Opportunity markers

My mild mannered Jewish grandmother who lived in Washington Heights (Manhattan, New York City) some forty odd years ago, close to the Cloisters, not far from Henry Kissinger’s parents at 182nd Street, once remarked to me while walking on the sidewalk near her second floor rent-controlled apartment that she could tell whether a person was Jewish by how he/she walked.  Even from walking behind the person!  I don’t know if it was the gait, the stoop of the shoulders, the clothes, or something else altogether different, but she just knew, like a sixth sense. Apparently the person gave off “signs” that tipped her off to religious affiliation.

In the physical world, we know that the condition of one’s fingernails – the ridges, shape, color and bumps, presence or lack of a moon shape near the base of the fingernail , all constitute signs indicative of a person’s overall health, be it anemic, heart disease or malnutrition.  Lessons can be learned from both examples and applied to marketing and sales development.

In my career, it was my responsibility in direct marketing and sales support to generate demand and assess lead quality across various industries, usually involving new or disruptive technological innovations.  There was Data General which developed an electronic messaging application called CEO or Comprehensive Electric Office in the 1980s, a forerunner to email, and Altiga Networks, a start up VPN or Virtual Private Networking firm that was acquired by Cisco Systems in 2000, and most recently there is the LDTD, or laser diode thermal desorption, the world’s fastest mass spectrometry platform which Overbrook Scientific marketed, installed and serviced at toxicology, clinical and pharmaceutical firms.

Depending on the company, product, service or project, I was involved in demand generation programs as well as decisions of the next steps after demand generation.  Over the last decade I have used business research skills to conduct opportunity assessments. I learned that some leads stood out from others and had more potential than others.  But some  leads were characterized by red flags that immediately demoted them; they needed more attention, or sales intelligence before they could be handed off to Sales, or should be trashed altogether.  The signs given off were not unlike a biomarker which is common to pharmaceutical and biotech industries. A biomarker by definition characterizes, measures and indicates the true nature of a compound early on. For example, a biomarker may be a specific enzyme concentration, presence of biological substances which serve as indices for health or disease risk, or may be indicative of environmental exposure, disease diagnosis, occurrence of pregnancy and so on.

I characterize leads as “opportunities” and assess them in terms of “opportunity markers” (OM) which are akin to biomarkers.  They have predictive value acting as diagnostic measures that suggest likely outcomes before they occur, earlier in the marketing/sales cycle than other means. An OM has predictive value that enables sellers to develop actionable insights and to focus their outreach on the right accounts. The Marketing and Sales departments at Progress Software, whose 4GL language sold into the IBM installed base included a prioritized list of “red flags”.  An opportunity developed had to be screened using this list prior to any further action by Sales regardless of individual title, company or stated interest.

Typical elements to consider of a lead was the company’s known goals and initiatives, existing technologies, the role of the interested individual, and consensus shared by others in the organization.  Understanding other service providers and/or consultants doing business with the buying organization is telling.  I worked for start ups or emerging growth companies, and some buyers only use “big brand name” vendors, and have an aversion to start ups fearing they won’t be around in a few years.  Others are interested by new technologies but purely out if self-interest; there is no real interest of the company.

In the service business at my current company, one must know the makes and models of the analytical instrumentation installed at the site.  A host of questions must be answered: what kind of sample preparation techniques are used? In terms of individual contact, what is his/her position in the lab?  How long has he/she held the position? Are there others on the team who share interest in the seller’s technology? Has he/she advocated for technology initiates in the past that have worked out to the lab’s satisfaction? Whom does he/she report to? Is there an immediate need for the problems that the technology addresses?  What other initiatives are underway and occupy the team’s time, budget and/or resources?

According to a July 2015 study by Business Performance Innovation Network, the biggest challenge of “embracing new technology for their company was gaining consensus and support for new technology investments cited” by 44% of respondents (www.bpinetwork.org).

Proving the value for technology adoption and providing the means for successful implementation by making it a priority amongst other initiatives of a company is the rub. The best technology and (presentations about it) should include hard data and information about how other companies (in the same industry) have solved problems. Show that the technology innovation has solved a big problem. When a new innovative technology solves a problem specific to the individual company, purchase is more likely to follow.





Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

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