Remember the kid in your elementary school who could skillfully skateboard across broken pavement and out into traffic? He’s grown up, and figured out a killer sales strategy.
He’s not smarter than you. You already knew that. He’s just less fearful. And even though he has more scars, he’s learned much along the way.
It’s not easy being bold. Employers regularly beat the living risk out of marketers and business development professionals. “We want accurate forecasts,” they insist, leading to a mental contagion that rewards playing it safe. People make fewer waves when they’re quietly harvesting low-hanging fruit. But long-term, will squelching risk enable a business to flourish?
Before you answer, reach into your desk drawer, gym bag, or stereo cabinet, and find your Sony Walkman. If you don’t have one, or if you aren’t sure what a Walkman is, I’ve made my point. By playing it safe, Sony ceded the market it created to Apple. The rest is history.
“Financially, the Japanese firms can’t take the risks,” said Yuji Fujimori, a Tokyo-based electronics analyst for Barclays. “. . . The choice not to take risks has its own risks: the danger of falling into a downward spiral. Losses can lead to smaller investments in future technologies or new products,” according to a Wall Street Journal article (How Japan Lost Its Electronic Crown, August 15, 2012).
Sales strategists take note. When it comes to planning for future revenue, playing it safe might be the least safe thing you can do. Here are six selling risks many companies are too afraid to take:
1. Having a physical presence in a country or city. Woody Allen said “half of life is showing up.” Yet, some executives are reluctant to commit to establishing operations locally, preferring to first determine whether there’s demand for their company’s product or service. That can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Unless you are there, you’re not perceived as being in the market,” the CEO of a large multi-national government contractor told me last week.
2. Developing customers in new market niches. One executive I talked to found new business opportunity in Europe for his company’s consulting services. When European governments were deregulating energy, he pursued the consulting work, even though the engagements were outside of his company’s core expertise. When energy markets were later deregulated in the US, his company was well positioned to win the contracts.
3. Hiring salespeople with experience outside of an industry or technology. “Hardware people can’t sell software.” I’ve heard that statement in reverse, spoken with equal conviction. Yet, one sales VP told me that provincial mindset doesn’t work for his company. “We used to seek people with experience in our space. But we’ve found that our most successful salespeople have a strong background in solving a range of business problems.”
4. Airing dirty laundry. Few companies like negative sentiment, but some recognize that it’s a business fact of life. The problem is, placing customer service processes into the metaphorical fishbowl of online social media is not something most companies embrace, or are prepared to handle. But companies that consistently resolve customer problems quickly and effectively can use social media to prove a hard-to-replicate competitive advantage.
5. Making the company (really!) personal. The president of a men’s clothing startup told me that people who buy from his online competitors would never expect to meet or speak to the webmaster, shipping staff, or technical personnel. Instead, “people who come here to visit are pleasantly surprised to learn that they can talk to any of us.”
6. Providing an unconditional, money-back guarantee. An anathema to many, one VP of Sales I worked with told me it’s low risk for him. “In twenty years of business, not one customer has ever requested a refund.”
Which of these risks might appeal to the skateboarder you knew as a kid? Hard to say. Maybe none of them. But there’s no doubt he has found others that are worth it.