When it comes to researching vendors, first impressions matter so much. I tend to judge any potential vendor by its sales apparatus, not just because it is the first impression, but because that positioning and interaction will tell you so much more than any press release, executive ‘corporate culture’ communication, or other third-party source of information on financial or industry strength. Things I notice right off the bat that influence my decision to continue engagement or build trust:
Is the sales channel optimized?
Building great companies and great products is all about optimization at a later stage of an organization’s maturation life cycle. Idea-driven founding staff are joined or replaced by data-driven staff as a company’s offering is validated and it grows to benefit from economies of scale and to show profitability to patient investors and equity holders. The distance between my interest and the vendor’s name recognition is a marketing issue, but the distance between my identification of a vendor and getting a meaningful response from their sales organization is a sales/company issue. If I’m clicking through a brochure-ware website to find the place to start engagement, filling out a general ‘Contact Us’ form, navigating a tedious phone tree, or heaven-forbid, clicking a ‘mailto:’ link to type my interest, then I’ve already learned a lot about your company. I’ve learned one of the following statements is true:
- The number of client contacts you deal with through this channel is relatively small: you are new or slow to acquire customers through it
- Your company is too focused on the ideation and ‘fun’ phase of the business to optimize your sales channel – your company may not be mature enough for my needs
- Your company is too focused serving existing customers (keeping the wheels on) to work on growing your business by optimizing sales channels – your company may not be ready for my needs
- Your company is mature but not thinking about data-driven results, which tells me your product probably isn’t either.
What is the quality of the first contact?
Did the person who responds to my inquiry bother to look up the domain of my e-mail address to check out what my company does? Does that sales executive reference recent PR releases we made? This is a high-quality contact and this action shows me your sales executives aren’t quote-monkeys or order-takers, they are relationship-builders. Or did I just get a form letter thank me for my form entry and letting me know someone may get back to me about whatever my interest might be? If it is the latter, this tells me:
- Your company will require me to tell, and you probably won’t ask. I’ll need to know what I want and be prepared to demand. Since from the start of the relationship, there was little concern for finding a good fit, I will have extra heavy lifting to do.
- If you are asking what my interest is and you don’t already know, then that probably means you haven’t placed me in any segment or internal classification that represents the nature of my potential demand. That tells me the out-of-the-box customization of the solution may be low, or if not, you are not capitalizing on the specialized needs of different classes of customers.
- If I get an “I don’t know” in the first conversation, that is okay, but it tells me I’m either working with someone that does not know their product well (new or inexperienced), or the sales group is not connected to the product group, which is a more fundamental problem. The most important communication line is (in my view) between sales and product, and secondly between sales and operations to ensure in order that: (1) pre-sales the right solution is sold to a customer … if that doesn’t happen everything else will fail … and (2) post-sales the requirements are appropriately communicated to deliver a synchronized expectation and final result.
What is the speed of the first quality contact?
- If I get a poor-quality first contact very fast, I presume I’m talking to someone young and hungry. This can be a good sign if I need a lot of attention or customization and you’re not a large player. This is a very bad sign if you have a signature single product and are an established company, as I assume there’s inadequate sales training or high sales churn, both of which send a negative signal about your company’s position and our potential together.
- If I get a high-quality first contact very slowly, I’m not thrilled, but I’m willing to wait and pay for quality. Not everyone is, but that’s how I do business.
- If I get a poor-quality contact very slowly, you really shouldn’t be in business, and you probably won’t be anymore very soon.