Diving Head-first into a Suicide Sale

The first week of June brought bad news to the Picturepark Sales team—two strong opportunities lost. This might have prompted a conversation about what we could have done to save those opportunities. But we knew what we could have done; we just refused to do it.

Sweeping Garbage under the Rug

Anyone reading the rejection letter from the first prospect might have confused it with an order confirmation letter. It praised how well Picturepark performed during the proof-of-concept (POC), how helpful our consultants had been, and how deeply they trusted us as a vendor. The prospect was also impressed by the simple “DAM Lite”-like UX offered by the Picturepark Port we configured for them.

So why then didn’t we make the sale?

As it turns out, the problem was not with Picturepark software as much as it was with Picturepark counseling. Instead of promising a one-day project implementation and buttons that magically increase DAM ROI when clicked, we tried to educate and stay close to the truth of digital asset management.

We advised about taxonomy development, metadata design and everything else the world’s DAM experts recommend in their blog posts, books and webinars. But what makes for good educational reading doesn’t always close the sale. After a few rounds of quality DAM consultancy, the prospect’s decision committee opted for another DAM system they were told could do all they needed with minimal work involved.

I couldn’t help but consider the possibility that turning their backs on the realities of DAM might be the reason they were now looking for a second DAM system in a short period of time. Our contact even admitted that the “garbage in, garbage out” approach had been taken the first time around, and it seemed to me that the “easy” migration promised by the winning DAM vendor might yield more of the same.

Should we not have advised this prospect to invest in policy, taxonomy and classifications? Picturepark is of course capable of ingesting unqualified objects (or, more casually, “garbage”) as well as any DAM. Picturepark could even be used to reduce or eliminate such objects over time. Perhaps we should have kept quiet, knowing that we’d then be able to sell all these services to the customer further down the road after they realized that a system itself doesn’t yet make a solution.

My problem as CEO would be finding someone in my organization willing to take the straight sales route. My consultants want to see customers succeed in DAM and never defer any good advice. For my sales staff, the 5th year renewal of a customer is as equally important as the initial sale. We incentivize on building sustainable solutions and relationships, not commissions.

Philip Axman, my sales director for EMEA/APAC (and a true sales professional at heart) said, “I’d rather make the sale in four years when they realize that more often than not, some sales reps just mirror what prospects like to hear.”

I would be skeptical with Philip’s time-lagged “second chance” approach if I had not seen it happen so many times in the past few years.

The Art of RFP Manipulation

Our second lost prospect had submitted to us an RFP more than 200 pages long. We cross-scanned all the features you could possibly ever think of when speaking of DAM. And although Picturepark fit well in many areas, we considered the company’s DAM requirements unrealistic so we decided not to participate. Whatever DAM system was chosen was going to be a disappointment to the company and we didn’t want that disappointment to have a Picturepark logo on it.

We communicated our concerns and our decision to not participate to the prospect. The prospect came back and virtually begged us to participate. He let us know that their RFP was an amended copy from an analyst’s library, and that we only needed to give them basic answers and rough cost figures.

How can you say no a second time? We completed the RFP as asked, and we made specific mention of the areas where we thought Picturepark fell short of fulfilling the prospect’s lofty DAM goals.

When we received their rejection letter, we saw that we had disqualified ourselves by once again offering the type of advice we would want someone to offer to us if we were entering into an enterprise-class software contract.

I’m not saying this verdict is fully unjustified given those massive RFP requirements; but of the two other DAM finalists in this bid, only one could come close to meeting the prospect’s mega-goals. And I knew that would come at a mid-six figure price tag only after many months of custom development. The other vendor in the bid is known for promising everything you ever want to hear, including substantial discounts, just to land on the short list.

I admit that for a fraction of time I questioned whether our principle to be “honest at all times” makes sense at these times too. Do some prospects just want to buy into the illusion that software will solve all of their problems? Do they buy into “everything is easy”, “everything is integrated” and “everything is automated”? If we know they won’t get everything they want from anyone else, is it still unethical to hide our limitations and sell just that illusion, knowing we can fix it on contract or implementation time?

I was reminded of a discussion I had with David Diamond about the recent decision to place a suicide barrier around San Francisco’s famed Golden Gate Bridge to prevent people from jumping to their deaths. Does such a barrier actually reduce suicides or just force them to relocate? If we were willing to lie on RFPs, we might actually be offering prospects a suicide barrier they don’t even know they need.

But my CEO mindset lost the battle with my inner moral compass. Being responsible for happy customers (and employees) in the long run, I need to ensure that we can serve our customers with a certain professional pride and integrity. Otherwise, we are all worse off, having burned a lot of time, money and credibility.

Three Steps Forward; Two Steps Back

Resisting the temptation for a quick sale is not easy, especially when you know how the game is played. Competition is tough and dirty games are common. Why shouldn’t we do it too? can be a compelling inner voice, especially when short-term gains can be so valuable for financial and marketing purposes. But “suicide sales” ultimately do no one any good, any more than being caught in a net under a bridge can change one’s outlook on life.

I seriously believe that it is not just our job to sell a piece of software; it is also our professional responsibility to guide prospects and make them aware of limitations that we see and foresee. At times, this comes at the price of one license less sold. But it might also be one reason why Picturepark’s annual renewal rate is so extraordinary high.

Within a few weeks of these two rejection letters, a wave of prospects coming out of long-term POCs announced their intention to purchase.

The two lost bids were set to “follow-up” in our CRM, with reminders set for two years from now.

No sales policies were changed.