It was my first job after college, and I was working as a writer for a British ad agency. I’d been asked to come up with a new campaign idea for one of our B2B clients and had developed something I was pretty excited about. However, when I presented My Big Idea to the decision-maker on the account – a smart marketing guy that I admired immensely – he wasn’t impressed. Instead, he just made some suggestions and sent me back to the drawing board. This was on a Monday ….
What a difference a week makes
Throughout the week, I kept coming back to his office with new concepts. We were getting closer, he assured me, but it still wasn’t right. By Friday, I was stuck. I looked at all the ideas I’d presented that week, and it seemed like my original concept was still the best solution. So, I did a crazy thing. I went to his office and presented the very same idea that I had shown him on Monday. His reaction? “Perfect. This is what we’ve been looking for!” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he had seen and rejected the same idea just a few days earlier.
What went wrong?
I had made a simple mistake that sales and marketing people often make when pitching any new solution to a customer or prospect: I forgot to show my work. Whether you’re presenting a basic product add-on or a highly complex new service, you can’t always just unveil your solution. You often need to explain what led you to this solution. It’s like high-school math – you may have the right answer, but if you don’t show your work, the teacher will still knock points off your grade.
Sometimes people need the backstory
Look at it from your prospect’s point of view. They’re hearing all this for the first time. You know your new solution. You’ve lived with it. You’ve had time to think about it and test it. So, its strengths and implications seem glaringly obvious to you. But, your prospects haven’t had that advantage. They need to think through the alternatives before they arrive at your conclusion. And you can help them do that by giving them the backstory.
This doesn’t have to be hard
This doesn’t mean you have to drag them through the whole history of your solution. Just a little peeling back of the curtain may be all it takes for them to see the wisdom of your solution. I was reminded of this recently when a company came to us because they were having a hard time getting traction with a disruptive new offering. Their solution was so substantially different from everything else in the marketplace that their prospects weren’t really grasping all the implications. These prospects needed just enough of the backstory to understand what the alternatives were and why this disruptive new solution really was the best way forward.
I could have saved myself a lot of grief over My Big Idea all those years ago simply by taking a few extra minutes in that first presentation to say, “Here are the issues. Here are some options I considered. Here’s my idea, how I got to it, and why it makes sense.” Instead, I lost a week going back and forth with the decision maker while he worked through all the issues and options like I had – only to arrive at my original idea. At least, it turned out to be a good idea. And, it helped me re-learn a simple presentation hack from high school math class: show your work.