Treat a shark bite, not a paper cut

If you sell a solution, make sure the problem is acute.  Otherwise, you’ll never close the deal.

This is a takeaway I got from reading Nail It Then Scale It.  In the book, written for startup founders, Nathan Furr reveals a startling statistic: 90% of startups that fail, fail because they built something no one wants bad enough to buy.  

Apply this to any solution business, whether you are a sales pro a consultant or the CEO.  Do you solve a problem worthy of investing precious dollars into?  Furr puts it this way: Make sure you are treating a shark bite of a business problem.  In this view, as a solutions provider, you think of yourself as the doctor – treating a patient. For many of the solutions I’ve recently seen from iPhone apps to B2B offerings – the problem is only a paper cut. The prospect admits there is some waste or lost opportunity, but in the end, they are still doing fine.  While your solution is relevant, it lacks true urgency. 

I’ve discovered this running Deeper Media’s training product launches. One of them, The Dirty Dozen Rules Of Email Etiquette, has had breakthrough sales success – reaching over 40,000 customer/users in five years. Another one, Greening Up Your Business, has had tepid results, even though I supported it with a book (Saving The World At Work).  Why? Shark bite versus paper cut.  

My email training clients had a REAL problem on their hands when they found me (I’ve never had to cold call this).  Email use was out of control, relationships were breaking down and business was grinding to a halt.  For my Green Business prospects, my training solution was a ‘nice to have’, but they didn’t think the business would be negatively impacted without it.  

In Nail It Then Scale It, Furr offers a great acid test for a Shark Bite Solution: Cold call a group of people, explaining what problem your service solves in a succinct manner.  If less than 50% call you back, it’s not a big problem.  In his experience, the real Shark Bite Solutions had a stunning level of cold call backs – because the problem was big enough for prospects to pick up the phone and invest time with a stranger. 

In this economy, it’s important for us to sell solutions not products or services.  To do that, we have to be brutally honest with ourself to make sure our solution is significant or we are identifying and quantifying a real problem worth solving right now (and not when things get better and luxuries are affordable.)