process of marketing and sales looked like a mysterious black box – it worked sometimes, but not often enough, and it was hard to figure out what was working and what was broken, and most of all: how to grow the business.
I had started this business right out of college, and had no sales, marketing or business training. But I did have an engineering background, and I started to apply that disciplined thought process to the problem. What I found was:
- We were spending six months educating the customer on what CAD was, and how it could benefit them.
- We had to show them lots of drawings that other customers had produced
- They needed to talk to many customer references
- They had to figure out their tax situation and choose between a lease or suspensive sale.
- They had to get financing approval from a bank
There was also one sales blocker that had been a problem for a while: we had to show them how they could network their workstations, and share drawings. If you are old enough to remember back to 1983, you will remember that the idea of a LAN did not exist in those days. However our workstation vendor HP, had just come out with something called a Shared Resource Manager – the equivalent of a modern day file and print server.
After mulling this over, I came up with the idea of holding an event where we would try to address all of the sales cycle elements.
We held the event at a major resort location in a very high class hotel that created the impression of a company that was far larger than the 35 people we were at that time. The first problem to solve was figuring out what message would work to attract our audience. At first I was taken with the idea of playing up the entertainment of the location, but fortunately I realized that this would send the wrong tone. Since CAD was still a very new technology, we realized that the best draw card would be to focus on the education. The second big draw card was the opportunity to come and meet with other architects who had made the move to CAD and hear their experiences.
We were successful in attracting 600 architects to attend with their wives. They arrived in time for dinner, and were taken through an entrance that resembled going through a time machine into a dining room where we had carefully placed our best prospects next to our best customers.
Then came the next problem: this event was being held in South Africa, and unlike the US where I live today, the average South African businessman is somewhat shy, and unlikely to actually talk to their neighbor at a dinner table. To overcome this problem, we hired a well known stand –up comedian to break the ice. This was a dangerous move, as the wrong comedian could doom the whole event, but fortunately we had found exactly the right person, and his tone and jokes were right on the mark. The atmosphere of the entire room was transformed. There are few things as powerful as laughter.
Towards the end of dinner the lights dim: on stage left, an actor playing the role of an architect appears in a small pool of light. His phone is ringing. It’s his wife complaining that he is working late again. The wives in the audience all nudge their husbands – this is a familiar scene to them.
On the other side of the stage Merlin appears, and with the aid of 36 slide projectors, three video projectors, and the first computer contolled laser, takes the audience on a humorous tour through history, showing how the world would have been different if CAD had been around in days past. If you think about the year this took place – 1983 – before Steve Jobs, before Bill Gates, it was the first time this audience had had been exposed to technology like this for a product launch. This had the effect of making our tiny 35 person company look like a global multi-national organization.
The next day we took the architects through a series of educational lectures, including looking at the ROI. Then we had a tax consultant talk them through the tax implications of suspensive sale versus lease. And we had pre-approved each firm with a bank that was on hand to discuss how the financing could be made to work.
The final element that put the finishing touch on the event, was probably the most important. We had taken a very large circular room, and covering every inch of wall space there were CAD drawings from our customers. And finally we had brought in a Shared Resource Manager, HP’s first iteration of a file server and local area networking.
But we made one mistake. By 2pm, the first architect walked up to me and asked to place an order. We had no idea things would work that way, and we were completely unprepared. I asked my assistant to quickly type up an order form and get this photocopied. By the end of the event, we had taken $4m in orders. More than the entire revenue that the company had done in the past 12 months! And bookings stayed at $3m a month thereafter.
I have never been quite so successful with applying the methodology, but it has helped to build some very successful companies since then. I hope it is of help to you. Remember the art of this methodology is to get inside of your customer’s mind, and learn to think they way they do. Then shape your whole sales process around what you learn from that experience.
Posted by David Skok
To be continued…