Some of your best prospective clients are already working with one of your competitors. They are not (yet) compelled to change, so they refuse your request for a meeting—even though you are certain that you could create greater value for by helping them improve their results. Let’s be honest: it may be a long time before you can win this client’s business, so it may be tempting to give up and only pursue easier (and faster) deals. But there is no reason to avoid or give up on difficult clients when winning them would transform both their results and yours.
Seeking easier deals to win without also working on more difficult and more valuable clients makes your long-term plan rely on short-term results. You will notice that the salespeople at top of the sales board have some of the largest clients your company serves. That’s typically because they put in the hard work to earn and keep those clients, instead of waiting around in hopes of inheriting a big fish when some other salesperson leaves or retires.
A Long Enough Timeline
Given a long enough timeline, you will lose every client in your portfolio, no longer how long you’ve had them. These losses will include your favorite client, the one who loves you and sings your praises at every opportunity. You may be responsible for losing your client by taking them for granted, not creating new value, becoming apathetic, or assuming you are entitled to your client's business. But the good news is that your competitor is subject to the same results if they behave badly.
Of course, not every loss is self-inflicted. You may lose a client because a new leader joins your client's company and brings in the partner they used in the past. That same new leader may look for a quick win, removing you and your company to cut costs. It is not uncommon for a large company to buy a competitor, or to buy a company that allows them to vertically integrate a capacity they need. Some clients shut down locations, right-sizing their business, and some just have needs that change.
The problem for salespeople is the timeline. It's difficult to think long-term when you only have a short-term goal.
Building Short-Term and Long-Term Pipelines
I’m sure you have a pipeline of deals you are pursuing. But you really need two pipelines, each serving a different purpose. The first is your short-term pipeline, the one that allows you to reach your quarterly goal. The second pipeline comprises the long-term plays that take more time to develop and win.
Two pipelines require two sets of prospects. You will spend the large majority of your time and energy building your short-term pipeline: the clients you are always calling on and pursuing, most not big enough to qualify as a dream client. The second set of prospects comprises your dream clients, those clients that buy what you sell in large quantities and need a strategic partner instead of a vendor. By separating these two pipelines, you can focus on your short-term sales targets and your long-term results simultaneously.
The Year Zero Approach
The Year Zero approach begins by recognizing that you’re not going to win your dream client's business in the year you begin your pursuit. You are unknown, and your dream client already has a contract with your competitor (which is exactly why you are pursuing their business). A year is a long time, though, giving you plenty of opportunities to become known as a value creator and a potential future partner, provided you do the work to become known.
Leveraging Year Zero requires that you nurture relationships, provide a steady drip of insights, and share a perspective designed to capture mindshare, all without asking for anything in return, outside of the occasional meeting request. Devoting an hour every Friday to pursue a handful of dream clients means you have no less than fifty opportunities to communicate something of value, proving your persistence knows no bounds.
The persistence and consistency of your Year Zero approach communicates that you are a viable partner who is consistently interested interest in working with your dream client. When your client recognizes they need to improve their results, you will be first in line for a conversation. Some of your dream clients will have a problem in Year Zero, and a few will find a reason to meet with you even if they are not ready to change, but only if you continue to pursue them.
The Value of Larger, More Difficult Deals
It isn't difficult to believe that smaller, closer, and easier wins are more valuable than large, distant, and harder ones. F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind simultaneously and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.”
You can expect large clients to be more difficult to win than smaller clients, as there is more at stake when a company depends on their supplier to run their business. Still, there are very large and difficult-to-win dream clients struggling to get the results they need, and they’re all looking for a value-creating salesperson to help them find their way forward.